Red Roses for Empty Nesters

Not long ago, I talked with a gal who told me that when each of her children turned 21, she sent her husband a dozen red roses. “Nobody was in jail, nobody had gotten pregnant, and nobody had killed anyone,” she said. “I figured that we were done, that we’d made it–and I was ready to celebrate!”

But then her kids’ grown-up lives began, bringing with them a whole new set of issues and concerns, and this sweet mama discovered what generations of moms and dads who’ve gone before know:

You never stop being a parent.

Looking back, my friend laughs at her naiveté. Honestly, though? I think she was onto something. Sure, our grown-up kids will face complex and sometimes life-shaping challenges (“little people, little problems; big people, big problems” and all that), but the promise in Psalm 127:3–that children are a reward from God–doesn’t stop being true when they reach adulthood. And if we wait to celebrate the milestones in our children’s lives until they are tied up with a bow, all pretty and neat, we risk missing out on this gift!

If you’ve read even one or two chapters in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Childrenyou know that most of the folks whose stories appear in the book are still praying about the outcomes in their kids’ lives. They’ve all seen God’s faithfulness at work, and yet none of them would say that the process is “finished.” They are all–we are all–still counting on God’s mercy and his grace.

And we are counting on each other. Truly.

It can be hard, when you hit the empty nest years, to maintain close contact with other parents (I know, for instance, how much I miss the easy, organic connections with friends I made at school fundraisers, or on the sidelines of our kids’ sporting events). That’s one of the reasons I wrote a Study Guide for the book: I wanted moms and dads to be able to understand and apply God’s promises, and I wanted us to have a launching pad to discuss (and to pray) these things–both for our own children, and for other young adults who “belong” to us through the blessing of friendship.

 

(The Study Guide is free; click here to download it from the “Resources” page on my website.)

Let’s not wait to celebrate. Prayer is God’s invitation to us to partner with him in accomplishing his good and redemptive purposes, and he knows exactly what we need (and what our kids need!), even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). So let’s go ahead and slip our hand into God’s, tethering our prayers to his promises.

And with or without the red roses, let’s come alongside other parents who are in our same season, slipping our hands into theirs with mutual encouragement, friendship, and love. Let’s lift up all of our kids, celebrating the fact that even if their bows are not all the way tied (or if, a-hem, they look swaddled in duct tape, like some of the gifts we opened this Christmas), God thinks they are beautiful.

And he is still writing their stories.

🌹

P.S. Speaking of duct tape… I apologize for the delay in this blog (I like to post on Fridays), but it took me a little while to stick the pieces of my heart back together after U.Va.’s performance in the Military Bowl. Really, the only bright spot (apart from the glittering first 12 seconds of the game), was that we lost to Navy. It’s hard to be sore about losing to a bunch of guys who love our country so much.

Congratulations, Midshipmen. And if you can deal with the bad guys half as well as you dealt with the Cavaliers, we’ll all rest easy at night.

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Too Busy for Peace? You’ve Got Options

Christmas is three days away.

Which, if you’re like me, means you are kinda busy. I’m wondering if the kids would mind if, instead of wrapping their gifts this year, I just shoved all the Amazon boxes into the family room and wished everyone a Merry Warehouse.

It could work.

First though, I have this blog to write. And you have this blog to read. And since we are all short on time (except maybe for my friend Sara Jane, who does things like fly fishing, and who knows how to quilt), I’ll give you some options.

  1. If you want a post about finding peace in the midst of the mayhem, click here for an oldie (and say a little prayer for our family, as we mark our first Christmas without Khaki):
  2. If the whole family is coming and you aren’t sure what you’ll do with everyone when the eggnog wears off, try the game we played on our family stay-cation. Put Grandma under the sheet for added fun:
  3. If you don’t want a post but you’d still like some peace, try this: Swap worry for gratitude, tell God what you need, and think about stuff that’s actually worth thinking about. Here’s a free Christmas printable to help you remember these tips:

And finally, if you’ve been dying to know who won the book giveaway from launch week, I’ll tell you: Mary Martha (what a great name) in North Carolina, Alice in Virginia, and Crystal in Colorado. Thanks so much for your kind comments, Girls!

All right y’all. Let’s get to it. And, whether you plan to spend the weekend shopping and wrapping or fly fishing and quilting, may grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! (2 Peter 1:2)

Merry Christmas! 🎄

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Merry Christ-Mess!

I saw my friend Rhonda this week. “Your house looks so pretty!” she exclaimed. “Who does all your lights?”

Y’all know who does our lights. It’s my husband, Buddy the Elf, and this year’s blast of frigid air in Virginia Beach got him more inspired than ever. Robbie claims he “cannot work” when it is above 50 degrees (something about the warmer air kills his holiday mojo) and so, thanks to this recent bout of global cooling, we are starting to look a little Chernobyl. In a Christmasy way.

Inside, though, it’s a different story.

The kids brought the boxes down from the attic over Thanksgiving weekend and put them in the living room. Which is where they are now. Last week, I pulled out the nativity scene to get myself in the Jesus mood, but it didn’t really take. I don’t feel all that Advent-y; I mostly just feel…overwhelmed.

Even the Christmas cards–a tradition I normally love–don’t seem to have what it takes. I came up with a prototype back in November, but when the kids saw it, they gave it the ax. So I went back to the drawing board, designed a Plan B, and had them printed this week. Now, the cards are sitting in their own little boxes on the kitchen counter. If they never get sent, will Christmas still come? If a tree falls in the forest…

Speaking of. I am thinking that my problem actually might be our tree. You already know it’s too big for our house; we had to move the furniture all to one side in order to get the thing into the family room. It fit–barely–but there is zero feng shui. And if you want to watch TV, you have to crane your neck around the branches to see the whole screen.

And, positioned as the tree is in front of the room’s big double window, it literally blocks ALL THE LIGHT. I keep thinking about how Jesus came as the “light of the world,” but I am not feeling it, at least not in our family room. All we are in there is just dark. It’s like the year that my friend’s husband boarded up the windows and gift-wrapped their ENTIRE HOUSE house so that it looked like a big Christmas present. He was all happy and proud of himself; she started asking people if they had any spare vodka.

Honestly, though, I am kind of surprised by our tree’s darkness power. It has already lost so many needles that you would think it would be see-through by now, but no. On the plus side, I get a little chuckle out of looking at Buddy’s hair. My man faithfully waters the tree every night, and he always comes out with a head full of pine.

(Which explains why I keep finding Christmas tree parts in our bed.)

All of which is to say…appearances can be deceiving. Because if you rode by our house at night, you would think that a very “all together” person lived there, someone who was probably inside baking cookies and wrapping presents while Bing did his thing on Pandora. And, if you are one of those people who sometimes falls into the comparison trap (and who doesn’t?), you might even go home and start feeling badly about your own Christmas prep.

But don’t. Because, looking at the outside of somebody else’s life, you never get the whole picture.

One of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was this: “Don’t judge your insides by somebody else’s outsides.” I feel like that’s especially important for parents to remember. It can seem like other people’s kids are always more squared away than ours are, or that other families have it all together in their marriages, or their finances, or whatever.

The truth is, none of us do. We’ve all got gaping holes in our lives–boxes that clutter our living rooms, cards that smack of things left undone, pine needles that mess with our heads–and we all need huge buckets of God’s strength and his mercy. We might look all fresh and festive on the outside…but inside we’re all desperate for grace.

Which is, I think, the whole point.

Jesus didn’t leave his glorious home in heaven in order to come into a picture perfect world. He came to inhabit our mess. To walk through it with us. To use it, even, to draw us to himself. To invite us, in the most beautiful way, to surrender.

Which is kind of what happened with me. I sat there yesterday, looking at all of my undone decorating and my unsent cards (and trying not to make eye contact with the tree, lest it hurt me), and I prayed.

“Jesus,” I said (and, as pathetic as this sounds, I am not making it up), “do you mind waiting a little while, while I try to put up some decorations? Like, I really want to worship you, to celebrate Advent, to breathe deeply of Christmas.

“But until I have all my Santas out and maybe cut some magnolia, I just don’t think I can do it.”

And y’all, I promise. I didn’t hear Jesus laugh–not out loud–but I sensed him smile. And I felt him whisper these words to my soul:

I can wait. But I won’t. Not for this. Not for you to make yourself–or your living room–perfect.

I came for your mess. I love you in your mess.

And I’m here.

Alrighty then. We don’t have to wait until December 25–or until we get our halls decked–to celebrate Jesus. We can enjoy him right now. We can know, in the midst of our mess, how very much we are loved.

Even (and especially) on the inside.

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Launch Week Fun!

Ok Y’all. It’s Launch Week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenWhich means all kinds of fun. Like, look how happy my kids are.

First of all, thank you! Thank you for letting me test drive so many thoughts and prayers in this space. It’s been a delight to partner with you as we bring our loved ones–our kids, our spouses, our friends–before the Lord every week, and then wait and watch as his faithfulness unfolds in our lives.

And thank you for jamming up Amazon. I mean it. The book earned Amazon’s #1 Bestseller flag on Launch Day–thanks to you!–and the Mother of All Retailers ran out of stock. They say they have more, but I’m picturing (and praying for) their 120,000 new seasonal employees as they drive forklifts around big warehouses, looking for boxes marked “Berndt.”

In the meantime, I have my own stash of books and I’m itching to share! Post a comment on this blog–it can be a prayer request, a favorite Scripture promise, or just a Merry Christmas wish–and I’ll pick three winners at random, who will each get a copy of the new book. Whoop.

And there’s more.

My good friend Susan Alexander Yates (you’ve met her in this space) graciously offered to let me guest blog for her this week. I talked about praying for your child’s marriage and created a Marriage Blessing from the collection of Scripture prayers you’ll find in the new book. If you want your own copy of this prayer, you can download it here.

(And P.S., the prayer card is two-sided, with the prayer on the front and the Scripture references on the back. If you want to frame it as a Christmas present for your spouse, your married children, or a even a new bride, Amazon offers a great selection of clear stand-alone frames; one of my favorite styles is here.)

(But don’t ALL of you order today. I don’t want to make those forklift people any more crazy than they already are.)

And finally… Maybe you saw this pic on Fox News.

Annesley says I blog about her too much (and lately, she’s right), but when I got the chance to write a post for the media moguls so that they could give folks some Good News this Christmas, I couldn’t help myself. Y’all know I’ve made some pretty jolly mistakes (the sweater, the posture brace), but money-wise, this one was the worst. If you missed it on the Fox News site, here’s the story.

And again, you all. Thank you. Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement, and your prayers. May the Lord continue to encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)

You are loved.

 

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The Tree Hunt

It’s only a week after Thanksgiving, and my social media feeds are blowing up with pictures of people and their Christmas trees. Some were cut (fresh) on a farm. Some were harvested (less fresh) in a parking lot. And some were purchased, pre-lit, with a coupon at Michaels. In every case, the kids look happy, the parents proud, and the trees very much Above Average.

For us, though, not so much. Our Christmas tree is mostly just…big.

And I blame Auburn football.

Because there comes a time, in every fan’s life, when you just need a win. And when your own beloved team manages to rack up a breathtaking total of zero (as in, ZERO) points in the big Thanksgiving Weekend rivalry game, you go to Plan B. You grab your orange-and-blue pom-poms, write “Go Tigers!” on your orange solo cups, and start yelling “War Eagle!”

Which is exactly what we did on Saturday night. It was great fun. Until the Tiger fans stormed the field and Robbie suddenly realized how late it was. We’d spent all our tree-shopping time watching football, cheering for a team we know nothing about. “Everybody in the car!” Robbie commanded. “We have got to go find The Tree!”

Like lemmings, we obeyed. Getting the Christmas tree is a time-honored Berndt Family Thanksgiving Tradition. And, darkness be danged, we were up for it! War Eagle!

What we were less up for was driving all over Virginia Beach, looking for a place that was open. We finally found a lot with the lights on, but it was clear that the tree handlers (who, as they will remind you, WORK ONLY FOR TIPS), were tired. And cold. And probably a little bit tipsy. (They offered us our choice of beer, wine, or whiskey while they looked for their chainsaw.)

Less than ideal shopping conditions, to be sure, but our family is nothing if not doggedly determined to enjoy the Christmas Tree Hunt, no matter how long it might take. We chose the second tree that we saw.

“How much?” I asked.

When the guy told us the price, Robbie left. I found out later that he’d gone to an ATM but, not realizing that that was his negotiating strategy, I started to bargain.

“That seems like a lot,” I said. “Haven’t you ever heard of Black Friday?”

“Yes,” the guy said. “But that was yesterday. Yesterday you could have gotten a really good deal.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Like 75% off. But we marked all the trees up to $400.”

(I am not much of a whiskey gal, but I was starting to think that I could be.)

I haggled the guy down by ten bucks, and when Robbie came back with the cash we asked one of the handlers (the one who seemed the most sober) to snap the obligatory family pic. Which will probably become our Christmas card, especially since Geoff (who shopped via Facetime) looks so good:

(Next year, I call being Geoff.)

Anyhow.

We got the tree home, put it in water, and went to bed.

At first light, Robbie went outside to take a look at our prize. I hadn’t even started the coffee when he returned.

“We must have been drunk.”

I went out to the driveway, still clad in my bathrobe. I could see Robbie’s point. We had not, actually, taken the tree guys up on their refreshments offer, but we might as well have. Because somehow, stone-cold sober and by the light of an iPhone, we had purchased a Beast.

But Robbie is nothing if not doggedly determined to redeem even the most loathsome tree, and he went to work. He got out the measuring tape, the clippers, and the twine. (He planned to tie the thing to the wall, lest it reach out and kill us.)

And by golly, Robbie got the Beast up. Before church, even. And I realized (not for the first time) how much I love my man.

Less enamored, though, was I with The Tree. It really did sort of spook me, looming as it did over the sofa. Like if you accidentally turned your back on it, you’d be sorry. But later that day, when the kids finished climbing the bookshelves…

…it looked better. Less threatening, somehow. And when somebody pulled out my favorite ornament and strapped it on The Tree’s belly, I knew it would all be okay.

Because if you have to have a honker piece of nature camping out in your family room for six weeks, you want it to say something good. Something uplifting. Something that’s bigger and more powerful than even the most ogre-like tree.

Merry Christmas, Y’all.

(And to all my U.Va. friends, please don’t judge me. I promise that, if you squint hard enough, the Tigers kind of look like our guys. #Wahoowa.)

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Black Friday Gift Deals!

Whelp, here we are again. Black Friday. What are we buying?

I like the jewelry at enewton designs (and they’re having some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions!)…

…but I am still on the hunt for a few stocking stuffers for the men in my life. So far, I have asked two different guys what a good “man gift” is. They both said golf balls.

Seriously? Golf balls?

I might bite if the balls came with Bible verses on them, but the ones that just say things like “Titleist” seem sort of…expected. But maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe guys don’t like surprises. I am pretty sure my son doesn’t, at least not when they are ones picked out by his mom.

Which brings me to today’s throwback post. If you’ve seen this one before, just skim ahead to the end, cuz I actually do have one gift idea I’m excited to share…and right now it’s almost 40% off!

 

When You Need a “Virtually Invisible” Gift

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

And I don’t.

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

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

The ad was wrong.

photo 2

Another Christmas fail.

(But can we all please just say thank you to my children, who still talk to me even though I post this pic every year?)

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

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

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

🎁

And y’all…I really am giving prayer to my kids this year. And to pretty much everyone else on my list. And you can, too, because right now “Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children” – which releases in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS – is available on Amazon for super cheap. Click here to pre-order!

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A Word of Advice: Listen for God

We had four kids in six years. Robbie’s job kept us on the move (it got so that people would ask if I were a Navy wife and, when I said no, they’d squint their eyes and take a step back, like maybe we were in Witness Protection). Without any family nearby, I reached out to anyone who looked nice. Including potential babysitters. I didn’t check references; if you had a pulse, you were hired.

I must have had the look of the blitzkrieged back then, because all sorts of strangers gave me advice. Some of it was not super helpful (like the lady who said it was “not safe” to put four children into one grocery cart, especially when they were covered by boxes of Captain Crunch, Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, and some cheap Chardonnay. “Can the baby breathe under there?” she wanted to know. But did she offer to babysit so I could go by myself to the store? I don’t think so).

Some tips, though, were really good. Like, a gal in one of my Bible Studies (I went to at least two, whenever we moved, because Childcare) told me that I would never remember all the funny/cute/awful/wise things my kids said, down the road.

“Just write what they say on a napkin, or a receipt or whatever,” the sage woman said, “and then throw it into a drawer. Later, you will be glad.”

Well, it’s later.

And I’m glad.

Because I accidentally found the contents of the drawer (which, during one of the moves, got transferred into a filing box) last week. Consider the following:

Annesley (and if you’ve read my books or been around this blog for awhile, this won’t surprise you) was always a girl with a plan. And her questions were usually deep:

Mom, when you die, can I have this ring? (She was a five-year old, eyeing my wedding diamond.) Like, if I just slip it off your finger real gently and quick…would you mind?

I wish I’d recorded my answer. I have no idea what I said. I hope it was something wise and comforting, something along the lines of, “Oh honey, it will be a long time before Mommy dies.”

(Or maybe something a bit more to the point. Like, “Get thee behind me, Child.”)

On the plus side, the file also revealed Annesley’s keen ear for the Lord. How, she wanted to know, could you tell if it was God speaking to you, or if it was just your own voice in your head?

A fair question. And one that many of us might be asking today. And my answer started out well.

“Well,” I said, “For one thing, God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.”

Annesley looked a bit blank, so I plowed ahead (and here’s where things got a bit dicey). “Like, the Bible says things like Thou shalt not kill, and Honor your father and your mother. So if you felt like God was telling you to kill your mother, you could be sure that that wasn’t his voice.”

(Okay, okay. I had four kids in six years, remember? I was not at the top of my intellectual game.)

“Kill your mother?” Annesley repeated, incredulous (which I took as a good sign, given the whole wedding ring thing). But then she folded her arms, and gave it some thought.

“Well,” she finally said, “it that was God, he’d have to have a PRETTY GOOD reason.”

🙄

Anyhow. I know my example might not be the most appropriate one, but the principle remains true: When God tells us something, it will never run counter to what he says the Bible. That’s one sure way we can check to see if it’s him.

Another telltale sign that it’s God is that he may convict or correct us, but he never condemns. You know that inner voice that says, “You’re pathetic… You stink… Shame on you…”? Yeah. That one. That one is not God. That’s our enemy, the accuser. Also known as the father of lies. Don’t listen.

Listen, instead, for encouraging words. Words that build you up and prepare you to live a purpose-filled life. God’s voice is like his written word, “useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training” so that we may “be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

And finally, God’s voice is never scattered or frantic, and it’s rarely loud. Instead, it might come as a whisper. And it might take awhile to discern. Which is one of the reasons why the Bible is so keen on us biding our time. “Though [the revelation] linger,” Habakkuk 2:3 reminds us, “wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

These three signs – consistency with Scripture, convicting rather than condemning, and focused rather than frantic – are hallmarks of God’s voice. There are others, of course (and you can discover more via studies like Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God, which I quote in the upcoming Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, because I think one of the keys to writing a half-decent book is tapping into the wisdom of people way smarter than you).

But at least I’ve got these three markers down. And the next time someone gives me advice – whether it’s a lady in the grocery store, a gal at my Bible study, or a voice in my head – I’m gonna be ready. I will stack the words up against the counsel of God.

(And the next time one of my kids comes up with a question, I am for sure going to have a better reply.)

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Can I Rest on You?

So I finally looked at the calendar. Did you know Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away?

Yeah. You probably did. But I’m not quite there. In fact, I didn’t even think about the holiday until I ducked into T.J. Maxx a few days ago to see if they had any “Give Thanks” paper goods. I wanted some cocktail napkins for the buffet, and maybe some hand towels for the guest bath. Because nothing says “gratitude” quite like a printed paper towel.

Oh my.

T.J. Maxx is a holiday wonderland. But not for Thanksgiving. They’re all decked out for Christmas. I know their slogan says how they have “new merchandise arriving daily,” but honestly? I don’t think you could fit one more reindeer in there.

Not knowing what else to do, I flagged down a saleslady. “Do you have any Thanksgiving decor?”

She looked at me blankly, like maybe she’d never heard of the feast. Or like I wanted her kidney. Clearly, I was a couple months late.

I left with two little red Santas.

And then I sat in my car and wondered how I got so behind. Maybe it was all of that arduous Facebook training. Maybe I just over-blog. Or maybe I watch too much football (and if it’s U.Va., you stay for the whole game, regardless of the score, because #loyal). I don’t know. But whatever the reason, I figured the answer was clear.

I had to move faster in life.

No sooner had that thought formed in my brain than another one entered my head. And this one sounded a whole lot like God.

“Jodie,” he said, “You don’t need to move faster. You don’t need to move at all. You just need to trust me – and rest.”

Maybe it’s the fact that I was staring at two painted Santas, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit, but for whatever reason, I suddenly thought of my dad (who liked the Holy Spirit way more than he liked St. Nick, but his mom was a big Santa fan, and those things leave a mark). Either way, I remembered coming home one day, after Dad had been babysitting three-year-old Hillary.

“Granddaddy,” she had said, “Can I rest on you?”

He told me he wasn’t sure what she’d meant, but he said that that would be fine. And with that, my girl had climbed onto his lap, put her head on his chest, and fell sound asleep. It was something that all our kids did. And Dad loved it.

He loved it for the obvious reasons (and seriously, what’s better than having a little one do that?), but he loved it even more because he was a man who knew his Bible. And when Hillary fell asleep on his chest, Dad told me it reminded him of Deuteronomy 33:12.

Which (and I’m just putting this out there) I had to look up.

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,
for he shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

“When God invites you to rest between his shoulders,” my father explained, “he is talking about resting on his chest.”

(Now, I have never seen that claim repeated in any Bible commentary, but when your dad tells you something is so, you believe it. And I did.)

And sitting there in the TJ Maxx parking lot, I knew God was right. I did not need to move faster; I needed to move different. It wasn’t like God was telling me to come to a full and complete stop (he invented Christmas, after all, and I’m pretty sure there are parts of the hype that he likes). Instead, I felt like God was inviting me to enter in to his presence in the midst of the mayhem, to spend time with him, to be refreshed.

To climb up on his chest and just put my head down.

And if you are beloved of the Lord (and you are), that’s his invitation to you too.

Which is something that some folks will welcome. Others (and don’t make me name names) will read that and stress out. “I can’t stop,” you will say. “I’m too busy. My in-laws are coming. And that cranberry chutney won’t make itself.”

I hear you.

I am you.

But let me encourage you with this one little thought: Matthew 6:8. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

You guys, this is true. God really does know. And when we take time to listen, he always provides. Take, for example, my own situation.

There I was, napkin-less, with the biggest family holiday of the year looming in just under a fortnight (Michelle, that’s for you). And then I got a text from my friend Deb:

“We have napkins, half price, at the Lemon Cabana. I thought you might need them for your family.”

I will show you these napkins in just a sec. But what you need to know first is that U.Va. is – and I can’t type it without smiling – bowl eligible. I know all my SEC friends are like, “Yeah, yeah. What’s your point.” But you Wahoos out there…aren’t we grateful? And, knowing that Thanksgiving weekend brings the biggest game of them all – the game where, for the past more than one year we have gotten beaten by a team whose fans pull into the parking lot in RVs with names like The Rolling Turd – you will understand me when I say that God knew exactly which napkins I’d need. He knew I’d need more than “Give Thanks.”

Because I have two sons-in-law, plus their families, who are major Virginia Tech fans. And when we see them at Thanksgiving, and they help themselves to a drink, I don’t want them to simply be grateful. I want them to know it’s

#Wahoowa, y’all.

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Praying for Your Child’s Gifts

When Annesley was three years old, she loved puzzles. But rather than fitting the edge pieces together or tackling certain sections of the picture, she would methodically work from left to right, trying each of the two or three hundred tiny pieces in sequence like some sort of towheaded computer.

Later, when she learned to write, Annesley became a list maker. At night, she would pick out clothes to wear to school the next day, and then make a list of the clothes and how they were to be worn (“Pull socks up to knees”), just in case she forgot. When she babysat for her younger siblings, we always came home to a written report (“Virginia fell on my homework and pulled my pants down”). And one New Year’s Eve I found Annesley working away on her top ten resolutions, recorded in capital letters for added significance:

EXERCISE EVERY SATURDAY.

GO TO BED AT 8:30.

TALK TO GOD EVERY MORNING. (A noble goal, to be sure, but clearly less important than Annesley’s desire to HAVE A GOOD BIRTHDAY).

In addition to making lists, Annesley liked to clean out her drawers, label sections of her closet according to season, and keep track of things like assignments, appointments, and family vacations on the calendar she got from the dentist. None of my other kids were so compulsive, and I didn’t know any other seven-year-olds who begged to make chore charts for the family. To be honest, I didn’t really know how to take Annesley. I thought she was quirky. In a good sort of way.

It was not until years later – as I watched my girl make hard jobs look easy, pay attention to small details, and visualize goals and the steps needed to get there – that I realized she was not quirky. Annesley has a God-given gift of organization.

My friend Susan Alexander Yates, who wrote a book called Character Matters: Raising Kids with Values that Last, advises parents to pay attention to the gifts that God gives their children, and clue them in on the fact that God has given them these talents or abilities for a purpose. “A sense of destiny,” Susan says, “will encourage our children. Learning to recognize their gifts will enable them to discern more quickly the ways in which God might use them.”

By the same token, learning to recognize our gifts can help us (or our children) avoid misusing them. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” That’s true. But perfect gifts in the hands of imperfect people can sometimes be tricky.

Organizers, for instance, may be really good delegators, but they can also be bossy. They can become easily frustrated when others are slow to grasp their vision. And they can put projects ahead of people, neglecting the Colossians 3:14 command to cover all of our virtues with love.

How do I know these things? Because I am an organizer. And as Annesley grew, I prayed that in sharing my gifts, she would be spared my tendencies to misuse them.

Today, Annesley works at an architecture firm, designing buildings and managing construction projects for big universities where inches and dollars both matter. (She actually likes to keep track of that stuff.) And God continues to use her organizational abilities and her Be Prepared personality to bless our family; she’s the one we can always count on to have Advil, a notepad, and money.

(And Annes, if you are reading this, thank you.)

But here’s the thing. Maybe your child’s not an organizer. Maybe she is an accomplished musician, or a technological whiz. Maybe his heart beats with compassion, and you already see him caring for people who hurt. Maybe your child is a leader. Or maybe he or she delights in encouraging others who lead.

If you want to discover (and celebrate) the way that God created your children, I’ve got some good news.

First, this post was excerpted from Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, which Amazon is offering right now in the Kindle version for just $2.99. Click here to get a copy (or, if you already have the book, consider passing this news along to a friend).

And, even better, the fact that God gives our kids gifts – and that he equips them to use them – is actually an invitation to pray. There are so many good verses that speak to this topic (check out Exodus 31:1-5Romans 12:6-8, or Proverbs 22:29 for just some of the gifts God provides), but here’s an all-purpose prayer we can use. Because it doesn’t matter how old our kids are, how organized (or not) they might be, or even how totally committed they are to getting exercise EVERY SATURDAY: God loves them just the way they are, and he has a wonderful plan for their lives!

Heavenly Father,

Equip ______ to use whatever gift they have received to serve others, faithfully administering your grace in all its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen

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FOMO, Friendship, and Facebook

I am one of those people who was FOMO before that was a thing. Like, early on in our marriage, Robbie and I would be driving down a street and we’d pass a house where there was clearly a party in progress.

“Just look at all those cars,” I’d say. “Slow down. Look at the lights in the windows…”

Robbie rarely looked. Or slowed down. He usually kept driving, while I craned my neck. And then, as the house slipped out of view, I would lean back in my seat.

“I wish we’d been invited.”

“Jodie,” Robbie would reply, drawing my name out the way you do when you are trying to explain something to a particularly low-wattage person, “We don’t know the people who live there.”

“I know,” I’d sigh. “But we could meet them. And I am pretty sure that they’d like us.”

I want to be liked.

By everybody.

Last week, for instance, I went to the grocery store, and the checkout gal was not very nice. I gave her my best “Hey there!” smile, but it was obvious that she did not want me in her line. The only thing she wanted was to scan my Klondike Bars and get me out of there.

“I bet you’re not gonna go back there anytime soon,” a friend laughed, when I told her about the experience.

“Are you kidding?” I countered. “I’m going back there tomorrow! I’m gonna get back in her line every day, until we are friends!”

All of this is to say that you would THINK I would have been the first person on Facebook, back when Mark Zuckerberg brought it out of his basement or whatever. Say what you will about the social behemoth; it is clearly a place to find friends. In fact, I did a video series about friendship a few years ago, and I found a website where you could even buy friends. For $200, you could get 1000 of them. Seriously. And these were real people—people who would actually follow you and post comments about your life.

(What’s not to love?)

You would think I’d be all about Facebook…but you would be wrong. Maybe it’s the idea of buying friends that was kind of a turn off. Maybe it’s the whole “look at me” thing. Maybe it’s that I’d read all these studies showing how people actually get depressed after looking at Facebook, since their friends are laughing and drinking and dancing in Paris or wherever, while they’re sitting home watching Netflix. As one of the founders of FOMO, I knew I’d be taking a risk.

Or maybe my Facebook aversion has more somber roots. Maybe it’s that I was brought up in a highly evangelical Christian home where we were warned, from our earliest years, to avoid “the mark of the beast.” Nobody ever explained what the mark actually was, but anything that had the power to lure billions of people and capture what felt like their every waking moment certainly, I thought, had potential. There was a reason they called it “The Web.”

(And when Robbie reads this blog he will tell me that Facebook is not the same thing as the Web. And I will say, “That’s what They want you to think.”)

Anyhow.

Change happens. And in my case, change happened when the marketing team that HarperCollins hired to help promote my new book (Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children releases in just a few weeks!) discovered that I was not yet on Facebook.

“Jodie,” they said (again, speaking slowly), “You need an account. Facebook is where your readers are.”

“My readers?”

“Yes. All of the demographics agree. Facebook is where the older women hang out.”

Ahhh, yes. The older women. My people.

And so, despite the potential for depression and my fear of the beast and all that, I jumped in. The marketing folks (who, if you need marketing folks, are actually amazing; you can find them at C. Grant and Company) designed a big, beautiful page and then set up my training.

(Seriously, y’all. I had Facebook training. Over the phone. And, about 20 minutes into the first session, Robbie—who was in the other room listening to me try to upload a photo, while the poor C. Grant person tried to coach me through the process—finally decided he couldn’t take it anymore. “Do I need to come in there?” he yelled, loud enough for the marketing lady to hear. #Marriage.)

I finally got the hang of it—at least enough to log in—and I put my account into the Facebook search bar: Jodie Berndt Writes.

And here’s what came up:

Can you imagine? It’s like the entire Internet was looking at me, saying:  You have no friends.

Not knowing what else to do (I didn’t want to ask the marketing gal how I could find friends; there is only so much stupid one person can take), I did what all of the other old ladies do.

I reached out to my kids.

(You can’t like regular people? Lord, help us.)

Anyhow.

I don’t really know what I am doing. But if you are already on Facebook, you probably do. And if so, will you like me? Or follow me? Or maybe even share my page with any geriatric people you know? I hope if you click here it will take you to the right page; here’s what it looks like:

I think the C. Grant folks did a great job. And honestly? I feel like I did when my Dad gave me that really nice tennis racquet for Christmas one year. He was a good tennis player, and that present made him so happy.

I wanted to be happy, too. I just needed to figure out how to use the darn thing. And I’ll figure Facebook out, too. It might take me awhile (tennis sure did), but I’ll get there.

And in the meantime, I will be going back to the grocery store, trying to find my cashier. I don’t care if she doesn’t like me. Because Jesus, the best friend a gal could ever hope to have, never said anything about “likes.” He talked about love, the kind that is patient, forgiving, and faithful. The kind that puts other folks first. The kind that would do anything – anything – to show someone how much she is loved.

So here’s the plan. I’m gonna load up on the Klondikes, put on my very best “Let’s be friends” face, and go show that lady who loves her.

❤️ 🙋

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Sharp Dressed Man

Once upon a time, when my man put on his wetsuit, it meant there were waves. And his Bean boots? A sure sign there were ducks.

Now, though, these wardrobe staples are more apt to mean there is mildew.

I keep trying to tell Robbie that pressure washing is kind of a sport. He’s less than convinced.

(And he did not really want to smile for this pic, which only makes me love him even more.)

The bad news is that I snapped this photo right after the pressure washer blew up. The good news (at least for me) is that seeing Robbie out there reminded me of a post I wrote two years ago and, since I am on the road this week, you’re getting a rerun. Hope that’s okay – and that you’ll read this and still know how much you are loved!

Pressure Washed Love

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

Like pressure washing the dock.

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

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

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

Okay then.

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

Yeah, so pressure washing is harder than it looks.

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

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

FullSizeRender

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

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

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

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“Stealing” Pansies

Last week, a friend summed up the reason for Las Vegas (and pretty much every other awful thing). “These things happen,” she said, “because the world is evil. And until people recognize that–until they realize that the only answer is Jesus–they will never know peace.”

I had to agree. I was less worked up than my friend (we’d been running, and she was pretty sweaty about it), but I realized that she was completely and totally right. Nobody is good. “We all,” Isaiah 53:6 says, “have gone astray.” And we’d all be doomed, except for the second part of that verse: “…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Garden Club.

Which is, I realize, an unusual, and possibly inappropriate, segue. But I promised to tell you about the Pansy Sale. And I think it kind of fits, here.

If you’ve ever been in a garden club, you know it’s the sort of group that attracts Very Capable women. Women who get things done. Women who, had they been aboard the Titanic, would have had duct tape stashed in their purse.

The Virginia Beach Garden Club has about 60 of these gals. And every year, we put on our aprons and get together to raise a boatload of money for veterans’ gardens, children’s hospital spaces, environmental education and conservation efforts, and all manner of community beautification projects.

It’s pretty good stuff. And, generally speaking, people are happy.

Except when they aren’t.

Which happens, sometimes. Like when a customer orders Delta True Blue pansies and decides, when she comes to pick them up, that she really wants Delta Blue with Blotch. (We let her switch.)

Or when someone who is not “authorized” tries to put her hands in the order form box. That’s not cool.

Or (and honestly, this is the stuff of garden club nightmares) when we run out of flowers.

Which is what happened this year.

Due to an accounting error (which would, ah, be mine), we came up ten flats short. Of Delta Pure Orange. Which, in case you don’t know, is a great-looking pansy:

We had customers waiting to pick up their orders – their orders of Delta Pure Orange – but we had run out. There was not an orange blossom in sight. Fortunately, I remembered seeing ten flats of the coveted flower outside of the sale, in the place where we’d stashed 115 flats for the City to plant.

(And if you think you are bored right now, please. I lived this.)

“Come on,” I said to my co-chair, Latané. “Let’s grab those orange pansies outside.”

And we did. We grabbed a giant metal rack, dashed out to the parking lot, and loaded ‘er up. We thought we were safe. But no. Somebody’s husband was watching. It was just like I used to tell my kids, when I’d quote Numbers 32:23. “You may be sure your sin will find you out.”

The guy texted his wife:

 

(It’s true. Garden club is a dirty business.)

The thing is, though, I was not, technically, stealing the pansies. I had a plan to replace them. And I was just about to get on the phone to our supplier to order up ten more flats of Delta Pure Orange when I heard a commotion on the other side of the pansy cart. I poked my head around the flowers just in time to see the guy from the City rip into my friend Dee (who, in addition to being a long-time member of the Garden Club, also happens to be the subject of our book The Undertaker’s Wife).

Dee, having spent half her life in the funeral business and all, ain’t scared of much. Normally, she has an answer for everything. But as she stood there, getting positively clobbered by a very big man who’d been robbed of his pansies, I could see she was shaken.

“I–” she began. “I don’t know anything about your missing pansies.”

Dee’s profession of innocence did nothing to curb the man’s ire. He went on. “I want my pansies! I want the pansies I ordered! None of this funny business, okay?”

(He actually said that. He actually said “funny business.”)

Now, at this point you are probably wondering why I did not step in to rescue my friend. I was about to, but you know how sometimes things unfold in slow motion? Yeah. All I could think, as I watched the assault, was how much Dee was looking like Jesus. She had done nothing wrong (and she is, in fact, a garden club member in very good standing) and yet here she was, paying the price for my sin.

It was like watching the entire gospel message unfold in less than 30 seconds. I was smitten.

You’ll be glad to know that I finally stepped in, calmed the guy down, and got his flowers replaced. Pansy crisis, averted.

But the whole thing got me thinking. Nobody stepped in for Jesus. He absorbed all of our sin, every last bit, so that we could be free. And he did it so that our hearts (which are so naturally bad) would have the chance to be good.

And in that act, he gave us the answer for evil. The only answer. And every single time somebody turns toward him, the darkness gets pushed a little more back.

Evil will lose, eventually. “No longer,” it says in Revelation 22:3, “will there be any curse.” And in the meantime, we can take heart. As in, literally.

As in, we can take God up on his offer to get rid of our old yucky heart (the one that leads us astray) and replace it with the heart he designed. Cuz that’s been his plan, from the start: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Swapping True Blue pansies for Blue with Blotch won’t change anyone’s life. It won’t push back the darkness, or deliver us from evil.

But swapping your heart out for God’s most certainly will.

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When You Can’t See God’s Hand…

I wanted to write a funny blog this week. I really did. I feel like I could use a good chuckle.

And with it being the Fall Flower Festival week at the Garden Club, it’s not like I don’t have the material. You try locking 70 women in a giant convention hall for two days and asking them to hawk 56,387 pounds of pansies to their family and friends, and see if you don’t roll on the floor at some point. Stephen Colbert, eat your heart out.

Honestly, though? The pansy story will keep. Cuz right now I’m not feeling that funny. The planet is reeling from earthquakes and hurricanes. A friend’s sister lost her new baby this week. And now we have Vegas. I just cannot imagine.

The FBI, according to news reports, is still seeking a motive. Which is ironic, in a way, because so am I.

I know God is good. And I know he is powerful. And when stuff like this happens, I find myself saying, “God, what on earth were you thinking?”

I feel like I’d feel better if I could just see God’s hand, if he just clued me in or reassured me somehow, the way that I whispered to my young daughters in the movie theater during Beauty and the Beast when the wolves came out and surrounded Belle’s father. “Don’t be scared,” I remember saying. “Just wait. I will all be okay.”

Sometimes, though, God keeps his cards close to his vest. And so, instead of grasping his plan, I’m left taking my friend Michelle’s advice, honed during a time when her own faith was tested:

“You can’t always see God’s hand,” she says. “But you can trust his heart.”

Wise counsel. Because we can trust God’s heart. And we can be confident that he is totally, unreservedly for us. In fact, if the only Bible verse we ever heard was John 3:16, that would be enough. God  loved us so much that he gave his son’s life.

(Which is another thing that, being a mom, I cannot begin to imagine.)

I do trust God’s heart. I really do. But if you’re like me, and you want to “figure God out” (which Virginia always says I can’t do), you’ll love something I read this past week. It’s from Isaiah 66, a passage that talks about God’s ultimate plan:

“As a mother comforts her child,” God says in verse 13, “so I will comfort you.”

And then:

“When you see this, your hearts will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants.”

The hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants. If there is a more hope-filled promise for “figure it out” gals like me, I’ve not yet found it. Just knowing that one day it will all add up and make sense is enough to keep me going, for now.

In the meantime, I will rely on God’s comfort. And if that’s what you want too, here’s one way we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Send your Holy Spirit, who is called the Comforter, to remind us of your love and give us your peace. Do not let our hearts be troubled, and keep us from being afraid. (John 14:26-27)

And Lord, in your perfect timing, we ask that you would switch things up. Give us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Help us, during those times when we cannot see your hand, to trust your heart.

Amen.

 

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Would You Rather Be an Ear or a Hand?

Would you rather be an ear or a hand?

That’s the title of the talk I did at Galilee Church yesterday. We are studying Spiritual Gifts this semester, and my job was to cover the seven gifts that the Apostle Paul outlines in Romans 12. Paul makes a case for the fact that we all have different gifts, and that these things should all be honored and celebrated since “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body.”

Laura, the gal who runs the Instagram account for our study, came up with a fabulous graphic:

Because seriously. Who better than Mr. Potato Head (or, in this case, Ms. “Wonder Woman” Potato Head) to ask whether you need an ear or a hand? Clearly, this is a gal who values all of her body parts.

As I prepared to teach, I remembered a game that our family used to play on car trips, or at other times when we wanted to talk about deep and life-shaping things. It’s called “Would You Rather?” and, basically, it’s a conversation starter where anything goes: Would you rather be somewhat annoying or totally dull? Would you rather have good hair or good legs? Would you rather (and this is the question that actually got our family game started) suck an old man’s toes, or have an old man suck your toes?

(Yeah. I’m not proud of that one.)

(But I did write a blog about it, a couple years back. Click here here if you want.)

Anyhow.

As I mulled the Romans 12 list (prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy), and considered some of the other passages we’ll study (like 1 Corinthians 12, which talks about gifts like healing, or having a word of knowledge, or speaking in tongues), I realized that I sometimes approach God’s gifts the way I do vegetables: I like broccoli, but I’d rather pass on the beets. I was fine if God wanted to give me the spiritual gift of teaching, encouragement, or even hospitality (because apparently if it’s a spiritual gift and not a Martha Stewart thing, the linens don’t all have to match). But when it came to the more mystical stuff – stuff like the gift of interpretation (which is where somebody speaks in tongues and you understand what they are saying, and you translate for everyone) I balked. To me, that was way out on a limb. Way too much margin for error.

I mean, I barely made it through French.

But then, as I worked on the teaching, I kept coming around to something Paul said:  All these (that is, all of the gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 

Ahhh. There was the rub. Did I think it was up to me to tell God which gifts I would “rather” have? Or was I willing to let him do the picking?

Like pretty much everything in this Christian life that I don’t always understand, I knew there was only one answer. I had to put myself in God’s hands. I had to let him decide how to “grace” me, even if he nudged me out onto a limb. Because honestly? He knows how I am formed (Psalm 139), and he’s got a plan for the part I should play in the body of Christ.

And that’s actually the crazy part. The spiritual gifts aren’t even about me. They are meant for the body of Christ. They are meant to build others up – to strengthen the church, to meet people’s needs, to point folks to Christ – and to bring glory to God. Who cares if God makes me an ear or a hand? It’s not about me!

Phew. Okay. That’s enough deep thought for today. It’s Friday. It’s time for me to start asking myself: Would you rather have pizza or wine? (Um…I’ll take both.)

But if Spiritual Gifts is a topic that interests you and you want to follow along with our study, you can watch the videos here (scroll all the way down to the bottom; I think my friend Lisa’s captivating message on 1 Peter 4 is up there this week).

And if you find yourself where I was, not really sure if you’d rather let God gift you or not, can I just encourage you with this one little prayer? It’s something I’ve prayed any number of times, as I’ve sensed God prompting me to do something that didn’t come naturally, or that I did not understand. It’s a good one, and it’s one that I know God will answer:

Lord, make me willing.

I want to receive all that you have; I want to follow you with all of my heart. But I am going to need help.

So please show me your truth. Open my heart.

Make me willing to go where you lead.

Amen.

 

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Hope for the “Not Yet Found”

Okay Y’all. You know that September is book giveaway month — and congratulations to Sharon G. and Beth P., who won last week’s copies of Sara Hagerty’s new release, Unseen (which my pal Jeannie Cunnion and I are super excited about!):

Today I want to share insights from another beloved author friend, Hannah Whitall Smith. And BTW, Hannah has no idea that we are friends, but I know we will be, in heaven. She looks like someone you could confide in:

The reason I want to tell you about Hannah today is because of something she wrote about the “mother-heart of God.” And if you’re praying for a child who has made some bad choices (or who has maybe even walked away from the Lord or from your family), listen up. Because Hannah said (and I know you mamas will get this) that her experience as a mother did more than anything else to shape her ideas about God’s goodness and love.

“Who,” she wrote, “can imagine a mother with a lost child ever having a ray of comfort until the child is found, and who can imagine God being more indifferent than a mother?”

(In other words, take the love you have for your child, times it by about a zillion, and realize that God will never stop loving — and pursuing — your child.)

Not only that, but I love what Hannah said about the whole idea of being “lost”:

“Are we not,” she wrote, “distinctly told that the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine good sheep in order to find the one naughty sheep that is lost, and that He looks for it until He finds it? And, viewed in the light of motherhood, has not that word ‘lost’ a most comforting meaning, since nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found?”

Nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found.

Isn’t that just the best? As a mom, I love knowing that my children belong to God. I love knowing that he is loving enough to go after them, and powerful enough to do more in their lives than anything I could ask for or imagine.

And if you’re praying for a prodigal today, can I just encourage you with a couple of thoughts? This is something I talk more about in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, but that book doesn’t come out until December, and maybe some of you need this right now:

First, God knows our pain. He knows exactly what it’s like to love a child, to teach him to walk, to feed him and kiss his cheek—and then to have that child grow up and walk away, choosing a world marked by bondage, rebellion, dishonesty, and destruction. He knows what it’s like to be angry with a child or devastated by his choices…and yet still be utterly, overwhelmingly consumed by love. (If you don’t believe me, check out Hosea 1:1-11.)

Second, God’s love for our children is not contingent on their faithfulness (or on ours). God’s love is higher than the heavens, his faithfulness reaches to the skies, and even if we are faithless, he remains faithful. He can’t help it; that’s just who he is. (Psalm 108:4, 2 Timothy 2:13)

And finally, God gives us a wealth of promises that we can use to pray for our children. Jesus told his disciples that no one could come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44), so let’s pray that. Let’s ask our gracious Father – the God who is infinitely tender, and infinitely strong – to draw our kids to Christ, and bring them home.

Heavenly Father,

Give _____ a heart to know you, that you are the Lord. Count  ______ among your people. Be their God. And draw them to return to you with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)

Amen.

(The quotations from Hannah Smith are from the original edition of her spiritual autobiography, The Unselfishness of God. I can’t find that book in print, and more recent versions omit several chapters. But Catherine Marshall talks about Hannah and the mother-heart of God in her book Beyond Our Selves – you can find the relevant stuff in chapter 2.)

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Unseen: The Best Book on the Beach

If you have children, you probably know how embarrassing it is to be you. I know I do.

Sometimes, though, I just can’t help myself.

Like on our last family vacation. We’d gathered in Bethany Beach, Delaware, where pretty much every beach-goer is either a lacrosse player, a bookworm, or (and yes, this does happen) both. Oceanfront real estate is dear, and by 9:00 a.m. every day, the good campsites have all been claimed by athletes and readers. Families stack themselves three and four deep, the ones in the back having to thread a course between chairs, towels, sports equipment, and a summer’s worth of New York Times Bestsellers just to get to the waves.

Got the picture? Good.

Because it was going on noon and the beach was super crowded when I finished Sara Hagerty’s new book, Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed

I’d started reading early that morning, taking my coffee and the book out to the sand.

I read about Sara’s post-college passion to “change the world for God,” and how her escalating effort to get the job done (and earn the approval of others) left her empty. I read about her career in sales and how, in the midst of client presentations and spreadsheets and co-workers who took credit for her work, she found herself craving more. I read about how, as a young mom, Sara tried to make a difference in her family amid piles of laundry, endless meal prep, and bickering kids in the backseat…and how, through it all, she scouted her days, trolling for the tiniest sign that what she was doing mattered.

I read about how God saw her in those hidden seasons, those hard-to-measure “middle minutes” of our lives. And I read how Sara saw Him, too. How she found herself drawn by His gentle expression. By his open stance. By the lines on His face.

The lines on God’s face.

Can you imagine? That image – that one little line, hinting at indescribable closeness with God – just undid me.

Fortunately, my kids didn’t notice the tears slipping out from behind my sunglasses, or the fact that (and I am not proud of this) I had to blow my nose into my beach towel. What they did see, however (and what pretty much everyone saw), was when I stood up.

As I said before, I couldn’t help myself. So captivated was I by the raw beauty of Sara’s writing that, when I finished the book, I had to let someone know. Thinking that I was only addressing my family, I held the book aloft (as in high, as in above my head) and said: “THIS is the BEST BOOK on the WHOLE BEACH.”

“Really?”

I turned, wondering who had spoken.

It was a lacrosse player seated one campsite over. He wasn’t reading, but his mom and his grandmom both had books in their laps. As did about 15 other beach-goers, who all now looked up, expectantly, to see what book was so good.

I had no choice. As my children buried their heads in their towels, trying to signal that they were not actually with me, I plowed ahead.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes it is.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s about…” and here I faltered. How do you tell someone that the best book on the beach is about how God has lines on his face? Or that it’s about how he sees you, and loves you, even in the most mundane and seemingly unproductive moments of your life? Or how he just…knows.

“It’s about God,” I finally said. “It’s about how we were actually made to be seen. And it’s…it’s just really good.”

“Okay,” said the lacrosse player. “I’ll check it out.”

I hope he did.

And I hope you will, too. Because I realize, reading back over this post, that I have not done a good job of explaining this book. Not at all.

Fortunately, Sara gave me permission to share an excerpt with you. And I’ll do that in just a sec, but first, you need to know two things.

Number One. Right now (as in, right now, cuz this promo ends tomorrow), Zondervan is offering a buy-one-get-one deal on copies of Unseen purchased at Barnes & Noble. Click here for details.

And Number Two. If you want a FREE copy of the book, post a comment on this blog. Tell me if you like Sara’s writing (I loved her first book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet), or maybe what you’ve done lately to embarrass your kids. Or just say hello; anyone who comments will be entered to win (and I love this book so much that I’ll actually pick two winners, so your odds just went up). This giveaway will be live through 9/21, so jump on it.

Here’s Sara:

“Why this waste?”

(excerpted from Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed)

I’d been in a suit and heels since 5:00 a.m., and after a full morning, I was at the airport for an early afternoon flight home—home to a husband, but no children.

I’d recently started to crave more. I wanted more from my sales support job. I wasn’t tired of doing it or even tired of the desk work and the travel, but I was tired of working for little more than sales goals and a paycheck. I wanted more than productivity and success. I wanted brushes with God and meaning and almost anything that mattered but wasn’t easily measured.

My work for the day was done and I was tired, but my heart was hungry, and I was beginning to like heart hunger. So I prayed: God, I want to meet with You in this airport.

Meeting Him required quieting my insides enough to hear and respond. The kind of dialogue I was learning to have with God burgeoned when I saw it as an exchange—my mind for His thoughts, my fear for His assurance, my whispers for His response. As I made my way to a restaurant near my gate, I noticed an elderly gentleman who was being pushed in a wheelchair. I prayed for God to breathe life and strength into his frail body. I saw a man running as fast as my mind usually worked, and I prayed his racing heart would come to know Jesus. I saw a young woman with vacant eyes, and I prayed she would find the filling her heart most needed. I realized afresh that the people all around me weren’t merely interesting. They were God-created. I wanted to talk to Him about what He had made.

God, what do You see in the man who is late for his flight? And the one in the wheelchair—how do You see the heart buried underneath that broken body? Rather than looking at people as faces among the masses, I asked for His eyes for them and responded with minute-long prayers: God, I want to meet You in this airport.

No one knew this conversation I was having in my head with God. And I was starting to like these secret exchanges.

At the restaurant, I grabbed the last available seat at the bar, which was full of day travelers with carry-ons. As I scooted up onto my stool and glanced at the laminated menu, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me. He looked to be near retirement, but he was dressed for business. I was drawn to him in the way you’re drawn to someone who is not at all like you, but with whom you feel a strange connection.

Maybe I’m supposed to share the gospel with this man, I thought. I ordered my food and opened my book, trying to concentrate on reading while staying aware of what felt like a nudge from God.

Ten minutes later when the waitress brought out my order along with that of the man next to me, I noticed that we both had ordered the same meal. I awkwardly mumbled a comment about it, looking for a way to begin a conversation. But my voice, perhaps too quiet from nerves, got lost in a salvo of loudspeaker announcements. He hadn’t heard me. I went back to my book, resigned that I’d misread God’s cues.

The book I was reading explored the concept of abiding in the vine from John 15. The author used the notion of tree grafting to illustrate this abiding. After hours of client presentations on throbbing feet, my mind couldn’t absorb the words. I read and reread the same paragraph, but without comprehension. And then this prompt dropped into my mind: Ask the man sitting next to you to explain it.

Uh-oh, I thought.

As much as I wanted to hear from God, I knew that we humans sometimes mishear Him and mistake our mental wanderings for His voice. What should I do? Talk to the man and risk awkwardness and embarrassment? Or not talk to him and risk missing what might well be God’s answer to my prayer to meet with Him in this airport?

Well, at least I’ll never see this guy again, I thought. So I went for it.

“Sir, excuse me,” I said, much louder this time, almost shouting to compensate for my nerves.

He startled. “Yes?” he said, raising his eyebrows like the authoritative boss of a fresh college grad.

“Do you know anything about grafting?” I coughed out.

“What?” he asked.

Oh no. I had to say it again. This business exec didn’t even seem to know what the word meant.

“Grafting, sir. Do you know anything about grafting?” My face was red hot.

“It’s funny you should ask,” he said. I noticed tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.

My heart started racing.

“I majored in agriculture in college and I minored in grafting. I run a farm equipment business but have gotten away from what I once loved.”

Now I was sure I could actually hear my heart, not just feel the pounding.

He stretched back on his stool, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. Then he enthusiastically explained the details of how the branch of one tree is grafted into another as if he were telling me a page-turning story. I showed him the paragraph in my book and asked him questions. He made it all so clear.

I’m not sure if I was more surprised that the prompt to talk to this man really was from God, or that God was personal enough to meet me at an airport barstool. Apparently, God was meeting this man too, right over his hamburger and French fries. He thanked me after our exchange as if he’d been reminded of his boyish love for trees and for grafting, a love that needed rediscovering.

Twelve years later, this conversation remains my most memorable business trip. Still. I can’t remember where I’d gone or even who I met with on that trip. I remember it only because I’d felt seen and heard by God.

God showed up when I was in my suit and heels, and He winked. We shared a secret. During those days of client presentations, excel spreadsheets, and conference calls, He was whispering, I want to meet with you, here. What I might once have considered a waste of time—conversation with Him in the midst of a demanding day—became, instead, food for my hungry heart. It was a gift of hiddenness during a season when my work required me to be on during the workday.

God’s currency is communion—a relationship that grows, nearer still. A relationship that is cultivated when no one else is looking. A relationship accessed not just when we feel we need His help but at all the odd times that punctuate our agenda-driven days. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot.

What a waste. What a beautiful waste.

Ω

(Unseen is the last book in our September Book Giveaway series. To those who just joined us this week – welcome! And congratulations to Alexis from Tennessee, a new subscriber who won a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children!)

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At Work and at Pray: Lift Up the Teachers

(September is BOOK GIVEAWAY month! Congratulations to last week’s winner, April from Sidney, Ohio, who’s getting a copy of Jeannie Cunnion’s new release, Mom Set Free. And this week I’m giving a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children to a NEW blog subscriber…so if you’ve got a friend who might like these posts, please spread the word and invite her – or him! – to sign up.)

 

So…Robbie is slogging through the third week of a college course called Theories of Financial Markets. I’d be jealous…except that I’m not.

But honestly? He’s not the only one hitting the books:

The Bible says we’re supposed to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). “The work of the Lord” is kind of a broad category, but I’m pretty sure that praying fits in there someplace. And right now, I’m workin’ it on behalf of Robbie and his U.Va. teachers.

I’m praying, for instance, that they would “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time they will reap a harvest if they do not give up.” That’s Galatians 6:9…and it’s my all-time favorite teacher prayer. Because being tired or worn out is no fun for anyone. And no matter how sorely they’re tempted, I don’t ever want a teacher to give up on my kid.

(Some of you get that.)

I’m also praying that Robbie will be teachable. I want his heart and his mind to be open to things like wisdom and understanding. I want him to have a good attitude as he heads off to class every day. I want him to be able to confront academic challenges with grace, and to see hard things (which, to me, would include theories of financial markets) as opportunities to grow.

I actually wrote about the value of being teachable in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. And, since that’s this week’s book giveaway (whoop!), I figured I’d share an excerpt from the chapter about praying for our kids’ relationships with their teachers and coaches. Here it is:

 

Praying for a Teachable Spirit

If you’re like me, you tend to spend more time praying for your kids to get the right teachers than that they will be the right students. But how our children think and behave in the classroom or on the athletic field can go farther toward fostering strong relationships with teachers and coaches than just about anything else.

Ned and Drew are two of the most teachable young men I know. Eager learners, they are quick to explore new ideas, and they have learned to recognize and respect the giftedness of their teachers – even when some of the concepts they were taught clashed with their own Christian convictions.

Ned and Drew’s willingness to learn is also evident in their athletic pursuits. Both are outstanding runners, a trait they inherited from their father, Jim, an Olympic medalist who was the first high schooler to run a mile in less than four minutes. When Ned and Drew won spots on the high school track team, Jim vowed not to interfere with the coach’s methods. Moreover, he encouraged his sons to respect the coach’s authority, even if the man’s coaching style differed from their father’s teaching.

As it turned out, the high school track coach did not do everything the way the former Olympian would have, and Ned and Drew knew it. But rather than argue with the man or rebel against his methods, the boys opted to buckle down and do their very best, while Jim and his wife, Anne, stayed content to pray for their sons from the bleachers. As a result of the family’s gentle, teachable spirit, the coach saw Christianity in a very favorable light – a testimony that would not have been possible had Ned and Drew taken an aggressive or defiant stand against his techniques. What’s more, the track team won an unprecedented series of three straight state championships.

Every life has it’s share of boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration, and tragedy. But if our children can learn to meet each new challenge as Ned and Drew did, by seeing the value in other people, respecting authority, and looking for opportunities to learn and grow, then even painful or disappointing circumstances can become reasons for thanksgiving. And long after our children have graduated from classrooms and playing fields, a teachable spirit will prove its lasting worth in their careers, their marriages, and their ability to minister to others.

 

There’s more, but you get the idea: When we pray for our kids to honor and respect their teachers and coaches, good things happen. 

So let’s do that.

Heavenly Father…

Cause ______ to obey his teachers and coaches and submit to their authority. Let him know that these people keep watch over him, and that you will hold them accountable for the job they do. Show ______ that when he honors his teachers and coaches and makes their work a joy instead of a burden, the end result will be to his advantage. (Hebrews 13:17)

Amen.

And P.S., if you like that Galatians “don’t get weary” prayer, here are a few more ways you can ask God to bless your kids’ teachers. Click here to download this image as a printable postcard:

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What I Learned from Being a Tree Frog

My plate was already too full. I didn’t have the energy, or the time. Plus, I barely even knew any of the 150 kids who’d signed up.

Why would I want to help out at Vacation Bible School?

I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I like VBS. When my children were young, I volunteered every year. I saw the job as a great way to get to know my kids’ friends, strengthen their faith, and maybe even introduce a few newcomers to Jesus. And if doing those things meant dressing up in fake lederhosen to show the kids how to climb Mt. Everest (which, I am sure, had a Very Spiritual Point that I am temporarily forgetting right now), then so be it.

That was then. This is now. And now, when the call went out for volunteers, I said no. Nothing good, I thought, could come out of having me as a helper.

At best, I’d be marked as a fraud. Today’s kids are savvier than they were 20 years ago, and I knew my plastic “snowshoe” tennis racquets wouldn’t cut it. I’d be Googled – and outed – in no time.

And at worst, I’d get hurt. I am too old to climb mountains. When I get up in the morning, my knees sometimes creak. Even my computer knows things are slipping; when I clicked over to BibleGateway just now, look what popped up:

(I don’t know what’s worse: The thought that you might get mistakenly flagged as a terrorist, or that the NSA spies will just brand you as “old.”)

Where was I?

Oh yeah. I did not want to help.

Still, though, it was my church, and I figured I had a duty to serve. So I did what came naturally.

I donated the paper products.

And for about 20 minutes, I felt pretty good. Duty done. But then, early one morning as I was thinking about my Super Important to-do list (I had to get a hair cut, pick up the dry cleaning, alphabetize the pansy orders for the annual Garden Club sale), I read this:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)

I was like, Seriously God?

And he was like, Yes.

So I said okay. I will do it. I will spend one day as a VBS volunteer.

But, as it happened, they didn’t really need people in God’s courts for one day. They needed people all week. So could I please be a leader for one of the Animal Family tribes at Noah’s Ark?

Sigh. Okay. Make me a lion. Or a tiger. Or even a zebra. Something grand and majestic, something worthy of the “family cheer” that, according to the Leader Handbook, each tribe would GET TO CREATE!

They made me a Tree Frog.

I didn’t even know what a “tree frog” was when I showed up and they gave me my visor. But I put it on and studied my list. I had 10 seven year olds.

Day One began well. One kid showed up, looked at me, and immediately requested a transfer to another tribe. Three children were sick. My ten had been whittled to six. Things were looking up.

“Tree frogs have only four fingers!” announced one little guy, demonstrating the fact by hiding his thumbs and clinging to my arm.

“We’re small, but we’re mighty!” crowed another (which, actually, became the basis for our family cheer).

I liked these kids. They seemed smart. And enthusiastic. And active. No sooner had we finished our first aerobic session of singing when it was time to head outside for rain-and-flood-themed games.

Games like “Line the Leaders Up Against a Brick Wall and Try to Hit Them with Water-Soaked Sponges.”

I couldn’t believe it. A few of the kids had incredible arms, and had I been a middle school baseball coach, I would have been early recruiting. As it was, I stood there, ducking and dodging and trying not to get beaned. And all I could think about was (inappropriately, I know) that scene in The Hangover where the kid tazes Alan and the delighted cop keeps yelling, “In the face!”

(Yet another reason why I should not be a Bible School helper.)

By Day Three, I was exhausted. As in, more than what a glass of wine and a nap had the power to fix. I could not remember any workout that had left me so tired or so sore, not even the ones I used to do in my leg warmers, with Jane Fonda. (See? Old.)

I was also – and unexpectedly – inspired. And refreshed. And encouraged.

Because I thought I knew Noah. Who doesn’t? He was the guy who built the ark and saved himself, his family, and the tree frogs. He was the guy with the dove. And the rainbow.

He was all those things, sure. But he was also the guy who obeyed God when, honestly, he probably didn’t even know what he was doing, or why. Back then, nobody had ever even seen rain, much less the “floodwaters” that God said were coming. It’s not hard to picture the neighbors talking about Noah behind his back, or even mocking him to his face.

(I mean, let’s be honest. We’ve had neighbors drop hints when our grass got too long. How much more would they squawk if Robbie went out there and started building a boat that was as big as a football stadium?)

And yet…Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)

VBS gave us an up-close look at the guy:

Day after day, we watched Noah’s progress. And to see him there, putting fake tar on his fake ark while all the fake villagers (teenagers whose costumes were definitely more authentic than my mountaineer kit) stood around scoffing, it kind of broke my heart. And I wondered: Did the real Noah ever get discouraged or tired? Did he question whether he had heard God right? Did he ever look up and say, “Hey God. I’m too old.”

He could have. He was (and I’d forgotten this little detail) 600 when the rain started to fall. Six hundred.

And, in that little nugget, God spoke. I don’t know what he said to the rest of the tree frogs, but what he said to me was this:  You are never too old to bear fruit. You are never too old to obey. And you are never too old to be mine.

And these tree frogs of yours? They belong to me, too.

And I love them.

Well that was all I needed to hear. Hang on my back and hit me again with a water sponge; I don’t care. Because you know what? Better is one day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere.

And so here’s the thing: I don’t know if maybe God has asked you to do something hard – something that takes a long time, something you don’t really understand, or even something that (to other people, at least) looks a little bit crazy. I don’t know if maybe you are wondering whether you heard God right, or if he will actually do what he promised. I don’t know if maybe you’re where I was, and you’d say yes to God’s nudge if you weren’t just so darn busy. Or old.

I don’t know. But I do know this (because it was our VBS memory verse, and we jumped up and sang it every day): Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That’s Genesis 6:8, and it’s the same grace that God gives us today, even when we don’t feel up to whatever it is that he’s called us to do. His grace is sufficient; his power is made perfect in weakness.

So…say yes to God. He’ll make it all worth it.

(And if you don’t, who knows what you’ll miss?)

 

 

 

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Parenting in Freedom and Grace (plus a book giveaway)!

Ever feel like your kids’ future is riding on you? Or like you have to be perfect (or at least really good) so that they’ll have an example to follow? Or like God is watching the way that you parent…and that if you blow it, he’s gonna be bummed?

Yeah, me too.

I think I told you about the time Robbie took the SATs. He’d spent most of his childhood playing outdoors, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing him read. Did he know any vocabulary words? I wasn’t sure. And so, in a last-ditch effort to redeem my academic parenting fails and get him prepped for the test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and turned them into flashcards. If Robbie learned even just two or three words while he played, that might help.

Oh how I wish I’d had Jeannie Cunnion’s new book, Mom Set Free, back then! She could have saved me a lot of angst (and kept me from ruining Robbie’s lacrosse stick, cuz the mesh part turned pink when the Sharpie marker wore off).

As it is, I’m highlighting and starring and underlining pages in Jeannie’s book now. My kids may be grown, but I still need all the help I can get when it comes to rejoicing – and actually relaxing – in the blessing of being a mom.

As the book’s cover proclaims, Jeannie’s heart is to free moms from the pressure to get it all right. Our kids’ future (whether they’re headed to kindergarten or college) is not in our hands, any more than it’s up to us to “make” them honest and kind, strengthen their faith, or protect them from hardship. All of those things – and so many more – are ultimately up to the Lord. He has good plans for them (ideas that are way better than ours, BTW), and as Philippians 2:13 reminds us, it is God’s job (as in, not ours) to work in them to “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Don’t get me wrong. Jeannie isn’t trying to get us to sit back and do nothing. Parenting, she says, is hard work – and it involves discipline and boundaries and consequences. But it also involves grace – huge buckets of grace! – the kind that frees us to discipline and teach and correct our children without relying on anger or scare tactics or shame. As Jeannie sees it, parenting with grace is what lets our kids know (the way that God lets us know), that even when they make unlovable choices, they are still (and forever will be) deeply, unshakably loved.

Ahhhh…there’s so much good stuff in this book. And – whoop! – I actually got to be with Jeannie this week to celebrate the Mom Set Free launch. She was a guest on the 700 Club (click here to watch her interview), and some of my young mom friends came over to my house beforehand to get her warmed up:

To see a clip from that interview, you’ll have to head over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt)…but first, I’ve got some good news. I managed to snag an extra copy of Mom Set Free while Jeannie was here, and I want to give it to someone! Post a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a winner at random (unless you are a patent attorney who thinks that my SAT-word lacrosse balls are marketable product, in which case I will probably pick you).

Seriously, y’all. I love it when I get to recommend a book that combines my two favorite things:  Loving my kids and following Jesus. And Mom Set Free is chock full of great verses; I’ll borrow this one from p. 236 and leave you with a parenting prayer:

Lord, you have promised to fight for me. Help me to do what you say and just stay calm! (Exodus 14:14, NLT)

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I love Charlottesville. A lot.

I love Charlottesville. A lot.

And, like a jillion other people in our country, my heart hurts over the images of violence and hatred we saw descending upon that city last weekend.

And, like probably every other U.Va. alum and parent, I have received dozens of emails and text messages from school administrators, fellow alumni, and friends – some of whom have no personal connection to the school, but all of whom want to uncover and share a deeper message of reconciliation, understanding, and love.

On the wider message board of national media, there seems to be a fixation with pointing fingers and assigning blame. While I’m all for confronting (and learning from) our mistakes, I would rather focus on that which is good, noble, and lovely – like the marchers in Wednesday night’s vigil, where songs like “Amazing Grace” and chants of “Love wins!” served to scatter the darkness – than on setting our hearts and minds on what’s wrong. As John MacArthur put it in his book, Reckless Faith, “Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing.”

The “real thing” in Charlottesville – and in any place where we want love to win – is Jesus. I won’t pretend to have all the answers (or even a couple of them) to society’s ills, but I am pretty sure that he does.

“Love one another,” he says. “As I have loved you [as in, being willing to give up his position and even his life], so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I could go on, but you get the idea. Whether we are working for love and reconciliation on a national scale, or trying to find a way forward in the face of hurts on a more intimate stage (like in a marriage, or a friendship), these are the sorts of wisdom nuggets that make for lasting and positive change. These are the marks of the real thing.

Our son Robbie starts classes at U.Va. on Tuesday, along with more than 16,000 other undergraduate students. Am I worried about his safety, or about the perspectives he might encounter?

No. Not at all. The University of Virginia represents one of the warmest, most welcoming and inclusive, places I know.

I am, however, praying.

I am praying that Robbie will be devoted to his classmates and teachers, honoring their lives and their needs above his. I am praying for things like wisdom, joy, protection, and peace (to download four of those specific prayers, click here). And I am praying for him – and for myself – in agreement with one of the most beautiful emails I received this week, a forward from my U.Va. classmate, Alexis.

Alexis shared a prayer written by pastor and author, Scotty Smith. To read the whole prayer (in which Smith looks forward to the day when “honoring one another above ourselves will be our delight, not our discipline”), click here. It’s a raw and honest petition, and well worth the read…but if you only have a minute or two, here’s how Smith sums up his plea. Let’s pray this one together:

Jesus, bring the power of the gospel to bear in extraordinary ways in our relationships, churches, and communities. Grant us greater grief and repentance over the ways we love poorly. Stun us, humble us, and gladden us… again and again and again… with glory and grace. There is no other way we’ll change. So very Amen, we pray, with conviction and hope, in your grace-full name.

#Charl♥ttesville

 

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Your Kids are Never Out of God’s Reach

It’s August.

Which, by force of habit as much as anything else, has me thinking about back-to-school prayers for my kids.

Which would be a little bit odd (my children are grown-ups), except for one thing: It doesn’t matter whether our kids are headed off to kindergarten, college, or to a new job on the other side of the country, they are never out of God’s reach. And to me, the back-to-school season represents as good a time as any to ask God to hold them!

Here are four of the prayers I am praying:

Make Robbie glad by your deeds; may he sing for joy at the works of your hands. (Psalm 92:4)

Keep Virginia from all harm; watch over her coming and going, now and forever. (Psalm 121:7-8)

May Hillary and Charlie grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and others [co-workers, bosses, friends, and even each other]. (Luke 2:52)

Keep Annesley and Geoff in perfect peace. Give them a steadfast mind [one that stays focused on you, instead of on “what ifs” or worries] and the ability to trust you. (Isaiah 26:3)

If you want to borrow these prayers and personalize them for your own family, click here to download a letter-sized PDF:

If your children are little, consider writing their names in the blanks and tucking one of the cards into a lunchbox or book bag. If they are far-away grown-ups, you might slip a prayer card into a letter (maybe with a Starbucks gift card, right Virginia?). And if you’ve got teenagers, just stick the prayer on your fridge or your dashboard. Your kids might roll their eyes but trust me:  Deep down, they’ll be glad you are praying.

Or maybe don’t share the prayer cards with anyone. Instead, just do like I do, and keep ’em for yourself. I have mine in my prayer journal. Because even though I might THINK it’s my kids who need God, the truth is that I do, too. I need the reminder (as my crew heads off to new people, new places, new things) that, even though I can’t protect them or give them things like wisdom, peace, and joy, God can.

And in fact, that’s exactly what his heart longs to do.

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When You Walk through Life’s Darkest Valley

Blog update: Many thanks for reading these posts, and for all the times you’ve reached out to share your own insights and stories with me.

Starting next week, I’ll only be posting on Fridays. I am experimenting with videos and what I hope will be some fun and encouraging posts on other platforms (like I even know what that means). You can find me on Instagram @jodie_berndt and (Lord willing, at some point in August) on Facebook @JodieBerndtWrites.

I am so grateful for you…and for your partnership in parenting, prayer, and celebrating all the ups and downs of this wonderful, abundant life that we share!

Yesterday, I recapped one of the highlights from a sermon on Psalm 23. Today, I want to turn part of that message into a prayer. God is our shepherd, sure, and he does lead and guide us…but sometimes the paths he ordains can look scary or hard. Even painful.

And yet we can walk in confidence and freedom, even in the darkest valley. God is with us. We have no reason to fear.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being my shepherd, for leading and guiding me, and for refreshing my soul. As I walk through _________ (whatever situation you’re facing today), may I feel your comforting presence and know that I have nothing to fear.

Amen.

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Lessons from a Lollipop

I am one of those people who still loves to get the mail. Never mind that the daily haul is almost always a depressingly bland mix of bills, advertisements, and unwanted catalogs. Call me Charlie Brown, but every time I walk out to the curb, I can’t shake the sense that today will be different – that surely somebody will have sent me something I like.

Last week, my hope was rewarded. I opened a fat brown envelope and found this:

There was no note, or even a return address, but I knew who the lolli was from. We’d just gotten back from helping Virginia move into her new apartment in New York City, and we’d heard a fabulous lollipop-based sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The talk wasn’t really about candy; it was about Psalm 23 and how we, like sheep, are lost, loved, and led. But somewhere in between describing God’s love and his leading, the minister shared a story about the time he overheard a father talking to his three-year-old daughter, who was enjoying a lollipop.

“What do you love more,” the dad asked, “the lollipop or this dollar?”

“The lollipop,” the girl said.

The dad waited a moment. “What do you love more, the lollipop or our dog?”

No hesitation. “The lollipop.”

“Tell me,” the dad finally said, “What do you love more, the lollipop or Mommy?”

You can guess what the little girl said. Hilarious.

Now, we know she didn’t really love her lollipop more than she loved her mother. But the illustration helped drive home a good point: Whatever is most real to us is the thing that we love. Or fear. Or find ourselves consumed by. It is the biggest thing in our vision, and so it colors our world.

With the lollipop image fixed in our minds, the minister looped us back to Psalm 23 and talked about David and Goliath. Goliath was huge; his presence intimidated the Israelite warriors. And he would have filled David’s vision, too, except for one thing. To David, God was more real. God’s unseen presence in David’s life (whether he was fighting lions and bears or lying down in green pastures) was bigger than any visible threat. Instead of seeing a big scary giant, David beheld the power of God.

There were all sorts of good takeaways (click here if you want to download the whole sermon for yourself), but for Virginia and me, the main one was this: God is bigger than anything in our lives. And as we practice his presence – as we dig into the Bible, obey God’s commands, rely on his power, and love and serve other believers – he will become more and more real. And we will become more and more willing to follow him (even when we don’t know what he is doing, or when it hurts and it feels like we are walking through the “darkest valley”).

To Redeemer’s David Bisgrove: Thank you for an encouraging sermon. Please forgive me for stealing your lollipop story, but it (like your whole message) was too good not to share.

And speaking of sharing y’all…

I WISH I had a pic of Robbie carrying Virginia’s dresser up ten flights of non-air-conditioned stairs. He is an amazing dad, but even the best guys don’t always appreciate their wives’ photojournalism, so I snapped Virginia instead. But don’t be fooled by what looks like happiness; at this point, we were all slightly bonkers. The only thing keeping us going, I think, was the promise of a glass of wine with dinner…and the knowledge that God was bigger and more real than our sore, sweaty selves.

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Where’s the Joy? (Three Keys to Finding It)

I took a walk with a new friend a few days ago.

We talked about our lives (as women do), and the conversation quickly turned to areas where we were trying to trust God in the midst of uncertainty, frustration, and even pain. We covered pretty much everything: jobs and marriages, children and parents, housing and health, you name it. And as we walked along, sharing our concerns, I finally (and probably inappropriately) laughed out loud.

“Do you realize,” I said, “that if a non-believer happened to overhear us, that they would NOT want to sign up for our team? I mean, who wants to be a Christian if all you do is slog through life, trying to obey God and hoping you get it right? Where’s the joy?”

“I know!” my new friend agreed, with a bittersweet smile. “We are not a very good advertisement for the abundant life, are we?”

That conversation has stayed with me this week. Where, indeed, is the joy? All of us have problems, sure, but do those things really have power to keep us from experiencing God’s goodness – and rejoicing in that? How do we move from the slogging life to the abundant one?

I wrote about the abundant life a couple of years ago, after our daughter jumped out of an airplane with a stranger named Ollie (an adventure we learned about after the fact, via Instagram):

The gist of that earlier post was that trusting God can be scary, but it’s the thing that opens the door to the good stuff. I still think that trust is the key…but if we are struggling with how, exactly, we get there, it might help to take a good look at Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3, KJV). Put another way, it’s not like any of the stuff my friend and I talked about (challenging marriages, jobs, kids, whatever) was any worse or more painful than what he went through.

And yet Jesus had joy. Not just the “one day this will all be over and I’ll go to heaven” kind of joy. Jesus also had here-and-now joy, and it made people want to be around him. Granted, he was God, but he was also 100% human…and so how, given all the ick he went through, did that work? How did Jesus have joy?

Obviously, there is more to be said, but three keys come to mind:

First, Jesus knew that God loved him. His sense of identity and purpose didn’t come from what anyone else thought, said, or did. His worth came from God – and as God’s beloved, he knew he belonged.

Second, he knew God’s promises. It didn’t matter what sort of obstacle, hardship, or insult he faced, Jesus knew God was bigger. And stronger. And more real.

And finally, he didn’t live for himself. Everything Jesus said or did was others-focused. And, in loving and serving other people, he experienced the fullness of joy.

Again, I’m sure there is MUCH more we could say about joy, but chew on this one, for now: All of these joy-keys are already ours. 

Seriously.

We have what he had. And, like Jesus, we can face the worst of life’s muck and have here-and-now joy. He wants us to have that (in fact, he prayed that we would), so let’s follow his lead. Let’s turn God’s promises into our prayer. Let’s ask God to fill us with joy:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for lavishing your love on us and calling us your children (1 John 3:1). When I feel rejected or alone, remind me that I belong to you. (1 Peter 2:9). When life seems overwhelming and I can’t see a way forward, help me put my trust in your mighty power and unlimited understanding (Psalm 147:5). Show me how to follow your example so that I can love and serve other people; fill me with your joy and make my joy complete. (John 15:10-12).

Amen.

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“If You Remain in Me…”

Based on the feedback I got from Tuesday’s post, plenty of you are dealing with transition. Impending empty nests, new jobs, kids headed to college (or kindergarten!), and family moves to far-away places that don’t feel like “home” can create a sense of sadness, uncertainty, and even fear.

Which is where the Bible comes in.

“If you remain in me,” Jesus says, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s his promise in John 15:7. And it’s not some sort of gimmick or “name it-claim it” trick; rather, what the Lord is saying is that the more we read the Bible – the more we allow his Word to soak into our lives and transform our perspective – the more our thoughts and our prayers will begin to line up with the good things that God already wants to do.

And the more those good things will start happening.

This is something I explore more in my new book Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children (which comes out in December). Like almost all of life’s changes, the transition to adulthood is rarely easy, and in the coming months I’ll be posting more blogs and videos about how we can pray God’s best for our grown-up kids (and for the little ones, too)…but for now, let’s take hold of this beautiful promise and make it our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me remain in you, and let your words remain in me. Create in me a hunger to read the Bible and a willingness to trust your promises. May my prayers line up with your good plans; use your word to accomplish your purposes in my family’s life. (John 15:7 and Isaiah 55:11)

Amen

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“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over”

Robbie and I spent last week at a lake in Ontario, Canada. It’s a place he went every year as a child, as did his father before him. And it’s where we used to take our kids in the summer, before they grew up and got stuff like husbands and jobs and apartments in far-away cities.

This time, it was just the two of us. We’d been looking forward to cooler temps, water sports, and endless hours to read and relax. But then we pulled up to the boathouse, and I knew I was in trouble. Because here’s how I remember it looking, back in 2007:

And here’s how it looked last week:

Same thing for the dock. It’s where we used to hang out and fish, or have early morning quiet times:

Now, not so much:

Everywhere I looked, there were reminders of days gone by, family memories that we’d never make again. I was becoming positively morose. It was not attractive.

I know what Dr. Seuss says – Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – but honestly? I’ve never really liked that line. I want to do both.

Anyhow.

This was the first time I’d been back to the lake in 10 years, and I just wanted to camp out for a bit and boo-hoo.

I knew, though, that being gloomy wouldn’t solve anything. (It certainly wouldn’t make things better for Robbie.) And it wasn’t like my whole life was over; it was just one season. Plus, my children are basically happy. And healthy. And I am pretty sure they’re all tracking with Jesus. What did I have to complain about?

Nothing.

And so I tried to smile (because it happened). Still, though, I couldn’t shake the sense of loss. I decided to take my case up with God.

“God,” I said, “I know you don’t mean for anybody to wallow, or get stuck in the past. I know you have plans and purposes and good things in store. And it’s not like you’re going to leave me hanging for the next 40 years, right?”

And God is so sweet. He did two things at once.

First, he reminded me of that verse where he talks about turning the page and starting a fresh, new chapter instead of dwelling on the past. I didn’t remember the reference so I looked it up: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. That’s Isaiah 43:19. I think it’s a great promise for an empty nester – or for anyone facing a time of transition, whether it’s a student headed off to college, a family making a cross-country move, or a loved one taking on a new job. If that’s where you are, go ahead and look that one up for yourself. Consider it yours.

The second thing God did came via email. Two years ago, my friend Annesley wrote a column for Theological Horizons, an organization that serves students at U.Va. I missed the article back then, but for some reason they ran it again, and I got to read it last week. It’s a great piece about transition – not because it solves the sadness issue but because 1) if you cry at Kindergarten Graduation, it lets you know you’re not alone, and 2) it ends with a wonderful prayer for our kids as they move on (or, for that matter, for anyone facing a season of change). If you want to read Annesley’s piece, click here.

So here’s what I did (and what you can do, too):

First, I asked God to help me perceive his work and get on board with whatever way he might be making – in the wilderness, the wasteland, or wherever. If God’s on the move (and he pretty much always is), I don’t want to get left behind!

Next, I thanked him for Annesley’s writing, and for the comfort that comes when you realize that you’re not alone in the boat. (And if you’re facing your own season of newness right now, whatever it is, I want you to know that I’m praying for you and your family as I write…cuz I get it!)

And finally (and this was a critical step for me, but one you could probably skip), I took my cue from the Grinch. Remember how he wanted a reindeer but, since “reindeer are scarce,” he had to grab his dog, Max? Yeah, well. I wanted a kid so I could snap their pic on the dock, like I did with Robbie Jr., 20 years ago…

…but since my kids, like reindeer, are generally scarce, I got the dog to stand in. And, like his namesake (we got him on Christmas), Max did a mighty fine job:

 

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When God Says “Good Morning!”

Robbie and I spent the past week at a lake in Canada. I’ll tell you more next week (including why our northern escape from the mid-summer heat was not, actually, pure joy), but for now I will just share this one pic:

(That, in case you can’t tell, is a Canadian sunrise.)

I had to share the photo with our children. First, though, I did some editing:

I thought I was so clever! And that my kids would wake up and be so encouraged and happy!

Two hours later, I got this reply:

Okay. So am I the only one who thought the sunrise looked like an upside down exclamation mark? I mean, did you not notice that?

Sigh. All my best stuff is wasted on my kids. Maybe I should have just texted them a Bible verse. There are plenty of good ones that have to do with the morning. Consider, for instance, Proverbs 27:14: If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. 

(As in, say hello if you must…but not before coffee. And not, if you please, with too much enthusiasm.)

Or Genesis 29:25, which details Jacob’s surprise after being tricked into sleeping with the wrong sister:  When morning came, there was Leah! 

(As in…oops.)

Honestly, though, if I were to pick just one Bible verse to wake up to, I think it would have to be Lamentations 3:22-23:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Is that not just the best? What these words mean is that yesterday’s mistakes are over. God’s love has them covered. And he’s got a fresh helping of grace for today.

I love that. And I think it’s got the makings of a great Friday prayer, either for yourself or for someone else who needs to know this good news:

Heavenly Father,

Your love never ends.

Your mercies never cease.

Your faithfulness is great.

Help _____ remember these powerful truths. May _____ know that your mercies are new every morning. Thank you for giving us a brand new start in your love, every day.

Amen. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rest for the Overly Festive

It’s been a big week.

If you’re like me and you tend to over-do it on the whole Celebrate Freedom thing, you might be feeling a little worn out or weary. Happily for people like us, Jesus knows just what we need.

“Come to me,” he says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

That’s his promise in Matthew 11:28, and it’s the basis for this week’s Friday Prayer. I hope you’ll join me in praying it for yourself or your loved ones today – and that you’ll give yourself the freedom to sit for a spell!

Heavenly Father,

You don’t want us to live weary, weak, or worn out lives. Thank you that we can come to you and find the rest and refreshment we need. Help ____ to find rest in your presence today. (Matthew 11:28)

Amen.

And P.S., if your weariness isn’t from over-celebrating but from over-working, you might love this post from the folks at Proverbs 31. We really can do “busy” better!

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Jefferson, Jesus, and the Secret to Greatness

Robbie and I love U.Va.

People know this, and so whenever a friend or family member cleans out their attic, they give us their old U.Va. stuff. As a result, we have an eclectic collection of books, artwork, socks, Christmas ornaments, Wedgewood china, record albums, and even some Kentucky Straight Whiskey in a porcelain bottle, which (inconceivably) some Wahoo forgot to finish, fifty years ago.

I adore all of this junk, but I think my favorite relic might be a fundraising piece, c. 1946:

We inherited the magazine from one of Robbie’s uncles who was of the same vintage. In it, the editors appeal to “Americans of the atomic-power age” to “lift the general level of intelligence” so as to develop “competence for leadership.” In pursuit of this worthy aim, they (of course) quote Thomas Jefferson.

And with today being Independence Day and all, I thought you might want to know what the guy who drafted the Declaration (and, in his spare time, invented U.Va.) had to say about greatness. Here are four qualities that, according to TJ, would make a great leader:

  1. Good humor.
  2. Integrity.
  3. Industry.
  4. Science.

As Mr. Jefferson saw it, “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light principled man than with an ill tempered rigorist in morality.”

(Meaning, I guess, that we’d all rather hang with a cheerful rogue than a grumpy saint.)

(Which is true.)

Of course, no serious discussion of greatness or competent leadership would be complete without the words of another freedom-loving man: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

That’s what Jesus said. And, at the end of the day, that’s what he did.

So today, as we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s do this: Let’s take the advice of two men – one perfect; one not – and do like Jesus did, giving up our lives (our time, our position, our rights) to help others. But let’s not be all finger-pointy or stingy about it. Instead, let’s also take Mr. Jefferson’s counsel (and, for that matter, the Bible’s), and do it with a cheerful spirit.

Happy Fourth!

 

 

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Friday Prayer with Pleonasm

Okay y’all. I promise this is the last one. No more of Mark Forsyth‘s literary tricks, after today. But when I saw pleonasm used in one of the Psalms of Ascent, I just had to give it to you in the form of a Friday Prayer.

Pleonasm, Forsyth explains, is “the use of unneeded words that are superfluous and unnecessary in a sentence that doesn’t require them.” Familiar phrases such as added bonus, personal friend, and safe haven are all examples of this belt-and-suspenders technique. They are linguistic time wasters. Why would anyone bother to fall down when a simple fall would have the same effect?

Anyhow.

Psalm 121 opens with a couple of back-to-back (see what I did there?) pleonasms:  I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. Not only do we not need the word “up,” Forsyth says, but since “whence” literally means from where, throwing in the extra “from” is enough to make some people fly into a furious rage. (Because I guess a regular rage, minus the pleonasm, just doesn’t sound angry enough.)

I’ll give you the whence (and so will most modern Bible translators, who have swapped it for where), but I actually think we need the word up. Pleonasm is not always a bad thing and, when it serves to emphasize a point (“I saw it with my own two eyes!”), I think it works. And in this case, I love the fact that the psalmist doesn’t just want to level our downcast gaze, he wants to make sure we look up.

In the end, though, none of that really matters. What matters is that God stands ready to guard, protect, keep, and watch over us. If you want to read the whole psalm, click here. But if all you have time for today is an abbreviated version in the form of a prayer (and you don’t mind little pleonasm thrown in), here you go:

Heavenly Father,

Lift up my eyes today. Let me see you as the source of my help…watch over my coming and going, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

Amen

 

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Anadiplosis and the Hike to Hope

Last week, I told you about Mark Forsyth’s book, The Elements of Eloquencein which he maintains that Shakespeare’s brilliance was rooted more in his ability to use literary tricks and techniques than in any sort of innate genius. One such technique is anadiplosis.

Anadiplosis won’t pass your computer’s spell check (I tried), and I doubt it’s something you’ll want to break out at a cocktail party, but it’s a good trick to know, particularly if you want to sound logical, progressive, or just well-balanced. Anadiplosis happens when you take the last word of a sentence or phrase and then use it to begin the next one:  A man takes a drink. The drink takes a drink. The drink takes the man.

Or consider this example, from Paul:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

I wasn’t thinking about anadiplosis when I went hiking recently. I was, however, thinking about suffering. I’m not much of a woods-and-squirrels girl, and I hadn’t intended to hike Sewanee’s 20-mile Perimeter Trail (or any part of it) when I started. My plan was to walk to a nearby overlook and…look over.

Which I did:

But then I noticed a trail map, conveniently posted next to the overlook. I had some time and I figured I could do a little bit of the trail. Like a mile, maybe. I could always come back later for the other 19.

Not being an experienced hiker (not being any sort of hiker), I didn’t bother to read the fine print. I saw the jagged emblem that meant “Difficult”…but how difficult could “Difficult” be? It was only a mile, for crying out loud. I’d be in and out in 15 minutes.

At first, I was captivated. To my left was a giant rock face. To my right was a 50-foot drop, just daunting enough to make you pay attention.

Everything was quiet (unless you count the sound of scurrying, which I tried not to). Peaceful. I felt like I was alone in the world.

Which, after about ten minutes, started to be less fun.

Nobody knew where I was, I hadn’t brought along any hiker stuff like water, and I didn’t need my Garden Club membership to help me identify the horticulture that grew, with unmitigated vigor, all over the trail:

I was just starting to think about mountain lions (I knew they’d found the bones of a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger nearby; might he or she have left any grandchildren?) when I rounded a bend and saw this:

A hole in the trail. Through a rock. Which was high.

Going up seemed out of the question. The opening was a good 15 feet above the trail (closer to 30, if you count the dirt part), and it was pretty much straight up, with no hand- or foot-holds I could detect. (You would think someone might put in a rope.)

I tried going around, but there was no trail to the right. Just a sheer, poison-ivy-coated drop into nothing but treetops.

And I thought about turning back. But honestly? That felt like quitting. Plus, I knew other moms who had done this part of the hike. (Or so they said.)

To put my predicament in perspective, I’ve marked up the photo for you. The red arrow is where I needed to get. The red person is me. And I look a lot taller (and more athletic) in the drawing than I am in real life:

And here’s the thing. I am not afraid of heights, but I am not big on falling. And I had no idea what was on the other side of the hole. Was it an even steeper drop?

I started to turn around. But then this thought came:

Suffering produces perseverance. 

Seriously. Out of nowhere. I didn’t know about anadiplosis, but I did know that verse and where it went. I knew that if I started at suffering and got through the whole thing (not to mention the hole thing), I’d wind up at hope.

I decided that since I had already experienced some pain (and on a happy note, the very real presence of snakes and mosquitoes took my mind off of the unseen lions and tigers), I could go ahead and move into the perseverance phase. Which felt good, since it meant that I had accomplished something. Or God had, in me. And if he would grant me the courage I needed to climb up to the hole, I was ready to count that as character.

I sent a text to Robbie (which I didn’t think would go through) and a prayer to God (which I was pretty sure would), wanting them both to know where I was, in case things went bad. And then I started climbing.

I made it. (Obviously.) And when I crawled out of the hole on the other side of the rock, I had three rewards.

The first was a nice, flat path:

The second was beautiful waterfall:

And the third was the end of that part of the trail, which literally dumps you out at the foot of the cross:

Talk about hope!

I can’t remember when my heart felt so full, or so grateful. And, I realized, I would not have appreciated the cross (or the hope it delivered) had I not spent that time on the trail. Walking through fear – and coming to the place where my own strength wasn’t enough, where my only two options were to turn back or go forward with a God I couldn’t see instead of a rope that I could – is what brought me to hope.

All of which is to say…

If you are in a season of suffering (even if it’s just a mile’s worth of scary stuff), keep going. Don’t turn back. Just put one foot in front of the other because that’s what kindles perseverance, a “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose…especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

And remember, you’re not alone. Count on God to strengthen your character. He gave me courage; he will supply what you lack. He will lead you to hope.

I wish I had a clever way to use anadiplosis to wrap up this post, but I don’t. All I can do is repeat what Paul said – that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope – and then point to the conclusion Paul draws: And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

I don’t know what the literary term is for that last sentence; if I ever meet Mr. Forsyth, I’ll ask him. For now, though, maybe we can just call it a “happy ending.”

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A Friday Prayer to Smile About

My friend Nigel (a former Royal Marine Commando who now heads up By His Wounds, a ministry dedicated to helping veterans and others who need physical and emotional healing) says that he wakes up every morning and smiles. Even if he doesn’t feel all that cheerful or happy, he wills his face into a grin – even before he gets out of bed.

I love that. And not just because it reminds me of Buddy the Elf (“Smiling’s my favorite!”). I like Nigel’s habit because it reminds me of one of the Bible’s most encouraging verses. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Some Bible brainiacs will tell you that “the day” this verse talks about is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Others say it is about the Sabbath. And still others (including those in the first two camps) maintain that, in the big picture, this verse calls us to rejoice because – thanks to God’s work at the resurrection – we have a Redeemer and a forever King who has beaten death and forgiven us, once and for all.

I agree with all of these people. And, at the risk of sounding theologically shallow, I also agree with Buddy the Elf. In a world where there are plenty of things not to smile about, I want to start my days the way Nigel does. I want to choose joy, knowing that today’s difficult circumstances and challenging relationships are not the big-picture story.

The big-picture story is that we have a good King who has saved us, who loves us, and who is still active and at work in our lives.

(Which is totally worth thinking about, even before we get out of bed.)

Heavenly Father,

This is the day that you have made. No matter what hardships or struggles I may face, help me rejoice and be glad because of what you have already done. (Psalm 118:24)

Amen.

 

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From the Bedside Stack: Summer Reading Picks

My bedside table always has a stack of books by a fairly diverse collection of authors.

P.G. Wodehouse (think Downton Abbey, only funnier and more redemptive), C.S. Lewis (just finished Prince Caspian, again), and John Grisham (always a fun beach read, plus he’s a U.Va. fan) have all been in the mix this summer.

You might notice, based on the photo, that one of my own books is there, too. I keep a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children close at hand since, quite honestly, I need it. I might not re-read all the stories, but if one of my kids needs something like wisdom, protection, or even a sense of purpose or direction in life, I love having a collection of prayer verses at the ready. I’ll never forget the night, years ago, when a teenaged Virginia burst into our bedroom and, seeing me sitting up in bed with my book, stopped short. “You are reading your own book?” she asked. “Oh Mom. That is just so sad.”

(What is NOT so sad is that, from now until June 30, you can download the digital version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for just 99 cents. Click here to order…and please pass the word!)

Another book I am LOVING was a gift from my eloquent friend, Michelle:

“Shakespeare,” author Mark Forsyth begins, “was not a genius.” He was a great writer who “started out badly” and only got better because he “learnt techniques and tricks.” The Elements of Eloquence is full of such tricks, all artfully articulated (which would be an example, of course, of alliteration). Whether you’re looking to snag a Pulitzer or just step up your thank you note game, this book is a winner.

And finally, I am finding myself longing for more of the Holy Spirit. Happily for me, the gals in our church are doing a summer study on Catherine Marshall’s The Helperan oldie-and-goodie that covers who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and a whole lot more in 40 bite-sized readings.

Not only that, but I’ve recently discovered a two-book series about the Holy Spirit by Susan Rohrer. Voted “Most Sensible” in high school (a designation she considered an indictment, rather than a compliment), Susan hardly seems the type to delve into things like supernatural gifts. But she does so – with exquisite grace and with a relentless attachment to Scripture, whether she’s talking about “out there” stuff like gifts of healing and prophecy, or the more socially acceptable graces (things like teaching, encouragement, hospitality, and even exceptional creative or technical abilities).

I realize that the Holy Spirit (and particularly his activity in contemporary times) can be a touchy subject in some churches. And I also know (because I’ve seen it happen) that his gifts can be misunderstood or misused. But The Bible in One Year reading plan has us in Acts right now, and when I read Acts 13:52 this week (And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit), I was like, “Yeah. I want THAT.”

If you do, too, check out The Helper or Susan’s books.

And if that’s not where you are (or where you want to go), then just stick with Mark Forsyth. Because, as far as I know, literary tricks like anadiplosis (which I may blog about next week, so start getting excited!!) have never sparked any controversies.

Happy reading!

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A Prayer for The Dad

A sweet friend lost her father last week. He was 94 and had lived a great life, but that didn’t diminish the ache she felt at his passing. I told her I get it. It’s been 16 years and, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, I miss my dad as much now as ever.

My dad “graduated” (as we like to say, in our family) in 2001. Click here if you want to read about him, or meet the guy who introduced me to Jesus. He had the most twinkly blue eyes, and when my college friends came to visit, he would smile and ask awkward questions like, “How’s your love life?” (My pals never seemed to mind; in fact, they usually laughed – and then confided in him.)

I’m grateful for my father – and, in fact, for every dad out there who is doing Dad Stuff. It can’t be easy to always have to carry the heaviest suitcases, get the wasps out of the attic, and keep it together when your wife makes you late. Again.

(I love you, Robbie.)

And so Dads, whatever it is that you’re doing – teaching a child to ride a bike, drive a car, or trust Jesus – can I just say thank you? Half the stuff you do may go unnoticed or unappreciated, but God sees. He knows how hard you work, and how much you love your family. And my prayer for you, this Father’s Day, is that he will strengthen you and give you everything you need to keep on being The Dad:

May the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will, working in you what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Note on the family pic, circa 1985: My family of origin was never known for its athleticism. This pic was snapped shortly after Robbie (my brand new husband, who is hiding his face for good reason) tackled my dad. He still says he “didn’t mean to hit him that hard” but hey. He prevented a touchdown.

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The Window of God’s Purpose

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

That’s not in the Bible; it’s from Robbie’s all-time favorite movie, The Sound of Music. But it’s a good line, particularly when you consider that God’s windows are not consolation prizes. They are never his “Plan B” for when you don’t get to walk through the door (to the house, the job, the relationship, the whatever) you want. Instead, when God shuts a door and leads us out through a window, it’s because he has a much better destination in mind.

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” You might be struggling with disappointment or sense of defeat today, but know this: Whatever it is that has happened (or hasn’t happened) has not taken God by surprise. He is in control and he loves you. The door might be shut (and you might not yet see any window), but God’s purposes will be accomplished.

Heavenly Father,

When things don’t turn out like I thought that they would, or when I face the disappointment of a closed door or the death of a dream, remind me of this truth: I may have many plans, but your purpose will prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)

Amen

 

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“Shocking” New Findings on Friendship

News Flash:  Friendship is good for you.

Researchers at U.Va. recently revealed evidence that backs up the idea that the stronger your relationships are, the better your health will be. I won’t go into all the details (they use words like “hypothalamus” and “epinephrine”), but the gist of the report is that if you are under “the threat of electrical shock,” your brain will be a whole lot happier if “a trusted loved one” is near.

And, if you are holding that person’s hand, all the better.

“Having that hand to hold,” notes the lead scientist, “signals that you have resources – you have safety – so any particular stressor is just not as stressful as it might have been.”

But – and this is my favorite line in the whole article – “Nothing similar was found during stranger handholding.”

(How awesome is it that they actually studied that? I mean, if you took my husband and put him outside in a thunderstorm and asked him to hold hands with a stranger, the threat of electrical shock would NOT be his foremost concern.)

Anyhow…

I love it when science catches up with what Christians have known all along: We are created for connection. We thrive in community. When Jesus told us to “Love one another,” he obviously knew that we’d need an uninhibited hypothalamus in order to effectively respond to stress and other unfortunate circumstances.

In celebration of U.Va.’s findings, I’ve pulled together nine of my favorite “friendship” prayers and created a free printable for you:

To download these prayer cards as a letter-sized PDF (you’ll have to cut them up by yourself), click here. Pray the verses for yourself, for your kids, or for anyone who might feel a little James Taylor coming on (like maybe they are down and troubled, or they need a helping hand).

And remember, next time you get caught in a lightning storm (or if you find yourself in one of U.Va.’s brain imaging scanners while a red indicator “X” hints that you are about to be shocked), God has you.

He is with you, wherever you go.

And, as the psalmist says, he is always holding your hand:

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

(Psalm 139:9-10)

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No Glory Stealing

One of my favorite things about writing books is getting to interview people.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children comes out later this year (I’ll keep you posted!), and as I was working on a chapter about the different ways our kids come to faith, I talked to one mom who is convinced that God sometimes takes them down paths we would not have chosen to keep us from patting ourselves on the back.

“We cannot glory-steal from God,” this gal said. “When our kids come to Christ in a way that only he could have arranged because it looks nothing like we would have hoped for or envisioned, we are much more inclined to give him the credit.”

What a wise mama! And I couldn’t help but think about her counsel when I read Psalm 115:1 this week:  Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.

I don’t know about you, but I like it when people appreciate or admire something I’ve done. I like getting credit. And while there’s nothing wrong with accepting a sincere compliment (or giving one!), I know I need to post a guard against glory-stealing. When something good comes my way, or when I find myself in a position to do something noble or noteworthy, I want to have the same attitude that King David had, when he looked at the mountain of silver and gold and precious stones he and his people had donated for building the temple. “Who am I,” David prayed, “and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

Everything comes from you, Lord.

If you want that to be your first response when good things happen – if you want to shine the spotlight on God’s faithfulness and guard your heart against glory-stealing – then why not tuck Psalm 115:1 into your Friday Prayer? Here’s what I’m praying today:

Heavenly Father,

When I am tempted to be a glory-stealer or take credit for something you’ve provided or done, help me remember that EVERYTHING comes from you. Bring your truth to my mind so that I will gratefully join my voice with the psalmist’s and say: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1)

Amen.

 

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The Answer for Life’s Scary Stuff

Our dog Max (you know him as the rock eater) is an anxious dog. There are a lot of things that scare him. Sudden movements. The bathroom floor. His food bowl.

And, perhaps most of all, other dogs.

We went on a walk the other day and came upon a big black lab. As if his size and color were not threatening enough, this guy was sporting a pirate scarf where his collar should have been. Max stopped in his tracks.

I tried coaxing and commanding, tempting and tugging, but Max wasn’t having it. He did not want to pass that dog. Given the whole pirate vibe, I might have understood his trepidation…except for one thing.

The dog was fake.

Not, like, taxidermy fake. This one was, like, fake fake. It couldn’t bite or growl, and it certainly didn’t smell. It just sat there, day after day, fake-guarding the “Outer Barks” shop in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

I had to laugh. I tried to see things from Max’s viewpoint, but I just couldn’t. The whole thing was ridiculous – and his neurosis was hurting our progress.

And then I stopped.

Because as I stood there (smiling at other pedestrians and trying to look like maybe Max and I were just sort of “resting”), I realized that I do the same thing. I start out like Enoch (he’s a Bible guy who “walked faithfully with God” for 300 years), but then I look down the road and see something – a real something or a fake something – that could be a problem, and I balk.

Which is not God’s idea of how things are supposed to play out.

Here’s the thing. God knew we’d come up against some scary stuff. Real scary stuff (like cancer), and fake scary stuff (like what people will think or even say when they see you dance, which – trust me – is not something that should keep you off the floor when the band starts to play Livin’ on a Prayer).

God knew we’d face threats, and that fear would be a problem. And so he gave us the answer. He gave us the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put another way, God gave us a Spirit who can make us bold in the face of uncertainty, loving when it might be easier to just turn away, and self-controlled and steady when life feels anything but calm. He gave us a Spirit who can equip us to do the good things that he has prepared. He gave us a Spirit who can strengthen us to walk faithfully with him on life’s longest journeys (no matter what sort of pirate-dog stands in our way).

God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us the Holy Spirit. So let’s stop with the balking already.

Let’s move.

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Memorial Day: Refuge and Remembrance

Every year when Memorial Day rolls around, I find myself drawn to Psalm 91. With military imagery (things like shields and ramparts, arrows and tents) and promises of angelic protection, this psalm has often been called “The Soldiers’ Psalm.” It’s a great one to pray for our service men and women; to read the full psalm and discover some of the promises you can claim, click here.

This week, though, the psalm took on fresh meaning after a dear friend’s mother went to be with the Lord. She was a gal who simply radiated joy – whether she was hosting a dinner party or fighting a prayer battle on behalf of her loved ones – and her daily presence will be missed. And as I have prayed for my friend’s family, the words of Psalm 91:4 keep coming to mind:

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Maybe you’re grieving a loss today. Maybe you are one of our nation’s beloved Gold Star families, and you know the pain of a loved one’s sacrifice. Or maybe you find yourself mourning a friend or a family member who “fought the good fight” on the battlefield of life, someone who – like my friend’s mom – stood in the gap on your behalf with prayer, wisdom, and love.

If that’s where you are (or if you know someone else who could use the covering, the refuge, or the shield of God’s comforting presence), join me in making this your Memorial Day prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Cover _____ with your feathers. May _____ find refuge under your wings and be shielded and strengthened by your faithfulness. (Psalm 91:4)

Amen

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(And thank you, Susan Harrison, for sharing your beautiful pic for this post. You are the best ornithological photographer I know!)

 

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Answer Me When I Call

When Captain Robbie pulled up to this dock for re-fueling during our January vacay, I scampered (okay, sort of fell) off the boat. I couldn’t wait to open the door to the old phone booth and see what was inside!

Nothing.

It was just an empty shell, attractive but useless. No lines, no connection, no power.

Aren’t we so glad it’s not like that with God? When we call, he promises to answer! And no topic is too big (or too small) to discuss.

Whatever is on your heart today, take it to him. Let’s start by joining our voices with David’s, and make this request our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 17:6)

Amen

 

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…and Underneath are the Everlasting Arms

We made camp on the beach on Mother’s Day, surrounded by an assortment of family members and friends. When I turned around and saw my brother, David, tossing his youngest into the air (and caught the uncertain-yet-delighted expression on Julia’s face), I had just one thought:

Lord, I want to be like that.

When the future feels uncertain, when I find myself sort of suspended (or even on the way down, after one of life’s highs), I want my outlook to be one of delight. When I can’t feel the ground beneath my feet, I want to behold the face of my Father and trust in the strength of his arms. I want to choose joy…even if doing so takes more faith than I think that I have.

Which is, I think, a good thing. Over and over again in the Bible (like, literally, more than 150 times), we are exhorted to rejoice. I don’t know why God thinks that’s such a big deal, but looking at David’s face in this pic, I have an idea. I think God takes delight in us. And when he sees us rejoicing – trusting him in life’s trickiest moments – he cannot contain his own joy.

I’d wrap up this post with one of the joy verses (something like Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”), except that, if you’re like me, you might want something more. You might want to rejoice, but maybe you need a little help getting there. And so, with the image of a father and his child fresh in my mind, I am gonna scroll all the way back to Deuteronomy, where Moses blesses the sons of Israel, and offer you this:

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help… The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27, ESV)

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

Rejoice in the Lord today, Beloved, knowing that you are safe in his arms…and that as God looks into your face, he is smiling.

 

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Friday Prayer for Imperfect Moms

There is no perfect family. And there is no perfect mom.

We know this, of course. But it can be easy to forget, particularly in an age of professionally produced Christmas cards and Instagram posts that showcase trophies, vacations, and siblings who appear to genuinely like each other.

And it can be easy to feel like you are the only one who is seriously blowing it. Like when you go to the parent-teacher conference and she asks you, in the nicest possible way, if your son is going to get “any pants” for Christmas.

(As if you are the only fourth-grade parent who doesn’t think wearing shorts in 37-degree weather is that bad.)

Lately, I’ve been reviewing some of my parenting failures. (Which, given the fact that Mother’s Day is on Sunday, seems only natural.) And so it was with no small amount of gratitude that I heard my good friend, Susan Yates, say the following:

Your ability to ruin your child is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem him.

Isn’t that awesome? (You can stop reading right there, if you want, and go have yourself a Happy Mother’s Day.)

Susan was in Virginia Beach this week to talk about her new book, Risky Faith, as well as her One Word Cards. She wasn’t here to talk about parenting. But as she cataloged God’s attributes (including his love for us, and his power to provide for our needs and cover our mistakes), I found myself thanking God (not for the first time) for putting this wise woman in my life.

And, listening to Susan speak, I found myself thankful for another wise mentor. My mother. Here she is, on the far left (with Susan and my daughters, Hillary and Annesley, between us):

I’m thankful for my mom for a variety of reasons. Partly for the sappy ones, the sentiments that show up on Mother’s Day cards (You are an amazing mom…I’m so proud to be your child…Thanks for hanging in there with me), but even more for the less-sappy/more-real reasons that don’t. Like the fact that my mom made about a zillion parenting mistakes.

Seriously. My mom consistently modeled imperfect parenting. She was great at that. And now that I am making the exact same mistakes with my kids, I could not be more grateful.

I am grateful to a mother who taught me that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

That it is God’s job (not mine) to work in my kids’ lives so that they will think and behave in ways that line up with his plans. (Philippians 2:13)

And that I really can rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4), even when my kids choose to wear shorts in the snow or make other, more impressive, mistakes of their own. God is, as Susan Yates said, all about redeeming that stuff.

So thank you, Mom. Maybe you aren’t exactly the Proverbs 31 woman, but you’re mighty close. Especially when you get to the second part of verse 25, which you pretty much nail every day: You can laugh at the days to come. You do that well.

And if you’re not my mom – if you’re more uptight like me, and your heart gets in knots over all the things that you didn’t do right, or the things that you could have done better – can I just offer this Mother’s Day prayer? Most of my Friday Prayers can be prayed for your loved ones, but maybe keep this one just for yourself:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that your grace is all that I need. Help me remember that your power works best in weakness. Let me be glad about my own weaknesses, because that’s what unleashes your strength and releases the power of Christ to work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Thank you that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and that nothing – NOTHING – can separate me from your love. (Romans 8:1 & 39)

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayer to Pay It Forward

What a treat it was to come home from a weekend away and find this on my doorstep:

Who left this lovely bouquet? I have no idea. But the flowers came with a tag: Hope this blesses you & that you pay it forward!

Reading that little note, I was reminded of the power that all of us have to make a difference. To share God’s love. To brighten someone’s day.

Maybe that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words in a letter to some people he loved:  So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.

Isn’t that a great prayer? Let’s borrow it today. Let’s ask God to make us fit for whatever he has called us to do, to infuse our good ideas with his power, and to help us “pay it forward” in the lives of the people we love:

Heavenly Father,

Enable _____ to live a life worthy of your call. Give _____ the power to accomplish all the good things that faith inspires. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NLT)

Amen.

(And if you’re the secret friend who delivered this sweet blessing…thank you. I can’t wait to get out in the garden, refresh the bouquet, and pass it on!)

 

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The Display of His Splendor

I need a 12-step plan.

For my addiction.

To gardening.

It’s not something that plagues me all year long, but right now, in the springtime, I cannot pass a nursery or a garden center without stopping. There might be a plant that I missed! A climbing vine I’ve not tried! And I don’t care if it is raining and 57 degrees outside; I can’t wait to start digging! The garden newbies may be small and unremarkable right now, but just wait. In a few weeks, they’ll be spectacular.

I can’t help but think that’s how God looks at us. We’re all works in progress, but he has a vision. He knows what we’ll look like, in time. We may appear small or weak or even broken right now, but in his capable hands all that will change. We’ll become “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

So let’s make that our Friday prayer, trusting the Master Gardener to come in and shape something beautiful in our life, or in the life of someone we love:

Heavenly Father,

Work in _____’s life. May _____ become like a mighty oak, a planting for the display of your splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen.

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The Courage to Serve

I’ve been poking around in The Book of Common Prayer (which, if you don’t already know, has prayers for just about everything, from unemployment to the care of children to how we spend our free time), and there’s a line in the wrap-up to Holy Communion that goes like this:  Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart…

I’ve probably prayed that one 500 times. It’s a wonderful, uplifting way to walk out of church and “go forth into the world” – even if the only place you go forth to is the grocery store.

Maybe it takes 499 times for a prayer to sink in. Or maybe (more likely) it takes a particular sermon. Either way, asking God for “strength and courage” took on new meaning for me this Easter. Our minister, Andy Buchanan, gave a talk during Holy Week where he said that the whole foot-washing thing was a nasty business (so much so that you could not even command a Jewish slave to do that for you), and that when Jesus did the remarkable – the unthinkable! – and washed the disciples’ feet, it set the stage for a dramatic perspective shift. No longer was it enough to simply “do unto others” (as in, treating other people the way that you want to be treated); now, Jesus upped the ante: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

Let’s be honest. Most of us get the Golden Rule. Most of us (even if we don’t really follow through) would say it is a good idea to do things for other people that we would want them to do for us: Say thank you. Don’t gossip. Save some of that cake for your husband.

Nowhere, though, would washing somebody’s feet show up on my list. Having grown up in churches where it’s actually a thing, I have been on both sides of the basin – I have washed, and I’ve been washed – and truthfully? I think the whole process is a little bit awkward. It is too intimate, too potentially embarrassing (it’s not like we all have fresh pedicures), and too out-of-my-strike-zone.

Much easier, I think, to just take somebody a meal.

Which is, I think, the whole point. When Jesus gives us a “new command” about how we are to love other people (and accompanies it with a demonstration of the most humble and unappealing service) we have to do a little gut check. I mean, I like to think I would obey Christ (that I would “love as he loved”) but would I? Would I love and serve other people even if it meant getting too close? Going out of my comfort zone? Doing something that is inconvenient…messy…or hard?

I don’t know. I doubt it. Which is why, when I prayed that post-Communion prayer for the 500th time on Easter Sunday, the idea that I could ask God for “strength and courage” came as a blessed relief. If I am going to go forth into the world and serve God “with gladness and singleness of heart” in the awkward or difficult places, I am going to need some divine help.

Because again, let’s be honest. When you get up and go forth after church, you never know who you’ll see at the grocery. Chances are, they don’t want their feet washed. But you can bet that they want to be loved.

 

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The Grasp of God’s Love

We missed having our daughter, Virginia, home for Easter. She lives in New York City and couldn’t make the trip, but we did get to enjoy some FaceTime with her on Sunday. She called us during an afternoon walk.

As I looked beyond her face and saw the bustling city, with all of its people and traffic and noise, I couldn’t help but wonder: Did anyone know it was Easter? Were people thinking about the Big News of the day? Did they care that He is Risen?

“I don’t know,” Virginia said. “But I kind of doubt it. Like, it looks pretty much like any other day in New York.”

I don’t know why, but that hit me. All of these people, walking around, going about their business, seemingly oblivious to the depth of God’s sacrifice…the height of his resurrection power…and the immeasurable breadth of his love. How could they not know?

And then I felt God whisper something gentle to my heart. “Jodie,” he said, “You don’t really know, either. You have not even begun to grasp the full extent of my love.”

Okay then. That was kind of an eye-opener, and it’s really stuck with me this week. I want to know more of God’s love. I want to take hold of it. And I want my children, my husband, and my friends to grasp it, too.

Which is why I am borrowing some words first written by the Apostle Paul as the basis for today’s Friday Prayer. And if that’s where your heart is today – if you are longing for more of God’s love – I invite you to join me. Pray this one for yourself, for someone you love, or (if you’re feeling like you want to go big) for every single person in New York City.

Heavenly Father…

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

Amen

 

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And the Winners Are…

I love Easter traditions. One of ours is to drag The (Very Heavy) Egg out to the street on Saturday night, under the cover of darkness…

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…and then take a family pic the next day (an exercise that almost always involves stopping traffic and checking around the ankles for stray poison ivy!):
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And speaking of Easter traditions…thanks so much to everyone who posted a comment on last week’s Easter Basket Giveaway. I LOVED hearing your stories and reading about all the ways that you celebrate our Risen Lord!

Congratulations to Laura in Charlottesville, Virginia, who won the One Word Cards from author Susan Alexander Yates and artist Christy Yates (who, coincidentally, is also from C’ville)!

And to Emily in Leesburg, Virginia and Sally in Winston-Salem, NC, who each received a copy of the new book, Unshaken. Sally, lots of readers told me how much they liked your story about setting your alarm for 1:45 a.m., dragging your blanket-wrapped kids out of bed and onto the front porch, and listening for the sounds of the Moravian Band and their 1.5 minute-long rendition of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” That took top honors in the unofficial “favorite memories” contest!

And finally, a shout out to Cindy in Chesapeake, Virginia, a next-door neighbor to Virginia Beach, who got her teenagers up for the sunrise service at the beach – after they’d been out super late the night before at a Youth Group event! Double points for the parenting effort we all know that took! Cindy won the limited edition Scripture Prayer Cards that were lovingly created by the gals at Sisters Ink. (You can’t buy the cards, but you can contact the Sisters for wedding invitations, exquisite stationery, and more!)

Many thanks…lots of love…and He is Risen Indeed!

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A Good Friday Prayer

For God so loved

You know the verse. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But here’s another nugget, one that brings John 3:16 into a little sharper focus: Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

I’m letting these verses – the one so familiar, the other so sobering – make camp in my heart. Taken together, they’re giving shape to our Good Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you.

Amen

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The Road to the Cross

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Holy Week. The week before Easter. The week when Jesus knew that “the time had come for him to leave this world” (John 13:1), and that the road ahead – the road to the cross – would be filled with unspeakable pain. What was he thinking?

Do you ever wonder about that?

I do.

Being fully God, Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. He’d be insulted, rejected, and abandoned – both by the Jewish leaders (many of whom believed in him but who were too scared to admit it, since they “loved praise from men more than praise from God”) and by his closest friends. (John 12:42)

He would suffer indescribable torment. The press of the thorns…the sting of the whip…the pain of the nails…the struggle to breathe.

And he would know the heartache of watching his mother watch him die – and of being unable, in that moment, to wipe the tears from her eyes.

So what was he thinking, on the road to the cross?

I can’t begin to imagine, but Scripture gives us some clues. Jesus says that his heart is “troubled” and that the idea of backing out has at least presented itself. He confides in his friends, telling them that he is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And he prays, asking God if there is any way to take a pass…but then, ultimately, choosing God’s will over his own. (John 12:27, Matthew 26:38, Matthew 26:39)

Clearly, the road wasn’t easy. It was agonizing. So how did he do it? How did he – being fully man – get past the fear and the worry and the sorrow that stood in his path?

Here again, the Bible offers some answers. Reading through the gospels and Paul’s letters, we see a man inspired by obedience, trust, humility, and love. And, in addition to these internal motivators, Hebrews 12:2 reveals an external driver: Future joy. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” the writer says, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” 

Future joy.

I’ve combed through the commentaries looking to flesh out, exactly, what that joy was. It seems like, for Jesus, the joy came in three parts:

The first is the idea of a mission accomplished. His teaching was revolutionary and his miracles amazing, but Jesus knew that the whole point of his life was the cross (“It was,” he says in John 12:27, “for this reason I came to this hour”). Fulfilling his purpose – the job that aligned with God’s master plan – gave him joy.

The second reason was the resurrection. Jesus knew (because he was God, and because of prophecies like the one in Psalm 16:9-11) that he would come out of the tomb alive, and that his experience would open the door to the everlasting joy of God’s presence – not just for himself, but for all who would call on his name.

And the third reason? The third reason is the one that makes me cry. The third reason Jesus stayed on the road to the cross (the main reason, in fact) is us. He did it for us. He did it, the Bible says, to keep us from falling and to present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy. (Jude 24)

Jesus wanted to be able to bring us to God. We are the reason he endured the cross. We are, I believe, what he was thinking about, as he made his way up that hill.

And this Holy Week, this Easter, I want us to think about that, too. Because we are God’s beloved – not just in the future, but right here and right now.

We are – you are – his joy.

 

 

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Refresh and Be Refreshed

A generous person will prosper;whoever refreshes others will be refreshed

Well, hello there Spring! It’s refreshing to have you back!

And speaking of…

I love what the Bible says about refreshment: In a nutshell, we get what we give. So let’s look for ways to pour our time and talents into other people’s lives, sharing our resources to revive even the weariest heart. Let’s make this our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me be alert to opportunities to exercise generosity. Let me refresh other people and, in turn, may I be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

Amen

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An Easter Basket Giveaway…for Mama Bunny!

I love Easter.

I love the joyful songs (Christ the Lord is Risen To-Day-ay…Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-loo-oo-yah!), the fragrant lilies, and the occasional bonnet that shows up in church (particularly when the ‘Hoos are still in the hunt, like they were on Easter Sunday last year):

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I love dragging our big plywood egg out to the street late Saturday night (under the cover of darkness), and then waking up to the Good News Sunday morning:

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And I love stuffing Easter baskets. One year, we had 23 college kids stay with us for the weekend. Never have I been so grateful for the Dollar Tree and its affordable stash of plastic eggs, candy, and gifts. Because nothing says “Happy Easter” like a chocolate bunny, a new toothbrush, and a tattoo sleeve:

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This year, we won’t be welcoming any college students (other than Robbie, who says he mostly just wants to come home and sleep). Which is kind of a shame, cuz I have some basket upgrades in mind – upgrades that, truth be told, Mama Bunny will like even more than the kids:

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a free giveaway, so how about this? Post a comment on this blog – share a favorite Easter tradition, a prayer verse you like, or anything you want to wish others a Happy Easter – and you’ll be entered for a chance to win one of the treats in this basket (which, incidentally, would also make a great Mother’s Day gift). Here’s what we have:

Unshaken. This new book from Sally Burke and Cyndie Claypool de Neve (order your copy or download a free chapter here) outlines a four-step prayer process to help us keep our eyes on the Lord and pray with confidence, even when everything around us seems to be shaking.

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I love the real-life stories these gals use to illustrate their prayer principles. And, as a bonus, they offer cleverly designed pages that are meant to be copied and shared:

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One Word Cards. These beautiful 5×7″ cards pair the devotional musings of author Susan Alexander Yates with the stunning artwork of her daughter-in-law, Christy.

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The cards – which feature one key word, a relevant Bible verse, and a simple prayer – come in four different sets (click here to see the collection), along with a wooden easel you can use to display them:

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Scripture Prayers and Blessings. I created these little cards with help from the talented gals at Sisters Ink; they represent twelve of the best-loved Scripture prayers from my books. The marbled stock is scrumptiously thick and perfect for tucking into a child’s backpack, slipping into a note to a friend, or just keeping in your purse or car as a reminder to pray.

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So how about it? Post a comment, share a story, offer up one of your favorite prayers…and you’ll automatically be entered to win. And since there are three prizes in the basket, we’ll have three winners…so hop to it, friends! Get a little something for Mama Bunny this Easter!

And for those who think that what Mama Bunny might really want is a new tattoo, try these. I can’t vouch for the design or the quality, but hey. They’re removable.

You’re welcome.

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Bible Xanax for the Anxious Heart

Cast all your anxiety

What are you worried about?

Over and over again in the Bible, God tells us that we shouldn’t be anxious. Instead, he says, we should come to him with our concerns and requests. Because whatever it is – your job, your relationships, your finances, your kids, your health – God already knows. And he cares.

Let’s take a little Bible Xanax today, casting our cares on God and exchanging our fear and worry for his peace:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you are a God who cares. I am worried about ______today. Help me cast my anxiety on you, knowing that I can trust you to care for me and for the people I love. (1 Peter 5:7)

Amen.

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To the Final Four…and Beyond!

To all my Tar Heel friends: Congratulations!!! Way to make it to the Final Four! I’m with you!

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(And yes, I was actually screaming at the television on Sunday night when your boy Luke sunk that incredible game-winning shot. I thought he was adorable then, but now that I’ve read where he showed up for his 8:00 a.m. class the next morning, I am smitten.)

It’s thanks to you, Carolina, that my bracket still looks okay. I always take every ACC team as far as they can go, and this year I could still be half right. I figured you’d make it all the way thru, at least until you met U.Va.:

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Speaking of…can we please just take a moment?

I love U.Va. Basketball. And even though the pundits didn’t give us much of a chance after we broke up with our big man, I thought we’d still be okay. Because Tony. And London. And those cute first-year boys (who will only get better). And so, when tournament time rolled around, I was all in.

I prevailed on Robbie to make his one-and-only signature dish (unless you count frozen pizza, at which he also excels):

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Knowing that we’d be playing over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I bought a new hat:

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And I even went to the beauty supply store to stock up on extensions and elastic so that even the most closely cropped fellas in our aging fan base could rock a man bun like our Guy:

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Alas, it was not to be. If you are the one Virginia fan who did not fill out a bracket this year (Nancy), I will go ahead and tell you that our Cavaliers lost.

Badly.

But the season was still amazing, and to the coaches and players who gave it their all (even the guys who are transferring now because people vary): Thank you. I think I saw every game and, even if you don’t count the one where you so vigorously took Virginia Tech to the woodshed (which I do), it was a very good year.

My favorite basketball memory, though, didn’t come during regulation. My favorite memory was of being at JPJ the night they retired Malcolm Brogdon’s jersey. (And Nancy, he’s the guy who was named ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last year, before moving on to light up the NBA by doing some very un-rookie-ish things, like dunking on LeBron.)

During the jersey ceremony, Brogdon got up and, in a speech that he said he hadn’t expected to make, he thanked his mom. That right there stole my heart. On the “Good Son” scale, throwing some public love on your mama ranks even higher than showing up for your 8 a.m. class. Like I said, smitten.

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But that wasn’t all. Brogdon also thanked God.

“While I was here in my five years,” he said (and the man got his masters in public policy, so don’t be thinking victory lap), “I learned about having a faith and that, if everything else fails, your faith in God – your relationship with the Lord – will carry you through.”

If everything else fails, your faith in God – your relationship with the Lord – will carry you through.

Those are some very smart words. (Did I mention that Brogdon turned down Harvard to attend U.Va.? As one would.)

And on that happy note, Tar Heel fans, I will wish you the best. Basketball seasons (like so much in life that we mistakenly allow to define us, or to dictate our happiness) come and go, and I truly hope yours lasts ’til next Tuesday. But if not, don’t let that get you down.

Take a page out of Brogdon’s book, and go celebrate life’s biggest win.

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(Player photo credit @UVAMensHoops)

 

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Let’s Meet at the Rock

So when I saw these turtles climbing all over themselves in their effort to get to the rock, I had just one thought: Wouldn’t it be awesome if every believer was like these guys, determined and eager to get to the Rock?

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And what if, instead of telling ourselves that we don’t need the fellowship of other Christians, or that we don’t have to be engaged in a church community in order to experience all that God has for us, we took God at his word and showed up on Sunday? What if we saw verses like Hebrews 10:25 not as a suggestion, but as a command – one that was written for our benefit, rather than God’s?

The Bible says that God is our Rock, and that all his ways are perfect. Let’s do all that we can to draw close to him, and to bring other people along. Let’s make these words our Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of your return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

Amen.

 

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When Life Finds You Stuck

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember the theme from our family Staycation a few years ago:

Paddle hard.

It was a motto lifted from Colossians 3:23 (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”). I figured these were words we could live by, whether we were navigating our way through careers, ministry opportunities, or relationships. Work with all your heart. Do it for God. Paddle hard.

That’s good advice.

At least until you get stuck.

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You know what I mean. There are seasons in life when we find ourselves sailing along, emboldened by a fresh vision or a clear sense of calling or even just the pressing need to finish the laundry, find the missing soccer cleat, and get dinner on the table. We know what we have to do, and we have a pretty good idea how to do it.

There are other times, though, when life can seem a little more…stalled. Maybe we have a God-given dream or a promise, but things haven’t worked out how we thought they would. Maybe we feel passionate about working or serving in some particular area but the door hasn’t opened, or we aren’t sure how to begin. Or maybe we don’t have any vision or sense of purpose at all. Maybe our life doesn’t look anything like amazing and (if were were being completely honest) we’d say we were a little bit underwhelmed. Bored, even.

Or, as my kids would say, “meh.”

During those times, we don’t need a paddle so much as a push. And while I am sure that there are plenty of good strategies for getting un-stuck and propelling ourselves back into life’s current, I’ll give you three of my favorites:

First, remember that your life does have meaning. You were created for a purpose, and God has worthy and specific jobs for you to do. You are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Second, forget about the past. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done; God is all about breathing fresh life into his people. Ask him to help you see what he’s up to, and be prepared to jump on board. “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 wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

And finally, until God shows you the next step to take, focus on what you already know. Micah 6:8 is my husband Robbie’s favorite Bible verse, partly because it works well in every situation or relationship: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Our seasons of stuck-ness may be painful, dreary, or long. (I know; I’ve been there.) But God promises to do new things, even in the most washed up or barren places. Like the tide, he will come in.

And when he does, let’s be ready to move.

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Let God Quiet You

He will quiet you by his love.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

It’s a question that many of us have considered, or at least heard, at some point during the last two weeks. Some Christians choose to fast (from desserts, say, or maybe from a habit like smoking or drinking or Netflix); others mark the weeks leading up to Easter by adding something to their daily routine (a new devotional, morning Bible reading, extra time for prayer). Either way – giving up or adding on – the idea is to do something that reorients your perspective and draws you closer to God.

For me, neither option works too well. Giving up chocolate doesn’t seem all that hard. Until I try it, and then all I want for breakfast is a brownie. I tell myself that I should channel that craving into a hunger for Jesus, but it’s like there’s a Doppelganger in my head saying, “Yeah. Jesus and a brownie. That’d be sweet.”

And when I try to add something (like a few extra minutes in prayer as a start to my morning) I don’t fair any better. Just opening my prayer journal seems to unleash a Kraken of cares, and they all start shouting at once: “Worry about this! Don’t forget to do that! Hurry up; you’re going to be late!”

I want to quiet my heart and get ready for Easter, but I can’t.

Which is why, when I read Zephaniah 3:17 this week, it brought me up short:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. 

I’ve always loved the image of God as a mighty warrior, one who takes delight in his people and rejoices over them with singing. But the other day, as I struggled to get my distracted mind to behave, the phrase “he will quiet you by his love” fairly jumped off the page.

He will quiet you.

You know what that means, right? That means it’s not up to us. We don’t have to calm our own fears, or work really hard to shut out the worries and concerns of the day. We can come before God – during Lent, or at any other time of the year – and ask him to do that for us. We can relax, knowing that even as he “exults over us with loud singing,” his love will speak peace to our souls.

I don’t know what you’ve give up (or taken on) for Lent, or whether the change is helping you draw close to God. But if you’re like me and you find your mind wandering or your worries mounting or you wish you had just a little more diligence and self-control, why not ask God to help? Tell him you can’t do it on your own (which he already knows, anyway), and that you’d like him to step in. Make Zephaniah 3:17 your prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for showing up as the mighty one who will save. Thank you for taking delight in me, for rejoicing over me with gladness and singing.

I am worried/distracted/fearful; please quiet me by your love.

Amen.

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Get a Garland of Grace

So I was looking through Hillary’s wedding pix the other day. I came upon this shot of the bride with her young cousins (who did a stellar job as her flower girls):

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Looking at this photo, I was reminded of what the book of Proverbs says about wisdom. Wisdom protects us, the writer says, and when we get it – when we “cherish her” – here’s what happens:

She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown… When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. (Proverbs 4:9-12)

A garland of grace. A glorious crown. And the ability to navigate life without tripping. I thought all of these things sounded great. But you know who didn’t?

The dog.

Come wedding day, the florist spent ages working on a spectacular wreath for Khaki to sport – a creation that looked every bit as glorious as the bride’s bouquet – but that mule of a lab wasn’t having it. She refused to be garlanded:

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And all I could think, as Khaki wandered around naked, was that she had missed out. She could have looked really good at the reception, but she blew it.

How many times have I done the same thing? How many times has God held out a crown – a garland of grace, woven by wisdom – only to have me walk right on by? And how many times have I gone my own way, ignoring his counsel, and then stumbled straight into a ditch?

Oh, Lord, don’t let me be Khaki. Or Max. I love our dogs but, IQ-wise, I wouldn’t want to be them. (Remember when Max ate the driveway? Yeah. Me, too.)

Instead, I want to get wisdom. I want to take hold of God’s words – his garland of grace – so that I know how to live. When God’s offers a crown, I want to say thank you. And I want to wear it.

If you do, too (or if someone you love would look good in a garland), why not turn Proverbs 4 into a prayer? Click here to get the big picture, or (if all you’ve got time for is the condensed version) try this:

Heavenly Father,

Show _____ how to pay attention, gain understanding, and take hold of your words. Lead _____ along straight paths. Crown  _____ with a garland of wisdom and grace. (Proverbs 4:1-11)

Amen.

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Painting with a Purpose

I love the inspirational, open-ended beauty of 1 Peter 4:10. “Each one of you,” Peter writes, “should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Each one of you should usewhatever gift you have received to serve others

Last month, I got an insider’s look at a woman who is living out this verse in a big way. Anne Neilson (anneneilsonhome.com) is a talented and visionary artist whose paintings have garnered attention from some of the art world’s most discerning collectors. What makes her work particularly distinctive, though, is not just how good it is. Rather, it’s the fact that Anne paints with a purpose, using her platform to help eradicate homelessness, fund cancer research, and help other artists find their place.

In all of these efforts and more, Anne shines the spotlight on Jesus.

I’m no artist, but as I looked around Anne’s studio, I was reminded that all of us have unique talents and abilities. So do our children. And God knows exactly how each one of us is wired; butcher, baker, or candlestick-maker, we are all his handiwork, and he has good stuff for us to do.

Take a few moments today to thank God for the way he created you (or your kids), and then ask him to help you use what you’ve been given to serve other people and point them toward his amazing, life-changing grace.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the way you made _____. Show _____ how to use the gifts he/she has received to serve others, faithfully administering your grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen.

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Show Me Your Ways

I love David’s prayer in Psalm 25. “Show me your ways,” he says, “Teach me. Guide me.”

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.5 Guide me in your truth and teach me.

I love what David is asking for. And I love what he’s not. He’s not asking God to show him the way or the path or the truth. He’s asking God to show him his ways.

Because there’s a difference.

A lot of ways might appeal, a lot of paths might look good, a lot of what we see and hear might be convincing. But if we want to be confident that we’re on the right road or making the best decision, we need to let God direct our steps. Let’s make this psalm our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Show ____ your ways. Teach ____ your paths. Guide ____ in your truth. (Psalm 25:4-5)

Amen.

 

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Righteousness, Peace, and Confidence. Forever.

To a lot of people, “righteousness” is a dirty word. It smacks of finger-pointing, judgment, and pride.

But it’s not, at least not in God’s lexicon. When he uses the word, it brims with refreshment – with things like honesty, justice, and grace. And when he calls us to pursue righteousness as a lifestyle, it is his invitation to let our lives line up with his commands – not so much for his sake, but for ours.

Because living like that – letting God’s righteousness shape our actions, as well as our attitudes – leads to good things! As the Bible puts it, “The result of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever.” (HCSB)

The result of righteousness will be peace;the effect of righteousnesswill be quiet confidence forever. (1)

If a life marked by peace and quiet confidence sounds good to you (and it sure does, to me), make this verse your Friday prayer. Pray it for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Make your righteousness real in _____’s life; may it result in peace and quiet confidence forever. (Isaiah 32:17)

Amen.

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The Words We Speak

So Robbie and I have been working our way through the books, Lists to Love Byand guess what? I’m realizing afresh that what the Bible says about the words we speak (“The tongue has the power of life and death”) is really true!

And I need help.

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I want my words to be helpful and encouraging. I want them to build people up. I want to be someone who gives life – not death – in the things that I say, whether I’m talking to Robbie, my kids, or anyone else.

If you want that too, why not join me in making Ephesians 4:29 your Friday prayer? Here it is. You can pray it for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Let no unwholesome talk come out of my mouth, but only that which is helpful for building others up, that it might benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Amen.

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Reach Down from On High

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.”

If you’re using the Bible in One Year (a free reading app that comes with commentary; click here to get it), you read about David’s distress – and God’s incredible deliverance – in Psalm 18 this week. God hears David’s cry and, after an earth-shaking display of majesty and power, he reaches down – “all the way from sky to sea.”(MSG)

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If you find yourself in David’s place (pursued by foes, feeling overwhelmed and entangled, or just needing to know that your Daddy is there, and that he hears you), take heart. “He rescued me,” David says, “because he delighted in me.” I like how the Message translation puts that line:  “I stood there saved – surprised to be loved!”

God delights in you.

God delights in you! And he is ready to save.

So…ask for his help. Call on him. Make Psalm 18:16 your prayer, knowing that you (and your children, if you’re praying this prayer for them) are never out of God’s reach:

Heavenly Father,

Reach down from on high and take hold of me; draw me out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)

Amen.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for a Fresh Start and New Mercies

It’s January 27. How’s that New Year’s Resolution working out?

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According to a couple of brainiac professors at U.Va. and the University of Zurich, most of us have higher expectations that we can successfully take on a new goal when it syncs with a new time period. Apparently, it doesn’t matter whether we want to drink less, hit the gym more, or stop gossiping, we figure that our chances for an effective launch are better if we start on the first of the year. Or the month. Or even, actually, on a Monday.

Trouble is, just having a fresh start doesn’t mean that the same old temptations and obstacles won’t pop up. You can read the U.Va. findings by clicking here, but if what you really want is some Divine help, why not ask for it? The Bible says that God’s mercies are new every morning (talk about a fresh start!), and that it is his grace that teaches us how to live wisely and well.

Here’s a prayer you can pray for yourself, or for someone else who might need God’s grace in 2017 (and beyond!):

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that your mercies are new every morning. Show _____ how to turn his/her back on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life…one that is starting right now! (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV and Titus 2:11-12, MSG)

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayer for Better Relationships

Earlier this month, I told you how much I like Mark and Susan Merrill’s books, Lists to Love By for Busy Wives and Lists to Love By for Busy HusbandsThose are great for strengthening marriage, but what about all the other relationships in our lives?

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What about our other family members? Or our friends? How can we improve connections and strengthen ties with our parents, siblings, and in-laws? What about teammates and coaches…or that tricky roommate…or the co-worker who always seems to find a way to pinch our last nerve?

Philippians 2:1-18 offers some guaranteed-to-work tips for every relationship. (They work because, basically, they compel us to think and act more like Christ.) Read the whole passage by clicking here, or start with just two little power-packed verses and turn them into a Friday prayer for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, cause _____ to value others above him/herself, not looking to their own interests but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Amen.

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Created for Community: Burning Bright Together

I wasn’t much of a Girl Scout. I finished my stint with the Brownies, but no sooner had I graduated to the green dress with the awesome badges-sash when my mom (who was a Den Mother) suggested that I might quit. I don’t think it was the prospect of cookie sales that damped her enthusiasm (we loved those, still do); all I can think is that maybe she made one-too-many sit-upons:

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We made them – lots of them – to take along on our Big Camping Trip. But, for reasons that were never entirely clear to me, we never actually went camping. We went to the library. Where the sit-upons worked just fine.

All of which is to explain why I can read, but I cannot build a fire. The closest I ever came to having to build one for myself was in college, when a few girlfriends and I decided to skip the mayhem that was Fraternity Bid Night and go camping. Armed with a tin of Jiffy Pop and a bottle of wine, we drove to the outskirts of Charlottesville, parked our car on the side of the highway, and started hiking. Never mind that we didn’t have any wood (or, for that matter, any sit-upons); we had an entire semester’s worth of unread Wall Street Journals we’d subscribed to for an Investments class, and they burned remarkably well.

All of which is to further explain why, when it got cold this year and I threw a log into the fireplace, my husband looked at me like I was crazy.

“What?” I said. “I am going to put some newspaper in there. What’s the problem?”

“You can’t burn one log by itself,” Robbie explained. “You need a bunch of them.”

Robbie grew up on a farm. He lived in a drafty old stone house with charming fireplaces that a smallish person can actually stand up in, and his fire-building prowess (coupled with his ability to drive in the snow, which no boy I had ever dated could do) had me smitten from Day One. And so, when he said I needed more firewood, I knew better than to challenge his wisdom. I added more logs.

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And maybe this is a stretch, but I couldn’t help but think about fire-building when I read this from @DailyKeller on Twitter:

If we are made in God’s image, and He is three persons – then at our fundamental core we are made for community.

I know Tim Keller is a big City Boy now, but I’m guessing that he has been camping. Or that he grew up on a farm. Because even though he doesn’t come right out and say it, I think what he really means is that people are like firewood. We can sputter along on our own, but if we want to realize our full potential – if we want to burn brightly and well – we need to spend time with other people, people who will ignite our faith and kindle our understanding of God and his purposes.

People with whom, and through whom, we can get to know Jesus better.

Do you have friends like that? If not, ask God to give you some. He’s the one who originally said it wasn’t good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and that we are supposed to sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17).  He knows that we flourish in community. Here’s how he puts it in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?

Two are better than one. We are created for community. And friendship, I think, is a blessing that God wants to give us.

Sometimes, though, the connections he ordains don’t look like we think they will. Be alert to the unexpected, life-giving friendships that might be in store for you this year.

And don’t be afraid to pursue them. Perhaps you know an older person who loves the Lord, and who might be willing to mentor you in the coming year. (It can’t hurt to ask.) Or maybe your church has a Bible Study or an Alpha Course you could join. Or maybe you’re feeling ambitious enough to start your own group. You could invite a few friends to come over and try one of Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, or maybe do one of the online studies offered by the gals at Proverbs 31 Ministries.

And wait. I just had another idea.

If you home or apartment is small, and you don’t have enough chairs for everybody, you could just go ahead and make your own sit-upons. It’s easy. All you need is a couple of vinyl tablecloths, a hole punch, some yarn, and that stack of old newspaper you’ve been meaning to burn…

Happy camping!

😉

(And okay, so while you’re making new friends and punching holes in your tablecloths, I’m gonna be taking a little vacay. I’ll still post Friday prayers, but the mid-week blogs won’t show up again until early February. Until then…lots of love! – J.)

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Friday Prayer for Our Work

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January is a often a time for reflection. For evaluation. For looking back…and, even more, for looking forward.

For me, it’s a time when I think about things like work and purpose. I want to be sure I am investing time and talent the way God wants in the year ahead, and I want him to help me get the job done.

One of my favorite “work” prayers comes from Psalm 90, which is a prayer that Moses prayed. Here’s what he asked God to do; feel free to borrow this one for yourself, for someone you love, or maybe even for your church, organization, or business:

Heavenly Father,

May your favor rest on ______. Establish the work of our hands for us, yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Amen

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Lists to Love By

Okay so maybe you haven’t even started the Rick Warren Bible Study book I told you about last month, but if you are married, I’ve got something else you just HAVE to read. Seriously. (And besides. The College FBS Bowl Games are over and season 2 of The Crown doesn’t come out until sometime next fall, so what else are you gonna do?)

Get a jump on Valentine’s Day and check out Mark and Susan Merrill’s brand new books, Lists to Love By.

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There’s a volume for “Busy Husbands” and another one for “Busy Wives.” I love them both.

Why?

For starters, Mark and Susan are refreshingly honest. Susan is a high-energy, creative, can-do gal who figured that the “game” of marriage would be easy. “I thought the hard part would be finding a husband,” she confesses, “not living happily ever after.” And Mark (a highly organized, very disciplined guy) admits that he had his own expectations dashed, early on. He thought that most of the bumps that came along in their marriage could be solved if only Susan would “think and act more like me.” Right.

They also know their stuff. Mark and Susan have spent the past 20 years delivering books and radio shows and blogs and podcasts all designed to help people love their families well. They have research and experience and things like Google Analytics coming out of their ears, and they know what works. And what doesn’t.

And finally, Mark and Susan make it all very do-able. Each book offers 30 lists, along with step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Couples are challenged to examine their expectations about marriage (see above), evaluate how they are doing (you’ll find handy quizzes and thought-provoking questions), and make improvements that will lead to a more intimate and fulfilling relationship.

I’ve been thumbing through the lists in my book, trying to pick one or two to share with you. Trouble is, I like almost all of them. Even the ones that make me squirm, like LIST 8, which lets me know (point #3) that my man “desires conciseness.”

(Which I understand, except when I think that what I have to say is fascinating.)

(Which is often.)

LIST 18: 7 Things You Should Stop Doing to Your Husband in Public.

LIST 26: 10 Questions to Ask Your Husband Every Year.

LIST 21: 8 Creative Ways to Flirt with Your Husband.

LIST 10: 8 Keys to Understanding What Your Husband is Really Saying. Because we all need a good translator, now and then. And pity the guys, who have a harder time. Their version of this list includes NINE Keys to Understanding what Your Wife is Really Saying. Like, “What are you doing today?” means I’ve got some things that I want you to do today.

(To which I would say, “Duh.” And Robbie would say, “Ahhh. Good to know.”)

And here’s the thing about lists. When I used to write financial planning books (which Robbie still considers a Red Sea-style miracle), I learned that simply tracking expenses (which is the first step in establishing a workable budget) actually makes people spend less. In other words, just listing stuff – just thinking about your spending habits – can make a positive difference.

I can’t help but believe it’s the same thing with marriage. Just thinking about things like misplaced expectations, or areas for improvement, can’t help but make things better. And with pros like Mark and Susan in your corner, offering tips without judgment (“Take small bites,” they advise), you start to feel like a better marriage – a good marriage, one that you like – really is possible.

My goal is to conquer all 30 lists in the book, but you know what? If I can nail even just one of them, it will be a win. We’ll have a better marriage than we did yesterday. And, encouraged by that success, I will be motivated to keep going.

And so will Robbie.

Or at least, that’s the plan. I haven’t yet given him his book of lists. But I am about to.

(But not while pursing my lips.)

(Because LIST 24: 5 Ways to Use Body Language to Connect.)

xoxo

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Friday Prayer for the Laundry Pile

(Note: I first posted this prayer two years ago, but as I stare down the pile of bedsheets, tablecloths, and dirty socks and towels that represent Christmas Past, I feel like I need it today. Maybe you do, too. Because some prayers are like laundry:  You just gotta do them again.)

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Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the full house and the empty nest is the amount of laundry that needs doing. For years, particularly when we had four children all playing different sports, my life had a rhythm all its own:

Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.

Partly to break up the monotony, and partly to attach some sort of meaning to an existence that seemed to be measured in soccer games and grass stains, I started using the laundry cycle as a prayer prompt. I looked up a few verses about clothing and pressed them (a-hem) into service.

Here’s one of my favorites. This year, instead of groaning over the laundry pile, why not try this prayer when you pull a load out of the dryer? It might not help you find that missing sock, but at least you’ll be investing in something that lasts beyond tomorrow:

Heavenly Father, let _____ know that he/she is holy and dearly loved.  Help _____ to clothe himself/herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  (Colossians 3:12)

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