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A little thought about friendship (plus a book giveaway!)

There’s an old Swedish proverb that says, “Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.”

I like that. And I think it might be part of what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Romans when he said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Romans 12:15

Sometimes, though, rejoicing with someone (particularly when he or she is celebrating a victory or a joy that we wish we could have) can be hard.

Likewise, mourning (particularly when we don’t know what we should do or say) can tempt us to want to hold back, keeping our distance from pain.

But sharing in others’ delights and their sorrows is a mark of what we might call life-giving friendships, the kind we all long to enjoy. I’ll be talking more about what these sorts of connections look like next week (in part 2 of last week’s post on the merits of aging), but for now, let’s ask God to equip us to come alongside one another in a way that really does increase our joy and divide the burden of grief…

Heavenly Father,

Help us be alert to ways we can honor our friends in their celebrations, and stand with them when they sorrow. May we rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Friendship – that sense of connectedness and belonging – is a blessing we want our kids to enjoy, no matter how old they are. It’s something I wrote about in all of the Praying the Scriptures books. I’m giving away one copy of each title this week, so if you have a friend or two you’d like to share the book with, tag them on my Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook page (@JodieBerndtWrites) and let me know which book they would like!

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Life-Giving Friendships (and three ways to spot ’em)

Robbie and I will be driving home at night and we’ll pass a house that’s all lit up, with cars spilling down the driveway and out into the street.

“Look…” I will say. “Go slow.  They’re having a party…”

“Looks that way,” Robbie will say.

“But…they didn’t invite us,” I will say.

“Jodie,” Robbie will say, looking sideways at me. “We don’t know the people who live in that house.”

“I know,” I will sigh. “But we could know them. And I bet they would like us…”

I may be an extreme (and slightly pathetic) example, but I know I am not alone in my desire to have friends. This longing to belong – this desire for connection – goes back to the beginning of time. Remember what God said when he created Adam?

It is not good for man to be alone.

Roger that. Woman either.

And it’s not just the Creation story that says we need one another; science maintains that we’re actually wired that way. Matthew Lieberman (a leading brainiac in social neuroscience) says, “Love and belonging might seem like a convenience we can do without, but our biology is built to thirst for connection because it is linked to our most basic survival needs.”

(Translation:  We need friends every bit as much as we need water and shelter. And chocolate.)

The thing is, though, not just any connection will do. Two weeks ago, I shared a post about the plusses of aging, one of which is the joy that can come with intergenerational friendships, particularly when they are the “life-giving” kind. Today, I want to explore what that sort of connection looks like. I want to look at the friendship that Mary and Elizabeth shared.

(And just a heads up:  This post is shaping up to be a little longer than normal. So maybe grab a second cup of coffee or click here to get the Bible back-story. And if you don’t have time for a long read today but you value rich friendships, just scroll to the end and jump in with the prayer.)

We know Mary – the mother of Jesus – but her connection with Elizabeth goes back to before her baby was born. Mary was a teenager when the angel appeared and turned her life upside down. Not only would Mary be pregnant, but her baby would be…the Messiah?

Sure, giving birth to the Messiah was something every good Jewish girl dreamed of, but we can imagine what went through Mary’s mind. She wasn’t married. People would talk. She wondered what Joseph would say. What he would do. Mary’s whole life – her reputation, her marriage, her future – hung in the balance. I’m guessing that having an angel to confide in was nice and all that, but what Mary really needed right then was a friend.

And God knew it.

He knows how we think. When we’ve got news we want someone to process it with, someone who will understand. And so God clues Mary in on the fact that Elizabeth is also expecting a surprise. Elizabeth is old (way old), and it makes no sense for her to be pregnant. But she is. Both women – one a virgin, and one long past her childbearing years – are in the same boat.

So Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. And, from a strictly relational standpoint, the story that unfolds is remarkable.

For starters, Elizabeth wasn’t one teeny bit jealous.

Think about that one for a sec. Elizabeth is older, wiser, and married to an uber-godly man who’s devoted his entire life to being a priest. How easy would it have been for Elizabeth to draw some comparisons. To think that maybe being Mom to the Messiah was an honor that she deserved. To wonder whether God had made some sort of cosmic mistake.

But no. There’s not even a hint of “Why wasn’t it me?” Instead, the first thing that comes out of Elizabeth’s mouth when she looks at Mary is affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”

Second, Elizabeth never once hogged the spotlight. Her man had also been visited by an angel, and she was expecting her own miracle baby. Who would have blamed her, had she babbled on and on about that? (“I mean, I hit menopause, like, 50 years ago, Mary!”) But Elizabeth doesn’t talk about herself at all, other than to marvel at the fact that Mary would come to her house. “Why am I so favored,” she says, “that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

That humility – that focus on Mary, rather than her own circumstances – is a marker of life-giving love.

And finally, pretty much everything Elizabeth said fueled Mary’s faith, rather than feeding her fear.

Mary had a long road ahead of her. Here’s how their conversation could have gone down:

Elizabeth could have planted seeds of worry:  Mary, are you sure you’re up for this? You’re so young. Have you talked to Joseph? You know how people will talk.

She could have sown kernels of comparison, making Mary feel insecure:  I don’t know, Mary. Joseph is just a carpenter.  Wouldn’t you think God would want someone like my Zechariah (have I mentioned that he is a priest?) to be a role model for his son?

She could have dug into doubt:  Ok Mary…did the angel really say you would give birth to the Son of God? Let’s go over it again. Tell me EXACTLY what Gabriel said. How was his body language? 

But Elizabeth didn’t ask any of these worry- or doubt-fueling questions. Instead, she recognized God’s purpose for Mary and she validated it. Here’s what she said, word for word:  “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:45

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.” Could there be a more life-giving sentence? I can only imagine how Mary must have clung to those words, especially when she found herself having contractions while riding a donkey and having her very first baby in a stable. Without anyone around to give her a push present or start a Sign Up Genius or anything.

Honestly? Elizabeth is the kind of friend we all want to have. The kind of friend we all want to be.

Because there will be times in our lives when our friend is pregnant (maybe not with the Messiah, but with a new job or a new house or a new baby/grandbaby or anything else that we wish we had), and taking delight in her happiness rails against everything in our self-centered nature.

And there will be conversations when everything in us longs to compare our friend’s pain (or their joy) to what we have been through, and we’ll be oh-so-tempted to jump into her life and say “Look at me!”

And of course there will be circumstances that look more than a little bit iffy. Uncomfortable. Scary, even. Situations where it would be easy to come alongside our friend and sow seeds of worry or doubt.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s ask God to shape us into life-giving people, people whose words are marked by encouragement, humility, and a desire to validate and affirm God’s purposes in each others’ lives.

Let’s speak life to our friends.

Heavenly Father,

May our words bring life. May we be people who truly believe that your promises – in our lives, and in the lives of the people we love – will indeed be accomplished. (Proverbs 18:21, Luke 1:45)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Mary and Elizabeth’s connection feels especially precious on the heels of this week’s Garden Club pansy sale, where the friendships are even more vibrant than the flowers. And no (for those of you who have been around this blog for while), I did NOT steal any pansies this year…

pansy sale 2019

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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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