Praying from the Heart

-1282993307128176CBTrue Stories of Extraordinary Answers to Prayer:

Publisher: Guideposts
Edited by: James Stuart Bell
Released October 2009


Losing Control in the Supermarket

By Kitty Chappell
(excerpt below)

“Lord, I feel so useless since moving here,” I prayed, sighing. “I know it takes time to make new friends, find a church and get established in a new community, but could you please speed things up a little?”

This had been my daily prayer since my husband, Jerry, and I had left a busy lifestyle in Southern California and moved to this beautiful mountain town near the Western Sierras. Jerry commuted to his business several hours away, and he came home only on weekends. So my days and nights seem even longer.

“It’s just until the business sells,” he promised.

In our previous church I had taught Sunday school, had sung in the choir, and had mentored younger women. I was always busy—and I enjoyed feeling needed.

Now my heart ached, not so much from loneliness but more from a feeling of emptiness. I felt unfulfilled and just generally restless in my spirit when I was not busily involved in helping and praying for others.

After another pleading session with God one morning, I poured a cup of coffee and gazed out our huge picture window. Dark clouds hovered over the lush green valley while patches of bright sunlight shined through intermittently. Lightning flashed above the snow-covered mountains on the far side.

I mentally took stock of my kitchen supplies thinking it wise to go to the store before the winter storm hit. But I didn’t really need anything. Checking the refrigerator, I noted the milk was low, but we had enough for several days. With rain imminent, I saw no urgency to rush out for only a gallon of milk. However, I was soon driving down the windy mountain road into town.

While fumbling for change in the supermarket, I heard a female voice ask, “May I carry this out for you?”
Not even in good weather would I allow that—a carry out for only one item? It seemed strange that someone would offer.

Then something even stranger happened. Fully intending to say “No, thank you” I replied “Yes, thank you.”

Why did I say that? I wondered, as the box girl scooped up the milk. When we get to the door I’ll tell her I’ll carry it myself, I decided. But as I followed her through the door, my mouth remained shut. It was as though I’d lost control.

I puzzled over this as we walked in silence to the car at the far end of the crowded parking lot. A light mist began to fall and I noted the smell of moist dust. Again in control, I said “I’m so sorry for bringing you this distance for only a gallon of milk.”

That’s okay,” she said. “It’s my last carry-out for the morning—I’m going home.”

“Great!” I said, placing the milk in the car.

I’m only working half a day today, but it’s really been a long morning—my first day back from a two month’s leave of absence,” she offered, without expression.

I turned and, for the first time, looked at her. I’d not seen her in the store before but that didn’t mean anything since we were new in town. She appeared to be in her late teens. Soft brown hair framed her pale pretty face, but her blue eyes were dull and lifeless.

“Have you been sick?”

She hesitated. “No, I was . . . raped.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

Without emotion, she related her experience. “I still can’t believe it happened. I was only 18 and a virgin.”

She had exited a store at dusk while shopping in a neighboring town where she lived with her parents. As she walked toward her car, she was suddenly grabbed and pulled behind a building where she was sexually assaulted at knifepoint. Her attacker warned her to tell no one.

After she had driven home, her mother had taken her to the police station where she endured the unpleasant process of reporting a rape.

Suddenly I understood what had happened in the supermarket. God had taken control so He could answer my prayer.

“Mary*,” I said, noting her name badge, “I understand some of your feelings. I
was a teenager when my father, after years of abuse to our family, almost murdered my mother and was sent to prison. But because I’m a Christian, God helped me to overcome my painful experiences. He can also help you.”

She stared blankly. “I’m a Christian too” she said sadly. “I was when it happened.”

My heart flinched. I suspected her greatest pain was the feeling of abandonment by the One whom she had trusted the most, God.

“Mary, God loves you dearly. You are unique and special to Him. However, as Christians we have no free pass from pain. What happened to you is not uncommon in this flawed world, but it is not something God planned or wanted to happen. The good news is, as His children we have access to God’s grace and power. He can help us overcome anything. In your heart you must know this, Mary.”

She nodded “yes” but I wondered if she was ready to fully embrace that truth emotionally.

“God does not want you to be emotionally crippled—to feel you have no value, to trust no one, and to harbor hate for your attacker. He can help you to become even stronger and more compassionate. Because of your terrible experience you will find you are able to help others.”

“Maybe He’s using me already,” she said, gazing at the snow-covered mountains.

“What do you mean?”

“Because I went to the police, they found and arrested my attacker. He’s only 19, but has already sexually assaulted nine women. No one came forward until I did.

“You are to be commended, Mary. Because of your courage many women were spared your fate or even being killed.”

“I’ve thought about that.”

“Your attacker is very troubled. He was stopped early in life because of your brave actions. Let’s pray he receives help and allows God to change him.”

Large, cold rain drops had begun to fall, but we didn’t notice.

“Mary, your pain is fresh, but a time will come when you can address the issue of forgiveness. Only the strong can forgive. The weak, who don’t forgive, remain in emotional bondage. I enjoy freedom because I forgave the one who wronged me. I can encourage you now because I am free.

We parted with a hug and my promise to pray for this precious young woman.

Driving home I shivered—not so much from my wet clothes but from the memory of her haunted eyes. “Please, dear God, help this sweet girl to heal and become whole again in You.” This became my daily prayer.

Although I feared I might miss Mary in our large supermarket, she always found me. She magically appeared at my checkout stand to carry my groceries. We used every opportunity to talk. With each trip to the store, I noted more expression in her face and voice. I continued to pray. It felt good to be personally involved again with someone who needed me.

Several months later, Mary rushed up, hugged me, and whirled me around and around in the aisle.

“Guess what? I did it!” she cried out.

I’d never seen her so animated. Her eyes danced, full of light.

“You did what?”

“I forgave him—I really did! I feel so free!”

Though our meetings were limited to supermarket visits and occasional telephone conversations, Mary continued to share her life with me. She eventually began dating, fell in love, married a handsome Christian man, became pregnant, and then stopped working.

Just before my husband and I moved out of state, Mary called, wanting me to see her new baby.

We lived in that area for only three-and-a-half years, but my memories of Mary will last a lifetime—memories that were made possible when God took control in the supermarket and answered my prayer.

* * *

Publisher: Guideposts
Edited by: James Stuart Bell
Released October 2009


Help Me to Love My Husband

by Kitty Chappell
(excerpt below)

I collapsed to my knees before God one stormy night, sobbing. I trembled as the terrible words tumbled out in their raw, naked honesty, “I don’t love my husband anymore.”

My heart felt as tumultuous as the weather outside. The wind howled, moaning its discontent, matching the mood of my soul. Lightning punctuated the unspoken sentences cringing in the dark crevices of my mind. My husband was sleeping upstairs in our bedroom, oblivious of my soul’s turmoil.

Twenty-plus years earlier, Jerry and I had gazed into each other’s love-filled eyes and agreed “until death do us part.” But now, that love for him lay dead at my feet—trampled by who knows what.

How could this happen? By all appearances, ours was the perfect Christian marriage. Not my family, not our teenage children, not even my closest friend suspected otherwise.

I’m sure Jerry knew something was wrong, but not even he would guess the ugly truth. How could any Christian woman admit such a personal flaw to anyone—especially since I didn’t have a specific reason? Jerry didn’t abuse me and he’d never been unfaithful.

I can’t recall what first prompted my dissatisfaction—our midlife crises, dealing with two teenagers, financial pressures, or just the wear-and-tear of married life. Maybe I had expected too much. How could any husband compete with the handsome lovers performing perfectly according to script in the romantic movies I loved to watch?

Could it have stemmed from my painful past with a violent and abusive father? Or was it just my own self-centeredness? Who knows? But nothing Jerry did pleased me.

It’s not that I didn’t have valid complaints. At times Jerry was insensitive, thoughtless, and downright cold. Worse, he rarely complimented me—something my low self-esteem craved. As I daily reviewed my husband’s real and perceived shortcomings, they multiplied and grew stronger. So did my discontent.

Time and again, I complained to God. “Lord, I don’t like feeling this way, but my husband has changed. He isn’t the attentive, loving, and sensitive man he once was. I try to be a godly wife, but a good wife loves her husband—for better or worse. And quite frankly, I don’t like his ‘worse.’ I miss the man I married. Would You touch Jerry’s heart, soften it, and change him into the man he once was so I can love him again and be the model Christian wife everyone thinks I am?”

For two long years I prayed that prayer, but heaven remained silent and my husband remained unchanged.

I grew more miserable with each day, until I finally fell to my knees in despair that stormy night. “I can’t take it anymore, Lord! I can’t bear the thought of living in a loveless marriage for the rest of my life. But I certainly don’t want a divorce. My marriage is a lifetime commitment, but right now it truly feels like a death sentence.”

Emotionally spent, I hiccupped a sob and crawled on the couch where I lay in a curled position. The thunder rumbled off into the distance, and the lightning found interests elsewhere. For a long time I listened to the patter of the rain on the roof, and waited in silence.

Finally, in resignation I added, “Lord, if You will not change Jerry, will You please change me and help me love him as he is? I don’t know what else to do,” I admitted, sighing. “I believe You can do this because You helped me to forgive my abusive father—and I felt that was impossible. Please help me love my husband as I once did.”

This became my daily prayer.

Gradually I realized that I was to play an active role in prayer. I’d always expected God to do it all without my involvement, especially when it came to people and circumstances. My role was to pray and God’s role was to answer. Right? Change the people and change my circumstances so I could be happy. Didn’t I deserve that? And when things didn’t happen the way I wanted, I became discouraged, sometimes I got angry with God.

What happened next bears a truth every Christian knows deep inside—God often answers prayer in unexpected ways.

I had recently become interested in the power of “self-talk,” which is the things we say to ourselves, day in and day out, all of our lives. I had acquired a dynamic tape series by a Christian motivational speaker friend that encouraged listeners to control their self-talk.

The tape series entered my life at the perfect time. One tape challenged the listeners to a mental exercise. We were to select someone who irritated us—a mate, boss, coworker, relative, friend, whomever—and think no critical thoughts about that person for thirty days.

At that time, it was my husband, of course, who irritated me the most. I asked God for strength and accepted that challenge.

“Because all nature abhors a vacuum,’’ the motivational speaker said, “You must fill the empty space in your mind—space your negative thoughts once occupied—with positive thoughts. Make a list of every good quality you can think of about that person and read them throughout the day. Once you start this challenge, however, if you entertain one unkind thought about that person, you are to replace it with not just one but ten kind thoughts, ten good qualities not on that list. This forces you to keep looking for good qualities.”

I made the conscious decision to reject all of the negative thoughts about Jerry I had looked for before. I realized, of course, this exercise was never to be used as a form of denial or an excuse to avoid conflict. I just wanted to break my bad habit of looking for the worst in my hard-working and loyal husband.

By daily reminding myself of 2 Corinthians 10:5 about holding every thought captive and bringing it into obedience to Christ, I was able to go two entire weeks without letting one negative thought about my husband get a foothold in my mind. I was ecstatic!

The very next day, however, I suffered a major setback and discovered a brutal truth—it would take me longer than 30 days to accomplish my goal. The rule was that whenever you allowed one negative thought about that person to dwell in your mind, you failed and had to start over again, from day one. Yikes!

“Lord, at this rate it’s going to be a lifelong task for me!” I complained.

Bingo! His spirit whispered into my soul.

With God’s help, I finally made my goal. Thirty wonderful consecutive days free of negative thoughts about my husband! What amazed me more than that unbelievable accomplishment, however, was how much my husband had improved in that short period of time!

I realized later, that all of Jerry’s many good qualities, now embedded in my mind, were reflected in my speech and actions toward him—which stirred new love in his heart for me. Even more importantly, I had developed a lifelong practice that became the norm rather than the exception.

God not only restored my lost love for Jerry, but He replaced it with an even deeper love. This love enveloped us both, and grew stronger until we admitted, many years later, that we were more in love then than even in the beginning. We rarely went to sleep without holding hands and saying, “I love you.”

Our love lasted until he went home to heaven, after 47 years of marriage. All because God answered my fervent prayer one stormy night, “Help me to love my husband.”

* * *