Circles

The following is a sweet ripe banana story written by my amazing older sister, Vanessa. Read and be blessed! And if you can, take the time to watch the video she mentions below, you won’t regret it!
 
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.'”
– Matthew 19:26
 
At the beginning of this past summer, as I entered my second month of unemployment, a place I have never been in my entire working life since I was 15 years old, a remarkable thing happened to me.  It didn’t seem all that remarkable at the time, it was more of a smack in the head from a good friend and our loving God.
You see, I’m one of those people who has been known to put God in a box at times.  Sure I pray, at times intensely and earnestly, but honestly, I think much of the time my prayers have been lacking faith, and not nearly big enough. I never want to “bother” God or bug him with my perceived pettiness. This is a direct lack of faith and has kept me from watching Him work in the most intimate and life changing ways in my life and the lives of those around me.
I’d love to pull up a comfy chair in the back corner of a Starbucks and sit for hours and share with you about all the ways God showed up for me and taught me huge, life changing lessons in the past six months, but I promised my sister I’d keep this relatively short and to the point, so I want to share just one of many amazing stories from my summer of prayer.
That is really where it started. My best friend Heidi started to encourage me to pray really specifically for what I needed and even for what I wanted. After all, I had no job and no income. I am a single parent, living with my dad, barely scraping by. So Heidi began a little campaign to get me to pray for exactly what I needed, not just general prayers of “God please provide” or “God help me get through the month”. She sent me a link to this video (intro to Mark Batterson’s, The Circle Maker) and for about a week bugged me daily about watching it.  Finally, out of desperation, I did.  I was praying about my situation and “trusting the Lord”, but I wasn’t actively taking a role in coming before the God of the universe who knows me intimately and loves me and made me and has a plan for MY life, and specifically asking for what I needed.
I was galvanized into action by the video. I figured I would try out this concept of literally writing down specific prayers like, “I need $278 to pay my health insurance this month, Lord please provide these funds.”  This was not easy for me. Not. At. All. I am not a taker. I am a giver. I would gladly give you the shirt off my back and a coat that matches, than have to take something from you. I have always been the one who looks out for everyone else, who gives time, talents, money, services, whatever I can give in whatever situation, I’m there. If it involves dirt, sweat, blood, tears, callouses, hard work, long hours, I’m there. I’m just not comfortable asking for help. Even from God.  This is a problem.
As I started this “prayer project”, I wrote down some things I genuinely needed, as well as some things I really wanted and seemed worthy of praying for (attending a dear friends wedding out-of-state, for instance). It was uncomfortable. It was HARD to pray for “things”.  God met me there though. Each morning as I sat with my little notebook with my specific, circled prayers on it and prayed, God encouraged me. Verses came to mind like Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Also James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” And Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So, I started to get the message. God wants us to come to him with every need. EVERY need. He wants us to come to him confidently, boldly, as dearly loved children. He doesn’t want us to worry. He wants to give us mercy, grace and peace.  Sounds good to me!  It still felt weird asking for things and stuff, not just “peace” or “patience” or “help”, but by the end of June my situation was so dire, the only way I was going to come up for air was by the literal grace of God.
That month a sweet friend of mine who was one of my former youth group students when I worked in high school ministry, heard of my lousy financial situation and offered what she described was an “Amazon.com slush fund account”.  I wasn’t 100% sure what she meant, but she was telling me if I needed anything that could be purchased from Amazon, I was welcome to these funds. I thanked her but then didn’t give it another thought. I couldn’t pay my bills with that money or put gas in my car or food on my daughters plate.
Several weeks later I saw her in person and she asked how things were going. I told her things were hard and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen but that God was good and I knew He was in control.  She reiterated her earlier offer, but again I thanked her and forgot about it. Nikon 17-55 F2.8
Three days later I was up very early praying over my “prayer circles”. I am a photographer and had been working hard at making my business viable enough to be my main source of income. At this point I was truly in need of a specific lens for my business and it wasn’t just a “gee, that would be nice to have” kind of thing. It was a true need. This was one of my pie in the sky prayers for an item that was needed but seemed so un-Godly to me. Why would the God of solar flares and protein synthesis and giant Sequoias take the time to pay attention to little old me asking him for a Nikon 17-55 F2.8 camera lens? I felt awkward praying for this every day.
So during my prayer time that morning when I got to this item, I lingered there a bit. I really needed this lens. It would actually make a huge difference for my business and potentially put food on the table. As I prayed I remembered an often used sermon story about the man trapped in a flood who is praying to God for help. Soon a boat comes by to rescue him, and he tells the people in the boat that God will save him. Then a helicopter comes to rescue him, and he tells them he is waiting for God to save him. Eventually he drowns in the flood and goes to heaven. When he stands before God, he asks Him, “Lord, why didn’t you save me?” to which God replies, “I tried! I sent you a boat and a helicopter!”.  This story flashed in my mind and then it was like all the pieces came together. This need, this request, this prayer of mine for this very, very specific piece of expensive equipment had already been answered. I just needed to be bold enough to recognize God’s provision and accept the offer from my friend.
I thought and prayed about it and went for a run.  By the time I got back from my run, I knew that this was God’s answer for me and I needed to get a hold of my friend. I told her my story and struggle over this and also that what I was asking for was quite spendy. Turns out that she had just about exactly the amount of money in this “slush fund” to pay for the lens.
This would be a fantastic story if it ended right there. However, there is more and it is the best part.  As we chatted about all of this, she told me something that blew my mind. I was profusely thanking her and to my thanks she said this, “Hey, you took a timid little teenager and taught her how to make friends; this literally is the direct result of that, since these are bonuses I get from peers who think I do a good job.”  What?
Sometimes the things we do out of love and friendship pay dividends far beyond what we normally see. I love this girl, and have loved her since she was an awkward 14 yearold in youth group. I am blessed to have her in my life after all these years and to know I made a difference for her and now here she is making a difference for me- God is good!
Two days later the mailman delivered a box for me. I ripped it open and ran out the door to a photo session, which started 20 minutes later. I do not think I have taken this lens off my camera since.
The next morning when I got up and prayed over my circles, I wrote a check mark and the date next to the camera lens.  God answered that specific prayer. He provided for that specific need. He heard me and showed up in a big way. I was floored. I shouldn’t have been, but I stood in awe. I started to look at my prayer list differently. Something inside me started to change. It was like I could feel the roots of my faith digging down deeper, and the possibilities of what God could do suddenly began to open up in front of me.  It was exciting and it was a little overwhelming to think about too. If God could do this, what else could He do in my life?
What happened next, over the course of the summer and even up until now in mid November, would take days to tell you about. This story about the camera lens is actually not the biggest, wildest answer to prayer I received this summer.  All I can say is this: God knows you. He loves you and He has an amazing plan for your life.  So be bold, step up and start praying big prayers to an even bigger God.  I can guarantee you will be blown away.
I pray because I can’t help myself.
I pray because I am helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God—
It changes me.
-C.S. Lewis
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