Read an Excerpt
From Heaven to My HeartGod's Journey with Me
By Beverly Jane Phillips
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Beverly Jane Phillips
All right reserved.
Chapter One"If you are not writing enough it is because you are reading too much." Until I heard Tom Bird, author and teacher, say these words I had never, ever thought there was such a thing as reading too much! The very idea! I have always been a book worm to the max. In a conversation with one of my sisters, I once said, "Remember how when we were kids, Mom used to get after you for always having your nose in a book?" Her response was, "That wasn't me! It was you!" Surprised by her comment, I remembered that it was me who was always reading. To this day I take a book wherever I go in case I might have a few minutes to wait. Not only that, I usually take two or three books on vacations. My manner of reading is to have three, sometimes four books, started at once. Then I can read what I am in the mood for at any given time and place.
My favorite books will never be of use to anyone else, because as I read, I mark passages which stand out for my own spiritual growth and those that I want to use in some future teaching situation that might present itself. The book shelves in my study are full of books that are all marked up, ready with ideas that I want to think more about and to share in writing or teaching. But instead of dwelling on them, I read another book and mark ideas that strike me as interesting, important or inspiring. I teach classes, lead workshops and write retreats whenever I get a chance. But if I live to be one hundred and two I will never use all the great ideas in those precious books.
Tom Bird's words about reading too much lurk in my mind like a warning. Many things he said struck deep chords within me. Some were things I had not thought about before, and some were in harmony with what I have already thought. He said each one of us has an Author Within, a creative source for whom we may have our own name. "Author Within" suits me fine. In my heart it is a fitting name for God. If God is wanting me to write, then I must write in order to find contentment and the feeling of being in God's flow. If my Author Within is restless because I keep soaking up so many ideas and not using them, then I am reading too much.
It was at the urging of my Author Within that I wrote this book. It may be classified as "memoirs," but I would label it "spiritual autobiography." Memoirs, in my mind, belong to famous people, people who have been involved in the course of world events. If the events of my life are interesting to people who don't know me, it is because they are interested in the experience of living life with God
I've not done things that made me famous. What I have done is write a prayer almost every day of my life for more than thirty years. Not surprisingly, through that practice and over that time I have grown and changed spiritually. If I can describe my journey of faith to you, I will be satisfied. There have been a superabundance of things that have happened to me and to my family and friends that have given God openings to change me, to grow me. There were probably many more times when God, She Who Is, was trying to get through to me, but I was busy doing something else and not listening.
My hope and my plan is that God will be the main character of this book. The wonder of it all is the way God has moved in my life. Unanswered prayers or prayers answered with "no" have been a great disappointment to me and the cause of deep soul searching but they are only a part of the larger picture. The larger picture is the fact that God seeks us out wanting fellowship with us and blessing us in obvious ways but also in many unknown and unnoticed ways.
One of the ways she blesses us is through the communities we live in—our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches, our workplaces, our country. Whoever we are, whether we admit it or not, whether we like it nor not, we are influenced by the people around us. God works with people to grow each one of us—if we are willing—to be the person she wants us to be.
Being more of a solitary, independent person, my recognition of what community has meant to me has been a long time coming. As I look over the prayer journals, I see that the people and their problems that I prayed for were not just objects of my prayer. They were important actors in changing in my life.
Reading my earliest journals, I find that at first I was not faithful to writing every day. There were gaps of days, weeks and even months when, for whatever reasons, I didn't write. The first prayer in the first journal was written on July 2, 1976, and then six months elapsed without another written prayer. During that time I was still praying but only on a catch-as-catch-can basis. It was almost four years later that I worked into the groove of writing a prayer every day. I am a morning person, so it is fitting that morning would be the time I chose for private prayer time. Not only am I at my best then, it has also been a time usually free of interruptions
My first prayers were written out of the anguish of watching a friend die. Soon after that, they resembled grocery lists. In the journal I wrote the name of each person I was praying for and specifically what they needed. What they needed was sometimes determined by what they told me their need was. Sometimes it was determined by what I (in my all my wisdom) "knew" they needed. When I would say to someone, "I will add you to my prayer list" that is literally what I did, added them to a list. I did mean what I said and I did pray for them. There is nothing wrong with writing down the names of those you have promised to pray for. In fact, the very writing of their names can be an act of prayer.
However, in those kinds of prayers, the writing of the prayer was not the act of friendship with God that later came to be the meaning of prayer for me. I was not seeking a direct connection with the Spirit of God in order to experience God's presence. Rather, it was a way of keeping track of whether or not God answered my prayers. One book on prayer I read at the time strongly suggested that prayer requests be written in such a way that there would be space next to them to record, mind you record, when and how God answered each particular prayer.
It was very presumptive and arrogant of me to believe there was some virtue in checking up on God to see whether he had delivered what I asked for. I was operating on the assumption that however I saw the problem or the need was what God willed for that person. I presumed to tell God the answer to every difficult situation.
There are as many ways to pray as there are people doing the praying. A person's theology sets the stage for one's prayer life. Two general theologies are represented in the two ways of praying I have described as mine at different times in my life. One theology assumes that God is somewhere high and lifted up directing the events of each person's life, pulling the strings, so to speak. The other theology says that God is with us in our lives in an intimate way that draws us into relationship with her. My days of keeping prayer lists as such are past. I still do pray for people who ask, but my prayers are much more open-ended. Sadly, there are still plenty of times when I tell God exactly what I think is needed and how she should make it happen.
Finding time for solitude in prayer is the lament I hear most often when I am talking with people about their prayer life. Like most people I was busy every hour of almost every day and still never felt like I had done all the things I needed to do. My solution to the time problem was to have a special place where I could go for precious time with God whenever I was alone during the day. It was my rocking chair, the chair I had used through the infancy of my two children. It was the place they received nourishment for their little bodies when they were babies and it was a place where I could cuddle and comfort them as they grew older. It was then and still is a place where I find nourishment and comfort for myself even though that chair has been moved four times into four different homes since it first became my prayer place.
On the table next to the rocking chair I kept my Bible, the spiral notebook in which I wrote my prayers and any devotional book I was reading. Having this place of prayer was a big step toward writing daily in my prayer journal. It was a sacred space even though it was in my living room. Such a sacred space can be in a more private room, outdoors, in your car, anywhere you can be undisturbed for a period of time. While having the sacred space made it easier to be alone with God, it did not completely solve the problem of praying regularly.
Another problem, besides finding a time when no one was around, was all the waiting household chores. I am a person who likes, I should say, delights in getting things done. So when Norm was off to the church and Jim and Nancy to school, I would think, "now is the time to pray!" But first, I must do the dishes, make the beds, sweep the porch, make a couple of important phone calls and then—you guessed it—then I could sit down and pray. By then, the time I had to be alone was used up. The sacred space was waiting for me and it would continue to wait.
God has always been calling to me to be faithful, and she called to me, in this instance, to find a way to be truly faithful to my prayer time. It occurred to me one day that if Jesus was actually waiting for me in person in my living room, I wouldn't keep him waiting one single second! If he was visible in my living room, I would let those daily chores wait so that I could sit with him. It worked. That was a turning point in my prayer life. From then on, when other things began to use up the time I had to myself, I would picture my loving Lord waiting for me. He was waiting for me because he wanted to spend time with me.
As time went on my sacred space expanded to include any space, and my prayer time expanded to fill any time. Miraculous things happen when you are faithful to God's calling to you. If you truly want to be a person of prayer, you have to really, really want it and go for it.
A haunting fear I have of sharing too openly and too much about my prayer life is the fear that I will lose it. Jesus said we should pray in secret. "... whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt. 6:6). That could mean that we aren't to talk about our prayer practices or it could mean that we shouldn't brag about them. Hopefully, when I am talking and writing, it is safe to share this very private, spiritual practice as long as I am not feeling self-righteous about it.
There were a few years early in God's journey with me, when I believed that sincere prayer, dedicated serious prayer, should be accompanied by fasting. My prayer journal shows that I had a sense of needing to fast. At the same time I was not sure it was what God wanted and whether it was appropriate. At some point during the time I was practicing prayer with fasting, I began to tell others about it. After awhile, I couldn't do it anymore. So now I pray that writing about my prayer life and opening it to others will not diminish it, but rather, will strengthen me on this journey and inspire those who read about it.
The illness of a refugee from Lebanon was the motive for my first prayers with fasting. A Christian agency had an agreement with the government of the United States that Christian refugees could be brought from war-torn Lebanon if there were groups or individuals here who would sponsor them. Sponsoring a family involved helping them find homes and jobs and get settled in their new land. Koshaba was the husband and father of a Christian refugee family from Beirut that our church, Christ Church in Hanover Park, Illinois, sponsored. The family of father, mother and four sons arrived from Beirut in April 1976. By June, Koshaba was critically ill.
The language barrier was a serious and frustrating problem as we dealt with his doctors, nurses and hospitals. He spoke some English but not enough to understand medical terms. His wife spoke five languages, but English was not one of them. The boys soon learned English and, of course, as immigrant children do became very fluent. While helping them get settled into an apartment, gathering furniture and clothes, and getting Social Security numbers, members of our church had worked out a way to converse with them when a translator was not available. It involved much pantomiming and loud voices. I often wondered whether they ever thought, "You don't have to shout! I'm not deaf! I just don't understand English."
It was next to impossible to pantomime the medical details associated with Koshaba's disease and what was being done for him. During this time, things happened that I can only attribute to the work of God. One day not long after he was hospitalized there appeared a doctor who spoke Assyrian! He could talk to him and Virginia to explain the medical terms and diagnoses to them without pantomime and shouting.
During the months of Koshaba's illness, I read many books on prayer and fasting. I didn't just read. I practiced what I read and fasted faithfully not only for him but for other people I knew and for the starving children of our country and of the world. It soon became apparent to me that whether my fasting prayers brought the answers I wanted for my friends, family and the world, they affected me in deep and mysterious ways. Awareness of my hunger when I was fasting seemed to bring clearer awareness of God's presence with me. Wanting to eat something, any little thing, made my promise to God move to the forefront of my mind.
My prayers show that I wasn't always sure that I should fast. This is a prayer of struggle, an argument with God.
This is serious and Koshaba and Virginia need help! I should fast—should I fast? Why should I fast? What good would it do? If fasting is only of spiritual benefit, why should I fast for them? Do You want me to fast? "If you say you will do it, will you?" -God Do You want me to fast? "If you say you will do it, will you?" -God Do You want me to fast? "If you will say you will do it, will you?" -God I will do it—liquids only until Koshaba signs the papers.
I did fast and pray for him to the sign papers he needed to sign to give the doctors permission to do a particular test. Whatever the test was, he was convinced that it would kill him. He just wanted to take his sons and go back to Beirut. The doctors said that without this test, he would die in three months. In great desperation, one of the most desperate I have ever felt in my life, I fasted and prayed.
Everyone is away for the 4th of July. So is God! Where are You, God? Where are You? Where are You? Do something. Kneeling, crying. God where are You? Obviously not with me, not hearing me, no meaning in fasting. Bobbi said she would call a priest who is a friend of Koshaba's from Beirut. God, send someone who can reach him. God, use the priest.
God frequently seems to answer prayers more abundantly than we ask or think. Within hours of this prayer a friend of Koshaba's from Lebanon was found nearby in Chicago. He was an Eastern Orthodox priest also named Koshaba. Priest Koshaba convinced patient Koshaba to sign the papers!
Praise God! He hears! He cares! Praise God!
Prayer with fasting became a part of my life as his condition grew worse and worse. The results were not what I asked for, not what I wanted. Koshaba died on Labor Day, 1976, six months after the family arrived in the United States. Once he was hospitalized, he never improved enough to go home for even a brief time with his wife and sons.
Burning questions for me were: Does a person fast in order to feel the presence of God? Or must you feel the presence of God in order to fast? Fasting is a time honored practice for hearing the word of God and for sacrificing to God. The question remains for me: what does prayer with fasting accomplish?
Excerpted from From Heaven to My Heart by Beverly Jane Phillips Copyright © 2010 by Beverly Jane Phillips. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.