Happy Birthdays

Today marks 90 years since my mother was born. She didn’t live to see this birthday; she died back at the end of February. But birthdays were important to my mother– hugely important. She never forgot a birthday. Mom was pretty sharp into her later years. She might forget someone’s name–for awhile. She might forget a few details about what happened yesterday or last year, but she didn’t forget to take her medication. She would eventually remember that name she couldn’t come up with earlier in the day. And she had an elaborate system of calendars, date books, and directories to help her remember birthdays.

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Mom had a large desk calendar. Each day’s “square” was covered in her handwriting– names, numbers, etc., reminding her of birthdays and anniversaries of her relatives, friends, neighbors, and church family. If she knew your name and birthday, it was on her calendar. If she knew your age, it was on there, as well. If she knew your anniversary, it was there, too. If she knew. your birthday and/or anniversary AND your address, you received a greeting card– and it generally arrived on the exact date! Mom did this for literally hundreds of people each year.

Today hits me hard. Not because Mom made a fuss about her own birthday–even special ones like a 90th. She enjoyed getting a card or gift, or having some cake or ice cream on her birthday, but that’s not what I miss. I miss the absolute joy she had in remembering others, and in being remembered. I can still see the look of childlike glee on her face when she and a friend were both surprised with a birthday party a few years ago. She was delighted for her friend as much as for herself. I can remember her insistence that certain cards be placed in the mailbox on certain days, so that they would not arrive too early or late, but just at the right time for someone’s special day. I remember shopping with her for box after box of greeting cards. Even though she bought “in bulk,” filling a basket or cart with multiple boxes of cards, she was very choosy about them– looking over the designs and the messages inside each box. Often, she had “buyer’s remorse” about a particular box of cards: she wasn’t satisfied with the tone or the greeting. In a box with four different designs, she might send out cards with two of the designs and just leave the others untouched.

Birthdays were important to Mom because individuals were important to her. She wanted every person she knew to feel loved, remembered, and special. Because they ARE! Not just by Mom, but by the God she loved and served.

Mom loved birthdays, including her own. But Mom had another birthday. Mom won’t celebrate another earthly birthday– she won’t get any cards or ice cream today– but she is celebrating her “other” birthday today. She did not knew the exact date, but she was born into eternal life when she accepted Jesus as her savior, and that birthday has no end. It is much more important than her earthly birthday, and fills her (and all who love her) with a greater joy. I can only imagine the gleeful expression on her face at this moment that “was” her birthday, and in every moment since she went “home.” And it’s in large part due to my Mother’s witness and influence that I also have a “second” birthday. I don’t knew its exact date, though I remember it was a beautiful summer day. Later this year, I will celebrate my earthly birthday–and it will be a bit sad without Mom’s card and her smile. But I know that we will someday share much more than a cake with candles, or a greeting card or a wrapped gift.

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Mom taught me to appreciate birthdays– and to share the joy of wishing others a “Happy Birthday.” And to anyone celebrating an earthly birthday today, “Happy Birthday!” But I am looking forward to the day that I can share eternity with all those who have a “second birthday” in Christ! I’ll see Mom again, but even that will pale in comparison to experiencing God’s presence and the love He lavishes on His Children!

Just think– God loves you so much that He never forgets your earthly birthday. He not only knows your birthday, He remembers the exact moment of your conception, and every moment since! He knows you and loves you so much that He wants you to have another Birthday into eternal life with Him! And that is better than any earthly birthday card, cake, gift, or party you could ever celebrate! If you have a “second” birthday, even if you don’t know the exact date, I want to wish you a “Happy Birthday” as well– today and every day!

Developing Discipline

In my last post, Pursuing Discipline, I spoke of journaling and being consistent in prayer as part of learning discipline. Discipline is an important part of the Christian Walk; one that we don’t always talk about. Discipline is difficult. Discipline is developed over time. And I want to be clear that keeping a Prayer Journal, like other forms of discipline, will take time and effort.

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My current prayer journal is the result of years of effort, changes, failures, and baby steps. Several years ago, I found, in a Christian Bookstore, an item called a “Prayer Journal.” It was pre-printed with wonderful facts about different unreached people groups to pray for each week of the year. It was set up in a “planner” format, with each week spread out on a double page, and areas for each day to write in appointments, notes, personal prayer requests, etc. I loved it. But it was specific to that year. As the year was drawing to a close, I went back to the same bookstore, eager to get the next year’s edition. I could not find it.

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I thought, “How hard could it be to create my own?” HARD! I did not have the resources to update the information about various countries. I did not like many of the other “planners” I came across. I wasn’t satisfied with apps and on-line planners and calendars. And I wanted to add space for local and personal prayer requests, including all the birthdays and anniversaries of people I know. I wanted a format I could use from year to year, so I wouldn’t have to enter the information over and over again. And I wanted a format where I could see it all, spread out in front of me.

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More than twenty years later, I began using the system I currently use– four notebooks for each quarter of the year. Each page is a single day, with the names of people celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, or (in some cases) families mourning the loss of a loved one on that day. In the top corner, I have the name of a country, city, community, or geographical area. These are my daily focus points. In the front of the notebook, I have a reminder of the “Prayer Points”– those topical areas for each day of the week. The bottom half of the page is free for me to add in immediate prayer requests– hospitalizations, those who are traveling or moving, etc.. Each “new” request I add at the bottom gets “tagged” with the year of the request. This way, the journal can be used year after year, until I run out of space for requests, or it wears out! I leave the back of each page for answers. Some days, I go back and look at prayer requests from the previous week and write in the answers or progress. Sometimes, I am reminded to update the request. Sometimes, I see a request from a previous year, and I have not yet written the answer, or there has been an update. In this way, I can help focus my daily prayer time in the morning and/or evening. Of course, I can pray about anything, any time; this is just a way to pursue a more disciplined approach to prayer.

For anyone wanting to use or create a Prayer Journal– please take time to build it prayerfully and deliberately. But also be prepared to “fail.” I went through several notebooks, purchased planners and ready-to-use prayer journals before I found one that works well for me. And even now, there are days when I do not open my journal and use it as it was intended. It is not, after all, a ritual or a code to follow. Prayer is a pursuit– but it is just one part of the pursuit of a closer relationship with God. Disciplined prayer helps me focus on God, helps me understand more of His Character, and helps me build our relationship. Perfect prayer is not the goal, but building on prayer is the objective toward reaching the goal. Part of the building of character and discipline is the journey!

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He did not give them a formula for a prayer journal. He did not give them a system for prayer. He gave them a very simple sample format. But Scripture gives us several other examples of prayers– long and anguished, poetic and joyful, even quick bursts of panic or exasperation. Prayer is far too complex to boil down to a single formula or system.

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I hope that what I write here helps you on a journey to discover the complexities of prayer. I hope that you, like me, will draw closer to God as you pursue ways to think about and to practice praying. Your journey, and your journal, will look and function far different from mine. But I hope you find one that helps you grow in discipline, in compassion, in knowledge, and in character. As for me, I will be turning my focus on East Timor, my nephew (who is celebrating his birthday today!), and business and financial issues. And then all the other things on my heart throughout the day! Because God is always listening, and God is always everywhere!

On This Day…

There is a website, On This Day, that can tell you an interesting or important fact about something that happened on any day of the year throughout history.

http://On This Day – Today in History, Film, Music and Sporthttps://www.onthisday.com

Of course, this site only gives you certain facts from certain years and in certain areas of interest. So its focus is limited to one or two events per day from random years. Sometimes, the dates and facts are important events in world history; other times, they are trivial but interesting details about a sporting match, or a film star.

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I don’t have to consult On This Day today. Something very personal, very important, and very tragic happened on September 1, 1998. My father died. I watched him take his last ragged breath in a hospital bed. I held his hand moments before he died, and I wept with my mother and sister as we tried to take in the great loss. There are many days that are etched into my memory– birth days, death days, graduation days, wedding days–that will never make the pages of history books or web sites. There are other days, “ordinary” days, that pass me by without reference to any memories at all. Many days that mean little to me fill others with joy or pain.

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Yet each day is a gift from God to each one of us. My 24 hours today will be different from yours. Somewhere, this day will be a new beginning of life– elsewhere, it will be someone’s last day. Small things will happen on this day– a cheerful greeting, a burnt slice of toast, shared laughter with a friend, a hug, a stubbed toe–things we won’t remember tomorrow, or things we won’t value in the moments when they happen. Big things will happen, too–joyous occasions and tragic events that may shake families, communities, or even the world. This day may be filled with sunshine or rain, happiness or grief, achievements or disappointments.

God sees them all– He not only sees them, but He shares them with us. Every moment–every place– every person!

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On This Day, you can be assured that God is with you. In joyful moments and tragic circumstances. In fearful situations and quiet moments of routine tasks. In crowds of commuters or in lonely corners. On This Day– and every day– God wants to share all that is on your mind and in your heart. On This Day and in this moment, God is as close as your next breath.

(See Deuteronomy 31:8)

New Every Morning

Today is…

In some ways, all days are the same. They are 24 hours long; they include a morning and an evening (though in some parts of the world one always seems to be shorter than the other as we go through a typical year); and they fall into predictable patterns of weeks, months, season, and years. So we can identify a particular day as Tuesday, the 4th of September, or the 73rd day of the year 2019, or even the first day of summer, but Wednesday will follow Tuesday, October will follow September, and the 73rd day of the year will follow the 72nd.

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Lately, days seem to blend together and get lost, as predictable routines have been put “on hold” due to a global pandemic. People complain about having “too much time” on their hands, or getting confused about what day it is, because it seems more than ever just like the day before. But that is only perception. Each day still contains 24 hours, and still follows the patterns set up by God when He set the universe in motion. God’s incredible design means that we can find comfort and stability in knowing that there won’t suddenly be a day with 77 hours, or six Mondays in a row, or a year without a summer (though sometimes it may feel like it)! Seemingly endless winters or dry seasons may be discouraging and even deadly, and we need to be prepared and willing to adapt to the challenges they bring, but we don’t need to give in to panic or despair.

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According to the prophet Jeremiah, in the book of Lamentations, God’s mercies are new every morning. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Lamentations+3%3A22-23&version=CSB God never gives us yesterday’s blessings, or tomorrow’s mercy. God gives us just what we need, when we need it (when we ask, and often even when we don’t)! God never loses track of what day it is, what season we are in, or what will come tomorrow. So if you’re stuck wondering if this is Sathursday, the 41st of Marprilmay, or if you missed summer because it was on Wednesday this year, know that God’s provision, His Mercy, and His timing are sufficient, perfect, and brand new for Today. You didn’t miss it; you won’t be locked out of tomorrow’s portion, and yesterday’s disappointments don’t have to follow you into next week.

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God is ready to meet each of us in a new, pure, fresh way EVERY day. No expiration date; no appointment necessary. We don’t need to sign in, fill out paperwork, follow seventeen safety codes, show ID, or wait in line.

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So whatever day it is–and whatever kind of day it has been so far–prayer brings us to a God of order and design, a God of renewal and refreshment, and a God of Mercy and Grace beyond all time and space.


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