What Will the New Year Bring?

We’re on the cusp of a New Year! What will it bring?

A quick spin through Google reveals all sorts of prognostications – some funny, some serious, some terrifying. But here’s one thing we can know for sure: When our trust is in the Lord, we can live lives marked by confidence and joy rather than worry and fear, no matter what the future holds!

Consider what the prophet Jeremiah had to say:

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.

Let’s take this promise and make it our Friday prayer…or maybe just use it to cover all of 2017. You can pray this one for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ trust in you. Let his/her confidence be in you. Keep _____ free from fear and worry, no matter how challenging or uncomfortable the world gets. Bless _____ with a fresh and fruitful life! (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Amen.

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Something you want, something you need…

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

When I heard this little nugget of Christmas gift-giving wisdom from my friend Natalie (her mother-in-law likes to hit all four categories), I liked it. And I decided to use it as a bar against which I could measure the stocking stuffers I’d found for the men in my life.

Something you want? Golf balls and surf wax. Check.

Something you need? Razors and (because airport security has all of ours) pocket knives. Check.

Something to wear? Socks and boxer shorts. Because Christmas. Check.

Something to read? The Surfer’s Journal. And (because I am trying to drum up family interest in a visit to the Holy Land) a magazine featuring the spectacular vineyards of Israel. Check and check.

Having covered all the key bases, I was ready for Christmas morning. Still, though, something was missing. I hadn’t yet found the perfect “one-size-fits-all” gift, the annual follow-up to presents like The Posture Brace of 2013 (which was advertised as being “virtually invisible” under clothing but wasn’t, but which, looking back, had the unexpected upside of checking two boxes, since it was both something you wear and something you need).

I gave it some thought. And some prayer. And I finally came up with what I thought was a terrific gift idea:

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Rick Warren’s Bible Study MethodsRick Warren (the guy who gave us The Purpose Driven Life) knows that Bible study can be tricky. We don’t do it, he says, because we don’t really know how (nobody ever taught us), we’re not motivated (we haven’t yet experienced the joy of discovery), or maybe because we are just plain lazy (ouch). Warren’s goal is to get us over all three of these hurdles and help us find an approach to Bible reading that works – specifically and personally – for us. To that end, he offers 12 different methods we can try, along with step-by-step instructions for each.

Twelve different ways to study the Bible? I figured at least one of ’em would appeal to my guys.

Now before you go telling me that they would have rather had more golf balls, consider the categories. This gift was something that they could read. And need (because who among us couldn’t use a little professional help when it comes to Bible study?). They couldn’t wear the book, obviously, but since one of our favorite uncles starts most of his mornings by looking at his wife and saying, “Tell me what I want to do,” I figured that maybe I could tell Robbie, Geoff, Charlie, and Robbie Jr. what they really wanted in their stocking.

Read, need, and want. Three out of four. Brilliant.

And, just to be sure that the fellas appreciated what a good gift this was, I tweaked the wrapping. Any old Santa can give you a razor. But a book designed to help you grow in your understanding of Scripture?

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Anyhow.

Truth be told, God gave me the book, too. Which is to say, I bought a copy for myself. Because this is the time of year when I always do two things:

First, I stop eating the Christmas cookies. (They are mostly gone, anyway, but come December 30 I start making a somewhat focused effort not to eat them. At least not until lunch.)

And second, I make a Bible reading plan. (I’ve written about this one before; click here to see last year’s ideas.) I figure that if I want to get to know God better (and I do), then I can’t just rely on my heart. I need to engage my head. I want to get to know God through the Bible, digging deep to unearth its riches – and letting them transform me. I want to get to the end of the year and say, “I grew. I got to know God better. I fell even more in love with him.

“I was changed.”

Do my guys want that too? I don’t know; I pray that they do.

I pray that all of us do. And if you’ve got your own favorite reading plans or study methods, I’d love to hear about them. Why not post a comment for others who might want to try what you like? There is not, obviously, any “right” way to read scripture; the key is mainly to grow in our faith, to fall deeper in love with our Heavenly Father, and to be equipped for whatever he has in store.

Because there’s a whole new year out there, just waiting for us to unwrap it.

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A Reason to Rejoice!

String the lights, sing the songs, wrap the gifts…we have a REASON to rejoice!

One of my kids made this ornament nearly 20 years ago, and it’s always been my favorite:

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Today, as we prepare our hearts and our homes to welcome the Savior, let’s borrow a few words from Mary’s song and make them our prayer: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)

Heavenly Father,

May we glorify you as our Lord and rejoice in you as our Savior this Christmas!

Amen

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Warmest Wishes for a Merry Christmas!

Charles Dickens begins his classic tale, A Christmas Carol, on Christmas Eve. It is a day marked by “cold, bleak, biting weather” and Scrooge can hear the people outside his office window “beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.”

It was a day, in other words, not unlike May 21, 2016.

We were in Charlottesville then, celebrating Virginia’s U.Va. graduation. Rarely have I been so happy to have my parka and my hat. And my boots, which I bet I could have sold for a few hundred bucks (and which I did, in fact, loan to another mother whose daughter’s ceremony was after ours).

Like every other family I guess, we took the requisite Rotunda Photo that day. I couldn’t have predicted it back then (if I had, I would have at least ditched the ball cap), but it turned out to be our Christmas card pic:

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Which is fitting, actually. Not because it might as well have been snowing on Jefferson’s Lawn (and I promise you, I think I really did feel some sleet), but because of the joy – and the warmth – that Christmas always brings.

In the Dickens story, the thaw happens the moment that Scrooge’s nephew walks in. We hear him before we see him: “A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!”

When the nephew enters Scrooge’s office, he is “all in a glow.” He has a ruddy face, sparkling eyes, and breath you can see, like smoke. Eavesdropping as the young man catalogs the virtues of Christmas and all the good that it does, the clerk (who is in the next office, freezing) can’t help himself. He applauds.

I love it.

I love it because we do the same thing that Scrooge’s nephew did, when we say, “Merry Christmas!” to one another. We warm each other’s hearts with those simple, yet powerful, words.

And I love it because that’s what Jesus did for us, some 2000 years ago. He entered the cold, bleak, biting of our world and basically said, “Merry Christmas, Everyone! God save you!”

Isn’t that just the best?

You don’t have to hate the cold as much as I do to know that Christmas changes everything.

And you don’t have to be like the clerk to applaud.

Merry Christmas!

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A Stump, a Branch, and a Prayer

a-shoot-will-come-up-from-the-stump-of-jesse-from-his-roots-a-branch-will-bear-fruitA shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

That’s Isaiah 11:1, and it’s a verse our minister, Andy Buchanan, covered in his sermon a couple of weeks ago. The gist of the message was not so much about the stump, or even the branch, as it was about the question: “Will God really dwell among us?”

Happily, the answer is yes. And for us, the promise is this:  God brings life out of things (like stumps) that appear to be dead.

If you’ve got 15 minutes and you want to listen to Father Andy’s sermon, click here and scroll down to the 12/4/16 message. If you’ve only got time for a prayer, why not do like the Apostle Paul did when he wrote his letter to the Romans, and partner the Isaiah promise with a prayer? Paul quoted Isaiah:

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Romans 15:12)

And then he prayed this:

May the God of hope 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. (Romans 15:13)

The Root of Jesse is Jesus, the one who offers us joy, peace, and hope. Can there be any better Christmas prayer? I’m praying Romans 15:13 for you, and for your families, today!

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The Light of Life

So Buddy the Elf has been at it again.

He got inspired when we went to Dallas (where they are, evidently, as serious about their Christmas lights as they are about their hair). No sooner had we gotten home than Buddy was off to the hardware store, where he picked up a couple million more strands.

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I love that guy.

Buddy also came home with a few boxes of something called the “Net of Life.” I think that name is a little bit misleading, like maybe it should be a sermon or something. Plus, there a lady on the package who, presumably, hung a bunch of lights on her snowy roof. We know she didn’t. She isn’t even wearing a coat.

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But whatever. The Nets (which I bet the Dallas people do not use) did the job on our bushes, and then Buddy got out the ladder and started climbing the trees. If he wanted help, he didn’t say so. I imagine that he (like most husbands) is pretty much happy to be out of the house – out of earshot – this time of the year.

My man worked for most of the day, adding strand upon strand.

Upon strand.

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Yeah.

Anyhow, when when darkness finally came, Buddy was ready. And when he plugged ’em all in, I loved it. Because I’m no fan of winter. Or cold. Or darkness. Or anything, actually, that feels like Not Summer. But Christmas lights have a way of making the brrrr go away, and of filling our hearts with hope.

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This is, of course, the same transformation that Jesus makes in our lives us all year long. “I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Isn’t that an amazing promise? We are surrounded by a world full of darkness…but we don’t have to walk in it. Or fear it. Even back when Isaiah was alive, he knew the difference that Jesus would make and he called it: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

The light has dawned. The light has dawned!

Come January, when it’s time to take down the sparkle, we can hang our hope on that. Because we may pack up the Net of Life…but the Light of Life will still shine.

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

Bhahahaha! Hours after this blog originally posted, you began alerting me to the fact that I’d read the box wrong. Even my mother weighed in, bursting through the door of our home and saying, “Jodie! It is not life. It is lite!” Ahhhh! That makes so much more sense! I couldn’t figure out why someone would market a Christmas decoration as the “Net of Life.” Obviously, my eyes are old.

In my defense, though, I don’t think people should be spelling LIGHT like LITE. “Lite” is for diets. Which Christmas is not. Christmas is all about the FULLNESS of joy. And my prayer, for you and for me, is that we will experience Jesus as the light of life…the bread of of life..and yes, even as the Net of Life – one that is big enough to cover us all!

Merry Christmas! xo

 

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Friday Prayer for a Crown of Beauty

may-they-be-brought-into-complete-unity-toI love the book of Isaiah. Especially now, at Christmastime, when so many of the prophet’s words point to the hope that Jesus brings. He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. He’s the one who binds up the brokenhearted and sets the prisoner free. He is the one whose coming is the glad tidings – the good news – our hearts are yearning to hear.

And he’s the God who changes things.

If you long to experience this hope, or if you know somebody who does, here’s a prayer from one of my favorite chapters in Isaiah:

Heavenly Father,

Bestow on _____ a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen.

 

 

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The Nativity: Then and Now

I love nativity scenes. I have a set made of olive wood, which I purchased nearly 30 years ago in Israel:

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A set my grandmother brought home from a trip to Mexico:

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A simple scene from my aunt, who was a missionary in Madagascar:

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And a big, beautiful one that, for all I know, was made in China:

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I do not, however, own the Modern Nativity:

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You can’t really tell from this photo, but Joseph is rocking a man bun. Mary’s drinking what looks like Starbucks (while showcasing her cheekbones for the selfie). And the baby Jesus is swaddled in what has to be some sort of handmade, organic-yarn blanket and beanie. The set also features three hipster wise men (who come bearing gifts a la Amazon Prime), a couple of well-fed animals (the cow’s trough is marked “gluten free”), and a teenaged shepherd boy who’s posting the whole thing on Instagram (#babyjesus #nofilter).

Theologically speaking, I’m not really sure what the designers had in mind when they came up with this scene. But honestly? I kind of like it. It makes me feel like the whole scene is kind of…relevant. Like Jesus really is what Hebrews 13:8 says he is: the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is as present in the lives of selfie-taking, latte-drinking, man bun-wearing people as he was in the lives of the folks who gathered around him 2,000 years ago. And I don’t blame Millennial Joseph and Mary for wanting a pic with the Lord. Had I been in their TOMS, I would have taken one, too.

I’ve always thought it would have been pretty cool to be alive when Jesus was walking and talking and telling people where the good fishing was. Sometimes, I’ve even been jealous of those first disciples and all the others who literally saw him do miracles, and who could ask him hard questions, face to face. From an evangelistic standpoint, it feels like it must have been a whole lot easier to bring people to a living, breathing Jesus and say, “Look. That’s him. He fed all those people.” than it is to convince them to entrust their lives to someone they can’t even see.

But here’s the thing. Mary and Joseph and all of those early Christians got to see and experience all sorts of neat stuff. But when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, he told his followers that it was “for your good that I am going away.” Why? Because that meant that the Holy Spirit would come. As a man, Jesus knew that he could only be in one place at a time; as a Spirit, he is able to be with all of us, everywhere, all the time.

So yeah, I would liked to have been at the manger. I would like to have heard the angels sing, and seen the look on the wise men’s faces when they finally got to the stall. I would like to have pulled Mary aside and asked her all sorts of questions. I would like to have thanked Joseph for believing the angel (and for staying).

I would like to have held the baby. I would like to have watched him grow up.

But when I think about the Holy Spirit – his omnipresence, and all of the wisdom, comfort, conviction, guidance, and strength he provides – I am pretty darn glad to have that. To have him. And this Christmas, as I read verses like Luke 11:13 (which says that if we know how to give good gifts to our kids, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to us), all I can do is ask God for more of the Spirit’s work in my life, and thank him for the indescribable gift of his presence.

So again, yeah. I would like to have known Jesus on earth. Mary, too. But you know what? I figure I’ll meet her one day, and (like all mothers, I guess) she’ll probably still be happy to talk about what her boy was like, as a child.

I look forward to hearing her stories.

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(And BTW, if you decide that the Modern Nativity is something you can’t celebrate Christmas without, you can order one here for less than what Mary probably paid for those black skinny jeans.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Peace in Every Circumstance

may-the-lord-of-peace-himself-continually-grant-you-peace-in-every-circumstanceChristmas is upon us…which means we are stacking our desire for “peace on earth” against the chaos of too-busy schedules, relationship challenges, and a barrage of advertisements and emails that seem anything but peaceful (23 shopping days left!!).

If you find yourself taking deep breaths and longing for the peace that Jesus brings, you’re not alone. In fact, Paul closed one of his letters with that very prayer, one where he asked God for continual peace in every circumstance.

Continual peace? In every circumstance? Yes. Yes, please!

If that’s what you want (for yourself, or for someone you love), join me in this Friday Prayer:

May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant _____ peace in every circumstance. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NKJV)

Amen.

 

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Immanuel: He is Our Peace

So on Monday morning, after all of the Thanksgiving guests had left, I crept downstairs, eager to enjoy a cup of coffee in the predawn silence. We’d already decorated the Christmas tree (gotta do it when the kids are home)…

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…and as heart-warming as it is to watch six people climb on your bookshelves and elbow each other out of the way while carols from Pandora’s “Country Christmas” drown out the announcer on the U.Va. basketball game, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I looked forward to turning on the tree lights, grabbing my Bible, and spending a few moments with God.

And then I heard…snoring.

It was loud. And it was coming from the family room. Had a late-night intruder gotten into our Baileys? Would I find a strange man on the sofa? Should I go back upstairs and wake Robbie?

I tiptoed through the kitchen and quickly turned on the lights:

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Khaki.

The dog is not supposed to get on the sofa. I didn’t fully trust her arthritic legs or her tumor-filled belly to keep her down, so I’d put out a spread of books and magazines as a deterrent. To which Khaki said, “Nice try.”

I was not happy.

I didn’t like how the dog had treated my copy of Southern Lady, nor did I appreciate having to get out the lint brush. Again. Even more than these offenses, though, was the fact that Khaki had rearranged all my pillows. One of them wound up on the floor:

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I stood there, listening to the dog drone and looking at my fallen PEACE, and I thought: This is it. This is what my life has become. I get the peace all set in my life, tucked in among the beautiful velvet and linen, and then something comes along to knock it off.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re staring down the weeks between now and Christmas, wishing you could experience the whole “peace on earth, good will toward men” thing, but there’s a little niggle of anxiety, or maybe even fear, that is holding you back. Maybe it’s a decision you have to make, or a deadline you are facing. Maybe it’s a sickness, or a loss, or the sense that you don’t have what it takes to do whatever it is that you feel like you are supposed to do. Or maybe it’s something totally unfounded, but still sort of paralyzing, like the time I went shopping with my mother-in-law and we got half way to the mall when she was suddenly struck by a frightening thought:  What if the stores are closed on Monday?

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I let worry – both about real concerns and and imagined ones – consume my attention. But that is the exact opposite of how God wants us to live. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And when we do that – when we refuse to entertain anxiety and instead bring our requests straight to God – he offers this promise:  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Sounds like a plan.

But, like so many good things in life, choosing to take our worries to God and trade them in for his peace is easy to say and hard to do. It takes practice. It might even take retraining our brains, so that our default position is not so much dwelling on doubt as it is on tacking our trust to God’s promises. It’s do-able, but we might need help.

Which is where Immanuel comes in. Of all the names God goes by, I think Immanuel might be my favorite. It’s not one we think about for most of the year, but when you start opening Christmas cards and listening to carols, it pops up. And, to me, Matthew 1:23 is one of the best lines in the whole Christmas story:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). 

If you’re feeling like your peace is on the floor this Christmas, and you aren’t really sure how to pick it up and get it settled into your life, invite Immanuel to come in and help. He is the order in our chaos, the stability in our insecurity, the anchor in our storm. He is “God with us.”
And, in that very name, he is our peace.
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Praying the Scriptures for Your Football Team

img_8445Okay so it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Which means football.  Which means U.Va. plays Virginia Tech.

Which means I’m devoting this Friday Prayer space to my team.

Virginia fans will tell you that our beloved Wahoos have not won the annual contest in the last twelve years, and that our record this year (2-9) has not exactly positioned our team as a threat. Alert fans, though, will point to that heady season between 1895 and 1904 (a glorious stretch where we beat the Hokies every single year) as proof that we have winning in our genes.

If you’re not the type to pray about what coaching legend Vince Dooley’s wife Barbara calls “bawl games,” feel free to quit reading now. No hard feelings. Seriously.

But if you like the idea of doing all you can for your team, feel free to join me:

Heavenly Father,

U.Va. Football has suffered for more than a little while; may this be the year that you restore us and make our team strong, firm, and steadfast. Put your law in our players’ hearts so that their feet will not slip, and command your angels to guard them in all their ways. May they be on their guard, stand firm in the faith, be men of courage, and be strong. (1 Peter 5:10, Psalm 37:31, Psalm 91:11, and 1 Corinthians 16:13).

I know, I know.

Some of you are saying it’s not fair to pray for one team over another. I get that. Plus, I have two Hokie sons-in-law, and I really should show them some love. And so, in the interest of keeping things on the level, here’s a Friday Prayer for the other guys:

Heavenly Father,

You are the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. If the Tech folks feel sad, or even devastated, after tomorrow’s game, may your unfailing love be their comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3, Psalm 119:76)

Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all! (And #GoHoos!)

 

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Celebrate Everything

(Note:  This post is the last in a four-part series on praying, trusting, and waiting. Please know, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, how grateful I am for you. May you and your families be satisfied with the goodness of God.)

I marked another birthday last month, and my friend Annabelle gave me a sign:

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Annabelle’s always up for fun. I’m thinking she meant the message as a party prompt, like: “Let’s have cake because it’s Tuesday.” Which is not such a bad way to live.

To me, though, the sign felt like more than a sign. It felt like a Sign. As in, it brought me face to face with the question that’s dogged me throughout this entire blog series: Is there really such a thing as the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting? Put another way, when we feel like God’s answers are long in coming (or when we aren’t sure we’re on board with what he seems to be allowing, and maybe it even hurts) do we still have good reason to celebrate?

The answer, I think, is yes.

I’m not quite there yet, but I know some folks who are. Folks like Katherine Wolf, a stunning beauty who was just 26 years old when she suffered a massive stroke that left her unable to speak, swallow, walk, or care for her infant son. As Katherine relearned how to live, she and her husband Jay were forced to reexamine everything they believed about God. Was he truly good? Had he made a mistake? And would they still be able to look at their lives and thank God for what he had given, for what he had allowed to be taken away, and for what he had allowed to remain?

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If you’ve not yet read the Wolfs’ book, Hope Heals, treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy it here. Or watch a trailer about their story here. I can’t begin to articulate how God led this precious couple through the gap between life’s expectations and its reality (and I would hate to even try, since they tell their tale with such raw and exquisite beauty), but I will tell you this: Katherine says that pain served as her teacher, bringing her closer to Christ in a way that went beyond anything she could have imagined. For that, she was unabashedly grateful. And Jay agrees: “The call to give thanks, not at the end, but in the midst, began to reverberate inside of us.”

Giving thanks in the midst. That’s where I want to be.

And that’s basically where Andrew Murray (whose book, Waiting on God, helped launch this blog series) winds up. We may think we are just waiting for the Lord to bless us (i.e., to meet our needs and grant our desires), but the way Murray sees it, God has a higher purpose in mind: We want the gifts, but “He, the Giver, longs to give us Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness.”

Heady stuff. And, for those who have not yet experienced that kind of satisfaction, potentially hard to accept.

And honestly? I might be tempted to think that this whole “satisfied with God” thing is reserved for extra-holy people (people like Katherine Wolf and Andrew Murray and a handful of other “varsity” Christians you sometimes read about) except for one thing. I spent much of 2016 interviewing parents for my upcoming book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. These folks are “normal” Christians, people just like you and me. People who prayed for their kids, took them to church, and tried to do all the “right” things in the parenting books.

But life didn’t turn out like they expected. Instead of picket-fence perfect (or even picket-fence close), these parents found themselves praying for adult children struggling with everything from getting through college to getting a job…from finding a marriage partner to navigating their way through a divorce…from battling addictions and mental health issues to surviving health crises like Katherine Wolf did.

Would these folks say they were satisfied? Would they say they had a reason to “celebrate”?

Amazingly (and almost beyond belief), they would. While none of them would wish their stories on anyone, virtually all of them told me some version of the same thing: Their challenges forced them to take their eyes off of the outcomes, because the outcomes were not always there. But the yearning for something good – something that would satisfy their deepest longings – still was. And the more they pressed in, the more they realized that their desire was not for an outcome at all.

Their desire, for themselves and for their children, was simply for Jesus.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ll be cooking a turkey and looking out at your picket-fence yard, where your picket-fence husband (or wife!) is playing football with your picket-fence kids.

Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be looking at things like loneliness, disappointment, broken relationships, and shattered dreams. Maybe you’ll be wondering where God is, or why he’s taking so long to show up. Maybe you’ll be wondering what you have to be thankful for, or what on earth you can celebrate.

If that’s you (and I’ve been there, so I get it), then can I just encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself the same question I’ve asked myself, time and again: Are you trusting in an outcome, or are you trusting in the Lord? Do you want what God gives, or do you want him? Are you willing to celebrate…not because you have hard stuff, but because God is with you in the midst of it?

God never said he would keep us from experiencing pain, or from having to walk through hard places. Instead, he said he would walk through them with us. And when we face the death of a dream or the loss of something precious, we can do so with thanksgiving, knowing that God is in control and that he has the power to resurrect whatever it is that we have had to relinquish, making it wonderful and new in his time.

Ephesians 3:20 says that God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” This year, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s do so knowing that our Heavenly Father is at work and that, no matter what circumstances or relationships look like right now, we can trust him to do more than we ask. Let’s thank him because he loves us in our questions, he has gone before us in our pain, and he offers us the satisfying and immeasurable gift of his presence.

Let’s celebrate. In everything.

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Give Thanks in All Circumstances

give-thanksThanksgiving is next week! And whether your heart is in a grateful place or you feel like you  need a little Holy Spirit help to get there, here’s a Friday Prayer for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is your will for us in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Amen.

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Blessed are Those Who Mourn

 

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Blessed are those who mourn.

That promise, from Matthew 5:4, has never been one of my Bible favorites. The second half of the verse is a little more upbeat – for they will be comforted – but, if I’m being honest, I gotta say that I’d just as soon skip the whole thing. No mourning, no need for comfort. Done.

But if you’ve been keeping up with this blog series about waiting on God, you knew I’d get around to mourning, eventually. And last week I promised to tackle one of the thornier questions that can attach itself to the waiting process:  What do we do with the grief, or even the anger, that can box us into a corner when our prayers seem to go unanswered, or when the outcome doesn’t look like we expected (or wanted) it to?

The short answer is to remember how much God loves you. Go ahead and take your hurts to him – tell him just how you feel – and then let him hold you. Mourn, and be comforted. If that’s all the blog you can process today, that’s enough.

If you’ve got time to dig a little deeper, I’d like you to meet my guy Asaph. He’s the fella who wrote Psalm 73. He sees all of the arrogant God-mockers getting healthy, rich, and popular, while he feels like he is being “punished every morning,” and he is shaking his head. He’s grieved, and he’s bitter. He’s mourning, and he’s mad.

Not a fun place for a believer to be.

In the end, though, Asaph realizes that he has it all backwards. The bad guys are on slippery ground. Their destiny is destruction; his future is secure. Asaph has the blessing of God’s guidance, the certainty of his love, and the promise of his presence. And that’s all he needs. “Whom have I in heaven but you?” he asks. “And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

There was a time when I would have read a statement like that and thought to myself, “Yeah, right. God’s presence is nice and all…but I would have rather had the pony.”

Lately, though, as I’ve wrestled with the problem of pain and the questions that come with things like unmet longings and unanswered prayers, I’ve begun to appreciate the blessing of God’s nearness. Here’s why:

I was raised on verses like Romans 8:28 (which says that God works in all things for our good), Jeremiah 29:11 (his plan is to prosper us and to give us hope), and Job 42:2 (no purpose of his can be thwarted), and I struggled over the fact that I felt sad when things didn’t turn out like I wanted them to, or when God seemed to be silent in the face of my prayers. If I truly believed that God was working for good, that his plan was for hope, and that his purpose would prevail, then I had no business being anything but grateful. Even if I didn’t understand what God was up to, I felt like I should be excited about it.

But I wasn’t.

And because I wasn’t, I felt like I should apologize to God. I figured that, since he already knew my heart, I could just go ahead and be honest. So here’s what I wrote in my prayer journal (and I’m sharing this partly so that those of you who think that you need to be all holy and eloquent when you talk to God will maybe feel a little bit better about just letting it rip):

“God,” I said, “I am sorry to be so spiritually lame. I really am trying to trust you. And I don’t mean to be sad. I know all your promises about how good and powerful you are, and about how much you love me, and I guess if I honestly believed these things – ”

“It’s okay.” (Have you ever been interrupted by God? Because that’s what I think happened to me. There I was, telling him how lame I was, and he just cut right in.)

“It’s okay,” I sensed God say. “Go ahead and grieve. Your sadness is real. But it’s not a bad thing. Bring it to me, and let me comfort you.”

Wow. Talk about a game-changer. There I was, trying to push my pain into a manhole and put the cover on, and God said not to. He wanted me to come to him the way that I wanted my children, when they were younger, to bring me their skinned knees and fevers, so I could hug them and bandage their hurts. Or the way that I want them to now, with their worries and fears, so that I can pray and let them know they’re not alone. And I realized that day, as I basically climbed into God’s lap and let the tears come, that I was just like Asaph. I had it all backwards.

I thought that disappointment and anger were bad things. Things to be avoided. Things that didn’t have a legitimate place in the life of a “real” Christian. (And just as a sidebar, if we allow these things to shape our identity, dictate our perspective, or become our life’s focus, I think they are bad.) But if we can learn to see them as tools in God’s hands, we will discover that our grief and our questions are actually blessings. In drawing us into God’s presence, they are the cords that he uses to bind up our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1), to let us know how much we are loved, and to show us that even in mourning, we are blessed.

Next week, in the final post in this series, I will introduce you to a couple of folks who have lived this stuff, and who express it so much better than I can. I realized (when I saw my friend Michelle’s organic turkey in a bag in her driveway) that Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And my hope is that, together, we can celebrate the holiday from a place of genuine gratitude, a place where waiting on God (and trusting him, even when we aren’t sure what he is doing) becomes something we can really enjoy.

Like Asaph, I want us to be able to bring all of our questions and complaints before God and find our joy not in his answers, but in his nearness.

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Friday Prayer to Be Satisfied

satisfy-us-in-the-morning-with-your-unfailing-love-that-we-may-sing-for-joy-and-be-glad-all-our-daysThis month, we’re exploring what it means to discover the blessedness of waiting on God, of learning to put our trust in him instead of in the outcomes or answers we expect.

I love the promise Psalm 90 offers: That we can be satisfied not with God’s gifts or the things he provides, but simply with the warmth of his love. Let’s make this one our Friday prayer, either for ourselves or for someone whose heart longs to be filled:

Heavenly Father,

Satisfy _____ in the morning with your unfailing love; let _____ sing for joy and be glad all his/her days. (Psalm 90:14)

Amen

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The Gifts or the Giver

(Note:  This post is part 2 of a 4-part series on praying, trusting, and discovering the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting on God. If you missed last week’s post, click here.)

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When Robbie and I got married, we put Psalm 84:11 on the front of our wedding program: For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

We loved that verse. We felt like God had blessed us with incredible favor already, and since we were technically “blameless” (the stain of our sin having been washed clean by the blood of Christ), we looked forward to a lifetime of more “good things” from our Heavenly Father.

That was 30-plus years ago.

In the past three decades, we’ve seen more good things than we could ever have imagined. But we’ve also seen more heartache, disappointment, and prayers that didn’t get answered (at least not in the way we would have liked). Given the perspective of time, some of these losses are easy to understand (e.g., my failed audition as a radio DJ), but some of them are much harder. Why, for instance, did God “withhold” the miracle we prayed for, when my sweet father was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 60?

Why didn’t we get the house we so desperately wanted to buy? Why did my dear friend’s marriage fall apart? Why didn’t God protect us from making that bad investment? Why didn’t my child get into that school…make that team…get invited to that birthday party? Why do I sometimes feel (like it says at the end of Psalm 88) like “darkness is my closest friend”?

I know you share those questions. We all have them. And when we ask God for something that we know is a really good thing – like the salvation of a loved one, or freedom from a crippling addiction – and he stays silent, that can be confusing. Frustrating. Faith-shaking, even.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But in my own journey (which has been shaped and supported by authors whose brains are much bigger than mine), I’ve found a few anchors that have helped to keep my faith in place. Maybe one of these mooring hooks will help you, too:

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Andrew Murray (whose classic, Waiting on God, served as the backdrop to last week’s post) says that in “every true prayer, there are two hearts in exercise. The one is your heart, with its little, dark, human thoughts of what you need and God can do. The other is God’s great heart, with its infinite, its divine purposes of blessing.”

I get the two-hearts thing. I know God has the power to move any mountain he wants to, so when I don’t get what I want in prayer (either for myself or for a loved one), I figure the problem can be traced to one of two things: Either I was wrong (in that what I wanted was not, actually, a good thing at that time), or God was (because it was good, and he didn’t deliver). Given those two choices – the desires of my little, dark, human heart, or those of God’s great, divine, purposes-of-blessing heart – I know which one I’d better pick.

Jennifer Kennedy Dean builds on this theme in her study, Live a Praying Life (which, incidentally, is hands-down my favorite Bible study on prayer):

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She says that God wants us to grow in things like tenacity and perseverance, and that when it looks like God is moving slowly (or not at all), he is “putting pieces together that you had not thought of.”

I get that, too. God rarely does things in the way, or on the timetable, that I would. That should come as no surprise, given verses like Isaiah 55:8 (which says that God’s ways are not our ways), but I spend more time than I care to admit trying to figure out what he’s up to. I know his plans are good, and I know he loves me…but sometimes, the stuff he does looks an awful lot like a whoopsie.

Dean has been there. But, in looking at the lives of folks who’ve gone through more than a few of those tricky places (guys like Joseph, who thought he was supposed to be a ruler but wound up being sold as a slave), she warns us not to mistake God’s will for his ways, or confuse what he is doing with how he is doing it. We only see part of the picture. And, she writes, “We cannot control God or tell him how to accomplish his plan.” That one may seem obvious, but trust me: When you have as many good ideas for God as I think I do, it can be hard to just sit back and wait. It can be tough to pipe down. And during those seasons when you spend the whole night weeping, it can be a stretch to believe the Psalm 30:5 promise that joy comes in the morning.

Because morning can seem like a long way off.

So what do we do? Where do we turn, when we feel like God has left us hanging, or that whatever he is doing is so mysterious, or is taking so long, that he might as well be doing nothing? How do the unexpected outcomes and disappointments of our lives (as well as God’s apparent silence in the face of these things) square with the promise on our wedding program, that “no good thing will he withhold”?

Again, I don’t have all the answers. But, more than 30 years after Robbie and I walked down that aisle, I finally noticed that our wedding psalm doesn’t end with verse 11. There’s more. Psalm 84:12 (the last verse in the psalm) says this: “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And that, I think, is the key.

It’s not “Blessed is the one who trusts in the good things you give.” Or, “Blessed is the one who trusts in your favor.” It’s “Blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And what I am finding out is that, when I pray, I often get it backwards. My trust is in the wrong place. Instead of trusting in God, I am trusting in an outcome. Instead of looking for him, I am looking for the blessings he provides. Instead of desiring the Giver, I am consumed with desire for the gift.

And when I don’t get what I want, I am sad.

I’ll deal with that next week – with what we do with the grief and anger that sometimes accompany unexpected or unwanted outcomes – but since this post is already too long, I’ll just leave you with some of the questions I am pondering this week:

If all we have is Jesus, is that enough?

Are we willing to explore the blessedness (the “unbroken enjoyment of waiting”) that comes with putting our trust in God?

And, at the end of the day, are we willing to settle for the gifts…or do we want to press in and behold the Giver?

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Lord, Hear Our Cry

i-waited-patiently-forthe-lordThis month’s posts and Friday prayers are designed to help us discover the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting on God as we learn to trust him in the sometimes unexpected (or unwanted) circumstances of our lives.

Psalm 40 offers a beautiful picture of how God hears us, rescues us, and gives us a firm place to stand. Here’s how the first few verses in this psalm can be used as a prayer for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

I am waiting patiently for your help. Turn to me and hear my cry.

Lift me out of the pit of despair, the mud and mire of life. Set my feet on solid ground and steady me as I walk.

Give me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise – and may all who see what you have done be amazed and put their trust in you. (Psalm 40:1-3, NLT)

Amen.

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The “Unbroken Enjoyment” of Waiting

In his classic work, Waiting on God, Andrew Murray says that waiting “gives a higher value and a new power to our prayer and worship” because it links us to God and gives us the “unbroken enjoyment” of his goodness.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would ever put “waiting” in the same sentence as “unbroken enjoyment.” Not even on the same page. But thanks to one of those cosmic collisions that happens between life and learning, I am starting to believe that Murray might be on to something.

The “life” part of the collision is an unsettling mix of unmet longings and disappointing circumstances, the things I see and experience in the lives of those I hold dear. The dating relationship that was “supposed” to lead to marriage but didn’t. The promotion at work that never materialized. The deal that has not yet closed. The “deferred” notice on the med school application. The gap between homesick and happy for college students. The desire to have a baby (and the heartache that grows with each negative pregnancy test).

Those are the unexpected outcomes – and the unanswered prayers – that can make a person wonder about verses like Isaiah 49:23, which is where God says, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” 

The “learning” part is the light that is piercing the darkness. Thanks to resources like Murray’s book, as well as a Bible study I am doing right now on the Psalms (click here to see the teachings offered through Galilee Church), I’m cobbling together an understanding of verses like Proverbs 13:12 (“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”), and I want to invite you to join me.

Over the next three weeks, I am going to write about what happens when hope is deferred:

What are we supposed to do when our prayers are not answered in the way that we expect – or when they seem to be not answered at all?

How can we handle the grief, or the anger, that can slip in through the door of disillusionment and wrap itself around our hearts?

Is the “unbroken enjoyment of God’s goodness” really an option for believers today? And if so, how do we get there?

Waiting is hard. Murray says that the word patience is actually derived from the Latin word for suffering. That, unfortunately, makes sense. And it might explain why the Bible offers this little pump-up nugget:  “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14 ESV).

“Be strong and take courage” are words you might expect to hear at the outset of some adventure, some challenging or difficult enterprise that will tap (and maybe even exhaust) your deepest reserves. And if you don’t want to slog through that mire with me, I get it. Just check back in December, when I promise to post something more fun (an update, perhaps, to the Posture Brace or maybe even the Christmas Sweater).

But if you want to come along for the ride, I’ll leave you with the promise of good things to come:  A rescue, a firm footing, and a new song:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:1-3)

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And PS, for those who might want their own copy of Waiting on God:  You can download the 1896 version for FREE by clicking here, or order the updated version ($5.99, and with language that is easier to follow but still needs maybe a 600 on the SAT Verbal) here.

 

 

 

 

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Early Voting; Early Praying

fullsizerenderEarly voting has begun. I’m doing laundry to be sure my Election Day Outfit is clean, and I’m also tapping into the Book of Common Prayer, which offers a pretty fab petition we can use in the days ahead.

Here it is, if you want to turn it into your own Friday Prayer:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our power and privileges:

Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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I can’t be responsible. Seriously?

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You know how it is when you learn a new vocabulary word and then you suddenly start start hearing it all the time? It’s that way for me with songs. I don’t listen to a whole lot of music, and so when I hear the same song twice in two days, I notice.

Which is what happened to me this week with the new (I guess it’s new?) single, Ain’t My Fault. I first heard it performed live by a group of adorable, fresh-faced college students at a concert last weekend. And then, yesterday, I heard the recorded version by the actual artist (a Swedish gal named Zara Larsson) during my workout class.

Here are the lyrics (in case you are like me and you are a “Billboard Hot 100” ignoramus):

It ain’t my fault you keep turning me on
It ain’t my fault you got, got me so gone
It ain’t my fault I’m not leaving alone
It ain’t my fault you keep turning me on…

No I can’t be responsible
If I get you in trouble now
See you’re too irresistible
Yeah that’s for sure

There’s more, but you get the idea. And when I heard the song for the second time (and yes, I was trying to figure out the lyrics while everyone else was perfecting their squats), I thought to myself, “What the heck?”

What the heck is wrong with us? We can’t be responsible?

Can you imagine what a prosecutor would do with that line of defense in, say, a sexual assault case? Or even a theft? “That diamond necklace was just too irresistible…”

Even more than that, though, I feel like this song (which is of course very upbeat and catchy and actually a little bit irresistible) typifies so much of what is upside down in our culture. A friend of mine, who is mom to three young adult men, tells her sons that a woman should be able to walk, stark naked, through a fraternity or a bar, and be safe. She wants her boys to have enough self-control to respect every woman, no matter how she acts or looks.

As a mom to three young adult daughters, I take a similar-but-opposite tack:  “Don’t you dare walk through a fraternity or a bar lookin’ like that.” I want my girls to demonstrate the exact same measure of self-control and not disrespect the young men in their world by trying to attract their attention in an inappropriate way.

In both cases, for our sons and our daughters (and for that matter, for us), it comes down a willingness to be responsible. To exercise self-control. Because words like “It ain’t my fault you keep turning me on” are baloney. We all have eyes; we can look away. We all have feet; we can walk out.

Back when I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I devoted an entire chapter to stories and prayers about self-control, diligence, and self-discipline in our kids. Back then, the need for self-control centered around things like swiping erasers from the first-grade supply closet, or even falling out of your chair at the dinner table (something our kids managed to do with astonishing regularity). Now (and I am not telling you anything you don’t already know) the need – in my kids’ lives, and in mine – is much more serious. Like, I wish my biggest self-control issue was needing to stay in my chair.

If you, your child, or someone you love struggles with personal responsibility (or if you’ve maybe heard “It’s not my fault” one too many times), here are three of my favorite prayer verses from that long-ago chapter. They worked for the stolen erasers and, thanks be to God, they are just as powerful for our lives today:

May _____ make every effort to add to faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)

Do not give ______ a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

May your grace, which offers salvation, also teach _____ to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live a self-controlled, upright, and godly life. (Titus 2:11-12)

Amen.

 

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The Power of Love

When Hurricane Matthew visited Virginia Beach two weeks ago, he left us without power for five days. That in itself wasn’t so bad (I am a big fan of candlelight), but he also knocked out our phone, cable, and Internet access (hence the lack of blogposts) until yesterday. Truth be told, I didn’t really miss those things, either (especially not when you consider what the people in Haiti have been through, or even our water-logged friends just over the border in North Carolina).

What was a bit tricky – and this was a first, in my hurricane history – was the fact that a forest of downed trees and power lines meant that Robbie and I (along with a handful of neighbors) we were basically trapped in our darkened houses for the better part of a week. This pic doesn’t show the full carnage, but you can see why getting a car out would have been kind of iffy:

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When people realized our plight (and it was hard not to:  Firemen, police, the local news, and even the National Guard showed up on our corner to check things out), we began getting all sorts of offers. Did we need coffee? The loan of a car, if we could reach it? Would it help if people just threw food and flashlights over the power lines?

We said we were fine (and we pretty much were), but then Robbie went down to check on the basement. Most Virginia Beach houses don’t have ’em, but our place was built during Prohibition and it came with both a basement and what was left of a still. Because I guess, back then, there were fewer hurricanes and more thirsty people.

Anyhow.

The water was rising. We had a pump, but no way to power it. The very cute generator we had purchased after the last big storm had benched itself, after just a few hours of playing time. Should we, I wondered, try bailing? It sounds so romantic and adventurous in books. Robbie was less than enthused, and eyeing the flight of steps and our bucket, I had to agree: As a basement app, bailing is sort of meh.

We were stumped. But then Along Came Gary.

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Gary Cole is the sort of man you want in your daughter’s father-in-law. We got him as part of the package when Annesley married Geoff, and the minute he heard about our situation, Gary picked his way through the trees (keeping an eye on the still-popping power lines) with a black box that he called an “inverter.” Being an English major and all, I immediately deduced that an inverter is something that changes a direct current into an alternating current so that you can use the engine in your Toyota to get the water out of your basement. Obviously.

Here’s what the thing looks like, up close:

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Gary’s contraption made short work of our water problem. Most guys would have popped a Bud and given themselves a high five at that point, but not Gary. For one thing, he’s a milk-and-cookies guy. And for another, he’s thorough. He stood back and looked at our whole house, in all of it’s food-spoiling glory. No generator? No problem. Gary said he knew a guy. And the next thing I knew, Gary and The Guy had hauled The Guy’s generator through the trees and into our driveway.

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All I could think, as I looked out the window, was how these men (and all of our other friends and neighbors who banded together to help one another) were living out verses like Philippians 2:4 (“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”), Galatians 6:10 (“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us to good to all people”), and Matthew 22:39 (“Love your neighbor as yourself”).

I wouldn’t wish a hurricane on anybody. They can be nasty things. But having been through a boatload of them (smallish ones, anyway), I must say that those storm clouds can have a silver lining. In bringing our normal, busy, self-centered lives to a halt, they make us stop and notice each other. And in a world that feels increasingly adversarial and selfish, it was really nice to see these verses about looking out for one another come to life – and to realize afresh what love does.

And, since I didn’t get to post a Friday Prayer last week, I’ll tap into the (a-hem) power of one of the letters that the Apostle John wrote, toward the end of his life. Let’s make these simple words both a prayer and a resolution for our lives:

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7)

Amen.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Walking in the Light

blessed-are-those-who-have-learnedWhat’s the secret to a happy life?

Psalm 89:15 offers a good answer:  “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.” That’s the  NIV; other translations (like the Amplified Version) tap into the original Hebrew and call these folks “blessed and happy.”

Whichever word you choose – blessed or happy – this verse is a beautiful way to pray for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

May ______ be blessed because he/she has learned to acclaim you; let _____ walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. (Psalm 89:15)

Amen.

(And P.S., that’s a picture of Robbie, walking in the light in Iceland, where he says it never really got dark. I wanna go there.)

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Raise Your Ebenezer!

Back when I started blogging three years ago, the website brainiacs told me I needed to lump my posts into “categories.” So I did. And I feel pretty good about “From the Bookshelf” (where I recommend some of my favorite reads) and “Prayer Helps” (which features scripture prayers and other tools), but the “Try This” category is sort of hit-or-miss. Long-time readers will remember the Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas failure, and I still get occasional emails from people who tell me that it didn’t go so well when they put Grandma under the sheet.

Today, though, I think I have a “Try This” winner. Not only has this one stood the test of time by serving as an anchor to the past, but it provides a launching pad for things like hope and security as we look toward the future.

Make yourself an Ebenezer stone. Like the one in the second stanza of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (the one that made some contemporary worship leaders change the lyrics, since nobody knew what they were talking about).

Now, I realize that when we hear “Ebenezer,” most of us think of Scrooge. But he wasn’t the first Ebenezer. Nearly 3,000 years before Charles Dickens tried to get Londoners to provide for the poor with A Christmas Carol, the prophet Samuel tried to get the Israelites to acknowledge God as their provider by setting up an Ebenezer stone. If you are fuzzy on the details, here’s the story (and you can read more in 1 Samuel 7):

The pesky Philistines had come to attack the Israelites (again), and the Israelites were scared. They didn’t have a king yet, so they turned to Samuel. “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines,” they begged. Samuel agreed. But that didn’t stop the Philistines from advancing; they “drew near” while Samuel was praying! But then something wild happened: The Bible says God “thundered with loud thunder.” As a result, the Philistines panicked, the Israelites gave chase, and the end result was what has to be one of the most epic (an unexpected) upsets in history. To commemorate the victory, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer (which literally means “stone of help”), saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

Today, if you google “Ebenezer Stone,” you might get a picture like this:

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I like it, but I can’t see Samuel setting that thing up. I’m thinking his rock might have looked a little more like this:

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Who knows? But how the stone looked isn’t the point of the story. The point is that the stone served as a marker, a place the Israelites could return to in the years to come, a reminder of how God had fought for them and protected them in their darkest hour.

We can do the same thing. When God does something for us, we can take a rock (it doesn’t have to be big) and make our own Ebenezer. I did that earlier this year, when Robbie transferred to U.Va. I thought he knew all about the school (we’d taken him there since before he could walk), but I was wrong. Robbie knew all about the football stadium. The library? Not so much. He had to find that, and then he had to go looking for all of his classes, his advisor, and a host of other unfamiliar people and places in what turned out to be a big and sometimes daunting world.

Robbie is a surfer, and I guess those first few weeks were a little bit like paddling out through the breakers, trying to get to the smoother part of the ocean, where things settle down and you can wait to catch your wave. And when he did – when Robbie finally texted us with some good news and we felt like he was maybe hitting his stride – the words “thus far the Lord has helped us” just popped into my mind. So I found a stone (a smooth one from the beach, which seemed appropriate for my boy) and marked it:

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On the flip side, I put the date:

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In years to come, Robbie might never remember what was happening in his life in September of 2016, but he will know that the Lord was right there with him, helping him paddle through the waves.

I love the story of the Ebenezer stone. I’ve made them before, and I am sure I will make them again. I have a spotty memory and my heart is prone to wander, so I need those tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness – both so I can thank him and so I can look forward with hope and confidence, no matter what the future holds. The God of “thus far” is the God who “ever shall be,” and to me, that is exciting.

And you know what’s even more exciting? We might not have a Samuel in our corner, but we have Someone even better. The Bible says that Jesus is praying for us, right now. Romans 8:34-35 says that he always talks to God about us – and that nothing can separate us from his love! So even when we aren’t sure what to pray (like, when we don’t know which direction our Philistines are coming from, or what we should do when they attack), we can count on the fact that God already has us covered.

And that right there is enough to make me head back to the beach to find some more stones.

 

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Friday Prayer to Enter His Gates

psalm-100-4Yesterday, I wrote about the power of praise in our lives. We shouldn’t be surprised to see how things change for the better when we praise the Lord; after all, the Bible says that God inhabits, or is enthroned on, the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). It also says that praise and thanksgiving are the ways that we enter into his presence.

Let’s draw near to God today as we make Psalm 100 our Friday Prayer. You can pray these verses for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ enter your gates with thanksgiving and your courts with praise. Let _____ know that you are good, that your love endures forever, and that you are faithful through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)

Amen.

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Do You Know What Time It Is?

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Back in the 1970s, when I was a middle-schooler, my family spent two weeks every summer at Christian camp that catered to families and singles of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. The camp met at a mansion in the Hamptons, but if the place had a celebrity status back then (or if, say, Martha Stewart was whipping up a raspberry trifle on the other side of the boxwood hedge), I never knew it. All I knew was that, every year, I couldn’t wait for summer to roll around so that we could all pile into Mom’s bright red station wagon (they got it used, from the fire station) and go to Camp Farthest Out.

(Which was the name of the camp. It was the ’70s, and I guess maybe “Camp Far Out” just didn’t seem far enough.)

I remember one little old lady who came every year, from someplace in New Jersey. If you asked her what time it was, she never looked at her watch. Instead, her face would light up and she would say, “It’s time to praise the Lord!”

At the time, I thought she was a little bit crazy. I mean, I usually did want to know what time it was, so that I wouldn’t be late for lunch, or Arts and Crafts, or for programs like Devotion in Motion, which was a worship-service-turned-exercise-class held on the mansion’s vast green lawn. Sometimes, though, I didn’t really care what time it was. Sometimes I just wanted to hear her say it:

It’s time to praise the Lord!

The phrase seemed funny then, coming at random intervals and when there didn’t seem to be any reason for praise. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve begun to realize that that old gal was onto something. It’s always a good time to praise God, and when you do, you reap all sorts of benefits.

For starters, praise opens the door to hope. When we stop and think about who God is (wise, powerful, loving, etc.) instead of what our circumstances are, problems that once loomed impossibly large begin to shrink in size. When we look at our lives through the lens of God’s love, everything shifts.

Fern Nichols, founder of the Moms in Prayer organization and author of a book called Every Child Needs a Praying Momputs it this way:  Praise, she says, “changes our attitude; brings an awareness of God’s presence; defeats Satan; releases God’s power; brings victorious perspective; provides peace; wards off the spirits of self-pity, depression, and discouragement; and produces strength in an anxious heart.”

I get that. I get it right now, in fact. Because right now I am anxious about a silly little thing that might or might not happen – I won’t even tell you what it is, it’s that little – and the ONLY thing that is helping is praise. When I focus on the “what if,” my knees get a bit wobbly. But when I focus on, say, God’s sovereignty (the fact that he is in control and that no purpose of his can be thwarted), I can stand up straight. Sure, I may still shake a little, but it’s not something that’s gonna knock me down, not when I am looking at a Sovereign God who loves me, and who has promised to work in all things for my good.

If the idea of praising God seems a little too out there (or even a little too “far out” there), all I can say is, “I get that, too.” I may have grown up doing devotional gymnastics in somebody’s front yard in the Hamptons, but now I am an Episcopalian, and if you were to ask one of us what time it was, odds are we’d say something like, “Four-fifteen.”

But here’s the thing. Praise doesn’t have to be loud, or showy. And you certainly don’t need to do it in your yard. All you have to do is tell God how great he is. And consider matching your need to his character, like I’m doing right now in the face of my worry: I am telling God how much I love the fact that he’s got everything under control. If you need guidance, focus on how wise God is. If you’re sick, praise him for being the God who heals. If you’re sad or discouraged, look to him as the giver of comfort and strength. And if you know you’ve blown it, remember his grace and compassion.

If you need a cheat sheet, or if you just want some verses to read to bolster your confidence about who God is and what he can do, click here to get a free printable that lists some of God’s attributes and where you can find them described in the Bible. That way, the next time you feel lonely or abandoned you can just say, “Hey God, I praise you because you are faithful, and I really need somebody I can depend on right now.”

It’s that easy. And that little old lady was right:  It’s always time to praise the Lord.

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Friday Prayer for Debate Prep

gty_donald_trump_hillary_clinton_sk_150619_16x9_992The first presidential debate is just a few days away and the candidates have a dicey job to do, particularly when you consider the advice couched in this debate-prep nugget:  Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)

Knowing that Hillz and The Donald are going to have to open their mouths at some point, I went looking for a verse we could borrow for this week’s Friday prayer. The Bible has about a jillion things to say about the power of words, but given where we are as a nation, I think Proverbs 12:18 is the one I want. Feel free to join me in praying it for “your” candidate…or for both candidates…or even for yourself:

Heavenly Father,

Keep ______from speaking reckless words, which pierce like swords. Instead, may _____have the tongue of the wise, and so bring healing. (Proverbs 12:18) 

Amen

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Should You Pray about Fantasy Football?

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Virginia and her friend Chris came home over Labor Day weekend, which I guess must be the kickoff to Fantasy Football season, because at one point Chris excused himself to go “draft” his team. I have no idea how the Fantasy draft works, but I wanted to be supportive, so I told Chris I’d pray for his picks.

If Chris thought that was strange, he didn’t say so. But when another mom (whose son was drafting his team at the same time) heard what I’d done, she lodged a protest. “Does that mean that all of the other guys are gonna get jammed, cuz you prayed for Chris to get the best players?”

I started to say that the other guys were welcome to pray about their draft picks too (or to get their friend’s mothers to pray), but my pal wasn’t finished.

Didn’t I, she wanted to know, think it was a little self-absorbed or shallow to be praying about something like football (and not even real football) when there were people with cancer out there? Wouldn’t my time be better spent praying for them? And was it even right, spiritually, to pray for a sports victory?

I’ve heard those questions (and plenty more, just like them) before.  I remember speaking to a group of young moms and, afterwards, one of them came up and told me what she’d thought of my talk:

“I don’t think it’s right to pray for my kid’s spelling test when there are people who need jobs, or when ISIS is on the loose. I don’t want to be clogging up the lines if somebody with something really important is trying to get through. And if I start praying about stuff like spelling tests, won’t God just think I am bugging him?”

I understand where questions like these come from. It can be easy to think that God is wired like we are, and that he can only handle a certain amount of stuff on his plate at any given time, so he needs to prioritize. But that’s not true, of course. And when we pray, we never bug God. He actually likes to hear from us. When we come to him with our concerns, we demonstrate both obedience (since he tells us to pray) and honor (since what we are essentially doing is acknowledging his lordship over our lives).

As to whether or not it’s okay to pray for life’s little things – fantasy football, spelling tests, and even hair appointments (which one of my friends regularly asks me to pray about, on her behalf) – I don’t know. I think if something matters to us, it matters to God, and if he knows how many hairs are on our heads, you gotta believe he knows whether we’re eyeing Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown at wide receiver. And, just like we don’t mind it when our kids ask us for a puppy, I think God doesn’t mind if we ask him for a win – as long as we leave room for the fact that he might have an even better plan in mind, and that maybe not getting a puppy right now is actually the best way to accomplish his purposes for the people and the teams that we love. (For more on this “pray-and-trust” approach, click here.)

And maybe I take things too literally, but when the Bible says that we can (and even should) pray about anything, at any time, I feel like it’s okay to jump in. Consider just a few invitations:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sings songs of praise. (James 5:13)

There are all sorts of theological reasons for prayer, but at the end of the day, I think the reason why God wants us to pray comes down to this:  God wants us to pray because he loves us. He wants that sense of connection, that fellowship, that relationship that happens when we communicate with him. And as a mom, I get that. I love it when my kids text or call. It’s almost pathetic, actually, how quickly I scramble for the phone. And it doesn’t matter how boring or insignificant the topic is (a recent call involved a discussion on the merits of commando hooks as necklace holders); I love to hear my kids’ voices.

Speaking of…  God doesn’t give a rip how we sound (he’s already heard it all, anyway), so don’t worry if your thoughts come out in a jumble, or you don’t think that you sound “holy” enough to approach him, or that you somehow have to suggest your idea or present your case in a way that will capture his interest. Just jump in and do it…whether it’s for your next draft pick, or for something really important. He is big enough to care about it all.

“Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer to Rise and Shine

isaiah-60-1Prayer prompts show up in all sorts of places. Like yesterday, I found one on my Vitamin Water:  Rise and Shine.

Not sure if the water people knew they were putting a Bible verse on their bottle, but either way, it makes a good Friday prayer for yourself or for someone you love. Or maybe just for anybody who doesn’t love getting out of bed in the morning. Here you go:

Heavenly Father,

May ______ arise and shine, knowing that Your light has come and that Your glory is rising upon him today! (Isaiah 60:1)

Amen.

 

 

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The Potter and the Clay

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “Really, there’s nothing else we can do. We’re just going to have to trust God.” I’ve said the same thing, myself.

We say that like it’s a last resort, like trusting God is some sort of consolation prize for folks who aren’t strong enough, or clever enough, or well-connected enough to get the job done. Honestly, though, trusting God isn’t just part of our job. It is our job. It marks the beginning, the middle, and the end of every good endeavor.

Sure, we all have stuff to do – works that God has “prepared in advance” – but, at the end of the day, he’s the one who is responsible for outcomes and accomplishments. It doesn’t matter whether the task at hand is monumental or minuscule, if something lines up with God’s good plan, he will get it done. We may pat ourselves on the back, but the credit ultimately belongs to him because, after all, he is the one who works in us to “will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Or, as Isaiah puts it, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

For many of us, though, putting our lives into God’s hands and trusting him with the results can present a bit of a problem. Who knows what the Potter might have in mind? What if we wanted to be a statuesque vase and, in God’s skillful hands, we start to resemble a cereal bowl? I have a whole collection of questionably shaped artifacts from the happy hours my kids spent in art class; what if my life turns out looking like that upside-down turtle shell?

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“A great many Christians seem practically to think that all their Father in heaven wants is a chance to make them miserable and take away all their blessings,” writes one of my favorite vintage authors, Hannah Whitall Smith. It’s true. All too often we think of God as Someone who has a long list of holy-sounding things that we are supposed to do, and an even longer list of fun-sounding things that we aren’t. If we decide to trust him (that is, if we wholeheartedly surrender ourselves – our dreams and our goals, our reputations and our relationships, our work and our play) and say not, “My will be done” but “Thy will be done,” we worry that we’re gonna miss out on the good stuff.

But here’s what Hannah has to say about that:

“Some of us know what it is to love, and we know that could we only have our way, our beloved ones would be overwhelmed with blessings. All that is good and sweet and lovely in life would be poured out upon them from our lavish hands, had we but the power to carry out our will for them. And if this is the way of love with us, how much more it must be so with God, who is love itself! Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure; and we would abandon ourselves to it with and enthusiasm of gratitude and joy, that such a wondrous privilege could be ours.”

Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure.

Isn’t that an awesome sentence? It’s from Hannah’s book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which I recommended in a blog earlier this summer. Her theology reminds me of what Tim Keller wrote in his book, PrayerHe says, “We have the assurance that God, our heavenly Father, always wants the best for his children.” What’s more, Keller writes, you can trust that the Holy Spirit will help shape your prayers (Romans 8:26) and you can “come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

I think that’s pretty cool.

And I’ve been asking God for a lot this summer, as loved ones wrestle with health issues, career moves, relationship challenges, and a whole host of unmet longings. Thanks to Hannah (and also to Keller), I am praying specifically about what I would like to see happen – and then letting God answer according to his best plan. “Thy will be done” is not the prayer warrior’s way of throwing in the towel; rather, it is an acknowledgment that we are incredibly, lavishly loved by a Father who always does immeasurably more than anything we could imagine. It is a recognition that, even though we might not understand God’s ways, we can trust his heart. And it is a signal that we are doing our job – and that we are depending on God to do his.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

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And P.S. if you are wondering why I call Hannah “Hannah” and Keller “Keller,” it’s because I feel like I know Hannah. You know how that is, with some celebrities or authors you admire? You feel like, if you could only have lunch or go on a run with her, you would be good friends. That’s how I feel about Hannah Whitall Smith. Anybody who has four of their seven children die before reaching adulthood, marries a Christian guy who repeatedly cheats on her, gets arthritis so bad that she winds up in a wheelchair, and then publishes a book called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is somebody I want to know.

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Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

 

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God Won’t Forget You

hebrews-6-10A friend recently shared this verse with me. I want to pass it on to you today, along with a prayer that you will know how much God loves you, and that he will never forget the beautiful things that you do:

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10)

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Find Your Confidence and Keep It

Okay, so maybe posting that “Rough Road Ahead” photo the day before U.Va.’s home opener wasn’t the best idea. Or offering that prayer for perseverance. I kinda feel like I jinxed us.

Honestly, though, I think we can all be a little encouraged by U.Va.’s loss. Because getting all pumped up – and then having things go utterly sideways – could happen to anyone. And when I saw the headline in the paper this week (the one that said U.Va. needed to “find some confidence”), all I could think was, “Yeah, me too.”

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I can’t tell you how many times I come up with a plan (one that I think God has inspired or endorsed) and then, almost before I get started, I find myself getting clobbered. Unexpected obstacles, frustrating delays, and stunning defeats don’t just happen in football. And it can be easy, when you find yourself on the wrong end of a whomping, to wonder if what you’re doing is worth it.

I think it was Vince Lombardi who said that failure isn’t getting knocked down; it’s when you don’t get back up again. That’s a good one. But I like what the writer of Hebrews (who, incidentally, would have made a great football coach) said even more. He knew that those early believers had faced insults, persecution, and suffering. He figured they’d keep taking the hits. But he told them to stand their ground, and he offered this game plan:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

And so here’s thing thing:  If you feel like God has given you a job to do, or if maybe your mission isn’t as easy as you hoped it would be (and I’m looking at you, U.Va.), don’t be discouraged. Instead, anchor your trust in God, get back in the fight, and stand your ground.

And, whatever you do, do not throw away your confidence. It will be richly rewarded.

We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39)

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Friday Prayer for Perseverance

James 1-2-4Several of the folks on my prayer radar are walking a rough road right now. Some are facing obstacles that make it tough to see a way forward. Others are grappling with rejection and disappointment in jobs and relationships. And still others have come face to face with failure, whether it’s a short-term setback or the total death of a vision.

I’ve been praying for these loved ones, asking God to help them find joy. I know what the Bible says:  It says that the trials we go through produce perseverance, and that ultimately leads to good things. And this week I read an article that offers scientific evidence to confirm this truth.

U.Va.’s Jennifer Chiu wrote the piece, which you can read here. She maintains that reaching your goals “often involves persevering through failure, learning from mistakes, and the motivation to keep trying to find solutions or address problems.” Success, she says, isn’t always about getting it right. Sometimes, it’s about “daring to make mistakes and learning from failure.”

If you, your child, or anybody else on your “love list” is struggling with a setback, why not ask God to put that trial to good use so that it will produce long-term benefits?

That’s the motivation behind this week’s Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ to consider it pure joy when he faces trials of many kinds, since the testing of his faith develops perseverance, and perseverance is what works in us to make us mature and complete, not lacking anything. Make _____ mature and complete, Lord. (James 1:2-4)

Amen.

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Wahoowa and Welcome Bronco!

The Olympics are over. I am always a little sad to see them go, but never more than this year, when what’s left in their wake is…November. As in, the election.

I’d consider tossing the TV, except for one thing.

Football.

More specifically, U.Va. Football. The first game is Saturday.

Now, I realize that not everyone gets as up for the season as our family does, and that U.Va.’s record (34-61 in the past eight years) is not exactly something to start The Wave over, but hope springs eternal. Especially when you have a new coach.

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For those who don’t follow sports, Bronco Mendenhall came to The University from BYU where, over the past 11 seasons, he led a team that became one of only a handful of programs in the entire country to make it to a bowl game every year. Every year! For comparison purposes (and to bring the non-sports people up to speed), during that same time period U.Va. went to…less.

Maybe all those bowl games happened because the BYU players made their beds. I don’t know, but I heard Bronco speak earlier this summer and he said that, statistically speaking, just making your bed means that you will be 30% more effective during the day. He also talked about how he, his wife, and their three teenaged boys are “literally and figuratively closer than ever” after spending six months in an RV instead of bunking in a hotel while their new digs in Charlottesville were being renovated.

(Six months. In a camper. With a mom, a dad, and three strapping young men, all of whom lived out of a backpack and a small carry-on. Mrs. Bronco – who, I gather, came up with the plan – is my new hero.)

Anyhow, the conversation eventually turned to football, to things like “fiery execution” and “position mastery,” as well as the “swift and certain” consequences that Bronco said would follow both good and bad decisions. With every sentence that came out of the coach’s mouth, I found myself mentally putting another touchdown on the board. And, being the mother-in-law to two Virginia Tech grads, I could hardly wait for the Q&A. Was this the year, I wondered, that my beloved Wahoos would finally take down the Hokies?

You can hear my question – and see Bronco’s answer – by clicking here.

Or I can just tell you what the coach said. Painful as it was to hear, he noted that U.Va. hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech in football in twelve years, and that (given those stats) the in-state match-up could hardly be considered a “rivalry.” Not only that but, until we upped our game, Bronco wasn’t even sure we oughta be calling ourselves “the” University of Virginia.

Ouch. Talk about speaking the truth in love.

But things are about to change! In addition to the bed-making thing, the new coach has all sorts of strategies for getting his guys to perform, both on and off the field. If a player misses a class, for example, the “exchange rate” for that choice is 350 burpees (those awful push ups where, between each one, you have to jump – and in Bronco’s world, the jump is onto a 36-inch-high box – and reach for the sky). After each practice, the athletes are expected to take their own pulse, just to be sure they are still alive. Noting that all players will need to prove that they have what it takes to wear the U.Va. jersey (the mantra is “earned, not given”), Bronco’s plan is to ensure that opponents will be “mentally exhausted from the physical pressure.” Which is not, actually, unlike motherhood.

So I think it will work.

And, come Saturday, I will be right there in Scott Stadium, cheering for Bronco and his guys. And being so glad, I just have to say, that he is our coach, instead of our savior.

Can you imagine? What if we had to earn the right to wear the name of Christ? What if the Christian life meant having to check, at the end of each day, to see if we were still breathing? What if, every time we did something wrong, we had to do 350 burpees? Even without the box-jump, I’d throw in the towel and just head straight to hell.

My hat is off to the U.Va. players. I can’t even begin to think what this blazing hot summer was like, as they won the right to show up on that field. I am grateful for their effort, and I think that “earned, not given” is a great way to play football.

And that “given, not earned” is a great way to play life.

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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A Firm Foundation

Luke 6-47-48One of the things that first drew me to our home was it’s “old house” feel. It came with leaded-glass windows, crystal chandeliers, and hardwood floors that buckled and swayed.

I thought it was charming; the builder we hired to do renovations, not so much. He said the house had not been built on any foundation. It had a basement, so I didn’t understand what he meant – until I descended the steps and found myself in what was basically a very big hole, with all sorts of wedges and carpentry shims stuck into the walls and the dirt at various angles, propping the place up.

To the builder, this was not an insurmountable problem. He hired a foundation contractor to come in and re-do the thing, and before we knew it, the floors had leveled out. I was kind of sad, because I liked the wavy feel, but Robbie was happy and, since he had let us buy the house without him ever seeing it (#BestHusband), I didn’t complain.

We were able to use some of the original bricks in the re-do, and when all was said and done, we had a few left over. Most homeowners would have disposed of the pile, but not me. I like old bricks, and you never know when you might need ’em for some sort of project. Plus, they remind me of the value of having a firm foundation in life, which is the request in today’s Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ hear your words and put them into practice so that the “house” of his life will have a firm foundation that cannot be shaken by floods, torrents, or any other storms of life. (Luke 6:47-48)

Amen.

 

 

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Host a Back-to-School Party with this Free Download!

Back when our kids were in elementary school, we’d get together with another family the night before school started. The chief purpose was to pray for the year ahead, but we’d throw in the promise of an ice cream sundae party (with all the toppings) as a way to lure the kids, and the evening became a much-loved tradition.

As the children grew, the friend group expanded. One year we had eight families show up. To keep the trains on time (the teenagers wanted to pray the prayers, eat the ice cream, and get home to finish their summer reading) and be sure we covered the basics, each family got a topic. One prayed for the teachers, one for the school’s athletic teams, one for the kids’ academics…you get the idea. Everything went pretty smoothy – except for that one year when the school bus crashed into a split-rail fence on Day One. Nobody got hurt, but the dad who had prayed for “Carpools and Bus Safety” lost some of his cred.

Our kids are mostly grown and, with only Robbie celebrating the “first day,” we aren’t eating much ice cream. I miss those days. This year, though, I’ve heard from three moms who have put their own twist on tradition. One’s dishing up pizza-and-prayer with the neighbors, another is having women over for a back-to-school prayer coffee, and a third told me she’d purchased copies of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for a group of her pals and invited them to come for “Wine, Cheese, and Prayer.”

That’s my kind of Girls’ Night Out.

If you’re sending kids back to school this month, why not host your own prayer party? You’ll find more than 200 prayer prompts in the books, but if you’re short on time (or cash) and you want a free-and-easy tool to get you started, why not try these?

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These prayer cards are a sneak peek at some of the “wisdom” verses from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children (which comes out next year). I use them for my grown-up kids, but they work well for all ages. Click here to download the collection. (You’ll have to cut them out for yourself; it helps to use card stock, but any old paper will do). You can use these prayers during your back-to-school prayer time and then send them home with your guests as party favors!

Happy praying…and as you send your crew out the door this year, may the Lord watch over their coming and going, both now and forevermore! (Psalm 121:8)

 

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Friday Prayer for Your College Student

Proverbs 2-2-4I love old books and libraries. Like old friends and old wine, they just get better with age. I know the trend is toward digital readers and LEED certified spaces that come with recycled desks and energy efficient lighting, but give me a cramped linoleum workspace hidden behind rows of stacks, and call me happy.

The pic in today’s post is from Alderman Library at the University of Virginia. To me, it’s the perfect backdrop for today’s Friday prayer, which comes from the Bible’s best known “wisdom” book. It’s one I am praying for Robbie as he heads back to college this weekend; join me in praying it for your own kids, whether they are four years old or 40!

Heavenly Father,

Turn _______’s ear toward wisdom and his heart toward understanding. Give him a teachable spirit, one that looks for insight and understanding the way he would hunt for a hidden treasure. (Proverbs 2:2-4)

Amen.

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My Dog Rocks

I’m not the world’s biggest dog person, but I do like them, particularly when they are as easy-going and cheerful as Khaki and Max.

You’ve met these two before. They cheer for the Hoos:

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They are good with kids:

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And they still say “Merry Christmas” to everybody:

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They are nice dogs. Plus, they are incredibly low maintenance. One time, for example, we went away for the weekend and left Max and Khaki in the care of a neighbor. When we got back on Sunday and I went over to pay the kid, he panicked.

“Mrs. Berndt! I can’t take your money!”

“Sure you can,” I said. “The Bible says a worker deserves his wages.” (I didn’t really say that, but it’s in there – Luke 10:7 – and it would have been impressive if I’d remembered it then.)

“But,” the boy protested. “I really can’t. I never went to your house! I forgot!”

Well now, that was interesting. We’d gotten home and found the dogs happy as ever. They were hungry, sure, but that was nothing new. And they hadn’t made any kind of mess in the house. They seemed good. Chalk one up in the plus column.

I tell you this back story so that you will understand when I say our dogs really don’t require much in the way of attention. And so that you will forgive me when I tell you that, when Max refused to eat his kibble last week, I was not all that concerned.

The next day, though, he started hunching when he walked.

“Maybe it’s his dreadlocks,” I suggested. Being a golden retriever in a house where grooming is not all that de rigeur, Max has been known to grow a few long ones, and I thought maybe they’d somehow gotten mixed up together and hog-tied him.

Robbie concurred, and gave Max a dread-cut. But that didn’t help.

“Maybe it’s one of his tumors,” I suggested. (He has a few of them on his belly, one that looks and feels like he maybe swallowed a jellyfish.)

“No,” Robbie said. “The vet says those things are harmless. But he’s clearly hurting. You need to take him in.”

Ugh. The last time I took Khaki to the vet, she refused to get on the scale (a reluctance with which I sympathize) and, in the ensuing struggle, I wound up on the floor, treating (subjecting?) all the other waiting pet owners to an eye-full of my underwear. And I am not making that up. I didn’t want to go there again. But it had to be done, and so off we went.

Max was content to be prodded and poked, but when the vet tried to roll him over, he whimpered.

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“Hmm,” the vet said. “I think we need to do an X-ray.”

That sounded pricey, but what was I to do? To refuse, while my dog lay there whimpering, would appear more than just inattentive.

They took Max away. Ten minutes later, the vet came back. “Does Max eat anything unusual?” she asked.

(If you have dogs, you know that’s not a question you want to answer. It feels – particularly after an X-ray – more like an accusation than a legitimate query. I could think of any number of things Max might have ingested, but I stayed silent. Clearly, the vet had some knowledge she wasn’t sharing.)

We stared at each other, and finally she blinked.

“Like rocks?” she suggested. “Does he eat rocks?”

Ahhh. Rocks.

I knew Max was guilty. It’s not something I am particularly proud of (nor have I ever actually witnessed the deed) but, having found evidence in the artifacts, this was something I could not deny. But I didn’t want them to think less of my dog, so I decided to get on Max’s team and own it.

“Yes,” I answered, confident that I was doing right by my dog. “Sometimes he does eat the driveway.”

Maybe that was first for the vet, because she didn’t say anything. Instead, she inclined her head toward the door, the one leading into the back room (the one where they take animals when they have to do things they don’t want pet owners to see). “Follow me.”

I did. And there, on the X-ray machine, I saw this:

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Those little white things? Gravel. And even an English major like me could see that Max’s belly was full of them.

“Can I take a picture of that?” I asked. “I mean, so I can show my husband, so that he will understand about the bill?”

(I didn’t really need to show Robbie. He likes dogs, and I knew he wouldn’t complain about the charge. I wanted the picture so that I could show you. You don’t write a blog for two years and then pass up an opportunity like this one.)

The vet grabbed my phone and snapped the pic (I guess she didn’t want me to get too close to the machine) and then shooed me back out to the waiting room. Not knowing what else to do, I posted the photo onto our family text thread, and explained the situation.

Son-in-law Geoff was among the first to weigh in:

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Who else, indeed? I was definitely not feeling the love.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the vet came back to deliver the verdict. “We have two choices,” she intoned. “We can do surgery, or we can induce vomiting.”

Well then. I knew which one I would pick. Wouldn’t you? I gave the go-ahead. And then, as soon as she was out of the room, I updated the family to let them know the plan, and to ask them to pray for Max’s upcoming humiliation:

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The situation was going from bad to worse. Not unlike this blog.

(And I know what some of you are thinking. You signed up for these posts to get “prayer verses and encouragement” delivered directly to your in-box, and you are now lying in bed, reading your iPhone and wondering if you should switch to Tim Keller.)

But stay with me. Because I figured there had to be some spiritual application in this experience. And there is.

Max came out of there fine and, since we’ve upped his food rations, he’s never been better. But I wondered whether he was the first of God’s creatures to eat rocks. So I typed “gravel” into the search box on BibleGateway. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s precedent.

Proverbs 20:17 says that people who practice deceit will find themselves in Max’s condition:  Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.

And for anybody out there who is considering adultery, Proverbs 5:3-4 offers this warning: The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet, her soft words are oh so smooth. But it won’t be long before she’s gravel in your mouth, a pain in your gut, a wound in your heart.

If you’re a regular on this blog, you know I don’t normally come down hard on people. I want you to know you are loved. But if you are thinking of lying or stealing, or if you think you wanna cheat on your spouse, think again. A mouth full of gravel? A pain in your gut? You can’t make this stuff up. And if that doesn’t make you think twice about straying from the straight-and-narrow, I don’t know what will.

Maybe just take another look at that X-ray.

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Back-to-School Prayer

Daniel 1-4I know there are mothers out there who look forward to the end of summer and getting the kids back into a routine, but I’m not one of them. I love everything about summer:  the long days, the starry nights, the cool popsicles, the relentless heat. (I really love the heat.)

But everyone has to hang up their flip flops at some point. And when we do, here’s a good back-to-school (or, for some of us, back-to-work) prayer:

Heavenly Father,

May _____show aptitude for every kind of learning and be well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve. (Daniel 1:4)

Amen.

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Michael Phelps, Dots, and Jesus

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I’ve seen those dots before.

The kind of bruises that Michael Phelps is sporting in Rio look painful. I first saw the circular marks years ago, when I visited my brother in China. David asked if Robbie and I wanted to get a massage after a long day of hiking on the Great Wall, and we agreed. Until we saw the “spa.”

It was a place on the street (one of many similar establishments, as it turned out) where folks could pop in on their way home from work or wherever to relieve sore muscles and stress. I stared, baffled, as one after another Chinese person lay, face down and without an ounce of self-consciousness, on little cots tucked side-by-side, in full view of the sidewalk. The technicians (masseuses?) would cover their clients’ backs with little glass cups, let them sit for a bit, and then pull them off with a thwock, leaving a collection of pinkish-purple spots, each a little bigger than an Oreo. The Chinese people seemed very happy with the results; to me, they looked possibly awkward and definitely uncomfortable.

When our turn came, Robbie demurred, but on the “when-in-Rome” principle, I plopped down on a cot and asked my gal for “no cups, please.” I guess something got lost in translation, because what followed was second only to maybe childbirth in the “sensations I’d like to forget” category. And I actually did forget, mostly–until I saw Phelps and his majestically dotted shoulders.

And then I remembered the cups, and I thought two things.

The first was that, as I’ve said in this space before, “People vary.” Phelps and a handful of his fellow Olympians credit the treatment with providing healing and relaxation. It’s just “superficial bruising,” they say (which I guess makes it more appealing than the normal kind of bruising). Again, people vary.

The second thing I thought was that people will subject themselves to pain for all sorts of reasons. Phelps & Co. do it to heal themselves; Jesus did it to bring healing to us. The Bible says that he was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4)

Thinking about these two guys today, Michael Phelps and Jesus, I am struck by how each got what he wanted. Phelps has 25 medals (and counting); Jesus has the salvation of our souls. That same Isaiah passage says he suffered and then, when he saw what his pain had accomplished, he was “satisfied.”

So here’s the good news, for all of us:  If you want to be like Mike and try the ancient Chinese secret, you can actually order your own set of cups on Amazon for about twenty bucks. If you want to do like the old song says and “try Jesus,” you can do that for free.

(Having been up close and personal with both–and with all due respect and a boatload of admiration for Phelps–you know which treatment I’d pick.)

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Friday Prayer for a Dwelling Place

So you already know that Virginia moved to New York City this week. The first item on our agenda was to find her a place to live. Here’s how we looked, starting out:

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By the end of the next day, we weren’t smiling quite so much. Apartment-hunting is hard, and I am sure I speak for every mother when I say we want our kids to land in a place that is safe and secure. A place like the one God promises in Isaiah 32:

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
    in secure homes,
    in undisturbed places of rest.”

If your children are on the move (whether they are looking for an apartment, heading off to college, buying a home, or in the midst of some other transition), why not join me in turning this verse into your own prayer? Here it is:

May ______ live in a peaceful dwelling place. Keep _____ secure, and may he/she enjoy undisturbed places of rest. (Isaiah 32:18)

Amen.

Isaiah 32-18

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The Faithful Wounds of Friendship

This is the second post written by Virginia (pictured here with her pal, Cary, on the left). Virginia starts her grown-up job in NYC this week, so this is it for her for now…but I am grateful to my girl for pinch-hitting for me! I hope you like her advice on friendship as much as I do; we all need a few Carys in our lives!

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Last week I was shopping with one of my best friends, Cary. We perused through all of the stores at the mall, making our way from Forever 21 to Nordstrom. When we were in Forever, I picked up a little white top I thought was cute and held it up for Cary’s approval.

“Virginia, ew. No.”

“You’re right,” I said, “It’s kind of young for me anyways.”

“It’s not that it’s too young,” Cary countered. “It’s just ugly.”

I was kind of offended at first (because it wasn’t that bad) but I trusted Cary so I decided to agree. About an hour later, I picked up what I thought was a perfect summer shirt (it was a button down, lightweight, linen shirt, with thin blue and white stripes), and I was reprimanded again. Cary laughed when I held it up.

“What?” I said. “Its perfect! I’m getting it.”

“Virginia!” she said. “It’s 200 dollars. You don’t have a job. You don’t need it.”

While this discussion was a little bit sadder than our previous one, I knew she was right again. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t need it.

In life it is so easy and tempting to seek friends who only tell us what we want to hear. In fact, a lot of the time we intentionally ask an opinion of one of these friends, knowing they will give us the preferred answer. We can easily justify our actions through the opinion of others. A lot of my friends would have said whatever, just get the $200 shirt, who cares if you can’t afford it? And plenty of them would say the ugly white top was cute, just to make me happy and get back to their shopping.

At the end of the day though, it is the Carys of the world that make us better. Nobody knows what to do 100% of the time. We all need counsel and comfort. Whether it is which job to take, which boy to date, or which shirt to buy, surround yourself with friends who love you enough to tell you the truth even when it hurts. Or as my mom would say, find friends who are brutally honest. My prayer here (since I think I’m supposed to add one) is that God would guide us to walk through life with friends who love us, who sharpen us, and who are not afraid to say, “No. It’s ugly.”

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses…As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.(Proverbs 27:6 & 17)

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A Mildew-Free Life

Deuteronomy 28Yeah. That’s my plant. It is (was?) an impatiens, but a garden guru pal said it was a goner, a victim of “mildew and blight.”

Which is, according to Deuteronomy 28, what happens to us when we don’t follow God. Along with a nightmarish catalog of other unfortunate circumstances, disobedience can leave us with “wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew.”

But that’s just the bad news.

The good news is that obedience to God opens the door to all sorts of blessings. We get blessed in the city and in the country, blessed in our families and in our work, blessed when we come in and when we go out. And everyone will know that we belong to God.

I’m afraid I can’t do much for my garden, but I’m going to dig into Deuteronomy for today’s Friday prayer. If you want God’s blessing in your life and in the lives of those you love, feel free to pray this one with me:

May _____ faithfully obey your voice and be careful to do what your command; may your blessings come upon him and overtake him. (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, ESV)

Amen.

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Guest Post: Don’t Look Back

If you’re a regular on this site, you know that my daughter Virginia just graduated from the University of Virginia, where I like to think that she sometimes studied. She starts her “real job” in New York City next month, but in the meantime, knowing that I am writing like a crazy person to meet the publisher’s deadline for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, she offered to write a few blogs on my behalf. This one hit home. Pray for me, cuz I don’t really love the thought of all my kids growing up, and I’m having a hard time not looking back.

Here’s Virginia (and yes, that’s her in the pic):

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NeedToBreathe has a song called “Won’t Turn Back” where they sing about having faith like a soldier and the strength to stay put in hard circumstances. It is a great song to encourage you when you know you face an upcoming battle or mountain, but what about in the day-to-day life?

Having just graduated from the best school in the world, I constantly find myself looking backwards. It is so easy to get lost in a daydream about spending the afternoons at vineyards or waking up with my six best friends in the same house every morning, all of them up for any adventure. But here’s the thing about looking back: When I spend excess time thinking about Charlottesville, I constantly miss what is happening right in front of me. I miss what God is doing now.

There is a story in the Bible where Moses delivers the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But as soon as they are out, they miss it and want to go back. They miss the food, water, and life of the past, even though they were slaves. To appease and bless them, God sends bread called “manna” out of the sky for them to eat. God provides them with endless manna, meat, and clean water. He gives them more than they could ever ask for on their journey to freedom. But instead of being grateful and satisfied, the Israelites keep complaining. Every little bump in the road causes them to look back and, as a result, they miss the blessings that are right in front of them.

Transitions are constant in life. Whether it is an old school, an old job, an old city or just an old life in general, we all have things we miss. And like the ancient Israelites, we can sometimes idealize whatever we left behind and long to return to our old “easy” way of life.

But we do not have time for that. I’d pray that God would help us to not dwell on the past but rather, to look toward the future with hope and excitement, praising him for what he is doing in the present. With eyes in the front of our heads, humans are designed to look forwards, not backwards.

There is the manna of God’s provision everywhere in our lives; we just have to face forward to see it.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

  

 

 

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Friday Prayer for a Family Blessing

Isaiah 61-9

I’ve just finished a chapter for the new book about praying blessings over your children. Here’s a sneak peek with one of my favorites; pray it for your family or others you love today:

May _______ and his/her descendants be known among the nations, and may all who see them acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (Isaiah 61:9)

Amen

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Rescue from the Storm

Who doesn’t love a good summer storm?

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Nature’s beauty, though, doesn’t come close to the power of God. Consider the glimpse we get into his majesty from Psalm 18. Verse 6 sets up the story:  In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

God hears. And here’s how he responds:

The earth trembled and quaked…He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him – the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

That’s just part of the picture; you can read more about God’s thundering voice, his smoking nostrils, and the blazing coals if you read the whole psalm. But when you do, don’t miss verse 16. It’s tucked in there amid all the clanging and banging, and it’s easy to overlook:

He reached down from high and took hold of me.

Wow.

You have to admit, that’s pretty amazing. Here’s God, thundering in the clouds – with fire coming out of his mouth and bolts of lightning going everywhere – advancing with so much power that the mountains shake.

Why? Why would he do that, just because he heard someone cry?

I’m tempted to quote The Princess Bride (again) and say, “True Love.” But in the interest of not offending anybody who can quote verses like Deuteronomy 4:2 (which warns us not to add anything to God’s word, or take anything away from it), I’ll just stick to the Psalm. Because verse 19 gives us the answer:

He rescued me because he delighted in me.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to believe that God could delight in me. But he does. And delights in you, too. And so the next time we see a storm racing in off the horizon (whether it’s a literal storm, or the scarier, metaphorical kind), let’s remember Psalm 18. Let’s remember that we serve a God who is powerful enough – and who loves us enough – to show up.

And, when he hears our cry, to reach down.

 

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A Prayer for Guidance

Isaiah 30-21

There are plenty of times in life when we don’t know which road to take, or even where the road we are on is going. If you feel like you could use a little divine guidance today, try these words from Isaiah as your Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Whether I turn to the right or to the left, may my ears hear a voice behind me, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Amen.

 

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A World of Trouble

In this world you will have trouble.

That’s what Jesus said to his disciples, shortly before he was arrested. To me, these are some of the hardest words to read in all of Scripture, mostly because they are so true. We know we have trouble: we face it in our jobs, our marriages, our parenting, and our health. And now, with what feels like increasing regularity, we face trouble on the otherwise unremarkable backdrop of our city streets, between people who don’t even know each other.

The good news, at least for believers, is that Jesus tucked these ominous words inside two of the most beautiful promises in the Bible. Here’s how John 16:33 reads, in it’s entirety (and I’ve added italics, so you can see the tuck): “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I get the part about Jesus overcoming the world – that’s what the cross was all about – but what about the first part? What things was he talking about? What did Jesus tell his disciples, so that they could have peace?

To find out, we need to back up – and in fact, it’s worth backing up all the way to the start of John’s gospel. John is the guy we might call Jesus’ earthly BFF, and he not only records miracles and other events as they happened, but he often gives us the meaning of these things, as well. It’s like he knew we’d have questions.

But even if we don’t go that far, even if we back up just a little bit, to the beginning of the chapter, we can find a reason for peace. Jesus says that “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (Yeah. That’s not a new line.) But he doesn’t want his followers to be afraid. Instead, Jesus says he has a plan. He’s going to send the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who will let everyone know what’s what and give the disciples a joy that nobody can take away.

And Jesus offers the same promise to us. When we’re facing trouble (whether it’s in our personal lives or on the national or global scale), we can take hold of his peace, knowing that he has both promised it and provided it. We can tap into the Holy Spirit, our Helper, and ask him to guard our hearts and teach us what we need to know. That’s how we get unshakable trust.

But some of us can do even more. Those of us who know what it’s like to be comforted by God can turn and extend this same comfort to others, encouraging people with words and deeds. Or even sometimes just with the gift of our presence, the way that God does when he says, “I’m with you. You are loved.” We are a nation that’s hurting; be alert to opportunities you might have to come alongside a neighbor and give them even just the smallest reason to hope.

And, in addition to building each other up, we can pray.

On Sunday, our minister talked about Amos, a guy who was minding his own business as a shepherd when God called him to be a prophet. I’m guessing that Amos had zero professional training, spiritually, but when he saw what was coming down the pike for Israel, he was horrified – and his prayers, prompted by a love for his country and a belief in God’s power, made a difference.

I’m not trying to make an Episcopalian out of anyone (Lord knows, we have our own set of issues), but if you’re like me and you sometimes find yourself groping for a prayer anchor in the face of things like racial violence, terrorism, and hatred, you might appreciate a few of the time-tested, biblically based prayers we drew from The Book of Common Prayer on Sunday. Click here if you want the whole catalog, or just join me in the briefest excerpt, which pretty much sums up what I want to ask God to do for us today:

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Lord, keep this nation under your care.

Amen.

 

 

 

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The Psalms of Ascent

Psalm 126-2-3I love the Psalms of Ascent, the Bible’s catalog of worship songs that Jewish pilgrims sang as they went up to Jerusalem for the festivals each year. Psalm 126 is probably my favorite, since it highlights God’s power to turn our lives around, restore our fortunes, and bring joy out of tears.

Here are a couple of verses from this psalm, rewritten as our Friday Prayer. Pray it for yourself today, or for someone you love:

May your mouth be filled with laughter and your tongue with songs of joy. May it be said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for you.”

The Lord has done great things for you. May you be filled with joy. (Psalm 126:2-3)

Amen.

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God Shed Your Grace

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a year, you’ve probably seen this flag:

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It’s a piece of plywood that we painted nearly 15 years ago, with the help of a bunch of neighborhood kids. Part proclamation, part prayer, we pull it out every Fourth of July: God Bless America.

This year, though, I kind of want something different.

Maybe it’s the presidential campaign, maybe it’s the Supreme Court, or maybe it’s just Orlando and Isis and Brexit and Zika all rolled into one. I don’t know what it is, but instead of asking God for his blessing, I mostly just want to ask for his grace.

That line from America the Beautiful – the one that says, “God shed His grace on thee” – keeps running through my mind. I’m including the lyrics to the whole song so that you can sing it (and get it stuck in your head, too) this holiday weekend. Because even though it was first published as a poem in 1895 (bonus trivia to pump up your cookout), it’s still a terrific prayer for our nation.

First, though, here’s a Friday prayer for grace. Pray it for our country, our friends, and maybe even (if you’re feeling like a particularly faith-filled patriot) for the folks out there who don’t seem to like us that much:

May we conduct ourselves in the world with integrity and godly sincerity, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. (2 Corinthians 1:12)

Amen.

 

Click here to a download a free printable version of America the Beautiful, or just sing it to yourself right now:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

 

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Risky Faith, Exciting Trust

At some point during Virginia’s graduation weekend, her grandfather asked if she was excited to trust God for what’s next. Like so many new college grads, Virginia has a lot of irons in the fire, but the specifics (jobs, housing, learning to cope without acai bowls until she starts earning a paycheck) are all still swirling around in her blender, and post-college life can be daunting.

Which is why I love it that Papa John asked if she was excited.

On a good day, I might look at an uncertain future with a willingness to trust God, or maybe a resigned sort of readiness…but excitement? I don’t know. For me, trusting seasons – those times when the future (or even the present) is out of my control – are more often endured than enjoyed. Excitement rarely plays into the picture.

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But my pal Susan Yates would have understood John’s question. Her new book, Risky Faithdoes not discount the fears and worries of our lives (both the real and the imagined ones), but she challenges us to reorient our perspective. Instead of letting our “issues” (things like children, jobs, health concerns, relationships) take up the whole screen and cloud our vision, Susan encourages us to stack these things up against the awesome power and love of our Almighty God.

With 46 years of marriage, 21 (or more?) grandchildren, and a lifetime’s worth of trusting God, Susan is quick to share her own failings. But she doesn’t wallow in them. Instead, she takes us through the hard places of pain, betrayal, and disappointment and leads us into a new reality marked by gratitude, growth, and a confidence that God is soooo much bigger than our problems. Because he is.

And at some point, whether we are a newly minted graduate or a seasoned grandmother, we are all going to have to trust God for what’s next. It might not be easy, but one thing’s for sure: When we live the “risky faith” way (taking our eyes off the circumstances we see and fixing them on Someone we don’t), trusting God becomes less of a muddle, and more of an adventure.

Some people might even say it’s exciting.

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“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

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Strength and Joy

Back when Robbie Jr. turned ten, he wanted a family wrestling tournament for his birthday. Big Robbie was delighted with that idea and immediately set about making a bracket (which he literally put on a poster, with a title and everything). It didn’t really surprise me when I didn’t make it past the play-in round, but I was surprised by the scoring. I had no idea you could win (or lose) a wrestling match by so many points; I thought it was just pin or be pinned. But every time one of the children twisted me in a different direction, Robbie gave ’em more points, and I lost big.

I should have known better than to try to compete in the push-up competition we had a couple of weeks ago, during our family vacay. I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that my new favorite person is son-in-law Geoff, who was, I think, the only relative who did not criticize my form (and who, I am sure, spent the entire morning wondering why God couldn’t have hooked him up with a normal family, like maybe golfers).

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Suffice it to say, I am not a strong person. And during the past few months, as I have been working on the manuscript for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children (more info on that one in a future post), I have not had all that much time to work out. You can imagine my dismay when I opened my Bible to Isaiah 10 this week and saw this:  “The yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat.”

I was like, seriously God?

Maybe you’re a fitness guru, the kind of person who wins wrestling tourneys and push-up competitions. Or maybe you’re not. Either way, the good news is that God has given us a secret source of strength that has nothing to do with muscle tone. It’s joy – and it comes from believing what God says in his word, and acting like you know it’s true. Because it is.

So here’s our Friday prayer. It’s one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament, partly because it pops up in a section where God’s people get to hear and understand his word, some of them for the very first time. May it encourage you as much as it encourages me:

May the joy of the Lord be your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

Amen.

 

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No Quahogging

Why is it that when somebody tells us we “can’t” do something, that becomes the very thing we want to do?

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Like, I didn’t even know what “quahogging” was, but when I saw this sign near the water in Martha’s Vineyard, I found myself inexplicably eager to try it. Was it a forbidden dance move? A locals-only term for shacking up on the beach? Something having to do with a boat?

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As it turns out (and maybe I am the only person who didn’t already know), a quahog is just a fancy name for a clam, and when you put it that way – “No Clamming” – it doesn’t sound nearly as illicit or adventurous. But still. Quahogs or clams, what’s the allure?

Bible brainiac Warren Weirsbe says, in his commentary on Romans, “Something in human nature wants to rebel whenever a law is given.” No kidding. Truth be told, though, resisting the call of the quahog isn’t really my biggest problem. For me, it’s more about things like letting worry steal my joy. Or coveting my neighbor’s shoes. Or, when Robbie is out of town, pairing a batch of chocolate chip cookies with a nice chardonnay and calling it Dinner.

know all of these things are bad and, time and again, I resolve not to do them. But at the end of the day, I am no different from the Apostle Paul. He’s the guy who wrote to the Romans and confessed, I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

And, every time I blow it – every time my ears perk up at a choice bit of gossip, or I let loose with some sarcastic remark that isn’t nearly as funny coming out of my mouth as it was in my head – I find myself echoing Paul’s despair:  “What a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”

Who indeed?

I’d be sunk, except for the fact that Paul solves his own riddle:  Thank God!” he writes. “The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The answer, in other words, is that we can’t save ourselves. I can’t even get rid of my bad habits – how much more would I fail at cleaning up my act enough to warrant a ticket to heaven? But, thanks be to God, the same Lord who covered my capital-S Sin Problem can also be counted on to conquer my daily challenges, those oops-I-did-it-again moments when I look at God and say, “Ugh. I can’t do it. I stink.” and he says, “It’s okay. I’ll help you. I love you.”

If you’re like me and you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again, doing the things you know, deep down, that you really don’t want to do, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, admit your weaknesses and failings to God – and ask him to help you. And then read the next part of Paul’s letter:  “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus…nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.”

(Even if we sometimes accidentally go quahogging.)

 

Scripture quotations in this post are from Romans 7:18-25 and 8:1 & 39, NLT

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A Prayer for Fathers

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That’s Robbie’s dad (“Pop Pop”) about to tackle a lobster at Coop deVille in Martha’s Vineyard.

Robbie’s cousin, Petey, launched the wharf-front restaurant 30 years ago, and all manner of Berndt relations were on hand last weekend to help him celebrate three decades of serving up wings, seafood, and 70 different kinds of beer that Petey says “pair well” with things like lobster. (I sampled a grapefruit beer that was probably less healthy than it sounded, but it did bring out the best in my onion rings.)

Anyhow, watching Pop Pop’s happiness at being surrounded by his brood, I was reminded of one of my favorite “man psalms.” The newer, gender-neutral Bibles have tweaked the pronouns so that passages like this one apply to everyone (which they do), but I’m kind of partial to my old 1984 version, where Psalm 112 is distinctly masculine, chock-full of good things for guys. And since Father’s Day is on Sunday, I invite you to pick a few verses and pray them for your dad, your grandfather, your husband, or any fella who could use God’s blessing on his life today:

Heavenly Father…

May _____ find great delight in your commands and be blessed. (v. 1)

May his children be mighty in the land; may each new generation be blessed. (v. 2)

May his household be marked by wealth, riches, and a righteousness that endures. (v. 3)

Even in darkness, may light dawn for ______; may he be gracious and compassionate. (v. 4)

Bring good to ______. Cause him to be generous, and to conduct his affairs with justice. (v. 5)

Let him never be shaken; may he be remembered forever. (v. 6)

May _____ have no fear of bad news; give him a steadfast heart that trusts in you. (v. 7)

Give him confidence, security, and victory over his foes. (v. 8)

May ____’s legacy be one of generosity and good deeds, a life marked by influence, dignity, and honor. (v. 9)

Amen.

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Summer’s Best Read

Untitled design (5)Looking for a good read this summer? Granted, this is not your typical beach book (no bodices get ripped, there are no steely-eyed men, and I’m pretty sure nothing gets hijacked or explodes), but The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is a classic and, if you’ve not yet explored it, put it on your list.

Hannah Whitall Smith wrote the book in 1883. I own the new (1888) edition, which Smith begins by saying that what she has to say is “no new story.” Indeed. It isn’t new, but every chapter feels fresh because it is so chock-full of practical stuff for making the Christian life one that is both enjoyable and do-able, no matter how many curve balls come our way.

Here’s a sample:

Most Christians are like a man who was toiling along the road, bending under a heavy burden, when a wagon overtook him, and the driver kindly offered to help him on his journey. He joyfully accepted the offer but when seated in the wagon, continued to bend beneath his burden, which he still kept on his shoulders. “Why do you not lay down your burden?” asked the kind-hearted driver. “Oh!” replied the man, “I feel that it is almost too much to ask you to carry me, and I could not think of letting you carry my burden too.” 

Yeah. I get that. I say I trust God to take care of me, but I don’t really give him my burdens – at least not all the way. Or if I do, I take them back, thinking that I somehow have to “handle” my stuff. And so I go through a lot of life like some poor, unfortunate soul, “weary and heavy laden” under a load of inner worries (weaknesses, temptations, feelings) and external concerns (my kids, my house, my health, my reputation, my ministry, my job, my hair…you get the idea).

Smith tells the story of a friend who had a very heavy burden: The circumstances of her life she could not alter, but she took them to the Lord, and handed them over to His management; and then she believed He took it, and she left all the responsibility and the worry and anxiety to Him. As often as the anxieties returned, she took them back; and the result was, that, although the circumstances remained unchanged, her soul was kept in perfect peace in the midst of them. She felt that she had found out a practical secret; and from that time she sought never to carry her own burdens, nor to manage her own affairs, but to hand them over, as fast as they arose, to the Divine Burden-bearer.

I thought that sounded pretty good. But I wasn’t sure how, practically, to do that. I mean, it’s not like my anxiety or my to-do list is a sack of potatoes that I can just leave on God’s doorstep. I mulled that one over for awhile, and then kept reading.

Do you recollect the delicious sense of rest with which you have sometimes gone to bed at night, after a day of great exertion and weariness? How delightful was the sensation of relaxing every muscle…You trusted yourself to the bed in an absolute confidence, and it held you up, without effort, or strain, or even thought on your part. You rested!

Okay, so here comes the slightly awkward part. Because she had me at “bed.”

I am one of those people (and I truly hope there are others) who literally climbs under the covers at night and says, “Thank you, God, for my bed.” Seriously. I really like my bed, and I am really grateful for it. And so, most nights, I tell God that. (I am sure that Robbie thinks I am crazy, and that God already knows I like my bed cuz I just told him that last night. But sometimes you just can’t be too grateful.)

Anyhow, I thought about what it feels like to just relax at night, and I decided that when I go to bed tonight, if there is any burden I am carrying over from the day, I am going to give it to God. I am going to picture it transferred, like a sack of potatoes, into God’s capable hands. And I am going to go to sleep. (I figure this is an extra-good plan to try at night, since the Bible says that God “will neither slumber nor sleep,” so even a vigilante/controlling mama like me can rest easy, knowing that Somebody is on the job.)

And then, if I wake up tomorrow and find my burden waiting like one of the dogs, I am going to do just what Hannah Whitall Smith’s pal did. I am going to hand it over to God again.

I don’t know if this experiment will help you, but feel free to try it with me. Or, just skip the whole bed thing and simply believe what Smith says is part of the secret:

“Your part is simply to rest. His part is to sustain you; and He cannot fail.”

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A Prayer for the Graduate

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Virginia graduates tomorrow (from Virginia, the school for which, yes, she was actually named). I’m not sure what the future holds for my girl or any of her friends, but I am praying Joshua 1:9 over their lives today, and I invite you to join me in praying it for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ live according to your command:  May she be strong and courageous. Don’t let her grow fearful or discouraged; rather, let her rest secure in your promise to be with her, wherever she goes. (Joshua 1:9)

Amen.
Joshua 1-9

 

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The Month of May-hem

Psalm 23-2-3 (2)It’s May.

Exams. Class parties. Athletic tournaments. Graduations. Weddings. Mother’s Day. Packing up a year’s worth of college (and dragging it all back home)…

And that’s just the first part of the month. There’s a reason we call it May-hem.

If you’re like me, you may need a deep breath, and the reminder that God offers peace in the midst of the chaos. I’m praying a couple of verses from Psalm 23 this week, and I invite you to make them your own Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Lead me beside quiet waters, today. Restore my soul. (Psalm 23:2-3)

Amen.

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A Prayer for Mother’s Day

3 John 4“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

That little line is one of my favorite sentences in the entire Bible. It’s from a letter that John wrote as he was nearing the end of his life. He was talking about his spiritual children (the folks he’d invested his life in, the ones who had chosen to accept and live out the gospel message), but whenever I read this verse, I can’t help but think about my own kids.

I’ve heard a lot of things about my children over the years – some good, some not so good – but nothing warms my mama’s heart more than to find out that that one of them has said or done something that shows that they are living for God and walking in the light of his love. Truly, there is no greater joy.

So that’s my prayer for all of us mamas (fathers, too!) this Mother’s Day. As we love our children (our actual kids, as well as the people we’ve poured ourselves into and influenced over the years), may God be gracious to us by drawing these precious ones into his truth. May they take delight in his word and be eager to put it into practice in their daily lives. May the Holy Spirit speak God’s truth into our children’s hearts, making them wise, compassionate, honest, loving, and free.

May we have no greater joy than to hear that our children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4)

Happy Mother’s Day!

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The Love Blanket

After reading my Garden Tour post last week, a friend texted to say she was sorry she’d missed it – except that maybe it was just as well, since looking at other people’s potted ferns and five-burner cooktops can just make you jealous. I get that. I came away from the tour with more than a couple of new items on my covet list, starting with a machine that makes crushed ice.

Like they have at Sonic.

Only in your house.

(How am I supposed to be content in all circumstances, now that I know those things are out there?)

Anyhow, the tour hostesses could not have been more gracious, but they did not offer to open any closets. Which was a good thing for me, since there is probably nothing that fuels my admiration (or envy) more powerfully than the sight of someone else’s storage skills. Especially when it comes to linens. I love the promise of crisp white sheets, freshly folded towels, and blankets that still have their bindings. My neighbor Molly has a linen closet that would make Yves Delorme drool. (I saw it, once. And ever since I have been wondering if there is a polite way to ask a person, when you go to their house, if you can maybe just take a nap.)

My linen closet does not look like Molly’s. My linen closet looks like this:

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Ugh. I don’t know why I’ve kept half this stuff. Like, what houseguest would seriously want to dry off with the 30-year-old monogrammed towels that Robbie and I got for a wedding present? And who on earth (except maybe my pal Colleen) is ever going to want that “designer edition” camouflage Snuggie? I mean. Everything in here got rejected by my college kids. That right there tells you something.

Honestly, it’s embarrassing. And I wouldn’t even show you this picture (I wouldn’t even open the closet) except for something I read this week, something that just cried out for a photo of blankets. Here it is:

Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him covered with his love. (Ephesians 1:4, TLB)

Oh my gosh. Do you see what God did there? He didn’t tell us to “straighten up” or “get it together” before we could come in and say hi. Instead, he took the initiative. He wanted to make us holy, and so he took all our faults, pushed them together, and covered the whole pile with his love.

What this verse means is that when God looks at me, he doesn’t see a gal with threadbare guest towels who can’t keep her closets straight. He doesn’t see me coveting my neighbor’s crushed ice. He doesn’t once look at me and say, “Oh gosh, what a mess. (Did I make that?)”

Instead, thanks to what Christ did, all God sees is love. His love. I’m covered in it!

And so are you.

And here’s the thing. I would love for my linen closets to look like the ones you see on Pinterest. I’d like for my life to look that way, too. But that’s not gonna happen. I know, because I’ve spent more years than I care to admit trying to whip myself into shape. I might get things to look presentable for a day or two, but it doesn’t last. Sooner or later, the Snuggie in me starts to fall out.

If you’re like me and you’ve realized (again) that you don’t have what it takes to succeed, spiritually (or, if you’re one of those rare people who thinks that maybe you do), hit the pause button. Because nothing we could ever do (or not do) will render us holy. Nothing we could ever say (or not say) will make us faultless. All of that stuff is up to God, and he’s already done it.

So let’s not spend another minute worrying about the linen closets of our lives. Instead, let’s snuggle up in the blanket that is God’s love, and rejoice in the fact that he has us covered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wisdom from the Garden

It’s Historic Garden Week in Virginia, an annual event billed as “America’s Largest Open House.” I got to wander through a few of the gardens and tour some of the homes, which were stunning. Exquisite chandeliers, open-air breezeways, lively artwork, and scores of breathtaking floral designs gave light to the eyes and joy to the soul.

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Pretty much everything was perfection.

But it didn’t just happen; getting these homes and gardens ready took more woman-hours (and quite a few man-hours) than anyone would care to count. Which is kind of ironic, given how the flowers themselves got dressed for the big event: See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.

That’s from Matthew 6, a passage that’s all about not trying too hard, and not worrying. Instead, Jesus says, we are supposed to seek God before everything else and, like the flowers in the fields, trust him to take care of our needs.

Of course, that’s a whole lot easier said than done (particularly if you’re like me, with a life that seems set on the “spin” cycle). Let’s start by asking God to adjust our perspective and help us focus on what really matters. Let’s turn Matthew 6:34 into our Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me give my entire attention to what you are doing right now, without getting worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Thank you for your promise to help me deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Matthew 6:34, MSG)

Amen.

 

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People Vary

I have a friend whose grandmother, upon being told that one of her grandsons was going to take his honeymoon before he got married, summed up her analysis with this:  “People vary.”

Over the years, I’ve used that phrase to account for any number of differences in taste and style. I was reminded of the maxim this week when a pal who raises chickens graced me with a sample of her harvest. Chicken-cooping does not appeal to me, but…people vary. And for that, I am grateful.

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The Apostle Paul certainly knew that we’d vary – and he encouraged us to recognize and affirm those differences. “The body,” he wrote, “is not made up of one part but of many.” Paul said that the foot shouldn’t feel inferior or excluded because it is not a hand, and that the ear shouldn’t be bummed because it isn’t an eye. “God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

As you consider the way God has made you today, don’t be jealous of someone else’s attributes or abilities. Instead, stop and think about the unique gifts he has given to you, and how you might use those things to strengthen, equip, and encourage other people. Not everyone has what it takes to raise chickens, but for those who do, it’s gotta make God happy when they share their eggs.

Which brings us to our Friday prayer (which you can pray for yourself, or for someone you love):

Heavenly Father,

Help me to use whatever gift I have received to serve others. Let me be a faithful steward of your grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen.

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Rest Secure

I’ve been living out of my car for the past two weeks, driving all over the southeast. When I finally pulled into our driveway yesterday, I saw Khaki the lab, looking like this:

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My first thought was that she was (to borrow a line from The Princess Bride) “mostly dead.” Khaki looked how I felt: Exhausted. Worn out. Done.

But then God redirected my gaze. I realized that Khaki wasn’t tired. She wasn’t stressed (she’s a dog). And, while she might actually be mostly dead (she’s 13), she wasn’t worried about it. She was just resting. She was secure.

Which is exactly how God wants us to feel, no matter how chaotic or exhausting life gets.

Deuteronomy 33:12 is a great reminder of three powerful truths:  We are loved. We are secure. We can rest in God. Let’s make this verse our Friday prayer today – for ourselves, or for someone we love:

Heavenly Father,

Let _____ know he is beloved in your sight. May _____ rest secure in you, knowing that you shield him all day long. (Deuteronomy 33:12)

Amen.

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Directing the Heart

So my boy, Robbie, tells me he’s majoring in “Natural Resources.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but he seems to be learning a lot about stuff like trees and caves and rocks.

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And waterfalls. I’m visiting Robbie at Sewanee this week, and he took me to a place called Bridal Veil Falls:

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He said that the geologists wanted to know where the water from this particular fall would wind up, since it disappears into a cave in the ground. To figure it out, they put cotton balls in all sorts of places where water tends to pool on The Mountain, and then added dye to the top of the waterfall. Et voila! All of the cotton balls in all of the little pools stayed white…except for one colored bunch. I guess, for scientific people, that’s a good day.

Anyhow, standing there in the spray (and looking down into the dark cave below, where the water disappeared), I was reminded of Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” I went home and looked it up in my Bible. There, in the margin, I had written all sorts of dates and prayer requests about everything from college admissions to job promotions to anything where somebody I love was dependent on some “king” to make a decision in their favor.

Are you needing that sort of favor today – maybe from a boss, a teacher, a coach, or even a friend? If so, turn Proverbs 21:1 into your own Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

You hold ______’s heart in your hand. Please direct it in a way that will bring blessing and favor to ______. (Proverbs 21:1)

Amen.

 

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Joy in the Morning

Whelp, my beloved Wahoos lost to Syracuse last Sunday night. Every U.Va. fan I know has been in mourning this week, except for maybe our dogs, who are high-fiving (pawing?) themselves over the fact that I won’t make them dress up to play Carolina tomorrow.

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The loss was a blow, but it was Easter Sunday, and I can’t think of a more fitting day for Coach Tony Bennett to make the comment that he did, after the game. When reporters asked what he’d told the team, Bennett said:

“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Bennett said the words came from an old church hymn. They’re also in the title of a book by one of my favorite authors, P.G. Wodehouse:photo-1

But, really, the promise of joy after sorrow is older than both the hymn and the book. It comes from Psalm 30:5.

Like so many of God’s promises, this one might be hard to believe, particularly when you are in the midst of suffering and you can’t see any way out. But, to quote Coach Bennett, “Joy is coming…I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I know it will be true.”

If you find yourself suffering today, or if someone you love is walking through a season of sorrow, take hold of this promise. Make it your prayer. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we know that God is faithful.
Heavenly Father,
 
When _____ feels overwhelmed with pain or sadness, may she/he find hope in and strength in your promise: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
 
Amen.

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No More Sting!

1 Corinthians 15

No more jellyfish pix, I promise. But I saw this impressive fella (gal?) in the National Aquarium last week, and with today being Good Friday and all, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a fresh look at how death lost its sting.

Here’s how 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 breaks it down:  Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he rose again, and then he appeared to a whole lot of people. Death, done.

Let’s join our voices with countless saints who have gone before and turn our Friday prayer into a praise today:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Have a glorious Easter!

 

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The Road to Victory

I love college sports. I’m partial to U.Va., of course (and how about that Anthony Gill, praying for Coach Bennett on the sidelines last weekend?), but I’ll watch almost any team, particularly if a big game is on the line.

But there’s one part I definitely don’t love. Even if the whoopsie is on the part of the “bad guys,” I really hate it when a contest comes down to the wire and the guy on the free throw line misses his shot. Or the goalie lets a zinger rip past his shoulder in lacrosse’s “sudden death” overtime. Or (and this is probably the worst) when it’s up to the kicker, and he misses the last-second field goal. Even just writing about it, my stomach hurts.

It’s not that I hate the thought of losing. It’s more that I hate the thought that (as one of our football-playing friends put it), “First you’re the hero, and then you’re the zero.”

FullSizeRenderWhich is, when you think about it, kind of what happened to Jesus in the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. At first, the crowds are lining the streets, spreading their coats on the ground for his donkey and waving palm branches while they shout cheers like, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed!”

But then the mood shifts, and some of these same people are turning their backs on him. Pretending they don’t even know him. Spitting on Jesus, even. And shouting, “Crucify!”

And he took it.

Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus “made himself nothing.” He emptied himself of all the glory that was rightfully his and, voluntarily, became the biggest zero the world has ever seen.

To most people, it looked like Game Over. But it wasn’t. And I know we’ve still got a few days before the stone gets rolled away, but honestly? Easter is the best come-from-behind, bust-all-the-brackets, zero-to-hero story that has ever been told.

And I love it. I love it because Jesus didn’t just win one for himself; he won it all of us. “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

And I love it because he didn’t just triumph over death so that we could go to heaven when we die. He did it so that we could be on the winning team now, so that we could play with confidence and joy, even when the game doesn’t seem to be going our way.

I don’t know where you are, spiritually, or what you’re dealing with this Easter season. But I can tell you this: God is all about the zero-to-hero thing. To him, it doesn’t matter how badly we’ve messed up our marriages, our parenting, our jobs, our whatever. He knows all of that, and he still wants us to play for him. He wants to take all the zeroes of our lives and turn them into a win.

If you’ve never made a decision to trust God – to just hand him your life, cuz he’s already given his for your sake – I want to encourage you to do that this Easter. Being a Christ-follower doesn’t mean you’ll never get fouled, or that you’ll never get a bad call. You will. But you’ll be playing for a Coach who is crazy about you, who has a wonderful game plan for your life, and who has already won the victory.

And March Madness doesn’t get any better that that.

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Jellyfish and You

1 Peter 2-9So we visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore this week. Being from Virginia Beach, I didn’t particularly need to see the jellyfish exhibit. (We get plenty of those every summer, and it’s not like anybody likes them.) But the Robbies were curious, and so we checked ’em out.

And oh my. Floating there in the light, they were…captivating. Beautiful. Exquisite, even.

Which is exactly how God sees us.

We may think we are nothing more than a drifter, a nasty blob that nobody could ever like (okay so maybe you’ve never thought that, but I have). But that’s not what God says. He calls us into his light and says we are chosen, that we belong to him, and that we have a purpose.

Maybe you or someone you know needs to be reminded of that today. If so, here’s how you can pray:

Heavenly Father,

May ______ know that she has been chosen by you, that she is beautiful and holy in your sight. Remind _____ that she is your very own possession. Prompt _____ to show others your goodness, since you called her out of darkness and into your wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NLT)

Amen.

 

 

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Spring Forward!

Psalm 84-11Ahhhh.

Tomorrow’s the night we get to set our clocks forward…which means an extra hour of daylight…which means more sun…which means…happiness.

To celebrate, I’m picking Psalm 84:11 for our Friday prayer. It’s the verse that Robbie and I put on our wedding program 30 years ago, and it’s every bit as good today (maybe even better, if you factor in all those years of Seasonal Affective Disorder) as it was back then. Turn this promise into a prayer for yourself or for someone you love:

Lord God,

Be _____’s sun and shield. Bestow on him grace and favor and honor. Do not withhold any good thing from ______, but help him to walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11, AMP)

Amen.

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U.Va. Seniors Jumpstart March Madness

It’s March, which means that even if you are not normally a college basketball fan, it’s time to check in.

Because March is tournament time, and in the unpredictable and exquisite world that is college basketball, anything can happen. U.Va. fans got a foretaste of the March Madness Magic on Saturday night and, if you’re like me, you’re still smiling.

Mar 5, 2016; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers players celebrate on the bench after a three point feel goal by Cavaliers forward Caid Kirven (not pictured) in the final minute against the Louisville Cardinals at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers won 68-46. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was the last home game of the season, and the #4 ranked Cavaliers beat #11 Louisville. The 68-46 thumping was a story in itself, but it was Senior Night in Charlottesville, and if you were a sportswriter, you could lead with any one of the five guys who are graduating:

Malcolm Brogdan bounced back from an early-game slump and finished like the champion he is, leading the team with 17 points (and netting ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors the next day). Mike Tobey snagged 15 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, becoming the first U.Va. player to grab that many boards since 2003. Team prankster Anthony Gill finished with 15 and reminded us all why it’s not just his high school sweetheart (they’re getting married next month, whoop!) who’s crazy about him. Evan Nolte, given a senior night spot in the starting lineup, set the tone for the game just after tip-off by knocking down back-to-back threes (and treating appreciative fans to another of his mega-watt smiles). And, Caid Kirven, a walk-on with a grand total of eight points in his entire college career, brought down the house with his improbable, incredible, almost indescribable end-of-game three-pointer.

If you saw the game (and that last shot, in particular) you’ll understand why one Twitter fan summed it all up like this:  U.Va. Senior Night. Brought to you by Disney.

Like a zillion other U.Va. fans, I couldn’t get enough of the press coverage, and I spent the weekend devouring every article I could find. I “liked” a tweet where Coach Tony Bennett said his guys had represented his five pillars well, an accomplishment for which he was thankful. I read a tribute to the five seniors, an online post that came complete with video highlights. And I watched Caid’s shot go in, over and over again, until my face started to hurt from smiling so much.

My favorite piece, though, was about Mike Tobey’s big night.

After a career marked by ups and downs, Tobey had had a particularly discouraging game against Miami. A lot of players might have been tempted to slink off to the showers after that loss, but Tobey took another approach. He met Coach Bennett for lunch.

According to the article, Tobey said that he’d been worried about fouling (a habit that’s plagued him this season), and that he was worried he’d make a mistake. Coach Bennett’s response? “Focus on one thing. Don’t worry about fouling, don’t worry about a force. Just have a reckless abandon.”

And so he did. Tobey went out there on Saturday night and had the time of his life, setting a single-game rebounding record for the arena that left the fans chanting his name. Why the big change?

“Talking to coach actually helped free me up inside,” Tobey said. “I just went out there and played basketball.”

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Isn’t that exactly how it is with us? So often, we go through life feeling crippled by our past mistakes, worrying that if we try to play like we were meant to play we’ll get into foul trouble and blow it. Instead of living in freedom – accomplishing our God-given purposes, doing the things he intended for us to do – we stumble around in uncertainty and fear.

But what if we were to stop and have a convo with our Coach? What would he say?

I don’t mean to sound glib or irreverent, but I actually think he’d sound a bit like Coach Bennett. He’d tell us not to worry about fouling, because our mistakes don’t matter to him. “My grace is sufficient for you,” he’d say. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

He’d remind us to focus on just one thing. He’d say, “Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance, fixing your eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

And, at the risk of over-stretching the bounds of Scripture, I think he’d say, “Get out there and play with reckless abandon.” Maybe it wouldn’t come out exactly like that, but John 10:10 comes pretty close. That’s when Jesus looks around (and you can almost picture him, talking both to his players and to the crowd in the stands) and says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Play with reckless abandon. Live life to the full. That’s the freedom we’re meant to experience.

So to the five U.Va. seniors, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for giving us an amazing four years, and for the lessons you’ve taught us about things like teamwork, selflessness, and passion. May the Lord bless you beyond anything you could ask for or imagine, both now and in the days and years ahead.

And I don’t know if Coach Bennett had John 8:36 in mind when he was talking to Tobey, but to anyone who has ever tasted what it means to be “free indeed,” his words are worth holding onto:

“Just go out there and play free.”

(Photo credit virginiasports.com)

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Friday Prayer for Time Management

Psalm 90-12I got a text this week from our daughter, Virginia, who is in her final semester at U.Va.  You’d think a college senior could relax a little in the spring, but her day was jammed from dawn until…well, nearly dawn again.

If you or someone you love is wrestling with a too-full schedule or the need for good time management, feel free to borrow the prayer I am praying for Virginia today. It’s one that Moses prayed in his old age, but I think it works pretty well for a college kid:

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. (Psalm 90:12, TLB)

Amen.

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Love and Good Deeds

This month, about 250 folks in our church have lumped themselves into informal “Lent Groups,” small gatherings of a dozen or so people who meet weekly to discuss various passages from the gospels. Robbie and I host a group where we don’t know all of the participants very well, and this week, our new friend Nicole brought me these flowers, which she said were “just a little something from the garden.”

Hebrews 10-24

To Nicole, the bouquet was a simple hostess gift. To me, it was a huge blessing. And it brought to mind the words from Hebrews 10:24-25:  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

What a wonderful charge, particularly as we move toward Easter! Let’s use these verses to heighten our awareness of how we can encourage others, turning them into today’s Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me consider how you might be nudging me to spur others on toward love and good deeds. Renew in me a desire and a commitment to get together with other believers, and let me be a source of encouragement and strength to those who need to know more of your love.

Amen.

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The Cleats of Peace

So my Bible Study group is halfway through Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God series, and this week the lesson is all about the shoes of peace.

I can’t recap the whole teaching, but the nutshell version is that we cannot survive the storms of life unless we have God’s peace. Peace is what secures our footing. It provides stability. It allows us to to both stand firm and to move forward when everything around us seems like a chaotic mess.

Which is why, I guess, the Apostle Paul chose to focus on shoes as the piece of Roman armor that correlates to peace. And listening to Priscilla describe the sandals that the soldiers wore (lots of laces for ankle support, cutaways to provide ventilation and allow for movement, and thick leather soles with hobnails sticking out the bottom to allow a soldier to “dig in”), I couldn’t help but think that Paul could have picked a better word in Ephesians 6:15. Shoes are nice, but what we really need in life is a good pair of cleats.

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Because life (and buckle up, because here comes a Deep Thought) is a whole lot like lacrosse.

Robbie plays for Sewanee: The University of the South. As an attackman, his job is to put the ball in the goal. The opponent’s job is to stop him, using what looks (to a mother, anyway) like anything short of murder. Robbie plays with a short stick; his defender has a long one, and even with all of the padding that some NCAA person decided the guys needed to wear, my boy comes out of every single game with slash marks, bruises, and even (on more than one occasion) the entire imprint of some other guy’s lacrosse head (strings and all) embedded into his body, like a 3-D tattoo.

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Sometimes, it’s not just the defenders who make life hard. Sometimes it’s the environment. When Robbie was growing up, we watched games where it was 118 degrees on the turf and the refs had to stop the game every ten minutes so that the players could hydrate. We also saw contests in the sleet and snow, where the field turned into a slippery, icy mess. And, now that Robbie is at Sewanee (which is on the top of a mountain), there are some games we have not watched at all, simply because there was nothing to see. Here’s the snap Annesley took on the sidelines last weekend:

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I’d go on, but you get the idea. Life is hard, and we all take hits. Sometimes we find ourselves on slippery ground, or searching to find our way in the fog. Paul wasn’t kidding when he said that in order to stand firm and be ready to move, we’d need the right footwear.

So how do we get that? How do we strap on our own shoes of peace?

I wish I had pages and pages so that I could rip off everything that Priscilla Shirer had to say. Her study is seriously fabulous, and if you want to get the whole thing, click here. In the meantime, though, I’ll leave you with my favorite takeaway:

Trust fuels thanksgiving. Thanksgiving activates peace.

If you want a life that is marked by peace – the kind that cannot be shaken, no matter how hard you get hit, how slippery the ground is, or how foggy the future looks – start with trust. Isaiah 26:3 promises “perfect peace” when you trust God and keep your thoughts fixed on him. You can shore up that trust (supporting your ankles and digging your spikes into the ground) by taking hold of some Bible verses and letting their truth soak into your heart and mind until they become an anchor, firm and secure. (If that’s new territory and you aren’t sure where to start, post a comment on this blog to let me know what your need or concern is and I’ll message you back with a few of my favorite Scripture promises.)

Trust fuels thanksgiving. And thanksgiving, when wrapped around the concerns and requests in your life, activates peace. Check out the progression in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So here’s the action plan, as best as I can tell:  Trust God. Cover your concerns with thanksgiving. And get yourself a good pair of peace cleats so you can stand your ground and be ready to go, no matter what life throws your way.

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The Skies Proclaim

Psalm 19 opens with an account of how the whole earth hears God’s voice. Day after day, night after night, “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Psalm 19

Nature speaks volumes about God’s majesty and power, but it’s the Bible – God’s written word – that brings the full message of redemption and grace. As we marvel at God’s creative beauty (and we’ve had some glorious sunsets on these winter days!), let’s take King David’s prayer from the very end of Psalm 19 and make it our own today:

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.

(And Katie C., thanks for the pic from Coronado Beach!)

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A Life Well Lived

When I was in high school, nobody had ever heard of Martha Stewart, Bunny Williams, or even Pottery Barn. Anyone who was anyone decorated with posters. The guys all had that eye-popping red swimsuit shot of Farrah Fawcett; we girls chose a more varied mix of rainbow-colored peace signs, Shaun Cassidy or that other Hardy boy, and anything that looked good under a black light.

All of the cool kids got their wall art at Spencer’s. I got mine from my dad:

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Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Dad bought the poster at the Christian bookstore (the same one where he and Mom got my extra-large “Jesus is Lord” purse, but that’s a story for another blog). I knew the poster wasn’t cool (neither was the purse), but I liked it. I taped it onto the wood paneling of my bedroom wall, just above my orange beanbag chair and my collection of Peter Frampton albums. When I went off to U.Va., I hung it up in my dorm room, just above my bed, right across from my roommate’s shrine to Bruce Springsteen.

I know my dad meant for the message (which you can read for yourself in Matthew 6:8) to point to my Heavenly Father, but I felt like it applied to him, too. Dad usually did know just what I needed, and he was always quick to provide an encouraging word, a sound bit of advice, or even, sometimes, a material gift. Like this tennis racket, which I had not asked for (and clearly did not think I needed):

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The best thing my dad ever gave me was an introduction to Jesus Christ. A pillar in the church, a softball coach, and a bright light in our community, Dad came home one night and said he’d been to a men’s meeting where someone explained that it wasn’t about being a “good” person. If you wanted to experience the abundant life here on earth, and then get a ticket to heaven for eternity, you had to have a relationship with Jesus. That was big news to my dad, but when he broke it down for me (starting with the fact that I was a sinner and wrapping up with an invitation to grace), it made perfect sense. I confessed my sins, asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, and never looked back.

I was eight years old.

My daddy was only 61 years old when doctors discovered an inoperable, golf ball-sized tumor in his brain. When they started using words like Stage 4 and glioblastoma, we knew there was not much that they could do. We spent the next twelve months singing praise songs, counting pain pills, and letting Dad use what we decided must be Russian words when we played Scrabble, as the malignancy stole more and more of his brain. We also prayed, both for a miracle, and for God to be glorified.

The first prayer, for the miracle, didn’t happen (at least not in terms of a return to physical health, but I guess when you get right down to it, getting to spend eternity in heaven is nothing if not miraculous). But the second prayer, the one for God to be glorified, did. Dad lived well, and he died even better, leaving a legacy of faith for his family and friends. He pointed us down the path where we could grow closer to God in a deep and life-changing way, and he left us secure in the knowledge that we would one day see him again.

I miss my father more than I thought I would, after 15 years. (Grief is funny; you think it’s over, and than it just sort of sneaks up, unannounced, and jumps you.) There have been plenty of times in my own parenting when I wished, more than anything, that I could have my own daddy around, just to talk things over. But, as one friend who knew him put it, “Jodie, you don’t need to talk to your dad. You already know what he’d say.”

And I do. He’d say “Pursue Jesus.” He’d tell me that of all the things I run after in this world—being a better wife and mother, writing a book or a blog that someone might actually want to read, decorating my house with something (anything) other than posters—there’s only one thing that matters, only one thing that lasts.

And he’d be right.

My father would have been 77 today. I don’t know how much time people in heaven have to pay attention to stuff on earth (and I kind of hope it’s not a lot, cuz I’d hate for him to know how bad I still am at tennis), but if my dad does have a chance to check in, I hope he’ll see that I’m still trying. I’m still running hard after Jesus and, even though I trip and fall way more often than I’d like, I don’t plan to quit.

Allen Rundle. 1939-2001. A life well lived.

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Friday Prayer for Someone You Love

2 Thess. 2-16-17

You can’t really go wrong with flowers or chocolate, but this Valentine’s Day, consider giving a prayer to someone you love. Here’s what I’m praying for you today:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

(2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

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Bake Up Some Love

This blog is not, normally, a place where you’ll find culinary tips or new recipes. And for good reason. Remember the Mac-n-Cheese post last summer? Drain the fat and then add it…

Yeah.

But with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought we might venture into the kitchen once again and bake up a little love. Because who doesn’t love cookies? Or, perhaps more to the point, who doesn’t love easy cookies? (Particularly when the Bible verse that you would be holding up, if you ever got on TV at an NFL game, is Leviticus 3:16: All the fat belongs to the Lord.)

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Anyhow.

You can whip up these simple shortbread hearts in minutes, and then let em chill for an hour or two before rolling them out. (And here’s some good news for the busy baker: NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN if you get distracted and forget you are making cookies, and you wind up leaving the dough in the fridge overnight.)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • a heart-shaped cookie cutter

Here’s what you do (and I use a stand mixer, but a hand-held will work just fine):

  1. Mix the butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the flour and salt, and then the vanilla, and beat well.
  3. Gather the dough into a ball (scrape down the sides of the bowl) and wrap it in something like Press-n-Seal. (Wax paper works, too, or even a zip-lock baggie.) Put the dough ball in the fridge for at least an hour. Maybe even two. Or whatever.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. (Some people like fatter shortbread cookies, so 1/2-inch is fine…you might just need to bake em a little longer). Use your cookie cutter to make heart shapes and place the cut-out cookies on ungreased cookie sheets.
  5. Sprinkle the cookies with granulated sugar.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes (you don’t want shortbread to “brown” so take a peek at about the 17-minute mark).
  7. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool, and dust with additional powdered sugar if you like that look.

Depending on the size of your cookie cutter (mine is about two inches long), this recipe yields at least 30 cookies, meaning that you can show the love to at least one other person. And if you don’t have a heart shaped cutter, no worries. Hillary (who requested the theme from Jurrasic Park as part of her wedding prelude) got a set of dinosaur cookie cutters as a shower gift, and I am sure they will work just fine. Better, maybe. Because nothing says I love you like a plate of shortbread stegosauruses and a night at home with Netflix.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Your Soul

It’s February.

If you’re like me, you’re flipping through the calendar to see when Daylight Savings Time begins (ugh – we’ve still got like a month to go), you’re tired of your same old sweaters, and your soul is just plain weary.

You need some greener pastures.

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I love this painting by my friend, Sally Corpening. It’s called “The Lord is My Shepherd,” and I’m grateful to have this image as a backdrop for our Friday Prayer. Pray this one for yourself, or for someone you know who needs God’s refreshment today:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being our shepherd, for giving us all that we need. Let ____ rest in green meadows today; lead ____ beside peaceful streams. Renew _____’s strength. (Psalm 23:1-2, NLT)

Amen

 

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Happy Church

A lot of people like Christ. It’s the Christians who can sometimes be less…appealing.

Why is that? Well maybe, for starters, it’s because Christians are people. But according to author Tim McConnell, there’s more. In his view, one of the main reasons why folks aren’t all that attracted to Christians is that Christians (and Christian churches, especially) are just not all that happy.

I get that. When Robbie and I were newlyweds, we volunteered to teach Sunday School for a spirited group of fourth graders. Sometimes we’d play a version of Pictionary where the kids would draw things from that week’s lesson (Daniel’s lions, Jonah’s whale, ten scabby lepers) on the chalkboard. The contest always provoked a lot of giggling, and sometimes the cheering could get a little loud.

One Sunday, our door burst open. It was the teacher from the next class over, and she was clearly not happy. “What on EARTH is going on in here?” she scolded, stomping her feet. “STOP it! Don’t you know this is GOD’S house?!”

Eek. Robbie and I were barely out of college. We had no idea that God didn’t like Pictionary. Or laughter.

McConnell is all about laughter – and he says that God is, too. And hope. And joy, even in the midst of pain or suffering. Which is interesting, given McConnell’s pedigree. He’s a Presbyterian minister who is not, by his own admission, “naturally happy.” (He brought Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death along on his honeymoon.) But on the theory that our moods are often the product of our attentions and activities, McConnell has chosen to “embrace the practice of happiness.”

FullSizeRenderAnd, in his new book Happy Church, he invites us to do the same.

For some churches, that may require a shift in the way we approach some of our most familiar disciplines. For example, McConnell believes that Bible reading (a regular part of most churches’ liturgy, regardless of the overall worship style) should be a breeding ground for gladness. Churches that are pursuing what McConnell calls “radical joy” encourage listeners to try a verse on, to use and obey it in everyday life, take it out for a test drive, if you will. In happy churches, the Word is not just read. It works.

Likewise, McConnell says, the happy church sings. You might read that line and think, “Not me.” But if you do, you’re missing out. McConnell points to what he calls the “divine bounce” (God reveals glory; we return praise) and he has a boatload of research that points to both the rightness and the necessity of singing. It doesn’t matter whether the tunes are “psalms, hymns or spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), McConnell says that when God’s Spirit shows up, songs happen.

(And just as a sidebar here, I wish McConnell had interviewed me for his book. When it comes to singing – or doing much of anything – our family mottos is: If you lack talent, use enthusiasm.)

McConnell serves up plenty to chew on (and yes, there’s a chapter on eating), but my favorite section is the one on prayer. When the church prays, he says, “We are pulled out of our loneliness into active community, we are connected to God and feel his presence, and our prayers are fulfilled when we see the activity of God connected to our prayer life.”

I like that.

And I like the way the book wraps up, with a challenge to modern day churchgoers to stop squabbling about things like pews, worship styles, or other polarizing issues and start advocating for happiness. Because when it comes to being a beacon of gladness in a world that desperately needs a reason to rejoice, McConnell tips his hat to the Beastie Boys. It was true in 1986, and it’s still true today:

(You gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!).

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“Don’t be afraid.”

Jonas may have dumped 42 inches of the white stuff on West Virginia and 30 in New York, but here in Virginia Beach (where we had accumulations of “up to an inch!”) we had our own problems. Roads turned icy, schools shut down, and the birds outside my window huddled on the rooftop, daring each other to jump.

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Seriously. They would hop to the edge, look down, and then egg each other on, like a flock of middle school boys. “You first.”

Not being all that up on my ornithology, I don’t know how much sleet hampers a bird’s ability to fly, but from the looks of these guys, it must be a lot. Either that, or they just forgot who they were in the storm.

I get that. And maybe you do, too. When life turns cold and nasty, it can be easy to forget who we are, or how much we are loved. Which is maybe why God put in that part about the birds, when he sent his disciples out into a world that would hate them. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus asked. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

If you feel snowed under by problems or persecution today (whether it’s one inch of them or 42!), why not use this passage as a springboard for prayer? Just put your name (or the name of someone you love) in the blanks, and remember that no matter how gloomy the forecast is, God is still in control.

Heavenly Father,

When ____ feels burdened by hatred, rejection, or some other hardship, remind him/her that you are in charge. Let ____ know how much he/she is worth in your eyes, and help ____ not to be afraid. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Amen.

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Trash Talk

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I realize that “trash” is not the most captivating subject for a blog, but two things happened last week that made me want to write about it.

The first was on I-64. I was driving behind a minivan when a napkin suddenly flew out the window. Oh gosh, I thought. Some poor mother is up there with a car full of kids and now they have started throwing stuff. Been there. Even had to turn around on the highway when the thing that blew out during a family vacay was Annesley’s blankie.

But then came another napkin, followed by a paper bag. And finally, a cup. Clearly, lunch was over, and this was a deliberate dump.

So I did what no one should probably do anymore, what with road rage and all. I floored it like I was Bo Duke and pulled alongside the perp. He turned out to be a big, hairy guy, alone in the van. He looked like he was about my age.

(Which got me thinking: Hadn’t he grown up watching the Crying Indian ad? He had to have seen that one.)

The guy saw me and started laughing. Are you CRAZY? I mouthed, giving him my best “Mom is so NOT happy” face. He laughed even harder.

And then he gave me the finger.

Robbie would say that I was the crazy one, and that I am lucky that the guy didn’t have a gun. I say the guy’s lucky that I didn’t have a gun. And that I’d grown up with a mother who never really sympathized with my problems; rather, she made me pray for all of the bullies and mean girls and kids she said were “just jealous” (isn’t that the best Mom line?) of me. One time, after a boy had hit me in the back with a basketball as we walked home from school (I ran, after that), Mom made me go back out into the road (since she knew he had to walk past our house) and curtsy, saying, “Have a nice day, Peter.”

And I did.

(Yeah, you read that right. I curtsied.)

At the time, I am sure I wished my mother had checked to see if my back was okay, or at least gotten on the horn with Peter’s mother to let her know what a nasty boy she had. But Mom’s parenting style tended to run along biblical lines, and she was drawing from 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

For better or for worse, that nugget stuck. And when VanMan made his little hand gesture, I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t exactly curtsy, but I could pray. And so I did. I prayed for that hairy guy for like the next five miles, that he would be blessed, and that his family would be blessed, and that he would know how much God loved him, and that he would be kept safe as he trashed America’s highways with his to-go wrappers. I covered that guy in so many blessings that I could hardly see straight.

And you know what? It made me happy. Praying for that guy – heaping blessings on his big old head – turned my indignation into joy. And even if I never see VanMan again (and I kind of hope I don’t), I just know he has some good things coming. Maybe he won’t litter so much, once he realizes how much God loves him. And who knows? Maybe he’ll even shave.

The second thing that happened wasn’t nearly that interesting. The second thing that happened was that Robbie and I were on a hike with some friends, and we saw a trash can beside a beautiful lake. I stopped to snap a pic, and I am pretty sure Robbie mocked me when he explained that I was always pulling out my phone to take pictures for this blog. “Oh good,” our pal Ralph said, “Because now she can write about trash.”

So I did.

And Ralph? May God bless you today. May he shower his goodness on your family, may he keep you all safe, and may you know how very much you are loved.

 

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Friday Prayer to Know God Better

Ephesians 1-17

There are plenty of things that set Christianity apart from other world religions, but my favorite distinction might be the fact that we serve a God who knows us, and who invites us to know him back. He doesn’t want us to just know about him; he wants us to know him on an intimate, personal level – as a savior, redeemer, Father, and friend.

There are all sorts of ways this relationship can flourish. We can get to know God through reading Scripture. We can pray. We can hang out with people who reflect his love and his character. And we can open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, the one whose job it is to leave God’s imprint on our hearts and minds.

If you or someone you love wants to get to know God better this year, this simple prayer from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a great place to start:

Heavenly Father,

Give ______ the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that he/she/I may know you better. (Ephesians 1:17)

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayer for Patience

GalatiansIf you saw yesterday’s post (well, if you managed to hang in there all the way to the end), you know that patience is more than the ability to wait for something. It is the ability to wait well.

Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote that patience involves things like deferring anger and being content to bear injuries. Warren Weirsbe (another Bible brainiac) likens patience to “courageous endurance without quitting.” Taken together, these definitions encompass pretty much everything from not being easily offended, to trusting God’s timing and his purposes, to hanging in there on something as seemingly unspiritual as learning to play the piano or pilot a plane.

Clearly, patience is a virtue worth having. So are all of the other traits outlined in Galatians 5:22-23. Why not pick one of these attributes (or all nine!) and pray it into your life this year, or into the character of someone you love?

Here’s how the Amplified version of these verses might look, written out as a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the Holy Spirit who lives in _____. May the fruit [result] of the Spirit’s presence in _____’s life be love [an unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how ____ acts while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

Amen.

 

 

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Waiting Well

So this week, a friend told me that she met someone at her church who likes my blogs because she thinks they are “so funny.” Uh-oh. If that’s you, can I just apologize in advance? Because what I want to write about today is seriously not funny.

I am going to write about waiting.

Which is what I did for 97 straight minutes last week. Standing up the whole time. In a line. To make an appointment. For a passport. At the post office.

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See? Not funny.

Oh sure, there were some funny parts. Like, after about 20 of us had been standing there for an hour (they recommend arriving by about 7 a.m., since there are a limited number of appointments to be had and it’s first come, first served), we heard noises behind a locked door that made us think a clerk was coming. Turns out, it was the janitor. “Yesterday,” he said, pushing his mop, “was a real mess. Nobody came. I don’t know if they are gonna come today or not. So what you all are gonna need to do is just keep waiting.”

Granted, that doesn’t sound all that funny now. At the time, though (having stood there, fresh out of bed and without any coffee, for 56 minutes and counting) I thought it was kind of hilarious. Especially when the white-haired gentleman five people ahead  of me looked back down the line and said, “I’m from the government. I’m here to help.”

Now, I don’t have anything against the government. Well, not the post office people, anyway. They mostly just want to sell stamps. Even the big guy who finally showed up to take names (“You people are gonna have to back this line up, now…that’s right…all the way back, behind the red line”) was just doing his job. And do it he did. All 30 of us (the line kept growing) scuttled backwards, like so many crabs. Or maybe penguins, only in reverse.

Okay, so who does that? I mean, who gets up at 6:00 in the morning and skips their coffee to go stand in line at the post office for 97 minutes, and then waddles backwards with all of the other sheep when the man with the clipboard says to Get Behind The Red Line??

Robbie wouldn’t have. He would’ve taken one look, walked out, gotten online, and paid some passport service an excess upcharge overcharge to expedite the whole process.

But not me.

For me, it was a matter of principle. I was standing in line with my Fellow Americans. If the Russians could do it (and I was pretty sure 97 minutes on a cold tile floor would be amateur hour, to them), then by golly, so could I. I would wait all day, if I had to.

There remained, however, the matter of how to pass the time. (I’m a get-‘er-done kind of gal, and when the janitor showed up with his less-than-encouraging prognosis, I started rifling through the change-of-address and hold-mail forms to see if there was anything that could be considered stationery.)

My pal Lisa says that when you have to wait, you should pray for everyone else who is waiting. So I tried that. I prayed for the college girl at the front of the line (she’d collapsed at about the 37-minute mark, announcing to nobody in particular that she was getting ready to study abroad and she didn’t mind the post office floor). I prayed for the older man who was not really from the government. I prayed for the pair of African American guys, two places ahead of me, who kept shaking their heads, like they’d been accidentally cast in a bad movie. And I prayed for my new friend, Naida, who was just ahead of me in line and who gave me her cell phone number when she finally had to leave, asking that I text her with any information that might help make her next attempt (this was her second) more successful.

And then I started praying for other people I knew. The sick. The discouraged. The destitute. All the people, in other words, that I was beginning to feel jealous of. (Like my mother, who broke her wrist on New Year’s Day and now has what seems like her entire left side  wrapped in ice and pins and splints. At least she has John to bring coffee and turn on the Netflix.)

I guess I could have stood like that forever, waiting and praying behind the red line until I collapsed next to the study abroad girl, but it was finally my turn. And I was one of the lucky ones; I got an appointment. To come back later that day. (Powerball fans, eat your heart out.)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I am an idiot, and the fact that this whole thing turned into a blog has only made a bad situation worse. That’s what I thought, too – until my phone rang as I was pulling out of the post office parking lot. It was my friend Annesley, calling to fill me in on her family’s start to 2016.

“We all picked fruits of the Spirit to pray for this year,” she said, referring to the list outlined in Galatians. “And when I did a little research on patience, I discovered that it’s not just about waiting. The Amplified Bible says–”

At that point, Annesley drove into a tunnel or something, and our conversation got cut off. I couldn’t believe it. Seriously? I had to wait to find out what patience meant?

I couldn’t. I googled Galatians 5:22-23 in the Amplified Translation. Here’s what it says:

But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Ahhh. So patience (the kind the Holy Spirit forms in us) is not just the ability to suck it up and stand there. It’s the ability to wait well. It’s how we act while waiting – what we think and say and do.

Boy, was I glad I had chosen to pray, rather than telling the clipboard guy what I really thought about his passport operation. And honestly, it could have gone either way.

I share this story not to toot my own horn (because really, I think we can all agree that Robbie’s approach to getting a passport probably makes the most sense, no matter how patriotic of a line-stander you try to be), but to give you something to do next time you find yourself having to wait. Don’t get your undies in a wad. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t start writing thank you notes on federal forms.

Instead, take the opportunity to pray. It’s not something we make a lot of time for, these days. But waiting happens to all of us, and if we step back and see the unexpected gift of time as an opportunity instead of a burden, everything changes. We get to slip our hand into the Almighty’s, partnering with him to accomplish his good purposes on earth.

Which, when you stop to think about it, is a mighty fine way to spend 97 minutes.

(And P.S., I am happy to report that Naida texted me yesterday to say that she had gotten her passport, after only three tries. Is this a great country, or what?)

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Your Athlete

1 Corinthians 16-13-14

Whether you’re praying for a seven-year-old soccer star, a high school varsity point guard, a collegiate lacrosse player, or a grown-up weekend golfer, 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 pretty much has ’em covered!

Turn this power-packed verse into a prayer for your athlete, or pray it for yourself today (even if the biggest thing you’ve got to tackle is a pile of dirty laundry).

Heavenly Father,

Help ______ be on guard, to stand firm in the faith, to be courageous, and to be strong. Prompt ______ to do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Amen.

 

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Breaking Your Enemy’s Teeth

IMG_3164If you’re doing Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus devotional book this year (it was the “everyone gets a copy” stocking stuffer in the Berndt house and, even though it’s only been a few days, it’s safe to say that the book has already gotten way more use than the posture braces that Santa left under the tree in 2013), you read Psalm 3 this week. It’s a short one, and for those who don’t have the Keller book or a Bible handy, here it is:

Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.

I lie down in sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.

From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.

Now, there was a time when I would have read this psalm (or similar ones where David is getting chased by people who want to kill him) and think, “I can’t really relate.” I mean, I don’t feel like I have a lot of “foes” or people who “assail me on every side.” I love the parts in Psalm 3 about God answering me or helping me sleep in peace, but breaking teeth? Excuse me? I can’t think of anyone (even those girls who would never sit with me at lunch, back in middle school) that I would wish that one on.

And I said as much to my running partner, Lynne. She’s my go-to gal on a lot of Bible head-scratchers, and she fielded this one with her customary wisdom and grace.

“Jodie,” she said, “you might not have enemies in the way that you think of them, as in real people. But what about fear, or doubt? What about sadness, discouragement, insecurity, and worry – or anything that keeps you awake at night?”

Ah. She had a point.

But she wasn’t finished.

“You know we all have an enemy,” Lynne continued. (And I did; the Bible says that “our enemy the devil” prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour.) “Don’t you think Satan wants to assail you? And don’t you think he can use things like fear and uncertainty to get the job done?”

Ahhh, yes. Yes he can. And when I began to picture discouragement or fear as my foes, it suddenly became very easy for me to pray that God would step in and render them toothless!

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Yes. That is our dog Khaki. I know it’s not a flattering shot, but…those teeth. I had to show you.

(And alert blog readers will note the fluff of white, just below Khaki’s chin, which explains a lot. When she doesn’t have to wear a Christmas Sweater, she’s actually a decent-looking dog.)

Anyhow.

I don’t know who – or what – you are facing today. But if you feel like you’re under an attack of any kind – whether a real person is conspiring against you, or if it’s things like fear and worry that are taking a bite out of your joy – take Psalm 3 and wrap it around yourself. Call on God, and let him be your shield.

From the Lord comes deliverance. May his blessing be on you today.

 

 

 

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New Year; New You!

2 Corinthians 5-17

I was looking for a verse about “newness” to kick off 2016, and I came upon 2 Corinthians 5:17. Look at how this verse is written in the New Living Translation:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

What a terrific promise! Let’s use this verse as the basis for our Friday Prayer today, praying these words for ourselves or for someone we love as we look expectantly toward the year ahead!

Heavenly Father,

Remind ____ that she belongs to you. Don’t let her dwell on past mistakes or failures; rather, help her put her confidence in you, knowing that the old life is gone and the new has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

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