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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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Red Roses for Empty Nesters

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

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

You never stop being a parent.

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

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

And we are counting on each other. Truly.

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

 

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

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

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

And he is still writing their stories.

🌹

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

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

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Too Busy for Peace? You’ve Got Options

Christmas is three days away.

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

It could work.

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas! 🎄

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Merry Christ-Mess!

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

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

Inside, though, it’s a different story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is, I think, the whole point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m here.

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

Even (and especially) on the inside.

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