Monday, March 17

Pray the Extraordinary

Dear Jacob,

When I was in fifth grade my mother left us for about a week to go to Southern California to be with Mema for her first heart surgery. This meant that my dad was in charge.  While Grandpa was a wonderfully, loving man who could grow a garden and ride a motorcycle he was no chef.

The nightly dinner preparation fell to me. Grandma was very careful to have everything prepped and ready before she left:  the food was in the fridge, directions were taped to the front, and because I helped her frequently enough I already knew my way around our kitchen. I was ten so I didn't know everything.  I had no idea how to julienne a carrot or braise a chicken, my knife skills were pretty primal and I explicitly did not know how to put out a grease fire.

Near mid-week we had hamburgers.  I fried the patties in a cast iron skillet on the stove top and baked some french fries in the oven.  It was simple enough and since I was cooking it was my brother's job to do the dishes all week long.  It wasn't a bad arrangement. Our dinners were happening without a hitch and I was getting nightly words of affirmation from Grandpa which made me feel pretty good about myself.

The next day we were going to have spaghetti. I put water in a pot and turned on the burner to get it boiling. Grandpa was on his way home with Uncle Scott and we'd be ready to eat when they arrived.  As I prepped the other parts of the meal, my back to the stove, I heard a loud pouff!  Turning to look, I was horrified to see that the pan we'd used for hamburgers the night before was engulfed in flames.  I'd turned on the wrong burner for the water!

I didn't know what to do.

I did the first thing that came to my head. I took the pot of water and poured some if it into the grease fire. You've probably learned this, but water was not going to make that fire go out.  For grease fires you can pop the lid on the pan, or throw some flour or baking soda all over the fire to smother it and soak up the grease.  Naturally, at ten, I didn't know this.  I thought only water put out fires.

When the flames only licked higher around the oven hood I panicked. I watched the backsplash turn a thick black and the sooted smoke curled around the kitchen ceiling.  I was home alone and what I was doing wasn't working.  I don't remember if I turned the burner off. I just remember that I sat down on the couch next to the counter and cried while the fire continued to roar on the stovetop.

I prayed to God to make it stop and to keep our house from burning down.  I didn't want to lose everything and to fail Grandma at making dinner.  And as suddenly as that fire popped up, it suddenly went out.

I was stunned. I think I said a "Thank you, Jesus" and I got to work cleaning the soot off the walls because I didn't want Grandpa to come home and see it. However, you can't hide a fire just like that and the house would actually smell like burnt hamburgers for a few days.  When Grandpa came home in what seemed like just a few moments, he wasn't angry at me and he sort of rubbed my back a little as he heard my story and looked at the mess in the kitchen and then he took Uncle Scott and I to Burger King for dinner.

I remember Grandma telling me on the phone later that God was really watching out for us that day.  And it hit me that he really had.  I had only made the grease fire worse and created an impossible situation for him, but he took care of it anyway. It could have destroyed our house and me along with it if I was just going to sit there and cry and inhale all that smoke.  I was in a desperate situation and he saw the whole thing and showed up in a real way that established my faith in him for all my days to come.

God hears the cries of broken fifth grade girls who don't know the right step to take to get out of danger.  He doesn't just hear and say, "Oh, what a pity." He actually moves things, changes chemistry, and gives us miracles that are rightly attributed to him.  He doesn't always do that and believe me, I wish he'd swoop in more often to save me from situations.  What he does do is listen and really what we all want is to be heard.

Prayer is a way to be heard. It's a way to communicate with a personal and yet infinite God. It's a practice, which means that it doesn't come naturally; we have to exercise to get a feel for it. With anything that we learn to do, and prayer is something that we can learn, we have to learn the science before we can learn the art. At this point in my life, my prayers have moved into the artful realm.  I really just hold silent ideas before God: people that are hurting, dreams I have for you guys, situations that need some resolution, changes that I need to see in my heart or my words or my attitude.

But prayer can begin for you wherever you want to begin.  Sometimes it's really helpful to find a scripture verse and pray that back to God.  That's essentially what the Lord's Prayer is -- us saying his own words back to him.  And when we do that, and we practice it, he begins to change our hearts and to reveal to us just what his words mean.  Prayers aren't just for desperate times either.  They're for everyday times, for happy times, for thinking about the future and trying to forget the past.  Prayer is this amazing connection that you have to a God who hears and who loves you.

I don't know when I've ever seen God do something so dramatic and so immediate as he did that day in the kitchen.  It was truly a miracle and his miracles are his way of getting our attention, of showing us glimpses of what it's like when heaven and earth meet. A miracle is his sign that he's making all things new, making the ordinary extraordinary and transforming the mundane into the marvelous.

This was my first miracle story.  You were my second one; completely extraordinary and marvelous.