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Build an altar this summer. And add some ice cream.

Our son Robbie graduated from college in May.

Watching him walk down U.Va.’s storied Lawn, my mind flashed back 20 years to my brother David’s graduation (also from Virginia):

That’s David, perched on somebody’s shoulders. I guess he was trying to spot our folks in the crowd, because the moment he saw them, he scrambled down, threaded his way through the procession, and planted a kiss on Dad’s cheek in a very public display of gratitude and affection!

A few days later I received a letter from my father describing David’s impromptu embrace and telling me how much it had meant. Dad went on to recount about a dozen similar memories and blessings from his children’s growing-up years, pointing out that they were all “a testimony of God’s tender mercies, one after another after another, being bestowed upon our family.”

My father’s note made an impression on me, so much so that I actually wrote about it – and quoted him – in the last chapter of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. “God is so faithful,” he said, “and we must remember to stop occasionally and build ‘an altar of thanksgiving’ before we hurry on our way.”

Altar of thanksgiving

I knew what Dad meant. The Bible is brimming with stories of altars built by those who wanted a lasting memorial of who God was and what he had done. Noah built an altar after the great flood; Jacob erected one after God changed his name; Moses put one up after God gave the Israelites an incredible  victory over a powerful foe. In each of these instances—and plenty more—the altar signified the time and place where God showed up and proved his faithfulness, his power, and his love.

I don’t know about you, but I am not nearly as good at building altars as I am at building to-do lists (even in my prayer journal), thinking of all the things I want God to accomplish in my life and in the lives of the people I love. Rather than thanking God for “his tender mercies, one after another,” I often find myself consumed with present concerns, unmet desires, and problems that have yet to be solved.

Which is where summertime can bring some welcome relief.

Even though our family is long past the annual “School’s Out!” shout on the calendar, the season still heralds a slower pace, one that offers an opportunity for rest and reflection. For meditating on God’s goodness. For altar-building.

So what does an altar of thanksgiving look like?

In Bible times, an altar was often a pile of stones set up by someone so that they (and their children, some who were yet to be born) would have a visible reminder of God’s provision and his faithfulness. I actually have a couple of stones – and one or two seashells – on which I’ve written dates and a few words or a Bible verse that speak to what God has done.

More often, though, my “altar” is simply a page or two in my journal, one where I revisit prayers (which sometimes look more like scrawls) from the previous months and thank God for how he has moved, often in ways I did not expect. With the perspective of time, I can see how God has expanded my vision, stretched my faith, and said no to some of my longings so as to make room for his.

(I realize that this might sound sort of heady. But don’t get any ideas. My journal is not fancy. It’s got arrows and abbreviations and chicken-scratch writing that I sometimes struggle to read. But I tell myself that the Bible altars were probably no architectural masterpieces either. I imagine that, to someone who did not know their meaning, they mostly just looked like…rocks.)

Anyhow.

If the idea of building an altar is a new one for you, I want to encourage you (even as I am prompting myself) to try it this summer. Not only is altar-building  an exercise in gratitude, it’s also one of obedience:  “Tell God your needs,” the Bible says, “and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.”

Write a few words on a rock. Or in a prayer journal. Or, if you’ve got children at home, consider building a basket-shaped altar. Encourage your kids to be alert to the ways they see God at work in their lives, and to note those observations on a slip of paper (chicken scratch is approved!) and slip it into the basket. Then, before school starts again in the fall, set aside an evening to read what’s in the basket together.

And…maybe add ice cream sundaes.

Because trust me. Ice cream, served up with a side of thanksgiving, can be a very tangible reminder of God’s love. 😊

ice cream

Heavenly Father,

Help us never forget the things our eyes have seen you do; do not let them fade from our hearts. Equip us to teach your faithfulness to our children, and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Amen

 

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For all the Dads who have ever hung a mooring ball off their roof…

Dad is such a doofus.

At least that what today’s advertisers and sit-com producers (who often portray fathers as being oblivious, emotionally disconnected, or just plain incompetent) would have us believe. Even the good guys–the TV Dads whose hearts are in the right place–are almost always making some sort of mess that Mom has to come in and clean up.

Honestly though? The real-life fathers I know are nothing like that. The fathers I know are smart. Strong. Patient. And kind.

And in general, they are very resourceful.

Just this week, for example, a friend invited me to survey her husband’s handiwork. After discovering a leak in their roof, this dad had stepped in, installing a stop-gap measure until the pros could get there. The pitch was both slippery and steep, but this guy had managed to hang an industrial-size tarp over half of their house, weighting it down with a cooler (empty), a bottle of ginger ale (full), and a mooring ball.

“All the tarp anchors are plastic!” he beamed. “I didn’t want anything to break if something went wrong.”

(Because what could possibly go wrong?)

Looking up at the mooring ball dangling down from the eaves, I was reminded of the time Robbie fixed our broken shower head–temporarily–with duct tape and our cheese grater. I love that man.

So to all of the can-do fathers out there, can I just say THANK YOU? You make life so much more interesting than it would otherwise be.

And for all of those times you’ve protected and provided, listened and loved, been the cheerleader as well as the coach…(as well as those times when you’ve blown it–and trust me, we moms have been there)…you should know how God feels towards you.

Here’s how the Bible puts it:

God will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

That’s Hebrews 6:10. And it’s true; God sees all the work and the love you pour into your people–and he won’t forget it. And neither will we.

(Even if we sometimes forget to say thank you.)

Happy Father’s day. You are loved.

💙

Heavenly Father,

Show your love to our husbands and fathers, even as they have loved us.

Help them stand firm, letting nothing move them. Equip them to give themselves fully to the work that you’ve called them to do, knowing that their labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Amen.

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Champion or Misfit: Jay Huff knows how both those shoes feel

Jay Huff–as in, Jay Huff of the U.Va. National Championship Basketball Team–was in the house last week.

Well, not my house.

Although he did stop by for a bit. And I am pretty sure Minnie’s in love…

Jay came to Virginia Beach with his dad, Coach Mike Huff, as part of a speaker series our church hosts every year. And even though I said I was taking a break from weekly blogging this summer (and I really am), and even though I know some of you don’t give a rip about basketball (that’s okay; people vary), the stuff these guys talked about was just too good not to share.

Stuff like what humility looks like, especially when life isn’t fair.

Evidently, Jay has a super high radar for what’s right and what’s wrong–and when he sees an offense, he feels compelled to speak up. Which sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work so well when you’re hooping it up and the “wrong” is a bad call from the ref. As a high school player, Jay often protested such calls–and wound up setting a record for technical fouls.

Coach Huff helped put things in perspective.

“Nobody,” Mike told his son, “got a worse set of calls than Christ did. He got as bad a call as you can get; he had a perfect life, and yet he was crucified for my mistakes.

“And he didn’t say a word. He stood there and he took it.”

Those words made an impact, ultimately leading Jay to show respect for officials and embrace humility–which, as it turns out, is one of Coach Tony Bennett’s Five Pillars.

Another life lesson came in a sporting goods store.

As a teenager, Jay wore size 15 shoes (he’s a 17 now), and finding them was not always easy. Mike recalled one father-son shopping trip when Jay couldn’t locate a single pair in his size.

“This world isn’t made for me,” the young man sighed.

“You were not made for this world,” Mike gently replied.

Even if Jay didn’t know the exact biblical reference (verses like John 15:19 and Philippians 3:20), he got the point. And when asked what advice he might give to the young people in the audience on Sunday night, he shared his own experience–both at U.Va. and in high school–with not “fitting in.” Even winning a championship, he said, doesn’t change the fact that life, for a Christian, is not always easy.

“You’re going to be a misfit in a lot of situations,” Jay told the crowd. “Get ready for that.”

That “misfit” comment really hit home with me; I wrote about my own struggles in Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to college that I began to feel like I’d finally found “my people.” And, much to my delight, two of them–Barbie and Susan, pictured above–showed up to hear Jay speak!

(And yes, Jay really is 7’1.”)

(I thought if I wore 3″ heels that would help. But…no.)

Perhaps my favorite takeaway from the night was about our identity.

“If it’s all about basketball,” Mike said, “or whatever your activity might be, if that’s where you find your identity, then your life is going to be a whole series of ups and downs. When you’re good–when you have a great game–everybody’s gonna be happy; you’re gonna be happy. If you have a bad game or a bad season, or you get cut from the team or whatever, then you’re devastated.”

By contrast, he said, “if you have an identity in Christ, then those things are just events that happen along the path.”

Jay agreed, saying that he wanted to be known for more than being a basketball player–even if he realizes his goal of playing in the NBA.

“I see a lot of people,” he said, “who get so caught up in basketball and the highlight tapes and the social media posts and everything like that…but when that becomes the sole thing that you feel like you’re valued for, that’s when that goes wrong.

“And so, I’ve always thought that I’d much rather be a good friend. A good son. A good boyfriend–hopefully.”

(Sorry ladies; he’s taken.)

“I’d rather be known for that,” he continued, “because one day all the basketball things that have happened, all the championships, all of that–they won’t mean that much to me. But what will mean a lot are the friendships and relationships I’ve built up over the years, and how I’ve loved people and how people have hopefully loved me.

“At the end of my life, I don’t want to look back and have basketball be the highlight.”

Coming from a national champion, those are some powerful words.

And there’s more where they came from–plus commentary on everything from what Coach Bennett tells his players at halftime (“But you can’t tell the other coaches I told you!” Jay joked), to what U.Va.’s prospects look like for next year, to whether or not Ty Jerome meant to miss that free throw.

Did he?

If you want to find out (or if you just want to know what other great things the Huffs shared), click here to download the whole interview.

And if you just want a prayer for those times when you or someone you love feels like a misfit, why not echo the prayer Jesus prayed for all his disciples, right after he said that we “do not belong to the world,” any more than he did?

Heavenly Father,

We belong to you. Protect us by the power of your name. Fill us with joy, make us holy, and teach us your word. And may we experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent Jesus, and that you love us as much as you love him. (Excerpted from John 17:9-22)

Amen

❤️

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MOPS (and that time when our house caught on fire)

I love to speak to all sorts of groups, but MOPS women have a special place in my heart.

These gals–Mothers of Preschoolers–don’t ask for much. Give them a bagel, a smile, and two hours of child care and they’re happy. Thrilled, actually. The fact that they get to enjoy some adult conversation is just bonus material. (And honestly? I think some of these precious women would be okay if the speaker just turned down the lights and said they could nap.)

As an audience, they are delightful.

And as moms, they are committed. And strong. And hungry to learn. They get together not just for the company (or even the refreshments, which are way above par for church-based cuisine), but because they genuinely desire God’s best for their families, and they want to know what that looks like in real life.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but as an older mom who watched her youngest child graduate from college last weekend…

(and yes, that IS Robbie’s U.Va. graduation gown that he packed his stuff in), I felt privileged to share a few insights with our local MOPS group this week.

I told the young moms about the time that our house caught on fire.

We were in the midst of yet another remodel, and Robbie and Virginia (who were just one and two then) had gone down for their naps. The older two girls were off playing with friends, the construction crew was working outside, and our house was utterly, beautifully quiet.

Until the foreman started hollering at me, up the stairs, telling me that I had to “get them babies up!” because the house was “on FIRE!”

I stood there, staring down at the man. And wishing that he would stop yelling. Or at the very least, lower his voice.

(If you’re a mother, you get it. My dilemma was real. I mean, the babies had just nodded off…)

“Um…how bad is the fire?” I finally whispered. “Like, can you see actual flames?”

Not one of my finer mom moments, I know. But we’re all still alive, which is the main thing. And the other main thing is that this story is the perfect tie-in to Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the Bible guy who rebuilt Jerusalem after the Babylonians demolished it. He faced opposition (some powerful people did not want his plan to succeed, and they kept up a barrage of abuse), but one of his main problems was simply the scope of the job. The city’s walls had been broken, its gates burned, and there was so much debris that the Jews (almost none of whom were professional builders) reached the point where they were ready to throw in the towel.  “The strength of the laborers is giving out,” they told Nehemiah, “and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.

Can anybody relate?

Weariness can be a killer–even if the job is something we care deeply about. Fatigue can sap our strength and cloud our judgment, making us think and do crazy things. Like wanting to give up on a key building project. Or letting babies sleep through a fire.

Nehemiah understood all of this. He knew what exhaustion could do–particularly when you’re already feeling attacked. And so he made a plan. You can read the fine print here if you want, but the gist is that he posted people together so that they could strengthen each other, and he made sure that his workers had weapons.

Which is exactly what we do when we pray with our friends, and when we use Scripture to ward off attacks.

Nehemiah stationed whole families together, positioning them along the most vulnerable and exposed spots on the wall. We do the same thing when we come together to pray. We spot a gap in the wall–a place where a child or a friend might be at risk–and we get to work. And when one of us gets too weary or discouraged to lift up our hands (which can happen sometimes, in the trenches), others step in. We stand firm, knowing that our labor is not in vain.

And, like Nehemiah’s workers, we rely on our sword. Hebrews 4:12 says our sword is the Bible, and that we can use it to separate the lies from the truth. Which, for a weary young (or old!) mother, can be a game-changer.

We may tell ourselves, for instance, that we are not up to the job, that we stink at the whole parenting thing. But God says that we are his masterpiece, and that motherhood is a calling that he has both equipped and prepared us to do.

We think that we’ve blown it, that we’ve ruined our kids by some awful thing that we said or we did. But God says that he’s our Redeemer, and he promises to work in all things–the good and the bad–for our good when we love him.

You get the idea. Whether we’re building a city or a family, we can’t go it alone. We need one another. We need prayer. And we need the wisdom of Scripture.

There is so much more we could say (and golly, the MOPS moms got an earful this week!), but I’ll just wrap up with this:

If you’re a young mom (or you know someone who is), consider checking out MOPS. There’s no pressure to do anything but show up–and when you’ve got little people that you want to love really well, the friendships you forge at the meetings can become your tether to hope.

And speaking of loving our littles, I did, in fact, wake my babies that day. The firetruck came–the whole neighborhood came–and everyone (even the firemen) wound up eating popsicles. It was a good day, all around.

Except that I went to bed that night very tired.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Mother’s Day from a New Mom

You need to know, right off the bat, that I am not someone who thinks that “Dogs are people, too.” I realize that I’ve probably offended half of you in saying that, but I can’t help that. The way I see it, dogs are dogs.

That being said, there are some definite similarities between humans and dogs. And ever since Minneapolis Bennett joined our family a few weeks ago, I’ve been having more than a few New Mom Feels. I don’t know which is harder, raising a baby or raising a puppy.

So far, I think it’s a tie.

Babies can’t feed themselves, right? Well neither could Minnie, at first. Thank goodness for four inches of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. “Every dog,” as Shakespeare reminds us (page 137), “will have its day.”

And the potty training thing? Getting to our yard requires a descent of five steps, and Minnie wasn’t having it. When I marveled at her reluctance, Robbie put things in perspective: “Asking her to go down those steps is like asking you to jump off a five-story building.”

Alrighty then.

Honestly though? The thing that made me feel most like a new mom happened just this past week, when I decided that Minnie should learn how to walk.

As in, on a leash.

As in, with me.

I did what any good parent might do. I asked Google.

I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that whichever dog-brain wrote that Step One in the teaching process is to “drop your end of the leash on the ground” needs to maybe be a little more clear on Step Two.

And all I could think, as I stood there staring at my dog-child while she stared back at me–chewing away at the tether and clearly not eager to stay anywhere close to my feet–was that God knew exactly how I felt.

Seriously.

God knows how all parents feel–especially when communication breaks down with our kids, or when they choose to walk down a path that we know is not good. I love how candid God is in Hosea 11, as he reveals his own parenting struggles:

“When Israel was a child,” God says, “I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”

(Can anybody relate?)

And then God goes on, talking about how he taught his children to walk: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.”

Here again, I’ll spare you the details, (you can read em here if you want), but the nutshell version is that it did not go well. Israel wanted no part of God’s parenting. They pushed all of his buttons, in the worst kind of ways.

(I’ll ask it again:  Can anybody relate?)

And yet.

And yet God, even in his frustration, found his wrath trumped by compassion. He couldn’t help himself. He roared–not in anger, but with the fiercest of love–and called his wayward ones home.

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Mother’s Day.

If you find yourself raising a child who wants to go their own way–whether it’s a toddler whose potty training is not going much better than Minnie’s, a teen whose ears seem deaf to your voice, or an adult who has walked away from their faith (and maybe your family in the process), know this:

We’ve all been there.

“We all,” the Bible says, “have gone astray–each of us to his own way.” And the second part of that verse tells us that God–out of love–put our sin squarely on Jesus. Compassion trumped wrath, once again.

So here’s the good Mother’s Day news, for moms (and dads) in the parenting trenches: Just like God could not help but pursue Israel, so he cannot help but go after our kids. And our children, as I’ve said over and over again in this space, are never out of God’s reach.

Hang in there, Sweet Momma. You are loved. And so are your kids.

With the fiercest, and sweetest, of loves.

❤️

Oh, and one more thing. Or maybe three.

First, summer is here, and the blog’s hitting vacation mode. I’ll still write, but maybe not every week. (I figure we can all use the break.) 😉

Second, if you haven’t gotten Mom a card yet, there’s still time. What you write doesn’t have to be fancy or long; feel free to borrow from this stellar example, created by my friend Elizabeth’s six-year-old son:

 

“Joy comes in the morning. Go Hoos Go.” Clearly, that boy knows his Bible. And his basketball.

And finally, you all know how much I appreciate Eugene Peterson, and when I was re-reading Hosea 11, I decided to check it out in The Message. And I laughed out loud.

Because this is me, yesterday, giving up on Minnie’s walking lessons:

And this is Eugene, rendering Israel’s response to God’s love:

And this is Minnie, letting us know just how she feels about the whole “I’m with you” thing:

😂

Happy Mother’s Day!

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