Direction for the Year Ahead: Walk this Way

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a time of relative calm, one that can provide space for reflection as the bustle of the one is pretty much over and the demands of the other have not yet come to call.

Sometimes, sitting here with my coffee and a stale Christmas cookie, I find myself looking back with a pang of regret, thinking of mistakes made or opportunities squandered over the past 12 months. Sometimes I turn my attention forward, making lists and plans and wondering how they will all unfold in the year ahead. In either case—looking back or looking ahead—I am grateful for Isaiah 30:21.

DSC_0226Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

I’ve prayed this verse for my kids as they’ve walked toward relationships, colleges, and careers: “Show them the way to go, Lord. Be the voice that they hear, and keep them on the path you have chosen.”

I’ve also prayed it for myself, both as a request for wisdom or guidance when I don’t know what lies ahead, and as a prayer of relief when I realize that I’ve made a wrong move and I need to get back on track. It’s during those “uh-oh” times that I particularly love how The Living Bible captures the Isaiah promise:

And if you leave God’s paths and go astray, you will hear a voice behind you say, “No, this is the way; walk here.”

Isn’t that encouraging? How blessed are we to have a God who cares so deeply about our lives, who is willing to take us by the hand or whisper in our ear to keep us on the right road! As you look ahead to 2015, it doesn’t matter whether you carry regrets from the past, fears about the future, or a sense of hope and excitement regarding all that is to come. God is paying attention, and he promises to walk alongside you, keeping you on the right path as you listen for his voice.

I have no idea what the new year will bring (other than Annesley and Geoff’s wedding, which reminds me that I need to stop eating cookies and start shopping—ugh—for my MOB dress), but I do know this: I am grateful to serve a God who cares which way I walk, who knows what lies around the next bend, and who is willing to hold my hand, every step of the way.

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Friday Prayer for Knowing Christ

2 Peter 3-18Christmas is a time of growth, a time when the soil of our hearts may soften and we sense God’s presence in new and often  unexpected ways.  As you think about the people you love and what they need during the coming year, sometimes the simplest prayers are the best:

Heavenly Father, may _____ grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 3:18)

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Good News: He. Is. Here.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. photo I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

If you grew up going to Christmas pageants and candlelight services (or even if you just watched the Peanuts special every year), these words might be so familiar that you read right over them.  You know what’s coming:  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born.

In other words:  He. Is. Here.

But stop for a quick second and think about how the angel must have felt, announcing the news:  The One we’ve waited for. The One who will bring joy to the world.  The One who will change everything.  He is here!!!

Doesn’t that just make you want to, I don’t know, fall down?  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  And he is here.

Wherever this Christmas finds you–rejoicing in certainty of God’s presence, yearning to experience his love, or anywhere in between, may you know the good news:  He. Is. Here.  And may these words, from Isaiah 60, allow the good news to color your life afresh each morning, both today and throughout the new year.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

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Merry Christmas!

Love,

Jodie

 

 

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Give Mom What She Wants for Christmas

photoWell, tonight’s the night. Tonight’s the night that we dust off our Messiah handbooks and haul ourselves off to Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, where a quartet of talented soloists will join forces with Symphonicity to present Handel’s Messiah. And, in what might be the most charitable gesture of the season, they will let people like us sing along.

This will be Symponicity’s 32nd Messiah performance. I figure we’ve been to at least half of ’em; it’s what my mother wants for Christmas every year. She doesn’t seem to care that the lowest grade I got in college was in a course called Music Appreciation. I’d tell you how my kids really feel about the annual event, except that my mom is probably my most faithful blog reader. Suffice it to say, we will don our gay apparel (and yes, there was a year when I wore “the sweater”), clear our throats, and let ’er rip.

And it won’t be pretty. I made my kids take piano lessons (as did my mother before me, and her Juilliard-trained mother before her), but almost none of it stuck. And it’s not just words like allegro (which is not, as it turns out, a pasta dish) that mess us up. We don’t always get even the English words right. For years, Hillary lifted her sweet little soprano voice and warbled, Come for tea! Co-o-ome…for…tea! Little did she know that Handel wasn’t into Earl Grey; he was drawing from Isaiah 40, proclaiming the tender and redemptive “Comfort Ye” power of God.

So why, if we can’t read music and we don’t even sing the right words, do we go to this thing every year?  Maybe it’s because of verses like Ephesians 6:2-3, which remind us that “Honor Your Father and Mother” is a commandment that comes with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

I will admit that I started going to The Messiah with my mom because I knew this verse and I didn’t want to get hit by a bus. Somewhere along the way, though, I began to actually like the music. (Appreciate it, even.) And, although I could be imagining things, I think the complain-o-meter on my kids is starting to drop, too.

Because here’s the thing about a Messiah sing-along. It doesn’t matter whether or not you can recognize a treble clef or even sing on key (although it helps if you don’t park small children in the bass section, which we have been known to do). You can go and pretend to sing—and when you do, you’ll get a short course in biblical prophecy, the events surrounding the birth of Christ, and a rafters-raising “Hallelujah” about God’s eternal reign that is worth the price of admission right there. (And Mom, don’t be emailing to tell me that the event is free; I am just trying to make a point.)

Speaking of…I guess the point of this blog (and I really hope my kids are still reading) is that you should give your mom what she wants for Christmas. You might not appreciate her taste. You might not even think it’s a good present. But she will like it. And, chances are (and with a nod to Ephesians 6), it will wind up being good for you, too.

 

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Friday Prayer for Help and Protection

Psalm 121Psalm 121 is the passage my mom asked us to learn this year (a Scripture verse, and going to the Messiah sing-along, is what she wants for Christmas every year).  With less than a week to go, I think my family might have a better shot at memorizing the Hallelujah Chorus than nailing the whole psalm, but we are trying.  And I gotta hand it to her; Mom picked a good one.  In addition to being just plain majestic, Psalm 121 is chock full of powerful prayer promises.

If you (or someone you love) could use an extra measure of help, strength, or protection, Psalm 121 has you covered.  Try praying the whole thing, or just use the last two verses:

Heavenly Father, keep _____ from all harm.  Watch over his/her life.  Watch over his/her coming and going, both now and forevermore.  (Psalm 121:7-8)

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One Word for the New Year

photo 1 “What if one thing could improve your life in incredible ways?  What if One Word could mean the difference between repeated failure and newfound success?”

That’s the offer made inside the book jacket on this little book written by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon, three guys who’ve experienced more than a little bit of success in business, athletics, and family life.  I got a copy of One Word after meeting Jimmy at a lacrosse tournament (he was coaching a Fellowship of Christian Athletes team), and I think it’s terrific.

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions (which, studies show, are abandoned by half of the people who make them by the end of January),  Jimmy and his family pick one word–things like serving, purpose, surrender, grace, determination, connect, and shine–each year.  Then they “live it”–with some pretty remarkable (and sometimes challenging) results.

If you’re tired of making commitments that revolve around things like exercising more, drinking less, or managing your money (yawn), or if you just want a fresh take on the New Year to share with your family (or with a circle of friends; a few girls and I have been “picking words” for years, and praying each other through the transformations they effect), why not give One Word a try?  You’ll find tips on quieting your heart, discovering “your” word, and then learning to live it, powerfully, no matter what 2015 brings your way.

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You are Loved

Like many of you, I have been following the University of Virginia rape story, a sensational, horrific, and (as it turns out) inaccurate account published last month by Rolling Stone magazine.  As a U.Va. alum with three Wahoo daughters (two have graduated; Virginia is in her third year there now), the school is dear to my heart, and the students dearer still.

Even with the magazine’s reporting now discredited, almost everyone agrees that there are problems that still need fixing:  Students drink too much, the “hookup culture” contributes to confusing relationships, and sexual misconduct – while arguably not the norm at U.Va. – certainly takes place, and no matter how you parse the statistics (and there have been dozens of studies trotted out), one rape is one rape too many.

If you’ve read even a handful of my blogs, you know that I don’t use this space for social or political commentary and – despite having a host of strong and not necessarily well-informed opinions – I don’t plan to start spouting off now.  I wouldn’t even mention the story except for this photo, which Virginia texted to me early yesterday morning:

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YOU ARE LOVED.

That’s the message on Beta Bridge, the oft-painted University landmark that doubles as a billboard for parties, charity events and – too often, at least this year – a community’s grief.

How fitting that these words – YOU ARE LOVED – would show up during Advent, a season when the space between heaven and earth seems to shrink, a time when we mortals may stop, even just for a moment, to consider how God sees the world.  How he sees us.  And how he longs to breathe new life into our lives, to fill our hearts with hope, and to show us how incredibly much we are loved.

You are loved.  Amid a cacophony of finger pointing – It’s the fraternites’ fault!  It’s the administration’s fault!  It’s the parents!  The government!  The police! – this is a message that cuts through the noise.  It’s a message that offers hope.  It’s a message U.Va. needs to hear.

It’s a message we all – with our anger, our pride, our confusion, and our pain – need to hear.

Hear it now:  You are loved.

 

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Peace On

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I suppose every community in America has its own version of a Grand Illumination, but I must admit to being partial to 43rd Street in Virginia Beach, which gets “lit again” every year on the first Sunday in December.  It’s a tradition that reportedly began when a few well-intentioned residents put up colored lights for their kids and drew the ire of the more socially respectable “white lights” crowd–whose complaints sparked a rebellion of Christmas cheer.  Take a stroll down the pedestrian-friendly block today and you’ll find everything from dancing Santas and falling snowflakes to a giant replica of the “fragile” Leg Lamp made famous in A Christmas Story.

It’s a remarkable, joyful display.  That being said, the residents are not professional decorators or master electricians, and things don’t always go as planned.  One year, one of the homes featured a real live corps of marching tin soldiers.  It was a brilliant concept tempered only, it would appear, by an overabundance of eggnog.  Another time, one holly jolly husband decided to board up all the windows on his house so as to be able to “wrap and bow” the whole thing–an ambitious move that probably triggered some sort of post-traumatic holiday disorder in his wife, who was condemned to spend the entire season in darkness.

Perhaps my favorite whoopsie, though, happened last year.  Robbie and I were bundled up against the cold, along with several hundred happy revelers, and as we made our way down the street, we came upon a beautiful old beach cottage.  The crowd prepared to take in this new display, the homeowner flipped the switch, and…Peace On.

That was it.  Maybe it was the fact that it had rained earlier in the day, maybe it was a faulty extension cord, maybe it was some “Made in China” conspiracy to derail the American Christmas spirit, but for whatever reason, that’s all we got.  Not Peace On Earth or Peace be with You or even Peace Out.  Just Peace On.

And it was perfect.

It reminded me of John 14:27, where Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”  Paraphrased (and perhaps with a nod to the ’70s), I think the Lord might well have been saying, “Peace on.”

We live in a world that is anything but peaceful.  But let’s not grow anxious or upset, and let’s not give into fear.  Instead, let’s keep God’s promise in mind.  He has given us peace–he IS our peace–and even if we can’t memorize the whole of John 14:27, we can still take hold of the unshakable security that comes when we put our trust in Christ and proclaim, along with the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Peace on.

 

 

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Friday Prayer Verse: Let Your Light Shine

Matthew 5-16I don’t know about you, but as the days grow shorter and the darkness comes early, I find myself longing for light.  Any light.  Whether it’s a fire in the fireplace, the twinkle of Christmas lights in the neighbor’s yard, or the glow of a lantern in the snow, light just makes everything better!  No wonder God told us to let our light shine–and here’s a verse you can use to pray for yourself (or for someone you love)  and scatter the darkness with goodness and glory!

Lord Jesus, let ______’s light shine before others, that they may see his/her good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

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Give the Gift of Prayer

photoI’ve already told you that I am not a good shopper (the posture brace featured in Tuesday’s blog is just one in a long line of epic fails), but I’ve found at least one gift that’s pretty much always a winner, whether it’s for my kids, my husband, or anyone else.

Prayer.

Think about it.  Unlike the “My Size” Barbie we gave Annesley one year (whose main selling point seemed to be the ability to “share” her clothes, and whose allure dropped considerably once they came off), prayer is a gift that lasts.  And not only that, but because it taps into the power of a God who is both loving and strong, prayer has the ability to open the door to wisdom and favor, to provide blessings and protection, and to shape and influence lives.  What parent wouldn’t want that for her kids?

One of my favorite ways to pray for my children (or for anyone) is to use Scripture–the actual words and promises you find in the Bible. I do this fairly regularly on an as-needed basis (Ephesians 4:29, which swaps out “ugly talk” for words that bless and help other people, became like a mantra when our kids were young), but each December, I try to ramp it up a notch.  I spend some time thinking about each one of my kids, considering where they are–emotionally, physically, spiritually–and what their deepest needs might be.  I ask God to give me a glimpse of what he wants to do in their lives, and then I find a verse that I can pray throughout the new year.

When Virginia was in the first grade, for example, she had plenty of boldness.  What she lacked–as evidenced by her willingness to tell other youngsters who didn’t believe in Jesus that they were “going to hell”–was tact.  And sensitivity.  And probably a few other things.  I didn’t think God wanted to dampen her evangelistic spirit, but I figured we’d all be better off if he would temper it with a little grace.  I found a perfect prayer tucked into Daniel 12:3:

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I pray that Virginia would be wise, shining like the brightness of the heavens, and that she would lead many to righteousness, and thereby shine like the stars for ever and ever.

Then I did what I always do:  I traced her hand on a piece of colored paper, wrote the verse on it, dated it, and took it to Kinkos to get it laminated so that it could live on the refrigerator for a year, both as a reminder to me to pray and a sign to Virginia that God was working in her life.

And he was.

I don’t want to get all mushy in a blog, but I stand in awe of the way God used that simple prayer to shape a little girl’s life, growing her into a young woman who loves the Lord and who longs to make him known.  She can still be–as her grandfather used to put it–“seldom right, but never in doubt,” but even when she gets her facts mixed up, one thing is certain:  Virginia cares deeply for other people–and thanks to God’s grace, she has learned to love wisely and well.

God has breathed similar blessings into the lives of all of my kids, working in response to the prayers that he prompted.  I no longer post their laminated hands on the refrigerator–they are all young adults, and to be honest, laminated hands look kind of creepy once you get out of elementary school–but I still make them.  And every year, on January 1, I show them to the kids.  It’s pretty cool, because even though all the Christmas presents have been unwrapped (and, if they were from me, most likely returned or exchanged), the kids know that there is still one gift–one good gift–that will grow and bear fruit all year long.

(Need some prayer verse ideas for your family?  You’ll find hundreds of them in my books, Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenswhich are arranged according to topic–just go to the back of whatever chapter interests you and you’ll find all sorts of good promises to pray!)

 

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The Best Christmas Present Ever

My pal Michelle says that shopping is her “spiritual gift.”  Sometimes, when she doesn’t want to sound all holier-than-thou, she just says she was born with “the shopping gene.”  Either way–anointed or genetic–she’s got it.

And I don’t.

And nothing shines the spotlight on my deficiency quite like Christmas.  Every year, I try to get my kids one practical gift, something that they can all use, something that will enrich their lives.  For years, I went with what I considered to be faith-building presents like The One-Year Chronological Bible (I think the best effort only made it through February) and the Navigator’s Topical Memory System (all I can say is that my kids don’t know quality when they see it), and then–because uprightness is not just a spiritual condition–the most inspired gift of all:  The Posture Brace.

The ad promised that the brace was “virtually invisible” and could be “comfortably” worn under clothes.

The ad was wrong.

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Another Christmas fail.

(And Kids, please forgive me for posting this pic.  You know I had to do it.)

How much better off would I be–and how much more grateful my family–if I would just stick with my grandmother’s gift-giving strategy?  She never gave us anything, at least nothing you could wrap.  Instead, she asked us to memorize a Bible verse for her each year and, in return, she promised to pray for us.

I will admit that, as a teenager, I was less-than-enthused by Gammy’s scheme.  I don’t know how I ever memorized any verses, given that my eyes were rolled so far back into my head.  Today, though, many of these nuggets are still locked in, and in terms of things like wisdom and peace and joy I can promise you this:  Her Bible verses have been a far better (and infinitely more comfortable) support system than even the most “stylish” posture brace!

And, while I will never know the full impact of her prayers, I am confident that Gammy’s gift to her grandchildren opened the door to all measure of divine protection, favor, insight, and blessing in our lives.  As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather give my children.

I’m going to write more about the gift of prayer in my next post–and I’ll show you an idea that my kids actually did (and still do) like–but for now, would you just say a prayer for me?  I haven’t yet picked this year’s group gift, and I’d be much obliged if God (who, according to Matthew 6:11, actually knows how to give “good gifts”) would weigh in with some ideas.

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Friday Prayer Verse for Hope, Joy, and Peace

Romans 15-13

 

Insert your name, or the name of someone you love, into the blanks in today’s prayer verse for hope, joy, and peace:

Heavenly Father, you are the God of hope.  Fill  ______ with all joy and peace as he/she trusts in you, so that _____ may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

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Grateful for You!

THANK YOU for signing up to receive my blogs via email!  I am grateful for you.

Here’s hoping that you get some really good help in the kitchen this year!

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Happy Thanksgiving!  And remember…

The righteous eat to their hearts’ content! (Proverbs 13:25)

 

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Why Shop When You Can Read a Good Book?

photo 3_1I don’t know about you, but the torrent of “Black Friday” emails is stressing me out. I don’t want to start my Christmas shopping; I’d much prefer to savor the tryptophan hangover with a good book by a warm fire. I know I might miss my Big Chance to get 40% off a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System, but you know what? I can live with that.

Speaking of good books…have you read The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs? It came out last year, to great acclaim. The book revisits the birth of Christ through the eyes of Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, and if you are looking for an uplifting Advent read (or simply a way to put off going to the mall), look no further.

Higgs mixes familiar Bible passages with a warm and sometimes humorous narrative, and we find ourselves captivated not just by this fresh look at historical events, but by also by depth of wonder and transformation these “women of Christmas” experienced—and that we can, too.

A few nuggets:

About Elizabeth, the barren woman for whom God’s kindness took away her “public disgrace” (Luke 1:25), Higgs writes, “Through all her years of feeling less-than, Elizabeth had worshipped a more-than God.”

About Mary, who received an unheralded and unexpected angelic visitor: “In the same way, while we go about our daily tasks, God’s divine plan is unfolding. At any given moment our lives could change dramatically. No surprise to God, yet a big surprise to us. That’s what we find happening [to Mary].”

And about Anna, the old widow prophet who worshiped night and day at the temple: “She was standing nearby when she saw Simeon holding a babe and praising God. Her heart must have leaped for joy. The Messiah! ‘God, who had cared for her so faithfully all these years, saw to it that she didn’t miss that sacred moment.’”

and she gave thanks to God. (Luke 2:38)

Verse by verse, vignette by vignette, Higgs gives us the chance to get to know this trio of women who lived in a world not all that far removed from our own, a world in which turkey dinners and online shopping deals can take our eyes off the off the real news of the day:

“All across Judea people went about their business, making their goods and tending their flocks, unaware, unprepared. But Mary, Joseph, and all of heaven knew.

“He is coming.”

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Friday Prayer Verse for Peace & Thankfulness

Colossians 3-15

Yesterday, I wrote about the condition of our hearts, and the need to be grateful–particularly now.  (I mean, if you can’t count your blessings come Turkey Day, when will you ever be in the mood?)

Today’s prayer verse follows up on that theme.  Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”

So often in the Bible, peace is linked with words like rule, or the idea of authority, or of standing guard.  The peace that God gives does guard our hearts; it serves as an umpire of sorts, knowing when to call something a “hit,” or when it is a foul.  When we live under this banner–with God’s peace calling the shots in our lives–thankfulness has a place to flourish.

Needing a little of that peace today?  Put your name, or the name of someone you love, into the blanks in this prayer:

O Lord, may your peace rule in _____’s heart, and make him/her/me thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

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Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

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How’s your heart?

That’s the question the minister asked on Sunday (we were visiting City Church in Charlottesville – loved it), and after talking about the “heart disease” that plagues us all (stuff like pride, envy, and lust), he said this: A healthy heart is a heart that is continually thankful.

As someone who is far more apt to find fault with what didn’t go “as planned” (like Tuesday’s blog, which appeared in your inbox without the accompanying photo—sorry about that) than she is likely to rejoice over any of the little things that go “right” each day, I found myself struck by his words. I am definitely not “continually thankful.” And with the Big Day just a week away, I realized I needed some help

Last Christmas, Annesley’s mother-in-law-to-be gave her an iPhone case that came with a built-in Taser. I know Ruth meant it for use against thugs and other ne’er-do-wells, but it wasn’t open for five minutes before my kids began trying it out on each other. And then on Hillary’s boyfriend, Charlie, who hadn’t been exposed to all that many of our family celebrations—and who, I might add, took it like a champ.

(Just another happy Christmas morning at the Berndt house.)

Thinking of that Taser, I found myself wishing that I could implant something in my brain that would go off like a shock whenever my mind started down a whiny, prideful, or otherwise negative path: I can’t believe Robbie left his undershirt on the bedroom floor again.

FZZZT!

(The idea, of course, is that after a few such gentle reminders, I’d start to be thankful for my husband—who actually did once tell me that I should be glad when I find his laundry on the floor, since it reminds me of him when he isn’t home. Love that guy.)

Anyhow, not having a mental Taser handy—and can we all just say, “Thanks be to God” for that—I decided to try the Bible, instead. A quick skim through the concordance reveals this about thankfulness:

It works like a VIP card to get you into God’s presence (Psalm 100:4).

It’s an attitude that encourages other people (Colossians 3:16).

It’s something that God wants us to be, regardless of our circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

You know what? I am good with all of those verses, and more. But knowing it in my head and feeling it in my heart are often two very different things. And, try as I might, I can’t always get there from here.

Fortunately, though, God can. In Ezekiel 36, God promises us a “new heart” and a “new spirit.”  He says he will “remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Isn’t that a great picture? Our stony, critical, complaining hearts (well, mine anyway; yours might be in better shape) can be utterly transformed—and God can make us thankful.

I don’t know about you, but that fills me with a world of hope. Normally, I’d be bellying up to the table next week, staring at the centerpiece and wondering if maybe it could have used another gourd or two, and wondering why my turkey was so dry (again). But now, with my heart securely placed in God’s hands, I have a shot at counting my blessings instead.

(Which is definitely better than getting tased.)

(Especially by your own kids.)

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Would You Rather Play a Family Game?

“I would rather suck an old man’s toes.”

That’s what one of our daughters said, a few years back, when we suggested she attend a Christian summer camp. We’d done the research (James Dobson and other family gurus pointed to the value of the Christian camp experience—a theory that was backed up by reality when we polled our friends’ older kids about what had mattered most in terms of strengthening their own faith), and we were planning to send her, whether she wanted to go or not.

Better parents might have been appalled by our gal’s somewhat, um, graphic response, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Robbie and I burst out laughing.

And “Would You Rather…” became an instant classic in our family.

If you’ve never played this game, the idea is to come up with two choices and have the other player (or players) choose which one they would “rather” do, have, or be. You can buy the official board game at Target, but we liked making up our own scenarios. And last year, I put some of our favorites on a few sheets of cardstock and cut them up to make game cards to give as Christmas gifts. (I also sewed little envelopes for them out of burlap, using old buttons and twine as closures, but I am a little Amish that way, and if you’d “rather” put your cards into a plain envelope or a little bag from someplace like Michael’s, that works.)

Your questions can be important, silly, or—if you have teenaged boys or a husband like mine—even a little gross. And if you’re looking for a way to inject a little “God” into your family fun, you can throw in a random Bible question or two: “Would you rather be David going up against Goliath or Daniel heading into the lions’ den?”

Need some ideas? Here are a few favorites from our list, just to get you started:

Would you rather be considered slightly annoying or generally dull?

Would you rather be caught lip-synching on The Voice or taking steroids in the Olympics?

Would you rather have peace or joy?

Would you rather always spit when you talk or always be spat upon when people talk to you?

(See what a deep and intellectual family we are?)

And of course, the classic: Would you rather suck an old mans toes or have an old man suck your toes?

If you’re looking for a way to spice up (if not elevate) the conversation around the dinner table this Thanksgiving, why not try this game?

And while you’re at it, consider putting a gift certificate for summer camp under the tree for your kids, even if you think they’d rather suck an old man’s toes. Our family loves Young Life, Kanakuk, J.H. Ranch, and Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Fatherhood (which I hope Robbie will guest blog about one day soon!).

(And just in case you are wondering, I think I would rather have an old man suck my toes. But I would feel badly about it.)

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Friday Prayer Verse ~ Psalm 5:11-12

Lots of people post “Friday Favorites.”  I’ve picked up shopping tips from Melanie Shankle, followed Kate’s pregnancy through the eyes of new mom Elizabeth Robertson Williams, and snagged more than a couple of good recipes from any number of Friday bloggers.  But, not being much of shopper (or a royal watcher; has Kate had that baby yet?), you won’t find those types of good tips here.  And while I might share a recipe once in awhile, I am currently conducting an experiment to prove to Robbie that eating out–if you find the right “deal”–might actually be cheaper than cooking at home, now that it’s just the two of us.  (Wish me luck.)

When I use the word “favorite,” it is often in the context of a Bible verse.  Some people have their “life verse,” and they can tell you what it means to them, and why.  Not me.  I have any number of Bible “favorites,” and they change almost daily.

For me, then, Friday is going to be the day when I post whatever principle or promise has captivated my heart that week.  And, banking on promises like John 15:7 (“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you”) and Isaiah 55:11 (which tells us that God’s word does not return empty, but accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent), I will offer these verses in the format of prayers, with blanks where you can insert your own name, or that of someone you love.

I hope you enjoy praying this way, and that these words will serve to strengthen your faith and increase your joy.  I hope they will transform your perspective and breathe fresh hope into weary or challenging situations.  And I hope, actually, that some of these verses will become your new favorites.

Here goes:

Spread your protection over ____ and bless him/her.  Surround ____ with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

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Why God Could Take a Good Selfie

My friend Nancy invited me to join her at the She Speaks conference, put on by Lysa Terkhurst and her pals at Proverbs 31 Ministries. The conference was uplifting and informative (www.shespeaksconference.com, if you want to go), particularly for old gals like me, who don’t know a lot of what we don’t know when it comes to things like “driving people to your website.” (Seriously? As a recently minted empty nester, the last thing I want to do is start driving people again!)

Eager to drink from the fire hose of digital information, I parked myself in a series of sessions about things like analytics, maximizing traffic, and creating a “strategic pinning plan.” (Pinterest, as it turns out, is not just a place where people show what they can do with a glue gun and a cheese grater. Who knew?)

(Well, you probably did. Maybe everyone does. But it was news to me.)

After three or four of these workshops, I felt like a dinosaur. Or maybe a platypus, swimming in a sea of cute young girls, all of whom seemed to have websites and followers and “highly pin-able content.” I was just about to slip out of my seat and go in search of some comfort with my new BFF, the conference center barista, when Nancy tugged at my arm. “I want to get a quick picture of the two of us,” she said, fishing in her purse for her iPhone.

“Here,” she said, handing the phone to a stranger. “Will you take a selfie of us?”

(You can’t make this stuff up.  I love Nancy.)

And I love selfies—the kind that you actually take yourself. They are such a photographic enigma—almost nobody looks good in a selfie, but everyone looks happy. And which would you rather be? Attractive, or happy? (Maybe don’t answer that. Or at least think about it for a sec, before you do.)

And I bet God loves selfies too. You wanna know why? Because—and I just read this today, so it’s fresh—he has long arms! Back in Exodus 11, when Moses wasn’t sure the Lord could deliver on the whole “Where’s the meat?” thing, God had just one question for him: Is the Lord’s arm too short?

Long arms, as everyone knows, are the key to a good selfie. It’s hard to get everyone in the photo if you are built like a crocodile. But God can get the whole world in his pic! And his arms are not just long…they are strong (Psalm 89:13), everlasting (Deuteronomy 33:27), and always ready to gather us close (Isaiah 40:11).

Next time you get ready to take a selfie—or to hand your camera to someone else to snap it for you—remember God’s arms. No matter what you need, it’s within his reach. No matter how heavy your burden is, his arms are always there, underneath. And no matter how far away you may stray, he stands ready, with arms open wide, to welcome you home.

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The True Colors of Joy

 

joy

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”

If you’re like me, you read a line like this one (Philippians 4:4) and you think, “Well, that might work for some people. People who don’t have teenagers. Or a leaky roof. Or a colonoscopy scheduled for tomorrow.”

We live in a world where it can sometimes be tough to be joyful. People hurt us. Money gets tight. Circumstances—ranging from bad hair days to ill-behaved children to frightening medical conditions—conspire to sap our confidence. And, particularly for women, fear and worry can lurk around every corner, ready to shape every piece of bad news or uncertainty into a torpedo to aim at our faith.

Is it even possible to have joy—always? Yes. Yes! Joy might not come naturally, but we can tap into the secret of a joy-filled life if we are willing to embrace a simple truth: It’s not about us. It’s not about our happiness, our goals, or our success. It’s about bringing honor and glory to God. Continue reading “The True Colors of Joy”

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Power and Purpose in a Family Blessing

 

BlessingWhen my mother was a young girl, her mom used to send her kids out the door each morning with a charge: Walk with the King today, and be a blessing.

 

Whether or not my mom and her siblings knew it, these words—spoken regularly, and with the authority that comes with being a parent—shaped their lives. They served as a daily reminder of God’s presence (“Walk with the King”), and they injected a sense of purpose into even the most routine or unremarkable mornings: Your mission today is to be a blessing.

 

Robbie and I adopted the practice of speaking blessings over our children when they were very young. Sometimes we spoke or softly sang these words in the tender darkness of their bedsides; sometimes, we practically hollered them at the kids as the school bus rumbled up the street and everyone scrambled to find coats and backpacks.

 

We had a few favorites, all taken from the Bible. Today, our kids (now ages 18-24) might not be able to quote the chapter and verse, but these words are locked in to their minds:

 

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may he make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his face toward you, and give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26)

 

The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. The Lord will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

 

And this one, which the children simply called, “Presence”:

 

Where can you go from his Spirit? Where can you flee from his presence? If you go up to heaven, he’s there. If you make your bed in the depths, he is there. If you rise on the wings of the dawn; if you settle on the far side of the sea, even there his hand will guide you, his right hand will hold you fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

 

The Bible is full of verses that can be appropriated and personalized to create your own family blessing. You’ll also find rich words in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the Methodist hymnal, and even The Fiddler on the Roof. (Our kids had bit parts in that high school musical, and family blessings don’t get much better than the Sabbath Prayer: “May the Lord protect and defend you, May he always shield you from shame…” I could have sat through that number, with Tevye and Golda warbling about things like peace and strength and good marriages, 15 times. Come to think of it, I probably did.)

 

If you’ve never spoken a blessing over your family, start today. If your children are young, snuggle them into your arms as you speak. If they are prickly teenagers, a simple “The Lord bless you!” as they walk out the door can penetrate even the thickest shell. And if they are adults, consider writing a letter of blessing, or giving it to them as a gift for birthdays, Christmas, or as a New Year’s benediction.

 

A family blessing does not have to be eloquent, complicated, or long. Simple works. But I can’t think of an easier—or more powerful—way to speak God’s grace over your children, and to remind them that he loves them and that his power is active in their lives.

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Test Drive

test-drive
I drove a Chevy Suburban for 19 years. I had three different versions—each one fueled by dog hair and the smell of soccer cleats—and they were all faithful.

Two years ago, with the empty nest looming, Robbie suggested that it was time to find a smaller, more fuel-efficient car. I wasn’t sure I was ready to say goodbye to my current road-beast, but I agreed to take a few test drives.

Oh my! Two decades and four kids’ worth of life behind the wheel of a tank had not prepared me for the feel of these younger, snappier cars. I took the on-ramps like I was channeling Danica, and even the salesman in the passenger seat marveled at my donuts in the parking lot. By the time we’d left the third dealership, I was hooked. Continue reading “Test Drive”

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A Life Complete

puzzleOur daughter, Annesley, loves puzzles. As a preschooler, she’d open a 500-piece box and start fitting pieces together. She didn’t bother with doing the edges first, or with sorting by color. She simply worked left to right, like some little towheaded computer, methodically checking to see if each piece fit before she rejected it and moved on to the next one. Row by row, piece by piece, the picture finally came into focus.

Today, as a 22-year-old architect, Annesley still welcomes a good puzzle—and each Christmas, she’s sure to get one from her brother, Robbie (who does his limited but effective shopping at Target). Annesley doesn’t waste any time getting started; usually by December 27, the puzzle is all but complete.

This year, an untimely swipe of the dog’s tail derailed her handiwork. Unfazed, Annesley picked up the pieces and collected them in the box, planning to start over once she returned to her Charlottesville apartment. Unfortunately, when she put the picture together again on her dining room table, she came up short. It was just one piece, but to a puzzle aficionado, to miss one piece is (I am told) to miss the whole victory. Continue reading “A Life Complete”

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I Want More Out of Life

I love old books. For one thing, their age is proof that they can stand the test of time. For another, at least when it comes to Christian books, the old stuff is usually a lot less about “me” and a lot more about God. Refreshing.

photo-2One of my new-old favs is Catherine Marshall’s Beyond Our Selves. I first read it as a teenager; I rediscovered it this year. The bad news is that this 1961 book is out of print. The good news is that you can get copies on Amazon for as little as a penny!

Marshall gets right to the point: Most of us, she says, yearn for something more—something that requires outside help—“either because of some problem for which we have no answer or because of a nagging consciousness that we should be getting more out of life.” She takes us by the hand and, using a refreshing combination of common sense and biblical teaching, offers practical guidance on everything from trusting God to slaying our egos to appreciating our own helplessness and imperfection. (And as a bonus, Marshall’s real-life illustrations, set against the backdrop of life in the 1950’s and 60’s, will appeal to anyone who appreciates the retro-hip nature of a housewife busy with her spring cleaning, or the bygone image of children picking violets and playing a twilight game of kick-the-can.) Continue reading “I Want More Out of Life”

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Better than Downton

photo-1Hey Downton Abbey fans! Were you sad when Sybil died? Bummed to see Matthew crash his roadster and make Lady Mary a widow? Confused about why, when we’ve said goodbye to so many stellar characters, we still have to put up with poor Edith each week?

If you’re like me, you find yourself watching the show—loving the costumes, hanging on the drama both above and below stairs, waiting for the next pearl to drop from the Dowager Countess—and then, at the end of each episode, longing for something more. Something…uplifting. Something happy.

P.G. Wodehouse is your answer! Like Downton creator Julian Fellowes, Wodehouse is thoroughly British (Fellowes is a member of the House of Lords; Wodehouse was a knight), thoroughly accomplished (both penned best-selling novels), and thoroughly versed in the social trials and tribulations of those who totter around in castles and dress for dinner. (Ever heard of Jeeves, the butler? Pure Wodehouse.) Continue reading “Better than Downton”

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Prayers from the Empty Nest

photo 1“You are reading your own book?” Virginia asked, pulling up short as she burst into my bedroom and saw me sitting up in bed, my dog-eared copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children open in my lap.  “Mom,” she continued, “That is just so…sad.”

I can understand why a 13-year-old girl would consider my actions pathetic. Teenaged girls tend to be embarrassed by a lot of what their moms do—or, in my case, wear.  Or say.  But it wouldn’t be the last time Virginia (or any of my kids) would catch my nose in the pages of my own book.  And happily, as they have grown, all four children have learned to appreciate the value—the power—of praying the scriptures.  Now, at age 20, Virginia will actually ask me to do so, on her behalf or for one of her friends.

Which is why I took a page right out of the book (or at least a picture of a page) and texted it to all four kids a few weeks ago, hoping that they would join me in prayer.  I had just dropped Robbie—our youngest—off at college, and my heart ached.  Not only is Sewanee a million miles from Virginia Beach (okay, so I don’t know the exact mileage, but it takes about 11 hours to drive there), my husband and I know almost no one at the school.  The way I saw it, I might as well have been sending my baby boy to China.   Continue reading “Prayers from the Empty Nest”

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Let’s Dance

dance

I recently became an MOB. As in, Mother of the Bride. Annesley will wed Geoff, her high school sweetheart, next May. And we couldn’t be more excited.

As soon as the news broke, I found myself on the receiving end of a tidal wave of congratulations (which was exciting), advice (which was welcome), and questions (stressful). Had we picked a date? A venue? A band? Did Annesley have a dress? Her bridesmaids? A signature color? What about the all-important china pattern? Had she registered for that?

Ahhhhh! Could I really survive 11 months of planning? I didn’t think so. Happily (and just as I was about ready to suggest elopement), my friend Michelle (aka “Lucy” to my Ethel; she is a gorgeous redhead who was once almost cast as a Bond girl, while I am the stout and supportive blonde) corralled a group of our friends and decided to host an engagement party. And when she hinted that they might want to include dancing, well…laissez le bon temps rouler! Continue reading “Let’s Dance”

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If You Build It, They Will Dance…

Untitled 2

If you’re the kind of person who thinks pretty much every gathering could be improved with a dance floor, why not build your own? You’ll have to shell out about $240 for the materials, but that’s comparable to renting a 12’x12’ floor, and when you factor in the possibilities for amortization (dinner parties, engagement parties, PTA meetings that could use a boost), it’s well worth the cost. I can’t promise this plan would pass muster at, say, Architectural Digest, but hopefully it will get you started.

Continue reading “If You Build It, They Will Dance…”

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