Can Prayers Be Only Tears?

Can Prayers Be Only Tears?

A sweet mom from across the country posts the question on Facebook: “Can prayers be only tears?Cuz that’s all I’ve got now.” Yes, my friend. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes.

I know from experience. My own—past, present, and most likely, future. I also know from the shared tears of many friends. Turns out we’re in good company.Job’s eyes poured out tears to God (Job 16:20). God told King Hezekiah, “I have heard your prayers and seen your tears.” (2 Kings 20:5) The Psalmist said God even kept track of his tossings and tears: “You have kept my tears in your bottle.” (Psalm 56:8 ESV) Sometimes tears are all you have. 

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Planet Nana . . . and Back

Planet Nana . . . and Back

Oh, the joys of "Planet Nana." We had all our family under one roof for a few fleeting hours (actually, it was a couple of days, but they flew like hours). All 18 (!) of us crammed in our little condo. Ten grandkids aged 3 months through 10 years, four of them in diapers. Four in Pack’n Plays, six sleeping on our bedroom floor in sleeping bags. Glorious chaos.

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Faith of our Mothers and Grandmothers

may-june-06-022Today’s my mother’s birthday.  She would have been 92.  She left us quietly from a hospice room one sunny December day in Ft. Myers, Florida, nearly 7 ½ years ago.   She was a deep believer, and I know one day I will see her again. So why am I still crying?

Well, for starters:  She was, next to my husband, my best friend. Being my mother, she knew me in a way no one else could.  Mothers are really the only ones on the planet who know us through and through, know us from the very beginning—and love us anyway!

She was also a great listener. She felt my sorrows along with me—maybe even more deeply than I did.  You know that old saying: “This hurts me more than it does you.”  I never believed it as a kid.  It took becoming a mother to “get it.” Now, as mother and grandmother, I get it. Big time!

And she was funny.  And spunky.  And smart.  Not highly educated—but very smart. Once a hugely successful realtor, she retired “cold turkey” when she moved to live near us.  She channeled all that energy and drive and love of people into her grandchildren, and into the many women she mentored in Mom to Mom and at Women’s Bible Study at our church.

She was also my biggest prayer partner.   She was the first one I called with every prayer request, large or small.  Or even trivial.  I would blab my heart out, and she would listen and empathize.  And pray.  When I hung up, I felt so much better—and I bet she felt a whole lot worse!  (Remember the part about mothers feeling their children’s pain?)

Recently I attended the funeral of a wonderful woman of God who reminded me a little of my mother.  Her daughter, the mother of three daughters herself, read a beautiful piece she had written for her daughters about their grandmother—and the two generations of women before her. It began: “You stand on the shoulders of four.”

I was immediately taken back to memories of not only my mother, but my two grandmothers. They were very different. Grandma was a farm lady from a tiny town in western Minnesota.  The other, my mother’s mother and my Nana, was the wife of a jeweler/postal carrier/watch repairman in Springfield, Illinois. They had very different lives and they had very different personalities.

But they had one thing in common.  Each of them came to faith through evangelistic crusades in their towns. Each of them got out of their seats and went forward alone, eventually leading their husband and families into Bible-preaching, Christ-centered churches in which to raise their children. Each of them became strong women of faith and faithful prayer warriors.

My dad loved to tell the story of how when his mother (Grandma) went forward, her husband (Grandpa) said, “Anna, you sit down.  You’re a good church woman.  You don’t need to go up there.” But Anna did not sit down. How thankful I am for that—I, along with her six other grandchildren, now having raised our own children in the path of her prayers. 

Her prayers. And Nana’s. And my mom’s and dad’s prayers as well. 

It’s those prayers that live on. What did E. M. Bounds say? “Prayers are deathless.  They outlive the lives of those who utter them.”  It’s those prayers that help me this morning to turn my tears into gratitude, my mourning into dancing. 

But I still wish we had phone lines—or at least internet connections—with Heaven.    

Sticky Faith?

I saw the sadness in their eyes.

I was speaking at a church last Sunday on the subject of “Passing on the Faith.”  Since they had spent four Sundays on “Family Matters” based in Deuteronomy 6—the pivotal passage on parenting in the Bible—I chose as our follow-up text a few verses from Psalm 78:3-7:

“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God.”

I love the multi-generational hope extended here. I love the pattern for passing it on.

But still, I saw the sadness in some eyes out in that congregation.  Many pairs of eyes, actually.  And I know where it came from.  It came from struggling hearts, grieving hearts.  Hearts of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and pastors and friends.  Hearts that had held out great hope for the children in their lives.  Hearts that had wanted very badly to “pass it on.”  But they were watching kids—teens and young adults and even not-so-young adults—make some very disappointing choices, not showing much external evidence, if any, of a life of faith.  

Recently  I’ve been reading Sticky Faith, an excellent book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark on how we can build a lasting faith in our kids.  It’s a great book, based on extensive research as to what makes faith “stick.”  It’s also full of  helpful suggestions and powerful strategies for parents, churches, and anyone working with kids today.  I highly recommend it.

But still, the question lingers, and I see those sad eyes.  Why, Oh God, do I know so many parents who have truly poured themselves out to passing on the faith—and still their kids are wandering?  Or running?  Yes, praise God, I also know many kids who grew up in “sticky faith” homes and churches who are shining examples of faith passed on.  It’s just those others that I can’t get off my mind—and never from my prayers.

It’s that dangerous gift of free will that God gave us, isn’t it?   Our kids grow up to make their own decisions.  And they have to find, eventually, their own faith, and establish their own walk with Jesus. 

Does this mean that there’s no point in giving our all to raising “sticky faith” kids who we pray will love Jesus above all else?  Of course not.  It’s our calling as parents.  It simply means we never forget our highest parental call: to pray for our kids—first, last, and always.

It also means we never forget Who ultimately sticks with our kids, pursuing them, pursuing them, pursuing them always with His infinite love and powerful grace.  

It’s why I looked out over that congregation on Sunday and reminded them of what they already know: God is not finished yet—with them or with us.  And what did Paul say in Philippians 1:6?  We can be confident that God finishes what He starts.  

So we get out our knee pads and stick with our prayers for our kids, knowing Who ultimately sticks with us.   

A New Favorite


As soon as I began reading, I knew it was going to be a new favorite.  My friend Lucinda Secrest McDowell (known to me as Cindy) had asked me to read her new book in manuscript form and possibly endorse it.  Knowing Cindy and her writing, I knew I would like the book.  I just didn’t know I would love it — and eagerly read it again as soon as it was published.  And now, a third time . . .

Live These Words: An Active Response to God captivated me, first, because I love words.  And the words in this book are powerful because they are not only Cindy’s words, but words from God and from a wide range of great “fathers and mothers of the faith,” both ancient and contemporary.   Each of the 40 short chapters focuses on one action word (come/trust/wait/hope/pour) and is based on one verse of Scripture.  A great start.  

But each chapter also includes wonderful quotes—wise and penetrating words from folks as diverse as Pooh and Piglet to St. Anselm and Teresa of Avila to Frederick Buechner and Richard Foster and Ann Voskamp.  And each chapter ends with a prayer, again from a wide variety of sources.  The prayers alone are worth the price of the book.

Cindy’s own words are also very real. She shares from her own life with a transparency that welcomes us to walk alongside. And her words are full of grace:

“I spent half a lifetime trying to do enough for God. Enough that He would love me, accept me, and find me worthy to share in His Kingdom work.  But I could never quite get it right. . . . Many years ago, God took me through a ‘grace tutorial’—teaching me how to accept grace as His free gift, one that I can never earn and never lose.”

She shares that gift with her readers. 

This is a book for both contemplatives (or would-be contemplatives—who of us really get there?) and activists.  Frederick Buechner observed: “The magic of words is that they have power to do more than convey meaning; not only do they have the power to make things clear, they make things happen.”  (This is the first quote in the book—and one of my favorites. How can you not love a book that begins with a Buechner quote?)  Live These Words helps make things happen.  Each chapter motivates us to action by including some practical suggestions and exercises for giving feet to our words—and more importantly, His Words.

So this is a book for both Marys and Marthas.  And a good book for moms and leaders of moms with limited time.  Each chapter is short and self-contained.  Great devotional reading—or a perfect book to stash in your bag and pull out while waiting for car pool kids to finish a practice or at a doctor’s office.

Live these Words: a new favorite, a new challenge.  Thank you, Cindy! 

Chairs: A Father's Legacy


I opened my Daily Light devotional earlier this week, and there it was: The Date: June 9.  

My father’s birthday.  He would have been 100, had he lived to celebrate it on this earth.  How much better—for him at least—to celebrate in heaven.

Suddenly I couldn’t read another word in my devotional.  My eyes filled, and I was flooded with memories.  Pictures, actually.  

The first picture that came to mind was Dad kneeling at his prayer chair in our tiny living room in the house where we lived when I was a little girl.  Like him, I was always an early riser.  When I woke and tiptoed out of my room, he was always there first in the living room, kneeling as he did before his Lord at the beginning of every day.  I don’t think he ever referred to a “prayer chair.”  It was just the way I always thought of it.

Come to think of it, I often picture his life in chairs.  Ironic, really, since he was perhaps the hardest-working man I ever knew.  A college professor, an interim pastor, a writer, even a sometimes gardener (having grown up on a farm, he actually didn’t like gardening so much; but it was a way to make ends meet to grow as much of our food as possible, so Saturdays often found him—and me!—working in a vegetable garden plot provided by Wheaton College to help professors supplement their meager salaries).  He was always on the move.

But still, there were the chairs.  Some years after the prayer chair, there was the chair he sat in on those early mornings when I was in sixth grade.  We lived in a parsonage next to the church where he served as interim pastor while writing a textbook on the Old Testament.  Mornings were his best writing time, and since the piano teacher I then studied with required 3 hours of practice a day, Dad and I would make our way over to the church at 5 AM many a weekday morning so he could write in the study and I could get an hour of practice in on the piano at the church.  I can still see the chair he sat in.

Then there was the chair he kept across from his desk in the home study he had in a subsequent home.  When my brother or I bounded up the stairs at the end of a school day, Dad was almost always there working at his desk, his classes over for the day, writing or studying.  The study door was always open.  It was clearly intentional.  I knew he was hoping David or I would pop in and talk about our day—which we usually did.

In his latter years he and Mom moved to a beautiful condo in Florida where they eagerly awaited visits from their now grown-up kids.  I can see the chair he sat in during the last conversation I had with him, just before the opening of a major new chapter for Mom to Mom.  After years of experience with publishers, he savored every detail about the publication process that was underway.  Always, always interested in his kids.  Always wanting to listen.  Always praying for us . . . and for every one of his grandkids.  In fact, that same listening chair doubled as a prayer chair when he and Mom prayed together every morning. One of my favorite memories is the mornings I got to join them when visiting.

Toward the end of his life he spent more and more time (when he wasn’t swimming or playing tennis—I told you he was always on the move!) in his favorite rocking chair, which he positioned so he could see the sunset out over the water on lovely Florida evenings.  This quaint antique rocker now sits in our lower level family room. Most of the time it sits silent these days, a quiet reminder of the importance of chairs. And of fathers who take make time for their children—both to sit and listen, and to kneel and pray.

Happy Father’s Day to every one of those fathers!  

No Greater Joy

Bennett-Schultz I went to the funeral of a great man this past Saturday.  George F. Bennett lived a long life, dying at the age of 102.   He was a financial genius, known in his time as one of the most successful figures in Boston money management. He was a deeply devoted Christian. He (along with a small group) founded a church and was very committed to Christian education and camping. He served as Treasurer for both Harvard University and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and was asked by two different administrations to serve as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (though he declined both invitations). He was a director of numerous diverse boards, from Ford Motor Company to Gordon-Conwell Seminary, to name two.  He left a gigantic footprint on the world of finance, higher education, Christian camping, missions… and the list goes on.  He was, in some ways, larger than life. He and his wife, Helen, were my parents’ best friends.  I first met them when I was in fifth grade, and I’ve loved them ever since.

But why am I writing about George Bennett here?  Because of what I both saw and heard about what mattered most to this giant of a man during his long life.

What I saw: The front rows of the packed church filled with his family—sons and their wives, grandchildren and their spouses, and many great-grandchildren.  Most all of them (perhaps all—only God truly knows these things) are following Jesus, living out the faith George Bennett so longed to nurture.  His legacy lives on.

What I heard: The verse the pastor honed in on was III John 4: “I have no greater joy than to know my children are walking in the truth.”   It was the one thing his pastor ever heard him boast of—that his children and their children were walking with the Lord.  It was what mattered most to him in all the world—not only for his own family, but for those who attended the church he founded, the Christian schools and camps he supported, and anyone else he had the privilege of influencing

Children walking in the truth.  It made me think of Mom to Mom.  Of all of you—young moms to Titus 2 Leaders—who yearn, along with me, for this to be our legacy.  We may not run investment companies or direct large corporations or be asked to serve in the U.S Cabinet.  But we share this man’s goal: that our children may walk in God’s truth.

How does this goal get accomplished?  Only by the grace of God.  And hours—and years—on our knees.  We mothers definitely wear out our knee-pads!

But along the way, I hope we can all share the one trait of Mr. Bennett that most endeared him to our family: his playfulness and sense of humor.  He was just plain fun to be with, always ready with a funny story or a tale of a long-ago practical joke.  Our kids remember him as the generous sharer of “Mr. Bennett’s beach” (when we vacationed on neighboring Cape Cod property) as well as “the man who loved cheeseballs.”  When we ate our picnic lunch at his beach, he knew we often had junk food, and he would often just “happen by” to see if we had his favorite, cheeseballs (remember those gooey bright orange delicacies full of saturated fats?).   “Now you don’t need to tell Mrs. Bennett about this,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye as he polished off his last treat.

Our son Lars said it best: “There was always a childlikeness about him.”  Maybe because he didn’t take himself too seriously.  Maybe because he knew Who was really in charge, no matter how powerful some humans might appear.  Maybe he just knew how to live out Dorothy Sayers’ observation that Christians can laugh better, because they know the end of the story and don’t have to be so worried about how it will all turn out.

Maybe it was all a part of his passing on the legacy of walking in truth.  For those of us still working toward our legacy, I bet he’d agree:  You gotta keep laughing—and you gotta keep praying.  The rest?  Leave it in God’s good hands.  He’s on it.



I’m Praying for You, Mom

I’ve just returned from a fabulous weekend with over 6200 moms.  What could be better?   I was a speaker at the Hearts at Home National Conference in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois.  It was a wonderful two days, full of laughter and tears, great ideas and Godly encouragement, and heart-to-heart conversations with moms at all ages and stages of parenting.  It was especially fun to connect with the Mom to Mom women who attended.  The above photo is of a wonderful group of women who have been doing Mom to Mom in Northern Vermont for years—love these girls!

Now that I’m home and have some time to reflect, I’m realizing what God’s major message to me out of this weekend is.  It’s the power of prayer.  The absolutely astounding, takes-your-breath-away power of prayer.

I saw it in so many ways.  First, in myself.  I am easily traumatized by technology, and the prospect of doing five workshops in two days in various large lecture halls at a state university with varying technological hookups for my PowerPoint slides was enough to send me over the top on the worry scale.  But I had many people praying.  God brought along wonderful folks to help.  And in the end, it all worked out just fine.   Not only did the presentations work fine (despite many last-minute, down-to-the-wire glitches), but amazingly, my techno-trauma did not get in the way of the message.  When I stood up there and looked in the eyes of the precious moms in each audience, it was just me and them—and above all, God.  Truly an answer to prayer.

One of my talks,  “Top Ten Messages You Want Your Kids To Get,” highlighted the crucial role of moms in praying for their kids.  I shared with the women Woody’s way of signing each note and card and email to the kids with these three things: “We love you.  We’re proud of you.  We’re praying for you.”   I told them that one day their prayers for their kids would come back to them as their kids would pray for them.  And words from my daughter’s last phone call from Ireland ran through my mind: "Mom, I just called back because I forgot something in our last conversation.  I wanted you to know how much I love you, how proud I am of you, and how I will be praying for you at the conference this weekend.  I’m praying for you, Mom.”

And now that I’ve been home a few days, I find conversations I had with moms replaying through my mind.  I remember a mom who needed to be released from guilt over something her kids and God have already forgiven.  I think of the intense mama-love I heard in the voice of a mom wondering if her autistic son is getting the message of her unconditional love for him. And I see the tears in the eyes of so many moms in the audience as I reminded them that “There’s no place your kids can go that’s so far God’s love can’t find them.”  And then I assured them by way of a story that God will carry us when we feel we can’t go one step farther in this mom-marathon.

I find myself praying for these moms—and for all the moms who attended the conference. I pray that God will call to mind just the encouragement they need at the moment they need it. I pray that they will remember they are prayed for.  Not only by me.  But—far more—by Jesus at the right hand of God (Hebrews 7:25) and by the Holy Spirit in “groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26 KJV).

I find myself praying for every one of you reading this post, whether you were at the conference or not.  Prayer is the power which makes this mom-marathon possible.  Not only possible, but joyful. “I’m praying for you, mom.”

Morning Prayers for Mamas

My morning prayers (and all-day prayers, really) are filled with mamas today.  That’s not unusual.  Many, many mamas are on my prayer list regularly—both close personal friends and Mom to Mom groups around the country.

But today my heart is especially heavy with recent conversations.  My memory is filled with God-moments from last weekend at the wonderful Hearts at Home Northeast Convention in Rochester, Minnesota.   Later this week I spent a few precious hours around a warm, cozy table on a gloomy November afternoon with mom-friends sharing deeply from their hearts.  And then there have been texts and phone calls and emails from near and far.

The stories swirl around my mind and fill my heart.  Young mamas struggle with multiple miscarriages, contested adoptions, tiny babies fighting mightily in NICU’s, and post-partum depression.   A 7-year-old is pushing a mama to the edge, and a 17-year-old makes one mother of 6 say to me, “If I’d had a 17-year-old first, I’d have had only one child!”

Mamas of young adult children are on their knees everywhere.  A daughter makes one terrible choice after another to pursue what looks like the life of her dreams but what may very well turn out to be a nightmare.   Another runs from God down “the labyrinthine paths of her own mind” (to borrow from Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven”).  How long will it take them to come to their senses?   Another fights the constant specter of past drug addiction, while a son battles alcoholism. Are they really “clean” and sober now?  Sons and daughters move home as marriages fall apart. Why is this happening to so many marriages?

I think of these stories and pray for these mamas and their children, no matter what age they are.  As I pray, God brings to mind words of encouragement.  Words from somewhat random sources.  Words which strengthen me as I pray and which I hope will encourage my friends—and every one of you who may need “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” (as the great old hymn puts it):

  • From an old prayer quoted in the September 12 reading from Streams in the Desert:  “O Lord, support us!  Yes, support us on every leaning side.”
  • From Psalm 94:18-19: “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”
  • From a Facebook posting my daughter tells me comes from Ann Voskamp’s wonderful blog: “One foot in front of the other and one murmured thanks after another and underneath the Everlasting Arms will hold.”

I pray for every one of my mama-friends with leaning sides and slipping feet—including me!  And I wonder how it is that Sarah Young, in her amazing devotional Jesus Calling, always seems to make God’s Words speak directly into my life.  Just in case these words from her November 9 entry might describe you as they did me:

“. . . some fears surface over and over again, especially fear of the future.  You tend to project yourself into the next day, week, month, year, decade; and you visualize yourself coping badly in those times.  What you are seeing is a false image, because it doesn’t include Me.  These gloomy times that you imagine will not come to pass, since my Presence will be with you at all times.   When a future-oriented worry assails you, capture it and disarm it by suffusing the Light of My Presence into that mental image.  Say to yourself, “Jesus will be with me there and then.  With His help, I can cope!”  Then come home to the present moment, where you can enjoy peace in My Presence.”  ( Jesus Calling, p. 328)

My prayer for all of us, sisters of the leaning sides and slipping feet.

The #1 Thing Every Child Needs Most

I’ve been working on a new talk.  It’s called “In the Middle of the Muddle: What Matters and What Doesn’t.”   I’ve been thinking about the endless “to do” lists we moms have.  And I’ve been struck with how important it is for each of us to sort out what really really matters, and what doesn’t.

One of the things I loved most about Shauna Niequist’s book Bittersweet was her chapter entitled “Things I Don’t Do.”  It was a great reminder that in order to do the things we believe really do matter, we absolutely must let go of things that don’t matter as much.

It got me to thinking about what is truly the #1 thing I believe every child needs most.  Of course there are lots of candidates for this #1 spot.  But I chose my #1 because of its eternal power.  It’s the one thing that we never stop giving our kids: PRAYER.

A mother’s prayers.  For every day of her life—and, I believe, right on into eternity.

I was reminded of the power of a mother’s prayers recently when I had the privilege of speaking at a memorial service for my aunt.  Aunt Sue was a remarkable woman—especially for her times.  A seminary librarian for many years, she served as a librarian at a Native American school after she retired, married for the first time at age 75, and then traveled the world for many years setting up libraries at various mission seminaries and Bible schools while her retired-seminary-professor husband preached and taught.   She died just months short of her 100th birthday and 25th anniversary.

As I reflected on her life, I kept thinking of the little hard-scrabble farm in Minnesota where she was raised.  And immediately I thought of my grandma, a German farm wife with a first-grade education who learned English for the first time in her forties and raised six children who all had college degree—and, several of them, masters degrees or doctorates.

More importantly, I thought of Grandma’s prayers for her children.  Her deepest desire was to raise them in the Lord.  I came across a long-ago letter (written in 1950) in which Grandma commented that “the desire to have you safe in the arms of Jesus has never left me and will never leave me as long as we live.”  She went on to say, “I know we both have failed many times in giving you the right training, but God in His great mercy has made it so that you all have had the chance to experience the new birth which is the most important thing in life and our prayer is that after our earthly life is finished we will be able to say, Lord, here are those which Thou hast entrusted to us. (underlining hers) That will be heaven, first to see Christ who has redeemed us and to praise Him for bringing us safely home.”

A pretty good prayer, if you ask me.    Yes, we fail many times as parents—Grandma sure had that right.  But then come the pivotal words: “But God in His great mercy...”

And we keep on praying.  As I watch our children focus very intentionally on training their children in Godly ways, I think of the generational impact of mama-prayers—for our children, and their children, and their children’s children, as the Bible so often says.

Deathless prayers, as E. M. Bounds observes: “God shapes the world by prayers.  Prayer are deathless—they outlive the lives of those who utter them.”

So just in case you might be making your own list of Things I Do and Things I Don’t Do, here’s my recommendation for #1 on your “To Do” list: Pray for your kids—today, tomorrow, and always.