Prayers for 2016

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that I like to pray the scriptures, taking the actual words in the Bible and turning them into prayers. It doesn’t matter what the need is (wisdom, physical health and safety, diligence or self-control, favor at school or work, endurance in times of trial, healing for broken relationships…anything, really), God’s Word has got you covered.

For instance, if Robbie has a lacrosse game (and if you know anything about men’s lacrosse, you know that the main point is to get the ball in the goal, but the other main point is to use a long metal stick to hit the guy who has the ball), I might lift a prayer for his protection out of Psalm 91: Don’t let any harm befall Robbie; command your angels to guard him in all his ways. (Psalm 91:10-11)

Likewise, when Hillary is facing a tricky problem at work, or if she has a big presentation to do, I might borrow from Psalm 90: May the Lord’s show his approval to Hillary and make her efforts successful. (Psalm 90:17, NLT)

If I find myself facing uncertainty about one decision or another, I like to draw on verses that showcase God’s promised guidance, like this one: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:8).

Using the Bible this way – letting God’s words shape your prayers –  infuses them with meaning, creativity, and power. It also helps shape your perspective, as words filled with faith and hope and encouragement take up the battle against things like sickness, worry, or fear.

Untitled design (2)Last year, I told you how I spend a little time every December thinking about Robbie and each of our kids. I ask God to show me how he wants to bless or provide for them in the coming year, or to alert me to any particular needs they might have. Usually, one or more specific concerns or opportunities makes its way to the forefront of my mind: Maybe I sense that someone needs perseverance to make it through a particularly challenging circumstance or relationship. Maybe someone needs divine wisdom for an impending change, like choosing a college or making a career move. Maybe someone else has a tendency to grow fearful or anxious, and they need help trusting God. Or maybe someone is just not being very nice to their siblings, and they could use a little more kindness or compassion in the coming year.

I let these thoughts gel, and then I find a verse that “fits” and turn it into a prayer, one that I will return to over and over again during the coming year. (I wrote about these “annual prayers” in a post last December; click here if you want to read that one, or if you want to see a photo of the “prayer hands” we make.)

Want to find your own prayer verse(s) for 2016?

You’ll find a whole catalog of them, arranged topically, at the end of each chapter in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenagers. Or, just open your Bible and ask God to pick a verse or two for you; the Psalms are a great place to start hunting.

Write your prayer on an index card (or a paper hand!) and date it. Keep it someplace where you’ll see it often…and then pray with confidence and joy, knowing that God hears you (1 John 5:14) and that his word will never return empty, but will always accomplish his desires and purposes. (Isaiah 55:11)

Happy praying – and all God’s best to you and yours in 2016!

And P.S., If you’re pressed for time (God doesn’t care, but if you’re as uptight as I am, you might want to have your prayer verse at the ready by midnight tomorrow), help yourself to one of my current “one-size-fits-all” favorites:

Make ____ glad by your deeds, O Lord; let ____ sing for joy at the works of your hands. (Psalm 92:8)

Fill ____ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that ____ may live a life worthy of you, Lord, and please you in every way. (Colossians 1:9-10)

Don’t let ____ be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, may ____ present his/her requests to you. And may your peace, which transcends all understanding, guard his/her heart and mind in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

 

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Merry Christmas!

Luke 2-14

Let’s join our voices with angels and generations today, praising God and saying:

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14)

Merry Christmas!

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The Christmas Sweater

Back when W. was in the White House, my friend Catharine, who worked there, invited me to be her guest at the Christmas party. I was thrilled! And I had the perfect outfit: A Christmas sweater adorned with snowflakes, red and white piping, and a faux fur collar that gave the whole thing, I thought, just the right touch of holiday elegance. I’d already had the sweater for one season, and every time I wore it small children would come up and ask if I knew Santa. Truly.

Were this story to happen today, I am sure that my daughters would launch an intervention, but they were too young at the time to know better. And so off I went to Washington, ready to meet the leader of the free world in all my fluffy glory.

I should have realized my faux pas as soon as I arrived. Every other party guest wore cocktail-attire black, or a subtle shade of cranberry. Needless to say, I turned more than a few heads, and when the president’s social secretary broke through the receiving line (“I heard about your outfit and I just had to see it!”) all I could think was, “These people are jealous! They all want my sweater!” Holding my head a little higher, I wasn’t even surprised when the time came to shake the First Lady’s hand and she leaned in to whisper, “Love the sweater.”

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Fast forward about seven years. My girls grew up, caught sight of this photo, and—as teenaged girls are wont to do—burst into gales of mocking (and, I like to think, sympathetic) laughter. I still had the sweater and, not knowing what else to do with it, Annesley and I decided to dress the dogs.

Khaki (the lab, who clearly has a keener eye for fashion than I do) had the good sense to protest, but after a little bit of snarling and more than a few treats, she and Max were photo ready. The result was our 2009 Christmas card:

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Today, these two photos—“The White House” and “The Dogs”—sit side-by-side on the bookshelf in our family room. To most people, they are simply a curiosity. To me, they are living proof of why we need verses like Romans 12:3 (“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”) and of letting God weigh in on what not to wear.

Colossians 3:12 says, “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” If you’re like me, and getting dressed for holiday parties is harder, even, than getting your kids to show up (showered) for the Christmas photo, consider posting Colossians 3:12 in your closet. Even the most awful Christmas sweater, paired with humility, can make a good impression.

(Looking back, I have to believe that Laura really did like the sweater. As my mother-in-law says about almost every celebrity she has never met, “She seems like such a nice person.”)

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Friday Prayer for Your Lambs

Isaiah 40-11

When our children were little, Isaiah 40:11 was one of my favorite verses:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Today, my lambs are all grown up (Robbie turned 20 this week!), but I still love this promise. And honestly, it doesn’t matter how old our children are – we all need a shepherd. Let’s borrow Isaiah’s words for our Friday prayer. We can pray it for our own kids, or for some little (or big!) ones we love:

Heavenly Father,

Watch over ____’s life like a shepherd. Gather ____ in your arms and carry him/her close to your heart. (Isaiah 40:11)

Amen.

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All About That Plan

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

I used to write books for a financial brainiac named Ron Blue, and that was one of his money management maxims. He was talking about things like spending and investment strategies, but his counsel applies to pretty much every area of our lives. We make fitness plans, business plans, even dinner plans – all because we know, either instinctively or cuz some trainer or consultant told us, that having a purpose and a strategy are keys to accomplishing any goal.

The same can be said for our spiritual growth. It doesn’t “just happen.” We know that, of course (and plenty of us approach the new year with a fresh resolve to go to church, pray more consistently, or read our Bibles), but without a clearly defined plan, our best intentions can fizzle.

At least that’s how it works for me.

Last week, I wrote about light. If you’ve already got a plan to light up your life in 2016, you don’t need to keep reading. But if you’re looking for a strategy – something to keep you moving forward, all year long – here are four of my favorite ways to add the Bible (the best kind of light!) to your schedule:

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The Bible in One Year. This free Bible reading app from Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you may know Nicky as the guy who launched the wildly popular Alpha course) shows up in your in-box every morning, with three different passages to read and insightful commentary to help you process and understand them. Click here to subscribe.

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The One-Year Chronological Bible. I’ve mentioned this one before (it was the one-size-fits-all family gift a couple of years ago and a significantly better choice than the posture braces that showed up under the tree in 2013). It has all the same words you’ll find in a normal Bible, but the readings are arranged in the order in which the events actually happened. There are several versions available; click here to order the one I am giving Charlie, since he is new to the fam and acted sad when he heard he’d missed out on getting a copy. But don’t tell.

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The Two-Year Bible Reading Plan. I like this one because “Two-Year.” As in, it takes two years, so the readings come in shorter chunks. Plus, they give you periodic “catch-up” days, which are much-needed mulligans for people like me. Pro: This is a free download. Potential Con: There are no notes or commentary, so if that’s high on your list, you may want to purchase the accompanying Guided Tour book. Click here to get the free printable PDF of the Two-Year Plan.

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The Songs of Jesus. New this year from Tim Keller, this beautiful devotional takes you through an entire year in the psalms, which were originally worship songs in ancient Israel. In addition to shaping how we understand and relate to God, Keller says that the psalms “anticipate and train you for every possible spiritual, social and emotional condition – they show you what the dangers are, what you should keep in mind, what your attitude should be, how to talk to God about it, and how to get from God the help that you need.” Alrighty then. Click here to order your copy.

Okay, so we have just over two weeks to order, download, or do whatever we have to do to put our plan in place. Which is good news. Because sometimes even the best laid plans need a little, ah, tweaking…

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Yeah. Buddy the Elf is gonna be pretty sad when he gets home from work.

 

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Friday Prayer for Spiritual Gifts

1 Peter 4-10‘Tis the season!

As you think about gift-giving this year, consider the spiritual gifts that God has given to you and your family. Have you or your spouse been blessed with leadership skills, a heart for service, or material wealth? Do your children seem particularly merciful, organized, or discerning? Do you know someone who is an excellent teacher, or who is especially good at explaining the gospel and pointing people toward Christ?

The Bible offers a whole catalog of these attributes, which are sometimes called “supernatural graces.” They’re the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit, and they’re all designed to bring glory to God and strengthen his people.

Check out Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12, or Ephesians 4:11-13 to learn more, and as you wrap presents for your family and friends this Christmas, ask God to help them use their Spirit-given gifts to share his goodness and grace with a world in need.

Heavenly Father,

May ____ use whatever gift he/she has received to serve others, as faithful stewards of your grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen.

 

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Let there be light!

Let there be light!“We need more lights.”

That’s pretty much how Robbie opens Christmas season at our house. Every year when he crawls into the attic and pulls out the boxes, he seems disappointed with our stash. Christmas lights, I guess, are like bathing suit bottoms; they spend the off-season lying in the dark, plotting all the ways that they will not work properly when you decide that you need them again.

And so, come December, Robbie heads out to the store (Christmas lights being one of three things he likes to buy; the other two being surfer gear and Fritos).  This year, he came back with 12 boxes, all white.

“It was buy one, get one free!” he crowed.

That would have been fine, except that after three hours of wrapping pretty much every bush and branch in our yard, he came back inside, looking for his car keys.

“Don’t tell me,” I said.

“Yep. We need more lights.”

And off he went.

I, meanwhile, stared at my un-decked halls and the naked tree that Robbie had erected in the family room. It had lights, sure, but no ornaments. They were still in the attic, nestled alongside my beloved collections of santas and nativity scenes, which I keep in separate storage boxes for theological reasons. Ever since my godly mother told my daughters that there was No! Such! Thing! as Santa Claus (“Do you really want to lie to your children?”), making them instant celebrity pariahs when they carried the news into preschool the next day, I have been very sensitive to the Santa-Jesus debate. (And to anyone reading this who had children at Atlanta’s Northside Methodist Preschool in the early 1990s, can I please just apologize again?)

(Seriously. I am sorry. And believe me, I totally understand why you didn’t let my girls come play at your houses that December. I would have shunned your children, too. I shunned my own mother that year.)

Anyhow.

My decorations are still in the attic, and Christmas is just two weeks away. Robbie may be all HoHoHo, but I am just not feeling it this year. For one thing, we don’t have any kids home. For another (and this is embarrassing, but true), I am still cleaning up from the second wedding. And for a third, I think the tree hates me. It’s dropping needles faster than the dogs drop hair. And you know how I feel about that.

So there I was, staring at nothing and wondering if “My tree hates me” was a legitimate reason to seek professional counseling, when Robbie came back inside.

“I need your help to get this tree out to the dock.”

Excuse me?

I knew we’d gotten a second tree (it was a thank you gift from Young Life), but I didn’t realize “we” had decided where to put it. Robbie, though, had a plan.

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Sigh. I do love my man.

We got the thing up and then, sure enough, Robbie grabbed his car keys. “More lights?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. And…more extension cords!”

Robbie was thrilled with his handiwork. He couldn’t wait until dark. And when the sun finally set, he came into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Are you looking out at the tree?” he whispered.

“No, Honey. I am unloading the dishwasher.”

I suppose our holiday season would have gone on like this for the next two weeks, a couple of Christmas caricatures:  One living like Buddy the Elf, the other too tired to even think about taking anyone’s last can of Who-hash.

But then, early this morning, I got up and looked out the window.

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I couldn’t help but smile. Light just does that.

And how clever of God to bookend the Bible with light. Genesis 1:3 kicks off with the familiar “Let there be light,” and Revelation wraps up the whole story with the promise that the time is coming when we won’t need a lamp or even the sun, because the glory of the Lord will be our light and – cue Handel’s Messiah, which yes, we are going to, again – he “shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)

If you’re feeling a little Scroogey and you don’t have your own resident Buddy to string up some cheer, never fear. Just pin up a strand someplace (the Young Life kids who were here the other night made human Christmas trees, so I guess you could maybe try that), and plug it in. And then open your Bible.

Because God’s Word is the best light of all.

Psalm 119:105 says it is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Next week, I’m going to share a few of my favorite ways to help us get this light into our lives in 2016 (I’m all about that plan, don’t you know!), but for now, I’ll leave you with a few choice bits to chew on as you look at your tree. Because even a Grinch like me can’t help but feel her heart growing with encouraging verses like these:

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1:5)

How happy are those who have learned how to praise You; those who journey through life by the light of Your face. (Psalm 89:15, Voice)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

Let there be light! (Even if it takes a few new extension cords.)

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Friday Prayer for Glorious Joy

1 Peter 1-8 (1)We snapped this pic on Thanksgiving Day, during our family’s annual “Trail of Tears” hike through Virginia’s First Landing State Park. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 33 degrees and icy or 68 and (to some people) bathing-suit weather. We always go…and somebody always cries.

Not this year, though. This year the crew was all smiles, and the younger cousins squealed with delight when Robbie peeled off his sweatshirt, grabbed an iffy-looking rope, and launched himself into the bay. I know there were no shepherds abiding or angelic hosts warming up but, to me, it was the perfect kickoff to Advent, a season filled with the inexpressible and glorious joy.

Let’s take hold of that joy today in the same way that Robbie took hold of his rope. Here’s a prayer to get us launched; pray it for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Though we have not seen you, we love you, and even though we do not see you now, we believe in you. Help ____ to love you and believe in you, and fill _____ with an inexpressible and glorious joy! (1 Peter 1:8)

Amen.

 

 

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Thank you, Mike London

Hebrews 11, informally known as the Bible’s “Hall of Faith,” catalogs a long and glorious list of Old Testament heroes, people who followed God and did what he asked them to do, even when they weren’t sure of the outcome. And, in fact, things didn’t always go the way most of these folks thought or hoped they would. Sure, some of ’em got to cross the Red Sea on dry land or shut the mouths of lions, but others were tortured, stoned, and (v. 37) “sawed in two.” These people led exemplary lives of faith and yet, near the end of the chapter, we learn that “none of them received what had been promised.”

That might sound like a faith downer, but it’s not. It’s a set-up for the Hebrews 11 punchline, the very last verse in the chapter: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

God had planned something better.

12896_spfootballlondonchufReading those words today, I couldn’t help but think about U.Va. Coach Mike London. Widely regarded as a top-notch recruiter and a powerful influence for good (he served as a father figure and role model to many of his players, asking that they go to class, show class, and treat people with dignity and respect), London did just about everything you want a coach to do. Everything, that is, except win a lot of football games. On that score, at least, things didn’t turn out the way U.Va. fans hoped that they would. And, after six years of losing a whole lot more than he won, London resigned on Sunday.

You’d think the victory-starved fans would be happy to have London gone (and maybe that one guy who sits two rows behind us and spends most of the game screaming about the penalties can finally give it a rest). But most folks (including Robbie, who groaned every time the third-and-long screen pass didn’t work, which was pretty much every time) seem a little sad this week. We know we’re losing a good man.

After Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech (and yes, we were there, with our two new Hokie sons-in-law, who had the decency to keep quiet and just eat the leftover charcuterie during our post-game tailgate), London gave what turned out to be a farewell speech. He said he was proud of his players, both for their character and for the things they had dealt with during an admittedly challenging season. “It’s important,” he said, “that they understand this is a tough game, you win, you lose, you try to get better, you try to move forward, but it’s a tough game. There’s consequences for a lot of things. I just told them, you’re going to be a husband, a father, a son, an employee, an employer, much longer than you’re going to be a football player. Your identity is not tied into being just a football player. I get it, we’re graded on wins and losses, I understand that, but you’re so much more than that.”

Word is that players and fans have heaped messages of love and support on Coach London, both in person and via social media. Having watched pretty much every game he coached (except for William & Mary this year, cuz we figured Hillary might notice if we didn’t show up for her wedding), I’d like to add my thoughts to the mix:

Dear Coach London,

Thank you for all of the good things that you brought to U.Va. football.

I’m thinking about you today, grateful for a man who knows that his identity is not just as a football coach. You are what you’ve modeled for your guys: You are a good husband, father, son, and employee. And, in the things that really matter – the lessons that last, game after game, season after season – you are a mighty good coach.

I know that you love the Lord and trust his hand in your life, which is why I hope you will get it when I point to Hebrews 11:40 and say that God has planned something better. U.Va. hired you to win games; God called you to win lives. That’s a calling you have pursued with excellence, and it’s one that won’t stop when you walk out of Scott Stadium.

Hebrews 11 is full of people just like you, men and women who followed God, spent their lives on behalf of other people, and lived by faith when they couldn’t see any evidence of the things they hoped for. They might not have known the fruits of their labors, but they knew back then what we still know today: God will one day make us perfect. Their faith, your faith, and our faith will finally come together to make a completed whole. The best is yet to come.

May the Lord richly bless you and your family as you continue to follow him. The best really is yet to come.

And in the meantime, thanks for the memories.

Jodie Berndt

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(Many thanks to the Cavalier Daily for the photo of Coach London.)

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Giving Thanks

Psalm 100In my Bible, the heading under Psalm 100 says, “A psalm. For giving thanks.”

I think I might have embellished that title a bit. It is a psalm for giving thanks, true, but it is sooo much more. Just look at these promises: God is good. His love endures forever. We can enter his presence with thanksgiving. And we are his people – we belong to him! What a glorious privilege and joy!

I couldn’t pick just one verse, so here’s the whole thing, written in the form of a prayer. Pull out whatever phrase you need today…or do like I did and take it all!

Heavenly Father,

The whole earth shouts for joy to you!

Help us to serve you with gladness, to come before you with joyful songs.

How good it is to know that you, O Lord, are God – that you made us, and we are yours. We are your people!

Draw us into your presence: Let us come through your gates with thanksgiving and enter your courts with praise. 

May we always remember that you are good. That your love endures forever. And that your faithfulness continues to us, to our children, and to all generations.

Amen.

 

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Thankful for You!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

While I’ve been researching recipes (I need to use up some leftover cornbread from our tailgate last weekend – Go ‘Hoos!), my pals in the blogosphere have been making the world a better place with their wisdom.

Jeannie Cunnion, author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child, has the perfect answer for when your kids start asking for “more.” Click here to read her short-but-super Fox News post on how to raise truly thankful young ‘uns – and get yourself in the grateful spirit at the same time.

And for those of us on the other end of the spectrum (the ones who’ve pretty much thrown in the parenting towel and are instead eyeing a holiday table surrounded by parents and in-laws), Susan Alexander Yates offers some tips for making The Big Day a little less stressful (even if your mother-in-law shows up after you’ve gone through a can-and-a-half of Endust Lemon Zest and offers to “just help with the surface dirt”). Click here to read her post and put a little more “happy” in your holidays.

Me, I don’t have any Thanksgiving tips or strategies. All I have is a recipe for Cornbread Dressing with Sausage and Sage (which looks awesome but which my family will probably complain about because it is “different”). That, and a 1978 book about Napkin Folding, which (you may recall) was a wedding shower gift from my mom to Hillary, and which (sorry, Mom) Hillary left at my house when she packed up all the china and crystal and moved in with Charlie. (But I am sure she’ll be coming back for it soon.)

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So…looking for something to do while the turkey cooks? Want a fun project for the kids? Need a handy diversion for your mother-in-law?

Why not fold some napkins?

To give your table an ecclesiastical flavor, go with the Bishop’s Hat:

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For a British flair, try the Ascot Tie (and I’m thinking that a couple of stick-on eyeballs would make this one extra appealing):

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Or, since the French are obviously so much better at la cuisine, how about giving A La Maison a whirl? I haven’t tried it but, looking at the finished product, it can’t be that hard:

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So that’s all I got. I feel kind of bad, leaving you with “napkin folding” as my Thanksgiving offering. Particularly since I actually made the Ascot Tie and, well.

How about if I close instead by telling you how thankful I am for you? Seriously. I pray for you every week when I post the Friday prayer, and I love knowing that God is working in our lives and in the lives of the people we love. I think I know, at least partly, how Paul must have felt about his friends in Philippi:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s to a day of being grateful that God has started something good in us…and that he’s gonna finish the job!

(And, just so you know, it was not my mother-in-law who offered to get the “surface dirt.”)

(It was my grandmother.)

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Friday Prayer for Paris

IMG_4337Two weeks ago, a Parisienne friend sent me this glorious photo in response to the Friday Prayer about being prepared, in every season. Seeing the Eiffel Tower framed by the beautiful trees and buildings brought to mind Psalm 139:5, “You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”

Today, I looked up this verse in The Message translation. I love the promise it holds, and I am praying it now for mon amie, as well as for others in her city who may need to sense God’s nearness and feel his hand of blessing. I hope you will join me:

Heavenly Father,

May our sisters and brothers in Paris look behind them and know you are there, then up ahead and know you’re there, too. May they sense your reassuring presence, coming and going. (Psalm 139:5)

Amen.

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Favorite Things

So the Associated Press ran an article this week that detailed “Oprah’s Favorite Things of 2015.”

The annual list, which Oprah started more than 20 years ago, highlights her top picks for holiday gift giving. While this year’s collection does not feature The Lava Seat (shocker, I know), there are more than a few interesting options:  A new, multicultural, line of Fashionista Barbies. A doggie faux fur jacket. And a banana, peanut butter, and chocolate cake known as “Elvis.”

Who could ask for anything more?

As you know, I’m no shopper. And it’s not like anything I recommend is going to fly off the shelves. But if Oprah and Gayle are out there (and I quote) “sourcing stocking stuffers” for the “O” magazine readers, then I want to get in the game. Especially because, unlike the tapered drawstring sweatpants Oprah favors (she owns three pairs), my pick will actually fit in a stocking.

Scripture Cards.

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Seriously. These nifty little cards from Lara Casey feature a verse on one side and a design on the reverse. They come in sets of 20, each one as beautiful (and powerful) as the next. Perfectly sized (3.25 x 2.13 inches) for popping into a lunchbox, taping onto your bathroom mirror, or sharing with a friend in a birthday card (thank you, Lynn!), the cards are miniature works of art and uplifting reminders of God’s grace.

And, perhaps best of all, Lara is one of these fabulous young entrepreneurs who truly believes in “choosing purpose over perfect.” She uses her design talents to benefit people and programs that make a difference, including organizations like the Love One Another Project, which helps needy and vulnerable children in Africa.

I promise I’m not going to spend between now and Christmas blogging about stuff you can buy (although if someone invents a “Host Vac” that actually crawls around on your dog and sucks up all the loose hair before it hits the ground, I absolutely wanna know about it). But if you’re looking for a gift idea that 1) fits everyone, 2) never goes out of style, and 3) comes with the power to encourage, equip, and transform everyday lives, Scripture Cards just might be your Favorite Thing of 2015.

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Happy shopping!

(Click here for a direct link to the cards, or here to browse the whole Lara Casey website.)

 

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Friday Prayer for Sharing Faith

Philemon 6Philemon is a tiny little book; blink on your way to Hebrews or James and you’ll miss it. But it’s in the reading plan this week, and as I made my way through the 29 verses, this little gem caught my eye:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (v. 6)

That seemed backwards, somehow. Had I been writing the letter to Philemon and his church, I might have said, “I pray that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ, so that you may be active in sharing your faith.” To me, the more you experience God’s blessings and know his character (the “every good thing” Paul writes about), the more you will want to tell people about Him.

But, reading Paul’s words, I guess it goes both ways. When we know the goodness of God, we do want to tell other people. And yet the reverse is also true:  The more we share our faith – actively, with words and deeds – the more we understand what it is that we are expressing. Maybe it’s like when you tell your friends that you need to “process” something with them so that you can figure out what it really means, or when you step out in faith and do something that you think God wants you to do and then, when you see what happens, you have a new awareness of some facet of His character.

Interesting.

In any case, verse 6 is a terrific little prayer that we can appropriate today for ourselves, for our kids, or for someone we love:

Heavenly Father,
 
May _____ be active in sharing his/her faith, so that _____ will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon 6)
 
Amen.

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Marriage, Generosity, and Football

Last January, I wrote a post about Generosity and Marriage, and how – according to researchers at the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project – even the simplest act of giving (like making your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning) can be a huge factor in your marital happiness.

But what about football? Can going to the big game with your spouse – or even watching it on TV – bode well for a relationship? I’m no sociologist, but this past weekend three things happened to make me think that football represents a prime opportunity for generous living, and could well be a sign of a healthy relationship.

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First, I saw a car commercial where this cute girl picks up a guy, presumably for a date. En route, she discusses the strengths of their team’s rushing offense while using the rear-view mirror to apply eye black. When they finally reach their destination – a stadium – the guy is speechless. It’s the date of his dreams: a pretty girl, talking sports, taking him to a football game! Granted, the ad wasn’t real, but if you could have seen how incredibly happy the guy was – what a gift the girl had given him – you would know why I have no idea what sort of car she was driving.

The second thing that happened was that my pal Anne Ferrell, who is married to the Alex Trebek of sports (Bob can name just about every college mascot in the country, from the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs to the Fighting Pickles of UNC’s School of the Arts), told me that she has undertaken a “30-Day Challenge” in which she’s trying to soak up as much football intel as she can. Players, coaches, weekend highlights – they’re all on her list. (If you could have heard her discussing Navy’s triple option offense on Saturday, you would know what a dedicated student she is.) Needless to say, Bob (who played for Navy and still holds like 17 records) is thrilled.

And the third thing that happened – the third football thing in 48 hours that made me think there might be a pattern here – was that, on Sunday, I got a text from my girlfriend, Dee, who got married last summer:

Now, Dee is not big on punctuation. I knew that. But she’s also not big on football – or at least, I didn’t think she was. Ask her what the Real Housewives are up to, or what fell out of the closet during the most recent episode of Hoarders, and her eyes fairly dance; when it comes to Reality TV, she’s a curator. But televised sports? That’s blank stare territory.

“I realized,” she explained, in answer to my question, “that if I wanted to see my husband in the fall, I would need to watch football. Because that’s what he does. On like five different TVs. And so I asked him to teach me the game.”

(And apparently he did, with great enthusiasm, because she went into a long explanation of who all the players were, what they were supposed to do, and – did I know this already? – that they had four chances to go ten yards every time! Marvelous!)

In each of these cases – the car ad, the 30-Day Challenge, and the football tutorial – the men were overjoyed. No surprise there. But what captivated me (and what gives credence to the whole “’Tis better to give” finding in the National Marriage Project) was how utterly giddy the women were.

Dee hasn’t been this excited about television since, I don’t know, she watched that woman sew clothes for a squirrel in My Strange Addiction. Anne Ferrell has mastered so many plays that she could coach her own team by now; I bet she even knows what a “slotback” is. (I don’t.) And that girl in the car ad? I don’t think she was acting. She loved it that she could make her fake boyfriend’s day.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Maybe the National Marriage Project should adopt that line as their motto. Because these gals started learning about football as a love-gift for their men, but honestly? They’re the ones reaping the blessings! They know the joy of making someone happy. The satisfaction that comes with learning something new. And the sheer delight of spending time (and, one would hope, eating nachos) with a guy that they love.

If your spouse’s interests include coffee in the morning (and Robbie, if you are reading this, can I just say thank you?), bring ’em a cup. If it’s football that he (or she!) values, go ahead and Google “triple option offense” (they have diagrams online; I checked).  Whatever it is that your beloved is into – old books, new cars, gluten-free meatloaf – take some time this week to learn about these things, or to give them a place amid the stuff that matters in your life.

You’ll think you’re the one doing the giving (and you are). But take it from the adorable couple in the car ad:  Generosity cuts two ways. You will both be happy. And you will wind up refreshed.

(And P.S.  Bronco’s fans, don’t worry about Dee’s text. You’ll get ’em next weekend. And besides, it will be nice for Peyton Manning, who seems like such a nice person, to break the passing yards record at home. He needs, what, three more yards? Four? I don’t know.)

(Will have to ask Anne Ferrell.)

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Every Season

2 Timothy 4-2If you knew you were about to die and wanted to get a message to someone you loved, what would you write?

The Apostle Paul was in prison when he wrote his second letter to Timothy, the young man he loved as a son. The letter is full of warnings and encouragements; reading it, you get the idea that Paul knew his end was near (and, in fact, he was martyred not long afterwards), and that he wanted to equip Timothy to hang in there, and finish strong.

There is a lot here that we could borrow in order to live our own lives well, but as Paul talks about the fickleness of people – people who reject truth and sound doctrine in favor of “what their itching ears want to hear” – let’s use his words about being prepared as the basis for our Friday Prayer. Pray this for yourself today, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ to preach your Word. Let _____ be prepared in season and out of season, and show _____ how to correct, rebuke, and encourage others with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)

Amen.

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What’s Hot this Christmas

Okay, so right off the bat you need to know that this is NOT going to be an inspirational or uplifting post. I have been thinking about how to redeem it, but so far…nada. The only person who could possibly find eternal value in what follows is my pal Michelle, who is convinced that shopping is her spiritual gift, and who proves it with regular Christmas shopping updates from TJ Maxx (where she is one of those people who knows that they really do get new merchandise daily).

Christmas shopping! Can you believe it? I haven’t even finished my second bag of candy corn. Still, I don’t want to get left behind – and I know you don’t want to, either – so as a service to my readers I am currently testing out a Possible Gift Idea. Alert blog followers may recall some past suggestions (The Posture Brace and the Scripture Memory Tool being two holiday favorites), but this one is brand new. I got it last week for my birthday, from Hillary:

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The Lava Seat. The packaging says it’s perfect for “sporting events, tailgating and outdoor activities.” Not having one of those handy today (and not being all that willing to go outside in the cold drizzle, even if a football game did break out in my front yard), I am going to go ahead and run the test in my kitchen.

The first thing they tell you to do is remove the Microcore Pack and pop it into the microwave. They want you to be sure your microwave is clean (which will be a stumbling block to a lot of sports fans right there, cuz of the buffalo wings and all, but whatever). Depending on the wattage of your particular appliance (800 to 1500, which who knows that stuff?), you put it in for anywhere from one to three minutes. I went for two.

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Assuming all goes well (and there’s a whole section about what to do if “swelling” occurs, which I guess is always a concern when you are talking about sports-related mishaps), you flip the Microcore Pack over and repeat the process. Then, because THE PACKAGE WILL BE HOT AFTER YOU MICROWAVE IT!, you are supposed to use an oven mitt to get it out and slide it into the cover.

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Okay. I don’t mean to be non-athletic, but seriously? The Microcore is a floppy sort of product, and unless you are one of those people who can put on mascara, or maybe diaper a baby, while wearing an oven mitt, you’re gonna have a problem. You can’t shove the pack into the cover without touching the thing. (Which is actually okay, because it isn’t THAT hot. I’m guessing that they have to put in the part about the mitt for that person who sued McDonald’s over the coffee.)

Anyhow.

Once you get the core snugged into the cover (which, incidentally, would make an awesome casserole warmer, if you needed one of those), it’s time to sit down.

And they nearly lost me again. There are not a whole lot of products that can instantly make me feel really fat (the wrong kind of white jeans being one notable exception), but trust me:  If you’re concerned about how you’ll look at the next Big Game, you don’t want to be wearing The Lava Seat. See that picture on the package? That’s a two-year-old’s bottom.

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But…does it work?

Yes.

Yes! When all is said and done, The Lava Seat performs as advertised. I’ve been working on this blog for nearly two hours (embarrassing, I know), and the casserole cover is still warm. So is my, um, you know. So, while I can’t speak for sports fans, tailgaters, and outdoor enthusiasts (who might not have ready access to a microwave), I can recommend this product for indoor bloggers.

And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Lava Seat just might be what’s truly hot this Christmas.  I googled the top-selling gifts of 2015, and if you’re not into the Apple Watch (remind me why I want that, again?), the new and improved Fitbit (I’m still trying to figure out my old one), or the Despicable Me Fart Blaster (and we wonder why the French don’t like us), you’ll want to get The Lava Seat for everyone on your list.

After all (and if you’ve have hung on this far, you deserve a Bible nugget), you don’t want to be one of those faith-without-deeds people that James warns us about. You don’t want to look at a cold person and say, “I wish you well; keep warm and well fed.” (James 2:16). You want to do something.

Like, you might want to give that person a Lava Seat.

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Fall in Love

Psalm 119:97One of the best ways to get to know God better – and to fall more deeply in love with him – is to fall in love with his Word.

Psalm 119 highlights about a zillion reasons to love Scripture; let’s borrow just one line as the launching pad for our Friday Prayer:  “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97)

You can pray this verse for yourself today, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for revealing yourself through Scripture. Help ____ to fall more deeply in love with the Bible: To read it, study it, and think about it all day long.

Amen.

 

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The Semi-Colon Life

Untitled designI saw this sign in a shop in Duck, North Carolina, and I loved it.

For one thing, the semi-colon is my favorite punctuation mark. It’s more than a comma, but not quite a period; honestly, I think it offers the best of both worlds. The semi-colon lets a writer coordinate two independent sentences that could stand alone, but are just better when paired. Think of it as the grammatical equivalent of wine and cheese.

And what a terrific message:  My story isn’t over yet.

I don’t know how the Apostle Paul felt about semi-colons, but if he were on my Christmas list, I’d be getting him one of these signs. I just finished re-reading about his life in Acts, and if ever anyone had a two-part story, it was this guy. Part One had Paul trying to destroy the early church, going house-to-house and dragging out Christians – men and women (!!) – to be beaten and thrown into prison; in Part Two, we find him tromping all over the place, building that same church through personal visits and powerful letters, and proclaiming the good news about Jesus from his own jail cell! Hooray for the semi-colon!

I don’t know about you, but if I had been in Paul’s shoes (and given his fondness for athletic metaphors, maybe I should say cleats), I think I would have benched myself, once I realized how awful I had been. Sure, I would have wanted to be on God’s team, but given my past “mistakes” (things like stoning people who talked about God’s goodness), I might have tried to live life in the shadows, leaving the contest to the “varsity” Christians who didn’t seem to be such big screw-ups.

But not Paul! He knew what he had done was bad (horrific, even) but he wasn’t gonna let his past influence his present or his future. He understood God’s grace. He received it. He knew his story wasn’t over yet – and that changed everything.

How many of us really believe that? How many of us really believe the message of grace: that, thanks to Christ’s triumph on the cross, nothing that we’ve ever said or done or even thought has the power to disqualify us for a spot on God’s team? His varsity team? How many of us can say, as Paul did in Philippians 3, “Forgetting what is behind and staining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”?

I checked a few commentaries, and the word “forgetting” doesn’t mean that Paul had some sort of convenient amnesia, or that he just blocked out all the yucky stuff he had done. Instead, the idea is that these things no longer shaped or defined Paul. They couldn’t rob him of his salvation or his fitness for service; instead, Paul knew that God could (and would!) work in and through all of these failings to bring about good in his life and in the lives of others (and, although he couldn’t have known it at the time, in the lives of billions more people who would one day read his story).

If you have a past (and who doesn’t?), don’t let it steal your purpose or your joy. Don’t believe the lie that says, “You stink; how could God ever use or love someone like you?” Instead, take hold of the truth: You do stink (as Tim Keller puts it, we are all “more wicked than we ever dared believe”), but in Christ, you are (Keller again) “more loved and accepted” than you ever dared hope! Like Paul, you really can “forget what is behind” and “press on toward the goal,” because God adores you – and he is still writing your story.

And by the same token, if you’re praying for a friend or loved one whose life seems to have gone off the rails, remember that their story isn’t over yet. As one sweet mama said when I asked her how her teenaged daughter was doing, “Well, she’s still working on her testimony.” This gal understood the real life application of verses like Romans 8:28; she knew that, in God’s hands, all of the stuff to the left of the semi-colon would one day be used on the right – and that the sentence, once completed, would be glorious.

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Reflections of the Heart

Proverbs 27-19 (1)Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

If that’s true – that our life mirrors what’s in our heart – then I definitely want a good heart! But (sigh) I can’t always make it behave. I try, but then all those nasty things like envy and pride and selfishness barge in and start throwing some elbows, and there are days when I feel like if you could actually see into my heart, you’d find kindness and faith curled up in the corner, bleeding or sucking their thumbs!

Happily, we don’t have to whip our hearts into shape. God promises to do that for us. I think King David prayed it best in Psalm 19, when he asked God to forgive his hidden faults and keep him from being mastered by willful sins. He wrapped up his petition with a sentence that I want to borrow for today’s Friday Prayer. Pray it for yourself, or for someone you love:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Amen.

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When Opportunity Knocks

Ephesians 5-15-16Back when Paul was writing his letter to the Ephesians, he described a culture marked by things like darkness, disobedience and empty words. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to remember that they were “dearly loved children” and that they should “live a life of love” – even when they found themselves surrounded by yuckiness.

The same charge holds true for us today. We are dearly loved, and we are called to be light in a dark and often confusing world. Sometimes the very things that conspire to bring us down – difficult relationships, career challenges, fears about the future – are opportunities to showcase God’s love. Sometimes they can open a door to trust, one that leads to a place of hope and security.

Living a life of love isn’t always easy (and some would say it’s getting harder all the time), but this little reminder from Ephesians 5 can help. Pray these verses for yourself, your children, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Help ____ to be careful how he/she lives. Let ____ be wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Amen.

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Report Cards

Two things happened this week to get me thinking about parenting, performance, and our perception of God’s love.

The first was that my friend and fellow parenting author, Jeannie Cunnion, wrote a terrific opinion piece for Fox News. She said that today’s kids feel “overwhelming pressure to get it all right” because their identities – and, in fact, their “lovability” – is linked to their behavior, their accomplishments, and their performance. “If I am good,” the thinking goes, “you will love me more.”

The second thing that happened was that I got my dad’s kindergarten report card.

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My mom and John are downsizing, and as part of their domestic purge she is unloading pretty much everything she thinks her kids and grandkids might want. (And more than a few things we might not, like a c. 1978 how-to book on napkin folding that she gave Hillary at one of her wedding showers. But that’s material for another blog.)

Anyhow, I wound up with a box of old photographs and papers. In it, I found this gem:

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That’s my dad, Allen Rundle. He was a kindergartner in 1944, and from the marks on his report card (also in the box), he had some growin’ up to do. I was relieved to see that he was clean, but he clearly had a ways to go in a few other areas, including walking (seriously?), using a hanky, and and…wait for it…breathing with his mouth closed.

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Oh my gosh. What did my grandmother think, when she got this report? Was she like, “Allen! Close your mouth!”?

That’s how I would have been, if he’d been my boy.

But even if he had sat there, staring at me with his tonsils hanging out, I wouldn’t have loved him any less.

I mean, things like being a mouth breather (or missing a free throw, or flunking a test, or pouring the fat back into the macaroni and cheese, or any of life’s imperfections) don’t make or break our love for our boys. Or our girls. We love our kids just because they are ours.

Which is pretty much what Jeannie writes about in her article. And she brings it around to the bigger picture – the one that has to do with God’s love – by reminding us that nothing we do could make him love us any more, or any less. Because it’s not about what we do. It’s about what Christ did. He’s the one who makes us lovable.

If that idea runs counter to what you’ve always thought, you’re not alone. Most of us have been there – and as Jeannie knows, the performance mindset can make it really tough to be a parent. “I was once the mom who put unbelievable pressure on herself to be a perfect parent setting a perfect example for her kids to follow,” she confides. “And because I wasn’t accepting God’s grace for myself, I couldn’t give grace to my kids.”

I won’t steal any more of Jeannie’s thunder; click here to read the piece for yourself.

I will say that I hope my grandmother was into the whole grace thing. I didn’t want to show you my dad’s whole report card (some family secrets are better kept that way), but she couldn’t have been happy with how he scored on “Originates stories and poems.” (But maybe that’s just hard to do, when you breath through your mouth. I don’t know.)

At the end of the day, though, it all worked out. My dad shut his mouth, learned some rhyming words, and wound up at Harvard Business School. Plus, he married a gal who knew how to make a napkin look like a lobster.

What’s not to love?

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Friday Prayer for Everything

Untitled design (1)If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that Fridays typically target a particular need or concern (things like trust, friendship, or safety) wrapped in a Scripture. I like to pray this way for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the Bible transforms fears and worries into confident expectations and songs of joy. God’s Word comes packed with power.

As does a little book that a friend sent me not long ago.  31 Days of Prayer, by Ruth Myers, offers a month’s worth of daily prayers about all sorts of topics – from personal challenges to worldwide concerns – with the words pretty much lifted right out of Scripture. The references are right there at the end of each entry, so you can check ’em out for yourself. Very handy.

It doesn’t matter whether you are brand new to prayer or a seasoned warrior, if you like the idea of tapping into the Bible (or if you’re just looking to breathe some fresh vigor into your prayer time), you’ll love this book.

Here’s a paragraph from Day 5 to whet your appetite. Pray it for yourself today, or for someone you love:

Guide me as I bring each problem area to You – my pressures, my finances, my uncertainties, my disappointments and failures (including my failures in relating to people). I trust You to work in my situations and give me practical wisdom in how to handle them. And even more, work in me. I lack power and I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on You. (2 Corinthians 12:9; James 1:2-5; Psalm 37:5-6).

Amen.

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Perfect Grace

So Hillary is now Mrs. Charlie Blakeley, and the wedding was perfect.

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Well, maybe not perfect.

Like, the top of the wedding cake slid off in the heat. (But hey, Hillary likes things a little messy and asymmetrical, so I’m chalking that one up as a plus.)

And one of my travel-weary relatives, who got to town too late to make it to the rehearsal dinner, let himself in to what he thought was his rental cottage and climbed into what he thought was his bed. Turns out, he was wrong on both counts (as both he and Charlie’s aunt discovered, much to their mutual surprise, later that night).

Oh – and a stripper showed up at the brunch (a casual affair, held on the beach, where the woman had presumably spent the night) and said that yes, she was in fact with the wedding party, and could she please have a breakfast burrito? Charlie’s mother was standing right there when the gal introduced herself – by trade, not name – to the party hosts. (I guess, after the mix up with the beds, she just figured the newcomer was another one of “those people” from our side.)

But things like these are minor details. Nobody noticed or cared. (Well, nobody except Charlie’s aunt, but I like to think hers was an extenuating circumstance.) And if I’ve learned one thing after throwing two weddings in four months, it’s that no wedding is perfect. At the end of the day (like, as in the literal end of the day, when your husband lies next to you in bed and asks if you baked that wedding cake by yourself), it’s all about grace.

It’s all about grace.

I know that (in my head, anyway) but it’s a lesson I learned all over again from watching Hillary’s cousins, the flower girls. During the rehearsal, Anna Joy and Elizabeth had been told exactly where to stand. The wedding guild gal even taped quarters to the church floor, promising the girls that they could claim them if they stood on the “treasure” the next day, during the ceremony.

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Come show time, the girls nailed it:  They made it down the aisle, found the quarters, and planted themselves. Everything was perfect – until Hillary and Charlie moved up to the altar to say their vows. At that point, the girls could no longer see what was happening. And whether it was out of obedience or avarice (to an almost-five-year-old, a quarter looms large), Elizabeth was definitely not willing to move her feet. She leaned over as far as she could, straining to catch a glimpse of the action, until I was sure she was going to topple.

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And she really might have, had not the beautiful bridesmaid standing next to the girls noticed their struggle. She reached out her hand and pulled them forward, assuring them that it was okay to move just a bit. To me, it was like God said, “See? You can’t keep all the rules, no matter how hard you try. Nobody can. And if you try to make things perfect – standing on your quarter, no matter what – you’re just going to topple over and hurt yourself. That’s why there’s grace.”

(Lest you think I am super-spiritual or that I had this amazing deep convo with God right in the middle of Hillary’s wedding, I need to tell you one thing. The bridesmaid’s name is Grace. And what went through my head wasn’t some long theological observation. It was more like: “The girls can’t stay on their quarters. Thank goodness for Grace.” Bingo. Cue the lightbulb.)

And, in the “Lessons for the MOB” category, I’d venture to say that grace is probably the single most important thing that a bride’s mother needs. (Especially a bride’s mother who happens to be a perfectionist, like some people.) Because here’s the thing:  You work like crazy to pull off a beautiful event, and you want it to be “just right.” And when it’s over, you fall into bed, happy and exhausted. You think about how pretty your daughter looked, right down to the “perfect” Tory Burch heels that you found to go with her dress.

And then, just before you turn out the light, you check the wedding hashtag…

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Ahhh.

I should have suspected.

I love my girl. And I love God’s grace. Because when it comes to throwing a wedding (or doing anything in life), it’s really the only thing that is perfect.

 

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#Grateful

IMG_8137Hillary is now Mrs. Charlie Blakeley, and we couldn’t be more #grateful.

I’ll write a longer post with more details next week, but since Fridays are  prayer days I want to share part of the passage that Charlie picked as one of the readings during their ceremony. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Overflowing with thankfulness.

That pretty much describes how Robbie and I feel right now (although overwhelmed might be a better word than overflowing, cuz we are just sort of awestruck). I’m praying the Colossians verses for the newlyweds as they begin their new adventure, and I want to invite you to consider God’s blessings in your own life, and join me in this prayer for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May ____ continue to live in Christ Jesus. Let ____ be deeply rooted and built up in Christ so that his/her faith will grow strong, and may he/she overflow with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7)
 
Amen.

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A Prayer for Your Child’s Marriage

IMG_1069So tomorrow is the big day. Hillary will wed Charlie, a fella we’ve only known for a few years, but whom we’ve prayed for for about 25.

Seriously. Hillary might have thought her five-year-old wedding ensemble was just a Halloween costume, but Robbie and I have pictured her – and prayed for her – as a wife pretty much since she was born. And, given that Charlie is a little younger than she is, I figure we’ve been praying for him since before he was born. As I wrote in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, “It’s never too early to start praying for your children’s choice of a marriage partner, for their eventual spouse, and for their marriage itself.”

Don’t wait until your kids are grown up – or until their marriage hits a rocky patch – to start asking God to bless them, to shape them into men and women of sterling character, to “make them” (and I am tweaking Fiddler on the Roof here) “good husbands and wives.”

You’ll find some great qualities to pray for your girl in Proverbs 31, and Psalm 112 offers a wonderful template for sons. But if you want just one simple prayer for your child’s marriage today (or for your own), consider this basic, but powerful, request for the way we love:

Heavenly Father,

Show ____ and his/her spouse how to love each other deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

Amen.

Let the wedding bells ring! And, as we’ll be saying tomorrow and always, Thanks be to God!

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The Good Wife

Well, it’s wedding week.

Not only is Hillary’s big day on Saturday (whoop!), but Robbie and I celebrated 30 years of our own bliss on Monday. I posted this shot on Instagram, both to mark our anniversary and because who needs pricey wedding calligraphy when your mom is such a whiz with yellow spray paint? Pinterest people, eat your heart out:

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In preparation for her impending nuptials, Hillary has been wending her way through Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of MarriageIt’s a great read. And a sobering one; anyone who thinks marriage is all about finding happiness need look no further than the subtitle – Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – to know that Keller isn’t peddling a fairy tale.

But Hillary isn’t the only Berndt brushing up on her marital literacy. I’ve been reading a how-to book of my own. It’s called The Good Wife Guide and, while this book may not be as widely read in evangelical circles, let me assure you that it is every bit as challenging as Keller’s work.

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The Good Wife Guide starts off with a no-nonsense observation:  “A man’s home is his castle and as such, he ought to be treated like a king.” Lest there be any doubt as to what, exactly, that means, there’s this:  “It’s every wife’s responsibility to dote upon her hard-working spouse, to show that he is truly appreciated!”

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That’s Rule #1.

And then, assuming that the reader is hooked (because who wouldn’t be?), the book features 18 more must-do’s for keeping a happy husband:

Rule #12:  Follow His Lead. (“If, instead of hanging on your every word, he mumbles one-word responses to your questions while perusing the newspaper…don’t take it personally.”)

Rule #16:  Sing His Praises. (“Tell him he cuts a fine figure…or marvel at his business acumen when he relays a story from the office.”)

And, my personal favorite, Rule # 6:  Greet him with a smile. (“With just one glance at your face, your husband should know that his very presence marks the pinnacle of your day.”)

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Shocking as it sounds, I will confess that it didn’t take me three decades to break every one of the Good Wife rules. It didn’t even take me three weeks. Heck, I’m not even sure I was a good wife for three days. Maybe. (But that was on our honeymoon, so I doubt if that part counts.)

The rules are hard. But you know what? I really like them! I think most of em make sense. I know I don’t have that exciting of a life, so maybe this isn’t saying much, but when Robbie comes home at night it really is the pinnacle of my day. So why do I show him where the dog dug up the grass, or ate the driveway rocks, or barfed on the sisal? Why don’t I smile?

I know The Good Wife was written as a retro-fun gag (its counsel comes straight out of the Ladies’ Homemaker Monthly, a popular magazine from the early 1900s). But, at least in terms of the sentiment that lies behind the rules, the marital advice could have been written way earlier.

Way earlier, as in the first century. As in, when Paul was writing his letter to the Philippians, which has a lot of terrific advice for relationships. Here are a few gems from that how-to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Do everything without complaining or arguing.

If I were writing a marriage book, I think I’d just rip off Philippians. Follow Paul’s advice – like his secret to being content both when you have plenty and when you are in need, or his idea of taking your troubles to God instead of worrying about them – and presto! Problems solved, right?

Actually, I wouldn’t steal from Philippians. (I mean, that one’s a best-seller every year; why mess with perfection?) And even more actually, I wouldn’t write a book about marriage, because Keller already did that (with his wife, actually), and theirs is pretty darn good. But, based on the success of The Good Wife Guide, I’m thinking that some sort of manual for the guys might be in order.

The Good Man Guide. Maybe, since guys like to watch TV (it doesn’t seem to matter what’s on; I once found Robbie watching a test pattern), it should be a video series.  Rule #1 could be, “If I have a problem, don’t try to fix it.  Just listen.”

Because, as every gal would tell you (and if you’ve seen this one before, it’s worth a re-watch), it’s not about the nail.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Our Leaders

Proverbs 21-1September 11th.

Let’s use today’s date as a prayer prompt for our leaders, and as a reminder to pray for those of every tribe and nation around the world:

Heavenly Father, 

Thank you that you hold the king’s heart in your hand. We lift up our elected officials today, as well as leaders around the globe. Bless them with your good counsel, and direct their hearts – their thoughts, emotions, and decisions – like a watercourse, making them go wherever you please.  (Proverbs 21:1)

Amen.

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Need a Good Laugh? Try this Game!

There’s nothing like having a house full of recent college graduates to upgrade the family fun. They know all of the best games and – as promised – here’s a quick “how to” on one that we played during our Staycation last month. I imagine it’s known by many names, but we called the game “Salad Bowl.”

IMG_0742For starters, divide your group into two teams. Give everyone three slips of paper and have them write down one or two words on each. Almost any noun will do; our collection included patience (as in the virtue), Lawless (as in the movie)and Donald Trump (as in). Once everyone has written their words, fold em up and put them all in a – you guessed it – salad bowl.

(Note:  When picking your words, it helps to be a little bit crafty or off-beat. I learned this lesson the hard way when I picked Sewanee. That’s where Robbie goes to school, and since he would be leaving the following week, I guess I was already missing him. It’s a good school, but a bad word choice, since Round One involves giving verbal clues so your team. All anyone had to say was, “Robbie’s college!” and they got it. Lame.)

So for Round One, everyone gets 30 seconds to pull words out of the bowl and try to explain them to their teammates, using any verbal clues you want. (Think “Catch Phrase,” without the beeping.) You go through all the words, alternating teams every 30 seconds, until all the words have been guessed.

Tally how many words each team got, record that score, and then put all the words back in the bowl.

Round two is a little trickier.  You still alternate the guesses in 30-second intervals, getting as many words as you can in that time, but instead of giving long-winded clues or explanations about the word (“This is what happens when you have to wait for a really long time for something to happen…”) you pick just ONE WORD as a prompt. For instance, if you were trying to get your team to guess the word patience, you might simply say, “Virtue.”

(Since everyone is already somewhat familiar with the words, it’s not as random as it sounds.)

(Unless you are old like I am, in which case you don’t remember any of the words from Round One and you just sit there shouting out whatever occurs.)

IMG_0716Go through all of the words again, giving the one-word clues, until they’ve all been picked.  Tally how many each team got, add that to the Round One score, and put the words back in the bowl.

Round Three is basically charades. You go through all the words again, with each player having 30 seconds to get his teammates to guess as many as they can. (Talented actors may want to tighten the interval to 20 seconds.)  This is where the game can get interesting: Donald Trump was easy (the hair); patience less so. I stood there, doing nothing, expecting people to guess the word. I mean, they were waiting, right? Hello? Patience?

(Maybe I just had a bad team.)

Anyhow, you can end the game after Round Three, awarding the win to whichever team guessed the most words right after all three rounds. Or, you can move on to Round Four and add the sheet.

We recommend the sheet.

With the sheet in play, you put all of the words back into the bowl and pass it to a team member who is – you guessed it again – under a bed sheet.  The person goes through as many words as possible, acting out the motions under the sheet. No words or encouraging noises allowed. No discouraging noises, either.

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(My team got “patience” this time. Nothing like doing nothing to garner the “best actor” award, when you’re under a sheet. And I am pretty sure we won, by a margin of one.)

So…that’s Salad Bowl. It’s a game for all ages, as evidenced by the York family of Atlanta, Georgia. Special thanks to Kelly York for cluing us in to the world of possibilities that can open up in Round Four after her 82-year-old grandmother went under the sheet during their family vacay and pretended to be “Obama.”

Classic.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for a Trusting Heart

Isaiah 26-3I don’t know about you, but there are times when it’s not that hard to trust God with my head (like, deep down, I know he has everything under control), but my heart can still go bouncing all over the place.

In an effort to get it to behave, I looked up a bunch of verses about trust this week. It will come as no surprise that a lack of trust opens the door to nasty things like fear, anxiety and sleeplessness, whereas when we stake our trust in God – in his character and his promises – we welcome a host of blessings (think peace, security, prosperity, steadfastness, and joy, for starters) into our lives.

I wanted to find us a really good verse to pray today, and I managed to narrow the list of favs down to about 20. Then 15. Then 6. And I finally picked Isaiah 26:3. I chose this one because it starts with the mind and yields results in the heart. It gives peace a chance to take root.

If Isaiah doesn’t hit just the right note with you, do what I did. Grab a concordance and check out the listings under the words “trust,” “trusts,” and “trusting.” Just be sure to pour yourself a big cup of coffee first and prepare to settle in, because it’s easy to get lost in the offerings.  They are that good.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your promise to keep us in perfect peace when our minds are steadfast, because we trust in you. Give ____ a steadfast mind today – one that stays fixed on who you are:  Your limitless power, your incredible faithfulness, and your everlasting love.  (Isaiah 26:3, NIV and NLT, with character traits added).

Amen.

P.S.  The runner up is Romans 15:13 (yes, Romans again!), which I am praying for you this week:  May the God of peace fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

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Paddle Hard

If you’re a mom (and especially if you’re a mom with an empty or mostly empty nest), you know that there’s nothing better than having all of your chicks in one coop. You love it when “the gang’s all here,” and you’ll do just about anything to make it happen.

For instance, I have one friend who rents a big beach house on some island every year and lets her adult children know that, if they “want” to come, she’ll cover their flight. (Um, that would be a yes.) Another pal keeps a family bucket list in a notebook, with a bunch of must-do’s like “learn to ride a horse” and “get scuba certified” as a way to keep everyone focused, engaged, and (this part is key) participating. And then there are moms like my grandmother. I am pretty sure she faked her own death-watch more than a couple of times, just so we’d come visit, all at once.

From a mom’s perspective, no cost is too high, no scheme too desperate. Which is how I found myself at a local tee shirt shop, having eight matching shirts printed up with the words, “Paddle Hard.”

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Paddle Hard has been a family motto of sorts for several years. Robbie likes it because of surfing. I like it because it reminds me of Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…” And when I got everyone to agree to give me 30 hours of their summer for a “staycation” (two weddings in one year pretty much kills any normal vacation), I decided to co-opt the motto for our staycay theme.

As with most of my grand ideas, there were plenty of holes in this one. Like, who knew you couldn’t put a period in a hashtag? (Well, my kids knew. But why don’t they post this sort of rule someplace where mothers can see it? Like, before they try to be all hip and put it on a tee shirt?)

Anyhow.

The first item on our agenda (because what’s family fun without a typewritten plan, with copies for everyone?) was paddle boarding (because theme). Robbie hadn’t even finished telling us which way to hold the paddle (you’d think that’s a duh, but trust me) when Khaki the lab decided – like, suddenly – to shed her “mostly dead” persona and get with the program.

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Khaki is 12 years old, riddled with tumors, and pretty much doesn’t move (unless you count the 27 steps from our couch to her food bowl). She has no idea how to paddle hard…but she wanted to. And her enthusiasm was contagious. Pretty soon everyone was on the water. They even lined up, with minimal groaning, so that I could get in the photo:

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We had a wonderful 29.5 hours of good food, good laughter (I’ll share the how-to’s for our favorite game next week), and good conversation about what it means to paddle hard in life – in your relationships, your work, and your time with God. Plus, Khaki survived, which was a definite plus.

Feel free to borrow our motto for your next family gathering. You can even make everyone a handy scripture card, like I did, for when you pass out the agendas.

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Or not.

(I thought folks might want to memorize the verse, but from what I can tell, nobody got much farther than “Paddle hard.” But hey. A mom’s gotta try.)

 

 

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Thankful for One Thing

Well I’ve moved into Romans. It’s not my favorite book of the Bible, mostly because it contains a lot of heady stuff and you have Paul writing things like, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”

Come again?

But anyway, here I am, and if you’re with me on the two-year Bible reading plan, maybe you’re here too.  And maybe you found yourself breezing right on through the second half of Romans 1 this week like I did, thinking it wasn’t really for you. An easy assumption to make. I mean, Paul basically opens with a whole section about God’s wrath, starting out with warnings about general wickedness before transitioning into big-ticket items like idolatry and sexual perversion. (Interesting that he lumps “disobedience to your parents” in with murder, depravity, deceit, and ruthlessness…but that’s a blog for another day. Or maybe it’s a verse you want to write out and put on your kid’s pillow tonight.)

(Just kidding.)

So, there I was, skimming along through Paul’s litany of sin (and feeling pretty good since I wasn’t one of “those perverts”) when – kind of like what I imagine it must feel like to get hit in the head with a hammer (which has never happened to me) or with a soccer ball while you watched your kid’s game (which has) – a verse practically jumped up and bit me. Romans 1:21 says, Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Ouch.

I know God, but how many times have I failed to give him the credit or glory he deserves? How often have I neglected to thank him for what he is doing (or what he has already done)? And how easy it has been, during those times, to slip into futile thinking:

This circumstance will never change.

It’s all up to me – and I don’t have what it takes.

This whole relationship/job/situation is hopeless…I’m just so tired…What if I fail?

And where is God, anyway? 

I’ve lost count of the times thoughts like these have pitched their tents in my head. And each time they do, I can almost feel my heart grow a little darker.

Hold that thought because, on a happier note (thank goodness!), today is 8/28.  I’ve paid attention to this date for years, ever since my friend Lisa (whose birthday it is) told me that she loved her birthday, since it always reminded her of Romans 8:28.

If you know only one line from the whole book of Romans, chances are it’s that one: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. People love Romans 8:28. And it’s easy to see why. Who wouldn’t want to stake their hope in the fact that, regardless of how bad things might look right now, God is at work, and his plan is to make everything turn out for our good?

Lisa believes that. Coming from her, it’s a belief that carries some solid weight, ‘cuz it’s born of experience, as well as faith. Three years ago, Lisa was a 48-year-old marathon runner and a successful attorney who racked up the victories on the pavement and in the courtroom. She was also a loving wife and the mother of two almost-grown boys. And then the stroke happened.

It was massive, and what followed was a horrific brain bleed that had doctors bracing her family for the worst. But if Romans 8:28 was ever going to be proved true in Lisa’s life, the time was then, and God did a miracle. Against all odds, Lisa lived. And against all odds (and after an incredibly challenging journey that has involved all of the stuff you hope never, ever happens to someone you love), she walked into her own birthday party this year.

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And it was quite a celebration. Not in the way you might think – there were no balloons or dancing cows or whatever it is that people feel like they need nowadays. It was just a handful of Lisa’s friends, gathered on someone’s screened porch for a casual supper, talking and laughing the way that girls do. And, during the course of conversation, Lisa made a profound admission:

“I try to find one thing each day to be thankful for,” she said. “I think about that thing, and I thank God.”

Wow. Romans 1:21 wasn’t even on Lisa’s radar, but in that one simple statement, she gave me hope. She turned the equation inside out, offering the antidote to a darkened heart. It’s gratitude, and a readiness to shine the spotlight on God. When we acknowledge his provision – living out verses like Romans 8:28, trusting in his power and his love even when we can’t see how he will work – the futile thoughts don’t have a chance to take root. And even if it’s just one thing to be thankful for each day, it’s a start.

So thank you, Lisa. Thank you for being a woman of faith, for reorienting my perspective, and for giving me a reason to be grateful (even for the tricky parts in Romans). Happy birthday!

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Note:  If you’re wondering where the Friday prayer is, check back next week. For now, why not borrow Lisa’s birthday verse for yourself, or for someone you love? Here’s Romans 8:28, in the form of a prayer:
 
Heavenly Father, thank you that you have promised to work in all things for the good of those who love you, who are called according to your purpose. Help me believe that today, and fill my heart with hope.  Amen.

 

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Friday Prayer for Roots and Fullness

Ephesians 3-17-19I spied these veggies at the market (Charlottesville again!) and figured they’d make a mighty fine prayer prompt. Feel free to borrow these power-packed verses for someone you love…and know that, today, I am praying them for YOU:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

In His name, Amen.

(Okay so I’ve just realized that the title of this post – Friday Prayer for Roots and Fullness – sounds like something you’d want on your way to the salon. While I am not opposed to praying over your hairdo – I have a friend who always texts me before her appointments so that we can “agree together” about the result – I hope you’ll go back and read today’s prayer again, slowly. Let the words soak into your mind. Think of them as a deep conditioning treatment. For your soul.)

 

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Back to School

IMG_4563It’s back-to-school time, and I guess every household has their own “get ready” ritual.

If you’ve got little ones, you’re probably tucking things like glue sticks and scissors into pint-sized backpacks. (Niece Elizabeth, pictured here, is swapping her stylin’ pink bag for a much more grown-up version this year, a light blue number that features little white hearts.)

If, on the other hand, your kids are college-bound, they are probably stuffing a laptop, a few cans of Spaghettios, and a set of XL twin sheets into a Hefty trash bag.

That’s if they are a boy.

If they are a girl, there’s just no telling. You might have a daughter like Virginia, who couldn’t have imagined heading off to college without pretty much everything she owned, including her six-inch snakeskin heels, 60 pounds worth of high school yearbooks, and a sombrero (“What if they have a Fiesta?”). Or you might wind up with a Hillary, whose back-to-college strategy usually involved staying at the beach until the last possible second and then heading up the road, still in her bikini, with-or-without a backpack. Or a hairbrush. Or shoes.

Regardless of your child’s particular back-to-school style, consider packing a few prayers in the send-off. Here are ten of my favorites, simple one-liners that come equipped with the power of God’s Word:

Heavenly Father…

Whatever ____ finds to do, let her work at it with all her might, as working for you, Lord, rather than for other people. (Colossians 3:23)

Surround ____ with friends who will sharpen him the way that iron sharpens iron. (Proverbs 27:17)

Keep ____ from all harm; watch over her life, her coming and her going, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)

May your favor rest on ____; establish the work of his hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Clothe ____ with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and let her forgive whatever grievances she may have against others. (Colossians 3:12-13)

Work in ____ to think and to act according to your good purpose.  (Philippians 2:13)

Let ____ be self-controlled and alert. (1 Peter 5:8)

Teach ____ what is best for him, and direct him in the way he should go. (Isaiah 48:17)

When ____ feels weary and burdened, let her come to you and find rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Let ___ grow as Jesus did: in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52)

You’ll find hundreds of prayers just like these in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your TeenagersIf you don’t have these books, just grab your Bible and ask God to show you a few verses that you can turn into prayers for your family. You might even tuck one of ’em into a lunchbox, or tape it to the can of Spaghettios. (My own dear mother used to write prayers on cantaloupes and send them to my dorm at U.Va.) You might get an eyeball roll…but at least your kids will know they are loved.

Happy packing!

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Spiritual Fruit

Galatians 5-22I saw these peaches at the Charlottesville City Market last Saturday.  As irresistible as they look, their gorgeous-ness pales in comparison to the fruit of the Spirit!  Use today’s prayer verse to ask God to grow a bumper crop of beautiful virtues like patience and joy in your life today, or pray it for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Fill ____ with your Holy Spirit.  Let ____’s life be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22)

Amen.

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Lessons from a Chair

So one of Hillary’s wedding wish-list items is to have “soft seating” at the reception. In case you aren’t familiar with that term (which was probably invented by some jacked-up wedding planner who ran out of more practical ways to pad the budget), the idea is to drag couches and ottomans and other “soft” pieces of indoor furniture out to the lawn or the putting green or whatever, and then let your guests sit on them.

When I first heard the plan, I was in – particularly since a couple of soft seats have been languishing in our garage for the past year. I bought them for 25 bucks at a rummage sale, thinking that they had potential. Sure, one had a broken arm, the other had the stuffing coming out, and neither chair was anything I would put in my house, let alone in an elegant wedding display. But really, how hard could it be to fix ’em up?  I put on a visor, grabbed a few tools, and got going.

Two hours later, I did what I imagine any good Pinterest person would do.  I stopped for a cold drink and a selfie:

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I know it doesn’t look like I’d made much progress. But for the record, when I snapped this pic I’d already used a drill, an electric sander, and a big saw – still in its original wrapper – that I’d found on our tool wall (i.e., the peg board that holds things like rakes, shovels and our disco lights). (I’m pretty sure the saw was a Father’s Day gift from early on in our marriage, back when I thought Robbie might one day want to build something.) I’d also gone thru about half a tube of wood glue and, in an effort to bring the whole project more into my strike zone, attacked the chair with some hedge clippers.

I’m no math brain, but even I could tell that at the rate I was going, there were not enough hours left on the calendar to finish the job. I needed reinforcements. I texted Charlie, the groom-to-be.

And an hour later, it was done.

Charlie works at a pretty swanky trim and millwork shop, where the guys get excited over things like a fresh slab of mahogany and build doors that would make Thomas Jefferson drool. I like to think that, given access to Charlie’s tools – which included a bigger drill, a couple of powerful clamps, and a compressor thing that went off at random intervals and sounded more like gang warfare than craftsmanship – I could have finished the job. But I know it’s not the tools that make the man (or woman). It’s the man that makes the tools. (Case in point: Charlie didn’t even have hedge clippers.)

And watching him work, I realized that it made perfect sense that Jesus would come to earth as a carpenter. Because basically, we’re all just a bunch of soft seats with the stuffing coming out, broken arms and legs pointing every which way. We all need fixing up. But when we try to do the job ourselves, drilling and hacking away, well. Hedge clippers doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s only when we realize our utter hopelessness and call in the Professional that things begin to change. God knows exactly where to drill so that the pieces of our lives will fit together, just how much pressure it will take to make us strong, and which rough edges to sand.

It’s incredibly freeing, knowing that we can relax and trust God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And it’s incredibly humbling, knowing that he’s doing the job not just because he can, but because he wants to. Tim Keller wasn’t talking about furniture repair when he wrote his commentary on Galatians, but his words about our condition still fit: We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope. 

To adapt Keller’s point for the soft-seating crowd: “We are uglier and more broken or unstable than we ever imagined, but in God’s hands we are exquisite workmanship, more lovely and valuable than we could ever dream. And he’s making us fit for a purpose.”

That’s the message of grace, in a nutshell.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for a New Song

Psalm 40-2-3Tired of slogging through the muck of life, looking for a firm place to plant your feet?  Turn today’s verse into a prayer and soon you’ll be singing a brand new song:

Father God,

Lift me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire of life’s problems.  Put my feet on a rock; give me a firm place to stand.  Put a new song in my mouth – a hymn of praise to you! – so that all who see what you have done will put their trust in you.  (Psalm 40:2-3)

Amen.

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Who’s Your Nathan?

Sunday’s sermon featured a close up look at a pretty dramatic scene out of 2 Samuel 12, where the prophet Nathan rebukes King David over the Bathsheba business. Our minister (Andy Buchanan) made lots of good points, but here are two top takeaways:

Sometimes, we have to be Nathans. We may need to confront someone about a choice or behavior that runs counter to God’s good plan for their lives. When we do, it can make sense to come at the problem sideways (like Nathan did with the story about how the rich man took the poor man’s lamb) instead of barreling straight in with the conversational equivalent of a taser to the face.

Good to know.

More often, we need to have Nathans – people who can (and will) speak hard truths into our lives. It’s tough to spot our own whoopsies, and in a world where “follow your heart” has become a favorite counseling mantra, we can easily find ourselves slip-sliding away. The heart, don’t you know, can be a tricky thing. And finding your Nathan is not like the dentist, where a twice-a-year scraping gets rid of the plaque. As Paul put it in his letter to the Hebrews, “Encourage one another daily…so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

So…who are your Nathans? Who can help you skirt the sinkholes – or, if you’ve already fallen into one, take you by the hand and help you find your footing?

The value of frequent check-ups (not to mention the inevitable transparency that comes from living with someone) might make your spouse a good candidate. Or perhaps your Nathan is a close friend or co-worker who shares your faith, someone who knows what you look like without makeup (both the Cover Girl kind and the public “face” you wear).  Or maybe you’ll get really lucky, like I did, and have a neighbor come up to you after church and offer to be your own personal Nathan, since – quote – he has “already started making a list of your top ten sins.”

Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of Nathans over the years, including my college roommates, Susan and Barbie. They spent four years keeping me straight and then, knowing that their work was far from over, walked the aisle as my bridesmaids:

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Back then, we didn’t know we were each other’s Nathans. All we knew was that there was punch that shouldn’t be guzzled (the fact that it was served in trash cans served as our first clue), boys that shouldn’t pitch a tent in our hearts (happily, Robbie made it past that screening process), and outfits that should never, ever be worn. (That last one was, perhaps, our biggest blind spot.  But it was the ’80s, so we have mostly forgiven ourselves.)

Spiritually, emotionally, and physically, we had each other’s backs. We tended to value candor over tact, and our go-to line – whether the bad decision had to do with our behavior on Saturday night or our hairstyle on Sunday morning (yes, I did perm my own hair, thank you very much) – was, “Can I just be brutally honest?”

The answer, of course, was yes. Always.

Brutal honesty got me through college. And even now, 30 years later, I know I can count on Susan and Barbie to tell me the truth, whether it’s about my parenting, my marriage, my friendships, and even these blogs. (Susan, who got a perfect score on her verbal SATs, was the very first person to email me with corrections when I started this thing.  That’s my Nathan!)

jbsLast May, these gals were on hand to watch Annesley get married.  Later this month, they will host a bridal shower for Hillary. Some folks might look at these expressions of love and say I am blessed to have such good friends. And I would agree, but not just because Susan and Barbie show up for life’s big moments (or because Susan lives in another state and has to cough up a serious chunk of time and gas money to get to Virginia Beach).  I cherish their friendship because of what it has been in life’s little moments – the “encourage each other daily” moments – where they have been, and will continue to be, brutally honest.

We all need Nathans. If not for the Bathshebas in our lives (and we all have ’em) then for the other really important blind spots.

Like our hair.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Confidence

Jeremiah 17-7-8 (1)Summer can be a time of scorching heat and crippling drought.  For those whose confidence is in God, though, these things hold no peril.

Need a little water to refresh your soul today?  Here’s an encouraging promise to pray for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Teach _____ to trust in you.  Let his confidence be rooted in you, so that he flourishes like a tree planted by the water.  Show _____ that he doesn’t need to fear when life heats up, or worry during seasons of spiritual drought.  Remind _____ that when his confidence is in you, his life will never fail to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

In Christ’s name, Amen.

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Here Comes the Bride!

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In The Undertaker’s Wife, there’s a chapter in which a woman – the “prophet in red stilettos” – shows up to attend a funeral and asks Dee Oliver (a.k.a. the undertaker’s wife who, by this time in the story, is the undertaker’s widow) if she is married.  When she learns that Dee’s husband has passed, the woman doesn’t miss a beat.  “You are going to get married again,” she proclaims.  “The Lord has a husband for you.  But you don’t need to go looking for him; he will find you.”

The Bible says that there are a lot of false prophets out there, and that one way to tell if a message is from God or not is if it comes true.  Well, this gal with the red kicks seems like the real deal because (spoiler alert) Dee is getting married this week!  I’ll let her tell her story in her own good time, but I will say this:  If I get to write it, we might call it The Wedding Planner’s Wife, since her beloved (Mr. Boyd Melchor, pictured here) has pretty much taken over every detail of their impending nuptials and, based on the plans that he’s laid thus far, it promises to be glorious.

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So Dee, congratulations!  All God’s best to you and Boyd as you begin your new life together.  I love your story, especially the fact that (just like for all of us) it is still being written.  And not to steal your personal prophesy or anything, but I think the promise that the woman gave you at the funeral that day, words from Joshua 1:8-9, are pretty perfect for anyone who wants to see their own story end well:

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

I guess we should just put an Amen right there.

But by way of a P.S., here’s this:  For all of you who have posted comments or written reviews saying you really liked The Undertaker’s Wife except for the ending cuz you wanted to know what happened to Dee, well…now you know.  And for those who have not yet read the book, here’s a wedding party favor:  Click here to download the first few chapters for free. Whoop whoop!

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer to Listen and Follow

John 10-3-4I love it when a Bible verse practically jumps off the page, begging to be turned into a prayer.  John 10:3-4 did that for me this week.  It’s a short passage that is as precious as it is powerful – I prayed it for each of my children, and now I want to go back and pray it for myself!

Here it is, if you want to join me in praying for someone you love:

Lord Jesus,

Let _____ be like a sheep who listens to you.  Call ____ by name, and lead her.  Thank you for your promise to “go on ahead” of ____; may she follow you because she knows your voice.  (John 10:3-4)

Amen.

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The Smell of the Spirit

FullSizeRenderLast week my pal Dee gave me an air freshener for my car. I might have been offended except that 1) she gave one to two other gals, too, which suggested that I wasn’t necessarily a target, and 2) I actually needed it.  It’s like when someone says you have something in your teeth:  Grateful trumps insulted, every time.

Robbie and I buy used cars (“pre-owned vehicles” for those who know to say sofa instead of couch, which is apparently an important lifestyle distinction that I had never even heard of until last week). Anyhow, I love my ride, but second-hand buyers can’t pick every feature, and I got a car that came with an intermittent smell of cleats.  Yeah.  Sometimes when I crank the AC, it takes me back to those long road trips to lacrosse tournaments in places like Maryland and New Jersey, when I’d spend hours in a car with a bunch of 8th grade boys who talked about things like how to catch a rabbit with a goalie stick and hung their feet out the car windows, lest I perish.

I miss those days, but not so much that I would turn down Dee’s gift.  The box implied that it smelled like CLEAN CRISP WHITE.  I plugged it right in, and while I am not really sure what “white” is supposed to smell like, I’d wager that if you are one of those people who hangs a cardboard pine tree from your mirror and immediately gets all ho-ho-ho inside, you’d like it. (Click here if you want one.)

And I do like it, actually.  Not for the smell, mind you (the cleats might be preferable), but because it reminds me of an encounter I had with the Holy Spirit.

(Well, maybe not the real Holy Spirit.)

(But He was probably there, too.  Rolling his eyes.)

Here’s how it went down:

You may know that the Bible talks about the fragrance of God.  Perfume makers in the Old Testament crafted a special oil that was used exclusively for anointing things and making them “holy,” and the smell was both sacred and distinctive.  In the New Testament, Christ’s love is called a “fragrant offering” (Ephesians 5:2) and Paul tells us that, as believers, we spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Corinthians 2:14).  I had read verses like these, and I’d even heard that the Holy Spirit sometimes showed up with a “sweet smell,” but I’d never experienced it.  But I wanted to.

And then sure enough, it happened.  Within a week of my U.Va. graduation, I’d landed a job at the Christian Broadcasting Network.  I loved working alongside so many talented and media-savvy Christians – people who loved both Jesus and TV – and there were days when I felt like I could just sense God’s nearness.  One day, I was alone in the ladies’ room – the ladies’ room! – when suddenly, out of nowhere, a sweet smell began to fill the air.  I didn’t see any air fresheners (and believe me, I checked), nor did I hear any sort of pffft pffft that might signify a mechanical dispensation.  The fragrance was just sort of…there.

And I had to ask.  “Holy Spirit?” I whispered.  “Is that…you?”

Now, bear in mind that I was alone in the bathroom.  (There was no one around to make fun of me except God, and I figured he’d seen worse.)

And I was fresh out of college.  (Where stranger things than finding the Holy Spirit in the ladies’ room had opened my mind to new ideas.)

Plus, I was eager to know more about the supernatural things of God.  I was primed for an encounter.

The heady fragrance grew and, while I wouldn’t have chosen that particular eau, had I been in God’s shoes, I didn’t feel it was my place to judge.  Instead, I left the bathroom and nearly bumped into an older, wiser employee who (you can’t make this stuff up) just happened to be the head of building maintenance.

“I think I just smelled the Holy Spirit!” I gushed.  “In the bathroom!  I was just standing there, after I’d washed my hands, and the fragrance just built.  Out of nowhere!”

To his credit, the man didn’t howl.  He didn’t even chuckle – at least not at first.  Instead, he gently explained that the lavatories had recently been equipped with a silent, timed-release air freshener, and that I must have been right under the air vent when it went off.

Oh.

So that was that.

And here I am, 30 years later, still not knowing what God smells like.  I had actually forgotten the whole CBN bathroom experience until CLEAN CRISP WHITE brought it all back.  I did a little googling, and it turns out that there really are people who have smelled the Holy Spirit.  If you’re one of ’em, I hope you’ll post a comment on this blog, cuz I’m still curious.

But in the meantime, I’m going to drive around in my clean crisp car, focusing on things that are a little easier to understand, like the fact that each one of us really does carry the “aroma” of Christ.  The New Living Translation puts it this way:  Wherever we go [God] uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume (2 Corinthians 2:14).  

Maybe not all of us will get to smell the Holy Spirit, this side of heaven.  But how cool is it that, as we share his love, other people can detect his presence on and around us?  If we could package that fragrance in an air freshener box, I guess the best name would be LIFE.

 

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Pressure Washed Love

Hillary’s wedding is just two months away, and with an at-home reception, you can imagine the Honey-Do list Robbie wakes up to most weekends.  Some of it, though, he thinks up all by himself.

Like pressure washing the dock.

Untitled design (6)Now, I don’t generally like things that look all perfect and new, so this is not a project I would have encouraged. But when Robbie tactfully observed that we’d passed “vintage chic” a few years back and were now headed into the “slip-n-slide” stage of outdoor decorating, I saw his point. Weddings have enough natural pitfalls without sending Grandma and her wine glass into the bay, mid-way through the party.

While I mulled that one over, Robbie suited up in his duck boots, his hat, and his SPF shirt and headed out to the garage.  I’d always thought pressure washing was basically a grown up version of playing in the sprinkler, and I wondered why he needed all the gear. It was a warm and sunny day; why not do it barefoot?

“If this water cuts across your toes,” he explained, “it’ll saw ’em right off.”

Okay then.

If you’ve read Gary Chapman’s book about Love Languages, you’ll know what I mean when I say that Acts of Service is tops on my list, and when my man came back in the house after a couple of hours – absolutely filthy and only half-way  finished – I thought he was awesome. He was also exhausted, and so when he went off to work on Monday morning I went out to the dock, thinking I’d surprise him and finish the job.

Yeah, so pressure washing is harder than it looks. Just starting the machine (which involves one of those ghastly pull cords designed to make men feel manly) was challenging enough, but if you’ve never pulled the trigger on one of those things, well. It took every ounce of my fourth-grade gymnastics training not to fall overboard from the kick.

Eventually, though, I got the hang of it, and I managed to do another mile or two of boards. There was no way I could finish before sunset, though, and my spirits sagged. Knowing that Acts of Service is not Robbie’s love language, but wanting to send the message anyway, I decided to try Words of Encouragement:

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Now, if pressure washing a dock is hard, let me assure you that pressure washing a sentence is harder. I tried block letters first, but that involved stopping and starting the nozzle-gun, and the kick got me every time. So I resorted to cursive, which I hear is no longer being taught in schools. Which is a real tragedy, given how had it is to pressure wash “I love you” in print.

On the plus side, the nice thing about pressure washing is that, once you have a good grip (and you stop getting tangled up in the hose), you have a lot of time to think.  And as I watched the boards go from slimy to clean, I thought about Jesus.  I thought about how he pretty much pressure washed our whole lives through his work on the cross. I thought about how his arms must have hurt, even more than mine did, as he hung there. And I thought how cool it was that he could do the job once and for all and say, “It is finished,” without having to suit up again the next weekend.

Most of all I thought about how, in that once and forever act of service, he wrote “I love you” on our hearts.

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Friday Prayer for a Troubled Heart

John 14-1I love that Jesus knew our hearts would be troubled.  And I love it even more that he gave us the answer for that.  Instead of trusting in well-laid plans, favorable circumstances, or good results, he tells us to trust in him.

If your heart is anxious today – if things aren’t shaping up the way you thought or hoped they might – don’t worry.  And don’t let your peace or your happiness depend on results.  Instead, stake your hope in who God is, and turn Christ’s words into a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Don’t let my heart be troubled today.  Help me to trust in you – in your character, your faithfulness, your power, and your love.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

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Friday Prayer for When People Bug You

1 Corinthians 4-12 (1)So we did a little crabbing on the Fourth of July.

The little guy in this pic was too small to keep, but that didn’t stop Khaki from wanting some quality play time before we threw his new buddy back in the Bay. The two of ’em went at it for about a dozen rounds before they both got tuckered out.

I suspect that Khaki thought it was all in good fun, but if I had to guess I’d say that his crustacean pal felt a little persecuted.  Cursed, even.

But he took it like a champ.

Which made me think of how we react when people push our hot buttons.  Most of us aren’t facing anything close to real persecution, but we all have people who bug us.  Who pick on us.  Say mean things about us, even.

People who (a-hem) can make us kind of crabby.

The good news is that God has a plan for that.  The Bible has all sorts of verses about how his children should respond to insults, bullies, and undeserved attacks.  Something in the crab’s demeanor (okay, so that’s a stretch – but he did have remarkable endurance) made me think of 1 Corinthians 4:12.  Here it is, in the form of a prayer:

Heavenly Father, 

When I am cursed, help me bless those who are cursing me.  When I am persecuted, give me the strength to endure.  And when I am slandered, show me how to answer kindly.  (1 Corinthians 4:12)

Amen.

P.S.  Lest you think I am running some sort of violent canine-and-crab ring, let me assure you that 1., No animals were harmed in the making of this post (except I guess the big crabs, which we did eat) and 2., The dog-and-crab show was not my fault.  More and more criminals are implicating themselves through selfies these days, and Robbie is no exception:

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Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas

Robbie is working at a fish shack and living at a skate park in North Carolina this summer (which is pretty much the sum total of everything I know about his current status, which I think demonstrates pretty good parental awareness, given that he is a fourth child) and I guess they cook for themselves cuz he texted me the other day, asking for instructions on how to make his all-time favorite meal.

Given that a lot of popular blogs feature “Tempting New Recipes!”, I figured I’d jump into the culinary fray and share the info with you too – although let me just say right up front that, while this meal is a Berndt Family Classic that gets trotted out for pretty much every birthday dinner (except mine), I will not blame you if you don’t find it the least bit tempting (because I don’t).

Even the dish’s name (coined by my mother, who invented this meal during my childhood), is a little off-putting:  Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas.

Yeah.

So anyway, here’s how you make it:

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-oz. box of elbow noodles (the “mac”)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (the “fleas”)
  • 5 slices of Kraft American Singles, the shrink-wrapped kind (the “cheese,” although I am using that term loosely here)
  • About half a bag of frozen tender tiny peas (not the big fat ones)
  • A stick of butter, chopped into pieces
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Whatever seasonings you like (we use garlic salt and pepper)
  • Optional shredded parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions:

  1. Cook the macaroni in a big pot while you brown the ground beef.  When both are finished, drain the macaroni of water and pour the fat off the meat.  (This is a critical but potentially confusing step – more later.)
  2. Peel the cheese (are you drooling yet?) and add it to the hot macaroni.  Add the butter and the milk and stir over low heat until the butter and cheese are all melted.
  3. Meanwhile, boil the peas in a small amount of water, just until they are no longer frozen…no need to cook ’em for more than about two minutes.  Drain them, and then add the peas and the ground beef to the macaroni mixture.
  4. Stir it all up and add your garlic salt and pepper.  Top with shredded parmesan cheese if you want to look a little fancy (we usually skip that step), and enjoy!

Easy, right?

Robbie managed to get through the whole thing on his first try, and he sent me a snap of his efforts:

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I asked how the crew liked it, and he said it went over well…although one girl “freaked out” when she saw him adding the fat from the burger meat back into the macaroni pot.

“You did what?” I asked.

“Added the fat.  Like you said to.”

Now, I definitely did NOT say to pour the fat back in (although, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am not, normally, opposed to fat in my food).  To prove his point, Robbie sent me a screen shot of the instructions I’d texted:

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Okay then.  So now you know why I am not a recipe blogger.  But if you decide to try this one at home, I’d love for you to let me know how it goes.  If nothing else, it could turn out to be the very thing that convinces your husband that it’s time to make reservations at a nice restaurant, just the two of you, and take you out.  (You’re welcome.)

 

 

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Friday Prayer for the U.S.A.

2 Chron. 7-14It’s been a buckle-up week in America, as everything from Supreme Court decisions to the roller-coaster ride of presidential politics make newscasters giddy over the dramatic feast.  For those of us who pray for our country, there’s certainly no shortage of topics to cover!

I’ll confess that I started out this week praying some pretty pointed prayers:  Fix them.  Teach him.  Show her.  Protect us.

And then God drew me back to that old familiar passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14.  I grew up in a church where we literally sang this verse as a prayer; I should have remembered it without the Lord’s gentle prompting.  It’s a good one, and if you’ve got a few moments to  pray for our country this Fourth of July, I hope you’ll join me in starting with a petition aimed at those of us who believe:

Heavenly Father,

We are your people, called by your name.  Help us to humble ourselves.  Teach us to pray the way that you want us to pray.  Cause us to seek your face and turn from our wicked ways.  And then please, O Lord, hear us from heaven,  forgive our sin, and heal our land.  (2 Chronicles 7:14)

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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DIY: God Bless America (with pix this time)!

(Note from Jodie:  Many thanks to those of you who let me know that yesterday’s post showed up without photos.  Turns out that the site that does this stuff for me was down – or maybe somebody out there just doesn’t love America.  Either way, it should be working now.  Happy painting!)

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We’ve always been a July 4th kind of family.  Patriotism plays into it, sure, but there’s also the lure of things like al fresco dining (cookouts), free entertainment (fireworks), and easy decorating (throw a few flags around and – bam! – you’re in the holiday spirit).

What’s not to love?

Truth be told, we own a lot of flags.  Normal people buy candy or magazines in the checkout line; I am a sucker for Old Glory.  I can never remember how many of the dowel rods the dogs chewed up in their patriotic zeal last year, so I grab a fresh batch of ’em every June to stick in the ground, the flower pots, or on the front door.  Other kids show up at college with Michael Jordan posters and monogrammed bulletin boards; mine arrive with giant flags.  And if I happen to see an old ratty Star Spangled banner in an antiques shop?  Just hope you aren’t between me and the cash register.

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Because honestly, you can never have too many flags.  That’s probably what I was thinking on a warm June day back in 2002, right around when the family photo (above) was snapped.  We’d found a piece of old plywood in the garage and, not having any other use for the giant board but unwilling to waste it (a reluctance that I like to think speaks well of my fiscal sensitivity), I grabbed a can of white paint and told the kids to let ‘er rip.

Once they’d covered both the wood and their bathing suits, we added a navy square and three simple words:  GOD BLESS AMERICA.  Part proclamation, part prayer, it seemed to fit, particularly since 9/11 was still very fresh in our minds.

Then came the fun part.

We live on a fairly public corner of our neighborhood, and every kid who came by that day was invited to dip his or her hands in a brownie pan full of red paint.  Print-by-print, hand-by-hand, the “stripes” came together, as each child left his mark and then used a Sharpie pen to sign his – ahem – handiwork.  Betsy Ross, eat your heart out.

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Today, most of the kids who slapped their hands on the sign are all grown up – some of them are living in far-away places like Charlotte and Los Angeles – but we still haul the sign out every year.  As a nation, we’ve been through a lot of changes in the past 13 years, but our prayer is still the same:  God bless America.

If you want to join us in that prayer this year (or if you just need a project to keep the kids busy for a couple of hours), why not make your own flag?  All you need is a piece of plywood, some paint, and a bunch of patriotic volunteers who don’t mind getting a little bit messy!

Happy Fourth!

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Friday Prayer for Help and Healing

Psalm 121-1-2Seems like almost everyone I know needs help right about now.  I know I do – a combo of sickness and a too-busy schedule have knocked me down (and, for those who pay attention to these things, left me blog-less this week).

I don’t know what your need is – comfort, strength, a job, wisdom, healing – but I know God is the source.  Let’s borrow a prayer from Psalm 121 this week and trust him to provide:

Heavenly Father,

I am ______ (sick, confused, weak, discouraged, hurt, tired).

Lift my eyes to the mountains of your strength.  Help me, Lord, according to your promise, for you are the Maker of heaven and earth.  (Psalm 121:1-2)

Amen.

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Friday Prayer for Making Plans

Psalm 138-8We all make plans.  Business plans, weekend plans, wedding plans – the calendar is full and, if you’re like me, the to-do list starts afresh each new day.

God’s a planner, too.  But unlike us (well, me anyway), his plans are always good, and he never fails to finish what he starts.

If you need a fresh awareness of God’s good purposes today – or simply a reminder that you can rest secure in the knowledge that He is on the job, no matter how upside down things may look right now – consider the promise in Psalm 138:8.  As the NIV puts it, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”

Here’s how this verse appears in the New Living Translation.  Pray it for yourself, or for someone you love:

Work out your plans for my life – for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.  Don’t abandon me, for you made me.  (Psalm 138:8, NLT)

Amen.

 

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Throw off what hinders

FullSizeRenderNot long ago, Robbie took me along on a business trip to a seaside resort. Knowing that he’d be in meetings all morning, I decided to go for a run on the beach.

I couldn’t.

I mean, like, literally I couldn’t. There was too much seaweed.

At first, I didn’t think it would bother me. Sure, I was a little squeamish about stepping on it, but there was nowhere else to plant your feet, so I had to. But each incoming wave brought a fresh batch of the stuff, and so firmly did the greenish-brown yuck wrap itself around my ankles that, if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that it was after me – and that it was maybe even carnivorous.

I slowed to a walk, yanking my feet free with each step. As I did so, the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Hebrews 12 flashed through my mind:

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

“Everything that hinders.” That category undoubtedly includes some good things that, when allowed to flourish like a crop of seaweed, can slow our progress toward God’s real purposes for our lives. Volunteer commitments, hobbies, relationships, and even some ministry opportunities might be pulling at our ankles, making us less able to pursue the work to which we are truly called.

“The sin that so easily entangles.” Ouch. I guess some sins are fairly easy to avoid (murder comes to mind, although even there I am at least partly guilty, since there are definitely some folks that I’ve wished would just “go away”), but others can kind of sneak up you – things like pride or self-absorption or discontentment – and once they finish spinning their web, you feel trapped. Several of these little nasties came to mind as I worked to extricate myself from the slime, and I found myself wondering if Paul had ever tried to run in seaweed.

Lest you think I am exaggerating (a habit that can be, I admit, a “hindrance” in my life), allow me to share one more pic:

 

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These guys were out there every morning, faithfully shoveling great wads of the stuff off the beach and burying it in the sand. I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for them (the way that one might pity Sisyphus, on the umpteenth roll of his boulder) or admire their diligence. Either way, they enhanced my understanding of Hebrews 12 in at least two ways:

First, throwing off life’s hindrances and entanglements is a daily job. We can’t get our priorities in order once and then figure they’ll stay that way. They tend to wiggle.

And second, if we’re having trouble getting rid of the seaweed (or even identifying where we’ve gotten tangled), it’s good to have a friend who will tell us the truth.

Particularly someone who’s willing to pick up a shovel and help.

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Friday Prayer for the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34-18A dear friend and her family are hurting today, grieving the impending loss of a loved one.  I’ve been praying Psalm 34:18 for them; maybe you know someone who could use this verse as a prayer today:

Heavenly Father,

You are close to the brokenhearted and promise to save those who are crushed in spirit.

Be close to _____ today; let her sense the comfort of your nearness.  Wrap your saving arms around _____ to heal and protect her spirit.  (Psalm 34:18)

Amen.

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Wedding Joy

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“What’s the worst that could happen?”

In the days leading up to Annesley’s wedding (and I promise, this will be the last wedding post – at least until September, when Robbie will again fight back the tears as he walks Hillary up the aisle), the “worst case” scenarios were practically all I heard:  A wedding dress destroyed by a red wine-sloshing guest. A caterer who left the dinner plates outside in a snowstorm. Chinese lion dancers run amok, towering over the bride and groom in a loud and somewhat sensual frenzy. (They’d been hired as a “fun surprise” by the MOB, since the newlyweds were Beijing-bound.  Surprise!)

None of these stories really worried me. I mean, short of being left at the altar, most wedding whoopsies are not really  that bad.

Yeah, well. About that.

Okay, yes:  Annesley and Geoff were, technically, left at the altar. But let’s look on the bright side. They were not alone. They had each other. And their four siblings.

I’ll spare you the details (partly because I’m not really sure what all went down, but mostly because I am currently incubating in a sort of post-traumatic numbness that God must reserve for MOBs who live through these things), but somewhere amid the post-ceremony photo flurry, everyone left. The locals left in their cars. The out-of-towners left on the shuttle busses. The wedding party got on their bus, found the champagne cooler, and figured, “Mission accomplished!”

Even Robbie and I left, scampering to our car so as to beat the happy couple to the reception.

Imagine our surprise, a few minutes later, when the cell phone rang and it was Virginia:  “The wedding shuttle isn’t where you said it would be. I think they left us. We are all alone. And Geoff just told Annesley to get back in the church because no bride should be standing out in the middle of Atlantic Avenue in a giant white dress, looking for a ride.”

(He had a point.)

Thank goodness for my mom and John, who’d hung back to spy on the proceedings and were just getting into their car when they picked up the distress signal. Grabbing his iPhone, John began filming, even as he tried to shoehorn all six kids into his back seat. Robbie and I showed up in time to extract the bride and groom, but the siblings had already piled in. John peeled out of the parking lot, taking selfies the whole way (“Smile kids! When are you gonna have a story like this again?”), while Hillary urged him to “Just drive!” and Geoff’s brother Matt sat there wondering what he had done to deserve our family and feeling certain that it didn’t really matter because, as he told me later, “I was pretty sure we were all gonna die.”

And all of that was before the reception.

But hey, I’m sure nobody noticed the torn wedding dress (we “fixed” it with about 18 staples and a couple of huge binder clips), the girl-fight over the bouquet (those photos are gonna be priceless), or the fact that the band didn’t come back to the stage for the second set (I found ’em watching the NBA Playoffs on the bar TV).

The list goes on. And you know what? It was GREAT.

And you know what else? God knew it would be. He knows what it’s like to throw a wedding – and to have things go awry.

Think about it.  He says that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding where the invited guests don’t come, where they have to fill the banquet hall with street people, and where an ill-clad guest has to be ejected (Matthew 22). He knows all about receptions where they run out of wine (John 2), or fuel for the lanterns (Matthew 25). And what about the truly worst-case scenario, back in Genesis 29, when the groom wakes up the morning after and realizes he’s married the wrong gal?  Now there’s a wedding surprise.

Maybe it’s the old misery-and-company thing, but I started reading up on all of these Bible weddings and, truth be told, the only wedding where everything goes right is Christ’s. We can read the press coverage in Revelation 19:  The onlookers are pumped (their hallelujahs sound like thunder), the bride is ready (she’s dressed in fine linen), and the whole thing just smacks of utter, limitless joy.

And the best part about this wedding?  The bride is us! 

It’s true. When we fall in love with Jesus, he gets rid of our ragged clothes. He dresses us in beautiful robes of righteousness. And he changes our name from “Deserted” and “Desolate” to one that means “My Delight” (Isaiah 62). Weddings just don’t get any better than that.

Sure, Annesley’s big day wasn’t perfect, but I’ll tell you this:  It gave me a whole new appreciation for the way God feels about us. I read Isaiah 62:5 this week and, after seeing Geoff’s face when he spotted his gal coming up the aisle, the words fairly jumped off the page. I hope you’ll read them with me today and know that, all whoopsies aside, you are utterly, incredibly loved:

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.

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Friday Prayer for Love, Joy and Good Friends

Proverbs 27-17

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about friendship. Scripture has plenty to say on the subject, and when it comes to a life marked by friendship, love, and joy, it doesn’t get any better than John 15:9-17.  Today’s prayer is a paraphrase from the New Living Translation of this passage; consider praying it for yourself, your children, or anyone who is on your heart:

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving _____.  Let her obey you, remaining in your love so that she may be filled with joy.  Yes, let ____ have joy that overflows!

Surround _____ with good friends, and teach him to love them in the same selfless way that you love us.  Equip him with a willingness to lay down his life – his needs, desires, and priorities – in order love his friends well.

Let us live and love in a way that produces lasting fruit. Thank you for calling us friends, and for showing us how to love one another.

Amen.

 

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In Praise of Friends

The best thing about Annesley’s wedding? Everything.

Oh, plenty of things went wrong (some funny, some less-so, depending I guess on your point of view), and I’m sure I’ll be writing about one or two of those memory-makers soon. For now, though, I just have to give a shout out to the bridesmaids and the house party gals who, through the sheer gift of their friendship, made the entire weekend sparkle.

Bridesmaid selfie

In an age where relationships are often measured in “likes,” it can be tough to know what true friendship is. These girls, though, are the real deal.

From Julia, the “Bond Girl” who has known Annesley since forever…

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To Kate, the stranger-turned-soulmate in the blink of an eye…

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To Virginia and Hillary, the sisters who spent the better part of a year perfecting the “Maid of Honor” role…

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…every one of Annesley’s ‘maids is a living picture of John 15:12.  That’s where Jesus talks about how he is our friend, and he gives us an example to follow:  “Love each other,” he says, “as I have loved you.”

These girls have done exactly that. They have been loyal, selfless, transparent, resourceful, and fun. Watching them interact over the wedding weekend, I was reminded of how C.S. Lewis likened friendship to “unnecessary” things like philosophy and art. He said that friendship has “no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

I adore Lewis, but modern science might beg to differ with his wisdom – at least insofar as survival is concerned. Psychologist Matthew Lieberman has done all sorts of research on the human brain, and in his book, Social, he maintains that we need a sense of connection even more than we need food and shelter. “Love and belonging might seem like a convenience we can live without,” he says, “but our biology is built to thirst for connection because it is linked to our most basic survival needs.”

Our biology is built to thirst for connection. I am certain that Lieberman is right on this one – if for no other reason than that friendship is at the heart of who God is.

Friendship has existed since before time began, in the Trinity. Friendship was our first-ever felt need, and God knew it:  “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). And the lack of friendship – otherwise known as loneliness – is the one problem we will ever have simply because we are made in the image of God. We long for connection because he does.

That last point – that our loneliness or our longing for connection can be traced directly to our Creator – is one that I wish I wish I had made up, but I can’t take credit. It’s a rip off from a sermon our minister, Andy Buchanan, gave a month or so ago. If you find yourself longing for friends, or wondering how to mend a broken relationship, or even just trying to figure out what real friendship is supposed to look like (and I promise you, it’s not the website I found where, for $200, you can buy yourself 1,000 friends – real people – who will “follow” you and post comments on your social media sites), click here to listen to Andy’s message. (You’ll have to scroll down to the teaching from 5/10/15; look for the title “Friendship.”)

“Love each other.”

Can there be a more wonderful biblical charge? Thank you, wedding girlfriends, for doing your job so well.

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Friday Prayer for Good Men

IMG_2536Well, Annesley and Geoff are now Mr. & Mrs. Cole, and we couldn’t be happier!

I’d fill you in on the wedding details, but since Friday’s posts are meant to be prayer helps, I want to back up and give you a peek at something I prayed for Geoff last week.  (If you want wedding stories, check back in the next week or two;  for now, consider borrowing the prayers in this post for your own son-in-law, your son, your husband…or your hoped-for husband!  It’s never too early – or too late – to start praying for your man!)

First, though, a bit of background:

You know how if you’re in the market for new rug or paint color you can’t go to anyone’s house without noticing their floors and their walls?  Well I think it’s the same way with the Bible.  Whatever you’re in the market for tends to be what you find.  Which is exactly how, for me, the Christmas story turned into a Friday Prayer for Good Men.

Like many of you, I like to have a strategy when it comes to Bible reading.  I can get easily distracted, and having a plan for what to read each day helps keep me on track.  (It also means that, eventually, I will have to get around to the parts I wouldn’t normally read…and as some of you know, one of my greatest fears is showing up in heaven and having someone like Obadiah say, “How did you like my book?”  I want to be ready for that!)

Anyhow, right now I am on a two-year reading course (if you want to download the plan and join me, click here) that currently has me in Matthew.  I’ve probably read the Christmas story a zillion times and I’ve always admired Mary, but last week, as I thought about my own daughter and her impending nuptials, I found myself drawn to Joseph.  He doesn’t get much press coverage, but if you read Matthew 1 and 2 with an eye toward discovering a little bit about his character, you’ll find a treasure trove.

Here are just a few of the nuggets:

Matthew 1:19 calls Joseph a “righteous man” who didn’t want to expose Mary to “public disgrace.”  In an age where reality television has made revenge and public humiliation an acceptable response to just about any offense, we might not have blamed Joseph if he’d pointed a few fingers.  He had to have figured that Mary had cheated on him, but instead of ridiculing her or doing something to salvage his own reputation, he planned to end things quietly.  Classy guy.

And in the very next verse, when the angel shows up to set the record straight, Joseph doesn’t protest.  He had to have been thinking, “Whaaaat??”, but instead of peppering the angel with a bunch of questions, he simply accepts God’s word as truth – and he acts on it.  A man of genuine faith.

And that acceptance becomes a pattern.  Again and again in the narrative, we see Joseph following God without hesitation, even when the instructions seemed a little incomplete, or when obedience meant getting out of bed and fleeing during the night, with a wife and a baby in tow (see Matthew 2:13-14, 21, and 22-23).

What a guy!  And what a model for our prayers!  I used Joseph’s example as a way to pray for Geoff, as well as for my husband, my son, and my future son-in-law, Charlie.  Go ahead and put the name of a man you love right into this prayer, and make it your own:

Heavenly Father, make _____ like Joseph.  Let him respond to insults and offenses – whether real or perceived – with wisdom, tact, and grace.  May he always put the needs and reputation of others ahead of his own.

Give ____ a keen sensitivity to your Holy Spirit.  Speak to him, Lord, and tune his ear to hear your voice.  When you give him instruction, equip him to follow it wholeheartedly and without hesitation.  Strengthen his faith so that he will stay when you say “stay” and move when you say “move.” 

As _____ cares for his wife and family, be his protector, his guide, and his Father.  May he always put his trust in you.  

Bless him, Lord.

Amen.

 

 

 

Bible reading plan

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Friday Prayer for a Common Life

FullSizeRenderIt’s Wedding Time!  Whoop!  Whoop!

Instead of today’s Scripture-based prayer, I want to share the one I’ve been reading and praying for Annesley and Geoff this week.  It’s from the Book of Common Prayer, and it’s part of what we’ll pray for them tomorrow, during the ceremony.

Feel free to borrow this time-tested blessing today for your own marriage, or for any couple you love:

Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life, author of 
salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the 
world you have made, and for which your Son gave his life, and especially upon this man and this woman whom you make one flesh in Holy Matrimony. 

Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.  

Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love
and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.  


Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours. 

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. 

Amen.

(This is only part of the prayer; if you want the whole thing (and you do!), click here and then scroll down until you get to page 429.)

Let the wedding bells ring!

 

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Friday Prayer for Waiting

FullSizeRenderIt’s peony time in Virginia Beach.

Every year, I watch the stems sprout up from the ground and form buds. It seems to take forever and then – just like that – they pop into bloom, great bursts of white and pink that can fill an entire house with their marvelous, heady fragrance.

I clipped this bunch this morning and thought about the waiting process. I don’t like it (who does?), but as I walked around the garden, I realized how creative God is. I would have had all the plants pop at once – one big noisy show of azaleas and hydrangeas and peonies – but then it would be over. God, in his wisdom, tells each flower when to “go,” and the result is a beautiful, season-long symphony.

When it comes to waiting, David was way ahead of me. Psalm 27 shows him surrounded by enemies, facing a day of trouble, and calling out to God for help…and yet there is no sense of panic or fear. Instead, David is confident that God  will show up. He knows God is good, and that his timing is perfect.

As we look to the Lord to work in our lives today – to be our helper, our teacher, our place of safety, and all the other things he is in Psalm 27 – let’s not give in to worry or fear, even if the answer seems to be taking longer than we’d like.  Instead, let’s borrow a prayer from David, and ask God to fill our hearts and minds with confident expectation:

Heavenly Father, let me be confident in your goodness.  Help me be strong and take heart, and to wait for you.  (Psalm 27:13-14).

 

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To Know is to Love

FullSizeRenderThe toughest part about throwing a wedding?

For me, it might be choosing the wine.  You’d think that someone who likes the fruit of the vine as much as I do would find this an inspiring job (another tasting? Yes please!), but that’s not the case.

Robbie and I are blessed to have befriended a lot of wine enthusiasts  who, over the years, have graciously shared some of their favorites from the cellar.  Not wanting these folks to show up on our big day and gag over our offerings, I decided to tap into the wisdom of Proverbs 15:22 (“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed”) and get their input, up front.

Oh my.

The first guy was happy to take my call.  Twenty minutes later, I knew more than I ever wanted to about the difference between a Cabernet and a Malbec (which doesn’t seem like much, actually), the “lock” some growers had on different price points, and how Argentina was producing some really good varietals right now.  Or maybe it was Australia.  I can’t remember.  (See?)

The next fella’s reply came via email and was incredibly well organized.  Fifteen of his favorites, all listed with accompanying prices, commentary (“People think it is expensive because he was once a ‘cult’ winemaker”) and an assessment of each wine’s “drinkability.”  Drinkability?  I thought that mostly came down to whether or not you had a glass and corkscrew.  (And I’m not really positive about the glass.)

I think my favorite tip came from the wife of one of the connoisseurs, who offered to hook me up with his buyer. I spent about half a second fantasizing about how I could work that relationship into party conversation (“I was cleaning the lint trap on the dryer the other day, and it reminded me of something that my wine buyer said…”), but I knew I couldn’t pull it off.  Sensing my growing panic, the wife hung up the phone and then graciously sent me this text:  “It’s going to be great no matter what you serve.  We’re Episcopalian.  We’re happy with anything.”

That’s what I’m talking about!

IMG_8498I know I sound overwhelmed, but I actually loved all the expert feedback, if only because it proved the point that Jen Wilkin makes in her fabulous book, Women of the Word.  On the theory that you can’t love what you don’t know, Wilkin’s mission is to help us go after God not just with our hearts but also with our minds.  

Right off the bat Wilkins taps into scientific studies done by Yale brainiac Paul Bloom, who specializes in – get this – “pleasure research.”  (Talk about a sweet job.)  Bloom cites a clear link between knowledge and enjoyment, maintaining that our pleasure in something increases when we learn its “history, origin, and deeper nature.”  For Bloom, a ready example is wine:  “The key to enjoying wine isn’t just to guzzle a lot of expensive wine,” he says.  “It’s to learn about wine.”

Our grape-loving friends would add a hearty amen right there.  The more they know, the more they love.  (And presumably, the more they drink.  But far be it from me to point any fingers.  Especially when they invite me to share the love.)

Wilkin takes Bloom’s research and slaps it onto two of her favorite topics:  Bible study, and our relationship with God.  “Finding greater pleasure in God will not result from pursuing more experiences of him,” she writes, “but from knowing him better.”  Instead of making the Bible “all about me” (wisdom for my life, direction for my relationships, comfort for my sorrows), she encourages us to approach it as a book that is “all about Him.”  As we get to know God’s character, we can’t help but fall deeper in love…and as a result, we are changed.

I may never be a sommelier (I think those people have to know the difference between Argentina and Australia, for starters), but when it comes to knowing the true vine – the one from John 15, who makes our lives bear fruit – I want to drink deeply of the stuff Wilkin is peddling.  I don’t want to just study the Bible; I want to study God – to know him better, to love him more, to let him transform both my heart and my mind.

And as for the wedding wine, well, I can’t worry about that anymore.  I figure that the same God who turned water into wine at that wedding in Cana 2000 years ago is still showing up at parties today.  Maybe he can make a few tweaks when nobody’s looking.

 

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Friday Prayer for Being Still

Exodus 14-14I texted a friend yesterday to ask her to pray for me, since I felt weary.  She immediately shot back this promise:  “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

I loved that!  Who wouldn’t?

Those simple words changed my perspective and carried me through a jam-packed day with grace and joy.  If you find yourself needing a break today – or better still, if you have a friend who could do with turning her battles over to God – why not turn Exodus 14:14 into your own personal prayer?

Heavenly Father, thank you that you know all that I am up against, and you promise to fight for me.  Quiet my heart and help me to be still, trusting in your sovereign power and endless love.  (Exodus 14:14)

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“Wait…What?”

IMG_8660“Wait…what?”

If you ask Robbie’s three older sisters to cite the quote they’d heard most often during his growing up years, that would probably be it:  “Wait…what?”

Maybe in a house full of women, a guy has to learn to hone his selective listening skills, lest he get swept away in the torrent of daily verbiage. And maybe Robbie turned the dial a little to far to the right. It’s not like he was trying to ignore us (at least that’s what we tell ourselves), but golly. If we had a nickel for every time we heard, “Wait…what?” during a dinner table conversation, well. You know.

Sometimes the girls and I would repeat ourselves; sometimes we’d just roll our eyes and say, “Forget it, Robbie.”

Thank goodness God’s not like that.

Reading Jonah’s story the other day, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I would have missed God, had he not been willing to repeat himself. Sometimes it’s my own “Wait…what?” lack of attentiveness that dulls my radar; other times, I deliberately choose not to listen. Like Jonah, I don’t always want to hear God speak – or to obey him, when he does.

I think it was Charles Spurgeon who said, “God never allows his children to sin successfully.”  Jonah may have taken a detour when he ran away from God, but his story was far from over.  God hadn’t given up on him.  After that uncomfortable business with the fish (my Bible says it “vomited Jonah onto dry land,” which had to have been fairly awkward for both of them), we read that “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”

A second time.

How good is God?

If you feel like you’ve missed God’s original instruction – be it in a relationship, a business decision, a move, or whatever – don’t let that get you down.  He’s the God of second chances.  He’s willing to speak a second time…or even a third, it that’s what it takes.

We can run away if we want, but – to paraphrase Spurgeon – it’s only a matter of time until we trip.  And when we do, guess who’s gonna help us get back on our feet and pointed in the right direction?

Yep.  He’s pretty good.

IMG_8661(And P.S., if you like the Jonah pic that accompanies this blog, you’ll love the book it’s from:  The Jesus Storybook Bible, by written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago. It looks like its for kids, but don’t let the cover fool you. Lloyd-Jones takes all of the stories you read as a child – Noah, Joseph, Daniel – and shows how, in every case, they point the way to Jesus.  Very cool.  Click here if you’d like to buy your own copy!)

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Your Diet

Leviticus 3-16Diets are all well and good (particularly if you are Annesley, and your wedding prep consists mostly of mac-n-cheese), and yet everyone has their limits.  I recently took a walk with a highly disciplined friend who’s dropping the pounds, but even she faced an emotional crisis when the trainer suggested she cut her daily almond intake from 17 to 9.

Nine almonds?  Seriously?

Anyhow, with swimsuit season just around the corner, I thought it might be time to trot out one of my favorite Bible verses.  Leviticus 3:16 says, “All the fat belongs to the Lord.”   To me, that has the makings of a mighty fine prayer (particularly for those who are just plain tired of counting their almonds):

Heavenly Father, all the fat belongs to you.  So does all of the protein, carbs, and the hipster stuff like quinoa and kale. Please give me wisdom and discipline to make wise dietary choices…and grace for the times that I don’t.

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Happy Anniversary!

We’re on the home stretch with Wedding #1, and the advice I hear most often is:  Breathe.  It will be okay.  Things will go wrong, but it’s going to be great.

I’m sure.

I am sure it’s going to be great for two reasons.  First, we serve an awesome God, one who is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).  Annesley and Geoff’s nuptials might not all go according to my plan, but that’s okay.  As a wedding planner, God has got “immeasurably more” up his sleeve.

photoSecond, I know it’s gonna be great because, well, this isn’t my first rodeo.  Nine years ago today, Robbie and I hosted a wedding reception for my mom, Claire, and her beloved John, a widow and a widower who saw their foxhole friendship blossom into so much more.

Last time these two showed up in this blog, they were making snow angels and sledding down hills on boogie boards. But Mom’s not your garden variety snow bunny. She literally has her doctorate  in Instructional Technology, which means that she is way hipper with digital stuff than I am.  So much so that she made her own wedding invitations on the computer.  That was pretty cool, except that unlike most brides, it meant she could always print more.  (And she did.  If Mom saw you in the grocery store and remembered how much she used to like seeing you at Jazzercise, she’d pull an invitation out of her purse and – bam! – I was calling the caterer again.)

And here’s a little bonus material about John.  Most people know him as the visionary president of Dayspring International, a terrific ministry that’s working to bring education, jobs, and an unprecedented awareness of God’s love to some of the poorest and most culturally rejected people in India.  But John is also a graduate of clown school – the prestigious Bozo University in Florida, to be exact – and it shows.

To make their wedding day extra special, John hired an actor to don a gorilla suit and “kidnap” my mom off the dance floor.  Not your typical champagne toast, sure, but their first date was an accidental screening of King Kong (they’d meant to see Munich, but it was sold out), and it seemed only fitting to carry on with the monkey theme.

I mean, who wouldn’t?

The first hint of trouble came when the actor didn’t show up.  (A better gig?  Hard to fathom.)

Undeterred, John tapped his son, John, who was about the same height as the professional actor, and urged him – during the reception, mind you – to swap his tux for the gorilla suit.  All was back on schedule…except that John Jr. couldn’t see out the eyeholes.  This being a second marriage for both of our parents, he and I didn’t know one another very well, but that didn’t stop him from stumbling into me on the dance floor and hissing through his plastic nostrils: “I can’t find your mother!  Help me!”

I launched him in Mom’s direction, whereupon John Jr. successfully abducted her – in her full length wedding gown – and hauled her down the dock to a waiting boat.  Ever the gallant, Groom John cried out, “I’ll save you!” and hopped aboard a jet ski to give chase.

At that point, most people figured the party was over.  There’d been no alcohol, but everyone was definitely a little loopy.  Knowing that John intended to bring Mom back (he’d already alerted the DJ to break into Pretty Woman when he did), Robbie and I plied the guests with more cheese and crackers and did our best to convince them to stay.

Which is when things got worse.

John had chased down the boat and, out of sight of the party-goers, managed to transfer mom (did I mention the wedding dress?) onto the back of his jet ski.  All that remained was for him to come roaring back in to a hero’s welcome.

Except that he got lost.  When you’re out on the water, I guess every cove sort of looks the same.  Eventually, though, they found us, and Pretty Woman and her groom began to live happily ever after.

Except we forgot the cake plates.  Undeterred again (he’s a dogged fellow), John improvised by putting great wads of wedding cake right into people’s hands.  The kids loved it.  (And if my wedding planner is reading this, all I can say is…I have no excuse.  Consider your job secure.)

Oh.  And we forgot the cameras.  Nobody had iPhones back then, so Mom got a bunch of disposable Kodaks from the grocery store.  (I found them right about the time the tent guys showed up to break ‘er down.)

As the wags keep telling me:  Things will go wrong, but it will be great.  And in Mom and John’s case, it definitely was.  I will admit that I am a little bummed about the lack of photographic evidence, but maybe even that is for the best.  I mean, the stories get “immeasurably more” with time, and it hasn’t even been ten years yet.

So…Happy 9th Anniversary to one of the most fun and resilient couples I know!  You deserve each other.

(Seriously.)

And to anyone who is feeling the pain of loss or bereavement right now, can I just say this one thing?  Your story isn’t finished.  Go ahead and grieve – I still cry sometimes, and especially lately as these weddings approach and I miss my sweet daddy oh so much – but don’t ever fear that this, today, is all there is.  God has a wonderful plan for your life.

You might not wind up on the back of a jet ski with a clown, but I can promise you this:  It’s gonna be immeasurably more than anything you could ever ask for or imagine.

 

 

 

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Sin and Dust

I once read that you don’t need to worry all that much about dust.  If you simply ignore it for six months, the tipster promised, it doesn’t really get any worse.

Or maybe it was a year.  Or two.  I don’t remember.

But I can tell you this, based on my own actual scientific research:  There is no discernible difference between the way that an un-dusted trophy looks after five years or ten.

photoThere is this really high shelf that marks the perimeter of Robbie’s room.  We started throwing the trophies up there when he was about five years old:  the Black Knights, the Purple Wolves, the Buckeyes, the Shark Attack, and even the Coronado Flower Show (Robbie snagged top honors in the “bean plate” division) are all represented.  Eyeing the collection from time to time, I would occasionally think to myself, “I should probably dust those some day.”

Well, “some day” finally came.  Last week, I pulled the hardware  down and got out my all-time favorite cleaning product.  (And seriously.  If you get nothing else out of this blog, you should at least try The Original Bee’s Wax.  It’s pricey, but it literally works great on everything.  Even as I type this, I am thinking about squirting it on the dogs, just to see.)

Anyhow, the trophies didn’t look as bad as I thought they might, after so many years.

Looking at them jumbled together on the floor, I was reminded of something C.S. Lewis said about time and the effect that it has on sin:

We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin.

It doesn’t, of course.  But, as Lewis observed (and if you want the full treatment, check out The Problem of Pain), we have this idea that long-gone offenses – the “cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood” – don’t matter anymore, or that they are of no real concern.

“But mere time,” Lewis said, “does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.”

The fact or the guilt of a sin.  Like dust on the trophies, I guess, these things might not look any worse, over time.  (They might even be less noticeable, on a day-to-day basis, particularly as we get used to living with them.)  But they certainly don’t go away all by themselves.  The need the spiritual equivalent of The Original Bee’s Wax.

They need The Cross.

Talk about a product that works on everything.  Truly.  It doesn’t matter how long the dust has been gathering, or how thick it is.  The trophies that are our lives can be made new again, more beautiful than we could ever have imagined.  All it takes is repentance and a willingness to accept the forgiveness – the cleansing – God offers.

And I don’t know about you, but I want that.  I want my life to be something that showcases God’s glory, something that proclaims the victories he has accomplished – in spite of my layers of dust.

I don’t know if God has a trophy case, but if he does, I definitely want to be in it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Answers

You know how life can be kind of confusing?

Maybe you are wondering whether you should take that new job, get out of an iffy relationship, or (if you watch the ads on Fox News at night, like we sometimes do) talk to your doctor about whatever it is that you think you might have.

Or maybe you’ve just gotten yourself into a slightly awkward position, and you aren’t quite sure what to do about it:

photo 3

Anyhow…there’s a prayer for that.

Way back when Jeremiah was in prison (and maybe wondering why he ever got into the whole prophet gig), God made him a promise:  “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

That pledge wasn’t just for Jeremiah; the accessibility of God’s guidance is a theme that runs throughout Scripture.  When we aren’t sure which way is up (or even what we are looking at, options-wise), God can help.  When we need  wisdom and direction and answers, he promises that, if we earnestly seek him, he will deliver.

Whatever your need or uncertainty is today, call on God.  Seek him.  Make Jeremiah 33:3 your own personal prayer:

Heavenly Father, I am calling on you now.  Please answer me, and tell me great and unsearchable things that I do not know.  (Jeremiah 33:3)

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Friday Prayer for a Satisfied Soul

Psalm 63-5No, I am not going to turn into a foodie blogger.

And if you clicked on this post in search of a recipe, I’m sorry.  This pic was from a food tasting (which is probably the best part of wedding planning), and when I saw it in my camera today, I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 63.

David wrote that psalm when he was in the desert.  Physically and spiritually, he felt dry and tuckered out – but when he turned his attention to God, everything changed.  He knew God’s love had the power to sustain him.  My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;” David wrote, “with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

How’s your soul doing today?

If you or someone you love is feeling overwhelmed, tired, spiritually dry, or just plain hungry for something more, try turning Psalm 63:5 into a prayer.  It might not be a recipe for beef tenderloin, but it sure can help turn an achy soul into one that sings for joy!

“Heavenly Father, satisfy my soul as with the richest of foods; may my mouth sing praise to you.”  (Psalm 63:5)

 

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Friday Prayer for the Path to Peace

Luke 1-79

The Bible says that, as far as it depends on us, we are to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).  Sometimes, that can be a tall order – especially when we aren’t sure how to get there, or what we can do to promote peace or “make things right” with people.

Happily, we don’t have to figure it out on our own.  Luke says that Jesus came to shine on those living in darkness, and to guide our feet into the path of peace.

If you find yourself at odds with someone today, or even just craving peace to quiet your own anxious heart, why not ask Christ to help you?  After all, that’s what he came for, right?

Here’s a simple prayer you can pray today for yourself, for a troubled relationship, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father, I feel like I am living in darkness.  Shine your light on me, and guide my feet – my thoughts, my words, and every step I take – into the path of peace.  (Luke 1:79)

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“…And then We had Weddings!”

She didn’t know it back then, but more than 20 years ago, I tapped Susan Alexander Yates to be my mentor.  I read her books, attended her speaking engagements, even booked her to come give a parenting talk at our church.  Slowly (and perhaps because she sensed that I wasn’t going away, and she figured she’d rather have a buddy than a stalker), we became friends.  And today, with a heart that is bursting with gratitude for Susan’s writing as well as her friendship, I am thrilled to welcome her to the blog.

First, though (and with a nod to Ricky Ricardo), I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

It’s about this picture:

 

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Not too long ago, Susan and her friend, Barbara Rainey, came out with a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest.  Since I’d read all of Susan’s books (my personal favorite being And then I had Kidswhich details what happens when a woman looks askance at other people’s snotty children running around with no underpants…and then has five kids of her own in seven years), I quickly snapped up this one when it came out.  Robbie was about six months away from his college launch when he saw it lying on our kitchen counter.  Certain that I was already measuring his bedroom for drapes and filing cabinets for my new office, he sent me a snap with this caption:

“I’m not gone yet mom.”

True.  But I was a girl scout for about five months before my mom decided she didn’t want to sell cookies, and I still live by the motto:  Be prepared.

And I must say, Susan and Barbara got me ready!  In the book, they tackle the sorts of questions that every new empty-nester grapples with:  Who am I now?  How will my marriage be affected?  Does anyone need me?  How do I relate to my children?  Is it okay to feel sad?  Or thrilled? 

What’s next? 

These gals write with wisdom and candor, and if you or someone you know is about to jump into this new adventure, their advice will certainly ease the transition.  (Robbie’s snapchat doesn’t do the Empty Nest cover justice; to see a better image, or to order the book, click here.)

Anyhow, Susan is a wealth of good family intel, regardless of the season you find yourself in.  When she heard I was looking at two weddings in four months, she weighed in with some advice, which led to this blog that I will share with you now.

(Finally, I know.)

And just so you know how cute Susan is, here’s her pic:

Susan Yates Prof Photo

Here she is, in her own words:

“And then we had Weddings!”

We had five kids in 7 years, including a set of twins. In those early years I simply staggered through each day, waiting for someone to fall asleep or for my husband’s car to pull in the drive so I could run away or at least hide for a few minutes. Physical exhaustion was my constant companion. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the teen years and the emotional exhaustion that would hit all of us during that season.

And weddings? They were way off my radar screen.

However Allison, our eldest, ushered in this new season for us when she and Will decided to get married one week after college graduation.

It was uncharted territory for me and I desperately wanted to “do it” right.

“Allison, you are our first and Dad and I don’t know what we are doing,” I said.  “We want this wedding planning to go well but we are most likely to blow it so if I get too bossy or say the wrong thing please tell me.”

And I did – and she told me. It was a time of learning together, of my letting go, and of granting grace to one another for the mistakes we made.

A few years later we had 4 weddings in three summers. Our twins got married the same summer – just six weeks apart. Since these were to be our 4th and 5th weddings, I hoped I’d learned a few things. But the sheer complexity of two large weddings so close together was mind-boggling.  I felt like I should have been a pro by then, but it seemed that every time I turned around there was another decision to be made, another contract to sign, another detail to cover.

One morning as I was praying over plans these words came to me:

Susan, remember you are not merely planning an event. You are building a family and relationships are more important than details.

I wrote this message out and taped it to my refrigerator. As things got crazy, these words helped me to remember what really mattered.

When our kids get married, our priorities radically change. No longer is my relationship with my child the priority. Instead, the relationship my child has with his or her spouse becomes the priority. And that means I have a new role. Now I have to take a step back. Now my job is to encourage their marriage to flourish and to pray for them. And now, when a child calls and asks for advice, I need to remember that I am no longer the “first responder.”  Now, my first question should be, “What does your spouse think?”

Change is awkward. It takes time to negotiate new relationships. As you work to establish what your relationship with your married child “now” looks like, here’s a little encouragement to see you through:   Lower your expectations, assume the best of each other, choose laughter over irritation, and always be willing to ask for forgiveness.

The best is yet to come!

 

(Jodie’s note:  Can you see why I find Susan so encouraging?  Even if you’re not in a wedding season, you can tap into Susan’s wisdom for families via her blog, or check out her “One Word” tweets – nifty posts that detail an attribute or character trait of God – which you can find @susanayates.)

(And in the interest of social media fairness, if the links don’t work and the Twitter address turns out to be bogus, don’t shoot me.  Remember, I am a techno-moron.  Just post a comment on this blog and I will find a way to hook you up with Susan.  You can’t steal her as your mentor, but you can still benefit from her wonderful insights for living!)

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Good Friday Prayer

Untitled design (4)Good Friday.  It’s the day when Jesus hung on the cross, suffering and alone, and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

I can’t imagine.

You know that song, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us?  There’s a line in there that always undoes me, one that kicks off the second verse:

How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns his face away…

The Father turns his face away.  As I said, I can’t imagine.

Incredibly, though, it is the very agony of abandonment that Christ faced that throws wide the door for us to draw near to God.  There is no pain or betrayal that he does not understand or hasn’t experienced.  And our sin, no matter how ugly or frightening, is never bigger than his obedience.

Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us of all of these things, and more.  Let’s make it our Good Friday prayer, knowing that God will never again turn his face away.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you understand our weaknesses and that you faced all the same testings we do, yet you did not sin.  Remind us, particularly when we feel rejected or forsaken, or when we struggle under the weight of our own inadequacy and failure, that we can come boldly to the throne of our gracious God, where we will receive mercy and find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:15-16, NLT)  

 

(Click here to for the Phillips, Craig, and Dean version of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, written by Stuart Townend.)

 

 

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Getting Egged: An Easter Surprise

Twelve years ago, when we began renovating our home, the bathroom guys cut a giant oval out of a piece of plywood to make a hole for the bathtub.  The kids were young, underfoot, and more than a little interested in the whole construction process.  In an an effort to keep them from firing nail guns at each other or sawing off someone’s foot, I sent them outside with the egg-shaped wood scrap and a bunch of paint and said, “Easter is coming.  Make something.”

And “The Egg” was born.

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The contractors attached a wooden easel and sharpened the stakes so that the kids’ masterpiece could be displayed in the front yard.  Holy Week was just a few days away, and we hatched what we thought was a brilliant plan:  In the same way that Jesus’s resurrection came as an awesome surprise to his followers, we thought we would “surprise!” our neighbors by thrusting the sign into their yards, all under the cover of darkness.  We taped instructions and a Sharpie marker to the back of The Egg, encouraging each lucky recipient to sign the back and then, the next night, move the whole contraption to a new location as a way to share the love of Easter all week long.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for one thing, tub decks are made of sturdy stuff.   The Egg weighs about 70 pounds and, at nearly 6-feet tall, it’s not like it fits comfortably in the passenger seat.  Or even the trunk.

Not only that but, as it turns out, not everyone wants an Easter surprise.

One garden club guru (whose yard is truly spectacular) caught wind of our scheme and assured us that, while she certainly did believe and endorse the “Risen” message, The Egg would be “happier elsewhere.”

A prominent local businessman got up in the middle of the night, spotted the moonlit orb from his bathroom window, woke his wife (“What the heck is that thing??!”), and then literally ran outside in his boxers to remove it, lest any of our Jewish neighbors (who were also his clients) see it on their way to work.

As word spread, husbands everywhere began to regard The Egg with distrust, knowing that it had the power to puncture a pipe and destroy an entire sprinkler system.

And so, to save both relationships and hydrangeas, we made a new plan.

Now we no longer surprise anyone.  Instead, very late on Easter Eve, long after it gets dark, Robbie taps an able-bodied child (this year, it was a fiancé, which is all part of the on-going hazing plan to be sure the guys know what they’re in for with this family) to help him lug the thing out of the garage.  Together, they wrestle it out to the street and set it up on our corner, where – we hope – it will bless the neighbors.  (If they don’t find themselves cheered by the “He is Risen” message, I figure that they can at least be happy that The Egg didn’t wind up in their yard.)

And I like to think it is blessing people.  For years, we’d come home from church and make our kids (and any weekend guests) stand out on the street, posing with The Egg for the Annual Easter Pic.

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Recently, our neighbors began doing the same thing; this year, The Egg showed up in at least three different Instagram posts.

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Maybe the neighbors know that time is short.  The wood is splintering, the pointy stakes wobble, and the 12-year-old paint job (which never looked all that good, even to the untrained eye) is starting to look what might actually be considered “bad.”  I doubt that The Egg will see many more Easters.

But, happily for all of us, its message will:  He is risen.  He is risen this Easter, he is risen next Easter, he is risen forever.

Indeed!

I’m filing this blog under “Try this.”  For those of you who want to make yourselves an Egg, be my guest.  But for those who don’t (which I would guess might be all of you), the “try this” factor is simply this:  Know that the resurrection doesn’t just pave the way for our eternal salvation.  It also comes with power for daily living, as in right now.  It comes with hope.

Which is certainly worth trying, with or without your own piece of plywood.

 

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Friday Prayer: Just Do It

Philippians 2-14This week’s prayer verse is one I used to pray a lot for our kids when they were younger.  Now, I think maybe I need it more.

In any case, it’s short and to the point – and it’s a good one to have in the memory bank for whenever you or your loved ones need an attitude adjustment or a little divine motivation to “just do it.”

Heavenly Father, help ____ to do everything without complaining or arguing.  (Philippians 2:14)

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Living the Abundant Life

When it comes to college students and their Spring Break plans, I thought Robbie and I had seen it all.  Our kids have done missions trips (aren’t we good parents?), the booze cruise (okay, so forget I asked), and pretty much everything in between.  And, over the years, we have dished out all the usual pre-travel parental guidance:  Don’t go out alone.  Don’t forget your sunscreen.  Don’t drink the water.

Clearly, though, we forgot one critical piece of advice:  Don’t jump out of an airplane.

Especially in a foreign country.

With a man you know only as “Ollie.”

Not that any of these tips would have mattered to Virginia.  Maybe it’s a birth-order thing (she’s third in the line-up), but this child has developed a keen sense for how things are apt to go down.  If she thinks we’ll be on board with whatever plot she is hatching, she welcomes our input.  If not, well, there is always forgiveness.

photo 2But if you ask for forgiveness while you are doing something, does it count?

Like, how sorry was Virginia, really, when she held up her hand (“SORRY MOM + DAD!”) so that her new pal Ollie (the one who strapped her into a backpack without anything remotely close to a signature required) could take a mid-air selfie?

(Seriously.  Does she look sorry to you?)

When Robbie saw the Instagram post, his comment was quick and to the point:  “You’re dead.”

I refrained from commenting, not because I had nothing to say, but because I had already commented on an earlier post and I know better than to go on record, publicly, with anything that might be mistaken for an excessive interest in my 21-year-old’s life.

But I was eager to hear about the jump, and when I finally got Virginia on the phone, she summed it up perfectly:

“It was John 10:10, Mom.  It was amazing!”

Now I’m not sure Jesus had skydiving in mind, but his promise to his followers – “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” – actually fits.  That’s the NIV translation; other popular versions describe a life lived “more abundantly” (KJV), one that is “rich and satisfying” (NLT), and one that is “more and better…than they ever dreamed of” (MSG).

And while I wouldn’t necessarily advocate jumping out of an airplane (even with Ollie, who I am sure is a very safe person), I do think there is a metaphor here.  I mean, when we make a decision to trust God – as in, really trust him, with all that we have and all that we are – it can feel a little scary.

A little like losing control.

A little like jumping into the clouds when you can’t see the ground – or even, for that matter, the Person you have decided to strap yourself to.

Trusting God is all of these things, and more.  It takes faith (and sometimes even guts), but it opens the door a “rich and satisfying” life, one that is “more and better” than anything we could ever imagine.

And, at the end of the day, it’s amazing.

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Hope and Healing

Isaiah 58-8-9All week on the blog, we’ve been talking about sexual assault and how to prevent it.  I am grateful to author Wendy Blight for her willingness to share her story (which, if you’re just checking in, is the subject of her book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner:  The Transforming Power of God’s Story).

Today, I want to offer a prayer for anyone who has ever been a victim of sexual violence.  Please join me  in praying this for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father, may your light break forth like the dawn in _____’s life.  May her healing quickly appear, and may your glory be her guard.  When ____’s calls, answer her.  When she cries for help, let her hear you say, “Here am I.”  (Isaiah 58:8-9)

 

 

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Campus Rape: A Survivor’s Story

Note to readers:  Yesterday’s post featured a review of the book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner.  (For a free chapter from the book, click here.)  Today and tomorrow, I’m turning this space over to the book’s author, Wendy Blight.  At a time when sexual violence on college campuses has captured our national attention, Wendy’s story offers understanding, wisdom, and hope.  JB 

 

Wendy.BioPicIt’s the Saturday after my college graduation. I pull up the covers for a few more moments of sleep. Finally, I slide out of bed, throw on some shorts, and run out the door to meet friends for an afternoon by the pool.

My last day with my best girlfriends.  Treasured memories…formals, weekend trips, date nights, spring breaks…so much fun and laughter. How could it be over?

Hours later, I rush back into my apartment, golden brown, smelling like a perfect blend of coconut and the great outdoors. I head upstairs to shower.

As I hit the top step, I see him. A masked man, wielding a large hunting knife. Behind the mask, two cold, piercing blue eyes staring back at mine. Who are you? Why are you here? Surely this can’t be real.

The cold blade on my neck jolts me back to reality. The intruder shoves me into my room. He commits vile acts against me. When he finishes, he leans in close, “I know where you live. If you tell anyone, I will return, and I will kill you.” He walks out the door never to be seen again.

At age 21. Every dream shattered. Every hope dashed. I feel so very alone.

Not a single soul understood the depths of my pain. I locked myself in a prison of fear. At times, living seems too much to bear. No one knew…my loneliness…my helplessness…my hopelessness.

Thankfully, this is not the end of my story. But my journey to get where I am today was long and hard. That day in June 1986, I had no idea where to turn or what to do. I was thousands of miles from home. School was out. There was not an instruction book for what to do after your raped.

Joining the Conversation…

Jodie, thank you for inviting me to be part of the conversation happening nationally about sexual assault on college campuses…both stranger rape and date rape. Sadly, the statistics have not changed since my attack over 25 years ago. One in four women on college campuses are raped. We don’t report our attacks because someone has stepped into our world and cracked our hearts wide open. We have been violated in a most intimate and personal way.

The words don’t come easily: I’ve been raped. 

We believe our attacker’s threats. We fear the administration, the police, our peers will not believe us. We fear the unknown in the investigative and prosecutorial process.

I’m grateful for this conversation. I’m grateful for the proactive stance our government and our universities are beginning to take to protect young women. Victims need a voice. We need an advocate.

Finding Hope…

I also want to be a voice of hope in the midst of this conversation. God makes amazing promises in His Word.

James 1:2-4 says,

“Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.” (The Voice)

Romans 8:28 says,

“We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” (The Voice)

After my attack in 1987, fear held me captive for nearly 15 years. Anger and bitterness consumed my heart. I held daily pity parties for myself.  Desperation led me to my Bible. It was in the pages of God’s Word that God healed my gaping wounds. He restored my soul. He took my shattered heart and, piece by piece, created something good and beautiful.

We live in a world where bad people will make bad choices that hurt good people. But God promises that the trials and sufferings that enter into our lives, when surrendered to Him, will be redeemed to bring about our good, His glory, and point others to Him!

 

Tomorrow on the blog:  Oprah Radio asked Wendy to share strategies for staying safe, on campus and elsewhere.  Wednesday’s post will feature some of these insights, as well as resources and help for victims.

 

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Sexual Assault: Don’t Become a Victim

This post is the third in a three-part series on sexual assault.  Monday’s blog featured a brief review of Wendy Blight’s book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner, and yesterday Wendy recapped her story for us (if you missed that post, click here to download a free chapter of the book).  I am grateful for Wendy’s perspective, and for her willingness to write these posts.  The strategies she offers for staying S.A.F.E. are worth sharing.  JB

 

How I wish someone had shared with me what I’m about to share with you. If they had, perhaps the events of June 7, 1987 would have ended very differently.

A few years ago, Oprah Radio invited me to Chicago to share my story and the facts, statistics, and practical lessons I learned from my experience. I’m sharing that same information with you today. I write this NOT to instill fear but to inform and educate. I invite you to read through to the end…inform and educate yourself… and share what you learn with your friends.

The Facts

  • Did you know that 1 out of 4 college women are sexually assaulted every year?
  • Did you know that 1 out of 6 women some time during their lifetime will be the victim of sexual assault?
  • Did you know that approximately 60% of sexual assaults go unreported every year? And 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

The Effects

Victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

(Statistics taken from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.)

Be S.A.F.E.Ways to Prevent Becoming a Victim:  Be S.A.F.E.

Sexual assault is a crime of 0pportunity!!! What do I mean by that? Rarely is a woman assaulted by a stalker. A perpetrator selects his victim because, by her unintentional actions, she has made herself an easy target. By following a few simple steps, you can avoid being an easy target. I learned some of these first-hand. THE KEY TO AVOID BEING A VICTIM IS AWARENESS; please share these “Be S.A.F.E.” strategies with all the women you know!

S – Avoid Compromising Situations

When you go out….

  • never leave your drink unattended (alcoholic and non-alcoholic)
  • never accept a drink from a stranger and accept drinks only when you see the bartender pour it and hand it directly to you
  • never leave the keys to your home with anyone (valet, service station, car wash)
  • never be alone with someone you do not know
  • always be sure a friend or family member knows who you are with and where you are going
  • be conscious of what you post on social media; never announce you will be alone…anytime or anywhere
  • use apps that will help contact people when you are in trouble and locate you (for example: Circle of 6 and bSafe)

A – Be Aware of Your Surroundings

  • know where you are at all times
  • know what is going on around you
  • know who is around you
  • never have conversations within range of a stranger that reveal you will be home alone, closing a business alone, traveling alone, etc.

F – Trust Your Feelings

  • if your intuition tells you something is not right, pay attention and respond (chills down your spine, hair stands on end, knot in your stomach)
  • flee if you feel uneasy or uncomfortable
  • call 911 if you sense danger
  • never ignore your feelings because they may save your life

E – Don’t Be An Easy Target

  • secure your home, apartment, and car by locking your doors and windows at ALL times – NO EXCEPTIONS
  • carry your cell phone at all times and be sure it is charged 
  • never walk alone at night ANYWHERE
  • never open your door to a stranger and ALWAYS ask for identification when expecting workmen
  • don’t leave a friend alone … ever
  • watch what you drink and don’t exceed your limit

Some of these sound simple and obvious. But I violated three of these prevention steps. I had a conversation outside at the pool which unintentionally announced to everyone around me that I would be home alone that afternoon. We left our front door unlocked, which allowed the rapist easy access. I had a “strange” sensation when I walked in the apartment and saw our front door locked because we usually left it unlocked for each other. But I didn’t trust that “feeling” and walked up the stairs right into the arms of an armed, masked man.

What to Do If It Happens to You

  • Immediately call 911 no matter what your attacker threatens.
  • Do not change your clothes.
  • Do not shower or bathe.
  • Do not brush your teeth.
  • Do not move or remove any item from the location of the attack.
  • Write down anything you can remember immediately (race, age, height, weight, hair color, hair length, eye color, distinguishing marks, facial hair, clothes, weapon, odors).
  • Go to the emergency room.

For help, contact 1-800-656-HOPE, the national hotline for RAINN. Anyone who believes they have been raped or abused in any way can call this number.

This is a message I’ve shared on many college campuses and in radio and television interviews. I invite you to share what you have learned today with those in your sphere of influence…women you care about…it could save a life!

 

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Friday Prayer to Refresh the Weary

Jeremiah 31-25Ahhhh.  Daylight Savings Time is finally here.  The beginning of happiness again.

Add a bunch of grocery-store tulips and a breath of a prayer, and hang in there.  I promise:  We’re gonna make it!

Pray this one for yourself, or for someone you know who may need God’s help to move from weariness and defeat to a place of joy and strength:

Refresh my weary heart, O Lord.  Satisfy me when I am faint. (Jeremiah 31:25)

 

 

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Book Giveaway: Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner

Note to readers:  This post is the first in a three-part series.  I met author Wendy Blight last year and, given the national conversation that’s taking place about sexual violence, particularly on college campuses, I found her story both relevant and redemptive.  JB

 

“I hesitated, then spoke three words I never thought I would utter:  ‘I was raped.'”

Wendy Blight had a seemingly perfect life.  Voted a “Baylor Beauty,” engaged to be married to her college sweetheart, job offer in hand as she graduated – it was all working out exactly as she had planned.  But then, after a leisurely afternoon by the pool with her friends on a muggy Texas day, she returned to her apartment and found a masked man waiting for her, wielding a large knife.

What followed was a horrific crime, and then a 15-year journey to find answers:  Where was God when I was attacked?  How can my rapist go unpunished?  Can I ever feel safe?  Will I ever just be normal again?

In her compelling book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner:  The Transforming Power of God’s Story,Wendy phototells how, after the assault, fear and doubt became the driving force in her life.  I imagine that anyone who has ever been the victim of sexual violence would readily understand Wendy’s torment.  For those who have not experienced that pain, the honesty in her story opens the door to a deeper level of empathy, offering valuable insight into how to come alongside those who are hurting.

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know I love the University of Virginia, and right now I am privileged to be part of a group of students, alumni, and faculty members who are working to assess (and improve) the school’s climate and culture, particularly as it relates to sexual assault. We’ve talked with legal experts, law enforcement officers, bystander education advocates, professional counselors and a host of other brilliant and compassionate people, and I am encouraged by the progress that’s being made.  New policies and procedures are taking shape, and more and more students are stepping forward to help one another.

Perhaps nowhere, though, have I seen the path to hope and healing charted so clearly as it is in Hidden Joy.  Because she has “been there,” and because she doesn’t try to gloss over her anger or her confusion, Wendy’s story resonates with truth.  And when she begins to trust God – to see his hand in her life, working for good purposes, even in the midst of her pain – it makes you want to stand up and cheer.  It’s like watching a prisoner step out into the light.

I wish I could put a copy of Hidden Joy into the hands of everyone who has ever been a victim, or who has ever wanted to help a friend find hope amid the ashes of suffering.  I can’t do that, but sweet Wendy has offered to send a free, signed copy of her book to someone who posts a comment on this blog – we’ll pick a giveaway winner at random and announce that on Wednesday.

I’m also turning this space over to Wendy for the next two days.  Tomorrow, she’ll recap her story and offer a free chapter of the book to anyone who would like to read more.  And Wednesday’s post will feature  strategies for staying safe, insights Wendy first shared on Oprah Radio and now offers to us.  They’re commonsense tips, but important ones – and, if you’re like me, you’ll want to forward them to your children, your friends, and anyone else who will listen.

(3.18.15 – Congratulations to Helen Roberts of Virginia Beach, who will soon be receiving her complimentary copy of Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner – and thank you, Wendy!)

 

 

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

So a few weeks ago, I got an email from my rocket scientist of a daughter, the one who just got engaged.  (Whoop! Whoop!)  To those who caught the reference in last week’s blog and then called or emailed to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”, I’m so sorry.  I thought I was the only person who stunk at social media; I figured if I knew the big news, everyone did.

Look.  I’ll make it up to you.  Here’s the photo Hillary’s beloved posted to announce the news:

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(I know that’s not the world’s best shot of Charlie, but trust me:  He’s adorable.)

Anyhow, Hillary has never been the most tidy or organized person, and she was writing to crow about new scientific evidence to indicate that the most creative people actually flourish amid clutter.

I read the article and then, curious, I asked Hillary to send me a snap of her desk at NASA:

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Eeek.

So what’s with the hubcap on the left? I wanted to know.

“That’s not a hubcap,” she told me.  “It’s part of a heat shield.”  (Of course.  I knew that.)

And, um, the tiara?

“My thinking cap.”

I was afraid to ask about the screwdriver.  I mean, if NASA is letting kids who are just two years out of engineering school tighten their nuts and bolts, do we really want to know about it?

I couldn’t live like that.  Heck, I couldn’t last five minutes with that desk.  But Hillary is thriving, and as I studied the photo (longing, I will confess, to get in there with a Hefty Cinch Sak, even if it meant setting the whole “Let’s go to Mars” thing back by a few thousand light years), I was reminded of Psalm 139.  God knows how each one of us is made – messy or clean, wavy or straight, relaxed or uptight – and, in his eyes, we are all wonderful!

So here’s the thing:  If you look at your desk, your house, or your life today and you feel like you just can’t get it together, don’t despair.  God loves you, just the way you are.

Likewise, if you look at your children and you feel like they can’t get it together (not that I know anyone who would worry about their kids’ domestic standards or anything), don’t worry about that, either.  God loves them just the way they are.

Instead of fretting, take a deep breath.  Take a gander at Psalm 139, and let these words permeate your soul:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I praise you because my kids/my spouse/my mother/my friend is fearfully and wonderfully made.

Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  (Psalm 139:14)

Isn’t that, I don’t know…refreshing?

 

(And P.S.:  Even without the hubcap and the tiara, I know that God made Hillary fearfully and wonderfully creative, and I am grateful.  I’m just hoping, as they celebrate Week Two of their blessed engagement, that he made Charlie fearfully and wonderfully good with a vacuum cleaner.)

 

 

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Book Giveaway: The Undertaker’s Wife

You know how you run into people at a party or wherever and they try to regale you with some story about how they  accidentally bought a three-legged dog (which actually happened to Robbie’s aunt) or how they tried to use a cherry bomb to unclog a toilet (his uncle, who stood on the lid), and they wrap it all up and  say, “My life should be a book!”?

For most people, that’s not true.  Trust me.  Partial dogs and imploded commodes will get you through the appetizer course, sure, but that’s about it.

photoFor Dee Oliver, though, her life was a memoir screaming to be written.  And, thanks be to God, it has been!  The Undertaker’s Wife:  A True Story of Love Loss, and Laughter in the Unlikeliest of Places, releases this month.  If you’ve ever seen The Blindside or The Help or even a rerun of The Addams Family, you will read Dee’s story and think, “Can the movie be far behind?”

Okay, okay.  So I’m a little biased.  In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the book with Dee.  But even our minister liked it: “Southern women have found their Mark Twain in Dee Oliver!” is what he had to say.  (Even before he got his free copy.)

Here’s a little excerpt from the back jacket, just to whet your appetite:

On Dee Branch’s first date with Johnnie Oliver, a fourth-generation funeral director, she knew she was in for a unique relationship when he had to leave “for just a minute” – and came back to the car with a corpse.

You can’t make this stuff up.

It’s not really a spoiler to let you know that Johnnie dies (you pick that up in the first chapter), or that Dee winds up working in an African American funeral home (which you can read for yourself on the back cover).  I’d tell more (and believe me, there’s plenty, from the time Johnnie nearly choked to death on her engagement ring, to the funeral homily about the man who had been “drinkin’ and chasin’ women and never bein’ much of a daddy to his kids” and still got into heaven) but I’d rather you read the book for yourself.  Part memoir, part how-to book, The Undertaker’s Wife is probably the best book I’ve ever read (and certainly the best one I’ve ever had a hand in writing) about the common ground of grief, the practicalities of death, and the ever-present faithfulness of God.

And here’s a nifty treat:  By posting a comment on this blog, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a free copy of The Undertaker’s Wife.  Check back on Friday to see who won – I’ll reveal the “super lucky” winner (have you noticed that “super” is, like, the most popular blog word ever?  Super cute shoes!  Super easy dinner recipe!  Super helpful tip for stain removal!) at the end of this post.

(If giveaways aren’t your thing, or if you’re like me and you aren’t really sure how to post a comment on someone’s blog, you can click here and buy the book for yourself.)

And, if you happen to be in or around Virginia Beach, Virginia, on March 25, please join us for a special book launch with Changing Seasons.  I’ll be interviewing Dee and, even though she doesn’t know it yet, we’re going to take questions from the audience.  Last time I heard Dee speak, a 76-year-old woman wanted to know “where you put the Botox.”

(If possible, please come up with a new question this time.)

(Although that was a good one.)

(I mean, people want to know.)

Hope to see you on March 25th…or on the blog!

 

BOOK GIVEAWAY UPDATE:  Congratulations to Nancy Keshian of Winston-Salem, NC.  She was the 7th person to comment on this post, and will soon be receiving her free copy of The Undertaker’s Wife.  Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it, Nancy!

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Friday Prayer for Anxious Minds

Earlier this week, I wrote about giving up worry.  I’m trying to give it up for Lent; I’d like to get rid of it forever.

Philippians 4:6 is, perhaps, the Bible’s best-known “anti-worry” verse.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Then comes the promise:  “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (v. 7)

That’s all good – great, even.  But how do we do that, really?  How do we stop being anxious?

Philippians 4-6-8I think the answer comes in the very next verse, and it’s what I was trying to get at in my blog as I blathered on about cows in cornfields.  We train our minds to move along familiar pathways.  If we truly want to move from a place of worry to a place of peace, we need to heed Paul’s advice to the Philippians and focus on those things that enable peace to thrive:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

(Now there’s a little Bible Xanax to get you pointed in the right direction!)

If you wrestle with worry (whether it’s once in awhile, all the time, or as part of your Lenten fast), turn Philippians 4:6-8 into a prayer and get started on retraining your mind:

Heavenly Father, don’t let me be anxious about anything.  Send your peace to guard my heart and mind.  Help me think about that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

 

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Friday Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Hebrews 10-33 (2)For Christians, persecution is nothing new.  Way back when the Apostle Paul was sending letters from prison, he warned his young protege, Timothy, that such suffering was part and parcel of the Christian life.  “In fact,” Paul wrote, without any attempt to sugarcoat his message, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Shortly after writing these words, Paul was martyred.

Persecution is nothing new, nor (if we believe Paul’s words) should it surprise us.  Still, though, we recoil from the horrific videotaped execution of 21 Egyptian Christians, or the news that 150 of our fellow believers – women, children, and elderly people – have been abducted in Syria.  We grieve, we get angry, we feel impotent.

And, even though we may live half a world away, we can relate to the Assyrian Christian woman interviewed by the Associated Press this week:  “I just feel so helpless,” she said, as she awaited news of her relatives’  fate. “I cannot do anything for them but pray.”

I cannot do anything for them but pray.  That sounds so insignificant, yet it holds so much power.

Encouraged by the #Pray703 movement, which calls people to pray for the persecuted Christians at 7:03 a.m. every day, I began praying in earnest this week.  I started by looking up verses about persecution, and was immediately captivated by Hebrews 10:33, written to a group of people who had faced more than their fair share of suffering:  “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times, you stood side by side with those who were so treated.”

That’s what I want to do.

I want to stand side by side with my brothers and sisters in Libya, Syria, and all over the world.  I want to stand side by side with them in prayer.  They may be out of my reach, but they are not out of God’s, and I know that I can count on his infinite love, his limitless power, and his faithful promise to work “in all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Here are just a few of the verses I prayed this week, if you want to join me:

Show yourself faithful, O Lord.  Strengthen and protect our brothers and sisters from the evil one.  (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

Remind these persecuted Christians that nothing – no hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword – can separate them from your love.  (Romans 8:35-39)

Thank you for our brothers and sisters who have given an answer to those who have asked about the reason for their hope.  Thank you for their gentleness and respect.  May those who speak maliciously against them be ashamed of their slander.  (1 (Peter 3:15-16.)

Let our brothers and sisters take refuge in you and be glad; let them ever sing for joy.  Spread your protection over them, bless them, and surround them with your favor as with a shield.  (Psalm 5:11-12)

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he said that evil men would go “from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  Those words might as well have been written yesterday; they were true then and they are true today.  And yet neither Timothy nor Paul lost hope.  Instead, they stood side by side with their fellow Christians, enduring unimaginable hardship, trusting God, and proclaiming the name of Christ.

Side by side.  Let’s stand with them, together.

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What, me worry?

Here we are, marking the end of Lent:  Week 2.  I know people who have given up all sorts of things, from the usual (sweets, which Annesley’s roommate Kate has sworn off for the season) to the interesting (cussing, offered up by my favorite local columnist, Kerry Dougherty.)

(How’s that working for you, Kerry?)

Me, I gave up worrying.

I don’t always give something up, but this year, when the minister said that Lent “reveals where your heart is” and that it serves as a call to draw closer to God and give up anything that gets in the way of that relationship, I knew what I had to do.  My heart, old and gnarly stump that it is, can get bound up in worry – and sometimes, the forest grows so thick that I can hardly see the Light.

Worry can make a person do funny things.  When Robbie was in high school and the time came for him to take the SATs, it hit me that I wasn’t entirely sure he knew how to read.  I mean, I assumed he could, but I had never actually seen it.  Eager to help him nail at least a few words on the vocab test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and personalized them as his Valentine’s present:

photo - Version 2

Robbie was kind enough not to complain that I’d ruined a perfectly good case of balls, but when he actually used them (that’s my boy!), things got a wee bit ugly.  Turns out, red Sharpie marker isn’t really “permanent,” and Robbie ended up with pink string – I think the technical term is “mesh” – in his lacrosse stick.

Needless to say, that provoked a few caustic comments.  Irascible, even.

As with sweets and cussing, I am sure there are all sorts of strategies one could employ to get rid of worry, but for me, the only tactic that has shown any promise is the same one Paul used, back when he was pumping up the Corinthians:  “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Cor. 10:5)

Medical research (and buckle up, because I am heading way out of my strike zone here) reveals that the neural pathways in our brains work kind of like a cow going through a cornfield.  The first time a thought goes through the path, it doesn’t leave much of a trace.  But keep on treading the same ground, and pretty soon the stalks begin to separate, the corn gets trampled, and the path becomes so familiar and well worn that it might as well be a highway.

If I am building a highway for my thoughts (and aren’t we all?), I want it to be one that is paved with good things.  The only way I know how to replace worry with peace and trust – to take anxious thoughts “captive,” if you will – is to send the cows through my cornfield armed with God’s promises.

And believe it or not, this plan really works.

Back when my worries about Robbie’s academic prowess conspired to keep me awake at night, I clung to verses like Isaiah 54:13, “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace.”  (I know more modern Bible translations have gone gender-neutral and that this passage clearly covers “daughters,” too…but I’m kind of tied to my old 1984 NIV, especially when it comes to picking prayer promises for my boy.)

Now that I am an official Mother of the Bride, with not just one by TWO daughters getting married within a few months of each other, I have a whole new set of worries:  What if it rains?  What if I forget to order the cake?  What if I never find an MOB dress?  (If you saw my Christmas Sweater blog, you know why this is a legitimate concern.)

To all of these fears, and to countless more of the nasties that try to steal my joy, Jesus says this:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  (Matthew 6:8)

And then, as if he’s had some experience with the whole wedding planning thing, he gets even more specific:  “Do not worry, saying, ‘What  shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:31-33)

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

If you’re looking for a good memory verse, try that one.  It pretty much covers everything, from the willpower it takes to watch your roommate scarf up a cinnamon bun (sorry, Kate), to the mental gymnastics required to excise those dagnabbits from your vocabulary (you can do it, Kerry!), to a good night’s sleep with two weddings coming straight at you on the calendar, like a pair of billowing freight trains.

I’m not sure I’ll ever banish worry entirely, but as long as I keep piling the promises onto my cows (Philippians 4:8, 4:13, and 4:19 are all running loose in my cornfield right now), I know that everything will be okay.

 

 

 

 

 

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Snow Day

I’m sitting here at the computer, watching the grey skies get heavier and wondering when the first flakes will fall.  They’re calling for a “big storm” and Virginia Beach is all abuzz.  It doesn’t matter whether we get one inch or two, we know the drill:  Shut ‘er down.  School, work, exercise class…they’ll all be cancelled tomorrow.  Boston, we feel your pain.

Most moms I know have already been to the grocery store, stocking up on things like hot cocoa, chocolate chip cookie fixin’s, and Duraflames.  (Paul Bunyan, eat your heart out.)  The kids are rooting around in their closets, trying to find two mittens that match or some snow boots that still fit, hoping – praying! – that the weatherman got it right this time.  And the grandparents, well…

I can’t speak for every wise old head in town, but I know at least two who probably have their faces pressed to the window, right this minute:  My mom, Claire, and her husband, John.

Last time we got snow, they sent this pic to their kids:

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At first, I thought they’d been shot.

But then I noticed the boogie board, and the pieces began to fall into place.  Mom and John had been sledding (boogie boards do double duty at the beach) and, eager to make the most of the white stuff, they’d moved on to snow angels.  I have no idea how long they lay there like that, or which neighbor happened along to take the picture.  I just know they had fun.

How do you grow up like that?  I mean, how do you get to be 75 years old and still go sledding on a boogie board?  How do you still own a boogie board?

As always when I confront deep theological questions like these, I turn to the Bible.  Sure enough, there are more than a few tips on aging.  Here’s just a sample:

Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.  (1 Peter 3:10)

Do not forsake [wisdom’s] teaching, but keep [her] commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.  (Proverbs 3:1-2)

And this one, about which I will admit to having mixed emotions:

The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.  (Proverbs 20:29)

Hairdresser bills notwithstanding, I’d still rather be strong than gray.  But I think I’ll get working on the other two pearls, keeping my tongue from evil and storing up wisdom in my heart.  Clearly, that kind of good livin’ pays off.

First, though, I’m going to whip up a batch of slice-and-bakes and light my firelog.  The Pioneer Woman might have a famous blog and a cool TV show, but hey.  We all do what we can, right?

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Friday Prayer for a Clean Heart

To me, few things are more lovely than freshly fallen snow.

IMG_2330When my pal Laura sent me this pic, taken from her Charlottesville window, I couldn’t help but think of King David’s prayer in Psalm 51.  He’s painfully aware of the consequences of his actions (he’d slept with another man’s wife, then arranged to have the fellow killed), and when you read his words, you get the idea that he is just desperate to get rid of his guilt.  David longs to experience freedom and joy, and to have a clean heart again.  “Wash me,” he prays, “and I will be whiter than snow.”

Haven’t we all been there?  Haven’t we all said or done something we wish we could undo, something that fills our hearts and our minds with shame?  Haven’t we all longed for a clean slate?

I’ve been mulling over Psalm 51 all week, grateful that we serve a God who can – and will – do that which we cannot:  blot out our sin and restore our joy.  Imagine my surprise (my delight, actually) when Robbie and I went to the Ash Wednesday service and Psalm 51 was read aloud while our minister “imposed” the ashes (at least I think that’s the right term for what happens when you get them on your forehead).

Turns out, Psalm 51 is always part of the Ash Wednesday service, at least in the Anglican tradition.  Who knew?

(Well, probably a lot of you.  But, not being much of an Ash Wednesday girl, it was news to me.)

I can’t think of a better season than Lent – a time when our focus is on drawing closer to God – in which to borrow a prayer from Psalm 51.  You might find a verse or two that you like better in there, but I’m picking 10 and 12 as a prayer for myself, and for my loved ones, this week:

Create in ____ a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit in me/him/her.  Restore to _____ the joy of your salvation, and make me/him/her willing to obey you.  (Psalm 51:10 & 12, NLT)

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Friday Prayer for Overflowing Love

1 Thess. 3-12With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I figured this would be a good time to offer a prayer verse about love.  The good news is that the Bible has about a zillion of them to choose from.  The bad news is that the Bible has about a zillion of them to choose from.

We are called to love God, love our enemies, love each other.  We see links between love and obedience, love and blessings, love and fruitful lives.  We read about God’s lavish, unfathomable, and unconditional love for us.  It’s all pretty incredible.

In the interest of keeping things simple, and because we could ALL do with a little more lovin’ in our lives, here’s the verse I picked – pray it for yourself or for someone you love this week:

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”  (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

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Love Letters

Add a little bit of body textAlmost nobody writes letters anymore.

But a mom can hope, right?

When we sent our youngest child, Robbie, off to college last fall, I bagged up the usual assortment of dorm room must-haves:  a desk lamp, twin XL sheets, laundry detergent (again, hope), and whatever random paper clips and pens I found in our junk drawer (the fourth child has no idea that there is such a thing as new school supplies).  I also sent two self-addressed, stamped envelopes, along with a brief encouragement to him to write home:  “Go ahead.  Make my day.”

Why?  I don’t know.  I didn’t really expect to get a letter.  But then yesterday, nearly six months after Robbie Sr. and I hid behind our sunglasses (Tears? What tears?), trying not to be the very last parents to vacate the Sewanee campus (it’s not a big school so lurking parents tend to stand out and yes, I was pretty much “that mom”), I got one.

And I was blown away.

Robbie has no idea that this is Valentine’s week.  For one thing, he’s a college freshman.  For another, he’s a guy.  (Note to any men who are reading this post:  Heads up.  SATURDAY.)  And I’m certain Robbie didn’t think about writing a love letter.  He was probably just rooting around in his desk drawer and saw the envelope under an empty Gatorade bottle and some dirty socks and thought:  Why not?

But as I held Robbie’s letter in my hand – treating it like a rare artifact that could crumble if grasped too tightly – it hit me just how powerful a simple letter can be.  The fact that nobody writes them anymore makes them even more precious.  In an age of texting and emails (and snap chats; I have begged my kids to set theirs so that they don’t expire for 15 seconds since it takes me at least that long to figure out what I am looking at, and if you think I could just take a screen shot then you clearly have no idea where my technological boundaries lie), getting an actual memento that you can hold – that you can clasp to your bosom the way that I imagine Magellan’s mother did when she unsealed the wax and read, “Hey Mom!  It’s round!” – is just huge.

All of this is simply to say:  Write someone a letter.

You don’t have to have a valentine to take advantage of the opportunity to share the love.  Tell a former teacher or coach how much he or she meant in your life.  Boost a neighbor’s spirits with an encouraging note.  Tell your mom you love her, or even just that you appreciate how many times she got the grass stains out of your jersey.  Go ahead.  Make her day.

If you need a little inspiration, why not rip off the Apostle Paul?  Here’s how he starts his letter to the Philippians:  “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

Who wouldn’t want to open an envelope and read that?

The Bible is full of awesome little nuggets just like that, notes of hope and grace that you can tuck into your own writing, words that can speak life into the bleakest winter day.  The whole thing, in fact, is really just one giant love letter, written from God’s heart to ours.

Looking for a little something to read with your morning coffee this week?  Check out 1 John…right in the back, near Revelation.  It’s not a long letter – just five short chapters – but it packs a whole lotta love.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  (1 John 3:1)

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for the Weary

Galatians 6-9Okay, so it’s February.  The Christmas decor is put away (well, most of it; never mind the knot of lights that my Instagram friends see dangling from the dogwood tree outside my window…44 days and counting, BTW), and the promise of Daylight Savings Time is still too far away to be counted on as a spirit-lifter.  If you’re like me, you might be feeling a bit weary.

Which is where Galatians 6:9 comes in.  This is my all-time favorite prayer verse for teachers (those blessed souls who keep at it with our kids, day after day), but it’s also a good one for anyone who might be struggling to restore a relationship, extend forgiveness, get out of debt, or just stick with the goals they set for the new year.  Any good thing that can sap your strength and make you want to quit the race can be targeted with this prayer verse.  Why not try it today for yourself, or for someone you love?

Heavenly Father, let ____ not become weary in doing good, but help him/her/me remember that at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  (Galatians 6:9)

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Dog Hair and Grace

photo 2Some women love it when their man shows up with jewelry, or maybe tickets to a Broadway show.  Me, I’m more of a “hair of the dog” kind of gal.  As in, literally, the hair of the dog.

As in:  Get it out of here and I will love you forever.

Now, I’m not knocking new baubles or an evening out.  (Seriously.  I’m not.  Sometimes Robbie reads these blogs, and I’d hate for him to get the wrong impression.)  But anyone familiar with Gary Chapman’s love languages will know what I am talking about when I say that Acts of Service is a big deal to me.  And I am confident that, on Maslow’s lesser-known Hierarchy of Services, “Getting Rid of Dog Hair” ranks right there at the top.

But this particular act of service is, at least in our house, a quixotic endeavor.  As you know if you saw them in their Christmas finery, we have two dogs:   Khaki (a fat, stubborn Lab) and Max (a scrawny, good-natured Golden).  Between the two of them, they probably shed about 17 pounds of hair per day.  I am not, by nature or nurture, much of a “dog person,” but I don’t think I am being mean or unfair when I say that this habit is not attractive.

Because here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how often I vacuum or how vigorously Robbie furminates (which is, I believe, an actual verb), there is no way we can vanquish the dog hair completely.  To the casual observer, the house may look clean (and if I knew you were coming over, I would put the dogs in the laundry room and run a lint brush over the couch that Khaki probably thinks is named “Get off!”), but it would be a temporary illusion.  Look closely (or, heaven forbid, actually pet one of the dogs) and you’ll see the harvest.

Dog hair – and stay with me, here – is like sin.

I mean it.  Sometimes you look down and you realize that you are covered in it, and that you have to go back upstairs and change before you go out in public.  Sometimes, it’s a little more hidden; only you know what’s lurking on the grill under the refrigerator.  And sometimes, it’s just that one tiny little piece and you pluck it off of your black pants and you think you are good…until you spot another one.

I’ll be honest.  I get depressed about the dog hair.  And I would get depressed about my sin, too – except for this one (a-hem) saving grace:  God has taken care of it for me.  That’s basically the message in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a group of people who thought they had to earn God’s love and acceptance by following all the Jewish laws and religious customs.  “Not so!” Paul says (and I am paraphrasing here).  “It’s not about what you do.  It’s about what God already did.”  God knew we couldn’t do it on our own, so he sent Jesus (and you gotta love the term Paul uses) to “rescue” us.

I’d go on, except that Tim Keller makes the case for grace much better in his book, Galatians for You.photo 1  “The average person on the street believes that a Christian is someone who follows Christ’s teaching and example,” Keller writes.  “But Paul implies that’s impossible. After all, you don’t rescue people unless they are in a lost state and a helpless condition!  Imagine you see a drowning woman.  It doesn’t help her at all if you throw her a manual on how to swim.  You don’t throw her some teaching – you throw her a rope.”

I don’t know if Keller is a dog person or not (he probably is, because he seems well-adjusted), but I am sure he would agree with me on this:  If we spend our lives trying to live up to some sort of “moral cleanliness” – if we vacuum and furminate until we think our house is “pretty clean” (or at least “cleaner” than so-and-so’s) – we’re doomed to a life marked by guilt, insecurity, and exhaustion.  We won’t be able to do it.

If, on the other hand, we turn the dog hair of our sin over to God, trusting in him as the Ultimate Furminator, we are golden.  We can grab hold of the rope and relax in the security of God’s unmerited favor and love, knowing that nothing we do (or don’t do) will ever change the fact that he is absolutely crazy about us.

God is crazy about us.

Dog hair and all.

(Bonus material:  You really can’t get rid of your own sin.  And trust me on this one:  If you have a Lab, you will never get rid of your dog hair.  You will have to move.  But if you have a spare 35 bucks and you want to try your hand at furminating, or if Acts of Service is your primary love language and you have a husband who doesn’t mind tilting at windmills just to show how much he cares, click here.)

 

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U.Va. Hoops: A Lesson for the Rest of Us

photoOn Saturday, January 31st, my beloved (and, until then, undefeated) U.Va. Wahoos fell to Coach K and his perennially strong group of Blue Devils.  I’m sure our guys took the loss hard – we all did – but the boys regrouped, and just two nights later they stomped on the Tarheels in Chapel Hill.  It was U.Va.’s first win over a ranked Carolina team in that venue in 24 years.

If you follow college basketball (and if you don’t, now’s a good time to start, what with March Madness about to hurtle into your living room), you know that there’s nothing sexy about U.Va. hoops.  Well, nothing except the obvious, scrawled on one of the signs waved by a zillion giddy U.Va. fans during ESPN’s Game Day telecast just prior to the Duke game:  “Our Coach is Hotter than Yours.”

“Our coach” is, of course, Tony Bennett.  Under his direction, U.Va. players learn to execute a slow-and-steady game, one whose success is rooted in a defense designed to herd an opposing shooter into a “pack,” forcing him to either kick the ball back out or attempt a heavily defended shot.  The system only works if everyone buys in, putting the good of the team above his own desire to shine.  Where other top-ranked teams rely on a bevy of talent (Duke and #1 Kentucky have 18 McDonald’s All-Americans between them), Virginia (with a grand total of zero of these guys on the roster) wins because of one main reason:

The trust their coach.

I’m not an athlete, but I can’t help but believe that Bennett’s slow-paced, humble approach doesn’t always go down easily for all of the guys, once they get a locker in Charlottesville.  All-American or not, the fact that they earned a spot on an ACC squad means that every kid on the U.Va. team was a total stud in his high school; you gotta believe they all had some pretty heady press coverage in between getting their driver’s licenses and finding a prom date. And you know that all of them come equipped with some spectacular moves.  Granted, we’ve seen plenty of mile-high dunks and seemingly impossible three-pointers, but generally speaking, when you watch U.Va. play you sometimes get the idea that you’re watching a bunch of thoroughbreds who are, by sheer force of will, reining it in in deference to the wisdom of their coach.

Which reminds me, actually, of Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.

photoNow, I am not trying to compare Tony Bennett to God (although the man does love Jesus, and the family resemblance shows).  What I am trying to get across (in what may be my first and only sports column) is that when we make a decision to trust God instead of our own instincts – or, to borrow a phrase from UNC’s Marcus Paige in his post-game interview, to “buy into what our coach is telling us” – good things happen.  We get wisdom beyond what we’d naturally have.  The crooked places in our lives become straight. There may be hurdles along the way (the “Duke Games” of our lives, if you will), but in the end, we will set ourselves up for victory.

From where I sit, it would appear that all of the U.Va. ballplayers trust Coach Bennett.  More encouraging, even, is that a big chunk of them trust their Heavenly Coach as well.  It’s a mighty fine program, one for which fans are grateful.

And, on behalf of those of us who daily make (sometimes difficult) decisions to try to do things God’s way instead of our own, can I just say to all the U.Va. guys (and Mike and Evan, I am going to make you read this):  Thanks for the life lesson.  It helps.

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Renovation: When God Grabs the Hammer

photoRobbie and I have a shared love for fixer-uppers.  Everywhere we move (and we’ve moved a lot), we look for the ugliest or most neglected house we can find, and we make an offer.

One time, we bought a house and raked the leaves in the front yard – a move that soon had neighbors stopping by to admire “what we’d done to the place.”  (Yes, it was that bad.)  Another time, we added some crown molding to the living room and a wrought iron railing to the front balcony, prompting the former owner’s wife to berate her husband:  “See honey?  That’s what wanted to do when we lived here!  I kept telling you…”

Poor guy.

And, in the house we currently call home, the hardwood floors rose and fell in so many directions that, if you’d dropped a marble, it wouldn’t have known which way to roll.  When the contractor removed the eight shims that he found in the basement (and I use that term very loosely…it was more of a hole dug during Prohibition by an enterprising bootlegger), the floors suddenly dropped into place.  Less charm, more structural integrity.  It was a trade-off that made Robbie happy.

Suffice it to say, we love making old things pretty again.  And right now, as I type, there is a handyman working away on our breezeway, which, thanks to one too many nor’easters in these parts, had begun to rot.  At first, I was kind of annoyed by all of the banging (children, dogs, workmen…there’s always something that gets in the way of the Pulitzer), but then I remembered one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes.  It’s from Mere Christianity:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Wow.  That’s a nifty perspective-changer, isn’t it?

Today, if you find yourself with some rotting woodwork or wavy floors in the space that you call your life, or even if there’s something pretty yucky that’s lurking in your crawlspace, don’t worry if the Carpenter comes in and starts making some noise.  Renovation can be messy, and even painful sometimes.  But hey – you’re becoming a palace!

And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s exciting.  (I could definitely use a new tower or two.)

 

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Friday Prayer: You are Loved

photo 4Back in December, I wrote a blog about a message that had been painted on Beta Bridge at the University of Virginia. Driving through Charlottesville yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice that the bridge – which sometimes gets repainted twice in the same night – still had the same message:  YOU ARE LOVED.

Clearly, it’s a promise that means a lot to the students.  It’s a promise that also means a lot to me, and it’s one that calls to mind the beautiful words Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, as he sought to reassure them that, despite the trouble and hardship they faced, God was on their side, and he was working for their good.

Today, if you need help remembering that God is for you – and that nothing can separate you from his love – turn these words into a prayer.  Or pray them for someone you love.

Beta Bridge is going to get repainted one of these days, but the words that are on there right now will never change.

You are loved.

 

Heavenly Father, help _____ be convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that you have for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

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Five Habits that Kill Communication

DSC_0338Last Sunday night’s marriage course at Galilee Church featured a candlelit dinner and our pals, Anne Ferrell and Bob Tata, in the teachers’ seat.  They hit a home run.  After starting with a story about a British fella who drove 70 miles after accidentally leaving his wife of 40 years at a filling station (“I usually sit in the back because I can move around more,” the lady said, “but normally we talk”), the Tatas dove into the first-class material offered in the Alpha Marriage Course and gave us some great tips on communication.

There was plenty of good counsel on things like acknowledging each other’s feelings, “reflecting back” (trying to accurately summarize what the other person has said, and how they feel), and identifying what is most important in any given conversation.  That stuff was valuable.  But I found myself drawn to the “bad habits” section of the presentation, habits that can prevent someone from talking about their feelings and experiences.  Left unchecked, these little nasties can make a person just shut down, destroying not just the communication, but the relationship.

Wanna know what they are?

(Be careful now.  I thought I did, too.  I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.  Um, no.  Did I mention that there are five habits?)

(Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1.  Reassuring.  The reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman the Tatas know who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem, which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The advice-giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit…sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom. She wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice givers, too.  I mean, I write a blog.)

3.  Intellectualizing.  The intellectualizer might also be called the explainer, or the rationalizer.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, instead of listening, the intellectualizer jumps in with something like:  “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about our finances.”  Um, who wants to keep talking into that information fire hose?  Talk about a buzz killer.

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a friend, only to have him or her say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and more attractive, to them) course.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to feel or to speak, it’s a bad habit.

5.  Same goes for the interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then they jump in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone.  Really?  That sounds long, to me.

(I am going to try to let Robbie talk for at least 30 seconds, just to see.)

(He will probably ask if I am feeling okay.)

So there you have it.  The five “bad habits.”  Just knowing what they are is supposed to help you listen better–a skill that, they say in The Marriage Book, involves things like giving the other person your full attention, coping with distractions, showing interest, and acknowledging feelings.  And not, presumably, mocking them.

See?  I am doomed.

But at least I am in good company.  There are 30 couples taking the Marriage Class, many of whom have been hitched for less than five years.  One of the perks of the class is the free childcare and, at the end of the evening, one of the dads thanked me and started to head out to the parking lot.  His wife looked at me, then looked at him.

He was like, “What?”

(I knew where this convo was headed but, for once, I wasn’t about to interrupt.)

She waits a beat, gives me a look that will make me love her forever, and then says, “Ah…Honey?  The baby?  The one we have to get from the nursery?”

Oh yeah.  Forty years from now, that sweet gal might find herself at a filling station.  I better remind her to start sitting in the front seat when he is driving, just in case.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Good Communication

James 1-19If you saw Wednesday’s blog, you know we’ve been focusing on good communication in the marriage course that Robbie and I are doing at church.  But the “bad habits” outlined in that post don’t just plague marriages; every human relationship can benefit from better listening skills.

The Bible is full of good advice for improving communication, but few verses are as succinct and powerful as James 1:19.  Here’s how you can turn this verse into a prayer for your marriage, your friendships, or your kids, as they relate to their friends and to each other:

Heavenly Father, may ______ be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  (James 1:19)

(Photo Credits:  Many thanks to my daughter, Hillary, for getting one of her co-workers to snap the pic that goes with this prayer. Honorable mention goes to Annesley’s roommate, Kate Martin, who submitted this photo of her dog, Riley, whose bladder control issues are clearly offset by what looks like a keen ability to listen.)photo 1

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Friday Prayer for a Flourishing Life

I am not much of a cold weather gal.  I think I might have been the first person ever diagnosed with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder); thirty years ago, the doctor said I could pick anti-depressants or sunshine to fix what ailed me.  At first, Robbie thought I was making it up (“Honey, the doctor says I have SAD and we need to go someplace sunny!”), but now he knows better.  And when he came home over Christmas and told us that he’d booked a four-day trip to Captiva Island, Florida for the whole family, I was ecstatic.

photo copy 3If you haven’t been to Captiva, you should give it a try.  Sandpipers compete with shells for space on the beach, and the dolphins come THIS CLOSE to the water’s edge (meaning that even people like me, who don’t tend to get wet, can get an eyeful of Flipper; truly, if that thing had come any closer, I would have offered it a beach chair).

It was marvelous.

But this isn’t a travel blog, it’s a prayer blog, so I will hasten to add that the island also has palm trees, and when I looked up from my shell hunting and saw the one pictured here, Psalm 92 popped into my mind.  (I didn’t know it was Psalm 92, but I once had a friend who was Treasurer of the National Palm Tree Society–who knew?–and he signed all of his letters, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree.”  Which, for those who don’t already have that one memorized, is from Psalm 92.)

2So anyway, I went home and looked up the verse in Matthew Henry’s commentary.  (I know, I know.  I am so much fun at the beach.)  Here’s what he has to say about Psalm 92:12-15 in general, and palm trees in particular:

First, palm trees grow (evidence that where God gives some grace, he will give more grace).  As a result, they become stronger, and fitter for use.

Second, palm trees flourish.  Palm tree people (my term, not his) are  “cheerful themselves and respected by all about them,” flourishing “in their profession and in the comfort and joy of their own souls.”  Plus, Henry says, palm trees are marked by a “stately body” (and hey, if you want to quit reading now and just skip to the prayer, that’s cool).

Third, even the harshest conditions don’t impact a palm tree’s health.  Palm trees are long-lived, Henry says, and (unlike some people) not changed by the winter.  In fact, it can be said of palm trees (and here I am quoting again, although I am sure this is a familiar refrain around your house):  Sub ponder crescit.

In other words, The more it is pressed down the more it grows.

Seriously.  Who wouldn’t want to be a palm tree?

But wait.  There’s more.  Verse 14 says that palm tree people, like the actual plants, will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.  “The last days of the saints are sometimes their best days,” Henry writes, “and their last work is their best work.”

As a SAD person who is sliding down the backside of life, I can’t think of a more encouraging promise than that!  Stately body notwithstanding, I really want Psalm 92 to be true in my life.  The next time you see a palm tree–or even just a picture of one–let it guide your thoughts toward these verses, and pray them for yourself or someone you love.

Heavenly Father, may _______ flourish like a palm tree, growing and bearing fruit–good words and works that glorify you and bring strength and grace to others–even in my/his/her old age.  (Psalm 92:12-15)

 

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Good News for Marriage

So Sunday night’s Marriage Course kick-off was really good. We had a little trouble with the music, which meant that Robbie had to use his techno-brain to fiddle with the system during the exercises, which meant that I didn’t have a chance to fail any more “how well do you know your spouse” quizzes. It was perfect.

And interesting. We talked about what marriage is (one definition says it’s when you find “that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life”), and why it can be so challenging sometimes. Nobody really thinks about the “for worse” part of the vows; when you head to the altar, you’re pretty focused on the “better” stuff.

But then life happens.

You lose a job. Somebody gets sick. You struggle with infertility, or a difficult pregnancy. The bills pile up. The car breaks down. You discover that your white knight leaves dark hairs in the sink. Or grey ones. You get tired.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been married for two months or twenty years; there are pressure points during every season. Some couples eventually cave under the load. Others stick it out. Still others find a way to thrive. How do you know what might happen to you?

Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher and the author of a nifty little book calledphoto copy The Good News About Marriage, says that a lot of times it comes down to this:  Do you have a sense of hope…or one of futility?

“A couple could go through a terrible period” she writes, “but if they felt certain they would make it, they usually did.” Even just the hope that things could get better was often enough to inspire them to “do what was needed to right the ship, patch the holes, and keep sailing.”

On the flip side, if a couple thought they were doomed, they often were. A “sneaking feeling of futility” or the sense that things would “never change” would creep in to crippling effect:  “If the ship is going to sink anyway, why bother working so hard to bail it out?”

Fortunately, there’s plenty of reason to hope, based on Feldhahn’s findings.  Need some good news to put the wind back in your sails? Try one of these pearls:

Most marriages are happy. Most couples, given the chance, would do it all over again.

Most problems are not “big ticket” issues; often, it just boils down to what you don’t know about what you don’t know, and the fix is relatively easy.

Couples who attend church regularly have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t.

And get this eye-opening gem:  The commonly accepted (and inherently demotivating!) statistic that “half of all marriages end in divorce” is bogus.  The real figure is closer to 20-25% for first-time marriages, and 31% overall.

I don’t know about you, but in a world that seems to slam marriage at every turn, where I meet young couples who don’t want to get married because they think they have, at best, a 50-50 shot, or where older couples slide toward boredom or infidelity (emotional or physical) because mediocrity seems to be “as good as it gets,” this sort of research is a game-changer. I mean, if most marriages are happy, then complaining about yours–without doing anything to fix it–means that you’re missing out. Why not shift gears from futility to hope and see if that changes anything? Heck, why not try going to church?

I don’t mean to treat marriage troubles lightly, or pretend that they can be fixed with a wiggle of the nose. But just knowing that they can be fixed–and that 75-80% of your pals are patching the holes in their boats–has got to mean something.

And speaking of patching the holes…next week in the Marriage Course we’ll shine the spotlight on communication.  You already know I am a gifted interrupter, but if I can manage to keep my trap shut for a few minutes and listen, I will try to snag a few good nuggets to share with you.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Generosity

1 Timothy 6-18If you saw Tuesday’s blog, you know that generosity is one of the biggies when it comes to happiness in marriage.  While that finding came out of the National Marriage Project, you don’t have to be a sociologist or an expert researcher to know that generosity is a pretty great thing to have, regardless of the relationship.

Here’s a simple prayer that packs a powerful promise.  Try praying it for yourself or for someone you love:

I pray that _____ would be rich in good deeds, generous, and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:18)

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Marriage and Generosity: A Perfect Match

IMG_4352Robbie and I are gearing up for the Alpha Marriage Course, which starts this Sunday night at our church.  It’s a terrific class and you’d think that, having taught it five times already, my beloved and I would be coasting, but every time we go over the material, we learn something new.

One time, for instance, “we” learned that it’s not a good idea to interrupt your spouse when he is talking (even if you are pretty sure that what you have to say is way more interesting).

During another session, “we” discovered that cleaning out the garage is not, in fact, everyone’s primary love language.  Some people, it turns out, would rather have sex.

And then there was the time that we got to grade each other on questions like, My partner is good at meeting my emotional needs, and “we” got a zero.  (Honestly, though, that was not a fair question.  I mean, I didn’t even know Robbie had emotional needs.)

(But now I do.)

So here we are, getting ready to go at it again.  And this time I have a secret weapon:  I’ve been following Brad Wilcox on Twitter.  Wilcox is the brainiac behind the National Marriage Project, and his research offers everything from tips on improving your relationship to indicators that a marriage will last (inviting a lot of friends and relatives to your wedding bodes well; “sliding” into cohabitation before marriage does not).

Sometimes, the findings are surprising.  Like, you might expect things like “commitment” and “sexual intimacy” to show up as factors linked to a happy marriage.  But the third of the Big Three?  Generosity.

Generosity.  As in, being liberal with affection.  Quick to overlook offenses.  And (get this, from the research):  photoMaking your honey a cup of coffee in the morning.

“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful,” Wilcox explains, in a New York Times Magazine article, “but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate.”  And that, he says, promotes a “virtuous cycle” that leads to happier marriages.

Wilcox & Co. even have a quiz you can take to determine your generosity rating.  (Can you tell I recently learned how to add links to a blog?)  I’d take the quiz, but Robbie’s the one who makes the coffee around here, and I don’t want to go into Sunday’s class with another big “L” on my stat sheet.

But I am going to try to be more generous.  Like, when Robbie brings me my coffee in the morning, I will tell him I love him.  Even if it’s not hot enough, because I will know to overlook that.

See?  Who needs a marriage course?

Don’t answer that.

(But do check out The Marriage Course.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for one year or 50, you’ll find it well worth your time.  Even if you already know that your man has emotional needs.)

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Kindness, Humility, and More

Colossians 3-12Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the full house and the empty nest is the amount of laundry that needs doing. For years, particularly when we had four children all playing different sports, my life had a rhythm all its own:

Wash.  Dry.  Fold.  Repeat.

Partly to break up the monotony, and partly to attach some sort of meaning to an existence that seemed to be measured in soccer games and grass stains, I started using the laundry cycle as a prayer prompt.  I looked up a few verses about clothing and pressed them (a-hem) into service.

Here’s one of my favorites.  This year, instead of groaning when you see the laundry pile, why not try this prayer when you pull a load out of the dryer?  It might not help you find that missing sock, but at least you’ll be investing in something that lasts beyond tomorrow.

Heavenly Father, let _____ know that he/she is holy and dearly loved.  Help _____ to clothe himself/herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  (Colossians 3:12)

 

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