In my email this morning was a notification I’ve never received before: an orange balloon with the message “April 16th is Ginny M______’s 58th birthday.” A wave of shock and sorrow crashed over me, with wondering like seaweed wrapping around my mind. I never even knew the date of Ginny’s birthday! Who sent this? How and why did this reminder come to me?
The last time I spoke with Ginny was in November, 1996, when, moved by a nudge inside me from God’s Spirit, I told the prayer team at our women’s retreat that I didn’t think I could lead the team the following year. Ginny stepped up and said, “I know God has been calling me to do something, but I didn’t know what. Sure, I’ll take over!” Sure enough, my husband took a new job and moved us across the country in September of 1997. For several years after that Ginny led the prayer team, a group of amazing, fun, passionately praying, ordinary, extraordinarily loving women
But why did I get this “Birthday Alarm” email? I don’t even know about a website called Birthday Alarm!
These questions swirled as, oh, God, I broke down in tears for Ginny, remembering the sweet spirit she showed, her compassionate heart, the prayer warrior she was, her struggle to understand and to survive on a small income from a non-profit job after her husband’s betrayal and their divorce. I prayed for Ginny’s family for comfort today and on her birthday, because Ginny took her life over ten years ago.
She never saw the baby her daughter was carrying at the time when Ginny’s pain and grief outweighed her hope. Why, then, this strange email – a shocking reminder of her grief and yet a memory of her warmth and love?
In the middle of my tears, doubled over on the floor in grief, I asked, “This is from you. It must be something deeper than Ginny, isn’t it, Jesus?” Immediately I “saw” other women on their own floor in tears, and I began praying for others who may today be on the brink of suicide as Ginny was, needing a real hand of love and hope outstretched to them, someone somehow breaking into their life with real, tangible hope, a message of love from someone that can keep them going one more day and believing that God has good ahead for their lives. In all honesty, I know what Ginny felt, because deep love loves deeply forever, grief and despair overwhelmed me two summers ago and I almost went the way Ginny chose to end the pain of her loss. Sweet friend Ginny, I know what you felt, because you and I love with the heart we asked Jesus to give us.
“This is something deeper than Ginny, isn’t it, Jesus?”
It’s a call to all of us to do two things: first, to let the incredible love and compassion of God push out the walls of our hearts, open and expand our prayers beyond our own immediate concerns, beyond our own families and jobs and wants, to make our hearts big enough to contain the cares and hopes and sorrows and desires and urgencies of our Father’s heart. Secondly, it’s the call to listen and act on prompts God gives us to pray for others, not to shrug them off as our own ideas, but take them as a call to come alongside Jesus as “priests” beside him as he prays for those unknown to us but intimately loved and known by him.
Thirty years ago I felt a nudge to make an appointment with my hairdresser David to get a haircut. He was going through a divorce at the time, but we had never talked about how it was impacting him. I had errands to run that day, so I pushed aside the thought and didn’t come back to it for two weeks. I called the salon at last and asked it I could make an appointment with David. “Oh …. ,” the receptionist paused, “haven’t you heard? David drove his car off the road in North Mountain Park last week. David is dead.”
Could a conversation with him, a prayer with David have given him hope enough to hang on? I’ll never know.
But I know I will never again ignore a nudge to call, to stop and speak to someone, to pray.
A friend asked me to speak at her church’s World Day of Prayer service in 2007. I wondered what message God wanted me to bring to them and waited for inspiration. A few days later I was looking in the bathroom mirror, concerned for all the wrinkles starting to show on my face, and I began praying, ”Oh God, please increase the collagen production in my skin …” when God interrupted me with the memory of a local police officer who’d been burned over much of his body when his police car crashed into a vehicle he was chasing. His car was engulfed in flames. I’d seen a story about him on television, how he was still trying to be a positive husband and father to his family, even though he had no nose and no ears and his face was horribly disfigured. My words changed in mid-stream, and I prayed instead, “God, please restore healthy skin to Jason’s face and body. Bring him a miracle of new skin. And Jesus, others are struggling with burns and scars …. Jesus, heal THEIR skin!”
I glanced at the small artificial “bonsai” tree sitting on the bathroom counter, and the Spirit gave me the message he wanted to deliver: “I need a bigger pot.” I need, we all need, to stop living in tiny containers, pruning our “roots” and stunting the growth of our prayers to only reach as high as our own immediate concerns. God calls us to let him grow our “roots” to take in the needs and concerns and urgencies of people all over our world. We’re meant to be 50-foot tall Oaks of Righteousness, not dwarfed bonsai imitations, whose roots reach out to others near and far.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV
Oh, sweet prayer warrior Ginny, you did it. Your memory moved me beyond my own sense of loss to take in the loss someone else is feeling out there today, to pray and, I truly believe, to activate God’s plan to send angels or his people – maybe YOU, my reader friend – with hearts full of love, encouragement, hope, and real physical help where that’s the pressing, vital need today for some hurting, grieving, barely hoping heart.
We need pure hearts, big hearts, hearts refined by the relentless love and compassion of God. Someone, somewhere, needs your prayers today! Needs your phone call today! Needs your text message or email, but most of all, your physical presence beside them today! I wept on the floor and sang this song as a cry to God to enlarge my heart again:
Purify my heart, let me be as gold, and precious silver. Refiner’s Fire ….
I was almost in Ginny’s spot not so very long ago, and miraculously, Praise God, I’m still here. Thank God if you don’t know the bitter heartbreak of betrayal, but Jesus does, and I think He sent me this reminder today to flatten me on the floor in awareness to pray for women I’ll never meet, men I’ll never know, but who need Jesus’ power and presence released in their lives in tangible, mighty, loving, powerful ways today.
I’d love to send up a thousand prayer balloons for Ginny!
Can I ask you to join me, to ask God who in the world needs your prayers, and to pray today to honor our Father’s precious daughter Ginny?