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How to Keep Christ in Christmas (even if Jesus goes missing)

I was addressing Christmas cards – I’d gotten all the way to the “H’s” – when I heard a jingle-jangle in the next room. It wasn’t quite sleigh bells; it sounded more like…ornaments.

Before I could get up to investigate, Minnie poked her head around the corner. #Busted.

Minnie busted

Minnie's mouth

Minnie and Ornament

I didn’t blame her, though. The fact that the puppy had such easy access to the Christmas decorations was mostly my fault. In my haste to get the house prepped for the season (I had cards to mail! Presents to buy! Cookies to bake!), I’d played “beat the buzzer” one afternoon. I’d grabbed the boxes out of the attic, set a timer, and decked the halls quick as a wink.

(It wasn’t quite like my friend Jeannie, who got shatterproof ornaments this year so that her husband and sons could just throw them at the treecheck out the video on Instagram @JeannieCunnion – but it was close. Safe to say that none of our stockings were hung by the chimney with what Santa would think of as “care.”)

And honestly? My B+ attempt at decorating (okay, C+) didn’t bother me much, not even after Minnie rearranged things a bit. What got me was when I walked past our Nativity set and noticed that something didn’t look right…

Nativity with emoji

Jesus was missing.

Jesus was missing.

Now, I know some people don’t put their baby Jesus into their manger scene until Christmas morning, but not us. We let him lie there, under Mary’s watchful gaze, all season long. I like looking at him, too.

I couldn’t point the finger at Minnie this time. Not because Jesus didn’t look chewable, but because our set is up high, out of her reach. Where could Jesus have gone? I mean, I always take such good care of him, nestling him in the box right next to Mary when I put them back in the attic each year.

The box…

I scrambled back up to the attic and shoved my hand into the carton. Sure enough, amid wads of old newspaper and tissue, I felt something small and hard. It was Jesus, wrapped up in his manger.

I wouldn’t have thought it was literally possible to take Christ out of Christmas, but I’d pretty much done it. Racing around like a deranged elf on a holiday bender, I’d spent myself on all the wrong things. I’d been prepping my home, not my heart. And I was #busted.

Let every heart prepare him room

I needed to change. But I didn’t know how. So here’s what I did.

I asked God for help.

“I want to see Advent like the angels,” I said. “I don’t want it to be all about cookies and gifts (although I do like those things). I want my heart to be ready for Jesus. Please help.”

I waited awhile, and an impression – one that felt like the Holy Spirit’s imprint – began to form in my mind.

Give your agenda to me. That was the first thing. Instead of just making my to-do list and then knocking things out, I sensed God prompting me to pray over each day, inviting his presence into the things that I thought had to “get done” (and being willing to release them when he showed me that they didn’t).

Thank me each night. That sounded like a good idea too. Instead of collapsing into bed after a long day of wrapping and tagging, I resolved to replay the hours in my mind, reviewing conversations I’d had, emails I’d sent, the errands I’d run. I realized that if I paused long enough, I would see God’s hand in the mix. I could thank him for the guidance he’d given along the way – as well as for his forgiveness, when I failed to heed it.

Pray for your Christmas card friends.  Ahhh. God was reminding me of a long-held tradition in our family, one where we’d open cards together each night and pray for the families who’d sent them. That pattern started when our kids were young and we moved every few years and we wanted them to remember the friends we’d made along the way. Praying through the cards seemed like the best kind of connection. As empty nesters, Robbie and I had gotten away from this practice; God was nudging me to renew it.

Those three thoughts didn’t sound all that life-changing, but I’m trying them out. And they’re helping.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

What about you? Are there Christmas traditions or habits that help keep you focused on the Reason for the Season (which, by the way, is my favorite ornament, and one that I put waaaay out of Minne’s reach)?

I’d love to hear your ideas, and I bet others would too. If you’ve got a minute and can pop over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment on this post, I’d be grateful.

And in the meantime, here’s a prayer that could well have inspired that “prepare him room” line in the Joy to the World song. This one was originally written by the Apostle Paul, and I think it’s a great verse to carry us through the next two weeks – and  beyond!

Heavenly Father,

I pray that out of your glorious, unlimited resources you will empower us with inner strength through your Spirit, so that Christ will make his home in our hearts as we trust in him. (Ephesians 3:16-17, NLT)

Amen.

 

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Black Friday Favorite (Plus a Promo Code!)

It’s Black Friday. Which means that nobody has time for blog reading. So I’ll keep this one short.

Because if you’re like me…

You’ve built your day (okay, your season) around football. Specifically, you’ve built it around today’s matchup between the Beloved Cavaliers of U.Va. and the Reviled Hokies of Virginia Tech. Never mind that Virginia hasn’t won this particular contest in 15 years; Vegas oddsmakers are calling this one a toss-up.

(Which, as every diehard U.Va. fan will tell you, means that there’s a 90% chance we will lose.)

(But hey. Faith the size of a mustard seed, and all that.)

And if you’re like the rest of the tryptophan-coma’d Americans…

You’ve built your day around shopping. And I’ll let you get to it. With just one little recommendation, before you go.

Get yourself a Growth Book.

Growth Book Insta pic

I didn’t even know such a thing existed a few months ago, but now that I have one, I’m hooked. Part prayer journal, part accountability partner, part “dream big” encourager, the Growth Book can literally be a life-changing tool.

Unlike most journals, this one comes with prompts. There are sections for setting goals, keeping track of your prayers (and God’s faithfulness!), and recording which parts of the Bible you’ve read.

Bible Reading Record

And, since the pages are designed with dots (they’re not blank; they’re not lined), there’s room for both the creative types and the more anal among us to flourish. For instance, here’s how my daughter Hillary might opt to memorize Scripture…

Growth Book illustration

…and here’s how I’d do it:

Memory Verses in Growth Book

Best of all, you get to decide how you want to use your Growth Book. Thanks to a clever system of stickers and labels, you create your own Table of Contents…

Growth Book Contents

…meaning that if you take notes on a sermon or podcast one day and then start noodling about career dreams the next, you don’t waste any pages. You just put a handy little marker in your book so you never have to say, “Shoot! I know I had a good idea last month. Where did I put that?”

There’s so much more to say (like, I love the big post-it notes that you use every month to see what’s working well and what isn’t), but I know. Amazon’s calling. So get back to your Black Friday shopping. First, though, can I just give you a little Black Friday present?

I met Bree (the brainchild behind the Growth Book) when she gave me my book. And even though I’ve only known her for a few months, I feel like we’re friends. Good enough friends that I could say, “Can I please have a promo code?”

And she said yes!

So if you want your own book, click here to visit the Growth Roots Co. website. And if you want to know more before you jump in, click here to see what’s inside. And if you want to get 15% off (um, that would be a yes please), put JOY15 in the promo code box before you check out.

And for those who don’t want to buy anything but still want to grow, here’s a Black Friday Prayer that can help:

Heavenly Father,

May our roots grow down into You, and may our lives be built on You. Cause our faith to grow strong in the truth we were taught and let us overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)

Amen

❤️

P.S. One more thing. Maybe two.

First, to all of you “I need to do this the right way” people (anyone? anyone?), here’s a little heads up:  Don’t obsess. You’ll get your book and you’ll be intimidated. I was. I kind of still am. The pages look so good blank and you won’t want to mess ’em up until you know what you’re doing. But don’t wait. Jump on in. You’ll figure it out as you go. Plus, Bree offers all sorts of tutorials on Instagram (@growthrootsco), and there’s actually a new “how to” page that comes with every book purchase. #Helpful

And second, consider giving a Growth Book to your friends. It meets all of the “must have” Christmas criteria:  Something you want (to grow closer to Jesus), something you need (to grow closer to Jesus), something to wear (the book can double as a hat in the rain – trust me), and something to read (because you’ll return to what you’ve written, over and over again).

Growth Books for Friends

 

 

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Parking Place Prayers: Yes or No?

One of my favorite things about being an author is getting to travel around the country and talk about how we can pray for the people we love. And one of the people I love just happened to be able to join me earlier this month at an event in Greenwich, Connecticut…

Our daughter Virginia thought she was just there to listen, but when we got to the Q&A part of the evening, someone in the crowd had a question for her. “How did you feel,” the woman wondered, “about growing up with a mother who prayed?”

Never one to shy away from an honest question, Virginia got up and grabbed hold of the mic.

“I didn’t like it,” she said.

I held my breath. This could go any number of ways.

“For starters,” Virginia said, “Mom was always praying that if we did anything wrong, we’d get caught. And we were always getting caught.

“And,” she continued, “She made us pray all the time. Like, if we were going to the mall, we’d pray about what we had to buy. And we’d ask God for a parking space. Or to give us energy, if we felt tired. It all just felt like…a lot.”

I could feel the crowd tensing up. I knew what they were thinking. They’d been tracking with me during my talk (when I’d covered things like asking God to provide self-control in our children, protection for our teens, and help for our older kids as they battled addictions, marriage break-ups, and other grown-up issues), but this was new ground. Shopping trips? Parking places? Energy levels? Were those really the sort of details we should be bugging God with? Doesn’t he have more important things on his mind?

Happily, Virginia wasn’t quite finished.

“It seemed strange, at the time,” she said. “Looking back, though, I think it was really good for us to hear, and be part of, prayers about everyday things. It made talking to God so much more real and relational, rather than something that we thought of as scary, complicated, or just plain hard to do.”

I exhaled, wiped an invisible bead of sweat from my brow, and thanked Virginia for her candor.

Is it okay to pray about life’s little stuff?

Later that week, though, I started to wonder. Is it okay to talk to God about life’s little stuff? Like, I would never want my familiarity with him to take away from his holiness, from the fact that he is actually God. And if I did not get a primo parking spot, I hoped he knew that I’d be okay. It wouldn’t derail my faith; rather, I would probably reason that God knew I needed the walk–and maybe even that I needed to thank him for the fact that I could walk.

Still though, the question lingered. I had a professor in college who admonished me for “talking a lot, but never saying anything.” I didn’t want God to see me in the same light, as though my prayers made him think of a small yappy dog.

And then, as if on cue, the doorbell rang. It was the Amazon guy, bringing me a new book:

How to Pray Pete Greig

(Sidebar:  If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have a bit of a #hoardingsituation going on when it comes to books about prayer…

Books about Prayer

…that pic is only about half of my stash.)

Anyhow, I opened How to Pray and (not making this up) I read this:

“One of the greatest theological questions of our time in the realm of petitionary prayer appears to be whether we should ask God for parking spaces.”

Seriously? Was Pete Greig – co-founder of the 24-7 Prayer Movement – really going to write about parking spaces? He was!

“It seems to me,” Greig went on, “that the answer is clear:  Yes, we should indeed ask God to give us parking spots. Why? Because when we pray for places to park, we become the kind of people who worship God for a patch of concrete outside a supermarket on a rainy Saturday in January.”

Ahhhh. I loved that. I felt like Greig, a self-described “Scruffy Brit,” understood my motivation. In asking God for a parking place, it wasn’t that I felt entitled to one, or that I could “claim it” in prayer or whatever. Rather, my request was born more out of relationship, out of an understanding that every good gift–the big stuff and the small–is, as James said, “from above.”

I read on.

Living with “Greater Gratitude”

“When you pray about the small things in life,” Greig said, “you get to live with greater gratitude. If you only ever pray about big, ugly, gnarly problems that seem onerous and serious enough to warrant divine intervention, you will only very occasionally experience miracles. But when your learn to pray about trivia…you start to notice how many minor miracles are scattered around in the course of an average day.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I mean, literally:  I couldn’t. Every single chapter in Greig’s book features wiser, kinder, and more well-informed insights on prayer than anything I’ve ever written. I don’t even have to pray about putting this one in the stockings, this year. It’s such a better Christmas morning surprise than the posture brace. (Which, if you’re new to this blog, explains why Yours Truly really does need to pray about shopping. God had no part in choosing that particular gift.)

And honestly? You’re gonna want a copy of How to Pray for yourself. Because it’s that time of year, and when you come out of the store loaded down with a cart full turkey, potatoes, and Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce in a Can, you’re either gonna want that sweet parking spot, or you’ll want the reminder to be grateful that you have a car in the first place.

Even if it is parked a half-mile away. 🙂

Heavenly Father,

Teach us how to pray, and to live with greater gratitude. May we rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Amen

 

P.S. I only recommend books that I really do love, and if you purchase via the link in this blog, I get a tiny credit from Amazon. Which I will most likely use to purchase more books about prayer.

Either that, or something for my kids that is better than this:

photo 2

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What Wisdom Does (besides make you look good)

Back before I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I surveyed more than 100 parents about what they wanted God to do for their kids.

(And yes. That was a long time ago, before things like Facebook or SignUpGenius or whatever it is that hip people use to do surveys today. Back then, half the people I knew didn’t even have email. So when I say I surveyed people, think “carpool-line stalker.” That was me.)

Anyhow, when the answers came in, you can imagine the stuff people wanted. Things like safety and protection. Good friendships. Salvation, and the ability to use their gifts and talents for God. And all manner of character traits, from kindness and compassion…to diligence and self-control…to wisdom and discernment.

Which, as I think about it, might be one of the best prayers of all. Because asking God to give your children (or your spouse, or whoever) wisdom is asking Him to equip them to receive every other blessing He wants to provide.

Wisdom quote

When we ask God to give our children wisdom and discernment, we aren’t just asking Him to help them make good choices. We are asking God to open their minds to the way that he works, allowing them to respond to life with his perspective. And we’re setting them up for a lifetime of intimacy with Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The spillover effect from this type of relationship can be invaluable. Consider just a few of the things that wisdom can do:

It helps us manage time well. (Psalm 90:12)

It makes us better listeners. (Proverbs 1:5)

It provides direction and purpose. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It opens the door to things like happiness, riches, and a long life. (Proverbs 3:13-17)

It offers protection from the seductions that might lead us astray. (Proverbs 7:4-5)

It leads to strong, joy-filled family relationships. (Proverbs 10:1)

It even makes us look better! (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

(I mean, seriously. Who wouldn’t want some of that?)

So let’s ask God to fill our children (and all of our loved ones) with wisdom today. You can find plenty of prayer prompts in the book; for right now, though, here’s one of my fav’s:

Heavenly Father,

Fill _____ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that they might live a life worthy of you and please you in every way. (Colossians 1:9-10)

❤️

P.S. For more reflections on the value of wisdom, plus 10 biblically based wisdom-prayers you can personalize for your family, co-workers, or friends, check out Chapter 5 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

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Pray for Your Children (and let ’em know it!)

(Note: This is Part 2 of a post about how we can pray for our children. It ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a site where you can find encouragement for marriage, parenting, and all sorts of other good-for-life stuff, from menu prep tips to Bible study how-to’s.)

I’ll never forget the story that our daughter came home with after her first week at a new school.

“Mom,” six-year-old Hillary said, “I think my new teacher is a Christian.”

We’d just moved to town and didn’t know anyone. I was intrigued. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“I can tell because she prays,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ Some days, though, she just says ‘Oh God’ and puts her head down on her desk.”

I laughed—at first. But then I realized that the teacher’s prayer—Oh God, help—is one I’ve prayed over and over again, particularly in my parenting journey. And it’s a prayer that King David used a lot, too; Psalm 70 is pretty much one long cry for God to show up!

God, Help

God, help is a good (and perfectly legitimate) prayer. But there’s another strategy I like to use when I pray, especially when I pray for my children. I like to take the actual words we read in the Bible—words first breathed by God—and use them to give shape to my prayers. Not just to help define my requests, but also to influence my desires for their lives.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at when He said, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s John 15:7. It’s a powerful promise—and one that becomes easier to understand when we allow the Bible to illuminate our understanding and transform our perspective. When that happens, the cry of our heart becomes the very thing that God is longing to do!

And honestly? There is not a need we will face in parenting—or in any of life—that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in His word.

Say your child struggles with questions about their identity or their sense of self-worth. Psalm 139:14 can become a powerful prayer:

Help ________ realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are Your marvelous workmanship.

Or what about loneliness? Proverbs 27:17 speaks to that concern:

Surround ______ with wise and faithful friends, people who will sharpen them as iron sharpens iron.

And Scripture offers a treasure trove of promises about things like wisdom and guidance. Consider praying Psalm 25:4 for your loved ones:

Show _______ your ways; teach them your paths; guide them in your truth.

These are the sorts of easy prayer prompts you’ll find on this monthly prayer calendar (and if you prefer a version for teens or adult children, click here.)

Prayer Calendar for Children

When You Pray for Your Children, Tell Them!

And just as a side note… Let your kids know that you’re praying. Could there be anything more encouraging to a child than to know that their earthly parent is talking to their Heavenly Parent—the One with unlimited power and love—about the details of their lives?

I love what one reader has done, over the years. She jots her kids’ names in her copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then dates them. “I show my kids some of the prayers with their name inserted in them to let them know I am praying,” she told me. “When I go back, I can see how I have prayed through different phases. I can see answered prayers – and so can they.”

Prayer Book for Children

When our children were younger, I’d sometimes write a prayer verse on a little card and tuck it into their lunchbox, or leave it on their pillow. And once a year, I’d trace their hands onto colored paper and write prayer verses on them. I’d post the hands on the fridge as a tangible reminder (to them, and to me) that God was at work in our lives.

Prayer Hands for Children

Now that my kids are older (and their hands are too big to fit on the fridge!), I make bookmarks. And when I find a new verse that speaks to a need they may have, I might send a text to let them know what I’m praying.

Do my kids roll their eyes at this stuff? They used to, sometimes—particularly when they were teenagers and they didn’t think they needed all that much prayer. But now that we’re on the other side of those years (and I say this to encourage anyone who’s slogging through a less-than-fun family phase) my kids actually ask me to pray.

Seriously.

They believe in the power of prayer. Like me, they have discovered that God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11 is true. That’s where He says that His word will not come back empty, but will accomplish the desires and the purposes for which it is sent.

God has wonderful plans for our children’s lives, and His word really does accomplish what He desires. Let’s allow it to breathe new life (and life-shaping power!) into our prayers.

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