You don’t need a hat for this leadership job

Whenever a young man seemed to be getting serious about one of our daughters, Robbie would “invite” him to have The Talk.

The Talk is strictly a guy thing, but from the after-action reports I’ve been privy to over the years, I think the nutshell version goes something like this:  Every relationship my daughter has is going to draw her closer to Christ, or farther away. Which one are you?

And then, if the fellow indicates that his intentions fall into the first category, there is a follow-up query: How do you see yourself doing that? 

I think these questions are worth considering, and not just for would-be boyfriends or grooms. At the end of the day, I imagine all of us would love for our companions to say, “I am closer to Christ because of my relationship with ______.”

And that, says our friend Ty Saltzgiver, is “the influence of our Spiritual Leadership.”

If you’ve been tracking with us in September, you know that this is Book Giveaway month, and each week I am highlighting a different offering from Ty’s website, SaltResources.com. This week’s featured title is Reflections on Spiritual Leadership.

Now, I realize that the phrase “spiritual leadership” can be tricky. I’ll never forget one of our friends telling us how confused he was when his girlfriend’s father told him that it was his job to be the spiritual leader in their relationship.

“I had never heard that term before,” our friend said. “I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe it was like a Halloween costume or something–you know, something where I needed a hat.”

(Happily, the guy figured it out, and he has been a beautiful influence on his wife, his three children, and their assorted family and friends for the past 30-plus years.)

Acknowledging that his little book is not a “comprehensive treatment” of spiritual leadership, Ty draws on his own relationships and ministry experience (he spent more than 40 years on staff with Young Life) to flesh out reflections on a handful of leadership categories, including:

The state of our soul. “The main plot of our lives,” Ty says, “is how we are growing and maturing in Jesus, not how we are doing in our job or ministry.” If we sense that we are depleted (like, if we start seeing people as interruptions instead of as friends, or if we freak out when the toilet stops up or whatever), that’s a sign that we’ve drifted from our Number One Love (Jesus), and that we need to re-calibrate.

Our belief about success. Do we think that accomplishing goals and fulfilling plans is up to us? Or do we realize that it’s all up to God? Mother Teresa considered herself “just a pencil in the Hand of God”; do we see ourselves the same way? “Jesus wasn’t kidding,” Ty writes, “when he said, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’

Humility. “None of us wants to be arrogant, proud, self-sufficient, or unapproachable,” Ty says. “Yet, humility is the most elusive character trait for the Spiritual Leader.” Gosh, I like this chapter. Ty digs into what humility is (and what it isn’t) and points us toward Jesus as the model for what our lives should look like: Confident in our identity (“humility has nothing to do with a low self-image”), but never forcing ourselves on other people. Being always willing to learn. Choosing gratitude. And, like Moses (who was “very humble, more than any other man”), unwilling to go anywhere or do anything without God.

Like I said, good stuff.

Ty tackles other topics in the book, too, topics like the practical steps we should take (including praying for people and entering into their pain, which, Ty says, can be a “learned art”), and building a culture of trust. But becoming a better leader is not a matter of “measuring up,” or of adding godly stuff to our lives so that we can impact people in a positive way.

“Our doing more things to be a Spiritual Leader,” Ty writes, “is like an apple tree grunting and trying harder to produce good apples.”

Sure, we can water and fertilize the tree (Ty calls this “greenhousing” our souls), but at the end of the day, God spurs the growth. The simple fact that we desire to grow brings pleasure to God–and we can trust him to mature and develop us (even if we sometimes seem to move backwards). We can relax and rejoice in the knowledge that God is getting it done.

Which, for anyone who longs to draw closer to Christ (and to bring others along for the ride), is very good news.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins, and for entrusting us with the task of telling everyone what you are doing. Make us wise and faithful representatives as we encourage others to walk with you, work with you, and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 & Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)

Amen.

❤️

Want to know more about spiritual leadership and what that looks like in our lives? Order your copy of Reflections on Spiritual Leadership from SaltResources.com, or post a comment here, or on Instagram or Facebook, for your chance to win this week’s book giveaway.

Congrats to last week’s giveaway winner, a gal who always cleans out her lint trap! Lilly, send me your address (contact me here) and your copy of …And Jesus said, “Follow me” will be on its way!

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Don’t let bad stuff get stuck in your vent

Our clothes dryer stopped working last week.

We had a repair guy come take a look, and it sputtered to life–but then quit again after a handful of loads. Finally, we gave in and bought a new dryer. When the guys came to install it, the old vent thing fell out of the wall…along with about eight years’ worth of dog hair, beach sand, and lint.

I know. I know. Don’t be telling me what a fire hazard that is. Or that we should have checked the vent set-up before replacing the whole thing. Believe me, I know. But that’s not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is that September is Book Giveaway month, and this week’s featured title from author Ty Saltzgiver is And Jesus Said, “…Follow Me”.

Follow Me has soooo many great pearls to ponder. On the subject of trust, for instance, Ty writes, “We all want clarity, but isn’t clarity the opposite of trust?”

On the difficulty we face, sometimes, in receiving, he says, “Doing love is good for the ego; sitting quietly and receiving love is humbling.”

And on the longing we have for more than position, possessions, and pleasures, Ty writes, “The soul’s function is to yearn in order for us to know that LIFE is more than what this world can bring us.”

See? So much good stuff, all offered in bite-sized chapters we can read on our own or with friends.

Surprisingly (because this is NOT a subject that I like to dwell on too much), one of the Follow Me chapters I found most captivating was about sin.

(I know, I know. You don’t like that topic either. But stick with me for a hot sec.)

Nobody likes to acknowledge their sin, to admit that they’ve failed, or that they’ve blown it (again). But doing so, Ty says, is “vital and growth-producing.”

Here’s why (and I’m quoting Ty here):

A sign of drawing closer to Jesus is being more aware of one’s sin (sometimes even having the accompanying “feeling” of being farther from Jesus). It’s like the light being turned up brighter in a room revealing faded paint, a water spot, and a crack in the wall, all that were unnoticed in the previous low light.

Boy, do I get that.

And I’d find the whole light-on-the-spot thing super discouraging, except for what happens when sin gets revealed–and confessed. More from Ty:

Once you call sin by name before God (that is, once you confess it), three things happen:

  1. You are forgiven and God does not count it against you.
  2. The sin is disarmed; it no longer has the same power in your life.
  3. God can begin, in his power and time, to heal you and take that sin from you.

The courage to confess sin springs from knowing that God’s love for us is undiminished by our sin. He longs to pour out His love on us, and in us, in Tidal Wave fashion. He longs to grow us into the unique person who He’s dreamed us to be. He longs to be intimate with us. Our sin unconfessed is the only barrier.

I love that.

And there’s lots more in the chapter–like, thought-provoking discussion questions, catchy Greek words for sin, and Bible verses that can help us flesh out the picture.

The only thing missing (and I don’t mean to tell Ty how to write) is the obvious illustration about how our relationship with the Lord is like a clothes dryer vent. As long as it’s clear, our lives work pretty well. But clog up the works with a mix of dog hair and sin, and stuff starts to break down. There is just no flow.

But when we identify and dislodge the bad stuff–when we name our sin and humbly confess it, even if that feels painful or awkward (and speaking from experience, it often does)–God goes to work. The stream of living water which flows from the heart of Jesus into our hearts flows less constricted, more freely.

We find ourselves caught up in a tidal wave of God’s love.

Heavenly Father,

How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven! Keeping silent about our sin saps our strength, but confession takes away guilt. (Psalm 32:1-5)

Show me the places where I resist reviewing myself, places where I may be (even unknowingly) hiding my sin. Grant me the courage to confess, secure in your limitless love.

Amen.

❤️
And Jesus said, “…Follow Me” is a great book for small group discussion–even if your “group” is the teenagers around your table at dinnertime. I tested a few chapters (they’re just two pages long) on my (young adult) children this summer, with decent results. I mean, my people actually made a few engaged-sounding comments. Which I count as a win.
Want your own copy of Follow Me? Click here to order, or enter to win this week’s giveaway by posting a comment here, or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt), or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites). And congrats to last week’s winner, Jenny Francis – Jenny, your copy of My First 30 Quiet Times is on it’s way!

 

 

 

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How Can We Know God’s Heart?

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know how much I love sharing books and other resources to help us grow closer to Christ. This month features a series of powerful little books by Ty Saltzgiver, and we’ll be giving away a different one every week.

Today’s post is from My First Thirty Quiet Times, a day-by-day devotional that has sold more than 600,000 copies. In this excerpt from Day 5, Ty asks some really good questions: How can we know the Father’s heart? How can we be sure that God really is GOOD, and that He truly CARES for us? And how can we be sure we can trust Him?

Here’s Ty:

So often, Christianity is presented to us as a set of beliefs to adhere to and a set of rules (or commands) to obey. In other words, we must believe what is true and do what is right. If we do, then we are a Christian, or to the degree that we do these well, then we are good Christians.

Certainly, there are things to believe and a way God wants us to live, but they are not “in order to be” a Christian. Rather, they are “because of” the reality that we have a relationship with Jesus, where we’ve received His love and invited Him to live in our hearts and trusted Him with our lives.

It is a huge thing to entrust our very lives to God, to give Him the thing most precious to us–our hearts. Therefore, to trust God, we must be convinced His heart is GOOD and that He truly CARES for us. How can we know the Father’s heart?

(That’s a great question. And the answer, Ty says, is not by knowing doctrines or following rules or even seeing God’s beauty in nature. The answer to knowing God’s heart is by looking at Jesus.)

Jesus says essentially, “Let me tell you a story to try and describe for you my Father’s heart.” And then he tells the Prodigal Son parable. He says His Father is always standing on the porch waiting and looking for us who are lost or hurting. Then, when He sees us, He rushes to meet us and showers us with kisses, healing and restoring us.

Jesus represents (and therefore reveals) His Father as the One who pursues and accepts us. Even when there is infidelity or inattention on our part, God’s acceptance is always absolute, no retribution or payback is required. No one could invent a god like this–one who pursues and accepts sinners, one who becomes human and hangs out with us.

All other gods despise sinners, condemn them, and withhold blessings from them.

Not Jesus’ Father. Not our Heavenly Father.

Of course, Jesus’ death on the cross tells us more about the Father’s heart than anything else. Can you imagine the Father’s agony over His Son’s suffering and death, all so we could be in a relationship with Him? When someone dies for you, you no longer question if that person cares for you, or if you matter to them.

You can trust their heart with yours.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

No one has ever seen you, but Jesus–your one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with You, has made you known. (John 1:18)

Thank you for sending Jesus to not only be the way to You but also to show us who You are. Help me to know You more and trust You more.

Amen

 

P.S. (and book giveaway scoop):

Salt Resources

Ty Saltzgiver (above) spent over 40 years with Young Life, and he’s particularly gifted at making complex spiritual issues easy to grasp. My First Thirty Quiet Times comes with short scripture readings, thoughtful application steps, and a prayer every day. The book is designed for a new Christian, but I’ve picked up it up countless times over the years when I want straightforward answers on topics ranging from sin and forgiveness, to what to do when doubt comes, to knowing God’s will for my life.

If you’d like a free copy, post a comment here or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) for your chance to win. Or, since the books cost just $1.99, go ahead and order one–or ten!–and share this great resource with someone you love!

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Who are you becoming?

God cares more about who you are becoming in Him than what you are doing for Him.

That’s a great sentence, and it’s one I wish I made up. Because I don’t know about you, but I definitely spend way more time doing for God (trying to be a good wife and mother, to help out at my church, to write some sort of life-changing blog…) than I spend being with Him. And being with God is, of course, where the really good stuff–the actual life-change–takes place.

But alas, I didn’t make those words up. I stole them from our friend Ty Saltzgiver, the guy who baptized Robbie and me in the Jordan River last March.

If anyone knows about “doing” for God, it would be Ty. He spent over 40 years with Young Life, leading about a bazillion teenagers to Christ. He speaks all over the country, equipping folks to live for what matters. And he’s written 11 faith-shaping books (with number 12 in the works). If God had a “what have you done for me lately” ladder, Ty could sit on the top rung.

But God, as we know, has no such ladder. Sure, He wants us to be good parents and lovers, good bosses and workers, good servants and friends and all that–but, as Ty says, none of those things are the “main plot” of our lives. The main plot is God shaping us–changing us–into the person He wants us to be.

A person who looks a whole lot like Jesus.

I spent this past summer trying to “be” more and “do” less with God. I’d read about the disciples, and how Jesus called 12 of them to be with Him, before they did anything else. That seemed like an excellent plan. And what better time than the summer to shelve things like speaking engagements and writing projects and just sort of…hang out with Jesus?

Yeah, well. It didn’t work all that great.

I am, by nature, a do-er, and I kept forgetting the plan. But God is nothing if not persistent, and I am counting on him to keep at it. To keep at me. To work in me so that as I behold Jesus, I will begin to reflect Him, the way that God said we all could:

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)

And if you want that, too–if you want to look more like Jesus as you spend time with Him–I’ve got some very fun news.

Every Friday in September, I’m going to pick an excerpt from one of Ty’s books–something that will draw us closer to Christ–and talk about it here. And each week, as a fun little bonus, we’ll give away one of his books.

(And I know what some of you are thinking, cuz I think this myself: Who cares about a book giveaway? I never win anything.)

(Well maybe you don’t. And maybe you won’t. But that’s okay, because all of Ty’s books are available here, and almost all of them cost less than two bucks.)

(Seriously. Two dollars. At that price, buy ’em all.)

So…I can’t wait to meet you back here next week! And in the meantime, let’s think about who we’re becoming. And let’s ask God to shape us–to transform us–into the men and women He wants us to be.

Heavenly Father,

Help us to see you and to reflect you. Make us more and more like you. Change us into your glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Amen

 

 

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Friendships and Gutters Should Flow

“Friendships, like gutters, need to flow.”

No, that’s not C.S. Lewis. Or even Chip Gaines. It’s a little wisdom nugget from this guy:

Ever since he started reading this blog, Bobby has been hinting that I might want to write about him. I don’t normally take this sort of request, but in addition to having the world’s cleanest gutters (a status he attributes to his patent-worthy gutter cleaning invention), Bobby has about 10 zillion friends, so I figured that maybe he knows something worth knowing.

And as it turns out, he actually does.

“Stuff needs to flow through gutters for them to work,” Bobby maintains. “And friendships need flow as well. Communication, vulnerability, time, laughter, shared pain, shared experiences, wisdom, insight…all of these things need to be a dynamic part of our connections if we want our friendships to flourish.”

I like that. And if you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that friendship is a topic I love (even when I’m feeling friendless, like I was in this post):

Over the years, we’ve talked about how friendship is what college kids really need (click here for some ways we can pray good friends into their lives), and we’ve looked at why it’s important to have people who will speak truth to us, even when doing so is awkward or hard (because it’s not, as this post explains, always a great idea to just “follow your heart”).

And longtime readers may remember when we dabbled in science, drawing encouragement from research–and yes, they did actually do this to people–that proves you feel better, when you get shocked, if somebody is holding your hand. (That post came with a free printable featuring nine “friendship” prayer cards.)

Clearly, I like to write about friendship.

But getting back to the main point of this blog. Which again, Bobby thinks should be Bobby.

Bobby is part of a group of friends Robbie and I try to connect with, in person, at least once a year.

We ask each other hard questions. What are you doing to invest in your marriage? Where have you struggled at work? How might God want to use you, and your gifts, in the next season of life? What are you doing to grow closer to Him?

We laugh. We try not to make too much fun of each other, but sometimes (like when one of us breaks out an “invention” that he built all by himself and wants to know if anybody is willing to fund it) we can’t help it.

And we pray. We pray for our jobs, our kids, our marriages, and our own stubborn hearts, asking God to work on the places where we’ve strayed or grown hard, and to remind us that (even still) He calls us Beloved.

If you’re reading this post and you think, “I wish I had friends like that,” can I just tell you one thing? You probably do. Ask God to show you who might be open to deeper connections, and then reach out to one or two folks. That’s what happened with our group. As one of us made the pivot from raising her children to the Empty Nest years, she wanted people who would walk alongside her in the new season. She put out some feelers (“Who wants to be friends?”), and the rest of us jumped on board.

And if you’re reading and thinking, “I love my friends!”, let them know! There’s a reason the Bible is so full of exhortations like 1 Thessalonians 5:11; God knows that good things happen when we “encourage one another and build each other up.” Take a moment today to make a phone call, send a text, or write a note (and then remember to mail it) to let a friend know they are loved.

Genuine friendships–like free-flowing gutters–rarely “just happen.” Like Bobby said, they take commitment. Transparency. And a  willingness to overlook offenses (because even small stuff can sometimes clog up the tube).

And, of course, prayer always helps.

The Bible is bursting with good things we can pray for our friends–and these are the very blessings God longs to provide! Click on any of the earlier posts to download some prayers, or join me today in borrowing from Isaiah 61, and use one or two of these verses to lift up those you hold dear.

Heavenly Father,

When _____ is brokenhearted or in need of comfort, clothe them with a garment of praise instead of despair. (v. 1-3)

Grow _____ into a strong oak of righteousness, and may their lives display your splendor. (v. 3)

Replace _____’s shame or disgrace with an inheritance of everlasting joy. (v. 7)

May all who see _____ acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (v. 9)

Amen

(And yes, Bobby. I did put your whole family right there in verse 9.)

😊

 

 

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The Comparison Trap: Life Lessons from Little League

We lived in Atlanta in 1995, back when the Braves won the World Series. It was a heady time for the city, with tomahawks hanging from telephone poles and whatnot, but the whole thing was pretty much wasted on me. I don’t understand baseball. Sure, I get the whole “home run” thing, but I’ve never really grasped the subtler points of the game.

Never, perhaps, was that more evident than when I got drafted to coach.

We had just moved to Coronado, California, where I am pretty sure there’s a law that says every child has to play Little League. Wanting to be a good citizen, I signed our kids up. Robbie and Virginia were 5 and 6 at the time, and they got assigned to the same tee ball team.

All was well…until my phone rang. “We need more coaches,” the voice said.

I knew my husband was out (he traveled too much for work), but I didn’t want our family to seem unhelpful. “I can’t coach,” I said brightly, “but I can sew the team banner!”

“We don’t need banners. We need coaches.”

I tried another tack. “I can handle the roster? The snacks?”

“Listen, Mrs. Berndt,” the voice said (sounding not at all like someone who wanted to buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks), “we have too many players. Unless we can find some more coaches, Virginia and Robbie can’t play. We need you.”

I could see that this was not headed anywhere good. “You don’t need me,” I countered. “I can’t catch or throw. My baseball knowledge is zero. Plus…I’m afraid of the ball.”

(It’s true. I am.)

“It’s okay. We will train you. Just come to the coaches’ meeting on Wednesday night. See you then.”

Sigh.

I should have known something was up when I got to the stadium. I was the only gal there. The ONLY mom coach. A sea of dad coaches—all of whom seemed to know one another—lounged on the bleachers, waiting (I assumed) for the training to start.

“Training,” as it turned out, consisted of opening the equipment locker and grabbing stuff. Not knowing what I was allowed to take, I hung back. In the end, there were a couple of leftover bats, a bucket of balls, and one tee that wouldn’t stand up all the way straight.

I threw it all in the back of my Chevy Suburban.

Practice started the following week. Our jerseys were purple, and the first order of business was to choose a team name. I opened the floor for discussion.

“The Purple Wolves!” one kid hollered. “Yeah!” said the others.

“Alrighty then,” I said, “that’s good progress! Our next job is—” (and here’s where I found myself wishing I’d paid better attention to how the Braves did it; the only thing I could remember was the tomahawk chop) “—to make up a team cheer!”

We worked on that one for a while, trying out different wolf poses and howls, and then it was (mercifully) time for practice to end. I sent the kids home with instructions to “work on their wolf stance” and told them I’d see them at Saturday’s game.

Game Day dawned with no small amount of enthusiasm. I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. At first, the Purple Wolves seemed pretty happy.

But then they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” one kid said.

I followed his gaze. The other team wasn’t seated just yet, but you could tell where they’d be. Every single one of the 14 spots in the opposing lineup was clearly marked on the ground by a carpet sample. A carpet sample! And on top of each tidy square sat a matching red water bottle, with a little baseball stopper on top.

“We’re gonna get killed,” my kid moaned. A few others agreed. And fear spread through my team like wildfire.

Now, if you know anything about tee ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed.

But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

And we do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives and see moms whose kids make better grades. Or dads who have better jobs. Or neighbors whose lawns have no weeds. Or whatever. And we assume that their lives are all squared-away and amazing, and that ours—at least by comparison—aren’t.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice somebody gave me when our kids were little (and this is a nugget that works for marriages, jobs, and everything else) was this: “Don’t compare your family’s insides to somebody else’s outsides.”

It’s true. Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from interviewing hundreds of moms and dads over the years (and from our own family’s up-and-down life), it’s that everyone—even the Varsity Christians with the award-winning children and the primo jobs and the clean minivan—has issues. Nobody measures up. Nobody even comes close.

And if we spend our time looking at other people’s outsides instead of focusing on Jesus (and basking in his immeasurable love for our insides), we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

As it turned out, the Purple Wolves won that first game. Or maybe they lost. I don’t remember. The only thing I remember–the only thing ANYBODY remembers (and people remind me of it, to this day)—is the fight that broke out on the mound.

No, the Carpet Squares didn’t attack. The brawl (which got ugly fast) was an inner-squad thing, between the Purple Wolves’ pitcher and our first baseman, after the latter got hit in the chest with a throw because his attention was elsewhere.

(Did I mention where I’d positioned Virginia and Robbie? No? Okay well. Never mind then.)

🤦‍♀️

Heavenly Father,

Help us understand who we are and the work we’ve been given, and to sink ourselves into that. Don’t let us fall prey to comparison; rather, equip us to do the creative best we can with our lives, secure in the lavishness of your love. (Galatians 6:4, MSG & 1 John 3:1, NIV)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Can’t Quench God’s Love

(Note: Robbie and I are in Canada this week. We’re enjoying some good “unplugged” time, but here’s a quick post–along with a pic of the evening view from our dock. This place isn’t fancy, but if you don’t mind a few snakes, mosquitos, and a composting toilet, it’s pretty much paradise.)

“Here is a theologian who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

That’s how Elisabeth Elliot describes J. I. Packer in his timeless book, Knowing GodAnd I have to say that one of of Packer’s most encouraging messages (at least for bottom-shelf sheep like myself) is that nothing we do–and nothing we have ever done–comes as a shocker to God. And none of it can keep him from loving us.

Here’s how Packer puts it:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

We can’t quench God’s love. Or (and I love this part) his determination to bless us.

That’s good stuff. But Packer didn’t make it up, of course. I suspect he got it from places like Romans 8:38, which is where Paul says that nothing–neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell–can separate us from God’s love.

Maybe just take a moment right now and let those words settle over your soul.

And if you, or someone you love, needs a little help when it comes to receiving the reality of God’s limitless love, here’s one way we can pray:

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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I just want to look at your face.

So next week we’ll be with two of our adult children, Virginia and Robbie. They don’t live in Virginia Beach, and I miss them.

A lot.

Which is why I’ve warned them, already, that I might be a little bit weird. “Don’t mind me if I stare at you when we’re together,” I said. “I just want to look at your face.”

If you’re a parent (and especially if you’re the parent of a newborn), you get it. You know it’s not always polite (and you realize you might border on creepy, if you’re like me and you have grown-up kids), but sometimes you can’t look away. Like Robbie, in this 1989 photo with Hillary. You just love too much.

And as I thought about this “can’t look away” love, I remembered King David’s words in Psalm 27. “One thing I ask of the Lord,” he wrote, “this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

That was my dad’s favorite verse. I loved my father, and I want to love God in the all-consuming way that he did. Truth be told, though, I sometimes read verses like Psalm 27:4 and scratch my head just a bit. David’s request seems so…passive. Like, in our rough-and-tumble world, does gazing at God’s beauty move the needle? Does it help?

(I mean, if we were in David’s shoes and we could ask God for one thing, would we really pick “looking at you”?)

This week, I decided to do a little word study. I’ll spare you the details (cuz when you put a honker of a book like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible in my beach bag, I can quickly get lost in the weeds), but here’s the main scoop:

That word beauty? It’s an attractiveness that motivates others to embrace that which is praiseworthy. It’s a type of splendor that leaves us inspired and amazed. It’s how the onlookers felt about Jesus in Mark 7:37, when he healed the deaf and dumb man.

“He has done everything well!” people said.

Not only that, but Warren Wiersbe (author of The Bible Exposition Commentarysays that beauty, as it’s used in Psalm 27, means not only the glory of God’s character but also “the richness of His goodness and favor to His people.” In other words, when David focused on God (instead of all the threats that he faced), he didn’t see danger or fear. He saw peace. He saw provision. He saw the strength to move on and live well.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that that leaves me admitting I’m wrong. Gazing at God is not at all passive. It’s practical. It’s the starting place–and the returning place–for experiencing him, and then living a life that will matter.

If gazing at God feels foreign to you, or if you just need a little help getting started, check out my friend Sara Hagerty’s “adoration” series on Instagram. You’ll find her @sarahagertywrites, or click here to download a whole month’s worth of ways to see and love God.

 

Heavenly Father,

You are all that we need; your presence is all we desire. Help us fix our gaze on you, that we might daily look to you and your strength, and seek your face always. (1 Chronicles 16:11)

Amen

And P.S., all you empty nesters out there:  Gazing at God is infinitely more satisfying than staring at your kids. Especially when they know how much you miss them and then, right before they come home, they send you a photo like this:

(Seriously Robbie? What even is that thing on your face??)

🙅‍♀️

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Forget the iPotty; Add Prayer to Your Baby Wish List

I’ve been to a few baby showers in recent months, and I’m amazed at all the stuff you can buy. Today’s registries include everything from traditional onesies and blankets to what-the-heck items like the Baby Butt Fan (“experts agree” that air drying prevents diaper rash), the iPotty (because apparently today’s toddlers don’t want to miss a minute of screen time), and the Kickbee (a thing pregnant moms wrap on their bellies to digitally detect baby’s kicks–and then tweet them out to the world).

(I know. How did my generation make it through nine months without that?)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in addition to burp cloths and bottles, we could add character traits to our cart? Think about it. Expectant mothers could add things like wisdom, kindness, and self-control for their kids. I might register for gentleness and patience, and an others-centered outlook on life. And wouldn’t we all want gifts like perseverance, integrity, a joyful spirit, and a thankful heart?

The list, of course, could go on. And how cool would it be if all we had to do was throw a shower and have our friends bring us these blessings?

Happily, God’s got another–better–way to give these good gifts to our kids. He invites us to ask him for them.

In his book, How to PrayR.A. Torrey says that prayer is “God’s appointed way for obtaining things, and the great secret of all lack in our experience, in our life and in our work is neglect of prayer.”

Torrey’s not the one who came up with the link between asking and receiving; we see that played out in the Bible (see, for instance, Matthew 7:7 and John 16:24). For a lot of folks, though, Torrey’s words can feel daunting. We know we should pray, but sometimes we don’t–and we can beat ourselves up over that lack.

And perhaps no one beats themselves up more than young moms. This comment, shared last week on a friend’s Instagram post, pierced my heart:

I was such a good pray-er until God blessed me with a second boy. I have three energetic sons, ages 3, 5 and 1. Between teething and nighttime breastfeeding and everything else, I feel so bad in all spheres. And I feel guilty.

Boy, can I ever relate. Robbie and I had four kids in six years, and honestly? I don’t know how today’s mothers do it. I see them making their own baby food and checking labels for all things organic; I remember dumping Trix cereal out on the high chair and hoping that counted as fruit.

And prayer time? That was reserved for people who had fewer kids and less laundry than I did. Any time I heard about some Varsity Christian who spent hours in prayer (like the persecuted people on the other side of the world all seemed to be doing) I’d want to throw in the prayer towel and quit. “I’m just not that holy,” I’d think to myself. “I’m just not that good.”

And I’d feel bad for my kids, cuz I knew they had a lame-Christian mom.

But then I met Cynthia Heald, a best-selling author whose books include Becoming a Woman of Prayer“I’d like to be a woman of prayer,” I told her, “but I’m not. I almost never have time to sit down with my notebook and a Bible to pray–and I feel like my prayers don’t really count.”

Cynthia set me straight. “You can pray in the carpool line,” she said, “or while you’re washing dishes. Pray while you walk through your neighborhood, or while you clean the bathroom. It doesn’t take a lot of time or preparation to meet God. Just go to him, and you’re there.”

Now, I am sure that Cynthia Heald would encourage all of us to make time in our schedules for some concentrated, uninterrupted prayer, but her gentle advice to “just do it” got me started. I began to pray while I drove, while I made lunches, and even while I scrubbed toilets, using (and I realize this sounds kind of pathetic) the smell of Lysol, in place of biblical incense, to remind me to pray.

All of which is to say (especially to the new mamas out there):  Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t believe the lie that your prayers have to be perfect, or long, or written down in a beautiful faux-leather journal to count.

That season will come.

For now, take your parenting cue from the disciples. Granted, they never had to make a Pilgrim costume out of a grocery bag and brown packing tape, but they did need to know how to pray–and so they asked Jesus for help. They asked him to teach them, and we can do the same thing. We can ask God to show us how to pray, and to help us make the most of our minutes.

God knows what it’s like to have kids and to want good things for their lives. Prayer is the vehicle he invented for us to ask him to provide.

And all we have to do is…just do it.

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to live wisely and well. (Psalm 90:12 MSG)

Prompt us to lift up our hands to you and plead for the lives of our children. (Lamentations 2:19 NLT)

And remind us, when we are weary and worn, that we can come boldly before your throne, knowing that your grace is always there to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

Amen

(Note to moms eyeing the iPotty: We used that book, Toilet Training in Less than a Daywhich, if I remember right, worked really well and only required salty chips, candy rewards, and like 17 gallons of apple juice.)

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The Dog Days of Summer

Many of you know our dog, Max. Max has taught me two things this summer.

The first is the value of the iPhone “portrait” feature. My old phone finally gave up, and when Robbie brought home a new one (shopping for anything plug-in being a Blue Job, chez Berndt), I snapped this:

Max has never looked this good in his life.

(And that is not being unkind. Those who have met Max in person, or seen him in previous blogs, know I speak only the truth. But hey. There is more to life than great hair.)

The second lesson from Max is that good things happen when you decide to be nice.

I am not what you might call a Dog Person. I don’t mind them; in fact, I would go so far as to say that I like most dogs. And that I trust people who have dogs more than people who don’t. But if you invite us over for dinner, Robbie’s the one who will sit on the floor and get your pup’s hair and his breath and his ticks or whatever all over his clothing, not me.

But all of that’s changed in the last 100 days.

101, to be exact.

That’s how long it’s been since Max had surgery to take out his spleen. The docs biopsied whatever was in there, and the news was not good. They gave our guy 18-45 days.

I may not be a dog person, but I was the one who brought Max home as a Christmas morning surprise back in 2007, and I found myself rocked by this verdict. And if Max had three-to-six weeks left to live, I resolved to make them the best weeks of his life.

I bought chewy dog treats.

Took him out for some walks.

I might even have talked baby talk, once in awhile. (Which is not something I ever did for our kids.)

And…I began petting him. Not a lot (because then I would have to get out the Roomba and watch it suck up the hairs, which can take up a lot of my valuable time). But a little. And if Max was surprised, he didn’t show it. He just acted happy.

It’s Day 101 and Max seems healthier–and more active–than ever. Maybe he felt weighed down by that spleen? Maybe he is thrilled with the treats, after 11 years of dry kibble? Maybe all he ever wanted was to go for an actual walk?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is this.

I can’t point to the exact day when it happened, but I find myself LOVING our dog. And doing things I haven’t, before. Things like standing in the pet aisle at the grocery store, wondering whether he likes “salmon and veggie” or “chicken and rice” in his bowl, or what shape (bone? bacon strip? tube?) he prefers for his treats.

I know, I know. Some of you are reading this, and you are aghast. Who among us, you think, doesn’t buy  bacon-shaped treats BEFORE it’s almost too late? I get that. Unsubscribe if you must; I won’t judge.

And some of you will wonder what possible lesson or truth I could mine from this story. I will tell you. It’s this:

The nicer you are, the more you will love. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but when you decide to be kind to someone (and I think this works for family members and co-workers, as well as mangy golden retrievers), the more attractive they will appear, and the more you will want to be nice. It’s as if love begets love. And not only will you find yourself giving love; others will start loving you back. (I can’t be positive, but I am pretty sure Max thinks I’m awesome.)

And I can’t help but wonder if it’s that way with God. He is so good to us, and he always has been, covering us in love since the beginning of time. When he looks at us, he doesn’t see all our scabs and our warts and our failings. He just sees the object of his boundless affection. He sees us as lovely.

And as we bask in that love, we are transformed. We love, the Bible says, because he first loved us.

Heavenly Father,

Help me to extend love to ______, and to pray for them even if they come against me. Equip me to love others the way that you have loved me. (Matthew 5:44, John 15:12)

And P.S., Ecclesiastes 9:4 says that “a live dog is better than a dead lion.” I don’t really understand that verse, but I do know that I love my live dog, so if anyone wants to pray for us to enjoy another 100 great days (or more!), we’d be grateful.

 

 

 

 

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Duct-taping Your Kids (and other Mom Fails)

“Wait. Mom. Are you reading your own book? That is just so…sad.”

That was Virginia, more than 10 years ago, when she burst into my bedroom and discovered me sitting up in bed, reading my copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. What Virginia didn’t know was that I was using the book to help shape my prayers for her life. All she could see was her mother doing something that looked, to her teenaged eye, pretty pathetic.

Happily, Virginia is all grown up now, and she doesn’t think it’s strange when I pray. Or when I read my own books. Which is a good thing, since I was at it again yesterday. I was thinking about a friend who is going through a rough patch in her parenting, and I turned to the chapter about parent-child relationships to find some good scripture-prayers. And I came upon this:

I wrote those words nearly 20 years ago, but honestly? They mean so much more to me now. Because the older I get, the more aware I am of how far I fall short. Of how often I’ve let my kids down. Of how my weaknesses (especially in parenting) don’t seem to be going away.

I remember being a young mom, and wanting so badly to set a good example for my kids. I wanted to be able to change diapers, run carpools, and help with science projects–all while being wise, resourceful, hospitable, encouraging, diligent, creative, generous, faithful, watchful, vigorous, strong, and cheerful. That’s not a list I made up; I read it in Proverbs 31. And if that was God’s standard for an excellent woman, then that’s the mark I wanted to hit.

Hold on, all you Bible scholars out there. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that the Proverbs 31 woman was not a real woman, but rather a type of woman. Or that she was really a conglomeration of admirable attributes manifested in the lives of several different women. Or that she was nothing human at all; rather, she was the personification of wisdom, showing us what wisdom might look like, if we could see it in action.

Blah blah blah.

I know all of that. And I knew it, back then. But I’ve always liked clear objectives–targets to shoot for–and the attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman are nothing if not well-defined.

(Literally. Proverbs 31:17 even talks about her fabulous biceps.)

And so I tried. I started by checking off the verses I had covered. Things like sewing clothing and curtains (which I actually did, back then), working late into the night (which seemed both noble and necessary, at the time), and getting up while it was still dark (which was the only time my mom friends could meet up for a run). Verses 19, 18, and 15. Done.

At first, I felt good. I was on a Proverbs 31 roll. How hard could it be, to buckle down and check off the rest?

Ha.

You know what happened.

I couldn’t do it. Forget about planting a vineyard or bringing food from afar (v. 16 and 14); there were days when I could barely get to the store (and even then it was not anything to be proud of, as I jammed all four kids into one grocery cart and piled boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese on their heads). And that part about “faithful instruction” (v. 26)? Unless you count that time I got so tired of listening to Hillary and Annesley bicker that I duct-taped them together and made them clean all the toilets one-handed, I’m not sure they learned all that much.

(Simmer down, people. It was only their wrists. And only one arm per girl. I am pretty sure they were…fine.)

Anyhow.

The more I tried to be an exemplary mom, the more I became, as my friend Kenzie put it, “the Proverbs 32 woman.” Who is not, as we all know, someone who shows up in the Bible.

If you want to read more (like, if epic mom-fails are your thing), you can pick up the book, but for now I’ll just get to the point and say this:  My weakness was where Jesus came in.

Truly.

And that’s where he still does.

Because no matter how hard I tried–or how hard I still try–to do everything “right,” there will always be days when I blow it. I will do and say things I regret. And, unlike the Proverbs 31 mother, I will never know what it’s like to have my kids get out of bed in the morning and call me Blessed. (But don’t think that I haven’t thought about picking that as my grandmother name, if and when that time comes.)

But you know what I’ve learned, after 30 years of mom-fails? I’ve learned that the less I rely on my own abilities and the more I rely on Christ–and the more I let my children (even now, as adults) see me depending on him for wisdom, guidance, and strength–the more I will be able to set the only example that’s worth following.

Instead of saying, “Look at me,” I can say, “Look at Jesus.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that we don’t have to be perfect parents–that we don’t even have to be close. Help us, and our children, to rely on your wisdom and grace. And instead of trying to “do good” or “be good” by ourselves, may we look to you and your strength; may we seek your face always. (Psalm 105:4)

Amen

 

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Trust the Whisper (with this Book Giveaway!)

Why the shades?

For starters, because I’m a sucker for the 4th of July. I found them at Target in the $1 bin (the sticker promised “100% UV Protection!”), and I’ve been sporting them all week.

But it’s not just patriotism that has me hiding my eyes. It’s vanity.

I’ve just finished reading The Hundred Story Homeand my entire face is a mess. So is my tee shirt (I never have any Kleenex), but the eyes are the worst. I haven’t looked this bad since, I don’t know. Watching Beaches with my wind-beneath-my-wings pal Susan, back in 1988?

Anyhow.

Author Kathy Izard starts every chapter in The Hundred Story Home with an inspiring quote. Here’s one of my favs:

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

In Kathy’s case, the life she had planned–the life she was actually living–looked pretty sweet. An award-winning graphic designer, she was a happily married mother of four who volunteered in a local soup kitchen. Kathy had been raised to “Do Good,” and she was proud to be making a difference in her community.

But then she met Denver Moore. (You know Denver as the scary homeless guy who makes friends with Greg Kinnear in Same Kind of Different as Me.) Thinking that Denver would appreciate all that she and the other volunteers were doing for the city’s homeless (in addition to serving meals, they offered soccer teams, art classes, and gardening), Kathy took the man on a tour.

But Denver, as it turned out, was less than impressed. In fact, he didn’t say anything–until he’d seen pretty much everything in the building. Then he spoke up.

“Where are the beds?”

Kathy was confused. The soup kitchen didn’t have any beds–it wasn’t that kind of place. Even as Kathy tried to process what Denver was saying–and to explain why they couldn’t house folks overnight–Denver came at her again. Here’s how she tells the story:

“You mean to tell me you do all this good in the day and then lock them out to the bad at night?”

His accusation left me gutted.

Denver patiently allowed me my discomfort. He watched me silently wrestle with my new awareness before he quietly asked me his next question.

Does that make any sense to you?

Of course it made no sense. I was flooded with shame.

Denver’s next question would change the trajectory of my path forever. It was the question I had been waiting for and looking to answer ever since my dad died nine years before.

Are you going to do something about it?

(Kathy writes that she wanted to look over her shoulder to see who, exactly, Denver was talking to. Later, as she drove Denver back to his hotel, she could feel him studying her.)

“You know,” he said, “you don’t have to be scared.”

He kept talking, adding cryptically, “They already know they are coming.”

“Who?” I asked, still reeling from the magnitude of his assignment.

At that moment we arrived at the hotel’s circular drive.

Denver stared at me with utter certainty as he said, “The people who are going to help you–they already know they are coming.”

And with that, Denver opened my car door and walked away.

Wanna know who showed up–or how the story turns out? I hope so, because The Hundred Story Home was just released last month, and it’s already my top pick for the beach bag this summer.

Here’s why I think this book matters:

Kathy knows that not all of her readers will be called to end homelessness, or even just to push it back by a bit. (Honestly though? I don’t think you can come away unchanged from the book, even if all you discover is how to “see” the man on the street as he holds up his sign.)

But even if working to end homelessness isn’t our thing, Kathy maintains that we all have a purpose. We all, she says, have a call, one that’s “patiently waiting and whispering.” We may struggle along the way–and Kathy writes very openly about her own faith questions, her difficult family issues, and her unmet desire for fulfillment–but our whisper (whatever it is) is woven into that journey. And when we hear it, we need to be ready to listen.

To let go.

And to take a leap of faith into the life–the satisfying, significant life–that might not look anything like what we had planned.

Want an autographed copy of the book? Post a comment here, on Facebook (Jodie Berndt Writes), or Instagram (@jodie_berndt). We’ll pick three winners and announce them next Wednesday, 7/11!

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Good Words for Bad Golf

“You’ll never be any good. You’re too old to start now.”

The words were iffy, but the tone was loving, and I knew my friend meant well when he tried to dissuade me from taking up golf.

I ignored him. I mean, how did he know how good (or bad) I would be? I can spot an off-center window even if it’s just half-an-inch; surely, it couldn’t be that hard to line up a putt. It’s not like the hole moves, for crying out loud.

How hard could golf possibly be?

Pipe down, all you links-lovers out there. (I don’t really want an answer; that question was the rhetorical sort.) And besides, having played a grand total of two lessons, one clinic, and 12 holes now, I’ve pretty much got the picture.

You have to get the grip right. And keep your eye on the ball. And make that “L” thing with your arms. All on top of trying to find a skirt that looks halfway cute.

I get it, okay? It’s not easy.

Especially when every time you think about grabbing your clubs (and I’m up to three now; my plan is to learn them one at a time, then add on), you hear a voice in your head saying: You’ll never be good. You’re too old.

Words matter.

In fact, words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit–you choose.

That’s Proverbs 18:20-21 in The Message translation.

And it raises a couple good points. Like the fact that what we say (even in the nicest of ways, bless her heart) can build people up, or rip them apart. Our words can bear fruit…or bring poison.

And it’s up to us to decide.

But instead of dwelling on all the ways we’ve gone wrong (which would be like talking about how many times I chunked it in the clinic last week, which is how I wound up Celebrexed in the bed), let’s look at how we can do right.

Like, instead of cursing someone (whether it’s with a four-letter word, or a slur on their golf game–or their parenting style, or whatever), let’s look for ways to build up. Let’s be alert to the opportunities God gives us to encourage. To speak freedom and hope. To spark joy.

Let’s be Givers of Life.

But…let’s also be honest. On our own, this job might be tough. Our fuses are short, and our speech patterns (which in my case tilt toward sarcasm) may be pretty well set. Plus, Charles Krauthammer–who never used a bad word when a really good one would do–is gone.

Thankfully, though, we don’t have to go it alone. We can enlist the Lord’s help. Even now, Philippians 2:13 reminds us, he is at work, giving us the desire and the power to do (and say!) what is good.

Even (and maybe especially?) when we run into somebody who looks like they could use a blessing–some sort of hopeful and encouraging word–spoken over their golf game. 🙂

Heavenly Father,

Let us be speakers of life! Let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Amen

 

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What I Learned from a Crossbow

Our niece got married last weekend. Twice.

Caroline’s beloved is of Indian descent, and the first ceremony featured a bevy of gorgeous sari-clad guests, traditional Indian dancers, and a spectacular procession (the “baraat”) led by the handsome groom on a majestic white horse.

The second wedding, held the very next day, was every bit as glorious as Caroline and Dave double-tied their knot, American-style:

Both nuptials took place on the farm where Robbie grew up (and where we were staying for the weekend). Having married off two of our own daughters in back-to-back weddings three years ago, we knew exactly what our family should do.

Stay out of the way.

Happily for us, the Maryland countryside is crawling with Berndts, and we decamped to Robbie’s sister’s home, where our brother-in-law Noby played host. Noby tells people that he’s in insurance (and I guess he probably is), but I don’t think that’s why God created him. I am pretty sure that God made Noby because the world needs more energy, more excitement, and more contests you can’t stage indoors.

“Camp Noby” has all the stuff you might find in a typical American yard, stuff like bocce ball, corn hole, and ping pong. But Noby has other stuff, too.

Stuff like Blow Darts. And Chinese Death Stars. And a big field with a John Deere tractor designed not so much to mow as to race.

As Noby demonstrated the how-to’s of each successive competition in what turned out to be a decathlon, I felt like I was watching a bizarre farmer’s version of The Hunger Games.

The operative word here being watching. I had no plans to participate in the official events. My best sport (as anyone will tell you) is tanning, and as I lay there by the pool while the rest of the family tried not to kill themselves, I knew I led the pack by at least three shades of bronze.

And then, from just over the hedges, I heard somebody say, “Mom.”

If you’re a mother, you know what that means. Especially during a farm-country decathlon. You get up to see who’s been stabbed.

As it turned out, all the kids wanted was for me to hit something. Having gone to all the trouble of getting out of my lounge chair, I obliged. I picked up the nearest piece of equipment, which happened to be a Bigfoot-sized crossbow.

(Because who doesn’t have at least one of those lying around?)

Noby showed me how to load the thing (if that’s the right term?), and explained all about how to use the scope and the importance of keeping the safety on until I was ready to go. I took it all in, flipped the switch, sighted the target, and pulled.

Nothing happened, so I pulled again.

Still nothing. My arrow sat snug in its groove.

The safety was off, and I could not figure out what the problem could be. Finally, after my third failed attempt, Hillary intervened. “Are you meaning to pull the trigger, Mom? Because that’s not where your finger is.”

Alrighty then. I went back to square one, pulled the darn thing, and came THIS CLOSE to the bull’s eye. Everyone cheered, but the whole experience was more than a little humiliating (and not just because I was wearing a bathing suit to shoot a lethal arrow in front of 12 people, only four of whom actually have my blood in their veins). I realized that, if I ever confronted something–or someone–I had to kill, my only chance would be for them to die laughing.

All of which reminded me of an convo I had a few months ago with my friend, A.J. Tata.

“Can you tell,” I asked him, “whether an opponent knows how to handle a weapon? I mean right at first, even before he tries to shoot anything?”

A.J. (“Tony”) is a retired brigadier general, a best-selling author (check out Besieged if you like save-the-world stuff), and a national security expert who’s always popping up on CNN and Fox News. He’s seen his share of bad guys, and I figured he’d know how to size someone up.

And he did.

“It’s easy,” Tony said, “to tell if an adversary is versed in how to handle a gun. If they are experienced and trained, their grip is firm but relaxed, their eyes are scanning the horizon looking for targets, their movements are fluid and instinctual; rapidly attacking or responding to threats.”

He continued:

“An untrained marksman is just the opposite. He carries his weapon awkwardly, his hands in the wrong positions on the grip and stock. When the inexperienced shooter aims, it’s jumpy and awkward, as much worried about himself as he is about whatever he might be shooting at. His hesitation leads to mistakes.”

Oh my goodness, people! Tony was talking about how a soldier handles a gun, but he might as well have been pointing at me! Let’s review, shall we?

An untrained marksman is “awkward.” (Check.) His hands are in the “wrong position.” (Double check.) He is “as much worried about himself as he is about whatever he might be shooting at.” (Hello? How much worse would the worried marksman be in a bathing suit???)

Why do I tell you all this? (Why debase myself in this way??)

Because (and I know this blog is already too long, but stay with me) Tony’s assessment APPLIES TO US ALL. Like it or not, we’ve all been given a weapon. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s word is sharper than a double-edged sword, and that we are supposed to use it – both offensively, in shaping our thoughts and our prayers, and defensively, as we counter threats, lies and attacks (even the ones that come from inside our own head):

You’re not worthy! (Oh yeah? Psalm 139:14 says that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.”)

You’re not up to the job! (Really? Because Philippians 4:13 says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.)

That person hurt you. You deserve to cut them off or get some revenge! (Um, no. I’m gonna take the 1 Peter 3:9 approach and repay insults with blessings, cuz that’s what God’s called me to do.)

See what I mean?

The Bible is meant to animate our actions. To shape how we think. To be used in our lives. But if we aren’t comfy with it in our hands (or our heads), it’s not going to work all that well. We’ll be hesitant. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll be awkward.

(We will look, that is to say, much like I did, pulling whatever it was that was not the crossbow trigger.)

(And trust me. That is not a great look.)

But here’s the thing. We don’t have to enlist in some army, or go to the Bible version of Camp Noby, to get ourselves up to speed. God has already equipped us with all that we need. We have the Bible. We have the Holy Spirit (whose job is to translate God’s message into our hearts, and give us the power to use it). And we have each other.

If you’re not in a regular Bible study this summer, consider asking a friend to read part of it with you. My pal Margaret and I are plowing through Acts (we try to talk once a week), and boy is it rich! Reading the Bible with another person is so good: You’ve got someone to bounce questions off, to glean insights from, and even to say, “Did you do your reading this week?”

It’s like having your very own Noby, keeping you pointed toward the goal. And honestly? The more experience we get–the more we dig into Scripture and let it animate our hopes, our prayers, and our dreams–the more our lives will begin to line up with God’s plans. And the more of his bull’s eyes we’ll hit.

Heavenly Father,

Your word is inspired. It teaches us what is true and makes us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT)

Give us the training and experience we need to use the Bible–our “sword”–wisely and well.

Amen

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Who is Your Father?

 

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

At least that’s what the Bible says. But…how often, or how much, do we truly believe that?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a post about how we can’t let anyone label us with the wrong name, because God calls us “Beloved.” And this week, as we look ahead to Father’s Day, I am thinking the same thing holds true for God. No matter what our concept of “father” might be, we can’t saddle our Heavenly Father with any names that don’t fit.

God labels himself. And thankfully (incredibly, actually), he tells us exactly who he is, so we can know him. And so we don’t get it wrong.

He is faithful (even when we aren’t). He is patient (even when we are super slow). He is loving (even when we are the worst kind of un-lovable).

And the list goes on.

If you really want to dig into who God is (and what that means for our lives), grab a copy of Ruth Myer’s book, Thirty-One Days of Praise (which you can find featured on my bookshelf right now). It’s a resource I turn to, again and again.

Why? Because it is just so darn easy to get things mixed up! Instead of taking God at his word–believing he is who he SAYS that he is–we sometimes put him in a box. We negate his nature. We put limits on his love.

We might not say it out loud, but deep inside we might wonder…

How could he love me, after all that I’ve done?

How could he possibly care about my little problems, when there is so much that is wrong with the world?

How could he ever forgive me for ______ ? (Fill in the blank with whatever it is that you think separates you, or disqualifies you, from God’s love.)

All of which is a bunch of…  I was going to say a word I don’t let my kids say, but I’ll just go with “baloney.” And not only is it baloney, but it is also (buckle up, cuz this part is not pretty) jaw-droppingly arrogant. I mean, who are WE to say what God can or can’t do? He says he loves us. He says he’ll provide. He says he’s got everything under control.

We don’t have to understand all this stuff for it to be true.

(We really don’t.)

So this Father’s Day, as we think about the One who named himself Father, let’s not get things mixed up. Let’s take our cue from the One he named Son, and talk to God the way Jesus did, when he invited us to call him “our” Father. Old-fashioned gal that I am, I kind of love the “hallowed be thy name” lingo that King James trotted out, but I have to say that I’m also pretty pumped about the last few lines of the Lord’s Prayer in the Message. Let’s pray it together:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

(Matthew 6:9-13, MSG)

P.S. If the idea of a Father who does “what’s best” and who is “ablaze in beauty” feels foreign to you–either because you don’t really know God that way, or maybe because your earthly dad colored your world with a not-great perspective–you’re not alone. For years, I’ve loved getting weekly encouragement via email from Sylvia Gunther, and this week she shared her own painful journey being physically and emotionally abandoned by her father. To read her story–and discover who you really are, as God’s child–click here.

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A Blue Marble, a Beach Book, and Abundance

“Can you take our picture?”

Virginia and I were walking on a nearly deserted stretch of beach when a young couple ran up and asked for our help. They were friendly and cute (fresh out of Tulane), and we gladly obliged. And afterwards, they had one more question:

“Can we give you something?”

Virginia and I exchanged a look. “Sure…”

We walked up to their beach camp and the fellow got out a little jar full of marbles. Blue ones. Like this:

“This is part of movement,” he explained, popping the lid and giving us each one of his stash. “There was a professor who had cancer and resolved to live life to the full, even during his chemo. And every day that he did it–every day he felt like he’d experienced abundance–he put a blue marble into a jar. So now we are doing the same thing. And I hope you will, too.”

I’m a little hazy on the details (like, I’m not sure if the professor is still alive, or if the beach couple even knew him), but anytime anybody talks up abundance, I’m in. Especially when it’s paired with words like “life to the full,” which (if you’ve been around this blog for awhile) you KNOW takes me straight to this verse:

The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10, ESV)

That’s Jesus, outlining the whole reason he came. The whole reason he died. The whole reason why we can live free.

So…is the “blue marble movement” a Jesus-y thing? I don’t know. I looked it up on Instagram (@bluemarbleday) and the organizers cite the Bible as one of their texts (along with a few other not-Bible books), and the three tenets that undergird what they are doing–encouraging gratitude, promoting hope, and kindling love–are three things I’m pretty sure Jesus would like. I do too.

But the lack of any overt mention of Christ got me thinking. Not about the Blue Marble People (cuz I think what they are doing is great; who doesn’t need to be more intentional about things like gratitude?), but about my own self.

And about God.

And about whether my idea of abundance parallels his.

Like, if I were going to put a marble in my jar at the end of the day, it would probably be because I’d enjoyed some combo of coffee, exercise, time spent with people I like, and time spent with God. And if I had done something truly significant–something like, say, moving my winter clothes out of the closet so that the cute summer tops could come in (a task I have yet to accomplish in 2018)–I might even give myself two, and call it a Blue Blue Marble Day.

But is that what Jesus would say? Like, is checking projects off the to-do list part of his “abundant life” vision? Is treating myself to a venti-sized latte what he meant when he said I could live life “to the full”? Is it really all about getting…exercise?

I kinda doubt it.

(Okay, I seriously doubt it.)

But I wasn’t sure, exactly, what Jesus would say. And then, wouldn’t you know (and I am not making this up), I picked up the book I had brought to the beach and read this:

The root word for “abundantly” [in John 10:10] is perissos, meaning “exceedingly more, going past the expected limit.” The word for”life” is zoe, and it encompasses our physical presence and future eternal existence.

(Seriously? I picked a beach read with Greek words? Sheesh. I didn’t know. The cover is pink!)

The author went on, contrasting the world’s definition of abundance with God’s: If abundance is exceedingly more, going past the expected limit of life, we’ve got to check our hearts to be sure we’re not just expecting God to produce exceedingly more, going past the limit of stuff. It’s the age-old struggle: Do we want more of what God can give us, or do we want more of God?

(Ahhh. We’ve been there. Several times, in fact–including back in 2016, when I wrote a post called The Gifts or the Giver.)

Obviously, we have to want God more than stuff. But what happens when we don’t? What happens when we turn to things like Netflix or date nights (or, in my case, tidy sock drawers and lattes) to make us feel good? To fill in the gaps? To help us relax or re-charge?

Here’s what happens: “When we take our needs to the temporary, less-than-perfect comforts of this world, we are left feeling empty and wanting more.”

At least that’s what Jess Connolly says. She’s the gal who wrote my beach book, which is all about pursuing holiness (instead of just rule-keeping), embracing grace (the transformative kind, not the stuff that just winks at our sin), and stepping into abundance (as in, the for-real life God offers). The book is called Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground. And, for whatever freaky reason, it’s just $3.79 on Amazon right now, so if you want it, click here.

And…what if you also want some blue marbles? I know I do–I’m getting some for all of my kids. I’m gonna wrap ’em up in a bag and attach a John 10:10 tag, and tell them what I’m telling myself:

This summer, when you find yourself facing a need (whether it’s a desire for peace, or more energy, or just to feel better and more confident about what life looks like right now), press into Jesus. Trust him to supply what you lack. Take him at his word–that is, give him the chance to show you who he is, and what he can do.

Expect exceedingly more.

And then, at the end of the day, give yourself a blue marble to remind you how all-sufficient God is, and how incredibly much you are loved.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that Jesus came so that we could have life, and have it abundantly. Help us take hold of that promise, knowing that as we draw near to you, you will draw near to us. Let us find our deepest satisfaction and joy not in your gifts, but in you. (John 10:10, James 4:8, Psalm 90:14).

Amen.

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Unplug and Engage: Make the Most of Your Summer

I am not the biggest Podcast Gal. Alert readers will remember when I did my first one, with a hip young mom who podcasted (?) out of her family room. We’d been talking for 15 minutes when I asked when we’d start recording. “Oh we’ve been recording this whole time,” she said. “We love it when our shows feel organic and natural!”

Organic and natural. At my age, we don’t do much of that stuff. My crowd tends to go in for things like hair dye and Botox. I have one friend who can’t go out of town for more than two weeks, for fear of missing her scheduled maintenance. “It takes a lot of time and money,” she says, “to look this natural.”

Anyhow.

Relic that I am, I do actually tune in (if that’s the right word) to a few of my favs, one of which is a show called The God-Centered Mom. It’s hosted by Heather MacFadyen, who has four strapping young boys. (Which might explain why she barricades herself in a room once a week and interviews interesting guests about all sorts of fascinating topics. I think I would too. If I knew how.)

This week, Heather’s guest was an author I love, Andy Crouch.

Andy has written a slew of good books, including one called The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. He talked about how to do that–how to live in a techno-based world, without letting devices control our thoughts, our time, or our relationships. To listen to the podcast, click here…and in the meantime, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes.

Andy is big on pulling the plug. He’s not anti-technology; he’s just into “active-engagement”–as in, things that captivate our kids (and us) in ways that go beyond screen time. When we look back on the “best moments” of our family’s life, nobody is going to say “It was when I got to Level 16” on Fortnite, or whatever. Instead, Andy says, it will be those times when we were really “present” for each other. When we were engaged.

Which, for a lot of us, might demand a willingness to burn through the boredom. As in, not immediately strapping on earbuds (airbuds? airpods?), or binging on Netflix to fill the space in our lives. “All creativity,” Andy maintains, “is on the other side of boredom.”

Andy and his family take a two week vacation every summer and completely unplug. For those who find that prospect daunting (hello, Berndt fam?), he gives the okay to start smaller. Even just one hour sans screens–no TV, phones, computers–can make a big difference. Chez Crouch, they even douse the lights during dinner and dine by candlelight.

(Which is a practice, BTW, that I am a huge fan of. Who needs Botox when a good power outage will do?)

But here’s the thing about ditching devices. The first third of any new endeavor, Andy says, is often the rough part. Get through that–get through the first 5 days of your two-week techno-vacation, or the first 20 minutes of your techno-free hour–and the lightbulb (or more aptly, the candle) ignites. Things get creative. Things get engaged. Things get fun.

I get that.

We didn’t even have screens when our kids were young (unless you count one big box TV), but when it came to any sort of “mandatory fun,” the burn-in time was still real. Most of the stuff I’d suggest was not greeted with cheers, but once we hit our stride, we were hooked. Or at least most of us were.

If you want to start small–with, say, just an hour or two of actually Being With People (!) this summer–here are a few active-engagement tactics we’ve tried:

  1. The Candlelight Dinner. It actually works. Don’t do it every night, but every once awhile light ’em up–and when your kid (or your man) wonders why, just say, “Because.”
  2. Star-Gazing. Invite another family, pull out the big blankets, and hit the backyard. Have a few convo-tips at the ready (What are three things you liked this school year? If you drove across the country, name two friends you’d want to have in the car. If you could learn to do one new thing this summer, what would it be?), and add ice cream sundaes, or maybe Bomb Pops, to the mix.
  3. The Original Audible. Turn the lights down low and pick a good book. Have mom or dad read it aloud, or invite older kids to jump in. The Narnia books are always a fav, but we discovered others by accident, just because they were on the school’s “Summer Reading” list. Both The Bronze Bow and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle were winners with all of our kids.
  4. Game Time. We’ve never been all that big on board games (too many pieces look like kibble to dogs), but three years ago, Salad Bowl was a stay-cation hit with the college crew, and Would You Rather is still a staple on every car trip.

I’m sure you have other ideas; post a comment if you’ve got one to share. And P.S., Andy’s pointers are not just for kids. There’s a whole section in the podcast devoted to grown-ups, and how our technology obsession can negatively impact our world. Want to sleep better, fall more in love with your spouse, or wake up without being greeted by email, first thing?

Get the screens out of your bedroom.

(But not, of course, before you download The God-Centered Mom.)

 

 

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Don’t Let Anyone Call You “Big Tina”

I’ll admit it. I laughed out loud when I opened the paper and saw Dilbert this week:

Big Tina. That’s funny.

At least it was at first. But then I got to thinking. Nobody (well, at least nobody I know—no girl, anyway) wants to be called “Big Tina.” No woman wants to be called Big anything.

Case in point: When I called my college pal, Annesley, to ask if I could borrow her name for our newborn daughter, she readily agreed–as long as I didn’t start calling her “Big Annesley.” Or even “Old Annesley.”

(We went with “Original Annesley,” which is perfect. On so many levels.)

I don’t, as a rule, find deep spiritual lessons in Dilbert. But when I considered Big Tina’s apparent reluctance to be saddled with that moniker, I thought: You go, Girl! Don’t let anybody call you something you don’t want to be called. Do not receive that!

Because we do that, don’t we? Whether it’s a label someone else gives us, or an accusation that comes from inside our own heads, all too often we accept the name and start wearing it–even if it’s a name we don’t want. A name like Unworthy. Or Ashamed.

Not good enough. Forgotten.

Unloved.

But…that’s not who God says we are. He knows us better than anyone–he knows exactly how we are formed–and he calls us his “masterpiece.”

He says we are precious and honored in his sight. And that, as we look to him, our faces are never covered with shame. And that he will never leave us.

He calls us “Beloved.”

Why? It’s not because of anything we’ve done. It’s just because we are his.

Which, for me, can sometimes be hard to wrap my head around. Like, on the days when I blow it, does God still love me as much as on the days (well, the day) when I get things mostly right? Does he really want to be with me, even when I don’t want to be with myself? Is there something I could do, some gold-star behavior, that would make God love me more?

The answers, for those who don’t like rhetorical questions, are: Yes, yes, and no. There is nothing I could do–nothing any of us could do–to make God love us any more (or any less) than he already does.

I was reminded of God’s love–and how he feels about us–a month or so ago, when I visited a friend in Atlanta. Her eldest daughter is all grown up and married, so I got to sleep in her old room. And when I got up in the morning, I was greeted with this:

Pardon the PJs, but honestly? I can’t think of a better way to start the day than by heading into the bathroom and seeing these reminders of who we are in Christ! We don’t even have to brush our teeth before God says he’s “enthralled by our beauty.” And if we’re worried about something (like, say, we can already tell that it’s not a good hair day) we see evidence of his love: “Cast all your anxiety on him,” the card reads, “because he cares for you.” (That’s 2 Peter 5:7 if you can’t make it out in the pic.)

If you like this idea (of if you think your kids might), I’ve pulled nine “identity markers” out of the Bible and put them in printable form for you here. These cards aren’t fancy (you’ll have to cut ’em up by yourself, and add your own flower-power stickers, or whatever), but they offer a window into who we really are, in God’s eyes:

And please note. These verses are not like those faux-motivating things you put on your fridge–like the pic of the skinny girl in the bikini–to make you think “This could be you!” The words on these cards are already fulfilled. And they will always be true (even if you do eat that last piece of cheesecake).

So the next time the Father of Lies comes along and tries to call you Big Tina (or worse), set him straight.

Look him straight in the eye and tell him your name is Beloved.

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Grad Tip for Parents: Let God Pick Your Kid’s Career

 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.

It’s graduation season, and I can’t think of a more encouraging verse than Psalm 32:8. Whether our kids are headed to college, to new jobs, or into the great unknown, the whole “What’s next?” thing can be daunting! And as parents, our hearts can feel like a tangled mess of emotions:  pride of accomplishment, sadness over the chapter that’s closing, or even (particularly when we don’t know what the future holds) uncertainty, with maybe a little worry mixed in.

The pride and the sadness are both beautiful things; why else would 97% of all high school yearbooks and 29% of commencement speeches give the nod to Dr. Suess:  Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened?

The uncertainty thing, though, is not so much fun. And if that’s where you are (like, if your child needs a job), I’ve got three things that might help.

The first is something Virginia (who was a college senior at the time) told me, as we discussed her (still hazy) future. “Mom,” she said, “Research shows that 72% of college students don’t have a job lined up before graduation.”

I don’t know whether Virginia was right or not. A point in her favor is that she actually worked in U.Va.’s Career Services office, where she would have had access to numbers like that, but you have to stack that against the fact that she is her mother’s daughter, and statistics (like that bit about yearbooks and speeches) sometimes get made up on the spot. Either way, though, the data made me feel better. And if it helps you to repeat this 72% claim, you can say that you read it in a blog.

The second thing that can help is prayer. It’s not just that you get a “peaceful, easy feeling” when you pray for your child; it’s more that when we bring our sons and daughters before God, we really are making a difference. As Paul told the Corinthians“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (Paul and his pals weren’t looking for work; they were more concerned with facing “deadly peril,” but the principle is the same. Our prayers matter.)

And finally, it can be good to remember the plan. We might not know what it is, but after praying (and yes, worrying) three kids through the job-hunting process, I’m finally coming to realize that God does. He knows exactly how our children are wired (Psalm 139:13-16); he’s already lined up good work for them to do (Ephesians 2:10); and he promises to instruct and counsel them in the way they should go (Psalm 32:8). Our job isn’t to worry or nag; our job–if we want to get on board with God’s plan–is simply to trust him.

So there you go: Repeat iffy statistics, pray for your kids, and trust God. And if you want help with tip #2, the folks at FaithGateway surprised me a few weeks ago when they sent word that they’d pulled a collection of prayers from the Adult Children book and created a beautiful “Praying for Your Graduate” resource for parents (click here to download):The guide includes 21 prayers, all neatly divided by seven so that you can pray one every day for three weeks.

Which, research shows, is about how long it takes for the average college grad to land his first job. 🙂

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A Printable Mother’s Day Present–for YOU!

Mother’s Day is on Sunday. I’ve spent the past few weeks noodling over what sort of present I wanted to give to the moms who follow this blog, and I’m super grateful to the folks at Yellow Leaf Marketing for helping me pull together a series of printable prayer calendars: One for CHILDREN, one for TEENS, and one for ADULTS!

(And heads up: If you don’t have kids of your own, you can download the files and start praying them for yourself, your friends, your spouse, or even–if you read last week’s post on returning blessings for insults–for the people you don’t really like! 😉)

I’ve said it before: There’s not a need we will face in parenting—or, for that matter, in life—that God has not already anticipated, and provided for, in his word.

Which is, for me, good news and bad.

The good news is that, no matter what we desire or need—wisdom, friendships, safety, courage, patience, or anything else—he has us covered. There is a verse (or 20!) that applies!

The bad news is that these calendars cover just 31 days. I had a tough time picking which of God’s promises to tap into and pray. You’ll find a lot of my favorites, but if you’ve got a concern you don’t see in this collection, you know what to do.

Grab your Bible, and just start mining the gold for yourself.

And as you lift up your family, please know that I’m praying for you. Moms (and Dads): May you be steadfast and immovable, always giving yourselves fully to the work of the Lord (like praying for your kids!), because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Happy Mother’s Day!

🌹

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My Crazy Mother (and the Upside-Down Blessing of Love)

I know Mother’s Day is still more than a week away, but when it comes to Major Holidays, you don’t want to wait too long to start celebrating. (At least that’s what I tell my kids.) Plus, I’ve been thinking about my own mother and how grateful I am for all the lessons she taught me–including the upside-down blessing that comes with repaying insults with love. Thanks, Mom…and Happy (almost) Mother’s Day! ❤

 

I could hear him back there, bouncing his basketball. We were on our way home from elementary school, together and yet not. Peter (the coolest boy in the whole third grade) walked twenty feet behind me. I didn’t look back.

Suddenly, the bouncing stopped. A split-second later, I felt the breath leave my body. Peter had thrown his ball and—since he was also the most athletic boy in third grade—it had hit me, square in the back.

I took off running.

Three blocks later, I burst through my front door. “Mom!” I cried through my tears, “Peter Mayfield [not his real name] just hit me in the back. With his basketball!”

My mother has never been known for her nurturing personality. She could tell I wasn’t seriously hurt and so, rather than letting me wallow, she pointed me toward the door.

“Jodie,” she said, “Peter will be walking past our house in about one minute, and when he goes by I want you to say, ‘Have a nice day, Peter.’

“And then…I want you to curtsy.”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that my mom sounds a little bit crazy. And she is, in a crazy-good kind of way.

Like, when my 61-year-old dad was battling brain cancer and lacked the strength to get from the car to their condo, she told him to sit on the sidewalk. “Stay right there,” Mom said (as if my father had another option), and then she disappeared into the building. Five minutes later she returned, carrying the cushions from their lanai, a bottle of Pepsi, and a bag of Doritos.

(Which is how my parents wound up spending an entire afternoon sunning themselves in a parking lot.)

But back to Peter.

Per Mom’s instructions, I went out to the street and saw him, coming my way. Peter didn’t acknowledge me but, as he drew abreast of our house, I spoke up: “Have a nice day, Peter.”

And I curtsied.

(Having seen The Sound of Music at least four times before I turned eight, I knew how.)

If Peter was surprised, he didn’t show it. If anything, he looked a bit worried. He probably figured my mother had called his—and that he’d be hearing about his behavior as soon as he got home. That’s what most moms would have done, back in the day. That’s what all moms would probably do now. But not mine.

Claire Rundle may have been short on maternal compassion and sympathy, but she was long on the Bible. She knew what it said. And whenever anyone tried to hurt her, or one of her kids, she always found a way to pay them back.

With a blessing.

“Do not repay evil with evil,” the Bible says, “or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

That’s 1 Peter 3:9. And it worked. Peter never bothered me after that day; in fact, we became friends. And my mom’s crazy counsel—to repay insults with blessings—has stood me in good stead, over the years. Because what I’ve found is that the more I try to extend kindness to people who hurt or offend me, the better life gets. It’s like grace finds a way to get rid of the sting.

You know, if you’ve been around this blog for awhile, that I have four children. They’re all grown up now, but I tried to raise them in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:9. I’m sure there were times when they thought I was as looney as I thought my mom was. I’m sure there were days when they thought I was worse. One year, Annesley gave me a homemade Mother’s Day card where she’d picked a word to go with each letter in MOTHER. Yeah. Check out that E.

Honestly, though? I didn’t care if my kids thought I was nuts. I just didn’t want them to miss out on a blessing. And so I encouraged them to invite the mean girl to their party. To bake cookies for our grumpy neighbor, when he complained about the noise that they made. To pray God’s richest favor over the middle school bully.

(I did not, however, ever ask them to curtsy. So there’s that.)

But here’s the thing: Repaying meanness with kindness almost never makes sense, nor is it usually easy. But it opens the door to a life full of freedom and blessing—one that refuses to take up an offense—and for that wisdom nugget, I will be forever grateful to my mother.

She and my dad enjoyed their last parking lot picnic back in 2001, the year that my father went to be with the Lord. Mom got remarried several years later—her name is Claire Gilman now—and I LOVE my stepdad. John is just as generous and crazy as she is.

They downsized recently, moving from a big house to a small condo, taking only their most beloved possessions. As John pushed his favorite stone bench into place outside their new front door, a neighbor approached.

“That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” the neighbor said, inclining his head toward the bench. “Where do you plan to put it?”

John straightened up. “Well I guess I will put it wherever you like,” he smiled.

And then he invited the man and his wife over for dinner.

(Claire and John Gilman celebrated 12 years of marriage last week!)

 

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By Day and By Night: Hope for the Downcast Soul

Maybe it was an over-full schedule, jammed with writing and speaking and jet-lag.

Maybe it was an over-long winter, the kind that won’t go away, like when you hit Unsubscribe but it doesn’t.

Or maybe it was just…me.

Whatever the reason, I found myself confiding in my friend Beth, when she asked how I was. “Meh,” I said, “I am tired. A little discouraged. Maybe even depressed–although I don’t have a good reason why.”

Beth and I were in party-prep mode (she was hosting; I was speaking; 50 guests were about to arrive), and we didn’t have time to go deep. But that was okay. Beth said she’d pray–and then pointed me to Psalm 42.

Which I looked up, later that night.

One of the things I love about the psalms is how raw and honest they are. It’s like the writer doesn’t know or care that his words will still be read in 3,000-plus years; he just puts it out there: Joy, fear, sadness, exultation, despair. Everything–every thought, question, or doubt–is fair game.

And if you’ve ever had a case of the blues (and who hasn’t?), you’ll appreciate what Psalm 42 asks:  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

As I sat there reading the psalm (click here to see the whole thing), I sympathized with the writer–his thirsting for God, his weeping at night, his remembering the good old days when he used to be one of the Joyful Praise People–and I kept coming back to one thought. The entire psalm is one big admonition to “put your hope in the Lord”…but what, exactly, does that look like? Like, how do you do that?

I decided to ask God.

I’m a gal who likes a plan, and if I was going to “put my hope in God,” I wanted some action steps. And (as so often happens, when you sit there with God’s Word in your lap), a verse just sort of jumped off the page:

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

Looking at those words, I remembered what our tour guide told us in Israel (and sorry if you thought I was done with the Holy Land stuff; the nuggets might pop up now and then). They said that to the Greeks (and to most Western thinkers), the word “Torah” means Law. But that’s not, actually, how the Hebrews see it. To the Hebraic mind, “Torah” means direction, instruction, and guidance.

It means Love…and it flows out of God’s Word.

Alrighty then. My Daytime Plan for putting hope in God would be to let myself be directed by his love. I resolved afresh to start each morning tapping into the Bible, letting its wisdom shape my thoughts, words and deeds. That felt do-able.

But what about the night?

Nights can be tricky. Your defenses are down, and things like worry and fear seem to thrive in the dark. Lies, too–the kind that say You can’t do it. You blew it. You stink. What’s the strategy there? How do you fight back against those nasty things?

Back to verse 8.

At night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.

I read that verse again. And again. And I felt like God said: “At night, your strategy is to let me sing over you. When you wake up in the dark, or if you can’t sleep, find joy there, knowing that I take delight in you, and that I am singing.”

Which is, of course, God quoting himself. Zephaniah tells us that God is with us–and that he sings over us, with joy. It’s a passage I’ve marked up time and again in my Bible:

I love the Zephaniah promise. And I love it that Psalm 42:8 calls God’s song a prayer. The psalmist says it is “a prayer for my life.” In other words, when God sings over us, he is praying. Is that not just so cool????

Okay. If you can’t tell, I’m not all that downcast anymore. Because it’s been nearly two weeks since I read Psalm 42, and even though I wake up almost every night (yes, I am OLD), now I do so with joy. Because I wake up…and I picture God singing.

Over me. Over you. Over us.

What joy!

Heavenly Father,

When ____ feels downcast (or even, as the psalm says, “forgotten by” you), would you please remind _____ of your love? Let us trust you by day, looking to your word for direction. And at night, may you quiet us with your love, singing your prayer-song to our hearts. (Psalm 42:8 and Zephaniah 3:17)

Amen

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Kathie Lee, the Holy Land, and Living Stones

(This is the last in a series of three posts from our trip to the Holy Land. To read the first two, click here and here. And if Insights from Israel isn’t your thing, check back next week, when I hope to write about what we can do with a Downcast Soul. Which is not, I realize, the most cheery promo. But hey. It’s been really cold for a really long time, and maybe somebody out there needs a little pick-me-up. I know I do!)

Out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:9)

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? (Matthew 7:9)

I tell you…if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out. (Luke 19:40)

Each of these quotes is from Jesus. I’m not going to get into why he said what he did in each instance (click the links, if you’re curious), but if you are even half awake, you’ll note that there’s a common word in each line.

Stones.

Which are, actually, everywhere in Israel. As in…everywhere. We walked on stones, sat on stones, and slept in hotels made of stones. One gal in our group even had her face rubbed with stones (which was not, at it turned out, as beneficial to the complexion as advertised).

So plentiful are Israel’s stones that, in lieu of flowers, people put rocks on the graves of their loved ones:

I know that the Bible talks a lot about stones (and I love how Ezekiel describes God removing our heart of stone and replacing it with with a new one, made of flesh), but I’d never really thought about why. But then, as we found ourselves tramping all over the country, surrounded by rocks and stones of all sizes, a lightbulb went off. I think Jesus used stones in his stories because they were…there.

(It’s like me, driving home a point to my kids: “If I’d wanted someone who would NOT take out the trash, I would have asked the pile of DOG HAIR to do it.” You work with what’s handy.)

But anyhow. I don’t think their ubiquitousness is the only reason God focused on stones. I think he also did it because (gasp) Jesus was a stonemason. Which is something I learned from Kathie Lee Gifford’s new book, The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi.

I will confess that when I first read that claim in her book, I was like: Kathie, girl. I love you and all. But I think maybe you’ve been knocking back too much of that wine you always promote.

I mean, if she were right, did that mean that Josh McDowell would have to go back and re-do the book that (along with late-night pitchers of beer and baskets of pretzels) served as the underpinning of my evangelism strategy in college? I built half my presentation around the info in More than a CarpenterWould More than a Stonemason have the same apologetic impact?

I thought not.

But then I dug deeper and realized that Kathie Lee Gifford was right. She was right, in fact, about a lot of cool things in the book (which is, incidentally, a zillion times better than the Baedecker’s Guide I used on my last trip to Israel). And when this guy…

…told our tour group that Jesus was not, in fact, a carpenter but a stonemason, I sat there looking more than a little pleased with myself.

“Oh yes,” I said, nodding my head. “The word that’s translated ‘carpenter’ in the passages that talk about what Jesus did for a living is actually the Greek word tektōn. It means ‘builder.’ And since there were only rocks to build stuff out of, a more accurate description of Jesus’s job would be ‘stonemason.'”

The group looked at me sideways, like they knew there was no way I knew that. I had to ‘fess up. “It’s true,” I admitted. “I read it in Kathie Lee’s book.”

“Ahhhh,” the group said, as the light collectively dawned. “That is good. We love Kathie Lee.”

So there’s that.

But I think there is even a third reason–the main reason–why Jesus kept pointing to stones. It’s because (and I realize that this might be kind of a “duh”) he is the Stone.

Jesus is the Stone prophesied about in the Psalms, the one that the builders rejected–and the one that wound up becoming the cornerstone. He’s the Stone we hail as our “Rock and our Redeemer.” He’s the Stone who is alive, the One we call “Savior.”

That last reference–the one about the living Lord who is our Rock and our Savior–is from Psalm 18:46. It’s a phrase echoed in the New Testament, and (stay with me here) it has incredible implications for us. Look at what Peter says about what happens when we come to Jesus:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

That’s kind of a mouthful. And I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I’ve probably read those words fifty times. But not once have I stopped to think of myself as a “living stone.” Not until our tour guides, Tony and Andre, told us what believers in Israel call themselves.

You guessed it. Living Stones.

Tony and Andre are Palestinians who’ve trusted Jesus as Lord. Before this trip, I would have called them “Arab Christians.”

They introduced us to some Jews who had also met Christ. I would have called them “Messianic Believers.”

Those labels, I guess, might still fit. But I much prefer our new friends’ self-chosen name, and I want to wear it myself. I want to be a “living stone” who knows that she has been chosen by God. That she is his special possession. And that it is her privilege to declare the praises of him who called her out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

Heavenly Father,

We come to you, grateful for the Living Stone that is Jesus. Shape us into a house where Your Spirit can dwell. Remind us (especially during times of discouragement or doubt) that we are chosen. That we are treasured in your sight. And that our job–our privilege–is to praise you.

We ask these things in the name of the One who is both Rock and Redeemer, Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Oh and P.S., one more stone thing.

Remember the warning Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 18:6, the one where he said that if anyone caused a believer to stumble, it would be better to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea?

Yeah, well. We saw a bunch of old millstones in Capernaum, Christ’s adopted hometown. And let me tell you: Those things are NOT small. Made me think twice about the whole blogging thing. Would you please pray that I will only write what is helpful and true, rather than the stuff (and I’ve got plenty of it, in my head) that makes people stumble?

Thanks. xo

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What will God make you?

(This is the second in a series of posts featuring lessons from Israel, a trip that—as one of our fellow travelers put it—takes the Bible and moves it “from black and white into color.” If you don’t have time for a post but want a good prayer, scroll down to the end for some life-shaping verses you can pray for yourself or for someone you love!) 

Don’t be afraid.

That’s what Jesus tells his first disciples, Andrew and Peter, when he finds them fishing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (as depicted in this tile mosaic at Magdala).

It’s a story repeated in all four of the gospels, but Luke gives us the most detail—including the fact that Peter was awestruck and afraid.

What was he scared of? How come the guy dropped to his knees?

Maybe it was the fact that Peter and his pals had been fishing all night and caught nothing—and then, at Christ’s command, they hauled in so many fish that the nets started to break. Who has that sort of change-agent power?

Or maybe it was because the boats started to sink. Our tour guides told us that Galilee’s fishermen tend to stay close to the shore, since fierce storms can whip up on the Sea without notice. Capsizing—and drowning—was no idle threat. And when you see what some of those early boats looked like, you get it. They found this one, preserved under the mud for the past 2000 years:

Or maybe (and I like to think this was the case) Jesus knew exactly what Peter was feeling—sinful, unworthy, and of no use to God—and he wanted him to know it was okay. Maybe “Don’t be afraid” was the short version of the reassurance he gives us today, when we know that we’ve blown it: “Don’t worry. I know. It will all be okay. And I love you.”

Whatever the reason, Don’t be afraid is a command that’s repeated over and over again in the Bible (sometimes it goes by “Fear not”), by some counts as many as 366 times. That’s one for each day of the year, even when Leap Year rolls around.

(How clever and gracious is God?)

The fear factor, though, is just part of this story. As Matthew tells it, when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, the command’s got an invite, built in:

Follow me.

Follow me. No wonder Jesus had to speak to their fears! To “follow,” in Greek, is apparently the same thing as “attach,” and it comes from the same root word as “appendix.” The invitation Christ offered meant leaving the only job Peter and Andrew had ever known—and attaching themselves to someone they didn’t! Not yet, anyway.

(Which raises the question, for me: How “connected” am I to Jesus? Am I truly attached? There are plenty of days when I feel like my dog, at the end of a retract-o-leash. I’m attached…but sometimes I find myself off in the bushes and I need my sweet Jesus to reel me back in.)

Ty Saltzgiver, our dear friend and trip leader, stood right where Jesus did (well, in the same general area; we gave it an A- cuz who knows if we sat on the same exact rocks?) and shared his thoughts on this passage.

Ty said that in addition to the command and the invitation, Jesus offered a promise:

I will make you fishers of men.

“I will make you.”

That’s a pledge the Lord offered 2000 years ago, and it’s one that still holds true today. Because, as Ty pointed out, Jesus is always making us: Shaping us, growing us, conforming us so that we look more like he does. Even when our boats start to sink, or we are not at all sure where we’re headed.

Two of my all-time favorite parenting promises (I’ve shared them here in the past, and I’m sure I’ll do so again) are Philippians 1:6 (which is where Paul tells us that God will finish the good work that he starts in our lives) and Philippians 2:13 (which is where we realize that we don’t have to do it ourselves, because God is the one who gives us—and our kids—the energy to desire and to do the good stuff). Both of these verses (and so many more) point to why Jesus came.

He came to give us a rich and satisfying life. He came to give us freedom and purpose. He came to fill up our nets—so full that they burst—and lead us into the life he describes in John 10:10.

And you know, if you’ve been around this blog for awhile, that I can never read that verse without thinking of our daughter Virginia and the time she jumped out of a plane in Australia, strapped onto some stranger named Ollie, and called it a John 10:10 experience.

(Robbie’s response, back when Virginia sent us that photo, was not all that uplifting. I think his exact words were, “You’re dead.”)

But here’s the thing: Whether you’re jumping out of an airplane or leaving your job, if you’re doing it to follow Jesus (which I am not 100% sure was the case with Virginia), your choice involves a measure of risk. Things will change. They might get painful, or awkward. God might stretch you in ways you don’t think you want to be stretched.

And that’s okay. Because it doesn’t matter where we’ve come from, or what we’ve done. Like Peter, when we decide to pursue the life Jesus offers—when we choose to turn away from our old life and take hold of the new—we can stake our trust in Christ’s words:

Don’t be afraid.

Follow me.

I will make you.

Heavenly Father,

Please give ______ freedom from fear. (Luke 5:10)

Help _______ to follow you. (Matthew 4:19)

And work in _______ to will and to act in ways that line up with your good purpose. Thank you for the good work you have already started, and for the blessed assurance that you will, indeed, bring it to completion. (Philippians 2:13 and 1:6)

Amen.

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An A+ for Israel

We’ve just returned from 10 days in Israel.

(That’s me, atop Jerusalem’s walls.)

There were 32 of us on the tour–mostly from Colorado Springs, but a handful of y’all-ers represented the nation’s southeast. We connected via a mutual love of Young Life (an organization that thinks every kid, everywhere, should be able to experience the hope Jesus offers), and we were privileged to meet some of the Middle East Young Life leaders and talk with a few of the teens. And as news outlets blared reports of yet more fighting in the Gaza strip, it was nice (amazing, actually) to meet Muslims, Christians, and Jews who were getting along. And even singing, sometimes.

But we saw all other stuff, too. Lots of it. All the places, in fact, that you read about in the Bible: The Sea of Galilee. Capernaum. Caesarea. The Dead Sea (in which even Robbie, who has .2% body fat, could not sink):

And, of course, we got baptized in the Jordan. True confession? Coming from a tourist town where people get salt water taffy and tattoos “just because,” the prospect of getting dunked in a river was not something I thought would be all that special. I thought I’d feel like one more lemming in a rented white robe.

I was wrong. It was (and remember, I am not given to a lot of emotion)…really great.

Along the way, our guides ranked all the sites that we saw. “A” meant that folks are sure something happened there; the synagogue at Magdala, for instance (a chill-inducing spot on the tour, and one I wrote about on Facebook and Instagram last week), is a place where we know Jesus taught:

They awarded a “B” ranking to places that seemed likely, based on all the stuff that we know. The house in Capernaum, where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (a miracle detailed in Matthew 8:14-15) is one such place. They’ve since built a BIG church on top of the house, but it’s somewhere in or under that circle of stones.

(Not sure Geoff and Charlie would want to live with me in that small of a space, even if I did wait on them like P’s mo-in-law did.)

And “C” places were those where something probably did not take place, but it’s possible–and if it wasn’t “here,” it was someplace “like here.” The garden tomb–the one everybody visits to be sure it’s still empty–is one of these spots.

(Tour guides rate this place as a “maybe” because the stones date to Christ’s time, and because of things like the presence of an olive press in the garden, which would indicate that it belonged to someone rich. Someone like Joseph of Arimathea.)

(And, I imagine, because it’s a good place for a gift shop.)

Even though the Garden Tomb is a “C” (or a “Z,” if you believe the only ordained guy on our tour), it was one of my favorite stops. It was not peaceful (you could barely hear the Muslim afternoon call to prayer over the sound of the nearby bus depot and the varied groups of Christians from all over the world, singing praise songs in their native tongues), and yet, as our group took communion together, the spot was transformed. It became beautiful. All of a sudden, we were not in a “C” place at all. We were in the midst of a story–a love story–one where all the love in the world had been poured out for us, and all we had to do was receive.

If you go to Israel (and I highly recommend that you do), you’ll see all of this stuff. But even if you never get there, you can still experience the best part of the story. Because Jesus really does love us–still–enough to die on the cross, and his power–his resurrection power–continues to transform our lives every day.

And every time we celebrate communion (every time we remember our Lord and his love!) it’s 100% real. It’s unimpeachably true. It’s what we’d all call, in tour-guide speak,  an A+.

Notes:

I’m still processing the firehose of information we sucked down between bus rides and bathroom breaks (and there were plenty of both), and I’ll probably blog at least once or twice more about the things that we learned. If Scripture-spiced travelogues aren’t your style, please check back in May. I’m working on a printable gift for you mamas out there, and hoping to finish by Mother’s Day.

Also…for more info on Young Life in the Middle East, click here. And if you want help planning your own trip to the Holy Land, you’ve got to meet Andre and Tony, the guys behind Twins Tours. They know way more history than you do (even the American kind), but don’t worry. They are patient. And kind. And if you’re nice, they might even tell you you’re “brilliant.”

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Butternut Squash & Bible Study (and why we can’t do them alone)

(Note: This is the last post of the month. I’m headed to Israel – whoop! – so get ready for an upgrade in the blog material, come April! And in the meantime, if you’ve not yet picked a March Madness team, please cheer for the ‘Hoos!) 🏀

 

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know I’m no Pioneer Woman. Sure, I’ll share a recipe tip now and then, but I tend to not be all that precise.

Which can lead to a situation, sometimes.

Like the time our son asked me to text him the recipe for his favorite birthday meal, Mac-n-Cheese-n-Peas-n-Fleas. (Don’t ask.) Robbie was working and living at a skate park at the time, and he fixed the dish for a bunch of his co-workers:

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You can read the story (and get the recipe, although I don’t recommend it) here. Longtime readers may recall my confusion when Robbie told me that one girl had “freaked out” when she saw him putting the hamburger fat back into the pasta pot.

“You did what?” I asked.

“Added the fat. Like you said to.”

Now, I definitely did NOT intend for Robbie to pour the fat back in, but to prove his point, Robbie sent a screenshot of my instructions:

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Normally, I am more precise with my pronouns.

But I share this story today to help explain why, even with a CLEAR recipe, I can find myself at a loss in the kitchen.

For instance, I’m smack in the middle of Kelly Minter’s Bible study on 2 Corinthians, which is called All Things New. Kelly is as Scripture-smart as she is camera-cute (I can’t decide if she should sell toothpaste or shampoo?), and I am learning a ton about things like finding purpose in suffering, being useful to God, and navigating less-than-easy relationships.

Kelly is also, apparently, a pretty good cook. And she shares a new recipe to go with the homework each week. Which is how I wound up making her Sausage and Butternut Squash Risotto.

In the interest of transparency, I will go ahead and tell you that I had no idea what a “butternut squash” even looked like. I grew up in a home where we ate frozen peas, canned green beans, and (if it happened to be summertime) corn on the cob. Vegetable-wise, that was it.

Nor did I know that the thing would be so hard to cut.

Or that it would be infested with seeds.

(And if you are wondering WHY I am including these pix, it’s because my mom reads this blog, and she’s in my Bible study. And if she ever decides to make Kelly’s risotto, I want her to know what’s new in the vegetable world. Or the fruit world, cuz of the seeds. Whatever.)

Forty-five minutes later (and I am not making that up), I had the squash cubed. I felt super accomplished, so I took a pic and texted it to my pal Annabelle, who leads a small group at our study. “I’m making Kelly’s recipe!” I crowed. “It’s taking a long time, and I nearly sliced off my hand, but it’s going to be SO GOOD!”

Here’s what she texted me back:

All of which is to say: We can’t do life alone. WE NEED EACH OTHER.

If you’re trying to cook, you might need an Annabelle. And if you’re trying to figure out why the Corinthians were so mean to Paul (and how he could love them so much, in return), you might need a Kelly.

Understanding the Bible can be tricky, sometimes. (Harder, even, than getting seeds out of squash.) We need teachers, people willing to do the hard digging to flesh out what the text really says. We need friends to help us process how the words relate to our lives. And we need the Holy Spirit to do what God promised he’d do: Teach us and remind us of what Jesus said.

And as we avail ourselves of these resources – wise teachers, good friends, and the help God himself will provide – even the hard stuff begins to add up. We’ll be able, as Psalm 34:8 so beautifully puts it, to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” 

(And so, as it happens, is Kelly’s risotto.) 😊

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A Fake Coach, a Real Game, and God’s Grace

With all due respect to the platform, I’m not the world’s biggest Twitter fan. To me, it sometimes feels like a one-liner fight club, where anyone with a handle or a hashtag can jump in and start punching. Like the person who skewered Beth Moore when she encouraged Christians to lighten up and laugh a little. The critic took offense to Beth’s suggestion, noting that it is “not funny when people go to hell.”

(It isn’t. But maybe less of them would if we smiled at them a little more often?)

Still, though, I have a Twitter account. I do this to keep my publisher happy (because I guess nobody reads entire books anymore) and so that I can keep up with U.Va. sports. Especially during basketball season. And Double-Especially during March.

Hands-down, my favorite sports-tweeter (if that’s the right term) is Phony Bennett. He’s a self-described “fake coach” who borrowed the real coach’s name to create his Twitter persona: @IfTonyTweeted. (He doesn’t.) And like the real Tony Bennett (who has built his U.Va. teams on humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness), Phony’s tweets rest on five pillars of their own: Humor, sarcasm, self-deprecation, trash talk, and school pride.

Phony hails from Virginia Beach. I actually met him once at a U.Va. event (where some overzealous Twitter fan pre-maturely unmasked him), but he’s been anonymous to most of the rest of the world until this week, when he revealed himself on UVAToday. And honestly? It was a mighty fine week to come out. It’s the ACC Tourney, our guy Isaiah made the Sports Illustrated cover, and on Monday, the U.Va. Men’s Basketball team (after starting the season unranked) earned a unanimous #1 ranking from all 65 AP Coaches–an accord due, at least in part, to U.Va.’s incredible, unforgettable game against Louisville.

Had this contest been played in February, things might have been different. But it was Day One of March, and clearly the basketball gods (and for those reading on Twitter, that’s a lower-case “g,” so don’t hate me) were ready to rumble. The Washington Post provided my favorite end-of-game recap (complete with video highlights, and with a headline that starts Hahaha), but if you don’t have time for that whole piece right now, here’s my own version:

Me (getting into the car at the airport, after speaking in Nashville): Why aren’t you listening to the U.Va. game??

Robbie (who had pulled up, curbside): We’re getting killed by Louisville. I can’t take it anymore.

Me (mumbling something less-than-edifying, something you might read on Twitter): I think we’ll come back. Turn it on.

And by the time we pulled into our driveway, U.Va. had come back. With 4:12 left, we were down by just 7. And by the time the clock ticked down to .9, we’d cut it to 4. (Let me just say that again: With .9 seconds left, we were losing. By 4.) And then, thanks to an utterly improbable combination of missed shots, fouls, and violations by both teams, we…won.

Of course, I woke up the next day and checked Phony’s take:

Isn’t that a great summary? And you know what I thought, when I re-read that tweet? I thought of Jesus, and the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

(Because really, who wouldn’t?)

(Don’t answer that.)

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of times when I watch U.Va. Basketball, I think about God. I wish there were a market for Bible/Sports Commentary; I’d want a sideline press pass. Because every year (at least for U.Va. fans) there’s so much good material.

In 2015, for instance, a key takeaway was that we needed to trust God as our coach, instead of relying on our own understanding.

In 2016, the game taught us to throw off distractions and live life to the full. To get out there, as Coach Bennett put it, and “play free.”

And last year, NBA star Malcolm Brogdon came back to JPJ and let us all know that love never fails.

As to this year….

This year I’m sure there will be more gold to mine, but so far, that Louisville game takes the prize.

Because in life, just like in basketball, it’s not just about how you play. It’s about how you finish. You can stink it up the whole time–and U.Va. certainly did–but if, at the end of the day, you surrender to Jesus, you win.

Sure, some people will complain about that. If I were a Louisville fan, I know I would. Their guys played hard–and well–for a very long time. They deserved to get more than U.Va. did. But isn’t that just like the workers, back in Jesus’ day? The ones that did time in the vineyard?

You remember the story. A landowner needs help with his grapes, so he goes out early in the morning and recruits some workers, telling them they’ll get a denarius (that is, a day’s wages) for their toil. Then, at 9:00 a.m., he sees some more guys hanging around, doing nothing, and he hires them too. Same thing happens at noon, and at 3:00 p.m. And then once more at 5:00.

When evening comes, the landowner pays the last pick-ups first. And when they see those 5 o’clock guys get an entire day’s pay, the earlier people are pumped. They figure they’ll get much more, since they’ve worked so much longer.

But no. Everyone gets the same thing.

And, people being people, the early guys start to grumble. They don’t think it’s fair.

But here’s what the landowner says: I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Isn’t that awesome? Jesus used this parable to teach us that, at the end of the day, it’s not our good life or our hard work that matters. It’s God’s grace. And our God is generous. He doesn’t want to leave anyone out and so, even if we wait the whole 39 minutes and 59.1 seconds to turn to him, he gives us the win.

Do I recommend playing like that? No. Life tends to work better (and with less painful consequences) when you “play well” the whole time. As does basketball. But none of us can do that. We’re all gonna blow it in one way or another, in big ways and small.

So here’s the thing: If you find yourself down, or feeling like God could not possibly love you, given the way that you’ve played, it’s okay. He does. He’s crazy about you, in fact. And to God, .9 seconds is more than enough time to redeem a whole life.

If you’ve stuck with me thus far, you might be scratching your head. Like, you might be happy that U.Va. won, but you feel bad for Louisville. So do I. And so did Tony. In the post-game interview, Coach Bennett said he was “so thankful” for the win, but that he felt “pain” and “compassion” for the Cardinals. We get that.

But basketball is basketball and life is life. And thankfully, in life, we all get the chance to cut down the nets.

All we have to do say yes.

Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

#YouAreLoved.

 

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Book Giveaway for Your Bunny!

People sometimes wonder how they can teach their children to pray.

I get that. Some of us didn’t grow up in homes where we saw prayer modeled, or even talked about. And for a lot of people, prayer can feel like something best left to professional clergy, or to “varsity” Christians like the beloved Billy Graham. People who know how to do it “right.”

As I said, I get that. And I wish I had a sure fire-formula for raising kids to know God and to (as Hebrews 4:16 puts it) “approach his throne of grace with confidence.” I don’t, but I think at least two things can help:

First, let your kids see you pray (even if that feels awkward, at first). If you’ve got children, you know that “Do as I say, not as I do” may sound good, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as “Do as I do.” When it comes to learning and picking up habits, more is caught than taught.

And second, introduce them to Scripture. In his book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller reasons that “we speak only to the degree we are spoken to” and that when our prayers are immersed in the language of Scripture–the words first spoken to us, by God–our lives, and our prayers, find their anchor.

Keller’s book is great, but it’s definitely heady. If you’d rather find the cookies on the bottom shelf (and share them with your children), you might start with something simpler. Something like First Bible Basics or Psalms of Praise, two new board books by Danielle Hitchen and Jessica Blanchard. Robbie and I focus-tested these treasures on our two-year-old niece, and she loved them.

We loved the books, too. And with Easter less than one month away, I can’t think of anything better for the Bunny to pop in a little one’s basket! The books feature colorful illustrations, power-packed verses, and kid-friendly concepts:

They’re also chock full of biblical principles and promises. And honestly? It’s not just the babies who benefit. Feeling anxious? Overwhelmed? Can’t sleep at night? Hold onto Psalm 4:8 as God’s promise for YOU:

If you like the look of these books and you’re interested in winning a set, hop on over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (Jodie Berndt Writes) and leave a comment. We’ll pick three winners at random and announce the names on Monday.

(Dogs, no matter how spiritually curious or astute they may be, are not eligible to win.)

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Five Habits to Ditch for Better Communication

So Robbie and I are at it again. We’re working on our relationship, courtesy of The Marriage Course. And we’re taking 30 other couples with us.

We love this class. The material is developed by the folks at Alpha, and in seven sessions (during which you get to enjoy a candlelit dinner at a table alone with your spouse every week), you cover some of the hottest topics in marriage. Topics like dealing with conflict, handling in-laws, having good sex, and learning how to show–and receive–love in ways that will matter.

(And heads up, Guys: There is literally no “group sharing” time. You get to come, have dinner, and talk just to your wife. #Do-able.)

This week, we dipped into The Art of Communication. Which is how I wound up holding a napkin.

Why, you may ask, was I holding a napkin?

The short answer is that it’s not good to give one spouse a less-forgiving object, such as a hammer, when he or she is trying to make a point.

The longer answer is that in this particular exercise (which is designed to help folks listen better), the person doing the TALKING gets to hold a napkin, while the person doing the LISTENING does not. That way, if either person forgets who’s job is what, they can just look at their hands (“Oh yeah, I don’t have the napkin”) and remember that they are supposed to be Paying Attention.

And Paying Attention, as it turns out, involves steering clear of at least five of the worst convo killers. Wanna know what these bad habits are?

(Be careful now. I thought I did, too. I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.)

(Ah, no. Did I mention that there are five habits? Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1. Reassuring.  The Reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem–which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The Advice-Giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit. Sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom or a dustpan. She just wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice-givers, too. I mean, I write a blog.)

3. Intellectualizing.  The Intellectualizer might also be called the Explainer, the Rationalizer, or the Pontificator.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, the Intellectualizer may jump in with something like: “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about money.” (Another word for “Intellectualizer” might simply be Buzz Killer. They don’t care how you feel; they just want to be smart.)

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a spouse or a friend, only to have them say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a Deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and to them, more interesting or attractive) path.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to speak or express emotion, it’s a bad habit.

5. Same goes for Interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Ouch.) Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then jump on in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is wayyy more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone. Seventeen seconds. Seriously? That sounds long, to me.

(Like, I remember one time on a car trip when I decided to be quiet and just let Robbie talk. After a couple of minutes, he asked if I was okay.)

(I think he thought maybe I’d died.)

Anyhow. Just knowing what the bad habits are is supposed to help you listen better–and after teaching this course six times, Robbie and I are starting to get there. What the habits don’t help with, though, is the age-old Mars/Venus divide. Like, when it’s Valentine’s Day, and a woman says she does not need flowers:

 

Yeah. I’ll report back if the folks at The Marriage Course ever discover a way for a man to fully comprehend the female brain.

Stay tuned. ❤

(And BTW, if you want to find a Marriage Course in your area, or even start one at your church or for your friend group, they make it SUPER EASY to do. Click here to get the full scoop.)

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The Life-Giving Power of Blessing

When George Washington was elected president, he rode to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to tell his ailing mother the news. The conversation reportedly went something like this:

George: Guess what? They want me to be president.

Mom: I’m dying.

George, flustered: Well, as soon as I get settled in New York, I’ll come back and …

Mom: This is the last time you’ll ever see me. But go, do your job. That’s more important.

Can’t you just hear her? As a mom, I know I can.

And I can relate to some of the crazy things that Mary Washington asked of her son. For instance, when George was in the Pennsylvania wilderness, fighting a losing battle against the French (and facing dire shortages in everything from tents and ammunition to clothing and food), Mom wrote a letter requesting that he send her a servant and “some butter.”

I’m sure my kids would say I’ve done worse.

But here’s the thing about Mary. Even though she really was dying (she had breast cancer) and could do nothing, tangibly, to help her boy do his job, she understood the power of words. And as they wrapped up what turned out to be their very last convo, she sent her son off with this charge:

“Go George, fulfil the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended for you; go, my son, and may that Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing be with you always.”

Our words carry blessings and curses. Or, as Proverbs 18:21 puts it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Which kind we speak–words that breathe life, or words that can cripple–is up to us.

And, strange as it sounds, the person our words target doesn’t have to be doing something we like or approve of in order for us to give them a blessing. Grumpy neighbors, irascible co-workers, wayward children—these folks are all candidates for favor. Ma Washington certainly didn’t agree with all of George’s plans and decisions (she told him that joining the Royal Navy was “too dangerous”), and yet she covered her son with life-giving words.

If it seems awkward to bless a child (or anyone else) who does something we don’t like, or who has made a choice that we believe runs counter to God’s commands, consider this: a blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, when we bless our children, we do the same thing God does when he blesses us: He speaks favor over our lives and points us toward the abundant life he wants us to enjoy.

In blessing someone, we turn them over to God, trusting him to give them a vision for using their talents and abilities, as well as a sense of purpose in life. It’s never too early to do this for our children; consider Hannah’s words when she brought her young son Samuel to the temple: “For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28).

Nor is it ever too late.

Mary Washington was 80 years old when George was elected, and she died five months later. I’m sure, though, that her final words stayed with him forever. And I pray that as I parent my own adult children (and call them at work to ask them to help me with Facebook—or at least send me some butter), I would give them the very same gift: The knowledge that “Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing would be with them always.”

Is there someone who could use an encouraging word from you today–maybe a co-worker, a child, or a friend over whom you might speak God’s favor?

Numbers 6:24-26 is one of our family’s favorite blessings (and if you like it too, see below for ordering info). It’s one that Robbie and I prayed with, and for, our children as they were growing up:

Monday is Presidents’ Day. Let’s make these life-giving words our prayer this week, using them to forecast God’s favor over our family, our friends, our co-workers, and–whether you like what he’s doing, or not–the guy who got Washington’s job.

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them. Make your face shine on ______ and be gracious to them. Turn your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

(The image in this post is of a beautifully crafted 5 x 7 print that I purchased in December as a stocking stuffer for our girls. It’s still available from @snowandcompany, and if you’d like to order your own copy, click here. And if you want to read more about blessing and releasing our kids, check out chapter two in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenIt’s available as a free download at jodieberndt.com.)

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A Deal of a Story for Valentine’s Day!

I lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. The two dogs were asleep near my feet, having staked their territory on my Yves Delorme duvet months ago. Down the hall, my three daughters slept peacefully in their rooms.

May 2, 2008. People say the first year is the hardest–the first Christmas, the first Father’s Day, the first wedding anniversary without your spouse–but I couldn’t imagine life getting any easier. I’d made it through the first twelve months; only God knew how many more months–or years–I had to go. What if I never got remarried? Could I really live like this, with dogs in my bed instead of a man, for the rest of my life?

I looked down at the dogs. They needed a bath. Johnnie would have kicked them off. He liked things neat and tidy, organized and efficient. Dogs on the bed were not part of his plan.

But then, neither was dying…

That’s how my friend, Dee Oliver, begins her tale.

It’s a good one. And right now–just in time for Valentine’s Day–the folks at Amazon are offering The Undertaker’s Wife as a Kindle deal for just $1.99.

The Undertaker’s Wife is one of those books that can make you laugh out loud on one page and find yourself checking a sob on the next. It serves as both a companion and a guide, coming as a tonic for those who’ve lost loved ones, and a tutor for those who want to know how to help bear the burden of another’s grief.

And, like all the best stories in life, The Undertaker’s Wife is one where God shows up in unexpected places, bringing joy out of mourning and making us realize, all over again, the immeasurable depth of his love. He really is, as Psalm 34:18 promises, “close to the brokenhearted.”

I’m not going to spoil any surprises, but I had the honor of working on this book with Dee, and I can promise you this: Everything in her story is true. The ring toss. The vasectomy. The valet-parking the hearse at the Ritz. While it was still, ah, occupied.

All true.

And all worth the read.

Happy ❤ Day! You are loved.

 

 

 

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How Does Jesus Want to be Loved?

True confession: I’m not the biggest Women’s Retreat gal.

I know people think I’m super social, but deep down I think I must be an introvert. Things like retreats, ladies’ luncheons, and even baby showers always sound so friendly and inviting up front, but part way through all the happiness I usually start to lock up. My smile muscles hurt. My face tends to freeze. And I’m sure, when people see me on the way out, they think to themselves: “There goes some bad botox.”

Honestly, though? I loved the retreat I attended last weekend with Galilee Church. And not just because we literally met in a room on TOP of the ocean:

Or because (and if this happened at every retreat, I’d get season tickets) they had TVs for the U.Va. fans. (And yes, I did pack my pom-poms and some BEAT DUKE stickers to share.)

I loved this retreat because of the people (lots of wide open hearts), the worship (songs like What a Beautiful Name), and especially the teaching. Whitney Capps was our speaker.

That woman is pumped about Scritpure. I can’t begin to tell you all that she said (we had three meaty sessions, and I was scrawling notes the whole time), but I want to take a stab at one thing that stuck with me. Whitney talked about how Jesus wants to be loved.

(And let me interrupt myself right here and say: If you already have a touch of the wobbles today and you can’t take much Deep Thought, maybe come back next week, when I will try to be lighter. But for those who want to dig in, buckle up and let’s go.)

Remember the lawyer in Luke 10, the guy who stands up and wants to know how to inherit eternal life? It’s a good question–and Jesus turns it right back on the guy:

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus asks. “How do you read it?”

The legal eagle doesn’t miss a beat: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’” he says (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5), “and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (that one’s from Leviticus 19:18; clearly, that guy knew his stuff).

Jesus tells the fellow he’s right. And then their convo segues into what we know now as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But Whitney didn’t go there. Instead, she camped out on one little verse–Luke 10:27–and teased out how, exactly, we are supposed to love God. Like, what does it really mean to love Jesus with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind?

Another good question–and one, honestly, I’d never really thought much about.

Turns out, loving God with all our HEART involves not just passion and desire, but also thoughtful reason. The Greek word for “heart” in this verse is kardia–which is where we get our term “cardio.” To the Luke 10 audience, this word would have implied engaging the will, or making some kind of resolution to love.

Loving God with all of our SOUL (which comes from the word psuche, as in “psyche”) taps into the deepest part of our being. Our soul is the part of us that is not dissolved by death. It has a moral component, one that resonates with eternity, because our soul is designed to be everlasting.

I’m gonna skip the word STRENGTH for just a sec, and move onto MIND, which comes from the Greek word dianoia (and I am probably butchering half this stuff, so if you are a Greek or Hebrew scholar, I am begging you: Please leave a comment). Dianoia connotes “understanding.” It is more than just knowledge; it is a way of thinking about information. It’s a mental processing that, Whitney suggested, is inspired and unlocked by the Holy Spirit.

So let’s recap.

To love Jesus well, we need to engage our heart (our passion, desire, and thoughtful reason). We need to love from our soul (from the very depths of our being, with an eye on eternity). We must love with our mind (not just knowing about God, but knowing God–putting all the pieces together and processing who he is, what he does, and how incredibly much he loves us).

And we need to love the Lord with all of our strength. I left this one until last because it’s a different word in Hebrew than it is in Greek. In the Deuteronomy (the Hebrew) version that the lawyer quoted, strength was also translated might, and it implied loving with “abundant force”–something that the Jodie Expository Dictionary might call True Grit. It’s the kind of love that keeps you hanging in there, against all odds (and against all sense of feeling), because it is rooted in what you know to be true. It’s a love that is brave.

In the Luke 10 passage (the Greek), the word strength comes with a twist. Yes, it implies things like power and might, but the Greek translation also involves ability or aptitude–as in, strength as a God-given gift. Isn’t that cool? We can love God with the strength that comes from somewhere beyond ourselves. We can love with the strength he provides.

Is your head spinning yet? Yeah, mine was too. But when I got home from the retreat I started looking stuff up (there’s a website called blueletterbible.org where people like me–people whose grasp of Hebrew pretty much begins and ends with Bar Mitzvah–can have serious fun in the weeds). And when you boil it all down, what I want to ask you today (and what Whitney asked us) is this:

How do YOU love God?

Some of us may find it easy to love God with our hearts (our passion, our reason, our desire). Some do it from the soul, just sort of “breathing” in Jesus. Some may find it easy, natural even, to mentally put all the pieces together, and process God’s nature with an understanding that compels us to love. And some of us–particularly those who are going through a really hard time, a time where maybe we don’t understand how or why God could let something happen–are loving God out of our might. We love him even when we don’t feel it, or when it doesn’t make sense to our minds. We love Jesus out of sheer grit, out of the strength he provides.

I know (cuz he said so) that God wants us to love him in all of these ways. So let’s think about where it is easy for us, and where maybe it’s hard. And let’s ask God to increase our love. Let ask him to equip us to love him with all that we have, and all that we are.

Ok. I think I’ll leave it right there. Because honestly? I don’t even really know what all of this means. All I know is that I want to love Jesus well. Really well.

Because he loved me first.

 

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Facebook, Twitter, and Grace

So the other day, I saw where Facebook wanted to send me a message. I clicked on the little bell and got this:

Improve my reputation? I didn’t even know I had a reputation–at least not on Facebook. Sheesh. One MORE thing to worry about.

Social media, as we know, is not my best sport.

On Twitter, for instance, I recently heard from a blogger who wanted to know where I’d gone to college. I tweeted right back (I was On it!, that day): I went to U.Va.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that tweet, per se. And normally a sentence like that makes me proud. What went wrong, in this case, is that I tweeted my answer to everyone. Like, to all of Twitter. Now the whole world (even the people who don’t give a rip, which is all of them) knows that I WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA!

(Who knew there was a way to keep your tweet convos private?)

(Probably everyone. But still.)

And don’t even get me started on Instagram. I set up an account a long time ago, and I was getting pretty comfy on that platform. Until Virginia saw me looking at my phone.

“Mom.”

“What?”

“You can’t like your own Insta.”

Sigh.

(Is there an Emily Post book for social media? I feel like if I just knew the rules, I could do better at not breaking them.)

(But not really. Because even if I had an etiquette book, I think I’d still wonder: What’s so bad about liking your own Instagram? Isn’t there an entire shelf in Barnes & Noble about learning to love yourself?? Should we not all like our Instas? Seems like that would be healthy.)

Anyhow.

All of these whoopsies–and so many more, like the podcast I did where I didn’t know we were recording for the first FIFTEEN MINUTES–point to a couple key truths:

First, God is so good.

God knew we’d blow it–and not just on social media. He knew we’d stink it up in our marriages, our parenting, our finances, and in so many more areas where we try (and fail) to do the right thing. And so he gave us an answer. “My grace is sufficient for you,” he promises, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God has us covered. Nothing we do can make him love us any less. In fact, our failings–humbly acknowledged, and with gratitude for his redemptive intervention–act as magnets for his mercy. (Don’t believe me? Check out James 4:6, Psalm 51:17 and, most especially, Romans 8:38-39.)

And second, God is hilarious. I can’t point to any particular verse that says “God is really funny” (Psalm 2:4 says he laughs, but in that case, it’s not a sound that you really want to hear), but there’s definitely some good and joyful merry-making in the Bible (see Psalm 126:2 for starters, or consider the fact that Sarah literally named her kid “He laughs”). And even without passages like these, I figure that God has GOT to have a good sense of humor, since he has has put up with us for so long. Since he has put up with me.

And that, according to social experts, is critical. I saw a few minutes of a show about Speed Dating last week (I was trying to find a U.Va. Basketball recap on SportsCenter, but I am not good with remotes), and the number one most attractive quality in a person is (singles say) a good sense of humor. God has one. We should, too.

So next time you blow it, here are two things you can do. First, don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh, if you can.

And second (because sometimes blowing it is not at all funny), remember God’s grace. It’s for all of us. And it’s what God does best. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

That’s the Apostle Paul talking, but heck. It might as well be me. There are definitely days when I feel like THE WORST. (And not just in the social media world.)

But that’s okay. Because nothing–as in, nothing–can separate us from God’s love.

Tweet THAT, America.

 

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Yield Fruit and Prosper

If you’ve been around this blog for more than a year, you’ve likely seen pix of our Dock Tree. Which is, on January 19, still out on the dock.

Boats and Christmas both mean a lot to my man, and I guess, somewhere along the way, Robbie figured it made sense to combine these two loves. All he needed, he said, was six new boxes of lights. And maybe eight more extension cords.

To me, the Dock Tree seemed silly, at first. But now that we are in the Empty Nest years, it fills our lives with meaning. And purpose. We look at the Dock Tree first thing, with our coffee. We look at it late at night, before bed. We take pictures–scads of pictures–eager to capture its beauty in different lighting and weather conditions.

And, as with children, we learned that Dock Trees can be tricky. They do not, for example, fare too well in high winds.

This year, Robbie tried a new plan. He mounted the tree on a thick piece of plywood, one that has languished in our garage for the past 15 years (waiting, some might say, for such a time as this). Surely, the heavy foundation would hold.

It did not.

As I stood in the kitchen, cradling my coffee mug and looking out at the fallen tree from the warmth of my window, I thought about Psalm 1. “Blessed,” it says, “is the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” When we love the Bible–when we read it and cherish it and let its truth soak into our lives–we will be “like a tree planted by streams of water.” We will “yield fruit in season.” And whatever we do “will prosper.”

Those are some good promises, and ones I’d like to see fulfilled in my life. And–taking a cue from the Dock Tree–I have to think that a key term is “planted.” Because if all we do is screw ourselves into some plywood, without having any roots to grow down deep, it doesn’t matter how close to the water we get. God’s word will not nourish us. We won’t bear any fruit. And rather than prospering when the storms of life hit, we’ll be apt to fall over.

There’s a note scrawled in the margin of my Bible beside Psalm 1. Apparently, I prayed it over our family, back in 2014. Feels like 2018 might be a good time to pray it again:

Heavenly Father,

May we take delight in your word, meditating on it day and night as we go through our lives.

Plant us by streams of water, with roots that go deep. Let us yield fruit in season (and be patient in the winters of our lives, when the buds cannot yet be seen).

Bless us and prosper us, in all that we do. (Psalm 1:3)

In Jesus name,

Amen.

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What do College Kids Need? Good Friends!

(This post originally appeared earlier this week on the Theological Horizons blog. Theological Horizons is an organization headquartered at U.Va., and if you click on that link, you’ll find the post, plus some great resources for young women going through sorority rush. Super helpful insights on things like identity, acceptance, and more.)

I remember the high school counselor asking Robbie and me what we were looking for in a college for Hillary, our eldest. He expected, I guess, for us to say something like “affordable tuition” or “strong academic reputation” or even something lofty, like “opportunities to pursue bio-medical research.” I think the guy was a little stunned when I gave him my answer:  I wanted my daughter to go someplace where she would make good friends and enjoy strong Christian fellowship.

Fellowship is a tricky word. Author John Ortberg says it is “churchy,” and that it “suggests basements and red punch and awkward conversations.” I get that. But I also understand what Ortberg means when he says that fellowship is something we can’t live without. And when the time came to send Hillary—and then later, her siblings—off to college, my first prayers were for them to find life-giving friendships, the kind marked by things like loyalty, joy, and a vibrant commitment to Christ.

God answered those prayers, but the road to connectedness has not always been easy, or quick. I remember dropping Hillary off at U.Va. on Move-In Weekend. Someone had chalked a cheery greeting on the sidewalk steps:

The words held such promise! But, two months later, as the newness wore off and homesickness set in, they seemed almost hollow…. (read more)

(I don’t mean to leave you hanging, but that “read more” link takes you straight to the Theological Horizons site, where you’ll find the whole blog. And you have UNTIL MIDNIGHT TONIGHT to enter the drawing for a free copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. Whoop!)

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“It’s Alive!” Museum of the Bible is Worth the Trip

By the skin of your teeth.

Out of the mouths of babes.

He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Who came up with these phrases? According to a random sample of Americans (well, okay, according to two people in my family room), these familiar words likely originated with 1) John Wayne, 2) Shakespeare, and 3) Aesop.

Good guesses. But…wrong.

These everyday sayings–and about a zillion others like them–come straight out of the Bible. They crop up in movies, music, and everyday conversations. They are God’s Word, hidden in plain sight. Makes it easy to see why one of my favorite presidents, the guy with the big stick, said this:

Teddy was right. And I think he would love our nation’s newest treasure, the Museum of the Bible, which opened less than two months ago in Washington, D.C. If you’re making a bucket list for 2018, put this place on it.

If you want the official (and professionally produced) Top Ten reasons to visit the Museum, click here.

Or, if you want just five from an everyday tourist, I’ll give you my own.

Keep in mind, though, that Robbie and I only got to spend a couple of hours in the museum. People who are way more organized than we are say you actually need “nine, eight-hour days” to see the whole thing. Clearly, we missed gobs of the good stuff. But here are five things we liked:

Reason #5 is the Technology.

I’m not the biggest museum girl (I would generally rather paint a bad picture than look at a good one), so I really appreciated the way that the MOTB draws guests in and invites them to engage with Scripture. In one room, for instance, you can write a word to describe how the Bible makes you feel…

…and then it shows up on the wall with everyone else’s. (I don’t know who wrote the word “Mom,” but I love them.)

And I know the museum Big Wigs have come under fire for not being “evangelical enough” in their presentation, but honestly? I loved how they worked to make everyone feel welcome. When I logged on (if that’s the right term) to a screen to do one of their surveys, this was question #3:

(Not being an “Other,” I could be wrong; there’s a lot about this particular topic that I don’t understand. But if I were an “Other,” I’m pretty sure I would like to have a Bible person ask and value my opinion, instead of leaving me out of their survey.)

Reason #4 is the Nazareth Immersion.

Back when our children were little, we took them to Vegas. (Don’t ask.) Spotting the fake Eiffel Tower, we made a beeline for the ride and ordered up hot cocoas all around, at the top. We let our kids think (and I am not proud of this) that they were in Paris. I figure we saved about $10,000, and it was at least seven years before any of them wised up and asked to see the real thing.

If you’ve got kids, you’ll want to bring them to the MOTB Nazareth. Having been to the actual Holy Land twice, I can tell you that this village is a pretty good knock off. It looks and sounds a lot like Nazareth probably did, back in Jesus’ day, and you can ask the friendly natives any question you want. Like, I wondered how long it took this gal to make dinner:

Reason #3 is the World Stage Theater.

Robbie and I were thrilled to visit the museum during the Amazing Grace run (the Broadway musical moves on after January 7). We weren’t allowed to take pix during the show, but I did snap some earlier in the day, when we got to hear the INCREDIBLE Wintley Phipps sing on the same stage. I don’t know who or what will be playing when you go, but be sure to check it out because, like everything else in the EIGHT STORY building, the World Stage Theater is state-of-the-art and will not disappoint.

(And it’s time, I think, for an Insider Tip. Don’t show up at the museum and expect to waltz right on in. Do some Advance Recon and get your tickets online. That way, you can show up at a pre-assigned time, without waiting/freezing outside.)

Reason #2 is the Bible itself.

Everywhere you look in the MOTB, you feel the life-shaping presence of Scripture. Sometimes it’s overt, like when you see the Bible’s influence on science, education, or fashion:

Or when you consider how Scripture permeates art, as described by Vincent van Gogh:

And, of course, music:

(And yes, that is Elvis’s actual Bible. He said he “believed in it” and that “I don’t believe I’d sing the way I do if God hadn’t wanted me to.” I’m not gonna argue.)

Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God is living and active. As you experience the museum, you get the idea that this verse really is true. Whether you’re looking at artifacts (Robbie liked the slingshot stones, c. 701 BCE, that authenticate Sennacherib’s campaign to destroy Israel and Judah), perusing the Dead Sea Scrolls (they have gigantic mock ups of Isaiah’s writing), or just passing by any one of the silent-yet-powerful banners, you don’t get the sense that you’re looking at history. You get the sense that you are surrounded by–embraced by–a force that’s alive.

And finally, Reason #1 why you should visit the Museum of the Bible is the Stuff You Can’t Plan.

If you do any research before your trip (and I didn’t), they’ll tell you not to miss things like the Washington Revelations, which is where you strap yourself into a “flying theater” and soar high over the nation’s capital, taking in all of the ways that the Bible marks our landmarks and buildings. I heard that exhibit was cool (and I will see it next time), but I doubt it’s the one I’d like best. The thing I liked best (and that Robbie did, too) was a panoramic, 12-minute movie we did not mean to see.

Robbie and I were looking for an exit when we sort of stumbled upon a theater door. The friendly docent ushered us in, explaining that the show was “just starting.” We found two open seats in the dark and plopped down, having no idea what we were about to watch but delighted, after two hours of touring, to be off of our feet.

Oh my.

The movie was animated. I have no idea when cartoons got so good, but by the end of the story–which was about how the early church spread–I had pretty much lost it. As in, “Get me a Kleenex; this is gonna be ugly.” I was a mess.

I can’t explain it, but even now, looking back, the picture of an aging John (the disciple Jesus loved, the last one to die) sitting there in his rocky prison, stooped in the dim light, intent upon writing his scrolls…it just undoes me. John had to know that what he was writing was powerful; did he have any idea that, 2,000 years later, you and I would be reading his words?

Just buckle up, if you accidentally wander into that theater. That’s all I can say.

So there you have them. Five things I liked. And truly, there are at least 55 more. Like the giant quote cylinder that showcases the answers to my little “Who said that?” quiz:

“By the skin of your teeth” comes from Job 19:20.

“Out of the mouths of babes” is Psalm 8:2 and Matthew 21:15.

And the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” slips into the picture in Matthew 7:15.

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