Things Hoped For; Personal Accounts of Answered Prayer
Many people ask for evidence. They want proof before believing. Evidence is something tangible that supports, if not proves, the reliability of a belief. Faith, in many ways, seems to be the opposite. Faith is trusting and believing in something even when there may not be proof. Some say that faith is blind, suggesting it requires stumbling and groping around in order to find the path. It is also said that faith requires a leap, suggesting we must jump into the unknown to obtain it. Our definition of faith, however, comes from Hebrews 11:1, which tells us that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I have been blessed to see the evidence of God’s presence and faithfulness throughout my life in the form of answered prayers. Countless times over the years my faith has been strengthened by these answered prayers—things that can only be explained by God’s intervention in my life. Of course, we know that all prayers receive answers; though sometimes the answers we receive are not the ones we were hoping for. However, God has graciously answered many of my prayers over the years with a YES.
The first and most obvious answered prayer in my life was receiving His salvation at the age of seven. It is one of my earliest memories. I remember sitting between my parents in the front seat of a Chevy Impala in our driveway. We had just returned from an evening church service in which the pastor spoke about the Book of Life. As a child, I could visualize the book in heaven which holds all the names of God’s redeemed, and seeing a giant blank spot where my name should be. I wanted my name to be in that book. In response to my prayer, God extended His forgiveness and redemption to me. I don’t remember a lot before that experience, but I do remember often feeling sad and scared as a young child and after that night in the driveway with my parents my fear and sadness were gone. It was the beginning of my faith journey.
Just as my faith was often strengthened through times of celebration, it was also strengthened through times of trouble. As a teenager I loved to run. I started running because of my dad, who was, and still is, an avid runner. One summer day I was running alone. Halfway through my run I noticed a group of parked cars in the distance and heard raucous laughter and barking dogs. It was a group of rowdy, rough looking guys with large, intimidating dogs. I could either stop and turn around or keep running the route that would soon loop past them. I decided to keep going but nervously crossed to the other side of the road as I approached them. I heard one of the guys say, “sic the dogs on her,” followed by laughter. Though it might have been a joke, I was terrified and started praying—praying for protection from the men and their dogs. Suddenly, I heard the engine of a car behind me and thought maybe one of the guys had jumped in a car to follow me. My heart was pounding as I turned to look at the car. It was a police car. I almost cried from relief. I couldn’t even see the cop inside, but he drove slowly enough to escort me around the bend and out of the vicinity of the troublemakers. It was my first experience receiving an immediate and obvious answer to my prayer. My faith was strengthened and deepened.
During my summer breaks in college I waited tables at Red Lobster in Texas. My first few weeks after starting I quickly realized that it was a pit of despair, as many restaurant jobs are. All four of the managers were rude, apathetic about their jobs, and prone to spewing obscenities. The general manager was especially a slime-ball. I started praying that he would get fired. Within a few days, the local health department audited the restaurant. The audit revealed health violations in multiple areas. A few days after that when I walked into work a coworker told me that all of our managers had been fired! I couldn’t help but laugh. Corporate had replaced them with amazing managers who came from other Red Lobster restaurants across the state. The new managers were supportive and respectful towards their employees, and they rewarded hard work—creating a healthy environment. God answered my prayer with a complete over-haul of the situation, instead of just firing the one manager as I had asked.
My junior year of college I found myself surrounded by friends and classmates who were all getting engaged and married. I was starting to feel left out. It dawned on me that I had never asked God for a serious dating relationship. I began praying that He would bring someone into my life. That semester I started an internship for my Communications degree. The only other intern was named Kyle Parks. Though he and I didn’t know what to think of each other at first, we slowly became friends. Playing tennis and volleyball, going on hikes and going to movies. Our friendship survived long distance communication while I was in Italy for three months, which was especially telling because I am notoriously bad at keeping up long distance friendships. When I returned to the states we started dating. After we’d been dating for awhile, Kyle told me that right before I came into his life, he had prayed that God would take control of his dating life since he was tired of trying to figure it out. God had been waiting for both of us to ask for the right relationship. The rest is history, as they say. Now we’ve been married for eleven years and have three children.
When Kyle and I had been married for about five years, we had one son and another on the way. We were living in South Carolina and I was working full-time as Kyle was in between ministry jobs and working at a local park. We began praying for just the right ministry job for him. He began applying for positions all over the United States since we were willing to move anywhere. He applied for several positions in different beach towns—some in California, Florida and even one out of the country in Bermuda. As God would have it, Kyle got a call back from a church in Illinois—about as far away from beaches on both sides as we could get, but God quickly showed us it was where he was calling us. There were hundreds of applicants for the position and we didn’t have a connection to the church at all, so we were skeptical that he would actually get the job. After they had whittled the applicants down to 5 people we didn’t hear from the church for several days. We became discouraged, feeling like it was another dead end. On the fifth day of silence, Kyle got a call from the head pastor at Edgewood Baptist Church asking him if he would fly out for more interviews. Not only did God grant Kyle the job, but He also made it blaringly obvious during the process that it was where we were supposed to be. Our house in South Carolina had multiple offers and sold within a week. The church paid for our moving expenses to relocate. After getting the job, Kyle’s parents told us about their history with Illinois, which was previously unknown to us (we probably just hadn’t listened well enough if we’d heard it before). His mom had been born in Moline, Illinois. Her parents worked for a church in Moline doing youth and music ministry. Kyle’s dad also had spent several years of his childhood living in Peoria, Illinois while his dad pastored a church there. Apparently his family history in Illinois goes back several generations, even having ancestors who fought in the Black Hawk Indian war. Our move to Illinois felt a little bit like coming home, as foreign as the area was to us.
Kyle and I looked at three houses with a realtor during one of our quick trips to Illinois before moving. One of the houses we looked at was an adorable blue, two-story house with a fenced in backyard and swing set. I prayed and prayed for that house. We put in an offer and with some haggling purchased the house for below asking price. Was the house old and out of date? Yes, it was. Has it been a money pit to update? Yes, it has! But God gave us the house I asked for and has financially supplied for its updates. The bonus about our house is the location—it is only a few blocks from church, so in the warm months we often walk. And it’s a two-minute drive from Aldi, our favorite grocery store. Small things, it might seem, but evidence that God cares about the details.
Nine months after we moved to Illinois I was diagnosed with cancer. The news shook us to our foundation. As I began treatment, we immediately started to see the blessings poor in. We were far away from family, but our church family stepped in and provided childcare, meals, cleaning and lawn mowing for the six months that I went through chemotherapy. My mom and mother-in-law were also able to come stay with us on several occasions, providing much needed support and encouragement. I didn’t even know what to pray for during that time. Obviously for God’s healing, but honestly, I was so shell-shocked that it seemed like my prayers were weak and insufficient. After two months of treatment I flew to MDAnderson Cancer Center for a re-staging PET scan. I was stage 3 when I was diagnosed, and this scan would tell us how much of the cancer remained. The doctor came into the room and told Kyle, my mom and me that the cancer was gone. The scans looked great and that I should soon be in full remission. When we shared the news with other family members my sister-in-law, Jen, told us that it was exactly what she had prayed for. Across the ocean, living in India, she and her little family had been praying that my scan would show absolutely no cancer so that we would be greatly encouraged. When I don’t even know what to pray for, family and friends step into the gap, interceding on my behalf.
As difficult as walking through cancer was, we had a more recent scare that involved one of our children’s health. Emory, our 6-year-old, had been having some strange symptoms for several months. Enough odd things including night sweats, occasional unexplainable low-grade fevers, failed hearing tests at school, and chronically swollen lymph nodes, that I decided to bring him to a specialist to rule out the unimaginable. After he had an ultrasound of his neck the doctor called to tell us that one of the lymph nodes was three centimeters in size, which was suspicious enough to warrant a biopsy. I was terrified just thinking of Emory having to undergo a surgical biopsy but couldn’t even let myself think past that. Kyle and I started praying like crazy and asking close family and friends to pray. In the height of Covid-19 restrictions Kyle was unable to be in the doctor’s office with Emory and me as we planned to discuss the details of the biopsy. The doctor came into the room slowly, looking at Emory. As soon as he put his hands on Emory’s neck to feel the lymph nodes his face softened with relief. He said he didn’t feel a lymph node large enough to be three centimeters in size and that the sonographer’s report must have had a typo. He did not recommend a biopsy upon inspection. He also explained that the swollen lymph nodes were likely from Emory’s recurrent strep throat infections and the bombardment of germs from kindergarten. About the failed hearing tests, he said they were likely due to some fluid buildup in his ears. A few weeks later Emory passed a hearing test for both ears—the fluid was gone and the lymph nodes were going down in size. I don’t know why God allows us to walk through terrifying false alarms such as these. But I do know he answered our prayers.
I’ve been meeting with some teenage girls from our youth group on Monday nights for the past few months. One night while we were discussing prayer requests, I shared with them that I felt like being a stay at home mom was often filled with long hours of drudgery and monotony, and more often than not felt like a thankless job. I asked the girls for prayer to not only survive the days at home with my kids but also to enjoy them and see God at work. The girls prayed this for me that night. The next morning Sullivan, our second child, told Kyle and me that he wanted to pray to receive Jesus. He actually had been asking about it off and on for several months, ever since witnessing Emory pray for salvation on Easter of this year. Kyle and I had been delaying his request just to be sure that he understood what it involved. He was insistent that morning. He sat between us on the couch and prayed with his childlike faith. The timing of this event was beautiful—I was privileged to pray the night before for God’s work to be evident in my children’s lives. The rest of that day Emory and Sullivan were so sweet to be around. They played for 2 hours in the backyard together that afternoon without a single fight, which is a rare occurrence—Sullivan often being the instigator and troublemaker. Later that night Emory said, “Mom, Sullivan just needed Jesus. There was nothing we could do for him, Jesus had to do it.” Those are the moments that make mothering worth it! Evidence that God not only answers prayers, but that His timing is perfect; often just waiting for us to ask.
I must include one final story that is a bit more lighthearted. Last Friday the homeschool group we are a part of was planning to assemble and fill 50 Operation Christmas Child boxes. I had signed up to bring washcloths and combs for the boxes. I ordered the items from Amazon, which were supposed to arrive before Friday. Thursday came and still no package. My ears were antennae all day long, picking up every little noise coming from our porch, thinking it could be the mailman dropping off the package. I tracked the package online and saw it was in Milan, a nearby town. I had been praying sporadically and casually all week that the package would arrive on time, but by Thursday I went into all-out beg mode. “God, you know we have to leave at 9:00 o’clock tomorrow morning for our homeschool group and I really, really don’t want to have to buy MORE combs and washcloths before we go. Please let the package be delivered before 9:00 am!” Though I had never known an Amazon package to be delivered before 9:00 am in the morning. The next morning around 8:30 I begrudgingly went to the store to buy more items. As I was driving home, combs and washcloths in hand, a mail car whipped in front of me and sped towards our house. “There’s no way.” I thought. I recognized the driver as our regular mailman who was probably just delivering our regular mail. He parked in front of our house and practically ran up to the porch carrying a package! I was pulling into our driveway as he placed it by the door. He then sped away, without delivering any other mail on our street. Two thoughts went through my head. “I have never seen a mailman run before.” And “I should’ve just trusted and waited.” I pulled up the tracking email on my phone and it said: Delivered—8:53 am. Seven minutes before we needed to leave! It just so happened later that day that our homeschool group ended up having 9 extra boxes that needed to be filled. A couple of friends and I filled them a few days later, so I was able to use the extra combs and washcloths after all. God knows all the details. And sometimes I think he just wants to make us laugh.
I have faith in what I cannot see and hope in the yet-to-come. But I have also been beyond blessed to witness evidence of God’s goodness in my life through answered prayer.