Disclaimer: This is a tough story for me to tell. Its taken a long road to get to this point, and this isn’t but a small fraction of it. Also, Im not really interested in a religious debate. These are one person’s views/feelings/whatever, so chill out. By the way this post is REALLY long, sorry in advance. If you’re good with that, keep reading!
I was raised in the church. I can’t tell you how many Sundays of my youth were spent with my Mamaw and my Papaw at Bethel Baptist Church in my hometown of Memphis, TN. I was that kid who got to sit in the old people’s Sunday school class and for some God-forsaken reason thought that made me cool or exclusive. Every time their class was about halfway over i’d start to wonder if I should have gone with the kids my age, but I kept going with them, week after week (I’m just saying…pastries and OJ).
I also grew up knowing how to pray. My grandfather starts EVERY prayer; “Dear Heavenly Father, Lord, we want to thank you for this day Lord” and ends it with “In your precious name we pray, Amen”. Whats in between the two always varies, but it always starts and ends the same without fail. I personally don’t pray exactly like this, but that man taught me to pray. He taught me the importance of praying, and he showed me the power of prayer. Because I was raised in the church, praying always came easily for me. Of course, when you’re a kid it’s easy to pray for things. It’s easy to pray for an “A” on a spelling test or to pray for that new N*Sync album. Shoot, by my childish standards, I had this praying thing down! Anytime I needed something I could just pop in a prayer and call it a day!
Fast forward to 2001.
I remember sitting in my bed hugging my dog as tight as I could while the lights of the ambulances and police cars lit up my room. Minutes before, my Grandmother had come screaming down the hallway for my dad to wake up because my mom wasn’t breathing. I did what my grandfather taught me exactly how to do which was pray. I had prayed for things before, and they had happened. It was that simple. Naturally, I began to pray. I prayed for my mom to be okay and for everything to go back to normal. She had been sick for months before because of a double hernia operation that she had and she was so close to being better. SO. CLOSE. Months and months of my entire family dealing with all the issues that had resulted from this one operation were so close to being over, and in an instant, everything changed. God had different plans for my family that night because things never went back to normal. Things got exponentially worse, and two days later my dad sat me down and explained that mom had died, and would not be coming home from the hospital.
All I could think was that for the first time in my life God had failed me. God didn’t answer my prayers. All I asked for was my mom to be alive, just that one simple thing and it didn’t happen. When dad told me that mom had died, I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry that day, I didn’t even cry at her funeral. I was SO mad at God, that crying was simply not an option for me at the time. I was sure something was wrong with me, and I spent a lot of the last 13 years carrying around guilt about that. I remember praying to God, “Please, just let me cry, I want to feel normal, and the normal thing to do is to cry. I don’t want anyone thinking there is something wrong with me”. Guess what?Failed again according to my standards. The wake and funeral came and passed, and the little girl who just lost her mom sat there stone faced and dry eyed.
The days, weeks, and months that followed were pretty terrible. My dad wasn’t functioning like I needed him to, and his solution was to bring in various women to play the role of mom. A few more superficial relationships and a failed marriage later, I ended up going to live with my other set of grandparents. My Grandmother was still reeling from the loss of her only child, and knew that I needed to be with her, and in a church home ASAP.
My grandmother and I faithfully went every Sunday to First Baptist Church Hickory Withe. It was a small town church with a big heart. I was in a really rough spot in my life when I started going there, and after joining the youth group I started to turn my life around little by little. I stopped the self blaming and self harming, I started gaining faith again, I started having the desire to pray again, and I started trying to let God work through me the best I thought he could. I even got the courage to pray for something big again. This time, I asked if God would just take all my dad’s issues and fix them, so I could be with him again. I kid you not, the next day I got a phone call from my dad. He was calling to tell me that he had gotten his 3rd DUI, and would be spending at least the next year(my senior year of high school, mind you) in jail. Once again, the only thing I prayed for was completely shattered in my opinion, and once again, I felt as though I had been failed.
The day after my dad began his year long sentence, I decided to change my tune a little bit, and stop praying for THINGS. I instead started praying for qualities; strength, forgiveness, patience, understanding, peace, etc. While I had thought God was being selfish all those years, I realized that I had been the selfish one, by simply asking God for things and just expecting that he would give them to me. The thing is, I shouldn’t have prayed for God to save my mom from an untimely death and my father from serious self destruction. There was no stopping either of those, they were in the plans long before me or my prayers of desperation were ever even a factor. It was only after I started praying for understanding that I began to realize this.
I’m not Ms. Religious over here. Religion is totally awkward to me to be completely honest. Ive gone to churches since reaching adulthood, and something is kind of off there for me. I choose to have my relationship with God, and I pray almost daily, but I’m not the poster child for religion. By any means. I’m doubtful, I have questions, I have seen the church ruin the religion, my faith is consistently undulating. However, even after all that, I feel like my relationship with God is way more solid now that I’ve stopped praying for things .
Throughout this journey I’ve seen God work in my life in more indirect ways than I can count.
When I asked God to make my mom better, he knew that it wasn’t possible. However, the step mother he ultimately had in store for me would be more incredible than I could have ever imagined (My dad and step mom just celebrated their ten year anniversary, and I think I was more proud than they were). When I asked God to save me from myself, he placed my best friend and second family in my life, knowing that the two little badly-damaged band nerds would become “bes frens”, still keeping each other sane well into their twenties. He gave me a second mother who to this day, puts flowers on my moms grave every mothers day even though they have never actually met. He put music and my horse In my life when I needed it most, both of which I have attributed to “saving” my life multiple times. When I asked God to make my dad better, it was impossible for me to see just how necessary and beneficial that year in jail would be. When I asked God to just let me be able to cry, I didn’t know he was only just beginning to show me how strong I already was inside or that the most wonderful man would come along 7 years later, and I would finally cry on a life changing road trip to Florida with him.
It’s funny how easily we get discouraged when things don’t go our way right when we want them to. Had all of these things I prayed for gone my way, life would be completely different from how it is now. I don’t know whether it would be a good or a bad different, I just know it would be different. While I felt let down or failed in the past when praying for things that didn’t go my way, now I’ve learned that its actually just part of the greater plan, and praying for things isn’t going to change the outcome one way or another.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, my grandfather still does us all the honor of leading the prayer before we eat at every cook out, and you better believe he still starts and ends each prayer the same way he always has.
My sweet grandfather on my dad’s bike. Clearly it’s a babe magnet, just check out my grandmother!