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Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

heart

How’s your heart?

That’s the question the minister asked on Sunday (we were visiting City Church in Charlottesville – loved it), and after talking about the “heart disease” that plagues us all (stuff like pride, envy, and lust), he said this: A healthy heart is a heart that is continually thankful.

As someone who is far more apt to find fault with what didn’t go “as planned” (like Tuesday’s blog, which appeared in your inbox without the accompanying photo—sorry about that) than she is likely to rejoice over any of the little things that go “right” each day, I found myself struck by his words. I am definitely not “continually thankful.” And with the Big Day just a week away, I realized I needed some help

Last Christmas, Annesley’s mother-in-law-to-be gave her an iPhone case that came with a built-in Taser. I know Ruth meant it for use against thugs and other ne’er-do-wells, but it wasn’t open for five minutes before my kids began trying it out on each other. And then on Hillary’s boyfriend, Charlie, who hadn’t been exposed to all that many of our family celebrations—and who, I might add, took it like a champ.

(Just another happy Christmas morning at the Berndt house.)

Thinking of that Taser, I found myself wishing that I could implant something in my brain that would go off like a shock whenever my mind started down a whiny, prideful, or otherwise negative path: I can’t believe Robbie left his undershirt on the bedroom floor again.

FZZZT!

(The idea, of course, is that after a few such gentle reminders, I’d start to be thankful for my husband—who actually did once tell me that I should be glad when I find his laundry on the floor, since it reminds me of him when he isn’t home. Love that guy.)

Anyhow, not having a mental Taser handy—and can we all just say, “Thanks be to God” for that—I decided to try the Bible, instead. A quick skim through the concordance reveals this about thankfulness:

It works like a VIP card to get you into God’s presence (Psalm 100:4).

It’s an attitude that encourages other people (Colossians 3:16).

It’s something that God wants us to be, regardless of our circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

You know what? I am good with all of those verses, and more. But knowing it in my head and feeling it in my heart are often two very different things. And, try as I might, I can’t always get there from here.

Fortunately, though, God can. In Ezekiel 36, God promises us a “new heart” and a “new spirit.”  He says he will “remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Isn’t that a great picture? Our stony, critical, complaining hearts (well, mine anyway; yours might be in better shape) can be utterly transformed—and God can make us thankful.

I don’t know about you, but that fills me with a world of hope. Normally, I’d be bellying up to the table next week, staring at the centerpiece and wondering if maybe it could have used another gourd or two, and wondering why my turkey was so dry (again). But now, with my heart securely placed in God’s hands, I have a shot at counting my blessings instead.

(Which is definitely better than getting tased.)

(Especially by your own kids.)

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Would You Rather Play a Family Game?

“I would rather suck an old man’s toes.”

That’s what one of our daughters said, a few years back, when we suggested she attend a Christian summer camp. We’d done the research (James Dobson and other family gurus pointed to the value of the Christian camp experience—a theory that was backed up by reality when we polled our friends’ older kids about what had mattered most in terms of strengthening their own faith), and we were planning to send her, whether she wanted to go or not.

Better parents might have been appalled by our gal’s somewhat, um, graphic response, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Robbie and I burst out laughing.

And “Would You Rather…” became an instant classic in our family.

If you’ve never played this game, the idea is to come up with two choices and have the other player (or players) choose which one they would “rather” do, have, or be. You can buy the official board game at Target, but we liked making up our own scenarios. And last year, I put some of our favorites on a few sheets of cardstock and cut them up to make game cards to give as Christmas gifts. (I also sewed little envelopes for them out of burlap, using old buttons and twine as closures, but I am a little Amish that way, and if you’d “rather” put your cards into a plain envelope or a little bag from someplace like Michael’s, that works.)

Your questions can be important, silly, or—if you have teenaged boys or a husband like mine—even a little gross. And if you’re looking for a way to inject a little “God” into your family fun, you can throw in a random Bible question or two: “Would you rather be David going up against Goliath or Daniel heading into the lions’ den?”

Need some ideas? Here are a few favorites from our list, just to get you started:

Would you rather be considered slightly annoying or generally dull?

Would you rather be caught lip-synching on The Voice or taking steroids in the Olympics?

Would you rather have peace or joy?

Would you rather always spit when you talk or always be spat upon when people talk to you?

(See what a deep and intellectual family we are?)

And of course, the classic: Would you rather suck an old mans toes or have an old man suck your toes?

If you’re looking for a way to spice up (if not elevate) the conversation around the dinner table this Thanksgiving, why not try this game?

And while you’re at it, consider putting a gift certificate for summer camp under the tree for your kids, even if you think they’d rather suck an old man’s toes. Our family loves Young Life, Kanakuk, J.H. Ranch, and Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Fatherhood (which I hope Robbie will guest blog about one day soon!).

(And just in case you are wondering, I think I would rather have an old man suck my toes. But I would feel badly about it.)

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Friday Prayer Verse ~ Psalm 5:11-12

Lots of people post “Friday Favorites.”  I’ve picked up shopping tips from Melanie Shankle, followed Kate’s pregnancy through the eyes of new mom Elizabeth Robertson Williams, and snagged more than a couple of good recipes from any number of Friday bloggers.  But, not being much of shopper (or a royal watcher; has Kate had that baby yet?), you won’t find those types of good tips here.  And while I might share a recipe once in awhile, I am currently conducting an experiment to prove to Robbie that eating out–if you find the right “deal”–might actually be cheaper than cooking at home, now that it’s just the two of us.  (Wish me luck.)

When I use the word “favorite,” it is often in the context of a Bible verse.  Some people have their “life verse,” and they can tell you what it means to them, and why.  Not me.  I have any number of Bible “favorites,” and they change almost daily.

For me, then, Friday is going to be the day when I post whatever principle or promise has captivated my heart that week.  And, banking on promises like John 15:7 (“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you”) and Isaiah 55:11 (which tells us that God’s word does not return empty, but accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent), I will offer these verses in the format of prayers, with blanks where you can insert your own name, or that of someone you love.

I hope you enjoy praying this way, and that these words will serve to strengthen your faith and increase your joy.  I hope they will transform your perspective and breathe fresh hope into weary or challenging situations.  And I hope, actually, that some of these verses will become your new favorites.

Here goes:

Spread your protection over ____ and bless him/her.  Surround ____ with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

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Why God Could Take a Good Selfie

My friend Nancy invited me to join her at the She Speaks conference, put on by Lysa Terkhurst and her pals at Proverbs 31 Ministries. The conference was uplifting and informative (www.shespeaksconference.com, if you want to go), particularly for old gals like me, who don’t know a lot of what we don’t know when it comes to things like “driving people to your website.” (Seriously? As a recently minted empty nester, the last thing I want to do is start driving people again!)

Eager to drink from the fire hose of digital information, I parked myself in a series of sessions about things like analytics, maximizing traffic, and creating a “strategic pinning plan.” (Pinterest, as it turns out, is not just a place where people show what they can do with a glue gun and a cheese grater. Who knew?)

(Well, you probably did. Maybe everyone does. But it was news to me.)

After three or four of these workshops, I felt like a dinosaur. Or maybe a platypus, swimming in a sea of cute young girls, all of whom seemed to have websites and followers and “highly pin-able content.” I was just about to slip out of my seat and go in search of some comfort with my new BFF, the conference center barista, when Nancy tugged at my arm. “I want to get a quick picture of the two of us,” she said, fishing in her purse for her iPhone.

“Here,” she said, handing the phone to a stranger. “Will you take a selfie of us?”

(You can’t make this stuff up.  I love Nancy.)

And I love selfies—the kind that you actually take yourself. They are such a photographic enigma—almost nobody looks good in a selfie, but everyone looks happy. And which would you rather be? Attractive, or happy? (Maybe don’t answer that. Or at least think about it for a sec, before you do.)

And I bet God loves selfies too. You wanna know why? Because—and I just read this today, so it’s fresh—he has long arms! Back in Exodus 11, when Moses wasn’t sure the Lord could deliver on the whole “Where’s the meat?” thing, God had just one question for him: Is the Lord’s arm too short?

Long arms, as everyone knows, are the key to a good selfie. It’s hard to get everyone in the photo if you are built like a crocodile. But God can get the whole world in his pic! And his arms are not just long…they are strong (Psalm 89:13), everlasting (Deuteronomy 33:27), and always ready to gather us close (Isaiah 40:11).

Next time you get ready to take a selfie—or to hand your camera to someone else to snap it for you—remember God’s arms. No matter what you need, it’s within his reach. No matter how heavy your burden is, his arms are always there, underneath. And no matter how far away you may stray, he stands ready, with arms open wide, to welcome you home.

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The True Colors of Joy

 

joy

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”

If you’re like me, you read a line like this one (Philippians 4:4) and you think, “Well, that might work for some people. People who don’t have teenagers. Or a leaky roof. Or a colonoscopy scheduled for tomorrow.”

We live in a world where it can sometimes be tough to be joyful. People hurt us. Money gets tight. Circumstances—ranging from bad hair days to ill-behaved children to frightening medical conditions—conspire to sap our confidence. And, particularly for women, fear and worry can lurk around every corner, ready to shape every piece of bad news or uncertainty into a torpedo to aim at our faith.

Is it even possible to have joy—always? Yes. Yes! Joy might not come naturally, but we can tap into the secret of a joy-filled life if we are willing to embrace a simple truth: It’s not about us. It’s not about our happiness, our goals, or our success. It’s about bringing honor and glory to God. Continue reading “The True Colors of Joy”

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