This summer I preached for the first time. I am not sure why I didn't post this sooner. Anyhow, here is my first sermon.
Humbly, Wide Open to Answered Prayers
Micah 6:6-8 (NIV), 2 Corinthians 6: 11-13 (The Message)
I must be growing up because they have let me come out of the basement and talk to a group that is not predominantly minors. So in case you don’t know me, I am Becca and until recently I have worked extensively with our youth. As any of our students could tell you I like to tell stories when I teach, so this morning I am going to stray away from our typical theological reflection and tell you a few stories about me and God. I must warn you this is not a talk for people who are perfect, actually if you are perfect you might want to leave now and head to the diner or for doughnuts or the beach. I myself fail miserably sometimes, especially when it comes to dealing with God. I try to embrace my imperfection and learn from it. So please have a little grace with my imperfection and your own.
Let’s see where should I start this story. Well I guess I should introduce you to the characters in the story. There’s me, Paul my husband, Lilia Grace our sweet baby girl. Trinity our dog and DJ the cat.
So it’s a cold morning in the middle of winter. I wake up to Lilia demanding food. Trinity wants to go out and the cat wants his morning routine of treats and a long brushing the minute my feet hit the floor. Paul has left very early this morning to go into work. Oh and me I need to use the bathroom. I have no back up. I can’t take Lilia on to the back porch to get to the door because it is really cold. So I get her bottle started and diaper changed. Trin stays at my feet the whole time as does the cat at a safe distance. Lilia is fed I put her down to attend to the animals and of course she yells in protest. I let her yell it out as I run to the back door to let Trinity out. I scoop Lilia up and proceed with DJs treats and brushing. Trin starts barking to come in because after all it is freezing outside. So run put Lilia down let Trinity in and DJ escapes out the back door because he is now protesting his morning brushing being just a little too short for his liking. I yell into the cold air UGH silly cat you are going to freeze. OK well maybe those weren’t my exact words but you get the idea. Now Trin wants to come back outside because I am outside chasing the cat around in my PJs. Lilia is still unhappy. DJ just thinks this is all grand because now the dog is chasing me chasing him. Have I mentioned it’s cold and I still haven’t gone to the bathroom? Finally everyone is back inside to the warmth. Lilia is settled and I start for my friend the toilet when the phone rings. OK that’s settled half way there and the delivery man is ringing the bell, which in turn makes Trin bark, which makes Lilia cry. At this point I just want to pee, no more pleasantries. With a barking dog at my feet and a crying baby in my arms I slide down the window of the screen door and dutifully sign for a package only to discover it’s for my brother who moved to Seattle a year ago. Finally after an hour of being out of my warm cozy bed, the cat trips me as I finally get to the bathroom. At that point I am not complaining because hey at least I am making to the bathroom. I just want to cry, forget about breakfast or a shower or housework. The tone for the day has already been set! Anyone else every have a morning like this?
I will be honest this was not my best day. I quickly started pitying myself because my life was just so miserable. The rest of the day didn’t seem much better. Lilia was cranky and didn’t want to be put down. I did not get much of anything done around the house. When Paul walks in the door I am relieved to have my hands free until I look around and see what looks like the trail of a tornado running through the house and realize that the food I took out of the freezer last night needs to be cooked before it spoils. Well maybe we could go out but it’s cold and late and the baby has been fussing and it certainly isn’t in the budget. Oh the budget why did I have to even think of that, that’s a whole story in it’s self. My eyes start to well up and I am about to proclaim to Paul how much I just cannot take this life anymore we will not have anymore chil…, when Lilia looks up at me and coos and gives me this big gummy grin.
Enter in the God slap. This is what I call these moments when I am lost in self pity thinking how miserable my life is and something captures my attention and so deeply moves me it’s as if God has walked into the room and slapped me across the face while screaming wake up you silly silly girl don’t you see what I have given you? Oh and by the way miss woe is me, you asked for all this?
Yeah I did, I didn’t just ask I begged for it so much so that my prayers of just one baby please God turned into let me understand your will God, let me be wide open to your will God. I can love a baby no matter how it gets into the world. I understand God that sometimes your will and my perceived needs are different. OK Pause let’s put my prayer for a baby on hold for just a few minute so I can tell you how it came to be that I was praying for Lilia Grace long before she was in my womb.
A few months after we were married Paul and I thought there might be an unexpected little one on the way into our lives. There was a surprise but it didn’t have a gender. It turns out my body doesn’t handle hormones so well, especially those related to reproduction. It did explain my life long struggle with weight but otherwise it didn’t change much about life until we were ready to have a baby. One day about three years ago the baby bug bit me hard. Maybe some of you have experienced this, everyone around you starts having babies and you start thinking about them more and more until it’s so bad you can see just how the nursery will look and just how perfect and complete your life will be once you are holding that baby in your arms and you are a family? The itch was here to stay. There had always been moments before where I looked forward to having a family but this was like that mosquito bite that wouldn’t go away.
So we talked about it and we talked about it some more, we decided to open ourselves up and say what happens, happens. Then a whole lot of nothing happened. Then we had a more serious talk, we had been warned that it would likely take some pricey medical intervention. This is not something that we could afford and we weren’t sure it was the right decision for us. So we started focusing on the idea of adopting sometime in the future. Then there comes the praying, that came out of these conversations. Really we had no choice but to trust God. We had to open our hearts wide even in those disappointing times and trust that God had a plan that we just didn’t understand. It was really trying. We trusted though that God would know when the time was right for us to have a child and just how that child should come into the world.
Personally I was starting to give up. My prayers started to show it. There was more begging than there was understanding for sure. I did get angry I can remember saying God you gave me a gift of working with kids why can’t I have just one of my own? I am kind of a control freak so trusting God with something so personal was hard for me. I know it sounds silly, that trusting God is hard but if we are really honest isn’t always hard to trust God? I have found though when I do trust God which is usually when I have no other choice, remember I told you I am not perfect, things work out really well.
So I went on struggling to trust God and feeling the disappointment a little at a time. It was Thanksgiving 2008 and as we were turning in for the night I told Paul that I was determined to get babies off the brain until at least after Christmas. So we went on living life with no talk of the B word. A week later we went to NYC and spent the day just walking enjoying the holiday cheer abound. On the ride home I was so tired. So very tired that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Holiday stress will do that to you right? Then I started feeling sick, not like I needed a Doctor’s appointment I was just tired and nothing was sitting well with me. Then two weeks after my resolution to get babies off my brain I had one in my belly.
I danced and sang and yelled with gratitude to God! When I held her in my arms last August for the first time my heart sang with praise. She was perfect, she was my Lilia Grace.
That’s why on that cold mid winter’s night when she cooed at me with a big grin, it was like God speaking to me saying, Becca this IS exactly what you begged me for!
I don’t think I am alone when I say sometimes it gets a little too easy to get caught up in life, going to work, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, taking care of the kids, doctor’s appointments, social events, errands, driving your kids to their activities. With so much to get done it is easy to sit back and not recognize your answered prayers! Just like night when it took God getting my attention.
Later that night after things settled down, I sat reflecting on the whole experience. Then I noticed something else, why would I complain about cooking dinner? I have seen firsthand people who don’t have anything to put on the table. I had been to the little Batwa camp in Burundi, that first day in Africa: where they showed me a little 16 ounce water bottle that was the water for a family of 4 for the next four days. Their houses were made of grass. Yet they greeted me with a joyful song and dance. Here I was upset because I had to cook dinner, had a home that I had to clean and a perfectly healthy baby who was at her worst cranky! My heart sank! How could I have been so blind to all God has given me?
Yep that God slap was still stinging! I was humbled.
It brought me back to something I had learned when I first discovered this morning’s scripture at the 2004 youth worker’s convention in Atlanta.
“I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I am speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively.”
This was the theme for the week. It has stuck with me ever since. Sometimes I forget about it as I did this day and the months leading up to this day. I was frustrated by life that day more than anything else. I was truly blessed to have that moment where God broke in and I was able to notice all the good there.
I needed to be wide open to the answers. I failed to see in my frustration that this was the life I was dreaming of. I became narrowed in my ability to recognize those moments in life were as much a part of that answered prayer for just one baby as the moment I first held her. It was so easy to see God when it was a happy time but the minute it got tough I forgot about God. I closed myself up and my life became small.
Answered prayers are easy to see when they turn out in your favor or how you expected. They are hard to see when our expectations aren’t met. So what do we do? Brothers and Sisters in Christ what do we do when our lives become small and narrow and wrapped up only in what is in front of us. These small lives aren’t what God wants for us. Paul invites us in his letter to the Corinthians to live openly and expansively with God! How beautiful and peaceful our lives can become when we open them up to God! Do you long for this God filled life like I do?
I am pretty sure there is no special formula to get to that life. I can tell you what works for me. It’s what I call the prayer to be wide open. When I first prayed for God to break into my life and make me wide open to his expansiveness I expected a wonderful rush of hearts and butterflies. You know like when you first fall in love and the rush that makes the whole world look better and you sort of hum your way through store aisles. I was ready for it. I lifted my hands in the air and prayed God I am ready come make me wide open and hoped my heart would open also!
That is not what happened. God’s light and love didn’t rush into my heart and just consume me. It was more of a trickle, likely because that was all I could handle. I was at a dark place in my life, much darker than that cold winter morning. My stepfather was dying. Just six years earlier my dad passed away. I was only 18 and though we had expected his death for a long time, the grief I felt at the loss of my father sent me running. I ran away from NJ, my family, the church and God. I ran away hoping it would just go away with the distance. I do not endorse this way of dealing with grief, it was not very successful. Here I was terrified at facing it all again. I had to make a choice to stay this time and weather this storm with God. It was trying to say the least. After Tim passed I really had an understanding of what it meant to be wide open. It is hard to pray for that openness when your heart is breaking!
So when I prayed to be wide open again it sounded like this.
“God, I pray that you would make me open, wide open, I say those words with a deep fear on my heart. I for so long prayed that you would crack me open and let the light shine in the deepest depths of my being and it hurt and it stung and it burned and it blistered and it bled. And I cried and I screamed and I kicked and I fought but those places can't be closed for you have removed not just the scar but the layers upon layers of scar tissue. But God there are new scars and as much as I fear that healing process Lord be with me and let your light shine in my dungeons and caverns. Rip me open and tear me down oh God so that I may be filled with your light and grace and love.”
I can’t make you a promise that your journey will be just fine if you pray to be wide open to God in your life. All I can really do is share with you my own journey and hope it inspires you to be open to God in a new and expansive way. Maybe it will encourage someone who is stuck along the way or help pull them through a dark place, with God’s light.
I will close with an invitation. I invite you to come before God with intention and humbly ask for your heart to be cracked open wide so that you might experience this expansive life that God wants us to live. Please be open to the journey and the unexpected answers.