Thursday, October 23, 2014

Treasures :: Pages of Prayers Scrawled in a Journal

Inspired by Leigh McLeroy's book Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps, I'm asking: What tangible pieces of my spiritual history would I place carefully in my own cigar box for safekeeping? What stories have shaped my journey with this ever-faithful, treasure-keeping God? Below is part six of the "Treasures" series. 


VI. Pages of prayers scrawled in a journal

I spent my entire senior year of high school (and most of junior year) proclaiming loudly how I couldn’t wait to get the heck out of Dodge. I had dreams too big for my small town; I had places to go. I sneered at the state university an hour away where ten percent of my graduating class would attend together, like some sort of Grade 13. No way, I said. Not me.

Instead, I agonized for months, trying to choose between New York University and Indiana Wesleyan University--two schools that could not have been more opposite. I started assuming the fetal position every time someone asked, "Where are you going to college?" I delayed the decision until the last possible day, when I signed the housing contract for IWU and prepared to move to Marion, Indiana.

Manhattan it was not. While I was excited about IWU, I also mourned a little bit, wishing I’d been offered more scholarship money for NYU, wondering what it would be like if I were transplanting from rural northwest Ohio to the coolest, craziest city on earth.

Fourteen years later, I still wonder sometimes. In retrospect, I can see that IWU was best; I marvel at what God poured into me and over me there. I shake my head when I remember how hard my first semester was, wondering how I would have survived at NYU. I imagine I might have flown home at Christmas a sobbing, shaking wreck of a freshman, unmoored and floundering, alone and ashamed of my weakness.

Yet that mental picture doesn’t wholly satisfy; I think I'll always wish I’d had an opportunity to live in New York for a summer, a semester, a season. It’s one of life’s great “what if” questions, where you *know* that what God had was best and yet you still can’t help feeling a little wistful. As Sue Monk Kidd puts it in The Invention of Wings:
"I longed for it in that excruciating way one has of romanticizing the life she didn't choose. But sitting here now, I knew...I would have regretted that, too. I'd chosen the regret I could live with best, that's all. I'd chosen the life I belonged to."

Anyway, I digress. I packed up at the end of the summer, said a fearful goodbye to the boy I was secretly in love with, and spent the weekend of freshman orientation blinking back hot tears, willing myself to swallow hard, embarrassment suppressing my fear. It seemed like everyone else had attended a seminar on “how to make friends instantly,” and I watched in self-pitying despair as they all paired up and formed groups and didn’t need me.

I chewed up all my proud words about my friends who'd gone off to college together, realizing now that my slice of humble pie would taste much better with one of those familiar faces sitting across the table. I was only two hours from home, and I had my own car on campus, but I didn’t let myself go home until fall break, afraid that if I drove those 110 miles too soon, I might not be able to drive back.

My dorm had a prayer chapel, a little room on the third floor with a couple of chairs, a few cushions, maybe a cross. I don’t remember much about the room, only the sinking feeling I’d get when I found its door already closed and I had no place else to go. I spent hours in that chapel my first semester, taking my anxiety to the feet of Jesus and begging Him to bring me just one friend.

I’d known Him before that; three years earlier I’d clung to Him decisively, taken hold of a real and living faith of my own. I loved His Word; I trusted Him. But I had never before had to rely on Him so exclusively. So again and again, because I had no one else to turn to, I climbed the steps to the third floor, journal and Bible in hand.

Somewhere along the way I learned to write out my prayers, discovering how much better I was able to concentrate and express my desires and praises with pen in hand. And somewhere along the way, someone had given me the idea to pray Scripture. So I paged through the Psalms and pored over Paul’s letters, scanning the heavily underlined text, copying out passages paraphrased into my own prayers.

I’d never choose to relive those lonely months, but, as we often say when we look at trials in hindsight, I’d never trade them, either. My roots went deep into streams of life that first year of college, and my prayer life in particular would never be the same. It was that semester that I learned to saturate my prayers with Scripture, learned the power of praying God’s Word back to Him.

In the end, God was faithful to answer my tearful pleas, lavishing on me not just the one friend I hoped for, but more incredible women than I could hope for in a lifetime--amazing women who would love me and sharpen me and add beauty to my life. And even more amazingly, He gave me Himself, more intimately than I had ever known before--a Friend faithful beyond all others. And so my written-out prayers continued.

I’m up to volume 105 in my personal journals now; they have evolved quite a bit over the years. Through middle school and high school, my diary was mostly a chronicle of what I did, who said what, how I was feeling, who I was madly in love with, etc. In college, the written-out prayers started, so it was a balance of processing my feelings, recording significant events, and prayers. After I got married, the daily entries all but disappeared, leaving only the prayers and some occasional reflections on Scripture. These days, sadly, I've gotten out of the prayer-writing habit; my journal-filling pace has slowed significantly. 

Still, being able to go back through decades of recorded prayers is an immeasurable gift. To see my own growth; to see clear answers to desperate prayers; to be able to pray through them again as I read…just priceless.

Treasures, previously:
A broken piece of cornerstone
A sharp pebble
A pastel index card
A Bible with a broken spine
A rainbow lanyard with a pewter cross pendant


Briana Almengor said...

Somewhat not the point of this post...nevertheless, I LOVED that line from "The Invention of Wings." In fact, that whole section of the book when Sarah is lamenting and pondering over her choice resonated so deeply with me. It struck a deep and somewhat still, bitter place in my heart. When I listened to that part of the book, I so wished I had a place and the time to write down the quote. Would love to hear how and if you do this to use then in your own writing. That's one thing I've never been very adept at doing in my writing, i.e. weaving in quotes from other sources.

On topic of this post, I, like you, love writing out prayers. Takes me even longer than when I speak them out (and my kids now time me b/c I'm so long winded), so it's not always practical. But, I have journal upon journal of written out prayers as well.

I am sure that one day when I'm gone, no one will possibly care to read them b/c there are too many which may end up being to my advantage as I'm not sure I'd want some of their contents to ever be remembered. :)

Amy said...

Thanks for commenting, Briana!

As far as keeping track of quotes, I don't have any kind of well-organized system. Mostly I fly by the seat of my pants relying on my exceptional memory (which of course I can't take any credit for--just a gift). I do keep a visual journal, which is a good place to copy random/isolated quotes like the one in this post. Not too hard to go back and find it if I can figure out when I read the book--which isn't too hard since I use Goodreads. I used to have a dedicated commonplace book (isn't that a classical ed thing?) but never did use it consistently; the visual journal works much better as a catch-all for quotes from books and a zillion other things.

If it's a book I underlined in a LOT, sometimes I will take the time to create a Word file and type out (thankfully I type fast) or copy/paste (if it was a Kindle book) the stuff I underlined, which makes it searchable. Then I'm often saving things I read online to my, which is also searchable. Usually I have a vague memory of "I read something about that somewhere" and if I dig around enough I can find where it was. Not always. No real great system for incorporating that stuff; this particular one just really stuck out to me as so applicable to my life in many ways but especially that college decision!

As for what to do with the old journals...yes, similar dilemma here. On one hand I would really love for people I love to get to see the wonderful things I wrote about them, the prayers I prayed for them, etc. On the other hand there is a whole lot of ugliness, some of which could be hurtful to people I love, and it'd be best to let all that rest.

I remember reading a post on Femina a few years ago that was dogmatic about the ridiculousness of saving journals and documenting sin like that. It was provocative, but in the end I disagreed. I think there *is* value in getting to see (or remember) the messy process, not just the neatly-tied-up bow at the end when you've worked through it all and have a godly perspective. In some ways I wouldn't mind at all if, after I'm gone, people read my stuff and saw the wrestling, the raw struggle.

But yeah, not sure who's going to want to wade through all the boxes. Though I've gotta think it'd be a lot more interesting than my grandma's diaries...I inherited them and was excited to peruse them, but talk about a snore-fest! Mostly a collection of those five-years-in-one-tiny-book deals, with three lines for each day, and it was nothing but chronicles of the weather, how the crops grew, and what nights had church meetings. I was so disappointed; I would have loved to get more glimpses of her heart.

Whew, that got long-winded!

Briana Almengor said...

Grateful for your reply, no matter how long winded. I am a bit verbose myself. Yet prove to be a kindred spirit. 😊
I appreciate your comments about the journals, and it resonates w me. I agree about the value of seeing the process and raw struggle of another's walk. It's typically those types of posts that I find the most encouraging myself, so yes, while I run the risk of hurting or offending some in putting some of my raw struggle out there, I am settled with that risk. I think it's worth the potential reward. Today anyway. 😉