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Category: faith

5 Characteristics of a Close-Knit Prayer Group

I recently had an amazing experience with a small prayer group. It was just comprised of myself and two other girls, but it was the most uplifting, deep, and powerful group prayer experience I’ve had in some time! Between life updates and prayers, we ended up being together for about four hours. CRAZY! Your prayer group doesn’t have to be four hours, but this experience inspired me to write down some features of a successful group that can really make a difference in your personal and spiritual life. Here they are!

  1. The group is made up of five people or less—any bigger than that and you won’t have time to delve deep into each other’s lives.
  2. The members are all the same gender. I enjoy mixed prayer groups. But for a core, close-knit prayer group that you are going to share your struggles, cares, joys, and hopes with, you are going to want to feel comfortable discussing all aspects of your life. This includes relationships with the opposite sex, and mixed groups make this complicated.
  3. The group includes some people you haven’t known forever and don’t know all your business. This is key because these individuals will have fresh perspective on your life and, perhaps, new insight into what you’re going through. A prayer group is about supporting each other as well as bringing our thanks and our worries to God. We need wise women—preferably women in tune with the Holy Spirit—to speak biblical truth and advice in the moment and stand with us as we come before the Lord in prayer.
  4. The group meeting lasts long enough to cover all your bases without rushing through everything. This includes thanking God for what He has done for you and for specific blessings, updates from each group member, and prayer requests.
  5. You do more than pray together. You do life together. This is what builds relationships. This is what bonds you. Experiencing life, attending church, studying the Bible, spending time together in general—whatever you choose to do together builds trust between members and brings you closer as a group.

You Are What You Do

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

Proverbs 29:17

Memory Care: Being a Friend to Those With Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Over the past year or so, God has given me a heart for the elderly. This January, I really wanted to get involved in a ministry, so I signed up for VolunteerMatch’s email list and started sending out inquiries to local care programs.

I ended up becoming a memory care friend—and this was definitely a God thing given what happened next. Being a memory care friend consists of spending time with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, giving them care and companionship while offering their caregiver a break.

This is very fulfilling and fun work at times. It is also harder than I expected.

Days before I went to serve at my first memory care group event, I learned that my grandpa had been admitted into a care facility for his Alzheimer’s. The transition has not gone smoothly, and it’s been very troubling for my grandparents and the entire family.

So I went into the memory care meeting with a whole new context for the disease. Doing the training was one thing, but now it was personal. I had a vague concept of what Alzheimer’s meant from the training and general knowledge. However, seeing it impact  my family was so sad. My grandpa was the joker, the sweet one, the one who loves ice cream. He always likes things just right. He was never confused. The truth was that I had no idea how bad things had gotten. It had been too long since I’d been to see my grandparents and now I felt terrible about that.

The first day of my memory care experience was tough. I was new and ended up being matched with the person (S) who had perhaps the most difficulty participating in the event.

S had trouble following along with the activities and flat out couldn’t do several of them. She also wasn’t much of a talker that particular day, so I felt lost. Most of the morning was spent in awkward silence. I tried to help her as best I could, but there was so little she could manage. Was I hopeless at this? How was I going to connect with my grandpa now? What was I doing wrong?

Thankfully, things got better. The next time, S was much more herself. She was talkative and took part in the activities as best she could. I also realized that she’s pretty deaf so part of the problem was that she just couldn’t hear anything I was saying last time.

Then I realized my mistake. I had been so concerned with following the care guidelines and not making her uncomfortable that I wasn’t responding to her as an individual. What were her specific needs? She couldn’t hear me. She needed help walking but not too much. She’s still the same woman she was before the disease—it’s just more difficult for her to shine through. I need to keep that in mind with grandpa. He’s still at the stage where he remembers his loved ones, and that is a huge blessing . . . mostly. It also means my grandma has to constantly tell him why he can’t just come home.

The next memory care visit was so much more enjoyable for S and me. We smiled and laughed more; we even did a crossword, with some help from yours truly. It was a relief to see that there could be such a difference based on the day, at least in S’s case. It leaves hope for everyone involved that tomorrow will be better.

I’m still hoping that tomorrow will be better for grandpa, even though things are not going well. He’s so focused on getting back home to my grandma that he can’t settle. He also has very little interest in the activities at the home.

I visited grandma this weekend. She was so happy to see my sister and I, but decided that we shouldn’t see grandpa yet. She said it would be too upsetting for us, and I wanted the decision to be hers. She is kind of lost without him, and it was hard for me to see that. My grandpa and grandma were always together. It’s so strange—and tragic—to think of them forced to live separately, even though I know it’s the best thing for them both right now.

I am confident that, even amid this trial, God has a plan. He will provide. I keep praying my grandpa will have just one day like the last day I spent with S. I know my grandma needs it as much as he does.

I’ll leave you with this Spring haiku—a bit of hope—composed by the memory care group clients at our last gathering:

Flowers blossom sweet.

They are very feminine.

She is beautiful.

Isn’t it amazing that even though their brains are confused in some ways, these individuals are still able to create a work of art? I find it remarkable and soothing. All is not lost. There is hope. God is good. And flowers are sweet.

Anna

Experiencing JOY in its Purest Form

Theologian and author C.S. Lewis once said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The question is what do we mean when we talk about joy? Is Lewis talking about happiness? General elation? Or is he getting at something deeper?

According to dictionary.com, joy means “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure.” However, I believe there are actually two kinds of joy: earthly joy and spiritual joy. Earthly joy is fleeting and so is happiness; both are utterly circumstantial. While earthly joy and spiritual joy are “caused by something exceptionally good,” spiritual joy—which is joy in in its most raw, pure form—is derived only from the One who is most good. This is the “infinite joy” that Lewis longs for humanity to reach for.

 “Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:20

 “The precepts of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Psalm 19:8

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2

 Spiritual joy is a gift from God. It is found in His presence, in His Word, and can even be experienced during our trials because it has nothing to do with our circumstances. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit; therefore, it is a a gift we can ask God to grant us more of. I pray that this coming week you will receive the blessing of true joy from our good, giving Father.

Anna

Walking in Step with the Lord

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9

If you grew up in the church, this verse is probably familiar to you. It’s nice and comforting. Maybe you’ve heard it so many times it even sounds cliché—not so for me. This verse became my lifeline during one of my hardest trials.

I consider myself very blessed. I grew up in a loving Christian middle-class home, received an excellent education, and have been able to pursue my passion for writing as an adult.  But like everyone, I have had my struggles. The greatest—and ever ongoing—trial of my life is chronic illness, which I was diagnosed with at just ten years old. From that time on, I have lived with pain. And sometimes, it’s hard.

The truth is I was an absolute wreck in high school. Oh, I seemed fine. Perfectly well adjusted. Type-A personality, good student, extra-curricular activities, involved in church. But inside, I was hurting. And it got to a point where the combination of the physical and emotional pain that I was in—and not dealing with—just boiled over. And my body turned on me—or so it seemed. I didn’t know that could happen. But as Psalm 139:14 tells us, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God designed our bodies to protect themselves—and both my body and spirit were under siege. So my body rebelled against the stress it was under, resulting in a medical condition in which you show psychological stress in physical ways. For me, it was my legs that took the hit.

The loss of motion seemed to happen gradually . . . then all at once. I’m not even sure how long the process took. I was walking normally one day. Then it got harder. My legs were heavier. They didn’t want to move. So I moved slower—until suddenly, I could hardly move them at all.

This was not part of my plan. Didn’t I have enough to worry about already? Wasn’t constant pain enough for one person to handle? It already felt like too much. As I faced down hours of physical and talk therapy, feeling completely overwhelmed, I came across Proverbs 16:9 in my Bible. And I realized: If the LORD determines my steps, He also determined this stop. He alone knew I needed help. He saw my hurt. He felt the deep need that I was so desperately trying to hide. And . . .

He brought my plans to a stop, so He could redirect my steps.

Leaning on the Lord’s strength took on new meaning for me. I was literally counting on him for every step—and it took me about five minutes to take just a few. I had to think through every motion. Use this muscle. Flex that. Move that forward. It was painful and agonizingly slow. And I was afraid every time that I might not be able to take another. But I did, praying and trusting him to carry me through.

“He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Psalm 40:2b

During those very slow walks, I dwelt in God’s presence more than ever before. God taught me patience. He taught me humility. He taught me strength. And most importantly, he was always faithful. Through all the doctors, pain, sweat, and tears, God never left my side. It took months, but I was able to walk normally again—and still do to this day. And most importantly, I received the help my spirit needed for the emotional pain that I was feeling—the isolation from my peers, the resignation, the hopelessness. God took that and lit a fire in my heart through this crucible. I began speaking at youth groups, sharing my story—and feeling more alive than I had in years. God gave me a purpose for the pain He brought me through, and I was blessed enough to see the fruit from that purpose almost immediately.

Is there an area in your life that’s spinning out of control? Are you going through the motions, all in a whirlwind, with “no time” to rest and refresh? I challenge you to press pause and examine your life today. Is it likely that you will develop a conversion disorder and have the dramatic life reset that I did? No. But it is almost certain that you will miss out on God’s best for your life if you don’t check in with God and make sure you’re walking in step with him.