A Deal of a Story for Valentine’s Day!

I lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. The two dogs were asleep near my feet, having staked their territory on my Yves Delorme duvet months ago. Down the hall, my three daughters slept peacefully in their rooms.

May 2, 2008. People say the first year is the hardest–the first Christmas, the first Father’s Day, the first wedding anniversary without your spouse–but I couldn’t imagine life getting any easier. I’d made it through the first twelve months; only God knew how many more months–or years–I had to go. What if I never got remarried? Could I really live like this, with dogs in my bed instead of a man, for the rest of my life?

I looked down at the dogs. They needed a bath. Johnnie would have kicked them off. He liked things neat and tidy, organized and efficient. Dogs on the bed were not part of his plan.

But then, neither was dying…

That’s how my friend, Dee Oliver, begins her tale.

It’s a good one. And right now–just in time for Valentine’s Day–the folks at Amazon are offering The Undertaker’s Wife as a Kindle deal for just $1.99.

The Undertaker’s Wife is one of those books that can make you laugh out loud on one page and find yourself checking a sob on the next. It serves as both a companion and a guide, coming as a tonic for those who’ve lost loved ones, and a tutor for those who want to know how to help bear the burden of another’s grief.

And, like all the best stories in life, The Undertaker’s Wife is one where God shows up in unexpected places, bringing joy out of mourning and making us realize, all over again, the immeasurable depth of his love. He really is, as Psalm 34:18 promises, “close to the brokenhearted.”

I’m not going to spoil any surprises, but I had the honor of working on this book with Dee, and I can promise you this: Everything in her story is true. The ring toss. The vasectomy. The valet-parking the hearse at the Ritz. While it was still, ah, occupied.

All true.

And all worth the read.

Happy ❤ Day! You are loved.

 

 

 

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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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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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Unseen: The Best Book on the Beach

If you have children, you probably know how embarrassing it is to be you. I know I do.

Sometimes, though, I just can’t help myself.

Like on our last family vacation. We’d gathered in Bethany Beach, Delaware, where pretty much every beach-goer is either a lacrosse player, a bookworm, or (and yes, this does happen) both. Oceanfront real estate is dear, and by 9:00 a.m. every day, the good campsites have all been claimed by athletes and readers. Families stack themselves three and four deep, the ones in the back having to thread a course between chairs, towels, sports equipment, and a summer’s worth of New York Times Bestsellers just to get to the waves.

Got the picture? Good.

Because it was going on noon and the beach was super crowded when I finished Sara Hagerty’s new book, Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed

I’d started reading early that morning, taking my coffee and the book out to the sand.

I read about Sara’s post-college passion to “change the world for God,” and how her escalating effort to get the job done (and earn the approval of others) left her empty. I read about her career in sales and how, in the midst of client presentations and spreadsheets and co-workers who took credit for her work, she found herself craving more. I read about how, as a young mom, Sara tried to make a difference in her family amid piles of laundry, endless meal prep, and bickering kids in the backseat…and how, through it all, she scouted her days, trolling for the tiniest sign that what she was doing mattered.

I read about how God saw her in those hidden seasons, those hard-to-measure “middle minutes” of our lives. And I read how Sara saw Him, too. How she found herself drawn by His gentle expression. By his open stance. By the lines on His face.

The lines on God’s face.

Can you imagine? That image – that one little line, hinting at indescribable closeness with God – just undid me.

Fortunately, my kids didn’t notice the tears slipping out from behind my sunglasses, or the fact that (and I am not proud of this) I had to blow my nose into my beach towel. What they did see, however (and what pretty much everyone saw), was when I stood up.

As I said before, I couldn’t help myself. So captivated was I by the raw beauty of Sara’s writing that, when I finished the book, I had to let someone know. Thinking that I was only addressing my family, I held the book aloft (as in high, as in above my head) and said: “THIS is the BEST BOOK on the WHOLE BEACH.”

“Really?”

I turned, wondering who had spoken.

It was a lacrosse player seated one campsite over. He wasn’t reading, but his mom and his grandmom both had books in their laps. As did about 15 other beach-goers, who all now looked up, expectantly, to see what book was so good.

I had no choice. As my children buried their heads in their towels, trying to signal that they were not actually with me, I plowed ahead.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes it is.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s about…” and here I faltered. How do you tell someone that the best book on the beach is about how God has lines on his face? Or that it’s about how he sees you, and loves you, even in the most mundane and seemingly unproductive moments of your life? Or how he just…knows.

“It’s about God,” I finally said. “It’s about how we were actually made to be seen. And it’s…it’s just really good.”

“Okay,” said the lacrosse player. “I’ll check it out.”

I hope he did.

And I hope you will, too. Because I realize, reading back over this post, that I have not done a good job of explaining this book. Not at all.

Fortunately, Sara gave me permission to share an excerpt with you. And I’ll do that in just a sec, but first, you need to know two things.

Number One. Right now (as in, right now, cuz this promo ends tomorrow), Zondervan is offering a buy-one-get-one deal on copies of Unseen purchased at Barnes & Noble. Click here for details.

And Number Two. If you want a FREE copy of the book, post a comment on this blog. Tell me if you like Sara’s writing (I loved her first book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet), or maybe what you’ve done lately to embarrass your kids. Or just say hello; anyone who comments will be entered to win (and I love this book so much that I’ll actually pick two winners, so your odds just went up). This giveaway will be live through 9/21, so jump on it.

Here’s Sara:

“Why this waste?”

(excerpted from Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed)

I’d been in a suit and heels since 5:00 a.m., and after a full morning, I was at the airport for an early afternoon flight home—home to a husband, but no children.

I’d recently started to crave more. I wanted more from my sales support job. I wasn’t tired of doing it or even tired of the desk work and the travel, but I was tired of working for little more than sales goals and a paycheck. I wanted more than productivity and success. I wanted brushes with God and meaning and almost anything that mattered but wasn’t easily measured.

My work for the day was done and I was tired, but my heart was hungry, and I was beginning to like heart hunger. So I prayed: God, I want to meet with You in this airport.

Meeting Him required quieting my insides enough to hear and respond. The kind of dialogue I was learning to have with God burgeoned when I saw it as an exchange—my mind for His thoughts, my fear for His assurance, my whispers for His response. As I made my way to a restaurant near my gate, I noticed an elderly gentleman who was being pushed in a wheelchair. I prayed for God to breathe life and strength into his frail body. I saw a man running as fast as my mind usually worked, and I prayed his racing heart would come to know Jesus. I saw a young woman with vacant eyes, and I prayed she would find the filling her heart most needed. I realized afresh that the people all around me weren’t merely interesting. They were God-created. I wanted to talk to Him about what He had made.

God, what do You see in the man who is late for his flight? And the one in the wheelchair—how do You see the heart buried underneath that broken body? Rather than looking at people as faces among the masses, I asked for His eyes for them and responded with minute-long prayers: God, I want to meet You in this airport.

No one knew this conversation I was having in my head with God. And I was starting to like these secret exchanges.

At the restaurant, I grabbed the last available seat at the bar, which was full of day travelers with carry-ons. As I scooted up onto my stool and glanced at the laminated menu, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me. He looked to be near retirement, but he was dressed for business. I was drawn to him in the way you’re drawn to someone who is not at all like you, but with whom you feel a strange connection.

Maybe I’m supposed to share the gospel with this man, I thought. I ordered my food and opened my book, trying to concentrate on reading while staying aware of what felt like a nudge from God.

Ten minutes later when the waitress brought out my order along with that of the man next to me, I noticed that we both had ordered the same meal. I awkwardly mumbled a comment about it, looking for a way to begin a conversation. But my voice, perhaps too quiet from nerves, got lost in a salvo of loudspeaker announcements. He hadn’t heard me. I went back to my book, resigned that I’d misread God’s cues.

The book I was reading explored the concept of abiding in the vine from John 15. The author used the notion of tree grafting to illustrate this abiding. After hours of client presentations on throbbing feet, my mind couldn’t absorb the words. I read and reread the same paragraph, but without comprehension. And then this prompt dropped into my mind: Ask the man sitting next to you to explain it.

Uh-oh, I thought.

As much as I wanted to hear from God, I knew that we humans sometimes mishear Him and mistake our mental wanderings for His voice. What should I do? Talk to the man and risk awkwardness and embarrassment? Or not talk to him and risk missing what might well be God’s answer to my prayer to meet with Him in this airport?

Well, at least I’ll never see this guy again, I thought. So I went for it.

“Sir, excuse me,” I said, much louder this time, almost shouting to compensate for my nerves.

He startled. “Yes?” he said, raising his eyebrows like the authoritative boss of a fresh college grad.

“Do you know anything about grafting?” I coughed out.

“What?” he asked.

Oh no. I had to say it again. This business exec didn’t even seem to know what the word meant.

“Grafting, sir. Do you know anything about grafting?” My face was red hot.

“It’s funny you should ask,” he said. I noticed tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.

My heart started racing.

“I majored in agriculture in college and I minored in grafting. I run a farm equipment business but have gotten away from what I once loved.”

Now I was sure I could actually hear my heart, not just feel the pounding.

He stretched back on his stool, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. Then he enthusiastically explained the details of how the branch of one tree is grafted into another as if he were telling me a page-turning story. I showed him the paragraph in my book and asked him questions. He made it all so clear.

I’m not sure if I was more surprised that the prompt to talk to this man really was from God, or that God was personal enough to meet me at an airport barstool. Apparently, God was meeting this man too, right over his hamburger and French fries. He thanked me after our exchange as if he’d been reminded of his boyish love for trees and for grafting, a love that needed rediscovering.

Twelve years later, this conversation remains my most memorable business trip. Still. I can’t remember where I’d gone or even who I met with on that trip. I remember it only because I’d felt seen and heard by God.

God showed up when I was in my suit and heels, and He winked. We shared a secret. During those days of client presentations, excel spreadsheets, and conference calls, He was whispering, I want to meet with you, here. What I might once have considered a waste of time—conversation with Him in the midst of a demanding day—became, instead, food for my hungry heart. It was a gift of hiddenness during a season when my work required me to be on during the workday.

God’s currency is communion—a relationship that grows, nearer still. A relationship that is cultivated when no one else is looking. A relationship accessed not just when we feel we need His help but at all the odd times that punctuate our agenda-driven days. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot.

What a waste. What a beautiful waste.

Ω

(Unseen is the last book in our September Book Giveaway series. To those who just joined us this week – welcome! And congratulations to Alexis from Tennessee, a new subscriber who won a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children!)

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At Work and at Pray: Lift Up the Teachers

(September is BOOK GIVEAWAY month! Congratulations to last week’s winner, April from Sidney, Ohio, who’s getting a copy of Jeannie Cunnion’s new release, Mom Set Free. And this week I’m giving a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children to a NEW blog subscriber…so if you’ve got a friend who might like these posts, please spread the word and invite her – or him! – to sign up.)

 

So…Robbie is slogging through the third week of a college course called Theories of Financial Markets. I’d be jealous…except that I’m not.

But honestly? He’s not the only one hitting the books:

The Bible says we’re supposed to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). “The work of the Lord” is kind of a broad category, but I’m pretty sure that praying fits in there someplace. And right now, I’m workin’ it on behalf of Robbie and his U.Va. teachers.

I’m praying, for instance, that they would “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time they will reap a harvest if they do not give up.” That’s Galatians 6:9…and it’s my all-time favorite teacher prayer. Because being tired or worn out is no fun for anyone. And no matter how sorely they’re tempted, I don’t ever want a teacher to give up on my kid.

(Some of you get that.)

I’m also praying that Robbie will be teachable. I want his heart and his mind to be open to things like wisdom and understanding. I want him to have a good attitude as he heads off to class every day. I want him to be able to confront academic challenges with grace, and to see hard things (which, to me, would include theories of financial markets) as opportunities to grow.

I actually wrote about the value of being teachable in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. And, since that’s this week’s book giveaway (whoop!), I figured I’d share an excerpt from the chapter about praying for our kids’ relationships with their teachers and coaches. Here it is:

 

Praying for a Teachable Spirit

If you’re like me, you tend to spend more time praying for your kids to get the right teachers than that they will be the right students. But how our children think and behave in the classroom or on the athletic field can go farther toward fostering strong relationships with teachers and coaches than just about anything else.

Ned and Drew are two of the most teachable young men I know. Eager learners, they are quick to explore new ideas, and they have learned to recognize and respect the giftedness of their teachers – even when some of the concepts they were taught clashed with their own Christian convictions.

Ned and Drew’s willingness to learn is also evident in their athletic pursuits. Both are outstanding runners, a trait they inherited from their father, Jim, an Olympic medalist who was the first high schooler to run a mile in less than four minutes. When Ned and Drew won spots on the high school track team, Jim vowed not to interfere with the coach’s methods. Moreover, he encouraged his sons to respect the coach’s authority, even if the man’s coaching style differed from their father’s teaching.

As it turned out, the high school track coach did not do everything the way the former Olympian would have, and Ned and Drew knew it. But rather than argue with the man or rebel against his methods, the boys opted to buckle down and do their very best, while Jim and his wife, Anne, stayed content to pray for their sons from the bleachers. As a result of the family’s gentle, teachable spirit, the coach saw Christianity in a very favorable light – a testimony that would not have been possible had Ned and Drew taken an aggressive or defiant stand against his techniques. What’s more, the track team won an unprecedented series of three straight state championships.

Every life has it’s share of boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration, and tragedy. But if our children can learn to meet each new challenge as Ned and Drew did, by seeing the value in other people, respecting authority, and looking for opportunities to learn and grow, then even painful or disappointing circumstances can become reasons for thanksgiving. And long after our children have graduated from classrooms and playing fields, a teachable spirit will prove its lasting worth in their careers, their marriages, and their ability to minister to others.

 

There’s more, but you get the idea: When we pray for our kids to honor and respect their teachers and coaches, good things happen. 

So let’s do that.

Heavenly Father…

Cause ______ to obey his teachers and coaches and submit to their authority. Let him know that these people keep watch over him, and that you will hold them accountable for the job they do. Show ______ that when he honors his teachers and coaches and makes their work a joy instead of a burden, the end result will be to his advantage. (Hebrews 13:17)

Amen.

And P.S., if you like that Galatians “don’t get weary” prayer, here are a few more ways you can ask God to bless your kids’ teachers. Click here to download this image as a printable postcard:

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Parenting in Freedom and Grace (plus a book giveaway)!

Ever feel like your kids’ future is riding on you? Or like you have to be perfect (or at least really good) so that they’ll have an example to follow? Or like God is watching the way that you parent…and that if you blow it, he’s gonna be bummed?

Yeah, me too.

I think I told you about the time Robbie took the SATs. He’d spent most of his childhood playing outdoors, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing him read. Did he know any vocabulary words? I wasn’t sure. And so, in a last-ditch effort to redeem my academic parenting fails and get him prepped for the test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and turned them into flashcards. If Robbie learned even just two or three words while he played, that might help.

Oh how I wish I’d had Jeannie Cunnion’s new book, Mom Set Free, back then! She could have saved me a lot of angst (and kept me from ruining Robbie’s lacrosse stick, cuz the mesh part turned pink when the Sharpie marker wore off).

As it is, I’m highlighting and starring and underlining pages in Jeannie’s book now. My kids may be grown, but I still need all the help I can get when it comes to rejoicing – and actually relaxing – in the blessing of being a mom.

As the book’s cover proclaims, Jeannie’s heart is to free moms from the pressure to get it all right. Our kids’ future (whether they’re headed to kindergarten or college) is not in our hands, any more than it’s up to us to “make” them honest and kind, strengthen their faith, or protect them from hardship. All of those things – and so many more – are ultimately up to the Lord. He has good plans for them (ideas that are way better than ours, BTW), and as Philippians 2:13 reminds us, it is God’s job (as in, not ours) to work in them to “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Don’t get me wrong. Jeannie isn’t trying to get us to sit back and do nothing. Parenting, she says, is hard work – and it involves discipline and boundaries and consequences. But it also involves grace – huge buckets of grace! – the kind that frees us to discipline and teach and correct our children without relying on anger or scare tactics or shame. As Jeannie sees it, parenting with grace is what lets our kids know (the way that God lets us know), that even when they make unlovable choices, they are still (and forever will be) deeply, unshakably loved.

Ahhhh…there’s so much good stuff in this book. And – whoop! – I actually got to be with Jeannie this week to celebrate the Mom Set Free launch. She was a guest on the 700 Club (click here to watch her interview), and some of my young mom friends came over to my house beforehand to get her warmed up:

To see a clip from that interview, you’ll have to head over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt)…but first, I’ve got some good news. I managed to snag an extra copy of Mom Set Free while Jeannie was here, and I want to give it to someone! Post a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a winner at random (unless you are a patent attorney who thinks that my SAT-word lacrosse balls are marketable product, in which case I will probably pick you).

Seriously, y’all. I love it when I get to recommend a book that combines my two favorite things:  Loving my kids and following Jesus. And Mom Set Free is chock full of great verses; I’ll borrow this one from p. 236 and leave you with a parenting prayer:

Lord, you have promised to fight for me. Help me to do what you say and just stay calm! (Exodus 14:14, NLT)

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From the Bedside Stack: Summer Reading Picks

My bedside table always has a stack of books by a fairly diverse collection of authors.

P.G. Wodehouse (think Downton Abbey, only funnier and more redemptive), C.S. Lewis (just finished Prince Caspian, again), and John Grisham (always a fun beach read, plus he’s a U.Va. fan) have all been in the mix this summer.

You might notice, based on the photo, that one of my own books is there, too. I keep a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children close at hand since, quite honestly, I need it. I might not re-read all the stories, but if one of my kids needs something like wisdom, protection, or even a sense of purpose or direction in life, I love having a collection of prayer verses at the ready. I’ll never forget the night, years ago, when a teenaged Virginia burst into our bedroom and, seeing me sitting up in bed with my book, stopped short. “You are reading your own book?” she asked. “Oh Mom. That is just so sad.”

(What is NOT so sad is that, from now until June 30, you can download the digital version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for just 99 cents. Click here to order…and please pass the word!)

Another book I am LOVING was a gift from my eloquent friend, Michelle:

“Shakespeare,” author Mark Forsyth begins, “was not a genius.” He was a great writer who “started out badly” and only got better because he “learnt techniques and tricks.” The Elements of Eloquence is full of such tricks, all artfully articulated (which would be an example, of course, of alliteration). Whether you’re looking to snag a Pulitzer or just step up your thank you note game, this book is a winner.

And finally, I am finding myself longing for more of the Holy Spirit. Happily for me, the gals in our church are doing a summer study on Catherine Marshall’s The Helperan oldie-and-goodie that covers who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and a whole lot more in 40 bite-sized readings.

Not only that, but I’ve recently discovered a two-book series about the Holy Spirit by Susan Rohrer. Voted “Most Sensible” in high school (a designation she considered an indictment, rather than a compliment), Susan hardly seems the type to delve into things like supernatural gifts. But she does so – with exquisite grace and with a relentless attachment to Scripture, whether she’s talking about “out there” stuff like gifts of healing and prophecy, or the more socially acceptable graces (things like teaching, encouragement, hospitality, and even exceptional creative or technical abilities).

I realize that the Holy Spirit (and particularly his activity in contemporary times) can be a touchy subject in some churches. And I also know (because I’ve seen it happen) that his gifts can be misunderstood or misused. But The Bible in One Year reading plan has us in Acts right now, and when I read Acts 13:52 this week (And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit), I was like, “Yeah. I want THAT.”

If you do, too, check out The Helper or Susan’s books.

And if that’s not where you are (or where you want to go), then just stick with Mark Forsyth. Because, as far as I know, literary tricks like anadiplosis (which I may blog about next week, so start getting excited!!) have never sparked any controversies.

Happy reading!

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Lists to Love By

Okay so maybe you haven’t even started the Rick Warren Bible Study book I told you about last month, but if you are married, I’ve got something else you just HAVE to read. Seriously. (And besides. The College FBS Bowl Games are over and season 2 of The Crown doesn’t come out until sometime next fall, so what else are you gonna do?)

Get a jump on Valentine’s Day and check out Mark and Susan Merrill’s brand new books, Lists to Love By.

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There’s a volume for “Busy Husbands” and another one for “Busy Wives.” I love them both.

Why?

For starters, Mark and Susan are refreshingly honest. Susan is a high-energy, creative, can-do gal who figured that the “game” of marriage would be easy. “I thought the hard part would be finding a husband,” she confesses, “not living happily ever after.” And Mark (a highly organized, very disciplined guy) admits that he had his own expectations dashed, early on. He thought that most of the bumps that came along in their marriage could be solved if only Susan would “think and act more like me.” Right.

They also know their stuff. Mark and Susan have spent the past 20 years delivering books and radio shows and blogs and podcasts all designed to help people love their families well. They have research and experience and things like Google Analytics coming out of their ears, and they know what works. And what doesn’t.

And finally, Mark and Susan make it all very do-able. Each book offers 30 lists, along with step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Couples are challenged to examine their expectations about marriage (see above), evaluate how they are doing (you’ll find handy quizzes and thought-provoking questions), and make improvements that will lead to a more intimate and fulfilling relationship.

I’ve been thumbing through the lists in my book, trying to pick one or two to share with you. Trouble is, I like almost all of them. Even the ones that make me squirm, like LIST 8, which lets me know (point #3) that my man “desires conciseness.”

(Which I understand, except when I think that what I have to say is fascinating.)

(Which is often.)

LIST 18: 7 Things You Should Stop Doing to Your Husband in Public.

LIST 26: 10 Questions to Ask Your Husband Every Year.

LIST 21: 8 Creative Ways to Flirt with Your Husband.

LIST 10: 8 Keys to Understanding What Your Husband is Really Saying. Because we all need a good translator, now and then. And pity the guys, who have a harder time. Their version of this list includes NINE Keys to Understanding what Your Wife is Really Saying. Like, “What are you doing today?” means I’ve got some things that I want you to do today.

(To which I would say, “Duh.” And Robbie would say, “Ahhh. Good to know.”)

And here’s the thing about lists. When I used to write financial planning books (which Robbie still considers a Red Sea-style miracle), I learned that simply tracking expenses (which is the first step in establishing a workable budget) actually makes people spend less. In other words, just listing stuff – just thinking about your spending habits – can make a positive difference.

I can’t help but believe it’s the same thing with marriage. Just thinking about things like misplaced expectations, or areas for improvement, can’t help but make things better. And with pros like Mark and Susan in your corner, offering tips without judgment (“Take small bites,” they advise), you start to feel like a better marriage – a good marriage, one that you like – really is possible.

My goal is to conquer all 30 lists in the book, but you know what? If I can nail even just one of them, it will be a win. We’ll have a better marriage than we did yesterday. And, encouraged by that success, I will be motivated to keep going.

And so will Robbie.

Or at least, that’s the plan. I haven’t yet given him his book of lists. But I am about to.

(But not while pursing my lips.)

(Because LIST 24: 5 Ways to Use Body Language to Connect.)

xoxo

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Something you want, something you need…

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

When I heard this little nugget of Christmas gift-giving wisdom from my friend Natalie (her mother-in-law likes to hit all four categories), I liked it. And I decided to use it as a bar against which I could measure the stocking stuffers I’d found for the men in my life.

Something you want? Golf balls and surf wax. Check.

Something you need? Razors and (because airport security has all of ours) pocket knives. Check.

Something to wear? Socks and boxer shorts. Because Christmas. Check.

Something to read? The Surfer’s Journal. And (because I am trying to drum up family interest in a visit to the Holy Land) a magazine featuring the spectacular vineyards of Israel. Check and check.

Having covered all the key bases, I was ready for Christmas morning. Still, though, something was missing. I hadn’t yet found the perfect “one-size-fits-all” gift, the annual follow-up to presents like The Posture Brace of 2013 (which was advertised as being “virtually invisible” under clothing but wasn’t, but which, looking back, had the unexpected upside of checking two boxes, since it was both something you wear and something you need).

I gave it some thought. And some prayer. And I finally came up with what I thought was a terrific gift idea:

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Rick Warren’s Bible Study MethodsRick Warren (the guy who gave us The Purpose Driven Life) knows that Bible study can be tricky. We don’t do it, he says, because we don’t really know how (nobody ever taught us), we’re not motivated (we haven’t yet experienced the joy of discovery), or maybe because we are just plain lazy (ouch). Warren’s goal is to get us over all three of these hurdles and help us find an approach to Bible reading that works – specifically and personally – for us. To that end, he offers 12 different methods we can try, along with step-by-step instructions for each.

Twelve different ways to study the Bible? I figured at least one of ’em would appeal to my guys.

Now before you go telling me that they would have rather had more golf balls, consider the categories. This gift was something that they could read. And need (because who among us couldn’t use a little professional help when it comes to Bible study?). They couldn’t wear the book, obviously, but since one of our favorite uncles starts most of his mornings by looking at his wife and saying, “Tell me what I want to do,” I figured that maybe I could tell Robbie, Geoff, Charlie, and Robbie Jr. what they really wanted in their stocking.

Read, need, and want. Three out of four. Brilliant.

And, just to be sure that the fellas appreciated what a good gift this was, I tweaked the wrapping. Any old Santa can give you a razor. But a book designed to help you grow in your understanding of Scripture?

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Anyhow.

Truth be told, God gave me the book, too. Which is to say, I bought a copy for myself. Because this is the time of year when I always do two things:

First, I stop eating the Christmas cookies. (They are mostly gone, anyway, but come December 30 I start making a somewhat focused effort not to eat them. At least not until lunch.)

And second, I make a Bible reading plan. (I’ve written about this one before; click here to see last year’s ideas.) I figure that if I want to get to know God better (and I do), then I can’t just rely on my heart. I need to engage my head. I want to get to know God through the Bible, digging deep to unearth its riches – and letting them transform me. I want to get to the end of the year and say, “I grew. I got to know God better. I fell even more in love with him.

“I was changed.”

Do my guys want that too? I don’t know; I pray that they do.

I pray that all of us do. And if you’ve got your own favorite reading plans or study methods, I’d love to hear about them. Why not post a comment for others who might want to try what you like? There is not, obviously, any “right” way to read scripture; the key is mainly to grow in our faith, to fall deeper in love with our Heavenly Father, and to be equipped for whatever he has in store.

Because there’s a whole new year out there, just waiting for us to unwrap it.

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Celebrate Everything

(Note:  This post is the last in a four-part series on praying, trusting, and waiting. Please know, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, how grateful I am for you. May you and your families be satisfied with the goodness of God.)

I marked another birthday last month, and my friend Annabelle gave me a sign:

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Annabelle’s always up for fun. I’m thinking she meant the message as a party prompt, like: “Let’s have cake because it’s Tuesday.” Which is not such a bad way to live.

To me, though, the sign felt like more than a sign. It felt like a Sign. As in, it brought me face to face with the question that’s dogged me throughout this entire blog series: Is there really such a thing as the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting? Put another way, when we feel like God’s answers are long in coming (or when we aren’t sure we’re on board with what he seems to be allowing, and maybe it even hurts) do we still have good reason to celebrate?

The answer, I think, is yes.

I’m not quite there yet, but I know some folks who are. Folks like Katherine Wolf, a stunning beauty who was just 26 years old when she suffered a massive stroke that left her unable to speak, swallow, walk, or care for her infant son. As Katherine relearned how to live, she and her husband Jay were forced to reexamine everything they believed about God. Was he truly good? Had he made a mistake? And would they still be able to look at their lives and thank God for what he had given, for what he had allowed to be taken away, and for what he had allowed to remain?

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If you’ve not yet read the Wolfs’ book, Hope Heals, treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy it here. Or watch a trailer about their story here. I can’t begin to articulate how God led this precious couple through the gap between life’s expectations and its reality (and I would hate to even try, since they tell their tale with such raw and exquisite beauty), but I will tell you this: Katherine says that pain served as her teacher, bringing her closer to Christ in a way that went beyond anything she could have imagined. For that, she was unabashedly grateful. And Jay agrees: “The call to give thanks, not at the end, but in the midst, began to reverberate inside of us.”

Giving thanks in the midst. That’s where I want to be.

And that’s basically where Andrew Murray (whose book, Waiting on God, helped launch this blog series) winds up. We may think we are just waiting for the Lord to bless us (i.e., to meet our needs and grant our desires), but the way Murray sees it, God has a higher purpose in mind: We want the gifts, but “He, the Giver, longs to give us Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness.”

Heady stuff. And, for those who have not yet experienced that kind of satisfaction, potentially hard to accept.

And honestly? I might be tempted to think that this whole “satisfied with God” thing is reserved for extra-holy people (people like Katherine Wolf and Andrew Murray and a handful of other “varsity” Christians you sometimes read about) except for one thing. I spent much of 2016 interviewing parents for my upcoming book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. These folks are “normal” Christians, people just like you and me. People who prayed for their kids, took them to church, and tried to do all the “right” things in the parenting books.

But life didn’t turn out like they expected. Instead of picket-fence perfect (or even picket-fence close), these parents found themselves praying for adult children struggling with everything from getting through college to getting a job…from finding a marriage partner to navigating their way through a divorce…from battling addictions and mental health issues to surviving health crises like Katherine Wolf did.

Would these folks say they were satisfied? Would they say they had a reason to “celebrate”?

Amazingly (and almost beyond belief), they would. While none of them would wish their stories on anyone, virtually all of them told me some version of the same thing: Their challenges forced them to take their eyes off of the outcomes, because the outcomes were not always there. But the yearning for something good – something that would satisfy their deepest longings – still was. And the more they pressed in, the more they realized that their desire was not for an outcome at all.

Their desire, for themselves and for their children, was simply for Jesus.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ll be cooking a turkey and looking out at your picket-fence yard, where your picket-fence husband (or wife!) is playing football with your picket-fence kids.

Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be looking at things like loneliness, disappointment, broken relationships, and shattered dreams. Maybe you’ll be wondering where God is, or why he’s taking so long to show up. Maybe you’ll be wondering what you have to be thankful for, or what on earth you can celebrate.

If that’s you (and I’ve been there, so I get it), then can I just encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself the same question I’ve asked myself, time and again: Are you trusting in an outcome, or are you trusting in the Lord? Do you want what God gives, or do you want him? Are you willing to celebrate…not because you have hard stuff, but because God is with you in the midst of it?

God never said he would keep us from experiencing pain, or from having to walk through hard places. Instead, he said he would walk through them with us. And when we face the death of a dream or the loss of something precious, we can do so with thanksgiving, knowing that God is in control and that he has the power to resurrect whatever it is that we have had to relinquish, making it wonderful and new in his time.

Ephesians 3:20 says that God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” This year, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s do so knowing that our Heavenly Father is at work and that, no matter what circumstances or relationships look like right now, we can trust him to do more than we ask. Let’s thank him because he loves us in our questions, he has gone before us in our pain, and he offers us the satisfying and immeasurable gift of his presence.

Let’s celebrate. In everything.

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The Gifts or the Giver

(Note:  This post is part 2 of a 4-part series on praying, trusting, and discovering the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting on God. If you missed last week’s post, click here.)

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When Robbie and I got married, we put Psalm 84:11 on the front of our wedding program: For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

We loved that verse. We felt like God had blessed us with incredible favor already, and since we were technically “blameless” (the stain of our sin having been washed clean by the blood of Christ), we looked forward to a lifetime of more “good things” from our Heavenly Father.

That was 30-plus years ago.

In the past three decades, we’ve seen more good things than we could ever have imagined. But we’ve also seen more heartache, disappointment, and prayers that didn’t get answered (at least not in the way we would have liked). Given the perspective of time, some of these losses are easy to understand (e.g., my failed audition as a radio DJ), but some of them are much harder. Why, for instance, did God “withhold” the miracle we prayed for, when my sweet father was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 60?

Why didn’t we get the house we so desperately wanted to buy? Why did my dear friend’s marriage fall apart? Why didn’t God protect us from making that bad investment? Why didn’t my child get into that school…make that team…get invited to that birthday party? Why do I sometimes feel (like it says at the end of Psalm 88) like “darkness is my closest friend”?

I know you share those questions. We all have them. And when we ask God for something that we know is a really good thing – like the salvation of a loved one, or freedom from a crippling addiction – and he stays silent, that can be confusing. Frustrating. Faith-shaking, even.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But in my own journey (which has been shaped and supported by authors whose brains are much bigger than mine), I’ve found a few anchors that have helped to keep my faith in place. Maybe one of these mooring hooks will help you, too:

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Andrew Murray (whose classic, Waiting on God, served as the backdrop to last week’s post) says that in “every true prayer, there are two hearts in exercise. The one is your heart, with its little, dark, human thoughts of what you need and God can do. The other is God’s great heart, with its infinite, its divine purposes of blessing.”

I get the two-hearts thing. I know God has the power to move any mountain he wants to, so when I don’t get what I want in prayer (either for myself or for a loved one), I figure the problem can be traced to one of two things: Either I was wrong (in that what I wanted was not, actually, a good thing at that time), or God was (because it was good, and he didn’t deliver). Given those two choices – the desires of my little, dark, human heart, or those of God’s great, divine, purposes-of-blessing heart – I know which one I’d better pick.

Jennifer Kennedy Dean builds on this theme in her study, Live a Praying Life (which, incidentally, is hands-down my favorite Bible study on prayer):

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She says that God wants us to grow in things like tenacity and perseverance, and that when it looks like God is moving slowly (or not at all), he is “putting pieces together that you had not thought of.”

I get that, too. God rarely does things in the way, or on the timetable, that I would. That should come as no surprise, given verses like Isaiah 55:8 (which says that God’s ways are not our ways), but I spend more time than I care to admit trying to figure out what he’s up to. I know his plans are good, and I know he loves me…but sometimes, the stuff he does looks an awful lot like a whoopsie.

Dean has been there. But, in looking at the lives of folks who’ve gone through more than a few of those tricky places (guys like Joseph, who thought he was supposed to be a ruler but wound up being sold as a slave), she warns us not to mistake God’s will for his ways, or confuse what he is doing with how he is doing it. We only see part of the picture. And, she writes, “We cannot control God or tell him how to accomplish his plan.” That one may seem obvious, but trust me: When you have as many good ideas for God as I think I do, it can be hard to just sit back and wait. It can be tough to pipe down. And during those seasons when you spend the whole night weeping, it can be a stretch to believe the Psalm 30:5 promise that joy comes in the morning.

Because morning can seem like a long way off.

So what do we do? Where do we turn, when we feel like God has left us hanging, or that whatever he is doing is so mysterious, or is taking so long, that he might as well be doing nothing? How do the unexpected outcomes and disappointments of our lives (as well as God’s apparent silence in the face of these things) square with the promise on our wedding program, that “no good thing will he withhold”?

Again, I don’t have all the answers. But, more than 30 years after Robbie and I walked down that aisle, I finally noticed that our wedding psalm doesn’t end with verse 11. There’s more. Psalm 84:12 (the last verse in the psalm) says this: “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And that, I think, is the key.

It’s not “Blessed is the one who trusts in the good things you give.” Or, “Blessed is the one who trusts in your favor.” It’s “Blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And what I am finding out is that, when I pray, I often get it backwards. My trust is in the wrong place. Instead of trusting in God, I am trusting in an outcome. Instead of looking for him, I am looking for the blessings he provides. Instead of desiring the Giver, I am consumed with desire for the gift.

And when I don’t get what I want, I am sad.

I’ll deal with that next week – with what we do with the grief and anger that sometimes accompany unexpected or unwanted outcomes – but since this post is already too long, I’ll just leave you with some of the questions I am pondering this week:

If all we have is Jesus, is that enough?

Are we willing to explore the blessedness (the “unbroken enjoyment of waiting”) that comes with putting our trust in God?

And, at the end of the day, are we willing to settle for the gifts…or do we want to press in and behold the Giver?

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The “Unbroken Enjoyment” of Waiting

In his classic work, Waiting on God, Andrew Murray says that waiting “gives a higher value and a new power to our prayer and worship” because it links us to God and gives us the “unbroken enjoyment” of his goodness.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would ever put “waiting” in the same sentence as “unbroken enjoyment.” Not even on the same page. But thanks to one of those cosmic collisions that happens between life and learning, I am starting to believe that Murray might be on to something.

The “life” part of the collision is an unsettling mix of unmet longings and disappointing circumstances, the things I see and experience in the lives of those I hold dear. The dating relationship that was “supposed” to lead to marriage but didn’t. The promotion at work that never materialized. The deal that has not yet closed. The “deferred” notice on the med school application. The gap between homesick and happy for college students. The desire to have a baby (and the heartache that grows with each negative pregnancy test).

Those are the unexpected outcomes – and the unanswered prayers – that can make a person wonder about verses like Isaiah 49:23, which is where God says, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” 

The “learning” part is the light that is piercing the darkness. Thanks to resources like Murray’s book, as well as a Bible study I am doing right now on the Psalms (click here to see the teachings offered through Galilee Church), I’m cobbling together an understanding of verses like Proverbs 13:12 (“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”), and I want to invite you to join me.

Over the next three weeks, I am going to write about what happens when hope is deferred:

What are we supposed to do when our prayers are not answered in the way that we expect – or when they seem to be not answered at all?

How can we handle the grief, or the anger, that can slip in through the door of disillusionment and wrap itself around our hearts?

Is the “unbroken enjoyment of God’s goodness” really an option for believers today? And if so, how do we get there?

Waiting is hard. Murray says that the word patience is actually derived from the Latin word for suffering. That, unfortunately, makes sense. And it might explain why the Bible offers this little pump-up nugget:  “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14 ESV).

“Be strong and take courage” are words you might expect to hear at the outset of some adventure, some challenging or difficult enterprise that will tap (and maybe even exhaust) your deepest reserves. And if you don’t want to slog through that mire with me, I get it. Just check back in December, when I promise to post something more fun (an update, perhaps, to the Posture Brace or maybe even the Christmas Sweater).

But if you want to come along for the ride, I’ll leave you with the promise of good things to come:  A rescue, a firm footing, and a new song:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:1-3)

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And PS, for those who might want their own copy of Waiting on God:  You can download the 1896 version for FREE by clicking here, or order the updated version ($5.99, and with language that is easier to follow but still needs maybe a 600 on the SAT Verbal) here.

 

 

 

 

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Risky Faith, Exciting Trust

At some point during Virginia’s graduation weekend, her grandfather asked if she was excited to trust God for what’s next. Like so many new college grads, Virginia has a lot of irons in the fire, but the specifics (jobs, housing, learning to cope without acai bowls until she starts earning a paycheck) are all still swirling around in her blender, and post-college life can be daunting.

Which is why I love it that Papa John asked if she was excited.

On a good day, I might look at an uncertain future with a willingness to trust God, or maybe a resigned sort of readiness…but excitement? I don’t know. For me, trusting seasons – those times when the future (or even the present) is out of my control – are more often endured than enjoyed. Excitement rarely plays into the picture.

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But my pal Susan Yates would have understood John’s question. Her new book, Risky Faithdoes not discount the fears and worries of our lives (both the real and the imagined ones), but she challenges us to reorient our perspective. Instead of letting our “issues” (things like children, jobs, health concerns, relationships) take up the whole screen and cloud our vision, Susan encourages us to stack these things up against the awesome power and love of our Almighty God.

With 46 years of marriage, 21 (or more?) grandchildren, and a lifetime’s worth of trusting God, Susan is quick to share her own failings. But she doesn’t wallow in them. Instead, she takes us through the hard places of pain, betrayal, and disappointment and leads us into a new reality marked by gratitude, growth, and a confidence that God is soooo much bigger than our problems. Because he is.

And at some point, whether we are a newly minted graduate or a seasoned grandmother, we are all going to have to trust God for what’s next. It might not be easy, but one thing’s for sure: When we live the “risky faith” way (taking our eyes off the circumstances we see and fixing them on Someone we don’t), trusting God becomes less of a muddle, and more of an adventure.

Some people might even say it’s exciting.

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“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

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Summer’s Best Read

Untitled design (5)Looking for a good read this summer? Granted, this is not your typical beach book (no bodices get ripped, there are no steely-eyed men, and I’m pretty sure nothing gets hijacked or explodes), but The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is a classic and, if you’ve not yet explored it, put it on your list.

Hannah Whitall Smith wrote the book in 1883. I own the new (1888) edition, which Smith begins by saying that what she has to say is “no new story.” Indeed. It isn’t new, but every chapter feels fresh because it is so chock-full of practical stuff for making the Christian life one that is both enjoyable and do-able, no matter how many curve balls come our way.

Here’s a sample:

Most Christians are like a man who was toiling along the road, bending under a heavy burden, when a wagon overtook him, and the driver kindly offered to help him on his journey. He joyfully accepted the offer but when seated in the wagon, continued to bend beneath his burden, which he still kept on his shoulders. “Why do you not lay down your burden?” asked the kind-hearted driver. “Oh!” replied the man, “I feel that it is almost too much to ask you to carry me, and I could not think of letting you carry my burden too.” 

Yeah. I get that. I say I trust God to take care of me, but I don’t really give him my burdens – at least not all the way. Or if I do, I take them back, thinking that I somehow have to “handle” my stuff. And so I go through a lot of life like some poor, unfortunate soul, “weary and heavy laden” under a load of inner worries (weaknesses, temptations, feelings) and external concerns (my kids, my house, my health, my reputation, my ministry, my job, my hair…you get the idea).

Smith tells the story of a friend who had a very heavy burden: The circumstances of her life she could not alter, but she took them to the Lord, and handed them over to His management; and then she believed He took it, and she left all the responsibility and the worry and anxiety to Him. As often as the anxieties returned, she took them back; and the result was, that, although the circumstances remained unchanged, her soul was kept in perfect peace in the midst of them. She felt that she had found out a practical secret; and from that time she sought never to carry her own burdens, nor to manage her own affairs, but to hand them over, as fast as they arose, to the Divine Burden-bearer.

I thought that sounded pretty good. But I wasn’t sure how, practically, to do that. I mean, it’s not like my anxiety or my to-do list is a sack of potatoes that I can just leave on God’s doorstep. I mulled that one over for awhile, and then kept reading.

Do you recollect the delicious sense of rest with which you have sometimes gone to bed at night, after a day of great exertion and weariness? How delightful was the sensation of relaxing every muscle…You trusted yourself to the bed in an absolute confidence, and it held you up, without effort, or strain, or even thought on your part. You rested!

Okay, so here comes the slightly awkward part. Because she had me at “bed.”

I am one of those people (and I truly hope there are others) who literally climbs under the covers at night and says, “Thank you, God, for my bed.” Seriously. I really like my bed, and I am really grateful for it. And so, most nights, I tell God that. (I am sure that Robbie thinks I am crazy, and that God already knows I like my bed cuz I just told him that last night. But sometimes you just can’t be too grateful.)

Anyhow, I thought about what it feels like to just relax at night, and I decided that when I go to bed tonight, if there is any burden I am carrying over from the day, I am going to give it to God. I am going to picture it transferred, like a sack of potatoes, into God’s capable hands. And I am going to go to sleep. (I figure this is an extra-good plan to try at night, since the Bible says that God “will neither slumber nor sleep,” so even a vigilante/controlling mama like me can rest easy, knowing that Somebody is on the job.)

And then, if I wake up tomorrow and find my burden waiting like one of the dogs, I am going to do just what Hannah Whitall Smith’s pal did. I am going to hand it over to God again.

I don’t know if this experiment will help you, but feel free to try it with me. Or, just skip the whole bed thing and simply believe what Smith says is part of the secret:

“Your part is simply to rest. His part is to sustain you; and He cannot fail.”

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Happy Church

A lot of people like Christ. It’s the Christians who can sometimes be less…appealing.

Why is that? Well maybe, for starters, it’s because Christians are people. But according to author Tim McConnell, there’s more. In his view, one of the main reasons why folks aren’t all that attracted to Christians is that Christians (and Christian churches, especially) are just not all that happy.

I get that. When Robbie and I were newlyweds, we volunteered to teach Sunday School for a spirited group of fourth graders. Sometimes we’d play a version of Pictionary where the kids would draw things from that week’s lesson (Daniel’s lions, Jonah’s whale, ten scabby lepers) on the chalkboard. The contest always provoked a lot of giggling, and sometimes the cheering could get a little loud.

One Sunday, our door burst open. It was the teacher from the next class over, and she was clearly not happy. “What on EARTH is going on in here?” she scolded, stomping her feet. “STOP it! Don’t you know this is GOD’S house?!”

Eek. Robbie and I were barely out of college. We had no idea that God didn’t like Pictionary. Or laughter.

McConnell is all about laughter – and he says that God is, too. And hope. And joy, even in the midst of pain or suffering. Which is interesting, given McConnell’s pedigree. He’s a Presbyterian minister who is not, by his own admission, “naturally happy.” (He brought Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death along on his honeymoon.) But on the theory that our moods are often the product of our attentions and activities, McConnell has chosen to “embrace the practice of happiness.”

FullSizeRenderAnd, in his new book Happy Church, he invites us to do the same.

For some churches, that may require a shift in the way we approach some of our most familiar disciplines. For example, McConnell believes that Bible reading (a regular part of most churches’ liturgy, regardless of the overall worship style) should be a breeding ground for gladness. Churches that are pursuing what McConnell calls “radical joy” encourage listeners to try a verse on, to use and obey it in everyday life, take it out for a test drive, if you will. In happy churches, the Word is not just read. It works.

Likewise, McConnell says, the happy church sings. You might read that line and think, “Not me.” But if you do, you’re missing out. McConnell points to what he calls the “divine bounce” (God reveals glory; we return praise) and he has a boatload of research that points to both the rightness and the necessity of singing. It doesn’t matter whether the tunes are “psalms, hymns or spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), McConnell says that when God’s Spirit shows up, songs happen.

(And just as a sidebar here, I wish McConnell had interviewed me for his book. When it comes to singing – or doing much of anything – our family mottos is: If you lack talent, use enthusiasm.)

McConnell serves up plenty to chew on (and yes, there’s a chapter on eating), but my favorite section is the one on prayer. When the church prays, he says, “We are pulled out of our loneliness into active community, we are connected to God and feel his presence, and our prayers are fulfilled when we see the activity of God connected to our prayer life.”

I like that.

And I like the way the book wraps up, with a challenge to modern day churchgoers to stop squabbling about things like pews, worship styles, or other polarizing issues and start advocating for happiness. Because when it comes to being a beacon of gladness in a world that desperately needs a reason to rejoice, McConnell tips his hat to the Beastie Boys. It was true in 1986, and it’s still true today:

(You gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!).

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The Good Wife

Well, it’s wedding week.

Not only is Hillary’s big day on Saturday (whoop!), but Robbie and I celebrated 30 years of our own bliss on Monday. I posted this shot on Instagram, both to mark our anniversary and because who needs pricey wedding calligraphy when your mom is such a whiz with yellow spray paint? Pinterest people, eat your heart out:

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In preparation for her impending nuptials, Hillary has been wending her way through Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of MarriageIt’s a great read. And a sobering one; anyone who thinks marriage is all about finding happiness need look no further than the subtitle – Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – to know that Keller isn’t peddling a fairy tale.

But Hillary isn’t the only Berndt brushing up on her marital literacy. I’ve been reading a how-to book of my own. It’s called The Good Wife Guide and, while this book may not be as widely read in evangelical circles, let me assure you that it is every bit as challenging as Keller’s work.

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The Good Wife Guide starts off with a no-nonsense observation:  “A man’s home is his castle and as such, he ought to be treated like a king.” Lest there be any doubt as to what, exactly, that means, there’s this:  “It’s every wife’s responsibility to dote upon her hard-working spouse, to show that he is truly appreciated!”

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That’s Rule #1.

And then, assuming that the reader is hooked (because who wouldn’t be?), the book features 18 more must-do’s for keeping a happy husband:

Rule #12:  Follow His Lead. (“If, instead of hanging on your every word, he mumbles one-word responses to your questions while perusing the newspaper…don’t take it personally.”)

Rule #16:  Sing His Praises. (“Tell him he cuts a fine figure…or marvel at his business acumen when he relays a story from the office.”)

And, my personal favorite, Rule # 6:  Greet him with a smile. (“With just one glance at your face, your husband should know that his very presence marks the pinnacle of your day.”)

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Shocking as it sounds, I will confess that it didn’t take me three decades to break every one of the Good Wife rules. It didn’t even take me three weeks. Heck, I’m not even sure I was a good wife for three days. Maybe. (But that was on our honeymoon, so I doubt if that part counts.)

The rules are hard. But you know what? I really like them! I think most of em make sense. I know I don’t have that exciting of a life, so maybe this isn’t saying much, but when Robbie comes home at night it really is the pinnacle of my day. So why do I show him where the dog dug up the grass, or ate the driveway rocks, or barfed on the sisal? Why don’t I smile?

I know The Good Wife was written as a retro-fun gag (its counsel comes straight out of the Ladies’ Homemaker Monthly, a popular magazine from the early 1900s). But, at least in terms of the sentiment that lies behind the rules, the marital advice could have been written way earlier.

Way earlier, as in the first century. As in, when Paul was writing his letter to the Philippians, which has a lot of terrific advice for relationships. Here are a few gems from that how-to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Do everything without complaining or arguing.

If I were writing a marriage book, I think I’d just rip off Philippians. Follow Paul’s advice – like his secret to being content both when you have plenty and when you are in need, or his idea of taking your troubles to God instead of worrying about them – and presto! Problems solved, right?

Actually, I wouldn’t steal from Philippians. (I mean, that one’s a best-seller every year; why mess with perfection?) And even more actually, I wouldn’t write a book about marriage, because Keller already did that (with his wife, actually), and theirs is pretty darn good. But, based on the success of The Good Wife Guide, I’m thinking that some sort of manual for the guys might be in order.

The Good Man Guide. Maybe, since guys like to watch TV (it doesn’t seem to matter what’s on; I once found Robbie watching a test pattern), it should be a video series.  Rule #1 could be, “If I have a problem, don’t try to fix it.  Just listen.”

Because, as every gal would tell you (and if you’ve seen this one before, it’s worth a re-watch), it’s not about the nail.

 

 

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Here Comes the Bride!

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In The Undertaker’s Wife, there’s a chapter in which a woman – the “prophet in red stilettos” – shows up to attend a funeral and asks Dee Oliver (a.k.a. the undertaker’s wife who, by this time in the story, is the undertaker’s widow) if she is married.  When she learns that Dee’s husband has passed, the woman doesn’t miss a beat.  “You are going to get married again,” she proclaims.  “The Lord has a husband for you.  But you don’t need to go looking for him; he will find you.”

The Bible says that there are a lot of false prophets out there, and that one way to tell if a message is from God or not is if it comes true.  Well, this gal with the red kicks seems like the real deal because (spoiler alert) Dee is getting married this week!  I’ll let her tell her story in her own good time, but I will say this:  If I get to write it, we might call it The Wedding Planner’s Wife, since her beloved (Mr. Boyd Melchor, pictured here) has pretty much taken over every detail of their impending nuptials and, based on the plans that he’s laid thus far, it promises to be glorious.

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So Dee, congratulations!  All God’s best to you and Boyd as you begin your new life together.  I love your story, especially the fact that (just like for all of us) it is still being written.  And not to steal your personal prophesy or anything, but I think the promise that the woman gave you at the funeral that day, words from Joshua 1:8-9, are pretty perfect for anyone who wants to see their own story end well:

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

I guess we should just put an Amen right there.

But by way of a P.S., here’s this:  For all of you who have posted comments or written reviews saying you really liked The Undertaker’s Wife except for the ending cuz you wanted to know what happened to Dee, well…now you know.  And for those who have not yet read the book, here’s a wedding party favor:  Click here to download the first few chapters for free. Whoop whoop!

 

 

 

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To Know is to Love

FullSizeRenderThe toughest part about throwing a wedding?

For me, it might be choosing the wine.  You’d think that someone who likes the fruit of the vine as much as I do would find this an inspiring job (another tasting? Yes please!), but that’s not the case.

Robbie and I are blessed to have befriended a lot of wine enthusiasts  who, over the years, have graciously shared some of their favorites from the cellar.  Not wanting these folks to show up on our big day and gag over our offerings, I decided to tap into the wisdom of Proverbs 15:22 (“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed”) and get their input, up front.

Oh my.

The first guy was happy to take my call.  Twenty minutes later, I knew more than I ever wanted to about the difference between a Cabernet and a Malbec (which doesn’t seem like much, actually), the “lock” some growers had on different price points, and how Argentina was producing some really good varietals right now.  Or maybe it was Australia.  I can’t remember.  (See?)

The next fella’s reply came via email and was incredibly well organized.  Fifteen of his favorites, all listed with accompanying prices, commentary (“People think it is expensive because he was once a ‘cult’ winemaker”) and an assessment of each wine’s “drinkability.”  Drinkability?  I thought that mostly came down to whether or not you had a glass and corkscrew.  (And I’m not really positive about the glass.)

I think my favorite tip came from the wife of one of the connoisseurs, who offered to hook me up with his buyer. I spent about half a second fantasizing about how I could work that relationship into party conversation (“I was cleaning the lint trap on the dryer the other day, and it reminded me of something that my wine buyer said…”), but I knew I couldn’t pull it off.  Sensing my growing panic, the wife hung up the phone and then graciously sent me this text:  “It’s going to be great no matter what you serve.  We’re Episcopalian.  We’re happy with anything.”

That’s what I’m talking about!

IMG_8498I know I sound overwhelmed, but I actually loved all the expert feedback, if only because it proved the point that Jen Wilkin makes in her fabulous book, Women of the Word.  On the theory that you can’t love what you don’t know, Wilkin’s mission is to help us go after God not just with our hearts but also with our minds.  

Right off the bat Wilkins taps into scientific studies done by Yale brainiac Paul Bloom, who specializes in – get this – “pleasure research.”  (Talk about a sweet job.)  Bloom cites a clear link between knowledge and enjoyment, maintaining that our pleasure in something increases when we learn its “history, origin, and deeper nature.”  For Bloom, a ready example is wine:  “The key to enjoying wine isn’t just to guzzle a lot of expensive wine,” he says.  “It’s to learn about wine.”

Our grape-loving friends would add a hearty amen right there.  The more they know, the more they love.  (And presumably, the more they drink.  But far be it from me to point any fingers.  Especially when they invite me to share the love.)

Wilkin takes Bloom’s research and slaps it onto two of her favorite topics:  Bible study, and our relationship with God.  “Finding greater pleasure in God will not result from pursuing more experiences of him,” she writes, “but from knowing him better.”  Instead of making the Bible “all about me” (wisdom for my life, direction for my relationships, comfort for my sorrows), she encourages us to approach it as a book that is “all about Him.”  As we get to know God’s character, we can’t help but fall deeper in love…and as a result, we are changed.

I may never be a sommelier (I think those people have to know the difference between Argentina and Australia, for starters), but when it comes to knowing the true vine – the one from John 15, who makes our lives bear fruit – I want to drink deeply of the stuff Wilkin is peddling.  I don’t want to just study the Bible; I want to study God – to know him better, to love him more, to let him transform both my heart and my mind.

And as for the wedding wine, well, I can’t worry about that anymore.  I figure that the same God who turned water into wine at that wedding in Cana 2000 years ago is still showing up at parties today.  Maybe he can make a few tweaks when nobody’s looking.

 

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“…And then We had Weddings!”

She didn’t know it back then, but more than 20 years ago, I tapped Susan Alexander Yates to be my mentor.  I read her books, attended her speaking engagements, even booked her to come give a parenting talk at our church.  Slowly (and perhaps because she sensed that I wasn’t going away, and she figured she’d rather have a buddy than a stalker), we became friends.  And today, with a heart that is bursting with gratitude for Susan’s writing as well as her friendship, I am thrilled to welcome her to the blog.

First, though (and with a nod to Ricky Ricardo), I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

It’s about this picture:

 

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Not too long ago, Susan and her friend, Barbara Rainey, came out with a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest.  Since I’d read all of Susan’s books (my personal favorite being And then I had Kidswhich details what happens when a woman looks askance at other people’s snotty children running around with no underpants…and then has five kids of her own in seven years), I quickly snapped up this one when it came out.  Robbie was about six months away from his college launch when he saw it lying on our kitchen counter.  Certain that I was already measuring his bedroom for drapes and filing cabinets for my new office, he sent me a snap with this caption:

“I’m not gone yet mom.”

True.  But I was a girl scout for about five months before my mom decided she didn’t want to sell cookies, and I still live by the motto:  Be prepared.

And I must say, Susan and Barbara got me ready!  In the book, they tackle the sorts of questions that every new empty-nester grapples with:  Who am I now?  How will my marriage be affected?  Does anyone need me?  How do I relate to my children?  Is it okay to feel sad?  Or thrilled? 

What’s next? 

These gals write with wisdom and candor, and if you or someone you know is about to jump into this new adventure, their advice will certainly ease the transition.  (Robbie’s snapchat doesn’t do the Empty Nest cover justice; to see a better image, or to order the book, click here.)

Anyhow, Susan is a wealth of good family intel, regardless of the season you find yourself in.  When she heard I was looking at two weddings in four months, she weighed in with some advice, which led to this blog that I will share with you now.

(Finally, I know.)

And just so you know how cute Susan is, here’s her pic:

Susan Yates Prof Photo

Here she is, in her own words:

“And then we had Weddings!”

We had five kids in 7 years, including a set of twins. In those early years I simply staggered through each day, waiting for someone to fall asleep or for my husband’s car to pull in the drive so I could run away or at least hide for a few minutes. Physical exhaustion was my constant companion. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the teen years and the emotional exhaustion that would hit all of us during that season.

And weddings? They were way off my radar screen.

However Allison, our eldest, ushered in this new season for us when she and Will decided to get married one week after college graduation.

It was uncharted territory for me and I desperately wanted to “do it” right.

“Allison, you are our first and Dad and I don’t know what we are doing,” I said.  “We want this wedding planning to go well but we are most likely to blow it so if I get too bossy or say the wrong thing please tell me.”

And I did – and she told me. It was a time of learning together, of my letting go, and of granting grace to one another for the mistakes we made.

A few years later we had 4 weddings in three summers. Our twins got married the same summer – just six weeks apart. Since these were to be our 4th and 5th weddings, I hoped I’d learned a few things. But the sheer complexity of two large weddings so close together was mind-boggling.  I felt like I should have been a pro by then, but it seemed that every time I turned around there was another decision to be made, another contract to sign, another detail to cover.

One morning as I was praying over plans these words came to me:

Susan, remember you are not merely planning an event. You are building a family and relationships are more important than details.

I wrote this message out and taped it to my refrigerator. As things got crazy, these words helped me to remember what really mattered.

When our kids get married, our priorities radically change. No longer is my relationship with my child the priority. Instead, the relationship my child has with his or her spouse becomes the priority. And that means I have a new role. Now I have to take a step back. Now my job is to encourage their marriage to flourish and to pray for them. And now, when a child calls and asks for advice, I need to remember that I am no longer the “first responder.”  Now, my first question should be, “What does your spouse think?”

Change is awkward. It takes time to negotiate new relationships. As you work to establish what your relationship with your married child “now” looks like, here’s a little encouragement to see you through:   Lower your expectations, assume the best of each other, choose laughter over irritation, and always be willing to ask for forgiveness.

The best is yet to come!

 

(Jodie’s note:  Can you see why I find Susan so encouraging?  Even if you’re not in a wedding season, you can tap into Susan’s wisdom for families via her blog, or check out her “One Word” tweets – nifty posts that detail an attribute or character trait of God – which you can find @susanayates.)

(And in the interest of social media fairness, if the links don’t work and the Twitter address turns out to be bogus, don’t shoot me.  Remember, I am a techno-moron.  Just post a comment on this blog and I will find a way to hook you up with Susan.  You can’t steal her as your mentor, but you can still benefit from her wonderful insights for living!)

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Book Giveaway: Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner

Note to readers:  This post is the first in a three-part series.  I met author Wendy Blight last year and, given the national conversation that’s taking place about sexual violence, particularly on college campuses, I found her story both relevant and redemptive.  JB

 

“I hesitated, then spoke three words I never thought I would utter:  ‘I was raped.'”

Wendy Blight had a seemingly perfect life.  Voted a “Baylor Beauty,” engaged to be married to her college sweetheart, job offer in hand as she graduated – it was all working out exactly as she had planned.  But then, after a leisurely afternoon by the pool with her friends on a muggy Texas day, she returned to her apartment and found a masked man waiting for her, wielding a large knife.

What followed was a horrific crime, and then a 15-year journey to find answers:  Where was God when I was attacked?  How can my rapist go unpunished?  Can I ever feel safe?  Will I ever just be normal again?

In her compelling book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner:  The Transforming Power of God’s Story,Wendy phototells how, after the assault, fear and doubt became the driving force in her life.  I imagine that anyone who has ever been the victim of sexual violence would readily understand Wendy’s torment.  For those who have not experienced that pain, the honesty in her story opens the door to a deeper level of empathy, offering valuable insight into how to come alongside those who are hurting.

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know I love the University of Virginia, and right now I am privileged to be part of a group of students, alumni, and faculty members who are working to assess (and improve) the school’s climate and culture, particularly as it relates to sexual assault. We’ve talked with legal experts, law enforcement officers, bystander education advocates, professional counselors and a host of other brilliant and compassionate people, and I am encouraged by the progress that’s being made.  New policies and procedures are taking shape, and more and more students are stepping forward to help one another.

Perhaps nowhere, though, have I seen the path to hope and healing charted so clearly as it is in Hidden Joy.  Because she has “been there,” and because she doesn’t try to gloss over her anger or her confusion, Wendy’s story resonates with truth.  And when she begins to trust God – to see his hand in her life, working for good purposes, even in the midst of her pain – it makes you want to stand up and cheer.  It’s like watching a prisoner step out into the light.

I wish I could put a copy of Hidden Joy into the hands of everyone who has ever been a victim, or who has ever wanted to help a friend find hope amid the ashes of suffering.  I can’t do that, but sweet Wendy has offered to send a free, signed copy of her book to someone who posts a comment on this blog – we’ll pick a giveaway winner at random and announce that on Wednesday.

I’m also turning this space over to Wendy for the next two days.  Tomorrow, she’ll recap her story and offer a free chapter of the book to anyone who would like to read more.  And Wednesday’s post will feature  strategies for staying safe, insights Wendy first shared on Oprah Radio and now offers to us.  They’re commonsense tips, but important ones – and, if you’re like me, you’ll want to forward them to your children, your friends, and anyone else who will listen.

(3.18.15 – Congratulations to Helen Roberts of Virginia Beach, who will soon be receiving her complimentary copy of Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner – and thank you, Wendy!)

 

 

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Book Giveaway: The Undertaker’s Wife

You know how you run into people at a party or wherever and they try to regale you with some story about how they  accidentally bought a three-legged dog (which actually happened to Robbie’s aunt) or how they tried to use a cherry bomb to unclog a toilet (his uncle, who stood on the lid), and they wrap it all up and  say, “My life should be a book!”?

For most people, that’s not true.  Trust me.  Partial dogs and imploded commodes will get you through the appetizer course, sure, but that’s about it.

photoFor Dee Oliver, though, her life was a memoir screaming to be written.  And, thanks be to God, it has been!  The Undertaker’s Wife:  A True Story of Love Loss, and Laughter in the Unlikeliest of Places, releases this month.  If you’ve ever seen The Blindside or The Help or even a rerun of The Addams Family, you will read Dee’s story and think, “Can the movie be far behind?”

Okay, okay.  So I’m a little biased.  In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the book with Dee.  But even our minister liked it: “Southern women have found their Mark Twain in Dee Oliver!” is what he had to say.  (Even before he got his free copy.)

Here’s a little excerpt from the back jacket, just to whet your appetite:

On Dee Branch’s first date with Johnnie Oliver, a fourth-generation funeral director, she knew she was in for a unique relationship when he had to leave “for just a minute” – and came back to the car with a corpse.

You can’t make this stuff up.

It’s not really a spoiler to let you know that Johnnie dies (you pick that up in the first chapter), or that Dee winds up working in an African American funeral home (which you can read for yourself on the back cover).  I’d tell more (and believe me, there’s plenty, from the time Johnnie nearly choked to death on her engagement ring, to the funeral homily about the man who had been “drinkin’ and chasin’ women and never bein’ much of a daddy to his kids” and still got into heaven) but I’d rather you read the book for yourself.  Part memoir, part how-to book, The Undertaker’s Wife is probably the best book I’ve ever read (and certainly the best one I’ve ever had a hand in writing) about the common ground of grief, the practicalities of death, and the ever-present faithfulness of God.

And here’s a nifty treat:  By posting a comment on this blog, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a free copy of The Undertaker’s Wife.  Check back on Friday to see who won – I’ll reveal the “super lucky” winner (have you noticed that “super” is, like, the most popular blog word ever?  Super cute shoes!  Super easy dinner recipe!  Super helpful tip for stain removal!) at the end of this post.

(If giveaways aren’t your thing, or if you’re like me and you aren’t really sure how to post a comment on someone’s blog, you can click here and buy the book for yourself.)

And, if you happen to be in or around Virginia Beach, Virginia, on March 25, please join us for a special book launch with Changing Seasons.  I’ll be interviewing Dee and, even though she doesn’t know it yet, we’re going to take questions from the audience.  Last time I heard Dee speak, a 76-year-old woman wanted to know “where you put the Botox.”

(If possible, please come up with a new question this time.)

(Although that was a good one.)

(I mean, people want to know.)

Hope to see you on March 25th…or on the blog!

 

BOOK GIVEAWAY UPDATE:  Congratulations to Nancy Keshian of Winston-Salem, NC.  She was the 7th person to comment on this post, and will soon be receiving her free copy of The Undertaker’s Wife.  Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it, Nancy!

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Dog Hair and Grace

photo 2Some women love it when their man shows up with jewelry, or maybe tickets to a Broadway show.  Me, I’m more of a “hair of the dog” kind of gal.  As in, literally, the hair of the dog.

As in:  Get it out of here and I will love you forever.

Now, I’m not knocking new baubles or an evening out.  (Seriously.  I’m not.  Sometimes Robbie reads these blogs, and I’d hate for him to get the wrong impression.)  But anyone familiar with Gary Chapman’s love languages will know what I am talking about when I say that Acts of Service is a big deal to me.  And I am confident that, on Maslow’s lesser-known Hierarchy of Services, “Getting Rid of Dog Hair” ranks right there at the top.

But this particular act of service is, at least in our house, a quixotic endeavor.  As you know if you saw them in their Christmas finery, we have two dogs:   Khaki (a fat, stubborn Lab) and Max (a scrawny, good-natured Golden).  Between the two of them, they probably shed about 17 pounds of hair per day.  I am not, by nature or nurture, much of a “dog person,” but I don’t think I am being mean or unfair when I say that this habit is not attractive.

Because here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how often I vacuum or how vigorously Robbie furminates (which is, I believe, an actual verb), there is no way we can vanquish the dog hair completely.  To the casual observer, the house may look clean (and if I knew you were coming over, I would put the dogs in the laundry room and run a lint brush over the couch that Khaki probably thinks is named “Get off!”), but it would be a temporary illusion.  Look closely (or, heaven forbid, actually pet one of the dogs) and you’ll see the harvest.

Dog hair – and stay with me, here – is like sin.

I mean it.  Sometimes you look down and you realize that you are covered in it, and that you have to go back upstairs and change before you go out in public.  Sometimes, it’s a little more hidden; only you know what’s lurking on the grill under the refrigerator.  And sometimes, it’s just that one tiny little piece and you pluck it off of your black pants and you think you are good…until you spot another one.

I’ll be honest.  I get depressed about the dog hair.  And I would get depressed about my sin, too – except for this one (a-hem) saving grace:  God has taken care of it for me.  That’s basically the message in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a group of people who thought they had to earn God’s love and acceptance by following all the Jewish laws and religious customs.  “Not so!” Paul says (and I am paraphrasing here).  “It’s not about what you do.  It’s about what God already did.”  God knew we couldn’t do it on our own, so he sent Jesus (and you gotta love the term Paul uses) to “rescue” us.

I’d go on, except that Tim Keller makes the case for grace much better in his book, Galatians for You.photo 1  “The average person on the street believes that a Christian is someone who follows Christ’s teaching and example,” Keller writes.  “But Paul implies that’s impossible. After all, you don’t rescue people unless they are in a lost state and a helpless condition!  Imagine you see a drowning woman.  It doesn’t help her at all if you throw her a manual on how to swim.  You don’t throw her some teaching – you throw her a rope.”

I don’t know if Keller is a dog person or not (he probably is, because he seems well-adjusted), but I am sure he would agree with me on this:  If we spend our lives trying to live up to some sort of “moral cleanliness” – if we vacuum and furminate until we think our house is “pretty clean” (or at least “cleaner” than so-and-so’s) – we’re doomed to a life marked by guilt, insecurity, and exhaustion.  We won’t be able to do it.

If, on the other hand, we turn the dog hair of our sin over to God, trusting in him as the Ultimate Furminator, we are golden.  We can grab hold of the rope and relax in the security of God’s unmerited favor and love, knowing that nothing we do (or don’t do) will ever change the fact that he is absolutely crazy about us.

God is crazy about us.

Dog hair and all.

(Bonus material:  You really can’t get rid of your own sin.  And trust me on this one:  If you have a Lab, you will never get rid of your dog hair.  You will have to move.  But if you have a spare 35 bucks and you want to try your hand at furminating, or if Acts of Service is your primary love language and you have a husband who doesn’t mind tilting at windmills just to show how much he cares, click here.)

 

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Good News for Marriage

So Sunday night’s Marriage Course kick-off was really good. We had a little trouble with the music, which meant that Robbie had to use his techno-brain to fiddle with the system during the exercises, which meant that I didn’t have a chance to fail any more “how well do you know your spouse” quizzes. It was perfect.

And interesting. We talked about what marriage is (one definition says it’s when you find “that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life”), and why it can be so challenging sometimes. Nobody really thinks about the “for worse” part of the vows; when you head to the altar, you’re pretty focused on the “better” stuff.

But then life happens.

You lose a job. Somebody gets sick. You struggle with infertility, or a difficult pregnancy. The bills pile up. The car breaks down. You discover that your white knight leaves dark hairs in the sink. Or grey ones. You get tired.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been married for two months or twenty years; there are pressure points during every season. Some couples eventually cave under the load. Others stick it out. Still others find a way to thrive. How do you know what might happen to you?

Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher and the author of a nifty little book calledphoto copy The Good News About Marriage, says that a lot of times it comes down to this:  Do you have a sense of hope…or one of futility?

“A couple could go through a terrible period” she writes, “but if they felt certain they would make it, they usually did.” Even just the hope that things could get better was often enough to inspire them to “do what was needed to right the ship, patch the holes, and keep sailing.”

On the flip side, if a couple thought they were doomed, they often were. A “sneaking feeling of futility” or the sense that things would “never change” would creep in to crippling effect:  “If the ship is going to sink anyway, why bother working so hard to bail it out?”

Fortunately, there’s plenty of reason to hope, based on Feldhahn’s findings.  Need some good news to put the wind back in your sails? Try one of these pearls:

Most marriages are happy. Most couples, given the chance, would do it all over again.

Most problems are not “big ticket” issues; often, it just boils down to what you don’t know about what you don’t know, and the fix is relatively easy.

Couples who attend church regularly have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t.

And get this eye-opening gem:  The commonly accepted (and inherently demotivating!) statistic that “half of all marriages end in divorce” is bogus.  The real figure is closer to 20-25% for first-time marriages, and 31% overall.

I don’t know about you, but in a world that seems to slam marriage at every turn, where I meet young couples who don’t want to get married because they think they have, at best, a 50-50 shot, or where older couples slide toward boredom or infidelity (emotional or physical) because mediocrity seems to be “as good as it gets,” this sort of research is a game-changer. I mean, if most marriages are happy, then complaining about yours–without doing anything to fix it–means that you’re missing out. Why not shift gears from futility to hope and see if that changes anything? Heck, why not try going to church?

I don’t mean to treat marriage troubles lightly, or pretend that they can be fixed with a wiggle of the nose. But just knowing that they can be fixed–and that 75-80% of your pals are patching the holes in their boats–has got to mean something.

And speaking of patching the holes…next week in the Marriage Course we’ll shine the spotlight on communication.  You already know I am a gifted interrupter, but if I can manage to keep my trap shut for a few minutes and listen, I will try to snag a few good nuggets to share with you.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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One Word for the New Year

photo 1 “What if one thing could improve your life in incredible ways?  What if One Word could mean the difference between repeated failure and newfound success?”

That’s the offer made inside the book jacket on this little book written by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon, three guys who’ve experienced more than a little bit of success in business, athletics, and family life.  I got a copy of One Word after meeting Jimmy at a lacrosse tournament (he was coaching a Fellowship of Christian Athletes team), and I think it’s terrific.

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions (which, studies show, are abandoned by half of the people who make them by the end of January),  Jimmy and his family pick one word–things like serving, purpose, surrender, grace, determination, connect, and shine–each year.  Then they “live it”–with some pretty remarkable (and sometimes challenging) results.

If you’re tired of making commitments that revolve around things like exercising more, drinking less, or managing your money (yawn), or if you just want a fresh take on the New Year to share with your family (or with a circle of friends; a few girls and I have been “picking words” for years, and praying each other through the transformations they effect), why not give One Word a try?  You’ll find tips on quieting your heart, discovering “your” word, and then learning to live it, powerfully, no matter what 2015 brings your way.

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Why Shop When You Can Read a Good Book?

photo 3_1I don’t know about you, but the torrent of “Black Friday” emails is stressing me out. I don’t want to start my Christmas shopping; I’d much prefer to savor the tryptophan hangover with a good book by a warm fire. I know I might miss my Big Chance to get 40% off a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System, but you know what? I can live with that.

Speaking of good books…have you read The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs? It came out last year, to great acclaim. The book revisits the birth of Christ through the eyes of Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, and if you are looking for an uplifting Advent read (or simply a way to put off going to the mall), look no further.

Higgs mixes familiar Bible passages with a warm and sometimes humorous narrative, and we find ourselves captivated not just by this fresh look at historical events, but by also by depth of wonder and transformation these “women of Christmas” experienced—and that we can, too.

A few nuggets:

About Elizabeth, the barren woman for whom God’s kindness took away her “public disgrace” (Luke 1:25), Higgs writes, “Through all her years of feeling less-than, Elizabeth had worshipped a more-than God.”

About Mary, who received an unheralded and unexpected angelic visitor: “In the same way, while we go about our daily tasks, God’s divine plan is unfolding. At any given moment our lives could change dramatically. No surprise to God, yet a big surprise to us. That’s what we find happening [to Mary].”

And about Anna, the old widow prophet who worshiped night and day at the temple: “She was standing nearby when she saw Simeon holding a babe and praising God. Her heart must have leaped for joy. The Messiah! ‘God, who had cared for her so faithfully all these years, saw to it that she didn’t miss that sacred moment.’”

and she gave thanks to God. (Luke 2:38)

Verse by verse, vignette by vignette, Higgs gives us the chance to get to know this trio of women who lived in a world not all that far removed from our own, a world in which turkey dinners and online shopping deals can take our eyes off the off the real news of the day:

“All across Judea people went about their business, making their goods and tending their flocks, unaware, unprepared. But Mary, Joseph, and all of heaven knew.

“He is coming.”

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I Want More Out of Life

I love old books. For one thing, their age is proof that they can stand the test of time. For another, at least when it comes to Christian books, the old stuff is usually a lot less about “me” and a lot more about God. Refreshing.

photo-2One of my new-old favs is Catherine Marshall’s Beyond Our Selves. I first read it as a teenager; I rediscovered it this year. The bad news is that this 1961 book is out of print. The good news is that you can get copies on Amazon for as little as a penny!

Marshall gets right to the point: Most of us, she says, yearn for something more—something that requires outside help—“either because of some problem for which we have no answer or because of a nagging consciousness that we should be getting more out of life.” She takes us by the hand and, using a refreshing combination of common sense and biblical teaching, offers practical guidance on everything from trusting God to slaying our egos to appreciating our own helplessness and imperfection. (And as a bonus, Marshall’s real-life illustrations, set against the backdrop of life in the 1950’s and 60’s, will appeal to anyone who appreciates the retro-hip nature of a housewife busy with her spring cleaning, or the bygone image of children picking violets and playing a twilight game of kick-the-can.) Continue reading “I Want More Out of Life”

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Better than Downton

photo-1Hey Downton Abbey fans! Were you sad when Sybil died? Bummed to see Matthew crash his roadster and make Lady Mary a widow? Confused about why, when we’ve said goodbye to so many stellar characters, we still have to put up with poor Edith each week?

If you’re like me, you find yourself watching the show—loving the costumes, hanging on the drama both above and below stairs, waiting for the next pearl to drop from the Dowager Countess—and then, at the end of each episode, longing for something more. Something…uplifting. Something happy.

P.G. Wodehouse is your answer! Like Downton creator Julian Fellowes, Wodehouse is thoroughly British (Fellowes is a member of the House of Lords; Wodehouse was a knight), thoroughly accomplished (both penned best-selling novels), and thoroughly versed in the social trials and tribulations of those who totter around in castles and dress for dinner. (Ever heard of Jeeves, the butler? Pure Wodehouse.) Continue reading “Better than Downton”

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