eNewsletter Feature Story – February 3, 2022
This week’s eNewsletter feature
was written by Jim Teague,
FPCE director of communications.
There is a brief list I keep of answered prayers throughout the time from when I first became a believer until now, and I add to it regularly. This list includes things like this:
- Allow me to go to other countries and visit churches there (Answer: Multiple trips to Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, and Niger).
- Lead me to marry a woman who has a heart for serving Jesus overseas and who believes in giving generously to those who serve Jesus (Answer: My wife served for years on the staff of an orphanage in Haiti, loves seeing God move overseas, and puts me to shame when it comes to her generosity in giving above and beyond what is expected).
- Heal my mother-in-law of cancer (Answer: Two successful recoveries).
- Have both my sons experience your Holy Spirit power (Answer: Both have been touched in their own unique ways by the Spirit, helping them draw nearer to God and commit their lives to him).
This list reminds me that prayer has served me well in the past and motivates me to keep on practicing it.
One desperate moment of prayer serves as a keystone for both my wife Linda and me. Our youngest son has autism, and when he was in kindergarten, we were told by a specialist he would always need a special aide in class and would likely struggle even then. In fact, he did struggle greatly with social interactions throughout elementary and middle school. His difficulty in finding friends and building any close relationships was deeply painful for him, and it resulted in recurring bouts of anger and depression.
The end of junior high school was particularly tough. Our son was very unhappy about having been placed into a high school program for students with special needs. It was yet another barrier to him being accepted by “the cool kids,” and after spending a week in summer school with his future classmates, he found it increasingly frustrating to try and find friends within a group of students who often had disabilities far more profound and limiting than his own. On top of the stigma of being placed in the special needs program, the requirement to attend special needs summer school felt like a punishment to him. His anger boiled over as he blamed us, the school district, and God.
One hot Saturday afternoon, Linda and I prayed and asked God for wisdom and guidance, second-guessing our decision to require our son to take part in the special needs program. We were genuinely worried about his current mental health, his educational future, and the impact these challenges were having on his ability to trust God in the future.
We prayed without much enthusiasm or hope, tears rolling down our faces.
Then I left and went to Home Depot. The item I needed wasn’t in stock at our local store, so I had to visit a different location. If that wasn’t irksome enough, I recall that I grabbed at a shopping cart but I couldn’t get it dislodged from another one. I wrestled with it for some time, as I remember, before giving up and finding another one. My frustration piqued, I walked into the store and just about ran over another customer crossing in front of me in the main aisle, heading for the checkout. It was Mr. Natz, one of the teachers from the special needs program, whom we had met just the week before at an orientation session.
I couldn’t remember his name, but he noticed me staring at him and recognized me, and even called me by name.
Before I could even bring up my concerns, he said my son had been doing really well in the summer program.
“Really?” I replied. “But he told us he hates it.”
Mr. Natz nodded and chuckled. “Well, he hung out with his new friend Charlie all day today, and I couldn’t keep them from laughing during class.” He went on to encourage us to give it time. He reminded us that transitions are difficult for all students, but especially those with autism. “I suspect his mood will catch up with his experience in a few weeks.”
I was so stunned I almost left the store without the item I had gone out of the way to purchase. Linda and I had separate plans that evening, so I called her and told her what had just happened. I described the way the item not being at our local store had led me to one we normally never go to. I mentioned the tangled shopping carts and how they delayed me getting into the store. And I marveled at how it just so happened that Mr. Natz was crossing the main aisle just as I was coming through.
She began to weep on the other end of the line. We felt so cared for. Within minutes of asking God for guidance, he gave us far more than that. He gave us comfort, reassurance, and hope.
Don’t misunderstand our story. God doesn’t love my boys better than anyone else’s kids. We didn’t earn his response (in fact we prayed from a place of extreme faithlessness). And the result of our prayers wasn’t a complete solution to all our problems, questions, and concerns. But that labyrinthine experience of knowing God’s love was a lifeline to us, right when we needed it most.
Our son’s first two years of high school were still incredibly difficult, and there were moments when we wondered if we had properly understood or acted correctly on the guidance we had received. Honestly, there were even more painful times ahead.
But our son is in his last semester of college (finishing within four years, which we would never have predicted), and he is getting ready to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and a very respectable grade point average (far, far better than what I ended up with).
Linda and I looked back at that incident just this week. We are wrestling, again (and praying, again), with our concerns about the future. But we reminded one another of the “Home Depot moment,” and how we have so much evidence that God loves our children and loves to answer prayer in ways we would never have predicted. I like to think of it as something akin to the stones Joshua piled up at the Jordan River after the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land (Joshua 4). They had reached their destination, but he knew the challenges were far from over. But Joshua had them mark the occasion and always remember those stones and, therefore, remember God’s faithfulness.
This Sunday, we begin a four-week Sunday teaching series on Prayer. Rev. Dr. Raymond Hylton (our senior pastor) describes it this way: “This series explores the delights and the difficulties of prayer. When we pray, we are face to face with God., the only being from whom we can hide nothing. Before him, we will unavoidably come to see ourselves in a new, unique light. Prayer, therefore, leads to self-knowledge which cannot be achieved any other way.”
Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. for our Worship and Communion Service. We meet in person in our Sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, or online at https://live.firstpresevanston.org.
Whatever your circumstances, faith quotient, or confidence in the power of prayer, we would be honored if you join us.
We will look to pile up stones of testimony together!
Blessings to all of you,
Director of Communications