I have a dear 16-year-old friend named Liam. My girls have grown up with him and his younger brother Paul; our two families camped together every summer and spent winters at a rustic cabin in the woods.

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This summer my mother led a missions trip to a Kenyan children’s home, a place which has rescued over 3000 children. Our family has been there three times; my mother six. But this year, for various reasons, we just couldn’t go. But Liam did.

The week before he left, he took a canoe trip with his family and got poison ivy on his eye. How horrible! And right before a trip to Kenya. Everyone was grumpy and rather perturbed at this intrusion and inconvenience.

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The doctor said, because it was eye, and because he wouldn’t be near great medical treatment, a cream likely wouldn’t be good enough. He needed steroids. And so Liam was put on Prednisone.

Fast forward to Kenya, and Liam starts to develop a rash on his legs. Nothing serious, and it’s not itchy, so my mother, the team leader, isn’t alarmed. My aunt, who is also on the team, and who happens to be a physician, is very worried indeed. Because it turns out that Malarone, the medication you take to ward off malaria, has a weird, rare side effect that can result in vasculitis (an inflammation of the veins) and eventually, well, death. And it turns out that this all starts with a rash.

The treatment? Prednisone.

My aunt almost didn’t go on the trip, and had she not been there, my mother would not have recognized that this was anything to be concerned about. Liam would have kept right on taking Malarone. And that would have led to–well, you get the picture.

And if he had not had the poison ivy, the reaction would have been worse, because the Prednisone was already calming it down.

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I’ve thought about that incident lately in regard to prayer. My blogging friend Rachel has recently put out an ebook, The Sensational Scent of Prayer, looking at what prayer smells like–what is its purpose to God? What does God like to see?

I’ve found myself wondering lately, wouldn’t it have been easier, God, if you had simply prompted Liam’s parents to put him on a different anti-malarial drug in the first place? It’s wonderful that you arranged for my aunt to be on the trip, and for the poison ivy, but it would have been easier if you simply hadn’t have had them choose Malarone in the first place.

But God is not the God of the easy. God’s primary purpose is that we bring glory to Him. As Rachel says in her book, that is what prayer is about: learning to focus on God and praise God even in your circumstances. And what did this episode show Liam? It showed him that God was in control–in very weird ways. Sometimes, as Rachel says, God is in control of things we don’t like. Rachel follows the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother from the Old Testament, who desperately wanted a child, but “The Lord had shut her womb.” How must it feel to know that God did this to you?

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Rachel knows what she’s talking about. She has a special needs daughter, Taylor, with a debilitating illness called MPS, which brings a shorter lifespan, and a more difficult and painful one. I know what it is to have a child with a terminal illness. When I was pregnant with my second child, we were told that he had a terminal heart defect. He may live into his thirties, but he may also die very young.

The latter came to pass. Christopher only lived 29 days. And today would have been his sixteenth birthday, and so I write today in memory of him. I know what it is to pray desperately for God for a miracle, only to see nothing happen. The obvious thing that you wanted to happen, the thing that you felt would be best, didn’t come to pass.

I’m sure that Rachel has felt that, too, and yet she still has learned to turn to God in prayer. And while God has not answered any prayer for healing, God has answered other prayers in marvelous ways.

God is in control. That needs to be the starting point for prayer. And His plans are not always ours. We want the shortcuts, the obvious things. What He wants is a relationship; a deeper trust; a revelation.

Would we have had that if Liam hadn’t have gone on Malarone in the first place? Nope. But because of his reaction, we got to see how God can use something as awful as poison ivy. We saw how God put all the jigsaw pieces together because He cares about Liam. His parents saw that. My mother saw that. Even my aunt, who was nervous as she was treating Liam (rashes and reactions aren’t exactly her medical specialty as an anesthesiologist), saw God in control. And I got to think again that too often I expect God to do the logical, and forget that there are others factors at work.

Today my son would be 16. No, let me rephrase that. Today my son IS 16. He just isn’t sharing a birthday cake with me. And through these difficulties in our lives we either are drawn more towards prayer, or we give up on prayer, thinking, “it never works anyway!”. Yet perhaps the reason it doesn’t work is because we’re looking at it with our perspective, instead of God’s.

If you’re struggling with prayer, why not read The Sensational Scent of Prayer, and follow Hannah’s journey of prayer with Rachel. Maybe you just need to be reminded of who is in control, and that He really does love  you and wants to bless you–even if things aren’t working at as you think would be logical and obvious.

Today, I’m realizing that even though my prayers were not answered as I had wanted, I have been blessed indeed. And my son is safe. He is celebrating his birthday with my grandparents and my uncle, and with others who I’m sure adore him. And we remember him, and thank God for the difference he made in our lives. And that gratitude, even in grief, is the sensational scent of prayer.

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