Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When the Children Pray, A Miracle called Rain

RAIN . RAIN . RAIN. Yup, that's what the need is. Something called Rain.

No rain. It is January. The weather is like spring. The sky is clear. The grass on the hills is dry, the lakes are at 33 percent of their capacity, a meager snow pack in the mountains, there's no food for the cattle in the hill country, the farmers have crops and orchards they may not be able to irrigate come summer, the northern California communities are starting to get alarmed, water conservation is becoming a reality, farmers are irrigating tree crops in winter, unprecedented, never been done before. It is starting to look like summer in the dead of winter. Concern is growing to alarm.

The water situation in California is dire.
An announcement: It's official: Worst drought on record.
Season total so far: 4 inches rainfall.
Normal season total in January: 18 inches rainfall.


I gather the children at my church to tell them the story of Elijah. I tell them why it didn't rain for over three years... not even a drop of dew. I explain how the hearts of the people turned hard against the Lord. That God wanted their attention. I bring it home. I show newspaper pictures of Lake Oroville with its barren basin, looking like a puddle of water at the bottom of a steep canyon. Time to learn how real prayer works, the reason I have chosen this story. It is a teachable moment. Do we have the faith? First, private prayer, the children and leaders getting our hearts right before God. Next, we gather in a circle, children and leaders. I explain that we are going to pray, in faith believing. We begin to pray. Three children ask God to send rain. One says, "We don't want it to be like when Elijah lived. We don't want the people to turn away from you. We need rain. Could you send rain?" I ask God to send us an abundance of rain. We leave. Will God answer our prayer of faith? I knew it was a risk. Yet. It was in my heart that God wanted us to do this ... together.

No rain the next day...and the next day, and the next, and next. Then a few sprinkles--but not much. I pray and I pray, and I pray some more. Please, Father God, won't you send us some rain. I want God to perform a miracle just for the children, and for everybody else in California. I pray several times a day. Other people in the State are praying, I read about it in the paper. I ask Facebook friends and Twitter contacts to pray.

I wake up to clouds on Wednesday, it's Awana children's club day. That morning the rain begins to descend. It starts to pour, and pour. By evening, it has been a steady rainfall. My heart rejoices. I can't wait to connect the dots with the children.

I gather the children to tell them the end of the story of Elijah. They learn about the contest at Mount Carmel. We see the prophets of Baal crying out to their god to send down fire. Nothing happens. They plead, beg, cut themselves. Nothing. nothing... Elijah stands up. He repairs the altar. He says to dig a trench around the altar. Precious water is poured, and poured some more, over the sacrifice--streaming down the altar into the trench. Elijah prays a simple prayer before the people and the godless prophets of Baal. He asks God to show his presence by sending fire to the sacrifice. Fire bolts down from heaven--consuming the sacrifice, the stones, and even the water in the trench. The people see the might of God. They fall of their faces. "The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God," they acknowledge. A rain cloud appears in the distance. Elijah declares, "Hurry down the mountain for I hear an abundance of rain. The rain pours, and pours, and pours. God has answered.

The children and I speak of our own miracle, the rain God has sent. We pray, our words thank God for the rain. His answer to our prayers. We ask for more rain. God sends some more in the weeks to follow. Our faith has been stretched. We see in living color what God has provided. Not only the children, but the adults find that their faith has been strengthened.

Since that day, when we asked for rain, northern California has received approximately seven inches of rain. There is grass on the hills. Lake Oroville is at 45 percent capacity. There's a deeper snow pack in the mountains and some runoff for the lakes. The plants look refreshed. The drought has eased, at least to some extent, the situation less dire.

No, California isn't out of the woods and the drought will still affect us. There will be conservation measures, and less crops in agricultural regions. But. But, it certainly is better than it was. I"m glad the children prayed.  

Thank you, God, for answering the faith of a child.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Love Story in Reverse: Miracles Still Happen

I have this friend who has struggled with her marriage relationship for as long as I have known her.  Not a first marriage for either of them, but the first Christian marriage for both of them. Their religious belief is what brought them together initially, the opportunity for a better second marriage, becoming the focus of a union based on Christian living. But, as is often the case, it was not easy. There were the children from both marriages and its stressful dynamic. There were the unresolved issues from their first marriages, a carry-over from the hurt and rejection they both had experienced. Greater than these areas was a lack of understanding on how to make love work for them. One partner seemed to dominate the relationship and the other had some areas that needed attention as well. Several times they went to their minister for counsel, independently and also as a couple.

They both wanted the marriage to be successful and to bring them happiness. But happiness seemed to elude them. They went through job losses, family troubles, and financial crises. Life was hard. Then it came to a point that one summer she left him, not for someone else but because something had to change between them. The love was there in a remote place hard to access. The impossibility of it all had created a deadness deep inside her, and I assume, deep inside him as well.  He missed her, wanted her to come back. People at church didn't know what was going on. He seemed lost without her. With his promise to try to work on their relationship and to be more attentive, she came back a couple of months later. They recommitted their purpose together.

Those of us from the outside looking in could see a spark being rekindled. We saw them both trying. He became more gentle with her in his speech, more demonstrative by putting his arm around her as they sat in church. She was less to complain about him to her friends, less to voice frustration with him. They led in a children's ministry and made it blossom, keeping their stuff to themselves as they worked together side-by-side, choosing to be united in front of others. It couldn't have been easy with their personalities and past history. He was the more vocal in public, expressing his desire to be the man God wanted him to be--and meaning it. He would ask difficult questions about living the Christian life, about how to let go of the things that hinder, to move in the direction of a man who is an authentic seeker of God. It was good to watch. I saw in her this same desire, to be a woman after God's own heart. She would talk to me about her wishes in the spiritual realm. However, something was still was elusive in their relationship. They couldn't seem to connect on an emotional level, to feel things as one, to be in harmony.

Valentine's Day, 2014, ushered in a new beginning for this couple. She told me about it in person a couple of weeks later. We were talking about other church-related topics. After I remarked how I have seen positive changes in both she and her mate, I asked her how they were doing these days. She began to share a story with me. We were like sisters, sharing a joy after the days of sorrow have passed. Here is her story.
She walked in the door in the late afternoon on Valentine's Day, weary from her work. The first thing she noticed was the table set all fancy like with candles, nice dishes, and a bouquet of flowers. The house smelt delicious and her husband was busy in the kitchen. He greeted her with a hug and smile and then returned to cooking dinner. The music was playing as they ate by candlelight. This was different than ever before. There was something about him that was extra attentive. After they ate, he said to her, "Why don't we dance?" They turned up the music and began to dance. Tears began to flow. He asked her why she was crying.
"This is what I've always wanted," she said to him while nestled in his warm embrace.
"I know you have. But I never knew how to give my love to you, how to show you," he replied, his voice expressing regret.
"What happened? Why now?" She asked him.
With softness in his eyes, he replied, "Last night when we were singing that song about love with the children at church, my heart was touched. And then, that lesson that Jennifer gave for Valentine's Day explaining the different types of love, somehow, while she was talking about Agape' love, I finally understood it. I can't explain it, but suddenly I knew what was missing, and saw how I didn't know how to live out my love for you and was keeping myself from expressing it to you.  It's like something clicked. I knew I needed to show you how much you mean to me. I want you to be happy."
My friend turned to me and smiled. I was so happy for her. I knew how much she had longed for his love and to rest in it (to feel secure in it), and how she had prayed for years that something would change between them. I asked if I could share her story in a blog as a way to encourage others who are discouraged with their mates and marriage. She nodded. As in many things, the wait may be long but that isn't necessarily the end of the story.

Miracles still happen.