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Getting Old, Shining Bright

Perhaps you remember the story about the woman who dropped in on her daughter-in-law, unannounced, and found the girl standing inside her front door, naked.

“Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?” the older woman asked.

“I am waiting for my husband,” the young wife replied. “This is his favorite outfit. It is my Love Dress. And since he will be home soon, I think you should leave.”

Confused (and more than a little embarrassed), the mother-in-law drove away. But by the time she got home, her discomfort had faded, and she realized that her daughter-in-law might be onto something. Which is how, 30 minutes later, her husband arrived home to find her naked in the foyer. “What on earth are you doing?” the man sputtered.

“I am wearing my Love Dress!” his wife beamed. “Do you like it?”

“I do,” he said, after a beat. “But…it needs ironing.”

I know, I know. Bad joke. But it tees up today’s post, which is about the merits of aging.

Getting older is not something we value today. Whether you’re into Botox or wrinkle creams, hair restoration or hair removal, or maybe even that new body-shaping thing where you lie down and let some doctor paddle you with electromagnetic pulses (“One session equals 20,000 crunches!”), chances are good that you’ve plunked down at least some cash to waylay Father Time. We all have. Globally, we’re expected to spend upwards of $216 billion on anti-aging treatments by the end of 2021.

(That’s billion. With a “B.”)

But hey. I’m not judging. To quote my former pastor, when someone asked whether or not women should wear make-up (who asks that sort of thing??), “If the barn needs painting, paint it.”

So again:  You’ll get no finger-pointing from me, no matter how many nips, tucks, or paddles you want to endure. I would, however, like to offer a different perspective on aging–one that was on vivid display a few weeks ago, when I had the privilege of connecting with 17 other women at the Club31Women Writers’ Retreat. Our ages ranged from 21 to 73, with yours truly clocking in as the second oldest one there.

Club31Women Writers Retreat

We’d barely unpacked our suitcases when one of the 30-something gals–one of the fresh-faced, wrinkle-free, dewy-complexioned young writers–asked if I had time to talk. My first thought was that she must like my outfit, but then I realized that 1) we were not in middle school, and 2) I was wearing running clothes. And as we got to know one another (and she admitted that she was looking for things like “sage advice” and “godly wisdom”), I had to confront the stark truth:  My cute young friend wanted to spend time with me because I am old.

(Okay. I know 56 is not really that old. But remember when you were 30 and you thought that 60 was practically dead?)

Anyhow.

As the two of us dialogued–and as as I watched other women forge intergenerational connections during the retreat–I realized that Scripture is right. Getting older is not such a bad thing.

Psalm 92 talks about flourishing in our golden years, with the promise that we will “bear fruit in old age” and always stay “fresh and green.”

Job points to the the practical benefits that come with more birthday candles: “Is not wisdom found among the aged?” he asks. “Does not long life bring understanding?”

And the book of Proverbs calls gray hair (and by that, I’m pretty sure the translators meant “roots”) a crown of splendor.

All of this is good stuff. But I think my all time favorite getting-old promise (and the one we can all pray will be made real in our lives!) is Proverbs 4:18. Here’s how The Message puts it:  “The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine.”

Proverbs 4:18

The longer they live, the brighter they shine.

Honestly? I’ve tried a bazillion different night creams; none of them even come close to delivering that. But God can.

And He does.

Because unlike in the physical realm–the one where cells die, bodies decay, and we’re forever having to go back and repaint the barn–the spiritual realm offers fresh vigor and strength. What begins with salvation (when we become “new creations“) only gets better with time as we are literally renewed day by day.

It’s like exfoliating. Only way better.

In part two of this post, I’ll dig a little deeper into inter-generational friendships, particularly the life-giving kind. For now, though, I want to ask you a few questions.

If you’ve made it past halftime in life (and you can define that one however you want), are you sharing your wisdom with the next generation? Are you bearing fruit? Are there younger people with whom you “do life”?

And if you’re on the younger end of the spectrum (like, if you basically never use Facebook), are you open to connecting with someone who has what we might call a “more seasoned” perspective?

If your answer to those queries is no, consider asking God to bring some new friends into your life. Keep alert to folks who are younger (and older) than you. And be open to the surprises God might have in store.

And in the meantime, if you are one of those fresh-faced young gals and you see someone like me while you’re out buying organic sweet potatoes to puree for your toddler, feel free to tell us how good we look. Just say: “You’re glowing! You look almost…shiny!”

We’ll know what you mean.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

May we be people who flourish as we mature. May we bear fruit, even in our old age, and always stay fresh and green. (Psalm 92:14)

Amen

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Free “Must Have” on the Back-to-School List!

So I saw where today’s parents are spending, on average, nearly $700 per child on back-to-school shopping. Which is lot of notebooks and glue sticks. And when you factor in the mini-fridge or whatever else a college kid needs (I’m looking at you, Bed, Bath & Beyond Campus Checklist), that number climbs even higher.

Happily, there’s at least one must-have item that doesn’t cost anything. And honestly? Every kid needs it, whether they’re headed for kindergarten or college.

Robbie First Day of Kindergarten

I’m talking about back-to-school prayer.

Several years ago, I wrote about the ice-cream-and-prayer parties we used to host at the end of the summer. You can read that post here, but if you just want a few good prompts to help kick off the year (or to tuck in the lunchbox, maybe?), click here to download 12 of my favorites. This collection covers everything from listening to instruction…to having a teachable spirit…to making the most of every opportunity!

IMG_7041

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

❤️

And P.S. yes, I did make Robbie give a flower to his teacher. 🙂

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I’m nicer when I like my outfit (especially when my daughter picks it out)

I’m nicer when I like my outfit.

I'm nicer when I like my outfit

It’s true. I am. Trouble is, I’m a terrible shopper.

Our daughter Virginia, on the other hand, loves the thrill of the hunt. She knows what works (and what doesn’t), and she’s a firm believer that clothes really do “make the man.” Once, in middle school, Virginia bought a shirt from J. Crew for her boyfriend. Never mind that she did not yet actually have a boyfriend. “I want to date a guy,” she explained, “who would look good in this shirt.”

Anyhow, when Virginia heard that I needed a new pair of jeans (see last week’s post), she jumped in like a first responder and all but ambulanced me to Saks. “They are having a huge summer sale,” she said. “We need to go now!”

I’ll spare you the most painful details, but picture me (or maybe don’t) in a department store dressing room while my girl popped in and out, bearing armloads of clothing that she thought would suit me. “You could speak in this,” she said, brandishing an army-green dress that looked like it could be worn on safari. “And this would be a great going-out outfit!”

I looked at the wide orange pants and teensy silk top Virginia was holding. “Going out?” I echoed. “You mean, like, to the grocery store?”

“Mom!” she laughed – before handing over her bounty and heading back out into the wild.

I found myself alone in the room with five different white tops (Solomon says you can never have too much white), and I couldn’t help it. My mind started to wander. I thought back to when I first realized that Virginia (who was six at the time) knew more than I did about clothes.

In my defense, both Fraulein Maria and Scarlett O’Hara had done it before. I thought my plan to repurpose the curtain that hung in our kitchen – a valance I’d sewn out of fancy French fabric – was inspired. I ran some elastic through the curtain rod hole, sewed up the side, and popped the thing over Virginia’s head.

“What is this?” she inquired, looking dubiously at the green velvet pompoms that encircled her hem.

“It’s…a skirtain!” I said, more than a little bit pleased with myself. “It’s French!”

Virginia is nothing if not confident, and as she headed off to school I told myself that if anyone could pull off The Skirtain, it would be her. Looking back, though, I’m not sure even Scarlett, with her famed 17-inch waist, could have managed that thing. Regardless, it was the last time Virginia let me influence her outfit choices. And by the time she hit the fifth grade, she was questioning mine:

“You’re going out to the bus stop…like that?

(At 7:00 a.m.)

Her scrutiny rankled. Her clothing obsession seemed out of place. And finally, after the J. Crew incident (in which I ridiculed my daughter for buying a shirt for a fictitious boyfriend and she hotly corrected me in the store, saying that he was not fictitious but future), I decided to take my complaint up with God.

“God,” I said, “What is wrong with Virginia? How can she be so shallow? Who cares whether a dress falls above or below the knee level; doesn’t she realize that there are starving people in Africa who would be grateful for either hemline?”

“I made Virginia that way,” God replied. “She is my masterpiece. Her love for clothing and her artistic eye are gifts she will use.”

I knew God was quoting himself, drawing on Ephesians 2:10, but I was not satisfied. “But all that focus on appearance,” I pressed. “It just doesn’t seem very…Christian.”

(Seriously. I was telling God what I thought a Christian looked like.)

It seems funny – or maybe embarrassing – now, but it wasn’t, back then. God was speaking to my spirit, but he might as well have been talking out loud. And he wasn’t laughing.

“Do not mock your daughter,” I sensed him say. “Do not wish she were different. I gave her this gift, and it is one she will use to serve others.”

A tap on the dressing room door brought me back to the present. It was Virginia, with several pairs of good-looking jeans in my size. That were 70% off.

And as I stood there in White Shirt #4, it hit me:  Virginia – the daughter I’d once tried to change – was literally living out 1 Peter 4:10 in the middle of Saks:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

And I – the mom who had once asked God to “fix her” – was the one being blessed.

Use whatever gift you have received, 1 Peter 4:10

All of which is to say…

God’s grace really does show up in “various forms.”

And instead of questioning the way that God wired our kids (or wondering why on earth they would want to do this or that), maybe a better plan is just to release them. To surrender their lives fully to God, knowing that – as Philippians 2:13 so powerfully reminds us – it’s not up to us to change or shape other people.

God’s plans for our children might not look just like ours. Sure, as parents, we want to teach our kids right from wrong (and pray that they’ll pursue the former!), but more often than not, the things I worry about in my children’s lives are actually reflections of my own need for control, or my own desire to look good, based on the choices they make. And when I cling too tightly to my vision for what my children should do or become (instead of prayerfully releasing them into the Lord’s tender care), I risk missing out on God’s plan for their lives – his infinitely more wonderful plan.

In her book, Prayer PortionsSylvia Gunter offers a declaration of release that we can pray over our children, our spouses, or anyone whose life might be tied closely to ours. Read it here, or join me in praying this simple prayer for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating _______ as your masterpiece, and for planning good things for them long ago. Please work in ______, giving them the desire and the power to do what pleases you. (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13, NLT)

❤️

P.S. I know this blog is already too long (and I promise not to post again for awhile!), but if you want more info on how to ask God to shape your children and use their gifts, check out chapters 3 (Praying for Your Child’s Gifts) and 17 (Praying for Your Child’s Purpose in Life) in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenHere are a few of the prayers that you’ll find:

And if you got stuck back there in the dressing room and you just want to know what I bought, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I passed on the big orange pants, I got two pairs of the jeans, and I actually did come home with the safari-style “speaking” dress.

Because, to finish the Mark Twain quote referenced above, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do these pants make me look fat?

I broke up with three pairs of perfectly good jeans recently, pants whose only offense was that they’d somehow gotten too small.

“It’s not you,” I sighed, gazing wistfully toward the giveaway pile (and wishing I could just blame the dryer). “It’s me.”

I don’t know when, exactly, everything in my closet started to shrink; maybe the heat from all the candles on my last birthday cake sparked some sort of climate change in our house? I do know, however, that I have never been so grateful for online tools like Biblehub.com, where you can look up Bible verses different translations.

Verses like Isaiah 61:3.

That’s the one where God promises to give us beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, and something called a “garment of praise” instead of despair. It’s an awesome verse in the NIV, but it gets even better in the good old King James. That’s where God says the garment of praise is for the “spirit of heaviness.”

Waaaait a minute. There’s a spirit of heaviness? Now you tell me…

garment of praise

 

Okay, okay. You know I’m kidding.

You have to admit, though. Isaiah 61:3 is a pretty great verse. Because whatever we’re carrying–be it a spiritual or a physical weight–God says he can lift it.

Redeem it.

Swap it out.

God promises to take the ashes of our dreams, the brokenness of our hearts, the shame of our past…and completely remake us. The last part of verse 3 says that we’ll be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

(Great oaks??? My mother once told me that I should be glad I had legs built like tree trunks, since it meant that I’d be able to stand for long periods of time. Maybe I should start claiming Isaiah 61:3 as my “life verse” and just own it?)

Anyhow.

While I was in the dressing room last week, trying to find a new pair of jeans (which is actually Part 2 of this post, and one I’ll hope you’ll read next week if you’ve ever questioned–or been frustrated by–the way that God wired your kids), I began to think about how life might be different if I woke up every day and, instead of thinking about actual clothing, I put on a garment of praise. What would happen if I took time to consciously consider God’s goodness, his power, and his love?

For starters, praise would take my focus off of the to-do lists of the day and make me aware of God’s presence (which is, as Psalm 16:11 reminds us, the Very Place where we find “fullness of joy”).

And then, as I meditated on God’s attributes–he’s our Provider, Protector, Redeemer, Counselor, Deliverer, Comforter, Friend–the problems and needs that clamored for space in my heart would start shrinking in size. It would work like what my friend Jennifer Kennedy Dean called “spiritual chemotherapy,” taking things like worry and fear–as well as those pesky, self-absorbed thoughts (“Do these pants make me look fat?”)–and targeting them for destruction.

That sounded like a win.

There was only one hitch.

What if I didn’t feel like adoring God, or thanking him, when I woke up? What if my first thought came with a sharp pain (or a dull ache) of remembrance, like in the weeks and months of waking up after God chose not to heal my father’s brain cancer? What if I questioned God’s goodness, or his wisdom, sometimes?

What then?

The answer, I think, it that it’s okay. God can handle our doubts and our questions. And if you take another look at Isaiah 61 (which is where the prophet tells us what the Messiah will do), the thing that stands out is that it’s not up to us. Jesus is the one who brings the comfort, the beauty, the joy. He’s the one who gives us the garment of praise. All we have to do is receive it!

I love how Isaiah wraps up the transformation, just a few verses later:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…

“I delight greatly in the Lord.”

Maybe just read that one out loud. It’s such a beautiful phrase…one we could look forward to wearing.

And on those days when our first thought is not one of delight–when our souls don’t readily rejoice in the Lord–let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead, let’s ask God for help. Let’s ask him to do the thing he does best:  Get us dressed in garments that look and feel really good.

Heavenly Father,

Clothe me with beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I can’t leave this post without pointing you toward two of my favorite “praise” resources.

The first is on Instagram. Type #adorationexplained into the search bar. You’ll meet Sara Hagerty (@sarahagertywrites), who tackles some of the thorniest questions we have when it comes to thanksgiving and praise, questions about the real struggles we face. “Adoration,” she says, “isn’t that we set aside our real interior life. It’s that we bring that to God. We bring our real honesty to God and we say, ‘Show up.'”

And the second help is this little devotional book by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, which is where I found that line about spiritual chemotherapy.

It’s called SEEK: 28 Days to Extraordinary Prayer. Jennifer went home to heaven about six weeks ago, and I’ve spent much of this summer moving between grief and gratitude as I re-read her incredible work. I know heaven is rejoicing, but golly. Jennifer:  We’re gonna miss you down here. ❤️

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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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