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The Madness is Real

The madness is real.

From the moment I first put on my Lucky Orange Sweater (a pre-tournament “love your enemies” gift from my Tarheel pal Lynn)…

…to waking up Tuesday morning and seeing my son’s face on some reporter’s Twitter feed…

…the rollercoaster ride that is college hoops has (for U.Va. fans, anyway) never been wilder.

And all week long folks have been texting and emailing me, saying “I can’t wait to read your Friday blog! You have so much good material! Did you see where Tony said…”

Yes. I saw where Tony said. Like most Wahoo fans, I’ve done little else this week except watch press conferences, read game-recap articles, and marvel over every single shining moment (and every humility-laced post-game interview) in Virginia’s incredible turnaround tournament.

You know the story.

After an early eviction from the 2018 tourney (one where U.Va. made history by becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16), coaches and players dug deep. As a response to what Coach Tony Bennett has repeatedly called a “painful gift,” they used the devastation as a glue of sorts, one that bonded them even closer as a team and kindled a resolve and a resilience that refused to come unstuck, even in the most pressure-packed moments.

Coach Bennett cited a line from a TED Talk (“If you learn to use it right — the adversity — it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way”), but honestly? He might as well have been quoting Eugene Peterson. Because when Tony said that the loss had “freed him up” (making him want to be a better coach even as he realized that if he never got to a national championship game, he’d still be okay), all I could think of was Peterson’s assessment of what happened to the Israelites, back in 587 B.C.

You know Eugene Peterson from The Message Bible. But he wrote a bunch of other great stuff too, including this commentary, which I am currently loving:

(And for all you U.Va. grads, yes. I am blogging from The Stacks at Alderman Library.)

(Which is my happy place.)

(And not just because it’s where I realized, as I was studying Shakespeare with Robbie, that he had really great hair.)

Anyhow.

Run with the Horses is a look at the life of the prophet Jeremiah, who lived during a time when the Israelites found themselves in a place not unlike where the U.Va. players were, this time last year. The Jews had been exiled–not from a basketball tournament, but from their homeland. They’d been taken captive to Babylon.

And since I doubt you will read about this Basketball-and-Babylon connection in other sports columns, I’ll go ahead and tell you what Peterson said. “The essential meaning of exile,” he wrote, “is that we are where we don’t want to be.”

Roger that. In case you didn’t follow the story, the U.Va. players were ridiculed and reviled after last year’s loss, even facing death threats.

Crazy, but true.

And exile, Peterson went on, is “traumatic and terrifying. Our sense of who we are is very much determined by the place we are in and the people we are with. When that changes, violently and abruptly, who are we? The accustomed ways we have of finding our worth and sensing our significance vanish. The first wave of emotion recedes and leaves us feeling worthless, meaningless. We don’t fit anywhere. No one expects us to do anything. No one needs us. We are extra baggage. We aren’t necessary.”

Okay, so I know some of you are scratching your heads right now, thinking, “Wait. What? I thought this was a basketball story…”

But stick with me here. It is a basketball story. And it’s an Israelite story. And it’s our story.

Because whether it’s a change in our tournament status, our homeland, or our life (as in, a shift in our family circumstances, our job, our health, our marriage, etc.), exile happens.

(It did with me when I hit the empty nest years. Even though I knew it was good and right and all of those things, I didn’t like it. I felt—and I still feel, sometimes—like Peterson’s extra baggage. Like I am no longer needed. Like I don’t know where I fit anymore.)

But even in those dark or unwanted places, Peterson tells us what Coach Bennett did: “This very strangeness can open up new reality to us… With the pain and in the midst of alienation a sense of freedom can occur.”

For the U.Va. players, this very strangeness—the new reality that came wrapped as a painful gift—freed them up to play harder than ever before. Not as individual athletes, but as an entire team focused on the mantra that became “United Pursuit.”

For the Israelites, the new reality meant settling down, finding out what it really meant to be God’s people in a strange land. It meant choosing to flourish–to build homes, to grow families, and to pray for the people–in the land where they never wanted to be.

And for us, exile can mean the same thing. When we find ourselves in an unexpected or unwanted place, that can (and should) be the prompt that motivates us to discover what God is up to. To seek Him with all of our hearts. To live for what really matters–focusing not on what we don’t have, but on what we do.

“Exile,” Peterson wrote, “is the worst that reveals the best.”

That was certainly true for the Israelites. Their exile led to what Peterson calls “the most creative period in the entire sweep of Hebrew history,” one in which they “lost everything they thought was important and found what was important:  They found God.”

And it’s been true for the U.Va. team. Coach Bennett is quick to point out that losing a basketball game (even if it’s a blow-out defeat like what our guys suffered in 2018) is far from “the worst” thing in life. Even so, I think he would agree with Peterson. How we respond to exile—to adversity—is what makes all the difference.

“Though it’s not the way I would have chosen,” Coach Bennett said, in the days prior to Monday’s championship game, “it’s part of our story. And if we use it right, it’ll produce something very valuable.”

It did for U.Va.

And, if we let it, it will for us too.

🧡💙

And P.S. if you want something else “valuable,” you can get my “fascinator” hat off of Amazon. It’s currently out of stock in the orange color (must have been a run on ’em, what with all the well-dressed U.Va. fans), but maybe you want a pink one for Easter? Click here.

You’re welcome. 😊

 

 

 

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How Jesus might get to the Final Four

When our children were in preschool, the school nurse used to push a snack cart (loaded with treats that measured up to her strict nutritional standards) from classroom to classroom each morning. She genuinely loved the kids and her job, so I was surprised to see her storming down the hall one day, her face flushed with indignation.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“One of the children just called me her servant!” she exploded. “I didn’t know how to respond!”

I felt my eyes light up as I burst into laughter. “A servant!” I exclaimed “I can’t think of a higher compliment!”

Bewildered, the nurse stared at me for a long moment before moving on down the hall, again at a loss for words. She may have thought I was nuts, but at least she didn’t say so.

_________________________________________________

That’s how I started the chapter called “Praying for a Servant’s Heart” in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenAnd I couldn’t help but think back to that story this week–particularly the nurse’s confusion–when I read this article about the “Five Pillars” on which Coach Tony Bennett has built U.Va.’s basketball program.

Servanthood is one of Coach Bennett’s biggies, along with Passion, Unity, Thankfulness and Humility. And it’s easy to see why most of these attributes matter–and not just on the basketball court.

We cannot imagine a business succeeding without a passionate buy-in from its leadership. And  as any team member (or parent!) will tell you, unity is a good and pleasant thing, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Gratitude–whether toward other people or God–helps us focus on life’s bigger picture. And in addition to being an incredibly attractive character trait, humility equips us to withstand setbacks (cough-UMBC-cough) with strength and grace.

But…servanthood?

Nobody talks about servanthood all that much anymore. It seems an odd duck in a world where everyone’s goal seems to be to get to the top. Whether it’s in the NCAA tourney, a business venture, or the grocery store checkout line, we all want to be in control. We want to be first. We want to be great. And in a culture that rarely notices or rewards an others-centered outlook, you have to wonder whether cultivating a servant’s heart is all that important.

Coach Bennett evidently thinks so. And, as it turns out, so does Jesus. In fact, were He to map out the road to the Final Four, it might look something like this:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That’s Mark 10:43-45. And trust me:  In bringing these verses into a basketball convo, I’m not being flippant. I love March Madness, but I love Jesus even more. And as we move toward Easter, I want my life to reflect His.

I want to pray for–and cultivate–a heart that bends toward others.

If you want that too–for yourself, or your kids–you’ll find a collection of scripture-based prayer prompts in the Children book, as well as in the Teens version. I’d go back and copy them for you right now but it’s Thursday night and U.Va. is about to tip-off against Oregon, and I really feel like they need me.

So I’ll leave you with just four of my favorites (along with some 💥bonus info 💥 below), knowing that–win or lose–Tony’s guys have got their Pillars in place.

Heavenly Father…

Let ______ do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility may ______ value others above themselves, not looking to their own interests by to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 

Motivate ______ to serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving you, Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)

Open ______’s ears to the cry of the poor so that they won’t be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13 NLT)

May _______ serve others in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Amen

(photo credits Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)

Bonus Material:

I’m traveling and taking next week off from the blog, so here’s a little P.S. to be thinking about:

The Philippians passage we prayed above goes on to tell us that our mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, as he voluntarily made Himself nothing and took on a servant’s nature. So if you’re trying to instill a heart for service in your children (or, um, recognize it in your spouse), maybe keep the focus on attitude over accomplishment.

Like, if you happen to have daughters named Hillary and Annesley and they unload the dishwasher for you without being asked, and then you realize that all of your cupboards have dirty dishes in them, don’t freak out. Affirm your little helpers and thank God for answering your prayers.

❤️

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Don’t be afraid; it’s Puppy Day

We lost Max, our golden retriever, last fall. It was super hard, but in a demonstration of His infinite kindness, God arranged things so that all four of our adult children could be home when we said goodbye.

Max wasn’t the best looking dog, or the bravest. And he didn’t know any commands. But you could tell that, if he had known what we wanted (like, if he’d ever realized what things like “Sit!” meant), he would gladly have done it. Max’s chief attribute–the trait that colored his life–was an overwhelming desire to make his people happy.

I miss our boy, more than I ever imagined I would. And with National Puppy Day being tomorrow (thank you, AND ONE Marketing, for the heads up on that), I figured I’d revisit some of the lessons Max taught us. Including this one (originally published a few years ago) about not being afraid…

The Answer for Life’s Scary Stuff

Our dog Max (you know him as the rock eater) is an anxious dog. There are a lot of things that scare him. Sudden movements. The bathroom floor. His food bowl.

And, perhaps most of all, other dogs.

We went on a walk the other day and came upon a big black lab. As if his size and color were not threatening enough, this guy was sporting a pirate scarf where his collar should have been. Max stopped in his tracks.

I tried coaxing and commanding, tempting and tugging, but Max wasn’t having it. He did not want to pass that dog. Given the whole pirate vibe, I might have understood his trepidation…except for one thing.

The dog was fake.

Not, like, taxidermy fake. This one was, like, fake fake. It couldn’t bite or growl, and it certainly didn’t smell. It just sat there, day after day, fake-guarding the “Outer Barks” shop in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

I had to laugh. I tried to see things from Max’s viewpoint, but I just couldn’t. The whole thing was ridiculous – and his neurosis was hurting our progress.

And then I stopped.

Because as I stood there (smiling at other pedestrians and trying to be cool, like maybe Max and I were just sort of “resting”), I realized that I do the same thing. I start out like Enoch (he’s a Bible guy who “walked faithfully with God” for 300 years), but then I look down the road and see something – a real something or a fake something – that could be a problem, and I balk.

Which is not God’s idea of how things are supposed to play out.

God knew we’d come up against some scary stuff. Real scary stuff (like cancer), and fake scary stuff (like what people will think, or even say, when they see us dance, which is–to my children’s everlasting mortification–not something that normally keeps me off the floor when the band starts playing Bon Jovi. Or ABBA.)

God knew we’d face threats, and that fear would be a problem. And so he gave us the answer. He gave us the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put another way, God gave us a Spirit who can make us bold in the face of uncertainty, loving when it might be easier to just turn away, and self-controlled and steady when life feels anything but calm. He gave us a Spirit who can equip us to do the good things that he has prepared. He gave us a Spirit who can strengthen us to walk faithfully with him on life’s longest journeys (no matter what sort of pirate-dog stands in our way).

God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us the Holy Spirit. So let’s stop with the balking already.

Let’s move.

Heavenly Father,

Over and over again, you tell us, “Do not be afraid.” (Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10; and John 14:27)

As we confront things–real and imagined–that scare us, would you please fill us afresh with your Spirit? Let our lives be marked by power, love, and self-discipline. And may your perfect love drive out every fear. (2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18)

Amen

 

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Rest for your soul (no calorie counting required)

So I started tracking my eating habits last week, using a phone app that shows the caloric content and nutritional value of everything you consume.

I’ll spare you the details; as my mom said when one of her children bought a juicer and started talking about drinking carrots, “I will listen because I am your mother, but I must warn you that this sort of conversation bores people.” But as I was logging my raspberry intake (did you know that they have just 1 calorie each?), Robbie wondered what I was doing.

My man is all about apps, and when I showed him how the thing worked, he wanted to play. “How do I tell it,” he said, “that I just ate a bag of Cheetos the size of my head?”

Not once in all of those youth group warnings about being “unequally yoked” did I ever think I’d wind up with a spouse who was so metabolically different than me. Back then, all I cared about was that Robbie loved Jesus. Now, though, I think single people should maybe consider how they match up with someone, diet-wise. Because honestly? It’s kind of discouraging to live with somebody who can lose weight pounding Thin Mints while you sit there counting almonds (116 calories in 15 of ’em) and discover you’ve gained two pounds that week.

But, as a wise woman might say, this is the sort of blog that bores people.

So I’ll stop with the nutritional stuff and revisit the subject of yokes. Because even as Paul tells us not to team up with nonbelievers—a command that stems from the Old Testament’s admonition against mis-matching an ox and a donkey (which seems like something a farmer could have figured out on his own?)—Jesus invites us to link up with Him. He invites us to put on His yoke.

“Come to me,” Jesus says to the weary and burdened, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Rest. For your soul.

Doesn’t that sound appealing? It’s the promise of peace. Relaxation. Fulfillment. And freedom from things like worry and fear.

All things we want, right?

Right. But…how do we get there, exactly?

There are two parts to Christ’s invitation. The first part is to come (“Come to me”); the second is to connect (“Take my yoke”). Both parts lead to rest–but it’s the second part of this promise where things can get a little bit tricky.

Because coming to Jesus sounds easy. But wearing His yoke—surrendering to His Lordship, yielding to His teaching, living in such a way that our thoughts and our actions sync up with His plans—feels a bit problematic. What if we are not good enough? What if we get distracted? What if that yoke feels too heavy or tight?

This is where God’s grace comes in. The grace that saves us when we come is the grace that equips us to stay. It’s what opens the door to soul-rest. And even though I’m not entirely sure what it looks like, I know that Christ’s “yoke” is something I want. I don’t want to just come to the Lord. I want my life to be utterly connected to His.

And so here’s what I’m doing:  I’m reaching for Jesus. And every time I feel myself pulling away (which is, like, every day, as I slip toward sinful habits, slide toward worry or fear, or just get caught up in the To-Do List Tangle), I reach out again. “Keep me connected,” I pray. “I don’t know how to do this, Jesus; I need You to hold me.”

And you know what? He does.

I’m not there yet (and I doubt I ever will be, this side of heaven), but I think I’m beginning to  understand what Paul meant when he wrote, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.” (Philippians 3:12 MSG)

If you want to join me in the pursuit of unbroken connection (and I can’t think of a better time to “reach out for Christ” than during the season of Lent), use the prayer prompt below, or craft one of your own.

And if you got stuck back there with the Cheetos, and you’ve been wondering just how many calories there actually are in a serving that big, let’s just put it like this:

Robbie could have eaten 700 raspberries instead.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for inviting us to come to you and find rest. Equip us to stay–to stay connected, to take up your yoke, to learn from you–so that we will find rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

 Amen

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You Can Use My Name

So this is officially “Celebrate Your Name” week.

I know this because my hip young friend, Peyton, runs an award-winning marketing firm, and she published a content calendar on her website this week. It’s chock full of things we might not otherwise know.

For instance, if you missed out on “World Compliment Day” on March 1, you can still take advantage of “National Napping Day” next Tuesday. And don’t tell my husband (because he’s currently looking at litters online), but March 23 is “National Puppy Day” (which probably means that my coffee table is about to get chewed).

Anyhow.

When I downloaded Peyton’s calendar and saw the bit about celebrating our names, I thought to myself: That’s kind of freaky. In a freaky good kind of way. Because as timing would have it, I have been thinking a whole lot this week about names. Well, one name, anyway.

I have been thinking about the name Jesus–and, in particular, how we use it in prayer.

You know the drill: We ask God for something, or say grace over a meal, and then (sometimes without even thinking) we tack on a quick “…in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Having spent most of 2019 in the Gospel of John, I think I know where this practice comes from. Over and over again, Jesus tells us to ask in his name:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  (John 14:13-14)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

Reading verses like these back-to-back, you get the idea that He mean it. Jesus intends for us to know His name–and to use it.

Which, for me, raises a couple of questions.

I know how I’d feel if I gave somebody the use of my name–like, if I recommended someone for a job, or I wanted to make an introduction. I’d want that person to speak and behave honorably (and not to do anything that might, by virtue of my endorsement, reflect badly on me!). Did Jesus, I wondered, ever have that kind of concern?

I wanted to know more about how this “you can use my name” thing really works, and I figured Andrew Murray would have something to say. I picked up my copy of With Christ in the School of Prayer (which is getting more dog-eared by the day) and sure enough:  He has a whole chapter on this very topic.

Murray contends that when we pray in Christ’s name, we are actually praying in his nature–which is love. Prayers “in the name of Jesus” presuppose that our interests are aligned with God’s. “No one,” Murray says, “would give another free use of his name without first being assured that his honor and interests were as safe with that other person as with himself.”

Not only that, but the power that our prayers carry also depends on our relationship to the Lord. God looks not just to our lips, but also to our lives to see what His name is to us. And as we “walk in the name of the Lord our God” (Micah 4:5), we can effectively pray in the name of the Lord our God–with full confidence that, as Jesus promised, we will receive whatever we ask.

And finally (and this goes to my question about the potential for misusing Christ’s name), Murray says that the phrase “in my name” has its own built-in safeguard. When we bear the name “Christian”–living and acting and praying as children of God–the power that’s in the name works. When we try to live (and pray) out from under that power, it doesn’t.

Okay. That’s enough Deep Thought for one day. Let’s download our content calendars, thank God for giving us a Name we can celebrate, and look forward to napping next week!

😊

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us the privilege of bearing your name when we call ourselves Christians. Please show us what your name really means, and how we can use it in prayer, so that You will be glorified in our midst. (John 14:13-14)

Amen

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