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Tis the Season…for incredible Christmas mistakes

‘Tis the season.

The season, that is, that serves as the annual reminder of my shopping deficiencies. I love giving (and getting!) presents, and I actually DO put a lot of thought into the gifts that I pick out for my family and friends. But I’m not sure they realize that.

Because it’s not always, as it turns out, the thought that counts.

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that I like to pick one special (identical) item for each one of my kids. (And now, bless their hearts, for my two sons-in-law.) I’ve tried everything from the Topical Memory System (which I really do love) to the “virtually invisible” posture brace (which I don’t)…

…and I can’t help but think that there has to be something more crowd-pleasing out there.

So here’s what let’s do.

If you have a good gift idea (especially if it’s something that GUYS  would like, besides socks and golf balls), will you please post it in the comments section (or on my Insta) today?

And in return, I will let you in on my all-time favorite gift–to give, or to get. This is something everyone needs, and it’s not like the “must have” spectacular shoes on my daughter’s wishlist. (As in, it will still be in style by this time next year.) Plus, this gift is the one thing I can think of that is both a) affordable, and b) can actually make a lasting difference in someone’s life.

Interested? So were the folks at Fox News, when they graciously invited me to do a post for their readers last year. I thought the column was worth a re-run, so here you go. And check back next week, when I’ll feature some of YOUR favorite things–and also let you know what I’m giving this year. 😊

The most incredible Christmas mistake I ever made

Robbie and I had been holding the line for six weeks. No way were we going to get our four-year-old daughter a doll that cost more than $100 for Christmas. Annesley would have to be happy with the $14.99 version we’d picked up at Target. That’s all there was to it.

Christmas case closed.

But Annesley persisted. “The only thing I want is a My Size Barbie,” she pleaded. If we heard that request once, we heard it a hundred times, and I could feel my resolve slipping away faster than the shopping days. Robbie’s too. By Christmas Eve, we couldn’t take any more and (in what I still consider one of our greatest financial parenting fails), we caved. It took three stores (the first two were out of the in-demand doll), but we finally came home with the prize. And we couldn’t wait to see our little girl’s look of joy, in the morning…

(To keep reading, click here.)

🎄

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Scrabble, Black Friday, and Buddy the Elf

I come from a long line of Scrabble players.

My mother, an English professor who has her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology (which is really a thing), is a family champion, as was her father (also a Ph.D. prof) before her. Even my own dad—who was more into numbers than words—got pressed into action at the family game table. And when brain cancer meant that he could no longer sit up comfortably, he still played—albeit while lying flat on the floor and using words that didn’t always have vowels.

(We decided they must be Russian vocab, and that Dad could therefore keep all his points.)

And so I read with great interest the recent Wall Street Journal article claiming that men are better than women at Scrabble. My first thought was that they had not met my mom. But then I dug deeper. “Championship Scrabble,” the columnist noted, “rewards typical male obsessions:  strategy, math, a passion for competition, and a drive to memorize facts.”

Ahh.

I don’t know about the male drive to memorize (Robbie is working on Philippians 4:4-6 right now for my mom’s Christmas gift, and I don’t think it’s going so well), but my man is definitely all about strategy, math, and competitive play. And nowhere, perhaps, are these traits more evident than during the holiday season, when his Buddy the Elf side comes out and he hangs Christmas lights like he owns the power company.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the Scrabble research.

When I got to the last line in the column, which stipulated that men and women are, in fact, different, I was like: “Um, hello? Any wife with a husband knows that.”

Consider our house, on Black Friday.

Robbie and I were all set to take advantage of the holiday deals. First, though, I had to put away all the platters and silver from our Thanksgiving meal. Which is when I noticed the pile of 14 damask napkins that had to go in the wash. (They’d need ironing, too, but I’d get to that later.) I hit “start” on the washing machine and pulled the brunch fixings out of the fridge so I’d be ready when the children showed up. And remembered I’d promised to make shortbread for a neighbor’s party, later that night. So I preheated the oven–and realized that the amaryllis bulbs (the ones I had timed to start blooming near Christmas) had been neglected during all the Thanksgiving prep. I gave them some water, pulled out the butter and the cookie cutters, and started in on the shortbread.

I got the dough in the oven, moved the napkins to the dryer, and opened my laptop. Oh my. There were dozens of Black Friday emails–plus a few from actual people I knew. I handled the real people first, and then started scrolling the sales. I saw where Target had everything discounted by 15%. Ballard Designs offered 30. And J. Crew was telling me that their entire site was half off. Even Home Depot had Cyber Savings Galore – did I need anything there?

Probably. Let me think…

Meanwhile, Robbie (who’d been reading the paper) stood up. “Lowes has $12.99 light sets marked down to $3.99,” he said. “I’m headed out. Need anything?”

I didn’t. At least nothing I could think of, in between the napkins, the shortbread, and the wondering if anyone on my list needed a new J. Crew scarf, or maybe a ceiling fan from Home Depot.

Twenty-eight minutes later (and I am not making that up), Robbie was back, having purchased 28 boxes of lights. Me? Let’s just say I did buy a gadget my son-in-law wanted, but I am pretty sure that I paid the full price.

So what’s my point?

My point is that we don’t need a Scrabble championship to tell us we’re wired differently. I’m not trying to be all gender-y and political; I’m just saying I’m grateful. I mean, had I gotten in the car on Black Friday and gone out to Lowe’s, I might still be in the plumbing parts aisle. But not Robbie. My man has the eye of the tiger.

So again, what’s my point?

I guess what I want to say–and how I want to encourage us–is that this holiday season (and I am speaking mostly to the ladies here but guys, this applies to you, too), when our spouse (or our child) makes us a little bit cray-cray or we don’t understand what they’re doing (like when my friend’s husband spent Thanksgiving Day napping, all  dressed for dinner and sleeping fully upright on the sofa so as not to wrinkle his khakis, and then happily told her, later that night, that this was “the least stressful Thanksgiving ever!”), let’s not get our undies all up in a wad. Instead, let’s find a difference that makes us grateful, and celebrate that.

I’ll go first, since the Scrabble thing is fresh in my mind.

I really am thankful that Buddy’s strategic. He tried out a new light method this year, and actually sent in-process pics to the family for feedback:

I also love how much my guy gets jacked up about math. Sure, Robbie’s been known to balk at a $5 cover charge, but it’s only cuz he’s saving up for the light show. He calculates lights-per-bush numbers and divides them by strands, factoring in the difference when you use the 100-count vs the 50. (SAT prep, eat your heart out.)

And competitive? Let’s just say that while I don’t think Robbie is trying to outshine our neighbors (we couldn’t), I did see his chin quiver just the tiniest bit when we turned on the TV Wednesday night. That’s when they lit up the Rock Center tree…

It was spectacular. And on Thursday, Buddy might have even gone back to Lowe’s…

❤️🎄

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the glorious variety that marks your creation! May we celebrate and rejoice in those differences!

Help us be devoted to one another, honoring one another above ourselves. And may we always give thanks for each other, growing in faith and increasing in love for our family and friends. (Romans 12:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Amen

 

 

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I am thankful for my refrigerator.

So this year, when the time came to go around the Thanksgiving table and say something you’re grateful for (because #tradition), I had my answer ready.

I am thankful for my refrigerator.

At least, now I am. Like about 99% of the blessings in my life, I didn’t used to think much about the refrigerator. It certainly wasn’t something I thanked God for providing. I just…used it. And in return, it just stood there, keeping things cold.

Until one day it didn’t.

Robbie and I considered calling a repairman until a quick Google search revealed that the average fridge lasts 13 years. Not to seem unsentimental, but ours had been a good and faithful servant for 18, and we figured it was time to say, “Well done” and move on.

Which, as it turned out, was easier said than done. I’ll spare you the details (the staggering cost, the unlimited options, the fact that the new models don’t fit the old holes…), but the punchline is that we spent six weeks looking at this:

Six. Weeks.

Privileged Person’s Problem, I know. But as a result of our personal tragedy, two collateral blessings took place.

First, I lost a few pounds. We have a small refrigerator out in the garage where we’d transferred the essentials, but that’s not very close to the kitchen, and so whenever I got hungry and thought about going out for a yogurt or something, I would weigh the time and effort involved and think, “Meh. Not that hungry.” And after awhile, the yogurt expired, and I didn’t even think about going out there anymore.

The second blessing happened when the new fridge finally arrived.  I found myself taken aback. Not by the internal water dispenser (although that was a major upgrade), but simply by how grateful I was. Seriously. I would literally look at the thing, tear up, and say, “Thank you, God.”

(And if you don’t believe me, ask Robbie. He’ll vouch–and tell you he thought I was slightly deranged.)

And it hit me. How come I wasn’t as grateful before? Why did it take not having a refrigerator to make me so glad when I did? Why don’t I count the ordinary, unremarkable blessings in life?

Why can’t I be more like Alexander Maclaren?

Maclaren was one of Great Britain’s most influential preachers, 100+ years ago. “Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full,” he said (as if he’d actually foreseen my fridge deprivation), but rather, “Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.”

The crowded kindnesses of God.

(Maybe just take a moment to let that one penetrate your postprandial somnolence.)

(Which is what the doc at your Thanksgiving table might call your food coma.)

I decided, based on how happy I was about an appliance, that I should give thanks for more stuff. That I should actually do what the Bible says (“in everything give thanks”), instead of just being grateful when something really good happens (or when something really bad doesn’t). And so I started being more intentional about counting my blessings.

I thanked God, when Robbie and I climbed into bed, for giving me such an incredible husband. And then I realized how comfy our sheets are, and I thanked him for that. And for my pillow.

Anyhow. I hope it lasts. I’ve gone thru “gratitude seasons” before (like when we were newlyweds, and I decided that seeing Robbie’s undershirt on the floor should be a thanksgiving prompt–have a husband! I have a washing machine!–rather than a bitterness root), but somehow my self-centeredness always elbows it’s way in, and I find something to grumble about, or at least something I wish that I had.

(Thicker hair, for example.)

But I don’t want to be an “I wish I had” person. I want to be a “God is so good!” person. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get there, but honestly? The fridge is helping. It’s there, every morning, a silent reminder of God’s goodness in the everyday ordinary. Of his crowded kindnesses in our lives.

And when I get out the half-n-half (which I actually stopped using, back when it meant a trip to the garage), I can’t help but say, “Thank you.”

Heavenly Father,

Please help us. Help us to live lives–everyday lives–that are rooted and built up in Christ, strengthened in faith, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)*

Amen

* P.S. I just looked up that prayer prompt in The Message. Might have to print this one out and tape it (cuz I guess magnets don’t work anymore?) to the front of the fridge:

My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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Sauerkraut, soufflé, and the smells of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is next week.

Shocker, I know. (I mean, we haven’t even finished our candy corn yet.)

But speaking of side dishes…

Robbie and I have been married for 33 years. It’s only been in the past decade, though, that he has fully enjoyed Thanksgiving with me. The first 20 years? They were sort of trial-and-error (more error) on the Turkey-Day front. But then, about 10 years ago, I produced my first perfect sauerkraut.

I know, I know. Who eats sauerkraut at Thanksgiving? Nobody normal, if you ask me. But we learned, back when Robbie and I did our pre-marriage counseling, that we’d have to “adjust our expectations” if we wanted our marriage to thrive. And so, even though I expected a house to smell like turkey on Thanksgiving Day (hello?), I adjusted. I started fixing things the way that Robbie’s mom did. Or trying to, anyway.

Which meant…sauerkraut.

And, like I said, it took 20 years. And more than a few apologies to my side of the family, who would come over on Thanksgiving, walk into our house, and do this:

And honestly? My mother-in-law is an amazing woman (and a fabulous cook), but nobody has ever asked me for her sauerkraut recipe.

Folks have, however, asked how I make carrot soufflé. And if you’re looking for an alternative to sweet potatoes, consider putting this one on the menu. In addition to being something the children will eat (it’s basically sugar, with a few carrots thrown in), the dish comes with two other big holiday plusses: 1. You can make it the day before, and 2. It doesn’t have any overpowering smell.

Here you go:

Want that recipe in a printable form? Click here.

And if you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “Wait. What? Jodie’s not a food blogger…” you’re right. I only divulge about one recipe per year (and, some would say, even that is too much).

I do, however, love to share BIBLE VERSES. And if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to add the “bread of life” to your Thanksgiving table, I hear you. I want that, too. And so every year, I light a few candles, break out the real napkins, and add a serving of Scripture to every place:

If you like this idea and you want to download some ready-made Thanksgiving verses, click here. I must warn you, though. I always include a verse or two that’s designed to extend grace to the cook, and if you’re soufflé falls flat or you accidentally roast the turkey upside down (been there, done that), just point your guests toward Ephesians 5:4.

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is filled with laughter and joy, and a big helping of gratitude. As I count my blessings in 2018, Philippians 1:3 comes to mind. I really do pray for you–my real life and my digital friends–and as the Apostle Paul said: I thank my God every time I remember you.

Truly. ❤️

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Mom, will you pray for me?

True confession. I am not much of a women’s retreat gal. All that hugging, all that talking, all those smiles.

Makes my face hurt, just thinking about it.

But when the folks at Moms in Prayer invited me to join them at the Unshaken retreat last weekend, I jumped at the chance. Heck, if they’d invited me to donate a kidney, I’d have jumped on that too. I’d do just about anything, in fact, for the women behind the ministry that has done more to shape my prayer life (and, by extension, my kids’ lives) than anything or anyone except Jesus.

And you know what? I loved it. I loved every single minute of our time in Asheville, North Carolina. The worship was amazing, the teaching incredibly rich, and even the endless smiling didn’t bug me as much as I’d feared. And since I know most of you were not there (although some of you were; it was great to meet you!), I am going to take a little detour from the usual blog post routine and recap a few highlights. These nuggets were golden for me; maybe they’ll encourage you, too.

Our first speaker was Jennifer Kennedy Dean. You may recognize her as the author of Live a Praying Life (hands-down, my favorite prayer study), but if not, here’s she is (pictured with Moms in Prayer founder Fern Nichols and me):

Noting that prayer is “proof of how much God loves us” (because he chose to work with us and through us, instead of around us), Jennifer talked about how God always answers the cry of our hearts. She pointed to Psalm 37:4 (“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”) and explained that the word delight comes from a Hebrew word that means “soft” and “moldable.” When God has our heart–when he molds it and shapes it–he gives us desires that we might not even be fully aware of…and then he says “yes.” Does that sometimes run counter to what our lips might be praying? Sure. But, as Jennifer said, “God isn’t interested in pacifying us. He is interested in satisfying us.”

Good stuff. I’m still processing how to get my head and my lips to line up with my heart, but I like it.

The next day, we heard Renee Swope:

I wasn’t familiar with Renee’s work (she has a book called  A Confident Heart), but I’m now a big fan. I loved her message on trusting God in the face of life’s triggers (things like doubt, fear, comparison, criticism, and our need for control), and I found myself utterly captivated as she talked about her teenaged son telling her he was an atheist. “I wanted to panic,” Renee said, “but I knew that would only make things worse.”

She asked God what she should do.

Don’t say anything,” she sensed the Lord say. “Just be who you say I am.”

Be who you say I am.

How awesome is that? I mean, we talk about wanting to model Christ’s love, and to treat people (especially our kids) the way that God does, but how often do we stop and think about what that looks like in real life? How, practically speaking, do we live out that love? How often do we default to criticism, nagging, worry, or fear when a better approach would be to be patient? Or gentle? Or kind?

Or even to just be with our child?

Renee’s son eventually gave his life to the Lord. I can’t share the whole story here (I’d mess it up if I tried), but I’m crazy about the punch line:

“I just got tired,” the young man said, “of living without hope.”

Wowza.

And finally, on Sunday morning, Fern Nichols got up. (You know how our daughters feel about getting to see Taylor Swift? Yeah. That’s basically how these praying moms–and grandmoms–felt about Fern.)

Fern started Moms in Prayer in 1989, back when her kids were in middle school, and for the past 40 years, she has encouraged mothers all over the world with the call of Lamentations 2:19: “Arise, cry out… Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children.”

You’d think, what with this being a Moms in Prayer thing, that the 400+ attendees wouldn’t need a refresher on the Four Steps of Prayer (the strategy that shapes every MIP meeting), but no. We did. And at the risk of dumbing things down (and please click on that link to get a bigger picture), here are the Cliff Notes:

Step One is praise. Praising God takes our eyes off our circumstances and focuses it on the One who is able. Whatever the need, he is equipped to meet it.

Step Two is silent confession because, as Fern put it, “a pure heart is behind every effective prayer.” If we’re sitting there hating our husband (or cherishing any other ick stuff), we can’t expect our prayers to get through.

Step Three is thanksgiving. Every sin, Fern said, stems from pride. When we take time to thank God–to acknowledge his grace and provision–it’s a reminder that all that we have, and all that we are, comes from him.

And Step Four is intercession, naming our children’s needs–as well as the needs of their teachers and schools–and asking God to meet them. This is where praying the scriptures really comes in, as we rely on God’s promises to shape our perspective and give life to our prayers.

If you’re already part of a Moms in Prayer group, you know all of this. But if you’re not, and you’d like to know more, click here.

But here’s the thing. Don’t try to go it alone. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two; he knew that they’d need one another. And so do we. Grab at least one other mom and invite her to pray.

So there you have it. I’ve left out 98% of my notes, but I hope you’ve connected with something I’ve shared–and that the next time your child says, “Mom, will you pray for me?”, you’ll feel a bit more equipped to jump in.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Yeah, right. My kid asking for prayer? That’ll be the day.”

I hear you. But…can I just say three things?

First, I get it. I’ve been there.

Second, we worship a God of surprises. Don’t count him out.

And third, let’s go back to Jennifer’s teaching. Because maybe your child’s lips aren’t asking for prayer, but that is the cry of their heart.

And when that happens, we can slip our hand into God’s and say “Yes.”

(That’s my cute friend Lynn. She is the kind of prayer partner you want. Not only does she pray with boldness and faith, but she’s a complete fashionista and half the time, when she sees you, she gives you a new scarf. 😊)

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