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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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Launch Week Fun!

Ok Y’all. It’s Launch Week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenWhich means all kinds of fun. Like, look how happy my kids are.

First of all, thank you! Thank you for letting me test drive so many thoughts and prayers in this space. It’s been a delight to partner with you as we bring our loved ones–our kids, our spouses, our friends–before the Lord every week, and then wait and watch as his faithfulness unfolds in our lives.

And thank you for jamming up Amazon. I mean it. The book earned Amazon’s #1 Bestseller flag on Launch Day–thanks to you!–and the Mother of All Retailers ran out of stock. They say they have more, but I’m picturing (and praying for) their 120,000 new seasonal employees as they drive forklifts around big warehouses, looking for boxes marked “Berndt.”

In the meantime, I have my own stash of books and I’m itching to share! Post a comment on this blog–it can be a prayer request, a favorite Scripture promise, or just a Merry Christmas wish–and I’ll pick three winners at random, who will each get a copy of the new book. Whoop.

And there’s more.

My good friend Susan Alexander Yates (you’ve met her in this space) graciously offered to let me guest blog for her this week. I talked about praying for your child’s marriage and created a Marriage Blessing from the collection of Scripture prayers you’ll find in the new book. If you want your own copy of this prayer, you can download it here.

(And P.S., the prayer card is two-sided, with the prayer on the front and the Scripture references on the back. If you want to frame it as a Christmas present for your spouse, your married children, or a even a new bride, Amazon offers a great selection of clear stand-alone frames; one of my favorite styles is here.)

(But don’t ALL of you order today. I don’t want to make those forklift people any more crazy than they already are.)

And finally… Maybe you saw this pic on Fox News.

Annesley says I blog about her too much (and lately, she’s right), but when I got the chance to write a post for the media moguls so that they could give folks some Good News this Christmas, I couldn’t help myself. Y’all know I’ve made some pretty jolly mistakes (the sweater, the posture brace), but money-wise, this one was the worst. If you missed it on the Fox News site, here’s the story.

And again, you all. Thank you. Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement, and your prayers. May the Lord continue to encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)

You are loved.

 

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The Tree Hunt

It’s only a week after Thanksgiving, and my social media feeds are blowing up with pictures of people and their Christmas trees. Some were cut (fresh) on a farm. Some were harvested (less fresh) in a parking lot. And some were purchased, pre-lit, with a coupon at Michaels. In every case, the kids look happy, the parents proud, and the trees very much Above Average.

For us, though, not so much. Our Christmas tree is mostly just…big.

And I blame Auburn football.

Because there comes a time, in every fan’s life, when you just need a win. And when your own beloved team manages to rack up a breathtaking total of zero (as in, ZERO) points in the big Thanksgiving Weekend rivalry game, you go to Plan B. You grab your orange-and-blue pom-poms, write “Go Tigers!” on your orange solo cups, and start yelling “War Eagle!”

Which is exactly what we did on Saturday night. It was great fun. Until the Tiger fans stormed the field and Robbie suddenly realized how late it was. We’d spent all our tree-shopping time watching football, cheering for a team we know nothing about. “Everybody in the car!” Robbie commanded. “We have got to go find The Tree!”

Like lemmings, we obeyed. Getting the Christmas tree is a time-honored Berndt Family Thanksgiving Tradition. And, darkness be danged, we were up for it! War Eagle!

What we were less up for was driving all over Virginia Beach, looking for a place that was open. We finally found a lot with the lights on, but it was clear that the tree handlers (who, as they will remind you, WORK ONLY FOR TIPS), were tired. And cold. And probably a little bit tipsy. (They offered us our choice of beer, wine, or whiskey while they looked for their chainsaw.)

Less than ideal shopping conditions, to be sure, but our family is nothing if not doggedly determined to enjoy the Christmas Tree Hunt, no matter how long it might take. We chose the second tree that we saw.

“How much?” I asked.

When the guy told us the price, Robbie left. I found out later that he’d gone to an ATM but, not realizing that that was his negotiating strategy, I started to bargain.

“That seems like a lot,” I said. “Haven’t you ever heard of Black Friday?”

“Yes,” the guy said. “But that was yesterday. Yesterday you could have gotten a really good deal.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Like 75% off. But we marked all the trees up to $400.”

(I am not much of a whiskey gal, but I was starting to think that I could be.)

I haggled the guy down by ten bucks, and when Robbie came back with the cash we asked one of the handlers (the one who seemed the most sober) to snap the obligatory family pic. Which will probably become our Christmas card, especially since Geoff (who shopped via Facetime) looks so good:

(Next year, I call being Geoff.)

Anyhow.

We got the tree home, put it in water, and went to bed.

At first light, Robbie went outside to take a look at our prize. I hadn’t even started the coffee when he returned.

“We must have been drunk.”

I went out to the driveway, still clad in my bathrobe. I could see Robbie’s point. We had not, actually, taken the tree guys up on their refreshments offer, but we might as well have. Because somehow, stone-cold sober and by the light of an iPhone, we had purchased a Beast.

But Robbie is nothing if not doggedly determined to redeem even the most loathsome tree, and he went to work. He got out the measuring tape, the clippers, and the twine. (He planned to tie the thing to the wall, lest it reach out and kill us.)

And by golly, Robbie got the Beast up. Before church, even. And I realized (not for the first time) how much I love my man.

Less enamored, though, was I with The Tree. It really did sort of spook me, looming as it did over the sofa. Like if you accidentally turned your back on it, you’d be sorry. But later that day, when the kids finished climbing the bookshelves…

…it looked better. Less threatening, somehow. And when somebody pulled out my favorite ornament and strapped it on The Tree’s belly, I knew it would all be okay.

Because if you have to have a honker piece of nature camping out in your family room for six weeks, you want it to say something good. Something uplifting. Something that’s bigger and more powerful than even the most ogre-like tree.

Merry Christmas, Y’all.

(And to all my U.Va. friends, please don’t judge me. I promise that, if you squint hard enough, the Tigers kind of look like our guys. #Wahoowa.)

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Black Friday Gift Deals!

Whelp, here we are again. Black Friday. What are we buying?

I like the jewelry at enewton designs (and they’re having some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions!)…

…but I am still on the hunt for a few stocking stuffers for the men in my life. So far, I have asked two different guys what a good “man gift” is. They both said golf balls.

Seriously? Golf balls?

I might bite if the balls came with Bible verses on them, but the ones that just say things like “Titleist” seem sort of…expected. But maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe guys don’t like surprises. I am pretty sure my son doesn’t, at least not when they are ones picked out by his mom.

Which brings me to today’s throwback post. If you’ve seen this one before, just skim ahead to the end, cuz I actually do have one gift idea I’m excited to share…and right now it’s almost 40% off!

 

When You Need a “Virtually Invisible” Gift

My pal Michelle says that shopping is her “spiritual gift.” Sometimes, when she doesn’t want to sound all holier-than-thou, she just says she was born with “the shopping gene.” Either way – anointed or genetic – she’s got it.

And I don’t.

And nothing shines the spotlight on my deficiency quite like Christmas. Every year, I try to get my kids one practical gift, something that they can all use, something that will enrich their lives. For years, I went with what I considered to be faith-building presents like The One-Year Chronological Bible (I think the best effort only made it through February) and the Navigator’s Topical Memory System (all I can say is that my kids don’t know quality when they see it), and then–because uprightness is not just a spiritual condition–the most inspired gift of all: The Posture Brace.

The ad promised that the brace was “virtually invisible” and could be “comfortably” worn under clothes.

The ad was wrong.

photo 2

Another Christmas fail.

(But can we all please just say thank you to my children, who still talk to me even though I post this pic every year?)

How much better off would I be – and how much more grateful my family – if I would just stick with my grandmother’s gift-giving strategy? She never gave us anything, at least nothing you could wrap.  Instead, she asked us to memorize a Bible verse for her each year and, in return, she promised to pray for us.

I will admit that, as a teenager, I was less-than-enthused by Gammy’s scheme. I don’t know how I ever memorized any verses, given that my eyes were rolled so far back into my head. Today, though, many of these nuggets are still locked in, and in terms of things like wisdom and peace and joy I can promise you this: Gammy’s Bible verses have been a far better support system than even the most “stylish” posture brace!

And, while I will never know the full impact of her prayers, I am confident that my grandmother’s gift to her grandchildren opened the door to all measure of divine protection, favor, insight, and blessing in our lives.  As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather give my children.

🎁

And y’all…I really am giving prayer to my kids this year. And to pretty much everyone else on my list. And you can, too, because right now “Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children” – which releases in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS – is available on Amazon for super cheap. Click here to pre-order!

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A Word of Advice: Listen for God

We had four kids in six years. Robbie’s job kept us on the move (it got so that people would ask if I were a Navy wife and, when I said no, they’d squint their eyes and take a step back, like maybe we were in Witness Protection). Without any family nearby, I reached out to anyone who looked nice. Including potential babysitters. I didn’t check references; if you had a pulse, you were hired.

I must have had the look of the blitzkrieged back then, because all sorts of strangers gave me advice. Some of it was not super helpful (like the lady who said it was “not safe” to put four children into one grocery cart, especially when they were covered by boxes of Captain Crunch, Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, and some cheap Chardonnay. “Can the baby breathe under there?” she wanted to know. But did she offer to babysit so I could go by myself to the store? I don’t think so).

Some tips, though, were really good. Like, a gal in one of my Bible Studies (I went to at least two, whenever we moved, because Childcare) told me that I would never remember all the funny/cute/awful/wise things my kids said, down the road.

“Just write what they say on a napkin, or a receipt or whatever,” the sage woman said, “and then throw it into a drawer. Later, you will be glad.”

Well, it’s later.

And I’m glad.

Because I accidentally found the contents of the drawer (which, during one of the moves, got transferred into a filing box) last week. Consider the following:

Annesley (and if you’ve read my books or been around this blog for awhile, this won’t surprise you) was always a girl with a plan. And her questions were usually deep:

Mom, when you die, can I have this ring? (She was a five-year old, eyeing my wedding diamond.) Like, if I just slip it off your finger real gently and quick…would you mind?

I wish I’d recorded my answer. I have no idea what I said. I hope it was something wise and comforting, something along the lines of, “Oh honey, it will be a long time before Mommy dies.”

(Or maybe something a bit more to the point. Like, “Get thee behind me, Child.”)

On the plus side, the file also revealed Annesley’s keen ear for the Lord. How, she wanted to know, could you tell if it was God speaking to you, or if it was just your own voice in your head?

A fair question. And one that many of us might be asking today. And my answer started out well.

“Well,” I said, “For one thing, God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.”

Annesley looked a bit blank, so I plowed ahead (and here’s where things got a bit dicey). “Like, the Bible says things like Thou shalt not kill, and Honor your father and your mother. So if you felt like God was telling you to kill your mother, you could be sure that that wasn’t his voice.”

(Okay, okay. I had four kids in six years, remember? I was not at the top of my intellectual game.)

“Kill your mother?” Annesley repeated, incredulous (which I took as a good sign, given the whole wedding ring thing). But then she folded her arms, and gave it some thought.

“Well,” she finally said, “it that was God, he’d have to have a PRETTY GOOD reason.”

🙄

Anyhow. I know my example might not be the most appropriate one, but the principle remains true: When God tells us something, it will never run counter to what he says the Bible. That’s one sure way we can check to see if it’s him.

Another telltale sign that it’s God is that he may convict or correct us, but he never condemns. You know that inner voice that says, “You’re pathetic… You stink… Shame on you…”? Yeah. That one. That one is not God. That’s our enemy, the accuser. Also known as the father of lies. Don’t listen.

Listen, instead, for encouraging words. Words that build you up and prepare you to live a purpose-filled life. God’s voice is like his written word, “useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training” so that we may “be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

And finally, God’s voice is never scattered or frantic, and it’s rarely loud. Instead, it might come as a whisper. And it might take awhile to discern. Which is one of the reasons why the Bible is so keen on us biding our time. “Though [the revelation] linger,” Habakkuk 2:3 reminds us, “wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

These three signs – consistency with Scripture, convicting rather than condemning, and focused rather than frantic – are hallmarks of God’s voice. There are others, of course (and you can discover more via studies like Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God, which I quote in the upcoming Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, because I think one of the keys to writing a half-decent book is tapping into the wisdom of people way smarter than you).

But at least I’ve got these three markers down. And the next time someone gives me advice – whether it’s a lady in the grocery store, a gal at my Bible study, or a voice in my head – I’m gonna be ready. I will stack the words up against the counsel of God.

(And the next time one of my kids comes up with a question, I am for sure going to have a better reply.)

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