How Does Jesus Want to be Loved?

True confession: I’m not the biggest Women’s Retreat gal.

I know people think I’m super social, but deep down I think I must be an introvert. Things like retreats, ladies’ luncheons, and even baby showers always sound so friendly and inviting up front, but part way through all the happiness I usually start to lock up. My smile muscles hurt. My face tends to freeze. And I’m sure, when people see me on the way out, they think to themselves: “There goes some bad botox.”

Honestly, though? I loved the retreat I attended last weekend with Galilee Church. And not just because we literally met in a room on TOP of the ocean:

Or because (and if this happened at every retreat, I’d get season tickets) they had TVs for the U.Va. fans. (And yes, I did pack my pom-poms and some BEAT DUKE stickers to share.)

I loved this retreat because of the people (lots of wide open hearts), the worship (songs like What a Beautiful Name), and especially the teaching. Whitney Capps was our speaker.

That woman is pumped about Scritpure. I can’t begin to tell you all that she said (we had three meaty sessions, and I was scrawling notes the whole time), but I want to take a stab at one thing that stuck with me. Whitney talked about how Jesus wants to be loved.

(And let me interrupt myself right here and say: If you already have a touch of the wobbles today and you can’t take much Deep Thought, maybe come back next week, when I will try to be lighter. But for those who want to dig in, buckle up and let’s go.)

Remember the lawyer in Luke 10, the guy who stands up and wants to know how to inherit eternal life? It’s a good question–and Jesus turns it right back on the guy:

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus asks. “How do you read it?”

The legal eagle doesn’t miss a beat: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’” he says (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5), “and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (that one’s from Leviticus 19:18; clearly, that guy knew his stuff).

Jesus tells the fellow he’s right. And then their convo segues into what we know now as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But Whitney didn’t go there. Instead, she camped out on one little verse–Luke 10:27–and teased out how, exactly, we are supposed to love God. Like, what does it really mean to love Jesus with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind?

Another good question–and one, honestly, I’d never really thought much about.

Turns out, loving God with all our HEART involves not just passion and desire, but also thoughtful reason. The Greek word for “heart” in this verse is kardia–which is where we get our term “cardio.” To the Luke 10 audience, this word would have implied engaging the will, or making some kind of resolution to love.

Loving God with all of our SOUL (which comes from the word psuche, as in “psyche”) taps into the deepest part of our being. Our soul is the part of us that is not dissolved by death. It has a moral component, one that resonates with eternity, because our soul is designed to be everlasting.

I’m gonna skip the word STRENGTH for just a sec, and move onto MIND, which comes from the Greek word dianoia (and I am probably butchering half this stuff, so if you are a Greek or Hebrew scholar, I am begging you: Please leave a comment). Dianoia connotes “understanding.” It is more than just knowledge; it is a way of thinking about information. It’s a mental processing that, Whitney suggested, is inspired and unlocked by the Holy Spirit.

So let’s recap.

To love Jesus well, we need to engage our heart (our passion, desire, and thoughtful reason). We need to love from our soul (from the very depths of our being, with an eye on eternity). We must love with our mind (not just knowing about God, but knowing God–putting all the pieces together and processing who he is, what he does, and how incredibly much he loves us).

And we need to love the Lord with all of our strength. I left this one until last because it’s a different word in Hebrew than it is in Greek. In the Deuteronomy (the Hebrew) version that the lawyer quoted, strength was also translated might, and it implied loving with “abundant force”–something that the Jodie Expository Dictionary might call True Grit. It’s the kind of love that keeps you hanging in there, against all odds (and against all sense of feeling), because it is rooted in what you know to be true. It’s a love that is brave.

In the Luke 10 passage (the Greek), the word strength comes with a twist. Yes, it implies things like power and might, but the Greek translation also involves ability or aptitude–as in, strength as a God-given gift. Isn’t that cool? We can love God with the strength that comes from somewhere beyond ourselves. We can love with the strength he provides.

Is your head spinning yet? Yeah, mine was too. But when I got home from the retreat I started looking stuff up (there’s a website called blueletterbible.org where people like me–people whose grasp of Hebrew pretty much begins and ends with Bar Mitzvah–can have serious fun in the weeds). And when you boil it all down, what I want to ask you today (and what Whitney asked us) is this:

How do YOU love God?

Some of us may find it easy to love God with our hearts (our passion, our reason, our desire). Some do it from the soul, just sort of “breathing” in Jesus. Some may find it easy, natural even, to mentally put all the pieces together, and process God’s nature with an understanding that compels us to love. And some of us–particularly those who are going through a really hard time, a time where maybe we don’t understand how or why God could let something happen–are loving God out of our might. We love him even when we don’t feel it, or when it doesn’t make sense to our minds. We love Jesus out of sheer grit, out of the strength he provides.

I know (cuz he said so) that God wants us to love him in all of these ways. So let’s think about where it is easy for us, and where maybe it’s hard. And let’s ask God to increase our love. Let ask him to equip us to love him with all that we have, and all that we are.

Ok. I think I’ll leave it right there. Because honestly? I don’t even really know what all of this means. All I know is that I want to love Jesus well. Really well.

Because he loved me first.

 

Leave a Reply


Facebook, Twitter, and Grace

So the other day, I saw where Facebook wanted to send me a message. I clicked on the little bell and got this:

Improve my reputation? I didn’t even know I had a reputation–at least not on Facebook. Sheesh. One MORE thing to worry about.

Social media, as we know, is not my best sport.

On Twitter, for instance, I recently heard from a blogger who wanted to know where I’d gone to college. I tweeted right back (I was On it!, that day): I went to U.Va.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that tweet, per se. And normally a sentence like that makes me proud. What went wrong, in this case, is that I tweeted my answer to everyone. Like, to all of Twitter. Now the whole world (even the people who don’t give a rip, which is all of them) knows that I WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA!

(Who knew there was a way to keep your tweet convos private?)

(Probably everyone. But still.)

And don’t even get me started on Instagram. I set up an account a long time ago, and I was getting pretty comfy on that platform. Until Virginia saw me looking at my phone.

“Mom.”

“What?”

“You can’t like your own Insta.”

Sigh.

(Is there an Emily Post book for social media? I feel like if I just knew the rules, I could do better at not breaking them.)

(But not really. Because even if I had an etiquette book, I think I’d still wonder: What’s so bad about liking your own Instagram? Isn’t there an entire shelf in Barnes & Noble about learning to love yourself?? Should we not all like our Instas? Seems like that would be healthy.)

Anyhow.

All of these whoopsies–and so many more, like the podcast I did where I didn’t know we were recording for the first FIFTEEN MINUTES–point to a couple key truths:

First, God is so good.

God knew we’d blow it–and not just on social media. He knew we’d stink it up in our marriages, our parenting, our finances, and in so many more areas where we try (and fail) to do the right thing. And so he gave us an answer. “My grace is sufficient for you,” he promises, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God has us covered. Nothing we do can make him love us any less. In fact, our failings–humbly acknowledged, and with gratitude for his redemptive intervention–act as magnets for his mercy. (Don’t believe me? Check out James 4:6, Psalm 51:17 and, most especially, Romans 8:38-39.)

And second, God is hilarious. I can’t point to any particular verse that says “God is really funny” (Psalm 2:4 says he laughs, but in that case, it’s not a sound that you really want to hear), but there’s definitely some good and joyful merry-making in the Bible (see Psalm 126:2 for starters, or consider the fact that Sarah literally named her kid “He laughs”). And even without passages like these, I figure that God has GOT to have a good sense of humor, since he has has put up with us for so long. Since he has put up with me.

And that, according to social experts, is critical. I saw a few minutes of a show about Speed Dating last week (I was trying to find a U.Va. Basketball recap on SportsCenter, but I am not good with remotes), and the number one most attractive quality in a person is (singles say) a good sense of humor. God has one. We should, too.

So next time you blow it, here are two things you can do. First, don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh, if you can.

And second (because sometimes blowing it is not at all funny), remember God’s grace. It’s for all of us. And it’s what God does best. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

That’s the Apostle Paul talking, but heck. It might as well be me. There are definitely days when I feel like THE WORST. (And not just in the social media world.)

But that’s okay. Because nothing–as in, nothing–can separate us from God’s love.

Tweet THAT, America.

 

Leave a Reply


Yield Fruit and Prosper

If you’ve been around this blog for more than a year, you’ve likely seen pix of our Dock Tree. Which is, on January 19, still out on the dock.

Boats and Christmas both mean a lot to my man, and I guess, somewhere along the way, Robbie figured it made sense to combine these two loves. All he needed, he said, was six new boxes of lights. And maybe eight more extension cords.

To me, the Dock Tree seemed silly, at first. But now that we are in the Empty Nest years, it fills our lives with meaning. And purpose. We look at the Dock Tree first thing, with our coffee. We look at it late at night, before bed. We take pictures–scads of pictures–eager to capture its beauty in different lighting and weather conditions.

And, as with children, we learned that Dock Trees can be tricky. They do not, for example, fare too well in high winds.

This year, Robbie tried a new plan. He mounted the tree on a thick piece of plywood, one that has languished in our garage for the past 15 years (waiting, some might say, for such a time as this). Surely, the heavy foundation would hold.

It did not.

As I stood in the kitchen, cradling my coffee mug and looking out at the fallen tree from the warmth of my window, I thought about Psalm 1. “Blessed,” it says, “is the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” When we love the Bible–when we read it and cherish it and let its truth soak into our lives–we will be “like a tree planted by streams of water.” We will “yield fruit in season.” And whatever we do “will prosper.”

Those are some good promises, and ones I’d like to see fulfilled in my life. And–taking a cue from the Dock Tree–I have to think that a key term is “planted.” Because if all we do is screw ourselves into some plywood, without having any roots to grow down deep, it doesn’t matter how close to the water we get. God’s word will not nourish us. We won’t bear any fruit. And rather than prospering when the storms of life hit, we’ll be apt to fall over.

There’s a note scrawled in the margin of my Bible beside Psalm 1. Apparently, I prayed it over our family, back in 2014. Feels like 2018 might be a good time to pray it again:

Heavenly Father,

May we take delight in your word, meditating on it day and night as we go through our lives.

Plant us by streams of water, with roots that go deep. Let us yield fruit in season (and be patient in the winters of our lives, when the buds cannot yet be seen).

Bless us and prosper us, in all that we do. (Psalm 1:3)

In Jesus name,

Amen.

Leave a Reply


“Stealing” Pansies

Last week, a friend summed up the reason for Las Vegas (and pretty much every other awful thing). “These things happen,” she said, “because the world is evil. And until people recognize that–until they realize that the only answer is Jesus–they will never know peace.”

I had to agree. I was less worked up than my friend (we’d been running, and she was pretty sweaty about it), but I realized that she was completely and totally right. Nobody is good. “We all,” Isaiah 53:6 says, “have gone astray.” And we’d all be doomed, except for the second part of that verse: “…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Garden Club.

Which is, I realize, an unusual, and possibly inappropriate, segue. But I promised to tell you about the Pansy Sale. And I think it kind of fits, here.

If you’ve ever been in a garden club, you know it’s the sort of group that attracts Very Capable women. Women who get things done. Women who, had they been aboard the Titanic, would have had duct tape stashed in their purse.

The Virginia Beach Garden Club has about 60 of these gals. And every year, we put on our aprons and get together to raise a boatload of money for veterans’ gardens, children’s hospital spaces, environmental education and conservation efforts, and all manner of community beautification projects.

It’s pretty good stuff. And, generally speaking, people are happy.

Except when they aren’t.

Which happens, sometimes. Like when a customer orders Delta True Blue pansies and decides, when she comes to pick them up, that she really wants Delta Blue with Blotch. (We let her switch.)

Or when someone who is not “authorized” tries to put her hands in the order form box. That’s not cool.

Or (and honestly, this is the stuff of garden club nightmares) when we run out of flowers.

Which is what happened this year.

Due to an accounting error (which would, ah, be mine), we came up ten flats short. Of Delta Pure Orange. Which, in case you don’t know, is a great-looking pansy:

We had customers waiting to pick up their orders – their orders of Delta Pure Orange – but we had run out. There was not an orange blossom in sight. Fortunately, I remembered seeing ten flats of the coveted flower outside of the sale, in the place where we’d stashed 115 flats for the City to plant.

(And if you think you are bored right now, please. I lived this.)

“Come on,” I said to my co-chair, Latané. “Let’s grab those orange pansies outside.”

And we did. We grabbed a giant metal rack, dashed out to the parking lot, and loaded ‘er up. We thought we were safe. But no. Somebody’s husband was watching. It was just like I used to tell my kids, when I’d quote Numbers 32:23. “You may be sure your sin will find you out.”

The guy texted his wife:

 

(It’s true. Garden club is a dirty business.)

The thing is, though, I was not, technically, stealing the pansies. I had a plan to replace them. And I was just about to get on the phone to our supplier to order up ten more flats of Delta Pure Orange when I heard a commotion on the other side of the pansy cart. I poked my head around the flowers just in time to see the guy from the City rip into my friend Dee (who, in addition to being a long-time member of the Garden Club, also happens to be the subject of our book The Undertaker’s Wife).

Dee, having spent half her life in the funeral business and all, ain’t scared of much. Normally, she has an answer for everything. But as she stood there, getting positively clobbered by a very big man who’d been robbed of his pansies, I could see she was shaken.

“I–” she began. “I don’t know anything about your missing pansies.”

Dee’s profession of innocence did nothing to curb the man’s ire. He went on. “I want my pansies! I want the pansies I ordered! None of this funny business, okay?”

(He actually said that. He actually said “funny business.”)

Now, at this point you are probably wondering why I did not step in to rescue my friend. I was about to, but you know how sometimes things unfold in slow motion? Yeah. All I could think, as I watched the assault, was how much Dee was looking like Jesus. She had done nothing wrong (and she is, in fact, a garden club member in very good standing) and yet here she was, paying the price for my sin.

It was like watching the entire gospel message unfold in less than 30 seconds. I was smitten.

You’ll be glad to know that I finally stepped in, calmed the guy down, and got his flowers replaced. Pansy crisis, averted.

But the whole thing got me thinking. Nobody stepped in for Jesus. He absorbed all of our sin, every last bit, so that we could be free. And he did it so that our hearts (which are so naturally bad) would have the chance to be good.

And in that act, he gave us the answer for evil. The only answer. And every single time somebody turns toward him, the darkness gets pushed a little more back.

Evil will lose, eventually. “No longer,” it says in Revelation 22:3, “will there be any curse.” And in the meantime, we can take heart. As in, literally.

As in, we can take God up on his offer to get rid of our old yucky heart (the one that leads us astray) and replace it with the heart he designed. Cuz that’s been his plan, from the start: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Swapping True Blue pansies for Blue with Blotch won’t change anyone’s life. It won’t push back the darkness, or deliver us from evil.

But swapping your heart out for God’s most certainly will.

Leave a Reply


Would You Rather Be an Ear or a Hand?

Would you rather be an ear or a hand?

That’s the title of the talk I did at Galilee Church yesterday. We are studying Spiritual Gifts this semester, and my job was to cover the seven gifts that the Apostle Paul outlines in Romans 12. Paul makes a case for the fact that we all have different gifts, and that these things should all be honored and celebrated since “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body.”

Laura, the gal who runs the Instagram account for our study, came up with a fabulous graphic:

Because seriously. Who better than Mr. Potato Head (or, in this case, Ms. “Wonder Woman” Potato Head) to ask whether you need an ear or a hand? Clearly, this is a gal who values all of her body parts.

As I prepared to teach, I remembered a game that our family used to play on car trips, or at other times when we wanted to talk about deep and life-shaping things. It’s called “Would You Rather?” and, basically, it’s a conversation starter where anything goes: Would you rather be somewhat annoying or totally dull? Would you rather have good hair or good legs? Would you rather (and this is the question that actually got our family game started) suck an old man’s toes, or have an old man suck your toes?

(Yeah. I’m not proud of that one.)

(But I did write a blog about it, a couple years back. Click here here if you want.)

Anyhow.

As I mulled the Romans 12 list (prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy), and considered some of the other passages we’ll study (like 1 Corinthians 12, which talks about gifts like healing, or having a word of knowledge, or speaking in tongues), I realized that I sometimes approach God’s gifts the way I do vegetables: I like broccoli, but I’d rather pass on the beets. I was fine if God wanted to give me the spiritual gift of teaching, encouragement, or even hospitality (because apparently if it’s a spiritual gift and not a Martha Stewart thing, the linens don’t all have to match). But when it came to the more mystical stuff – stuff like the gift of interpretation (which is where somebody speaks in tongues and you understand what they are saying, and you translate for everyone) I balked. To me, that was way out on a limb. Way too much margin for error.

I mean, I barely made it through French.

But then, as I worked on the teaching, I kept coming around to something Paul said:  All these (that is, all of the gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 

Ahhh. There was the rub. Did I think it was up to me to tell God which gifts I would “rather” have? Or was I willing to let him do the picking?

Like pretty much everything in this Christian life that I don’t always understand, I knew there was only one answer. I had to put myself in God’s hands. I had to let him decide how to “grace” me, even if he nudged me out onto a limb. Because honestly? He knows how I am formed (Psalm 139), and he’s got a plan for the part I should play in the body of Christ.

And that’s actually the crazy part. The spiritual gifts aren’t even about me. They are meant for the body of Christ. They are meant to build others up – to strengthen the church, to meet people’s needs, to point folks to Christ – and to bring glory to God. Who cares if God makes me an ear or a hand? It’s not about me!

Phew. Okay. That’s enough deep thought for today. It’s Friday. It’s time for me to start asking myself: Would you rather have pizza or wine? (Um…I’ll take both.)

But if Spiritual Gifts is a topic that interests you and you want to follow along with our study, you can watch the videos here (scroll all the way down to the bottom; I think my friend Lisa’s captivating message on 1 Peter 4 is up there this week).

And if you find yourself where I was, not really sure if you’d rather let God gift you or not, can I just encourage you with this one little prayer? It’s something I’ve prayed any number of times, as I’ve sensed God prompting me to do something that didn’t come naturally, or that I did not understand. It’s a good one, and it’s one that I know God will answer:

Lord, make me willing.

I want to receive all that you have; I want to follow you with all of my heart. But I am going to need help.

So please show me your truth. Open my heart.

Make me willing to go where you lead.

Amen.

 

Leave a Reply


Hope for the “Not Yet Found”

Okay Y’all. You know that September is book giveaway month — and congratulations to Sharon G. and Beth P., who won last week’s copies of Sara Hagerty’s new release, Unseen (which my pal Jeannie Cunnion and I are super excited about!):

Today I want to share insights from another beloved author friend, Hannah Whitall Smith. And BTW, Hannah has no idea that we are friends, but I know we will be, in heaven. She looks like someone you could confide in:

The reason I want to tell you about Hannah today is because of something she wrote about the “mother-heart of God.” And if you’re praying for a child who has made some bad choices (or who has maybe even walked away from the Lord or from your family), listen up. Because Hannah said (and I know you mamas will get this) that her experience as a mother did more than anything else to shape her ideas about God’s goodness and love.

“Who,” she wrote, “can imagine a mother with a lost child ever having a ray of comfort until the child is found, and who can imagine God being more indifferent than a mother?”

(In other words, take the love you have for your child, times it by about a zillion, and realize that God will never stop loving — and pursuing — your child.)

Not only that, but I love what Hannah said about the whole idea of being “lost”:

“Are we not,” she wrote, “distinctly told that the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine good sheep in order to find the one naughty sheep that is lost, and that He looks for it until He finds it? And, viewed in the light of motherhood, has not that word ‘lost’ a most comforting meaning, since nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found?”

Nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found.

Isn’t that just the best? As a mom, I love knowing that my children belong to God. I love knowing that he is loving enough to go after them, and powerful enough to do more in their lives than anything I could ask for or imagine.

And if you’re praying for a prodigal today, can I just encourage you with a couple of thoughts? This is something I talk more about in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, but that book doesn’t come out until December, and maybe some of you need this right now:

First, God knows our pain. He knows exactly what it’s like to love a child, to teach him to walk, to feed him and kiss his cheek—and then to have that child grow up and walk away, choosing a world marked by bondage, rebellion, dishonesty, and destruction. He knows what it’s like to be angry with a child or devastated by his choices…and yet still be utterly, overwhelmingly consumed by love. (If you don’t believe me, check out Hosea 1:1-11.)

Second, God’s love for our children is not contingent on their faithfulness (or on ours). God’s love is higher than the heavens, his faithfulness reaches to the skies, and even if we are faithless, he remains faithful. He can’t help it; that’s just who he is. (Psalm 108:4, 2 Timothy 2:13)

And finally, God gives us a wealth of promises that we can use to pray for our children. Jesus told his disciples that no one could come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44), so let’s pray that. Let’s ask our gracious Father – the God who is infinitely tender, and infinitely strong – to draw our kids to Christ, and bring them home.

Heavenly Father,

Give _____ a heart to know you, that you are the Lord. Count  ______ among your people. Be their God. And draw them to return to you with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)

Amen.

(The quotations from Hannah Smith are from the original edition of her spiritual autobiography, The Unselfishness of God. I can’t find that book in print, and more recent versions omit several chapters. But Catherine Marshall talks about Hannah and the mother-heart of God in her book Beyond Our Selves – you can find the relevant stuff in chapter 2.)

Leave a Reply


What I Learned from Being a Tree Frog

My plate was already too full. I didn’t have the energy, or the time. Plus, I barely even knew any of the 150 kids who’d signed up.

Why would I want to help out at Vacation Bible School?

I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I like VBS. When my children were young, I volunteered every year. I saw the job as a great way to get to know my kids’ friends, strengthen their faith, and maybe even introduce a few newcomers to Jesus. And if doing those things meant dressing up in fake lederhosen to show the kids how to climb Mt. Everest (which, I am sure, had a Very Spiritual Point that I am temporarily forgetting right now), then so be it.

That was then. This is now. And now, when the call went out for volunteers, I said no. Nothing good, I thought, could come out of having me as a helper.

At best, I’d be marked as a fraud. Today’s kids are savvier than they were 20 years ago, and I knew my plastic “snowshoe” tennis racquets wouldn’t cut it. I’d be Googled – and outed – in no time.

And at worst, I’d get hurt. I am too old to climb mountains. When I get up in the morning, my knees sometimes creak. Even my computer knows things are slipping; when I clicked over to BibleGateway just now, look what popped up:

(I don’t know what’s worse: The thought that you might get mistakenly flagged as a terrorist, or that the NSA spies will just brand you as “old.”)

Where was I?

Oh yeah. I did not want to help.

Still, though, it was my church, and I figured I had a duty to serve. So I did what came naturally.

I donated the paper products.

And for about 20 minutes, I felt pretty good. Duty done. But then, early one morning as I was thinking about my Super Important to-do list (I had to get a hair cut, pick up the dry cleaning, alphabetize the pansy orders for the annual Garden Club sale), I read this:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)

I was like, Seriously God?

And he was like, Yes.

So I said okay. I will do it. I will spend one day as a VBS volunteer.

But, as it happened, they didn’t really need people in God’s courts for one day. They needed people all week. So could I please be a leader for one of the Animal Family tribes at Noah’s Ark?

Sigh. Okay. Make me a lion. Or a tiger. Or even a zebra. Something grand and majestic, something worthy of the “family cheer” that, according to the Leader Handbook, each tribe would GET TO CREATE!

They made me a Tree Frog.

I didn’t even know what a “tree frog” was when I showed up and they gave me my visor. But I put it on and studied my list. I had 10 seven year olds.

Day One began well. One kid showed up, looked at me, and immediately requested a transfer to another tribe. Three children were sick. My ten had been whittled to six. Things were looking up.

“Tree frogs have only four fingers!” announced one little guy, demonstrating the fact by hiding his thumbs and clinging to my arm.

“We’re small, but we’re mighty!” crowed another (which, actually, became the basis for our family cheer).

I liked these kids. They seemed smart. And enthusiastic. And active. No sooner had we finished our first aerobic session of singing when it was time to head outside for rain-and-flood-themed games.

Games like “Line the Leaders Up Against a Brick Wall and Try to Hit Them with Water-Soaked Sponges.”

I couldn’t believe it. A few of the kids had incredible arms, and had I been a middle school baseball coach, I would have been early recruiting. As it was, I stood there, ducking and dodging and trying not to get beaned. And all I could think about was (inappropriately, I know) that scene in The Hangover where the kid tazes Alan and the delighted cop keeps yelling, “In the face!”

(Yet another reason why I should not be a Bible School helper.)

By Day Three, I was exhausted. As in, more than what a glass of wine and a nap had the power to fix. I could not remember any workout that had left me so tired or so sore, not even the ones I used to do in my leg warmers, with Jane Fonda. (See? Old.)

I was also – and unexpectedly – inspired. And refreshed. And encouraged.

Because I thought I knew Noah. Who doesn’t? He was the guy who built the ark and saved himself, his family, and the tree frogs. He was the guy with the dove. And the rainbow.

He was all those things, sure. But he was also the guy who obeyed God when, honestly, he probably didn’t even know what he was doing, or why. Back then, nobody had ever even seen rain, much less the “floodwaters” that God said were coming. It’s not hard to picture the neighbors talking about Noah behind his back, or even mocking him to his face.

(I mean, let’s be honest. We’ve had neighbors drop hints when our grass got too long. How much more would they squawk if Robbie went out there and started building a boat that was as big as a football stadium?)

And yet…Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)

VBS gave us an up-close look at the guy:

Day after day, we watched Noah’s progress. And to see him there, putting fake tar on his fake ark while all the fake villagers (teenagers whose costumes were definitely more authentic than my mountaineer kit) stood around scoffing, it kind of broke my heart. And I wondered: Did the real Noah ever get discouraged or tired? Did he question whether he had heard God right? Did he ever look up and say, “Hey God. I’m too old.”

He could have. He was (and I’d forgotten this little detail) 600 when the rain started to fall. Six hundred.

And, in that little nugget, God spoke. I don’t know what he said to the rest of the tree frogs, but what he said to me was this:  You are never too old to bear fruit. You are never too old to obey. And you are never too old to be mine.

And these tree frogs of yours? They belong to me, too.

And I love them.

Well that was all I needed to hear. Hang on my back and hit me again with a water sponge; I don’t care. Because you know what? Better is one day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere.

And so here’s the thing: I don’t know if maybe God has asked you to do something hard – something that takes a long time, something you don’t really understand, or even something that (to other people, at least) looks a little bit crazy. I don’t know if maybe you are wondering whether you heard God right, or if he will actually do what he promised. I don’t know if maybe you’re where I was, and you’d say yes to God’s nudge if you weren’t just so darn busy. Or old.

I don’t know. But I do know this (because it was our VBS memory verse, and we jumped up and sang it every day): Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That’s Genesis 6:8, and it’s the same grace that God gives us today, even when we don’t feel up to whatever it is that he’s called us to do. His grace is sufficient; his power is made perfect in weakness.

So…say yes to God. He’ll make it all worth it.

(And if you don’t, who knows what you’ll miss?)

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Lessons from a Lollipop

I am one of those people who still loves to get the mail. Never mind that the daily haul is almost always a depressingly bland mix of bills, advertisements, and unwanted catalogs. Call me Charlie Brown, but every time I walk out to the curb, I can’t shake the sense that today will be different – that surely somebody will have sent me something I like.

Last week, my hope was rewarded. I opened a fat brown envelope and found this:

There was no note, or even a return address, but I knew who the lolli was from. We’d just gotten back from helping Virginia move into her new apartment in New York City, and we’d heard a fabulous lollipop-based sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The talk wasn’t really about candy; it was about Psalm 23 and how we, like sheep, are lost, loved, and led. But somewhere in between describing God’s love and his leading, the minister shared a story about the time he overheard a father talking to his three-year-old daughter, who was enjoying a lollipop.

“What do you love more,” the dad asked, “the lollipop or this dollar?”

“The lollipop,” the girl said.

The dad waited a moment. “What do you love more, the lollipop or our dog?”

No hesitation. “The lollipop.”

“Tell me,” the dad finally said, “What do you love more, the lollipop or Mommy?”

You can guess what the little girl said. Hilarious.

Now, we know she didn’t really love her lollipop more than she loved her mother. But the illustration helped drive home a good point: Whatever is most real to us is the thing that we love. Or fear. Or find ourselves consumed by. It is the biggest thing in our vision, and so it colors our world.

With the lollipop image fixed in our minds, the minister looped us back to Psalm 23 and talked about David and Goliath. Goliath was huge; his presence intimidated the Israelite warriors. And he would have filled David’s vision, too, except for one thing. To David, God was more real. God’s unseen presence in David’s life (whether he was fighting lions and bears or lying down in green pastures) was bigger than any visible threat. Instead of seeing a big scary giant, David beheld the power of God.

There were all sorts of good takeaways (click here if you want to download the whole sermon for yourself), but for Virginia and me, the main one was this: God is bigger than anything in our lives. And as we practice his presence – as we dig into the Bible, obey God’s commands, rely on his power, and love and serve other believers – he will become more and more real. And we will become more and more willing to follow him (even when we don’t know what he is doing, or when it hurts and it feels like we are walking through the “darkest valley”).

To Redeemer’s David Bisgrove: Thank you for an encouraging sermon. Please forgive me for stealing your lollipop story, but it (like your whole message) was too good not to share.

And speaking of sharing y’all…

I WISH I had a pic of Robbie carrying Virginia’s dresser up ten flights of non-air-conditioned stairs. He is an amazing dad, but even the best guys don’t always appreciate their wives’ photojournalism, so I snapped Virginia instead. But don’t be fooled by what looks like happiness; at this point, we were all slightly bonkers. The only thing keeping us going, I think, was the promise of a glass of wine with dinner…and the knowledge that God was bigger and more real than our sore, sweaty selves.

Leave a Reply


Where’s the Joy? (Three Keys to Finding It)

I took a walk with a new friend a few days ago.

We talked about our lives (as women do), and the conversation quickly turned to areas where we were trying to trust God in the midst of uncertainty, frustration, and even pain. We covered pretty much everything: jobs and marriages, children and parents, housing and health, you name it. And as we walked along, sharing our concerns, I finally (and probably inappropriately) laughed out loud.

“Do you realize,” I said, “that if a non-believer happened to overhear us, that they would NOT want to sign up for our team? I mean, who wants to be a Christian if all you do is slog through life, trying to obey God and hoping you get it right? Where’s the joy?”

“I know!” my new friend agreed, with a bittersweet smile. “We are not a very good advertisement for the abundant life, are we?”

That conversation has stayed with me this week. Where, indeed, is the joy? All of us have problems, sure, but do those things really have power to keep us from experiencing God’s goodness – and rejoicing in that? How do we move from the slogging life to the abundant one?

I wrote about the abundant life a couple of years ago, after our daughter jumped out of an airplane with a stranger named Ollie (an adventure we learned about after the fact, via Instagram):

The gist of that earlier post was that trusting God can be scary, but it’s the thing that opens the door to the good stuff. I still think that trust is the key…but if we are struggling with how, exactly, we get there, it might help to take a good look at Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3, KJV). Put another way, it’s not like any of the stuff my friend and I talked about (challenging marriages, jobs, kids, whatever) was any worse or more painful than what he went through.

And yet Jesus had joy. Not just the “one day this will all be over and I’ll go to heaven” kind of joy. Jesus also had here-and-now joy, and it made people want to be around him. Granted, he was God, but he was also 100% human…and so how, given all the ick he went through, did that work? How did Jesus have joy?

Obviously, there is more to be said, but three keys come to mind:

First, Jesus knew that God loved him. His sense of identity and purpose didn’t come from what anyone else thought, said, or did. His worth came from God – and as God’s beloved, he knew he belonged.

Second, he knew God’s promises. It didn’t matter what sort of obstacle, hardship, or insult he faced, Jesus knew God was bigger. And stronger. And more real.

And finally, he didn’t live for himself. Everything Jesus said or did was others-focused. And, in loving and serving other people, he experienced the fullness of joy.

Again, I’m sure there is MUCH more we could say about joy, but chew on this one, for now: All of these joy-keys are already ours. 

Seriously.

We have what he had. And, like Jesus, we can face the worst of life’s muck and have here-and-now joy. He wants us to have that (in fact, he prayed that we would), so let’s follow his lead. Let’s turn God’s promises into our prayer. Let’s ask God to fill us with joy:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for lavishing your love on us and calling us your children (1 John 3:1). When I feel rejected or alone, remind me that I belong to you. (1 Peter 2:9). When life seems overwhelming and I can’t see a way forward, help me put my trust in your mighty power and unlimited understanding (Psalm 147:5). Show me how to follow your example so that I can love and serve other people; fill me with your joy and make my joy complete. (John 15:10-12).

Amen.

Leave a Reply


“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over”

Robbie and I spent last week at a lake in Ontario, Canada. It’s a place he went every year as a child, as did his father before him. And it’s where we used to take our kids in the summer, before they grew up and got stuff like husbands and jobs and apartments in far-away cities.

This time, it was just the two of us. We’d been looking forward to cooler temps, water sports, and endless hours to read and relax. But then we pulled up to the boathouse, and I knew I was in trouble. Because here’s how I remember it looking, back in 2007:

And here’s how it looked last week:

Same thing for the dock. It’s where we used to hang out and fish, or have early morning quiet times:

Now, not so much:

Everywhere I looked, there were reminders of days gone by, family memories that we’d never make again. I was becoming positively morose. It was not attractive.

I know what Dr. Seuss says – Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – but honestly? I’ve never really liked that line. I want to do both.

Anyhow.

This was the first time I’d been back to the lake in 10 years, and I just wanted to camp out for a bit and boo-hoo.

I knew, though, that being gloomy wouldn’t solve anything. (It certainly wouldn’t make things better for Robbie.) And it wasn’t like my whole life was over; it was just one season. Plus, my children are basically happy. And healthy. And I am pretty sure they’re all tracking with Jesus. What did I have to complain about?

Nothing.

And so I tried to smile (because it happened). Still, though, I couldn’t shake the sense of loss. I decided to take my case up with God.

“God,” I said, “I know you don’t mean for anybody to wallow, or get stuck in the past. I know you have plans and purposes and good things in store. And it’s not like you’re going to leave me hanging for the next 40 years, right?”

And God is so sweet. He did two things at once.

First, he reminded me of that verse where he talks about turning the page and starting a fresh, new chapter instead of dwelling on the past. I didn’t remember the reference so I looked it up: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. That’s Isaiah 43:19. I think it’s a great promise for an empty nester – or for anyone facing a time of transition, whether it’s a student headed off to college, a family making a cross-country move, or a loved one taking on a new job. If that’s where you are, go ahead and look that one up for yourself. Consider it yours.

The second thing God did came via email. Two years ago, my friend Annesley wrote a column for Theological Horizons, an organization that serves students at U.Va. I missed the article back then, but for some reason they ran it again, and I got to read it last week. It’s a great piece about transition – not because it solves the sadness issue but because 1) if you cry at Kindergarten Graduation, it lets you know you’re not alone, and 2) it ends with a wonderful prayer for our kids as they move on (or, for that matter, for anyone facing a season of change). If you want to read Annesley’s piece, click here.

So here’s what I did (and what you can do, too):

First, I asked God to help me perceive his work and get on board with whatever way he might be making – in the wilderness, the wasteland, or wherever. If God’s on the move (and he pretty much always is), I don’t want to get left behind!

Next, I thanked him for Annesley’s writing, and for the comfort that comes when you realize that you’re not alone in the boat. (And if you’re facing your own season of newness right now, whatever it is, I want you to know that I’m praying for you and your family as I write…cuz I get it!)

And finally (and this was a critical step for me, but one you could probably skip), I took my cue from the Grinch. Remember how he wanted a reindeer but, since “reindeer are scarce,” he had to grab his dog, Max? Yeah, well. I wanted a kid so I could snap their pic on the dock, like I did with Robbie Jr., 20 years ago…

…but since my kids, like reindeer, are generally scarce, I got the dog to stand in. And, like his namesake (we got him on Christmas), Max did a mighty fine job:

 

Leave a Reply


Anadiplosis and the Hike to Hope

Last week, I told you about Mark Forsyth’s book, The Elements of Eloquencein which he maintains that Shakespeare’s brilliance was rooted more in his ability to use literary tricks and techniques than in any sort of innate genius. One such technique is anadiplosis.

Anadiplosis won’t pass your computer’s spell check (I tried), and I doubt it’s something you’ll want to break out at a cocktail party, but it’s a good trick to know, particularly if you want to sound logical, progressive, or just well-balanced. Anadiplosis happens when you take the last word of a sentence or phrase and then use it to begin the next one:  A man takes a drink. The drink takes a drink. The drink takes the man.

Or consider this example, from Paul:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

I wasn’t thinking about anadiplosis when I went hiking recently. I was, however, thinking about suffering. I’m not much of a woods-and-squirrels girl, and I hadn’t intended to hike Sewanee’s 20-mile Perimeter Trail (or any part of it) when I started. My plan was to walk to a nearby overlook and…look over.

Which I did:

But then I noticed a trail map, conveniently posted next to the overlook. I had some time and I figured I could do a little bit of the trail. Like a mile, maybe. I could always come back later for the other 19.

Not being an experienced hiker (not being any sort of hiker), I didn’t bother to read the fine print. I saw the jagged emblem that meant “Difficult”…but how difficult could “Difficult” be? It was only a mile, for crying out loud. I’d be in and out in 15 minutes.

At first, I was captivated. To my left was a giant rock face. To my right was a 50-foot drop, just daunting enough to make you pay attention.

Everything was quiet (unless you count the sound of scurrying, which I tried not to). Peaceful. I felt like I was alone in the world.

Which, after about ten minutes, started to be less fun.

Nobody knew where I was, I hadn’t brought along any hiker stuff like water, and I didn’t need my Garden Club membership to help me identify the horticulture that grew, with unmitigated vigor, all over the trail:

I was just starting to think about mountain lions (I knew they’d found the bones of a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger nearby; might he or she have left any grandchildren?) when I rounded a bend and saw this:

A hole in the trail. Through a rock. Which was high.

Going up seemed out of the question. The opening was a good 15 feet above the trail (closer to 30, if you count the dirt part), and it was pretty much straight up, with no hand- or foot-holds I could detect. (You would think someone might put in a rope.)

I tried going around, but there was no trail to the right. Just a sheer, poison-ivy-coated drop into nothing but treetops.

And I thought about turning back. But honestly? That felt like quitting. Plus, I knew other moms who had done this part of the hike. (Or so they said.)

To put my predicament in perspective, I’ve marked up the photo for you. The red arrow is where I needed to get. The red person is me. And I look a lot taller (and more athletic) in the drawing than I am in real life:

And here’s the thing. I am not afraid of heights, but I am not big on falling. And I had no idea what was on the other side of the hole. Was it an even steeper drop?

I started to turn around. But then this thought came:

Suffering produces perseverance. 

Seriously. Out of nowhere. I didn’t know about anadiplosis, but I did know that verse and where it went. I knew that if I started at suffering and got through the whole thing (not to mention the hole thing), I’d wind up at hope.

I decided that since I had already experienced some pain (and on a happy note, the very real presence of snakes and mosquitoes took my mind off of the unseen lions and tigers), I could go ahead and move into the perseverance phase. Which felt good, since it meant that I had accomplished something. Or God had, in me. And if he would grant me the courage I needed to climb up to the hole, I was ready to count that as character.

I sent a text to Robbie (which I didn’t think would go through) and a prayer to God (which I was pretty sure would), wanting them both to know where I was, in case things went bad. And then I started climbing.

I made it. (Obviously.) And when I crawled out of the hole on the other side of the rock, I had three rewards.

The first was a nice, flat path:

The second was beautiful waterfall:

And the third was the end of that part of the trail, which literally dumps you out at the foot of the cross:

Talk about hope!

I can’t remember when my heart felt so full, or so grateful. And, I realized, I would not have appreciated the cross (or the hope it delivered) had I not spent that time on the trail. Walking through fear – and coming to the place where my own strength wasn’t enough, where my only two options were to turn back or go forward with a God I couldn’t see instead of a rope that I could – is what brought me to hope.

All of which is to say…

If you are in a season of suffering (even if it’s just a mile’s worth of scary stuff), keep going. Don’t turn back. Just put one foot in front of the other because that’s what kindles perseverance, a “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose…especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

And remember, you’re not alone. Count on God to strengthen your character. He gave me courage; he will supply what you lack. He will lead you to hope.

I wish I had a clever way to use anadiplosis to wrap up this post, but I don’t. All I can do is repeat what Paul said – that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope – and then point to the conclusion Paul draws: And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

I don’t know what the literary term is for that last sentence; if I ever meet Mr. Forsyth, I’ll ask him. For now, though, maybe we can just call it a “happy ending.”

Leave a Reply


The Answer for Life’s Scary Stuff

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

And, perhaps most of all, other dogs.

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

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

The dog was fake.

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

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

And then I stopped.

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

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

Here’s the thing. God knew we’d come up against some scary stuff. Real scary stuff (like cancer), and fake scary stuff (like what people will think or even say when they see you dance, which – trust me – is not something that should keep you off the floor when the band starts to play Livin’ on a Prayer).

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

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

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

Let’s move.

Leave a Reply


…and Underneath are the Everlasting Arms

We made camp on the beach on Mother’s Day, surrounded by an assortment of family members and friends. When I turned around and saw my brother, David, tossing his youngest into the air (and caught the uncertain-yet-delighted expression on Julia’s face), I had just one thought:

Lord, I want to be like that.

When the future feels uncertain, when I find myself sort of suspended (or even on the way down, after one of life’s highs), I want my outlook to be one of delight. When I can’t feel the ground beneath my feet, I want to behold the face of my Father and trust in the strength of his arms. I want to choose joy…even if doing so takes more faith than I think that I have.

Which is, I think, a good thing. Over and over again in the Bible (like, literally, more than 150 times), we are exhorted to rejoice. I don’t know why God thinks that’s such a big deal, but looking at David’s face in this pic, I have an idea. I think God takes delight in us. And when he sees us rejoicing – trusting him in life’s trickiest moments – he cannot contain his own joy.

I’d wrap up this post with one of the joy verses (something like Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”), except that, if you’re like me, you might want something more. You might want to rejoice, but maybe you need a little help getting there. And so, with the image of a father and his child fresh in my mind, I am gonna scroll all the way back to Deuteronomy, where Moses blesses the sons of Israel, and offer you this:

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help… The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27, ESV)

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

Rejoice in the Lord today, Beloved, knowing that you are safe in his arms…and that as God looks into your face, he is smiling.

 

Leave a Reply


The Courage to Serve

I’ve been poking around in The Book of Common Prayer (which, if you don’t already know, has prayers for just about everything, from unemployment to the care of children to how we spend our free time), and there’s a line in the wrap-up to Holy Communion that goes like this:  Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart…

I’ve probably prayed that one 500 times. It’s a wonderful, uplifting way to walk out of church and “go forth into the world” – even if the only place you go forth to is the grocery store.

Maybe it takes 499 times for a prayer to sink in. Or maybe (more likely) it takes a particular sermon. Either way, asking God for “strength and courage” took on new meaning for me this Easter. Our minister, Andy Buchanan, gave a talk during Holy Week where he said that the whole foot-washing thing was a nasty business (so much so that you could not even command a Jewish slave to do that for you), and that when Jesus did the remarkable – the unthinkable! – and washed the disciples’ feet, it set the stage for a dramatic perspective shift. No longer was it enough to simply “do unto others” (as in, treating other people the way that you want to be treated); now, Jesus upped the ante: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

Let’s be honest. Most of us get the Golden Rule. Most of us (even if we don’t really follow through) would say it is a good idea to do things for other people that we would want them to do for us: Say thank you. Don’t gossip. Save some of that cake for your husband.

Nowhere, though, would washing somebody’s feet show up on my list. Having grown up in churches where it’s actually a thing, I have been on both sides of the basin – I have washed, and I’ve been washed – and truthfully? I think the whole process is a little bit awkward. It is too intimate, too potentially embarrassing (it’s not like we all have fresh pedicures), and too out-of-my-strike-zone.

Much easier, I think, to just take somebody a meal.

Which is, I think, the whole point. When Jesus gives us a “new command” about how we are to love other people (and accompanies it with a demonstration of the most humble and unappealing service) we have to do a little gut check. I mean, I like to think I would obey Christ (that I would “love as he loved”) but would I? Would I love and serve other people even if it meant getting too close? Going out of my comfort zone? Doing something that is inconvenient…messy…or hard?

I don’t know. I doubt it. Which is why, when I prayed that post-Communion prayer for the 500th time on Easter Sunday, the idea that I could ask God for “strength and courage” came as a blessed relief. If I am going to go forth into the world and serve God “with gladness and singleness of heart” in the awkward or difficult places, I am going to need some divine help.

Because again, let’s be honest. When you get up and go forth after church, you never know who you’ll see at the grocery. Chances are, they don’t want their feet washed. But you can bet that they want to be loved.

 

Leave a Reply


The Road to the Cross

Untitled design (6)

Holy Week. The week before Easter. The week when Jesus knew that “the time had come for him to leave this world” (John 13:1), and that the road ahead – the road to the cross – would be filled with unspeakable pain. What was he thinking?

Do you ever wonder about that?

I do.

Being fully God, Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. He’d be insulted, rejected, and abandoned – both by the Jewish leaders (many of whom believed in him but who were too scared to admit it, since they “loved praise from men more than praise from God”) and by his closest friends. (John 12:42)

He would suffer indescribable torment. The press of the thorns…the sting of the whip…the pain of the nails…the struggle to breathe.

And he would know the heartache of watching his mother watch him die – and of being unable, in that moment, to wipe the tears from her eyes.

So what was he thinking, on the road to the cross?

I can’t begin to imagine, but Scripture gives us some clues. Jesus says that his heart is “troubled” and that the idea of backing out has at least presented itself. He confides in his friends, telling them that he is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And he prays, asking God if there is any way to take a pass…but then, ultimately, choosing God’s will over his own. (John 12:27, Matthew 26:38, Matthew 26:39)

Clearly, the road wasn’t easy. It was agonizing. So how did he do it? How did he – being fully man – get past the fear and the worry and the sorrow that stood in his path?

Here again, the Bible offers some answers. Reading through the gospels and Paul’s letters, we see a man inspired by obedience, trust, humility, and love. And, in addition to these internal motivators, Hebrews 12:2 reveals an external driver: Future joy. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” the writer says, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” 

Future joy.

I’ve combed through the commentaries looking to flesh out, exactly, what that joy was. It seems like, for Jesus, the joy came in three parts:

The first is the idea of a mission accomplished. His teaching was revolutionary and his miracles amazing, but Jesus knew that the whole point of his life was the cross (“It was,” he says in John 12:27, “for this reason I came to this hour”). Fulfilling his purpose – the job that aligned with God’s master plan – gave him joy.

The second reason was the resurrection. Jesus knew (because he was God, and because of prophecies like the one in Psalm 16:9-11) that he would come out of the tomb alive, and that his experience would open the door to the everlasting joy of God’s presence – not just for himself, but for all who would call on his name.

And the third reason? The third reason is the one that makes me cry. The third reason Jesus stayed on the road to the cross (the main reason, in fact) is us. He did it for us. He did it, the Bible says, to keep us from falling and to present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy. (Jude 24)

Jesus wanted to be able to bring us to God. We are the reason he endured the cross. We are, I believe, what he was thinking about, as he made his way up that hill.

And this Holy Week, this Easter, I want us to think about that, too. Because we are God’s beloved – not just in the future, but right here and right now.

We are – you are – his joy.

 

 

Leave a Reply


When Life Finds You Stuck

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember the theme from our family Staycation a few years ago:

Paddle hard.

It was a motto lifted from Colossians 3:23 (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”). I figured these were words we could live by, whether we were navigating our way through careers, ministry opportunities, or relationships. Work with all your heart. Do it for God. Paddle hard.

That’s good advice.

At least until you get stuck.

IMG_9935

You know what I mean. There are seasons in life when we find ourselves sailing along, emboldened by a fresh vision or a clear sense of calling or even just the pressing need to finish the laundry, find the missing soccer cleat, and get dinner on the table. We know what we have to do, and we have a pretty good idea how to do it.

There are other times, though, when life can seem a little more…stalled. Maybe we have a God-given dream or a promise, but things haven’t worked out how we thought they would. Maybe we feel passionate about working or serving in some particular area but the door hasn’t opened, or we aren’t sure how to begin. Or maybe we don’t have any vision or sense of purpose at all. Maybe our life doesn’t look anything like amazing and (if were were being completely honest) we’d say we were a little bit underwhelmed. Bored, even.

Or, as my kids would say, “meh.”

During those times, we don’t need a paddle so much as a push. And while I am sure that there are plenty of good strategies for getting un-stuck and propelling ourselves back into life’s current, I’ll give you three of my favorites:

First, remember that your life does have meaning. You were created for a purpose, and God has worthy and specific jobs for you to do. You are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Second, forget about the past. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done; God is all about breathing fresh life into his people. Ask him to help you see what he’s up to, and be prepared to jump on board. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

And finally, until God shows you the next step to take, focus on what you already know. Micah 6:8 is my husband Robbie’s favorite Bible verse, partly because it works well in every situation or relationship: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Our seasons of stuck-ness may be painful, dreary, or long. (I know; I’ve been there.) But God promises to do new things, even in the most washed up or barren places. Like the tide, he will come in.

And when he does, let’s be ready to move.

Leave a Reply


Let God Quiet You

He will quiet you by his love.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

It’s a question that many of us have considered, or at least heard, at some point during the last two weeks. Some Christians choose to fast (from desserts, say, or maybe from a habit like smoking or drinking or Netflix); others mark the weeks leading up to Easter by adding something to their daily routine (a new devotional, morning Bible reading, extra time for prayer). Either way – giving up or adding on – the idea is to do something that reorients your perspective and draws you closer to God.

For me, neither option works too well. Giving up chocolate doesn’t seem all that hard. Until I try it, and then all I want for breakfast is a brownie. I tell myself that I should channel that craving into a hunger for Jesus, but it’s like there’s a Doppelganger in my head saying, “Yeah. Jesus and a brownie. That’d be sweet.”

And when I try to add something (like a few extra minutes in prayer as a start to my morning) I don’t fair any better. Just opening my prayer journal seems to unleash a Kraken of cares, and they all start shouting at once: “Worry about this! Don’t forget to do that! Hurry up; you’re going to be late!”

I want to quiet my heart and get ready for Easter, but I can’t.

Which is why, when I read Zephaniah 3:17 this week, it brought me up short:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. 

I’ve always loved the image of God as a mighty warrior, one who takes delight in his people and rejoices over them with singing. But the other day, as I struggled to get my distracted mind to behave, the phrase “he will quiet you by his love” fairly jumped off the page.

He will quiet you.

You know what that means, right? That means it’s not up to us. We don’t have to calm our own fears, or work really hard to shut out the worries and concerns of the day. We can come before God – during Lent, or at any other time of the year – and ask him to do that for us. We can relax, knowing that even as he “exults over us with loud singing,” his love will speak peace to our souls.

I don’t know what you’ve give up (or taken on) for Lent, or whether the change is helping you draw close to God. But if you’re like me and you find your mind wandering or your worries mounting or you wish you had just a little more diligence and self-control, why not ask God to help? Tell him you can’t do it on your own (which he already knows, anyway), and that you’d like him to step in. Make Zephaniah 3:17 your prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for showing up as the mighty one who will save. Thank you for taking delight in me, for rejoicing over me with gladness and singing.

I am worried/distracted/fearful; please quiet me by your love.

Amen.

Leave a Reply


Get a Garland of Grace

So I was looking through Hillary’s wedding pix the other day. I came upon this shot of the bride with her young cousins (who did a stellar job as her flower girls):

20150919_Hillary&Charlie_117

Looking at this photo, I was reminded of what the book of Proverbs says about wisdom. Wisdom protects us, the writer says, and when we get it – when we “cherish her” – here’s what happens:

She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown… When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. (Proverbs 4:9-12)

A garland of grace. A glorious crown. And the ability to navigate life without tripping. I thought all of these things sounded great. But you know who didn’t?

The dog.

Come wedding day, the florist spent ages working on a spectacular wreath for Khaki to sport – a creation that looked every bit as glorious as the bride’s bouquet – but that mule of a lab wasn’t having it. She refused to be garlanded:

20150919_Hillary&Charlie_014

And all I could think, as Khaki wandered around naked, was that she had missed out. She could have looked really good at the reception, but she blew it.

How many times have I done the same thing? How many times has God held out a crown – a garland of grace, woven by wisdom – only to have me walk right on by? And how many times have I gone my own way, ignoring his counsel, and then stumbled straight into a ditch?

Oh, Lord, don’t let me be Khaki. Or Max. I love our dogs but, IQ-wise, I wouldn’t want to be them. (Remember when Max ate the driveway? Yeah. Me, too.)

Instead, I want to get wisdom. I want to take hold of God’s words – his garland of grace – so that I know how to live. When God’s offers a crown, I want to say thank you. And I want to wear it.

If you do, too (or if someone you love would look good in a garland), why not turn Proverbs 4 into a prayer? Click here to get the big picture, or (if all you’ve got time for is the condensed version) try this:

Heavenly Father,

Show _____ how to pay attention, gain understanding, and take hold of your words. Lead _____ along straight paths. Crown  _____ with a garland of wisdom and grace. (Proverbs 4:1-11)

Amen.

20150919_Hillary&Charlie_246

 

Leave a Reply


The Light of Life

So Buddy the Elf has been at it again.

He got inspired when we went to Dallas (where they are, evidently, as serious about their Christmas lights as they are about their hair). No sooner had we gotten home than Buddy was off to the hardware store, where he picked up a couple million more strands.

fullsizerender

I love that guy.

Buddy also came home with a few boxes of something called the “Net of Life.” I think that name is a little bit misleading, like maybe it should be a sermon or something. Plus, there a lady on the package who, presumably, hung a bunch of lights on her snowy roof. We know she didn’t. She isn’t even wearing a coat.

img_8582

But whatever. The Nets (which I bet the Dallas people do not use) did the job on our bushes, and then Buddy got out the ladder and started climbing the trees. If he wanted help, he didn’t say so. I imagine that he (like most husbands) is pretty much happy to be out of the house – out of earshot – this time of the year.

My man worked for most of the day, adding strand upon strand.

Upon strand.

img_8665

Yeah.

Anyhow, when when darkness finally came, Buddy was ready. And when he plugged ’em all in, I loved it. Because I’m no fan of winter. Or cold. Or darkness. Or anything, actually, that feels like Not Summer. But Christmas lights have a way of making the brrrr go away, and of filling our hearts with hope.

dsc_0220-version-2

This is, of course, the same transformation that Jesus makes in our lives us all year long. “I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Isn’t that an amazing promise? We are surrounded by a world full of darkness…but we don’t have to walk in it. Or fear it. Even back when Isaiah was alive, he knew the difference that Jesus would make and he called it: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

The light has dawned. The light has dawned!

Come January, when it’s time to take down the sparkle, we can hang our hope on that. Because we may pack up the Net of Life…but the Light of Life will still shine.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

Bhahahaha! Hours after this blog originally posted, you began alerting me to the fact that I’d read the box wrong. Even my mother weighed in, bursting through the door of our home and saying, “Jodie! It is not life. It is lite!” Ahhhh! That makes so much more sense! I couldn’t figure out why someone would market a Christmas decoration as the “Net of Life.” Obviously, my eyes are old.

In my defense, though, I don’t think people should be spelling LIGHT like LITE. “Lite” is for diets. Which Christmas is not. Christmas is all about the FULLNESS of joy. And my prayer, for you and for me, is that we will experience Jesus as the light of life…the bread of of life..and yes, even as the Net of Life – one that is big enough to cover us all!

Merry Christmas! xo

 

Leave a Reply


The Nativity: Then and Now

I love nativity scenes. I have a set made of olive wood, which I purchased nearly 30 years ago in Israel:

fullsizerender

A set my grandmother brought home from a trip to Mexico:

img_8633

A simple scene from my aunt, who was a missionary in Madagascar:

fullsizerender

And a big, beautiful one that, for all I know, was made in China:

photo 2

I do not, however, own the Modern Nativity:

home-mobile-mary_600x

You can’t really tell from this photo, but Joseph is rocking a man bun. Mary’s drinking what looks like Starbucks (while showcasing her cheekbones for the selfie). And the baby Jesus is swaddled in what has to be some sort of handmade, organic-yarn blanket and beanie. The set also features three hipster wise men (who come bearing gifts a la Amazon Prime), a couple of well-fed animals (the cow’s trough is marked “gluten free”), and a teenaged shepherd boy who’s posting the whole thing on Instagram (#babyjesus #nofilter).

Theologically speaking, I’m not really sure what the designers had in mind when they came up with this scene. But honestly? I kind of like it. It makes me feel like the whole scene is kind of…relevant. Like Jesus really is what Hebrews 13:8 says he is: the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is as present in the lives of selfie-taking, latte-drinking, man bun-wearing people as he was in the lives of the folks who gathered around him 2,000 years ago. And I don’t blame Millennial Joseph and Mary for wanting a pic with the Lord. Had I been in their TOMS, I would have taken one, too.

I’ve always thought it would have been pretty cool to be alive when Jesus was walking and talking and telling people where the good fishing was. Sometimes, I’ve even been jealous of those first disciples and all the others who literally saw him do miracles, and who could ask him hard questions, face to face. From an evangelistic standpoint, it feels like it must have been a whole lot easier to bring people to a living, breathing Jesus and say, “Look. That’s him. He fed all those people.” than it is to convince them to entrust their lives to someone they can’t even see.

But here’s the thing. Mary and Joseph and all of those early Christians got to see and experience all sorts of neat stuff. But when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, he told his followers that it was “for your good that I am going away.” Why? Because that meant that the Holy Spirit would come. As a man, Jesus knew that he could only be in one place at a time; as a Spirit, he is able to be with all of us, everywhere, all the time.

So yeah, I would liked to have been at the manger. I would like to have heard the angels sing, and seen the look on the wise men’s faces when they finally got to the stall. I would like to have pulled Mary aside and asked her all sorts of questions. I would like to have thanked Joseph for believing the angel (and for staying).

I would like to have held the baby. I would like to have watched him grow up.

But when I think about the Holy Spirit – his omnipresence, and all of the wisdom, comfort, conviction, guidance, and strength he provides – I am pretty darn glad to have that. To have him. And this Christmas, as I read verses like Luke 11:13 (which says that if we know how to give good gifts to our kids, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to us), all I can do is ask God for more of the Spirit’s work in my life, and thank him for the indescribable gift of his presence.

So again, yeah. I would like to have known Jesus on earth. Mary, too. But you know what? I figure I’ll meet her one day, and (like all mothers, I guess) she’ll probably still be happy to talk about what her boy was like, as a child.

I look forward to hearing her stories.

fullsizerender

(And BTW, if you decide that the Modern Nativity is something you can’t celebrate Christmas without, you can order one here for less than what Mary probably paid for those black skinny jeans.)

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Immanuel: He is Our Peace

So on Monday morning, after all of the Thanksgiving guests had left, I crept downstairs, eager to enjoy a cup of coffee in the predawn silence. We’d already decorated the Christmas tree (gotta do it when the kids are home)…

fullsizerender

…and as heart-warming as it is to watch six people climb on your bookshelves and elbow each other out of the way while carols from Pandora’s “Country Christmas” drown out the announcer on the U.Va. basketball game, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I looked forward to turning on the tree lights, grabbing my Bible, and spending a few moments with God.

And then I heard…snoring.

It was loud. And it was coming from the family room. Had a late-night intruder gotten into our Baileys? Would I find a strange man on the sofa? Should I go back upstairs and wake Robbie?

I tiptoed through the kitchen and quickly turned on the lights:

fullsizerender

Khaki.

The dog is not supposed to get on the sofa. I didn’t fully trust her arthritic legs or her tumor-filled belly to keep her down, so I’d put out a spread of books and magazines as a deterrent. To which Khaki said, “Nice try.”

I was not happy.

I didn’t like how the dog had treated my copy of Southern Lady, nor did I appreciate having to get out the lint brush. Again. Even more than these offenses, though, was the fact that Khaki had rearranged all my pillows. One of them wound up on the floor:

img_8528

I stood there, listening to the dog drone and looking at my fallen PEACE, and I thought: This is it. This is what my life has become. I get the peace all set in my life, tucked in among the beautiful velvet and linen, and then something comes along to knock it off.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re staring down the weeks between now and Christmas, wishing you could experience the whole “peace on earth, good will toward men” thing, but there’s a little niggle of anxiety, or maybe even fear, that is holding you back. Maybe it’s a decision you have to make, or a deadline you are facing. Maybe it’s a sickness, or a loss, or the sense that you don’t have what it takes to do whatever it is that you feel like you are supposed to do. Or maybe it’s something totally unfounded, but still sort of paralyzing, like the time I went shopping with my mother-in-law and we got half way to the mall when she was suddenly struck by a frightening thought:  What if the stores are closed on Monday?

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I let worry – both about real concerns and and imagined ones – consume my attention. But that is the exact opposite of how God wants us to live. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And when we do that – when we refuse to entertain anxiety and instead bring our requests straight to God – he offers this promise:  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Sounds like a plan.

But, like so many good things in life, choosing to take our worries to God and trade them in for his peace is easy to say and hard to do. It takes practice. It might even take retraining our brains, so that our default position is not so much dwelling on doubt as it is on tacking our trust to God’s promises. It’s do-able, but we might need help.

Which is where Immanuel comes in. Of all the names God goes by, I think Immanuel might be my favorite. It’s not one we think about for most of the year, but when you start opening Christmas cards and listening to carols, it pops up. And, to me, Matthew 1:23 is one of the best lines in the whole Christmas story:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). 

If you’re feeling like your peace is on the floor this Christmas, and you aren’t really sure how to pick it up and get it settled into your life, invite Immanuel to come in and help. He is the order in our chaos, the stability in our insecurity, the anchor in our storm. He is “God with us.”
And, in that very name, he is our peace.
img_8529

Leave a Reply


Blessed are Those Who Mourn

 

blessed-arethose-who-mourn-1

Blessed are those who mourn.

That promise, from Matthew 5:4, has never been one of my Bible favorites. The second half of the verse is a little more upbeat – for they will be comforted – but, if I’m being honest, I gotta say that I’d just as soon skip the whole thing. No mourning, no need for comfort. Done.

But if you’ve been keeping up with this blog series about waiting on God, you knew I’d get around to mourning, eventually. And last week I promised to tackle one of the thornier questions that can attach itself to the waiting process:  What do we do with the grief, or even the anger, that can box us into a corner when our prayers seem to go unanswered, or when the outcome doesn’t look like we expected (or wanted) it to?

The short answer is to remember how much God loves you. Go ahead and take your hurts to him – tell him just how you feel – and then let him hold you. Mourn, and be comforted. If that’s all the blog you can process today, that’s enough.

If you’ve got time to dig a little deeper, I’d like you to meet my guy Asaph. He’s the fella who wrote Psalm 73. He sees all of the arrogant God-mockers getting healthy, rich, and popular, while he feels like he is being “punished every morning,” and he is shaking his head. He’s grieved, and he’s bitter. He’s mourning, and he’s mad.

Not a fun place for a believer to be.

In the end, though, Asaph realizes that he has it all backwards. The bad guys are on slippery ground. Their destiny is destruction; his future is secure. Asaph has the blessing of God’s guidance, the certainty of his love, and the promise of his presence. And that’s all he needs. “Whom have I in heaven but you?” he asks. “And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

There was a time when I would have read a statement like that and thought to myself, “Yeah, right. God’s presence is nice and all…but I would have rather had the pony.”

Lately, though, as I’ve wrestled with the problem of pain and the questions that come with things like unmet longings and unanswered prayers, I’ve begun to appreciate the blessing of God’s nearness. Here’s why:

I was raised on verses like Romans 8:28 (which says that God works in all things for our good), Jeremiah 29:11 (his plan is to prosper us and to give us hope), and Job 42:2 (no purpose of his can be thwarted), and I struggled over the fact that I felt sad when things didn’t turn out like I wanted them to, or when God seemed to be silent in the face of my prayers. If I truly believed that God was working for good, that his plan was for hope, and that his purpose would prevail, then I had no business being anything but grateful. Even if I didn’t understand what God was up to, I felt like I should be excited about it.

But I wasn’t.

And because I wasn’t, I felt like I should apologize to God. I figured that, since he already knew my heart, I could just go ahead and be honest. So here’s what I wrote in my prayer journal (and I’m sharing this partly so that those of you who think that you need to be all holy and eloquent when you talk to God will maybe feel a little bit better about just letting it rip):

“God,” I said, “I am sorry to be so spiritually lame. I really am trying to trust you. And I don’t mean to be sad. I know all your promises about how good and powerful you are, and about how much you love me, and I guess if I honestly believed these things – ”

“It’s okay.” (Have you ever been interrupted by God? Because that’s what I think happened to me. There I was, telling him how lame I was, and he just cut right in.)

“It’s okay,” I sensed God say. “Go ahead and grieve. Your sadness is real. But it’s not a bad thing. Bring it to me, and let me comfort you.”

Wow. Talk about a game-changer. There I was, trying to push my pain into a manhole and put the cover on, and God said not to. He wanted me to come to him the way that I wanted my children, when they were younger, to bring me their skinned knees and fevers, so I could hug them and bandage their hurts. Or the way that I want them to now, with their worries and fears, so that I can pray and let them know they’re not alone. And I realized that day, as I basically climbed into God’s lap and let the tears come, that I was just like Asaph. I had it all backwards.

I thought that disappointment and anger were bad things. Things to be avoided. Things that didn’t have a legitimate place in the life of a “real” Christian. (And just as a sidebar, if we allow these things to shape our identity, dictate our perspective, or become our life’s focus, I think they are bad.) But if we can learn to see them as tools in God’s hands, we will discover that our grief and our questions are actually blessings. In drawing us into God’s presence, they are the cords that he uses to bind up our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1), to let us know how much we are loved, and to show us that even in mourning, we are blessed.

Next week, in the final post in this series, I will introduce you to a couple of folks who have lived this stuff, and who express it so much better than I can. I realized (when I saw my friend Michelle’s organic turkey in a bag in her driveway) that Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And my hope is that, together, we can celebrate the holiday from a place of genuine gratitude, a place where waiting on God (and trusting him, even when we aren’t sure what he is doing) becomes something we can really enjoy.

Like Asaph, I want us to be able to bring all of our questions and complaints before God and find our joy not in his answers, but in his nearness.

Leave a Reply


The Power of Love

When Hurricane Matthew visited Virginia Beach two weeks ago, he left us without power for five days. That in itself wasn’t so bad (I am a big fan of candlelight), but he also knocked out our phone, cable, and Internet access (hence the lack of blogposts) until yesterday. Truth be told, I didn’t really miss those things, either (especially not when you consider what the people in Haiti have been through, or even our water-logged friends just over the border in North Carolina).

What was a bit tricky – and this was a first, in my hurricane history – was the fact that a forest of downed trees and power lines meant that Robbie and I (along with a handful of neighbors) we were basically trapped in our darkened houses for the better part of a week. This pic doesn’t show the full carnage, but you can see why getting a car out would have been kind of iffy:

fullsizerender

When people realized our plight (and it was hard not to:  Firemen, police, the local news, and even the National Guard showed up on our corner to check things out), we began getting all sorts of offers. Did we need coffee? The loan of a car, if we could reach it? Would it help if people just threw food and flashlights over the power lines?

We said we were fine (and we pretty much were), but then Robbie went down to check on the basement. Most Virginia Beach houses don’t have ’em, but our place was built during Prohibition and it came with both a basement and what was left of a still. Because I guess, back then, there were fewer hurricanes and more thirsty people.

Anyhow.

The water was rising. We had a pump, but no way to power it. The very cute generator we had purchased after the last big storm had benched itself, after just a few hours of playing time. Should we, I wondered, try bailing? It sounds so romantic and adventurous in books. Robbie was less than enthused, and eyeing the flight of steps and our bucket, I had to agree: As a basement app, bailing is sort of meh.

We were stumped. But then Along Came Gary.

fullsizerender

Gary Cole is the sort of man you want in your daughter’s father-in-law. We got him as part of the package when Annesley married Geoff, and the minute he heard about our situation, Gary picked his way through the trees (keeping an eye on the still-popping power lines) with a black box that he called an “inverter.” Being an English major and all, I immediately deduced that an inverter is something that changes a direct current into an alternating current so that you can use the engine in your Toyota to get the water out of your basement. Obviously.

Here’s what the thing looks like, up close:

img_7850

Gary’s contraption made short work of our water problem. Most guys would have popped a Bud and given themselves a high five at that point, but not Gary. For one thing, he’s a milk-and-cookies guy. And for another, he’s thorough. He stood back and looked at our whole house, in all of it’s food-spoiling glory. No generator? No problem. Gary said he knew a guy. And the next thing I knew, Gary and The Guy had hauled The Guy’s generator through the trees and into our driveway.

img_7863

All I could think, as I looked out the window, was how these men (and all of our other friends and neighbors who banded together to help one another) were living out verses like Philippians 2:4 (“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”), Galatians 6:10 (“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us to good to all people”), and Matthew 22:39 (“Love your neighbor as yourself”).

I wouldn’t wish a hurricane on anybody. They can be nasty things. But having been through a boatload of them (smallish ones, anyway), I must say that those storm clouds can have a silver lining. In bringing our normal, busy, self-centered lives to a halt, they make us stop and notice each other. And in a world that feels increasingly adversarial and selfish, it was really nice to see these verses about looking out for one another come to life – and to realize afresh what love does.

And, since I didn’t get to post a Friday Prayer last week, I’ll tap into the (a-hem) power of one of the letters that the Apostle John wrote, toward the end of his life. Let’s make these simple words both a prayer and a resolution for our lives:

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7)

Amen.

 

 

Leave a Reply


Raise Your Ebenezer!

Back when I started blogging three years ago, the website brainiacs told me I needed to lump my posts into “categories.” So I did. And I feel pretty good about “From the Bookshelf” (where I recommend some of my favorite reads) and “Prayer Helps” (which features scripture prayers and other tools), but the “Try This” category is sort of hit-or-miss. Long-time readers will remember the Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas failure, and I still get occasional emails from people who tell me that it didn’t go so well when they put Grandma under the sheet.

Today, though, I think I have a “Try This” winner. Not only has this one stood the test of time by serving as an anchor to the past, but it provides a launching pad for things like hope and security as we look toward the future.

Make yourself an Ebenezer stone. Like the one in the second stanza of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (the one that made some contemporary worship leaders change the lyrics, since nobody knew what they were talking about).

Now, I realize that when we hear “Ebenezer,” most of us think of Scrooge. But he wasn’t the first Ebenezer. Nearly 3,000 years before Charles Dickens tried to get Londoners to provide for the poor with A Christmas Carol, the prophet Samuel tried to get the Israelites to acknowledge God as their provider by setting up an Ebenezer stone. If you are fuzzy on the details, here’s the story (and you can read more in 1 Samuel 7):

The pesky Philistines had come to attack the Israelites (again), and the Israelites were scared. They didn’t have a king yet, so they turned to Samuel. “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines,” they begged. Samuel agreed. But that didn’t stop the Philistines from advancing; they “drew near” while Samuel was praying! But then something wild happened: The Bible says God “thundered with loud thunder.” As a result, the Philistines panicked, the Israelites gave chase, and the end result was what has to be one of the most epic (an unexpected) upsets in history. To commemorate the victory, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer (which literally means “stone of help”), saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

Today, if you google “Ebenezer Stone,” you might get a picture like this:

maenllia-1690977-o

I like it, but I can’t see Samuel setting that thing up. I’m thinking his rock might have looked a little more like this:

img_0513

Who knows? But how the stone looked isn’t the point of the story. The point is that the stone served as a marker, a place the Israelites could return to in the years to come, a reminder of how God had fought for them and protected them in their darkest hour.

We can do the same thing. When God does something for us, we can take a rock (it doesn’t have to be big) and make our own Ebenezer. I did that earlier this year, when Robbie transferred to U.Va. I thought he knew all about the school (we’d taken him there since before he could walk), but I was wrong. Robbie knew all about the football stadium. The library? Not so much. He had to find that, and then he had to go looking for all of his classes, his advisor, and a host of other unfamiliar people and places in what turned out to be a big and sometimes daunting world.

Robbie is a surfer, and I guess those first few weeks were a little bit like paddling out through the breakers, trying to get to the smoother part of the ocean, where things settle down and you can wait to catch your wave. And when he did – when Robbie finally texted us with some good news and we felt like he was maybe hitting his stride – the words “thus far the Lord has helped us” just popped into my mind. So I found a stone (a smooth one from the beach, which seemed appropriate for my boy) and marked it:

img_7786

On the flip side, I put the date:

img_7787

In years to come, Robbie might never remember what was happening in his life in September of 2016, but he will know that the Lord was right there with him, helping him paddle through the waves.

I love the story of the Ebenezer stone. I’ve made them before, and I am sure I will make them again. I have a spotty memory and my heart is prone to wander, so I need those tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness – both so I can thank him and so I can look forward with hope and confidence, no matter what the future holds. The God of “thus far” is the God who “ever shall be,” and to me, that is exciting.

And you know what’s even more exciting? We might not have a Samuel in our corner, but we have Someone even better. The Bible says that Jesus is praying for us, right now. Romans 8:34-35 says that he always talks to God about us – and that nothing can separate us from his love! So even when we aren’t sure what to pray (like, when we don’t know which direction our Philistines are coming from, or what we should do when they attack), we can count on the fact that God already has us covered.

And that right there is enough to make me head back to the beach to find some more stones.

 

Leave a Reply


Should You Pray about Fantasy Football?

untitled-design-4

Virginia and her friend Chris came home over Labor Day weekend, which I guess must be the kickoff to Fantasy Football season, because at one point Chris excused himself to go “draft” his team. I have no idea how the Fantasy draft works, but I wanted to be supportive, so I told Chris I’d pray for his picks.

If Chris thought that was strange, he didn’t say so. But when another mom (whose son was drafting his team at the same time) heard what I’d done, she lodged a protest. “Does that mean that all of the other guys are gonna get jammed, cuz you prayed for Chris to get the best players?”

I started to say that the other guys were welcome to pray about their draft picks too (or to get their friend’s mothers to pray), but my pal wasn’t finished.

Didn’t I, she wanted to know, think it was a little self-absorbed or shallow to be praying about something like football (and not even real football) when there were people with cancer out there? Wouldn’t my time be better spent praying for them? And was it even right, spiritually, to pray for a sports victory?

I’ve heard those questions (and plenty more, just like them) before.  I remember speaking to a group of young moms and, afterwards, one of them came up and told me what she’d thought of my talk:

“I don’t think it’s right to pray for my kid’s spelling test when there are people who need jobs, or when ISIS is on the loose. I don’t want to be clogging up the lines if somebody with something really important is trying to get through. And if I start praying about stuff like spelling tests, won’t God just think I am bugging him?”

I understand where questions like these come from. It can be easy to think that God is wired like we are, and that he can only handle a certain amount of stuff on his plate at any given time, so he needs to prioritize. But that’s not true, of course. And when we pray, we never bug God. He actually likes to hear from us. When we come to him with our concerns, we demonstrate both obedience (since he tells us to pray) and honor (since what we are essentially doing is acknowledging his lordship over our lives).

As to whether or not it’s okay to pray for life’s little things – fantasy football, spelling tests, and even hair appointments (which one of my friends regularly asks me to pray about, on her behalf) – I don’t know. I think if something matters to us, it matters to God, and if he knows how many hairs are on our heads, you gotta believe he knows whether we’re eyeing Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown at wide receiver. And, just like we don’t mind it when our kids ask us for a puppy, I think God doesn’t mind if we ask him for a win – as long as we leave room for the fact that he might have an even better plan in mind, and that maybe not getting a puppy right now is actually the best way to accomplish his purposes for the people and the teams that we love. (For more on this “pray-and-trust” approach, click here.)

And maybe I take things too literally, but when the Bible says that we can (and even should) pray about anything, at any time, I feel like it’s okay to jump in. Consider just a few invitations:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sings songs of praise. (James 5:13)

There are all sorts of theological reasons for prayer, but at the end of the day, I think the reason why God wants us to pray comes down to this:  God wants us to pray because he loves us. He wants that sense of connection, that fellowship, that relationship that happens when we communicate with him. And as a mom, I get that. I love it when my kids text or call. It’s almost pathetic, actually, how quickly I scramble for the phone. And it doesn’t matter how boring or insignificant the topic is (a recent call involved a discussion on the merits of commando hooks as necklace holders); I love to hear my kids’ voices.

Speaking of…  God doesn’t give a rip how we sound (he’s already heard it all, anyway), so don’t worry if your thoughts come out in a jumble, or you don’t think that you sound “holy” enough to approach him, or that you somehow have to suggest your idea or present your case in a way that will capture his interest. Just jump in and do it…whether it’s for your next draft pick, or for something really important. He is big enough to care about it all.

“Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


The Potter and the Clay

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “Really, there’s nothing else we can do. We’re just going to have to trust God.” I’ve said the same thing, myself.

We say that like it’s a last resort, like trusting God is some sort of consolation prize for folks who aren’t strong enough, or clever enough, or well-connected enough to get the job done. Honestly, though, trusting God isn’t just part of our job. It is our job. It marks the beginning, the middle, and the end of every good endeavor.

Sure, we all have stuff to do – works that God has “prepared in advance” – but, at the end of the day, he’s the one who is responsible for outcomes and accomplishments. It doesn’t matter whether the task at hand is monumental or minuscule, if something lines up with God’s good plan, he will get it done. We may pat ourselves on the back, but the credit ultimately belongs to him because, after all, he is the one who works in us to “will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Or, as Isaiah puts it, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

For many of us, though, putting our lives into God’s hands and trusting him with the results can present a bit of a problem. Who knows what the Potter might have in mind? What if we wanted to be a statuesque vase and, in God’s skillful hands, we start to resemble a cereal bowl? I have a whole collection of questionably shaped artifacts from the happy hours my kids spent in art class; what if my life turns out looking like that upside-down turtle shell?

fullsizerender

“A great many Christians seem practically to think that all their Father in heaven wants is a chance to make them miserable and take away all their blessings,” writes one of my favorite vintage authors, Hannah Whitall Smith. It’s true. All too often we think of God as Someone who has a long list of holy-sounding things that we are supposed to do, and an even longer list of fun-sounding things that we aren’t. If we decide to trust him (that is, if we wholeheartedly surrender ourselves – our dreams and our goals, our reputations and our relationships, our work and our play) and say not, “My will be done” but “Thy will be done,” we worry that we’re gonna miss out on the good stuff.

But here’s what Hannah has to say about that:

“Some of us know what it is to love, and we know that could we only have our way, our beloved ones would be overwhelmed with blessings. All that is good and sweet and lovely in life would be poured out upon them from our lavish hands, had we but the power to carry out our will for them. And if this is the way of love with us, how much more it must be so with God, who is love itself! Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure; and we would abandon ourselves to it with and enthusiasm of gratitude and joy, that such a wondrous privilege could be ours.”

Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure.

Isn’t that an awesome sentence? It’s from Hannah’s book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which I recommended in a blog earlier this summer. Her theology reminds me of what Tim Keller wrote in his book, PrayerHe says, “We have the assurance that God, our heavenly Father, always wants the best for his children.” What’s more, Keller writes, you can trust that the Holy Spirit will help shape your prayers (Romans 8:26) and you can “come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

I think that’s pretty cool.

And I’ve been asking God for a lot this summer, as loved ones wrestle with health issues, career moves, relationship challenges, and a whole host of unmet longings. Thanks to Hannah (and also to Keller), I am praying specifically about what I would like to see happen – and then letting God answer according to his best plan. “Thy will be done” is not the prayer warrior’s way of throwing in the towel; rather, it is an acknowledgment that we are incredibly, lavishly loved by a Father who always does immeasurably more than anything we could imagine. It is a recognition that, even though we might not understand God’s ways, we can trust his heart. And it is a signal that we are doing our job – and that we are depending on God to do his.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Ω

And P.S. if you are wondering why I call Hannah “Hannah” and Keller “Keller,” it’s because I feel like I know Hannah. You know how that is, with some celebrities or authors you admire? You feel like, if you could only have lunch or go on a run with her, you would be good friends. That’s how I feel about Hannah Whitall Smith. Anybody who has four of their seven children die before reaching adulthood, marries a Christian guy who repeatedly cheats on her, gets arthritis so bad that she winds up in a wheelchair, and then publishes a book called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is somebody I want to know.

hannah_whitall_smith

Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

 

Leave a Reply


Find Your Confidence and Keep It

Okay, so maybe posting that “Rough Road Ahead” photo the day before U.Va.’s home opener wasn’t the best idea. Or offering that prayer for perseverance. I kinda feel like I jinxed us.

Honestly, though, I think we can all be a little encouraged by U.Va.’s loss. Because getting all pumped up – and then having things go utterly sideways – could happen to anyone. And when I saw the headline in the paper this week (the one that said U.Va. needed to “find some confidence”), all I could think was, “Yeah, me too.”

fullsizerender

I can’t tell you how many times I come up with a plan (one that I think God has inspired or endorsed) and then, almost before I get started, I find myself getting clobbered. Unexpected obstacles, frustrating delays, and stunning defeats don’t just happen in football. And it can be easy, when you find yourself on the wrong end of a whomping, to wonder if what you’re doing is worth it.

I think it was Vince Lombardi who said that failure isn’t getting knocked down; it’s when you don’t get back up again. That’s a good one. But I like what the writer of Hebrews (who, incidentally, would have made a great football coach) said even more. He knew that those early believers had faced insults, persecution, and suffering. He figured they’d keep taking the hits. But he told them to stand their ground, and he offered this game plan:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

And so here’s thing thing:  If you feel like God has given you a job to do, or if maybe your mission isn’t as easy as you hoped it would be (and I’m looking at you, U.Va.), don’t be discouraged. Instead, anchor your trust in God, get back in the fight, and stand your ground.

And, whatever you do, do not throw away your confidence. It will be richly rewarded.

We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39)

Leave a Reply


My Dog Rocks

I’m not the world’s biggest dog person, but I do like them, particularly when they are as easy-going and cheerful as Khaki and Max.

You’ve met these two before. They cheer for the Hoos:

IMG_4593

They are good with kids:

photo 3

IMG_4839

And they still say “Merry Christmas” to everybody:

DSC_1046

They are nice dogs. Plus, they are incredibly low maintenance. One time, for example, we went away for the weekend and left Max and Khaki in the care of a neighbor. When we got back on Sunday and I went over to pay the kid, he panicked.

“Mrs. Berndt! I can’t take your money!”

“Sure you can,” I said. “The Bible says a worker deserves his wages.” (I didn’t really say that, but it’s in there – Luke 10:7 – and it would have been impressive if I’d remembered it then.)

“But,” the boy protested. “I really can’t. I never went to your house! I forgot!”

Well now, that was interesting. We’d gotten home and found the dogs happy as ever. They were hungry, sure, but that was nothing new. And they hadn’t made any kind of mess in the house. They seemed good. Chalk one up in the plus column.

I tell you this back story so that you will understand when I say our dogs really don’t require much in the way of attention. And so that you will forgive me when I tell you that, when Max refused to eat his kibble last week, I was not all that concerned.

The next day, though, he started hunching when he walked.

“Maybe it’s his dreadlocks,” I suggested. Being a golden retriever in a house where grooming is not all that de rigeur, Max has been known to grow a few long ones, and I thought maybe they’d somehow gotten mixed up together and hog-tied him.

Robbie concurred, and gave Max a dread-cut. But that didn’t help.

“Maybe it’s one of his tumors,” I suggested. (He has a few of them on his belly, one that looks and feels like he maybe swallowed a jellyfish.)

“No,” Robbie said. “The vet says those things are harmless. But he’s clearly hurting. You need to take him in.”

Ugh. The last time I took Khaki to the vet, she refused to get on the scale (a reluctance with which I sympathize) and, in the ensuing struggle, I wound up on the floor, treating (subjecting?) all the other waiting pet owners to an eye-full of my underwear. And I am not making that up. I didn’t want to go there again. But it had to be done, and so off we went.

Max was content to be prodded and poked, but when the vet tried to roll him over, he whimpered.

IMG_6753

“Hmm,” the vet said. “I think we need to do an X-ray.”

That sounded pricey, but what was I to do? To refuse, while my dog lay there whimpering, would appear more than just inattentive.

They took Max away. Ten minutes later, the vet came back. “Does Max eat anything unusual?” she asked.

(If you have dogs, you know that’s not a question you want to answer. It feels – particularly after an X-ray – more like an accusation than a legitimate query. I could think of any number of things Max might have ingested, but I stayed silent. Clearly, the vet had some knowledge she wasn’t sharing.)

We stared at each other, and finally she blinked.

“Like rocks?” she suggested. “Does he eat rocks?”

Ahhh. Rocks.

I knew Max was guilty. It’s not something I am particularly proud of (nor have I ever actually witnessed the deed) but, having found evidence in the artifacts, this was something I could not deny. But I didn’t want them to think less of my dog, so I decided to get on Max’s team and own it.

“Yes,” I answered, confident that I was doing right by my dog. “Sometimes he does eat the driveway.”

Maybe that was first for the vet, because she didn’t say anything. Instead, she inclined her head toward the door, the one leading into the back room (the one where they take animals when they have to do things they don’t want pet owners to see). “Follow me.”

I did. And there, on the X-ray machine, I saw this:

IMG_6755

Those little white things? Gravel. And even an English major like me could see that Max’s belly was full of them.

“Can I take a picture of that?” I asked. “I mean, so I can show my husband, so that he will understand about the bill?”

(I didn’t really need to show Robbie. He likes dogs, and I knew he wouldn’t complain about the charge. I wanted the picture so that I could show you. You don’t write a blog for two years and then pass up an opportunity like this one.)

The vet grabbed my phone and snapped the pic (I guess she didn’t want me to get too close to the machine) and then shooed me back out to the waiting room. Not knowing what else to do, I posted the photo onto our family text thread, and explained the situation.

Son-in-law Geoff was among the first to weigh in:

IMG_6867

Who else, indeed? I was definitely not feeling the love.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the vet came back to deliver the verdict. “We have two choices,” she intoned. “We can do surgery, or we can induce vomiting.”

Well then. I knew which one I would pick. Wouldn’t you? I gave the go-ahead. And then, as soon as she was out of the room, I updated the family to let them know the plan, and to ask them to pray for Max’s upcoming humiliation:

IMG_6868

The situation was going from bad to worse. Not unlike this blog.

(And I know what some of you are thinking. You signed up for these posts to get “prayer verses and encouragement” delivered directly to your in-box, and you are now lying in bed, reading your iPhone and wondering if you should switch to Tim Keller.)

But stay with me. Because I figured there had to be some spiritual application in this experience. And there is.

Max came out of there fine and, since we’ve upped his food rations, he’s never been better. But I wondered whether he was the first of God’s creatures to eat rocks. So I typed “gravel” into the search box on BibleGateway. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s precedent.

Proverbs 20:17 says that people who practice deceit will find themselves in Max’s condition:  Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.

And for anybody out there who is considering adultery, Proverbs 5:3-4 offers this warning: The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet, her soft words are oh so smooth. But it won’t be long before she’s gravel in your mouth, a pain in your gut, a wound in your heart.

If you’re a regular on this blog, you know I don’t normally come down hard on people. I want you to know you are loved. But if you are thinking of lying or stealing, or if you think you wanna cheat on your spouse, think again. A mouth full of gravel? A pain in your gut? You can’t make this stuff up. And if that doesn’t make you think twice about straying from the straight-and-narrow, I don’t know what will.

Maybe just take another look at that X-ray.

IMG_6896

Leave a Reply


The Faithful Wounds of Friendship

This is the second post written by Virginia (pictured here with her pal, Cary, on the left). Virginia starts her grown-up job in NYC this week, so this is it for her for now…but I am grateful to my girl for pinch-hitting for me! I hope you like her advice on friendship as much as I do; we all need a few Carys in our lives!

image1

Last week I was shopping with one of my best friends, Cary. We perused through all of the stores at the mall, making our way from Forever 21 to Nordstrom. When we were in Forever, I picked up a little white top I thought was cute and held it up for Cary’s approval.

“Virginia, ew. No.”

“You’re right,” I said, “It’s kind of young for me anyways.”

“It’s not that it’s too young,” Cary countered. “It’s just ugly.”

I was kind of offended at first (because it wasn’t that bad) but I trusted Cary so I decided to agree. About an hour later, I picked up what I thought was a perfect summer shirt (it was a button down, lightweight, linen shirt, with thin blue and white stripes), and I was reprimanded again. Cary laughed when I held it up.

“What?” I said. “Its perfect! I’m getting it.”

“Virginia!” she said. “It’s 200 dollars. You don’t have a job. You don’t need it.”

While this discussion was a little bit sadder than our previous one, I knew she was right again. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t need it.

In life it is so easy and tempting to seek friends who only tell us what we want to hear. In fact, a lot of the time we intentionally ask an opinion of one of these friends, knowing they will give us the preferred answer. We can easily justify our actions through the opinion of others. A lot of my friends would have said whatever, just get the $200 shirt, who cares if you can’t afford it? And plenty of them would say the ugly white top was cute, just to make me happy and get back to their shopping.

At the end of the day though, it is the Carys of the world that make us better. Nobody knows what to do 100% of the time. We all need counsel and comfort. Whether it is which job to take, which boy to date, or which shirt to buy, surround yourself with friends who love you enough to tell you the truth even when it hurts. Or as my mom would say, find friends who are brutally honest. My prayer here (since I think I’m supposed to add one) is that God would guide us to walk through life with friends who love us, who sharpen us, and who are not afraid to say, “No. It’s ugly.”

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses…As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.(Proverbs 27:6 & 17)

Leave a Reply


Guest Post: Don’t Look Back

If you’re a regular on this site, you know that my daughter Virginia just graduated from the University of Virginia, where I like to think that she sometimes studied. She starts her “real job” in New York City next month, but in the meantime, knowing that I am writing like a crazy person to meet the publisher’s deadline for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, she offered to write a few blogs on my behalf. This one hit home. Pray for me, cuz I don’t really love the thought of all my kids growing up, and I’m having a hard time not looking back.

Here’s Virginia (and yes, that’s her in the pic):

FullSizeRender

NeedToBreathe has a song called “Won’t Turn Back” where they sing about having faith like a soldier and the strength to stay put in hard circumstances. It is a great song to encourage you when you know you face an upcoming battle or mountain, but what about in the day-to-day life?

Having just graduated from the best school in the world, I constantly find myself looking backwards. It is so easy to get lost in a daydream about spending the afternoons at vineyards or waking up with my six best friends in the same house every morning, all of them up for any adventure. But here’s the thing about looking back: When I spend excess time thinking about Charlottesville, I constantly miss what is happening right in front of me. I miss what God is doing now.

There is a story in the Bible where Moses delivers the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But as soon as they are out, they miss it and want to go back. They miss the food, water, and life of the past, even though they were slaves. To appease and bless them, God sends bread called “manna” out of the sky for them to eat. God provides them with endless manna, meat, and clean water. He gives them more than they could ever ask for on their journey to freedom. But instead of being grateful and satisfied, the Israelites keep complaining. Every little bump in the road causes them to look back and, as a result, they miss the blessings that are right in front of them.

Transitions are constant in life. Whether it is an old school, an old job, an old city or just an old life in general, we all have things we miss. And like the ancient Israelites, we can sometimes idealize whatever we left behind and long to return to our old “easy” way of life.

But we do not have time for that. I’d pray that God would help us to not dwell on the past but rather, to look toward the future with hope and excitement, praising him for what he is doing in the present. With eyes in the front of our heads, humans are designed to look forwards, not backwards.

There is the manna of God’s provision everywhere in our lives; we just have to face forward to see it.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

  

 

 

Leave a Reply


Rescue from the Storm

Who doesn’t love a good summer storm?

image2

Nature’s beauty, though, doesn’t come close to the power of God. Consider the glimpse we get into his majesty from Psalm 18. Verse 6 sets up the story:  In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

God hears. And here’s how he responds:

The earth trembled and quaked…He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him – the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

That’s just part of the picture; you can read more about God’s thundering voice, his smoking nostrils, and the blazing coals if you read the whole psalm. But when you do, don’t miss verse 16. It’s tucked in there amid all the clanging and banging, and it’s easy to overlook:

He reached down from high and took hold of me.

Wow.

You have to admit, that’s pretty amazing. Here’s God, thundering in the clouds – with fire coming out of his mouth and bolts of lightning going everywhere – advancing with so much power that the mountains shake.

Why? Why would he do that, just because he heard someone cry?

I’m tempted to quote The Princess Bride (again) and say, “True Love.” But in the interest of not offending anybody who can quote verses like Deuteronomy 4:2 (which warns us not to add anything to God’s word, or take anything away from it), I’ll just stick to the Psalm. Because verse 19 gives us the answer:

He rescued me because he delighted in me.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to believe that God could delight in me. But he does. And delights in you, too. And so the next time we see a storm racing in off the horizon (whether it’s a literal storm, or the scarier, metaphorical kind), let’s remember Psalm 18. Let’s remember that we serve a God who is powerful enough – and who loves us enough – to show up.

And, when he hears our cry, to reach down.

 

Leave a Reply


A World of Trouble

In this world you will have trouble.

That’s what Jesus said to his disciples, shortly before he was arrested. To me, these are some of the hardest words to read in all of Scripture, mostly because they are so true. We know we have trouble: we face it in our jobs, our marriages, our parenting, and our health. And now, with what feels like increasing regularity, we face trouble on the otherwise unremarkable backdrop of our city streets, between people who don’t even know each other.

The good news, at least for believers, is that Jesus tucked these ominous words inside two of the most beautiful promises in the Bible. Here’s how John 16:33 reads, in it’s entirety (and I’ve added italics, so you can see the tuck): “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I get the part about Jesus overcoming the world – that’s what the cross was all about – but what about the first part? What things was he talking about? What did Jesus tell his disciples, so that they could have peace?

To find out, we need to back up – and in fact, it’s worth backing up all the way to the start of John’s gospel. John is the guy we might call Jesus’ earthly BFF, and he not only records miracles and other events as they happened, but he often gives us the meaning of these things, as well. It’s like he knew we’d have questions.

But even if we don’t go that far, even if we back up just a little bit, to the beginning of the chapter, we can find a reason for peace. Jesus says that “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (Yeah. That’s not a new line.) But he doesn’t want his followers to be afraid. Instead, Jesus says he has a plan. He’s going to send the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who will let everyone know what’s what and give the disciples a joy that nobody can take away.

And Jesus offers the same promise to us. When we’re facing trouble (whether it’s in our personal lives or on the national or global scale), we can take hold of his peace, knowing that he has both promised it and provided it. We can tap into the Holy Spirit, our Helper, and ask him to guard our hearts and teach us what we need to know. That’s how we get unshakable trust.

But some of us can do even more. Those of us who know what it’s like to be comforted by God can turn and extend this same comfort to others, encouraging people with words and deeds. Or even sometimes just with the gift of our presence, the way that God does when he says, “I’m with you. You are loved.” We are a nation that’s hurting; be alert to opportunities you might have to come alongside a neighbor and give them even just the smallest reason to hope.

And, in addition to building each other up, we can pray.

On Sunday, our minister talked about Amos, a guy who was minding his own business as a shepherd when God called him to be a prophet. I’m guessing that Amos had zero professional training, spiritually, but when he saw what was coming down the pike for Israel, he was horrified – and his prayers, prompted by a love for his country and a belief in God’s power, made a difference.

I’m not trying to make an Episcopalian out of anyone (Lord knows, we have our own set of issues), but if you’re like me and you sometimes find yourself groping for a prayer anchor in the face of things like racial violence, terrorism, and hatred, you might appreciate a few of the time-tested, biblically based prayers we drew from The Book of Common Prayer on Sunday. Click here if you want the whole catalog, or just join me in the briefest excerpt, which pretty much sums up what I want to ask God to do for us today:

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Lord, keep this nation under your care.

Amen.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


No Quahogging

Why is it that when somebody tells us we “can’t” do something, that becomes the very thing we want to do?

FullSizeRender

IMG_6190

Like, I didn’t even know what “quahogging” was, but when I saw this sign near the water in Martha’s Vineyard, I found myself inexplicably eager to try it. Was it a forbidden dance move? A locals-only term for shacking up on the beach? Something having to do with a boat?

IMG_6184

As it turns out (and maybe I am the only person who didn’t already know), a quahog is just a fancy name for a clam, and when you put it that way – “No Clamming” – it doesn’t sound nearly as illicit or adventurous. But still. Quahogs or clams, what’s the allure?

Bible brainiac Warren Weirsbe says, in his commentary on Romans, “Something in human nature wants to rebel whenever a law is given.” No kidding. Truth be told, though, resisting the call of the quahog isn’t really my biggest problem. For me, it’s more about things like letting worry steal my joy. Or coveting my neighbor’s shoes. Or, when Robbie is out of town, pairing a batch of chocolate chip cookies with a nice chardonnay and calling it Dinner.

know all of these things are bad and, time and again, I resolve not to do them. But at the end of the day, I am no different from the Apostle Paul. He’s the guy who wrote to the Romans and confessed, I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

And, every time I blow it – every time my ears perk up at a choice bit of gossip, or I let loose with some sarcastic remark that isn’t nearly as funny coming out of my mouth as it was in my head – I find myself echoing Paul’s despair:  “What a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”

Who indeed?

I’d be sunk, except for the fact that Paul solves his own riddle:  Thank God!” he writes. “The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The answer, in other words, is that we can’t save ourselves. I can’t even get rid of my bad habits – how much more would I fail at cleaning up my act enough to warrant a ticket to heaven? But, thanks be to God, the same Lord who covered my capital-S Sin Problem can also be counted on to conquer my daily challenges, those oops-I-did-it-again moments when I look at God and say, “Ugh. I can’t do it. I stink.” and he says, “It’s okay. I’ll help you. I love you.”

If you’re like me and you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again, doing the things you know, deep down, that you really don’t want to do, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, admit your weaknesses and failings to God – and ask him to help you. And then read the next part of Paul’s letter:  “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus…nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.”

(Even if we sometimes accidentally go quahogging.)

 

Scripture quotations in this post are from Romans 7:18-25 and 8:1 & 39, NLT

Leave a Reply


The Love Blanket

After reading my Garden Tour post last week, a friend texted to say she was sorry she’d missed it – except that maybe it was just as well, since looking at other people’s potted ferns and five-burner cooktops can just make you jealous. I get that. I came away from the tour with more than a couple of new items on my covet list, starting with a machine that makes crushed ice.

Like they have at Sonic.

Only in your house.

(How am I supposed to be content in all circumstances, now that I know those things are out there?)

Anyhow, the tour hostesses could not have been more gracious, but they did not offer to open any closets. Which was a good thing for me, since there is probably nothing that fuels my admiration (or envy) more powerfully than the sight of someone else’s storage skills. Especially when it comes to linens. I love the promise of crisp white sheets, freshly folded towels, and blankets that still have their bindings. My neighbor Molly has a linen closet that would make Yves Delorme drool. (I saw it, once. And ever since I have been wondering if there is a polite way to ask a person, when you go to their house, if you can maybe just take a nap.)

My linen closet does not look like Molly’s. My linen closet looks like this:

IMG_5274

Ugh. I don’t know why I’ve kept half this stuff. Like, what houseguest would seriously want to dry off with the 30-year-old monogrammed towels that Robbie and I got for a wedding present? And who on earth (except maybe my pal Colleen) is ever going to want that “designer edition” camouflage Snuggie? I mean. Everything in here got rejected by my college kids. That right there tells you something.

Honestly, it’s embarrassing. And I wouldn’t even show you this picture (I wouldn’t even open the closet) except for something I read this week, something that just cried out for a photo of blankets. Here it is:

Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him covered with his love. (Ephesians 1:4, TLB)

Oh my gosh. Do you see what God did there? He didn’t tell us to “straighten up” or “get it together” before we could come in and say hi. Instead, he took the initiative. He wanted to make us holy, and so he took all our faults, pushed them together, and covered the whole pile with his love.

What this verse means is that when God looks at me, he doesn’t see a gal with threadbare guest towels who can’t keep her closets straight. He doesn’t see me coveting my neighbor’s crushed ice. He doesn’t once look at me and say, “Oh gosh, what a mess. (Did I make that?)”

Instead, thanks to what Christ did, all God sees is love. His love. I’m covered in it!

And so are you.

And here’s the thing. I would love for my linen closets to look like the ones you see on Pinterest. I’d like for my life to look that way, too. But that’s not gonna happen. I know, because I’ve spent more years than I care to admit trying to whip myself into shape. I might get things to look presentable for a day or two, but it doesn’t last. Sooner or later, the Snuggie in me starts to fall out.

If you’re like me and you’ve realized (again) that you don’t have what it takes to succeed, spiritually (or, if you’re one of those rare people who thinks that maybe you do), hit the pause button. Because nothing we could ever do (or not do) will render us holy. Nothing we could ever say (or not say) will make us faultless. All of that stuff is up to God, and he’s already done it.

So let’s not spend another minute worrying about the linen closets of our lives. Instead, let’s snuggle up in the blanket that is God’s love, and rejoice in the fact that he has us covered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Rest Secure

I’ve been living out of my car for the past two weeks, driving all over the southeast. When I finally pulled into our driveway yesterday, I saw Khaki the lab, looking like this:

IMG_5005

My first thought was that she was (to borrow a line from The Princess Bride) “mostly dead.” Khaki looked how I felt: Exhausted. Worn out. Done.

But then God redirected my gaze. I realized that Khaki wasn’t tired. She wasn’t stressed (she’s a dog). And, while she might actually be mostly dead (she’s 13), she wasn’t worried about it. She was just resting. She was secure.

Which is exactly how God wants us to feel, no matter how chaotic or exhausting life gets.

Deuteronomy 33:12 is a great reminder of three powerful truths:  We are loved. We are secure. We can rest in God. Let’s make this verse our Friday prayer today – for ourselves, or for someone we love:

Heavenly Father,

Let _____ know he is beloved in your sight. May _____ rest secure in you, knowing that you shield him all day long. (Deuteronomy 33:12)

Amen.

Leave a Reply


No More Sting!

1 Corinthians 15

No more jellyfish pix, I promise. But I saw this impressive fella (gal?) in the National Aquarium last week, and with today being Good Friday and all, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a fresh look at how death lost its sting.

Here’s how 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 breaks it down:  Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he rose again, and then he appeared to a whole lot of people. Death, done.

Let’s join our voices with countless saints who have gone before and turn our Friday prayer into a praise today:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Have a glorious Easter!

 

Leave a Reply


U.Va. Seniors Jumpstart March Madness

It’s March, which means that even if you are not normally a college basketball fan, it’s time to check in.

Because March is tournament time, and in the unpredictable and exquisite world that is college basketball, anything can happen. U.Va. fans got a foretaste of the March Madness Magic on Saturday night and, if you’re like me, you’re still smiling.

Mar 5, 2016; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers players celebrate on the bench after a three point feel goal by Cavaliers forward Caid Kirven (not pictured) in the final minute against the Louisville Cardinals at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers won 68-46. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was the last home game of the season, and the #4 ranked Cavaliers beat #11 Louisville. The 68-46 thumping was a story in itself, but it was Senior Night in Charlottesville, and if you were a sportswriter, you could lead with any one of the five guys who are graduating:

Malcolm Brogdan bounced back from an early-game slump and finished like the champion he is, leading the team with 17 points (and netting ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors the next day). Mike Tobey snagged 15 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, becoming the first U.Va. player to grab that many boards since 2003. Team prankster Anthony Gill finished with 15 and reminded us all why it’s not just his high school sweetheart (they’re getting married next month, whoop!) who’s crazy about him. Evan Nolte, given a senior night spot in the starting lineup, set the tone for the game just after tip-off by knocking down back-to-back threes (and treating appreciative fans to another of his mega-watt smiles). And, Caid Kirven, a walk-on with a grand total of eight points in his entire college career, brought down the house with his improbable, incredible, almost indescribable end-of-game three-pointer.

If you saw the game (and that last shot, in particular) you’ll understand why one Twitter fan summed it all up like this:  U.Va. Senior Night. Brought to you by Disney.

Like a zillion other U.Va. fans, I couldn’t get enough of the press coverage, and I spent the weekend devouring every article I could find. I “liked” a tweet where Coach Tony Bennett said his guys had represented his five pillars well, an accomplishment for which he was thankful. I read a tribute to the five seniors, an online post that came complete with video highlights. And I watched Caid’s shot go in, over and over again, until my face started to hurt from smiling so much.

My favorite piece, though, was about Mike Tobey’s big night.

After a career marked by ups and downs, Tobey had had a particularly discouraging game against Miami. A lot of players might have been tempted to slink off to the showers after that loss, but Tobey took another approach. He met Coach Bennett for lunch.

According to the article, Tobey said that he’d been worried about fouling (a habit that’s plagued him this season), and that he was worried he’d make a mistake. Coach Bennett’s response? “Focus on one thing. Don’t worry about fouling, don’t worry about a force. Just have a reckless abandon.”

And so he did. Tobey went out there on Saturday night and had the time of his life, setting a single-game rebounding record for the arena that left the fans chanting his name. Why the big change?

“Talking to coach actually helped free me up inside,” Tobey said. “I just went out there and played basketball.”

11759407

Isn’t that exactly how it is with us? So often, we go through life feeling crippled by our past mistakes, worrying that if we try to play like we were meant to play we’ll get into foul trouble and blow it. Instead of living in freedom – accomplishing our God-given purposes, doing the things he intended for us to do – we stumble around in uncertainty and fear.

But what if we were to stop and have a convo with our Coach? What would he say?

I don’t mean to sound glib or irreverent, but I actually think he’d sound a bit like Coach Bennett. He’d tell us not to worry about fouling, because our mistakes don’t matter to him. “My grace is sufficient for you,” he’d say. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

He’d remind us to focus on just one thing. He’d say, “Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance, fixing your eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

And, at the risk of over-stretching the bounds of Scripture, I think he’d say, “Get out there and play with reckless abandon.” Maybe it wouldn’t come out exactly like that, but John 10:10 comes pretty close. That’s when Jesus looks around (and you can almost picture him, talking both to his players and to the crowd in the stands) and says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Play with reckless abandon. Live life to the full. That’s the freedom we’re meant to experience.

So to the five U.Va. seniors, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for giving us an amazing four years, and for the lessons you’ve taught us about things like teamwork, selflessness, and passion. May the Lord bless you beyond anything you could ask for or imagine, both now and in the days and years ahead.

And I don’t know if Coach Bennett had John 8:36 in mind when he was talking to Tobey, but to anyone who has ever tasted what it means to be “free indeed,” his words are worth holding onto:

“Just go out there and play free.”

(Photo credit virginiasports.com)

Leave a Reply


The Cleats of Peace

So my Bible Study group is halfway through Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God series, and this week the lesson is all about the shoes of peace.

I can’t recap the whole teaching, but the nutshell version is that we cannot survive the storms of life unless we have God’s peace. Peace is what secures our footing. It provides stability. It allows us to to both stand firm and to move forward when everything around us seems like a chaotic mess.

Which is why, I guess, the Apostle Paul chose to focus on shoes as the piece of Roman armor that correlates to peace. And listening to Priscilla describe the sandals that the soldiers wore (lots of laces for ankle support, cutaways to provide ventilation and allow for movement, and thick leather soles with hobnails sticking out the bottom to allow a soldier to “dig in”), I couldn’t help but think that Paul could have picked a better word in Ephesians 6:15. Shoes are nice, but what we really need in life is a good pair of cleats.

Untitled design (3)

Because life (and buckle up, because here comes a Deep Thought) is a whole lot like lacrosse.

Robbie plays for Sewanee: The University of the South. As an attackman, his job is to put the ball in the goal. The opponent’s job is to stop him, using what looks (to a mother, anyway) like anything short of murder. Robbie plays with a short stick; his defender has a long one, and even with all of the padding that some NCAA person decided the guys needed to wear, my boy comes out of every single game with slash marks, bruises, and even (on more than one occasion) the entire imprint of some other guy’s lacrosse head (strings and all) embedded into his body, like a 3-D tattoo.

lacrosse

Sometimes, it’s not just the defenders who make life hard. Sometimes it’s the environment. When Robbie was growing up, we watched games where it was 118 degrees on the turf and the refs had to stop the game every ten minutes so that the players could hydrate. We also saw contests in the sleet and snow, where the field turned into a slippery, icy mess. And, now that Robbie is at Sewanee (which is on the top of a mountain), there are some games we have not watched at all, simply because there was nothing to see. Here’s the snap Annesley took on the sidelines last weekend:

IMG_4135

I’d go on, but you get the idea. Life is hard, and we all take hits. Sometimes we find ourselves on slippery ground, or searching to find our way in the fog. Paul wasn’t kidding when he said that in order to stand firm and be ready to move, we’d need the right footwear.

So how do we get that? How do we strap on our own shoes of peace?

I wish I had pages and pages so that I could rip off everything that Priscilla Shirer had to say. Her study is seriously fabulous, and if you want to get the whole thing, click here. In the meantime, though, I’ll leave you with my favorite takeaway:

Trust fuels thanksgiving. Thanksgiving activates peace.

If you want a life that is marked by peace – the kind that cannot be shaken, no matter how hard you get hit, how slippery the ground is, or how foggy the future looks – start with trust. Isaiah 26:3 promises “perfect peace” when you trust God and keep your thoughts fixed on him. You can shore up that trust (supporting your ankles and digging your spikes into the ground) by taking hold of some Bible verses and letting their truth soak into your heart and mind until they become an anchor, firm and secure. (If that’s new territory and you aren’t sure where to start, post a comment on this blog to let me know what your need or concern is and I’ll message you back with a few of my favorite Scripture promises.)

Trust fuels thanksgiving. And thanksgiving, when wrapped around the concerns and requests in your life, activates peace. Check out the progression in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So here’s the action plan, as best as I can tell:  Trust God. Cover your concerns with thanksgiving. And get yourself a good pair of peace cleats so you can stand your ground and be ready to go, no matter what life throws your way.

Leave a Reply


Trash Talk

IMG_3674

I realize that “trash” is not the most captivating subject for a blog, but two things happened last week that made me want to write about it.

The first was on I-64. I was driving behind a minivan when a napkin suddenly flew out the window. Oh gosh, I thought. Some poor mother is up there with a car full of kids and now they have started throwing stuff. Been there. Even had to turn around on the highway when the thing that blew out during a family vacay was Annesley’s blankie.

But then came another napkin, followed by a paper bag. And finally, a cup. Clearly, lunch was over, and this was a deliberate dump.

So I did what no one should probably do anymore, what with road rage and all. I floored it like I was Bo Duke and pulled alongside the perp. He turned out to be a big, hairy guy, alone in the van. He looked like he was about my age.

(Which got me thinking: Hadn’t he grown up watching the Crying Indian ad? He had to have seen that one.)

The guy saw me and started laughing. Are you CRAZY? I mouthed, giving him my best “Mom is so NOT happy” face. He laughed even harder.

And then he gave me the finger.

Robbie would say that I was the crazy one, and that I am lucky that the guy didn’t have a gun. I say the guy’s lucky that I didn’t have a gun. And that I’d grown up with a mother who never really sympathized with my problems; rather, she made me pray for all of the bullies and mean girls and kids she said were “just jealous” (isn’t that the best Mom line?) of me. One time, after a boy had hit me in the back with a basketball as we walked home from school (I ran, after that), Mom made me go back out into the road (since she knew he had to walk past our house) and curtsy, saying, “Have a nice day, Peter.”

And I did.

(Yeah, you read that right. I curtsied.)

At the time, I am sure I wished my mother had checked to see if my back was okay, or at least gotten on the horn with Peter’s mother to let her know what a nasty boy she had. But Mom’s parenting style tended to run along biblical lines, and she was drawing from 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

For better or for worse, that nugget stuck. And when VanMan made his little hand gesture, I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t exactly curtsy, but I could pray. And so I did. I prayed for that hairy guy for like the next five miles, that he would be blessed, and that his family would be blessed, and that he would know how much God loved him, and that he would be kept safe as he trashed America’s highways with his to-go wrappers. I covered that guy in so many blessings that I could hardly see straight.

And you know what? It made me happy. Praying for that guy – heaping blessings on his big old head – turned my indignation into joy. And even if I never see VanMan again (and I kind of hope I don’t), I just know he has some good things coming. Maybe he won’t litter so much, once he realizes how much God loves him. And who knows? Maybe he’ll even shave.

The second thing that happened wasn’t nearly that interesting. The second thing that happened was that Robbie and I were on a hike with some friends, and we saw a trash can beside a beautiful lake. I stopped to snap a pic, and I am pretty sure Robbie mocked me when he explained that I was always pulling out my phone to take pictures for this blog. “Oh good,” our pal Ralph said, “Because now she can write about trash.”

So I did.

And Ralph? May God bless you today. May he shower his goodness on your family, may he keep you all safe, and may you know how very much you are loved.

 

Leave a Reply


Waiting Well

So this week, a friend told me that she met someone at her church who likes my blogs because she thinks they are “so funny.” Uh-oh. If that’s you, can I just apologize in advance? Because what I want to write about today is seriously not funny.

I am going to write about waiting.

Which is what I did for 97 straight minutes last week. Standing up the whole time. In a line. To make an appointment. For a passport. At the post office.

IMG_3522

See? Not funny.

Oh sure, there were some funny parts. Like, after about 20 of us had been standing there for an hour (they recommend arriving by about 7 a.m., since there are a limited number of appointments to be had and it’s first come, first served), we heard noises behind a locked door that made us think a clerk was coming. Turns out, it was the janitor. “Yesterday,” he said, pushing his mop, “was a real mess. Nobody came. I don’t know if they are gonna come today or not. So what you all are gonna need to do is just keep waiting.”

Granted, that doesn’t sound all that funny now. At the time, though (having stood there, fresh out of bed and without any coffee, for 56 minutes and counting) I thought it was kind of hilarious. Especially when the white-haired gentleman five people ahead  of me looked back down the line and said, “I’m from the government. I’m here to help.”

Now, I don’t have anything against the government. Well, not the post office people, anyway. They mostly just want to sell stamps. Even the big guy who finally showed up to take names (“You people are gonna have to back this line up, now…that’s right…all the way back, behind the red line”) was just doing his job. And do it he did. All 30 of us (the line kept growing) scuttled backwards, like so many crabs. Or maybe penguins, only in reverse.

Okay, so who does that? I mean, who gets up at 6:00 in the morning and skips their coffee to go stand in line at the post office for 97 minutes, and then waddles backwards with all of the other sheep when the man with the clipboard says to Get Behind The Red Line??

Robbie wouldn’t have. He would’ve taken one look, walked out, gotten online, and paid some passport service an excess upcharge overcharge to expedite the whole process.

But not me.

For me, it was a matter of principle. I was standing in line with my Fellow Americans. If the Russians could do it (and I was pretty sure 97 minutes on a cold tile floor would be amateur hour, to them), then by golly, so could I. I would wait all day, if I had to.

There remained, however, the matter of how to pass the time. (I’m a get-‘er-done kind of gal, and when the janitor showed up with his less-than-encouraging prognosis, I started rifling through the change-of-address and hold-mail forms to see if there was anything that could be considered stationery.)

My pal Lisa says that when you have to wait, you should pray for everyone else who is waiting. So I tried that. I prayed for the college girl at the front of the line (she’d collapsed at about the 37-minute mark, announcing to nobody in particular that she was getting ready to study abroad and she didn’t mind the post office floor). I prayed for the older man who was not really from the government. I prayed for the pair of African American guys, two places ahead of me, who kept shaking their heads, like they’d been accidentally cast in a bad movie. And I prayed for my new friend, Naida, who was just ahead of me in line and who gave me her cell phone number when she finally had to leave, asking that I text her with any information that might help make her next attempt (this was her second) more successful.

And then I started praying for other people I knew. The sick. The discouraged. The destitute. All the people, in other words, that I was beginning to feel jealous of. (Like my mother, who broke her wrist on New Year’s Day and now has what seems like her entire left side  wrapped in ice and pins and splints. At least she has John to bring coffee and turn on the Netflix.)

I guess I could have stood like that forever, waiting and praying behind the red line until I collapsed next to the study abroad girl, but it was finally my turn. And I was one of the lucky ones; I got an appointment. To come back later that day. (Powerball fans, eat your heart out.)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I am an idiot, and the fact that this whole thing turned into a blog has only made a bad situation worse. That’s what I thought, too – until my phone rang as I was pulling out of the post office parking lot. It was my friend Annesley, calling to fill me in on her family’s start to 2016.

“We all picked fruits of the Spirit to pray for this year,” she said, referring to the list outlined in Galatians. “And when I did a little research on patience, I discovered that it’s not just about waiting. The Amplified Bible says–”

At that point, Annesley drove into a tunnel or something, and our conversation got cut off. I couldn’t believe it. Seriously? I had to wait to find out what patience meant?

I couldn’t. I googled Galatians 5:22-23 in the Amplified Translation. Here’s what it says:

But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Ahhh. So patience (the kind the Holy Spirit forms in us) is not just the ability to suck it up and stand there. It’s the ability to wait well. It’s how we act while waiting – what we think and say and do.

Boy, was I glad I had chosen to pray, rather than telling the clipboard guy what I really thought about his passport operation. And honestly, it could have gone either way.

I share this story not to toot my own horn (because really, I think we can all agree that Robbie’s approach to getting a passport probably makes the most sense, no matter how patriotic of a line-stander you try to be), but to give you something to do next time you find yourself having to wait. Don’t get your undies in a wad. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t start writing thank you notes on federal forms.

Instead, take the opportunity to pray. It’s not something we make a lot of time for, these days. But waiting happens to all of us, and if we step back and see the unexpected gift of time as an opportunity instead of a burden, everything changes. We get to slip our hand into the Almighty’s, partnering with him to accomplish his good purposes on earth.

Which, when you stop to think about it, is a mighty fine way to spend 97 minutes.

(And P.S., I am happy to report that Naida texted me yesterday to say that she had gotten her passport, after only three tries. Is this a great country, or what?)

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Breaking Your Enemy’s Teeth

IMG_3164If you’re doing Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus devotional book this year (it was the “everyone gets a copy” stocking stuffer in the Berndt house and, even though it’s only been a few days, it’s safe to say that the book has already gotten way more use than the posture braces that Santa left under the tree in 2013), you read Psalm 3 this week. It’s a short one, and for those who don’t have the Keller book or a Bible handy, here it is:

Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.

I lie down in sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.

From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.

Now, there was a time when I would have read this psalm (or similar ones where David is getting chased by people who want to kill him) and think, “I can’t really relate.” I mean, I don’t feel like I have a lot of “foes” or people who “assail me on every side.” I love the parts in Psalm 3 about God answering me or helping me sleep in peace, but breaking teeth? Excuse me? I can’t think of anyone (even those girls who would never sit with me at lunch, back in middle school) that I would wish that one on.

And I said as much to my running partner, Lynne. She’s my go-to gal on a lot of Bible head-scratchers, and she fielded this one with her customary wisdom and grace.

“Jodie,” she said, “you might not have enemies in the way that you think of them, as in real people. But what about fear, or doubt? What about sadness, discouragement, insecurity, and worry – or anything that keeps you awake at night?”

Ah. She had a point.

But she wasn’t finished.

“You know we all have an enemy,” Lynne continued. (And I did; the Bible says that “our enemy the devil” prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour.) “Don’t you think Satan wants to assail you? And don’t you think he can use things like fear and uncertainty to get the job done?”

Ahhh, yes. Yes he can. And when I began to picture discouragement or fear as my foes, it suddenly became very easy for me to pray that God would step in and render them toothless!

DSC_1028_2

Yes. That is our dog Khaki. I know it’s not a flattering shot, but…those teeth. I had to show you.

(And alert blog readers will note the fluff of white, just below Khaki’s chin, which explains a lot. When she doesn’t have to wear a Christmas Sweater, she’s actually a decent-looking dog.)

Anyhow.

I don’t know who – or what – you are facing today. But if you feel like you’re under an attack of any kind – whether a real person is conspiring against you, or if it’s things like fear and worry that are taking a bite out of your joy – take Psalm 3 and wrap it around yourself. Call on God, and let him be your shield.

From the Lord comes deliverance. May his blessing be on you today.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


The Christmas Sweater

Back when W. was in the White House, my friend Catharine, who worked there, invited me to be her guest at the Christmas party. I was thrilled! And I had the perfect outfit: A Christmas sweater adorned with snowflakes, red and white piping, and a faux fur collar that gave the whole thing, I thought, just the right touch of holiday elegance. I’d already had the sweater for one season, and every time I wore it small children would come up and ask if I knew Santa. Truly.

Were this story to happen today, I am sure that my daughters would launch an intervention, but they were too young at the time to know better. And so off I went to Washington, ready to meet the leader of the free world in all my fluffy glory.

I should have realized my faux pas as soon as I arrived. Every other party guest wore cocktail-attire black, or a subtle shade of cranberry. Needless to say, I turned more than a few heads, and when the president’s social secretary broke through the receiving line (“I heard about your outfit and I just had to see it!”) all I could think was, “These people are jealous! They all want my sweater!” Holding my head a little higher, I wasn’t even surprised when the time came to shake the First Lady’s hand and she leaned in to whisper, “Love the sweater.”

photo

Fast forward about seven years. My girls grew up, caught sight of this photo, and—as teenaged girls are wont to do—burst into gales of mocking (and, I like to think, sympathetic) laughter. I still had the sweater and, not knowing what else to do with it, Annesley and I decided to dress the dogs.

Khaki (the lab, who clearly has a keener eye for fashion than I do) had the good sense to protest, but after a little bit of snarling and more than a few treats, she and Max were photo ready. The result was our 2009 Christmas card:

DSC_1046

Today, these two photos—“The White House” and “The Dogs”—sit side-by-side on the bookshelf in our family room. To most people, they are simply a curiosity. To me, they are living proof of why we need verses like Romans 12:3 (“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”) and of letting God weigh in on what not to wear.

Colossians 3:12 says, “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” If you’re like me, and getting dressed for holiday parties is harder, even, than getting your kids to show up (showered) for the Christmas photo, consider posting Colossians 3:12 in your closet. Even the most awful Christmas sweater, paired with humility, can make a good impression.

(Looking back, I have to believe that Laura really did like the sweater. As my mother-in-law says about almost every celebrity she has never met, “She seems like such a nice person.”)

Leave a Reply


Let there be light!

Let there be light!“We need more lights.”

That’s pretty much how Robbie opens Christmas season at our house. Every year when he crawls into the attic and pulls out the boxes, he seems disappointed with our stash. Christmas lights, I guess, are like bathing suit bottoms; they spend the off-season lying in the dark, plotting all the ways that they will not work properly when you decide that you need them again.

And so, come December, Robbie heads out to the store (Christmas lights being one of three things he likes to buy; the other two being surfer gear and Fritos).  This year, he came back with 12 boxes, all white.

“It was buy one, get one free!” he crowed.

That would have been fine, except that after three hours of wrapping pretty much every bush and branch in our yard, he came back inside, looking for his car keys.

“Don’t tell me,” I said.

“Yep. We need more lights.”

And off he went.

I, meanwhile, stared at my un-decked halls and the naked tree that Robbie had erected in the family room. It had lights, sure, but no ornaments. They were still in the attic, nestled alongside my beloved collections of santas and nativity scenes, which I keep in separate storage boxes for theological reasons. Ever since my godly mother told my daughters that there was No! Such! Thing! as Santa Claus (“Do you really want to lie to your children?”), making them instant celebrity pariahs when they carried the news into preschool the next day, I have been very sensitive to the Santa-Jesus debate. (And to anyone reading this who had children at Atlanta’s Northside Methodist Preschool in the early 1990s, can I please just apologize again?)

(Seriously. I am sorry. And believe me, I totally understand why you didn’t let my girls come play at your houses that December. I would have shunned your children, too. I shunned my own mother that year.)

Anyhow.

My decorations are still in the attic, and Christmas is just two weeks away. Robbie may be all HoHoHo, but I am just not feeling it this year. For one thing, we don’t have any kids home. For another (and this is embarrassing, but true), I am still cleaning up from the second wedding. And for a third, I think the tree hates me. It’s dropping needles faster than the dogs drop hair. And you know how I feel about that.

So there I was, staring at nothing and wondering if “My tree hates me” was a legitimate reason to seek professional counseling, when Robbie came back inside.

“I need your help to get this tree out to the dock.”

Excuse me?

I knew we’d gotten a second tree (it was a thank you gift from Young Life), but I didn’t realize “we” had decided where to put it. Robbie, though, had a plan.

FullSizeRender

Sigh. I do love my man.

We got the thing up and then, sure enough, Robbie grabbed his car keys. “More lights?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. And…more extension cords!”

Robbie was thrilled with his handiwork. He couldn’t wait until dark. And when the sun finally set, he came into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Are you looking out at the tree?” he whispered.

“No, Honey. I am unloading the dishwasher.”

I suppose our holiday season would have gone on like this for the next two weeks, a couple of Christmas caricatures:  One living like Buddy the Elf, the other too tired to even think about taking anyone’s last can of Who-hash.

But then, early this morning, I got up and looked out the window.

IMG_3099

I couldn’t help but smile. Light just does that.

And how clever of God to bookend the Bible with light. Genesis 1:3 kicks off with the familiar “Let there be light,” and Revelation wraps up the whole story with the promise that the time is coming when we won’t need a lamp or even the sun, because the glory of the Lord will be our light and – cue Handel’s Messiah, which yes, we are going to, again – he “shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)

If you’re feeling a little Scroogey and you don’t have your own resident Buddy to string up some cheer, never fear. Just pin up a strand someplace (the Young Life kids who were here the other night made human Christmas trees, so I guess you could maybe try that), and plug it in. And then open your Bible.

Because God’s Word is the best light of all.

Psalm 119:105 says it is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Next week, I’m going to share a few of my favorite ways to help us get this light into our lives in 2016 (I’m all about that plan, don’t you know!), but for now, I’ll leave you with a few choice bits to chew on as you look at your tree. Because even a Grinch like me can’t help but feel her heart growing with encouraging verses like these:

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1:5)

How happy are those who have learned how to praise You; those who journey through life by the light of Your face. (Psalm 89:15, Voice)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

Let there be light! (Even if it takes a few new extension cords.)

IMG_3101

 

 

Leave a Reply


Thank you, Mike London

Hebrews 11, informally known as the Bible’s “Hall of Faith,” catalogs a long and glorious list of Old Testament heroes, people who followed God and did what he asked them to do, even when they weren’t sure of the outcome. And, in fact, things didn’t always go the way most of these folks thought or hoped they would. Sure, some of ’em got to cross the Red Sea on dry land or shut the mouths of lions, but others were tortured, stoned, and (v. 37) “sawed in two.” These people led exemplary lives of faith and yet, near the end of the chapter, we learn that “none of them received what had been promised.”

That might sound like a faith downer, but it’s not. It’s a set-up for the Hebrews 11 punchline, the very last verse in the chapter: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

God had planned something better.

12896_spfootballlondonchufReading those words today, I couldn’t help but think about U.Va. Coach Mike London. Widely regarded as a top-notch recruiter and a powerful influence for good (he served as a father figure and role model to many of his players, asking that they go to class, show class, and treat people with dignity and respect), London did just about everything you want a coach to do. Everything, that is, except win a lot of football games. On that score, at least, things didn’t turn out the way U.Va. fans hoped that they would. And, after six years of losing a whole lot more than he won, London resigned on Sunday.

You’d think the victory-starved fans would be happy to have London gone (and maybe that one guy who sits two rows behind us and spends most of the game screaming about the penalties can finally give it a rest). But most folks (including Robbie, who groaned every time the third-and-long screen pass didn’t work, which was pretty much every time) seem a little sad this week. We know we’re losing a good man.

After Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech (and yes, we were there, with our two new Hokie sons-in-law, who had the decency to keep quiet and just eat the leftover charcuterie during our post-game tailgate), London gave what turned out to be a farewell speech. He said he was proud of his players, both for their character and for the things they had dealt with during an admittedly challenging season. “It’s important,” he said, “that they understand this is a tough game, you win, you lose, you try to get better, you try to move forward, but it’s a tough game. There’s consequences for a lot of things. I just told them, you’re going to be a husband, a father, a son, an employee, an employer, much longer than you’re going to be a football player. Your identity is not tied into being just a football player. I get it, we’re graded on wins and losses, I understand that, but you’re so much more than that.”

Word is that players and fans have heaped messages of love and support on Coach London, both in person and via social media. Having watched pretty much every game he coached (except for William & Mary this year, cuz we figured Hillary might notice if we didn’t show up for her wedding), I’d like to add my thoughts to the mix:

Dear Coach London,

Thank you for all of the good things that you brought to U.Va. football.

I’m thinking about you today, grateful for a man who knows that his identity is not just as a football coach. You are what you’ve modeled for your guys: You are a good husband, father, son, and employee. And, in the things that really matter – the lessons that last, game after game, season after season – you are a mighty good coach.

I know that you love the Lord and trust his hand in your life, which is why I hope you will get it when I point to Hebrews 11:40 and say that God has planned something better. U.Va. hired you to win games; God called you to win lives. That’s a calling you have pursued with excellence, and it’s one that won’t stop when you walk out of Scott Stadium.

Hebrews 11 is full of people just like you, men and women who followed God, spent their lives on behalf of other people, and lived by faith when they couldn’t see any evidence of the things they hoped for. They might not have known the fruits of their labors, but they knew back then what we still know today: God will one day make us perfect. Their faith, your faith, and our faith will finally come together to make a completed whole. The best is yet to come.

May the Lord richly bless you and your family as you continue to follow him. The best really is yet to come.

And in the meantime, thanks for the memories.

Jodie Berndt

IMG_2897

DSC_0893

IMG_2917

DSC_0298

IMG_1803

IMG_2564

IMG_0097

DSC_0348

IMG_6970

(Many thanks to the Cavalier Daily for the photo of Coach London.)

 

 

Leave a Reply


Marriage, Generosity, and Football

Last January, I wrote a post about Generosity and Marriage, and how – according to researchers at the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project – even the simplest act of giving (like making your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning) can be a huge factor in your marital happiness.

But what about football? Can going to the big game with your spouse – or even watching it on TV – bode well for a relationship? I’m no sociologist, but this past weekend three things happened to make me think that football represents a prime opportunity for generous living, and could well be a sign of a healthy relationship.

IMG_2076

First, I saw a car commercial where this cute girl picks up a guy, presumably for a date. En route, she discusses the strengths of their team’s rushing offense while using the rear-view mirror to apply eye black. When they finally reach their destination – a stadium – the guy is speechless. It’s the date of his dreams: a pretty girl, talking sports, taking him to a football game! Granted, the ad wasn’t real, but if you could have seen how incredibly happy the guy was – what a gift the girl had given him – you would know why I have no idea what sort of car she was driving.

The second thing that happened was that my pal Anne Ferrell, who is married to the Alex Trebek of sports (Bob can name just about every college mascot in the country, from the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs to the Fighting Pickles of UNC’s School of the Arts), told me that she has undertaken a “30-Day Challenge” in which she’s trying to soak up as much football intel as she can. Players, coaches, weekend highlights – they’re all on her list. (If you could have heard her discussing Navy’s triple option offense on Saturday, you would know what a dedicated student she is.) Needless to say, Bob (who played for Navy and still holds like 17 records) is thrilled.

And the third thing that happened – the third football thing in 48 hours that made me think there might be a pattern here – was that, on Sunday, I got a text from my girlfriend, Dee, who got married last summer:

Now, Dee is not big on punctuation. I knew that. But she’s also not big on football – or at least, I didn’t think she was. Ask her what the Real Housewives are up to, or what fell out of the closet during the most recent episode of Hoarders, and her eyes fairly dance; when it comes to Reality TV, she’s a curator. But televised sports? That’s blank stare territory.

“I realized,” she explained, in answer to my question, “that if I wanted to see my husband in the fall, I would need to watch football. Because that’s what he does. On like five different TVs. And so I asked him to teach me the game.”

(And apparently he did, with great enthusiasm, because she went into a long explanation of who all the players were, what they were supposed to do, and – did I know this already? – that they had four chances to go ten yards every time! Marvelous!)

In each of these cases – the car ad, the 30-Day Challenge, and the football tutorial – the men were overjoyed. No surprise there. But what captivated me (and what gives credence to the whole “’Tis better to give” finding in the National Marriage Project) was how utterly giddy the women were.

Dee hasn’t been this excited about television since, I don’t know, she watched that woman sew clothes for a squirrel in My Strange Addiction. Anne Ferrell has mastered so many plays that she could coach her own team by now; I bet she even knows what a “slotback” is. (I don’t.) And that girl in the car ad? I don’t think she was acting. She loved it that she could make her fake boyfriend’s day.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Maybe the National Marriage Project should adopt that line as their motto. Because these gals started learning about football as a love-gift for their men, but honestly? They’re the ones reaping the blessings! They know the joy of making someone happy. The satisfaction that comes with learning something new. And the sheer delight of spending time (and, one would hope, eating nachos) with a guy that they love.

If your spouse’s interests include coffee in the morning (and Robbie, if you are reading this, can I just say thank you?), bring ’em a cup. If it’s football that he (or she!) values, go ahead and Google “triple option offense” (they have diagrams online; I checked).  Whatever it is that your beloved is into – old books, new cars, gluten-free meatloaf – take some time this week to learn about these things, or to give them a place amid the stuff that matters in your life.

You’ll think you’re the one doing the giving (and you are). But take it from the adorable couple in the car ad:  Generosity cuts two ways. You will both be happy. And you will wind up refreshed.

(And P.S.  Bronco’s fans, don’t worry about Dee’s text. You’ll get ’em next weekend. And besides, it will be nice for Peyton Manning, who seems like such a nice person, to break the passing yards record at home. He needs, what, three more yards? Four? I don’t know.)

(Will have to ask Anne Ferrell.)

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


The Semi-Colon Life

Untitled designI saw this sign in a shop in Duck, North Carolina, and I loved it.

For one thing, the semi-colon is my favorite punctuation mark. It’s more than a comma, but not quite a period; honestly, I think it offers the best of both worlds. The semi-colon lets a writer coordinate two independent sentences that could stand alone, but are just better when paired. Think of it as the grammatical equivalent of wine and cheese.

And what a terrific message:  My story isn’t over yet.

I don’t know how the Apostle Paul felt about semi-colons, but if he were on my Christmas list, I’d be getting him one of these signs. I just finished re-reading about his life in Acts, and if ever anyone had a two-part story, it was this guy. Part One had Paul trying to destroy the early church, going house-to-house and dragging out Christians – men and women (!!) – to be beaten and thrown into prison; in Part Two, we find him tromping all over the place, building that same church through personal visits and powerful letters, and proclaiming the good news about Jesus from his own jail cell! Hooray for the semi-colon!

I don’t know about you, but if I had been in Paul’s shoes (and given his fondness for athletic metaphors, maybe I should say cleats), I think I would have benched myself, once I realized how awful I had been. Sure, I would have wanted to be on God’s team, but given my past “mistakes” (things like stoning people who talked about God’s goodness), I might have tried to live life in the shadows, leaving the contest to the “varsity” Christians who didn’t seem to be such big screw-ups.

But not Paul! He knew what he had done was bad (horrific, even) but he wasn’t gonna let his past influence his present or his future. He understood God’s grace. He received it. He knew his story wasn’t over yet – and that changed everything.

How many of us really believe that? How many of us really believe the message of grace: that, thanks to Christ’s triumph on the cross, nothing that we’ve ever said or done or even thought has the power to disqualify us for a spot on God’s team? His varsity team? How many of us can say, as Paul did in Philippians 3, “Forgetting what is behind and staining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”?

I checked a few commentaries, and the word “forgetting” doesn’t mean that Paul had some sort of convenient amnesia, or that he just blocked out all the yucky stuff he had done. Instead, the idea is that these things no longer shaped or defined Paul. They couldn’t rob him of his salvation or his fitness for service; instead, Paul knew that God could (and would!) work in and through all of these failings to bring about good in his life and in the lives of others (and, although he couldn’t have known it at the time, in the lives of billions more people who would one day read his story).

If you have a past (and who doesn’t?), don’t let it steal your purpose or your joy. Don’t believe the lie that says, “You stink; how could God ever use or love someone like you?” Instead, take hold of the truth: You do stink (as Tim Keller puts it, we are all “more wicked than we ever dared believe”), but in Christ, you are (Keller again) “more loved and accepted” than you ever dared hope! Like Paul, you really can “forget what is behind” and “press on toward the goal,” because God adores you – and he is still writing your story.

And by the same token, if you’re praying for a friend or loved one whose life seems to have gone off the rails, remember that their story isn’t over yet. As one sweet mama said when I asked her how her teenaged daughter was doing, “Well, she’s still working on her testimony.” This gal understood the real life application of verses like Romans 8:28; she knew that, in God’s hands, all of the stuff to the left of the semi-colon would one day be used on the right – and that the sentence, once completed, would be glorious.

Leave a Reply


Thankful for One Thing

Well I’ve moved into Romans. It’s not my favorite book of the Bible, mostly because it contains a lot of heady stuff and you have Paul writing things like, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”

Come again?

But anyway, here I am, and if you’re with me on the two-year Bible reading plan, maybe you’re here too.  And maybe you found yourself breezing right on through the second half of Romans 1 this week like I did, thinking it wasn’t really for you. An easy assumption to make. I mean, Paul basically opens with a whole section about God’s wrath, starting out with warnings about general wickedness before transitioning into big-ticket items like idolatry and sexual perversion. (Interesting that he lumps “disobedience to your parents” in with murder, depravity, deceit, and ruthlessness…but that’s a blog for another day. Or maybe it’s a verse you want to write out and put on your kid’s pillow tonight.)

(Just kidding.)

So, there I was, skimming along through Paul’s litany of sin (and feeling pretty good since I wasn’t one of “those perverts”) when – kind of like what I imagine it must feel like to get hit in the head with a hammer (which has never happened to me) or with a soccer ball while you watched your kid’s game (which has) – a verse practically jumped up and bit me. Romans 1:21 says, Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Ouch.

I know God, but how many times have I failed to give him the credit or glory he deserves? How often have I neglected to thank him for what he is doing (or what he has already done)? And how easy it has been, during those times, to slip into futile thinking:

This circumstance will never change.

It’s all up to me – and I don’t have what it takes.

This whole relationship/job/situation is hopeless…I’m just so tired…What if I fail?

And where is God, anyway? 

I’ve lost count of the times thoughts like these have pitched their tents in my head. And each time they do, I can almost feel my heart grow a little darker.

Hold that thought because, on a happier note (thank goodness!), today is 8/28.  I’ve paid attention to this date for years, ever since my friend Lisa (whose birthday it is) told me that she loved her birthday, since it always reminded her of Romans 8:28.

If you know only one line from the whole book of Romans, chances are it’s that one: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. People love Romans 8:28. And it’s easy to see why. Who wouldn’t want to stake their hope in the fact that, regardless of how bad things might look right now, God is at work, and his plan is to make everything turn out for our good?

Lisa believes that. Coming from her, it’s a belief that carries some solid weight, ‘cuz it’s born of experience, as well as faith. Three years ago, Lisa was a 48-year-old marathon runner and a successful attorney who racked up the victories on the pavement and in the courtroom. She was also a loving wife and the mother of two almost-grown boys. And then the stroke happened.

It was massive, and what followed was a horrific brain bleed that had doctors bracing her family for the worst. But if Romans 8:28 was ever going to be proved true in Lisa’s life, the time was then, and God did a miracle. Against all odds, Lisa lived. And against all odds (and after an incredibly challenging journey that has involved all of the stuff you hope never, ever happens to someone you love), she walked into her own birthday party this year.

IMG_0836

And it was quite a celebration. Not in the way you might think – there were no balloons or dancing cows or whatever it is that people feel like they need nowadays. It was just a handful of Lisa’s friends, gathered on someone’s screened porch for a casual supper, talking and laughing the way that girls do. And, during the course of conversation, Lisa made a profound admission:

“I try to find one thing each day to be thankful for,” she said. “I think about that thing, and I thank God.”

Wow. Romans 1:21 wasn’t even on Lisa’s radar, but in that one simple statement, she gave me hope. She turned the equation inside out, offering the antidote to a darkened heart. It’s gratitude, and a readiness to shine the spotlight on God. When we acknowledge his provision – living out verses like Romans 8:28, trusting in his power and his love even when we can’t see how he will work – the futile thoughts don’t have a chance to take root. And even if it’s just one thing to be thankful for each day, it’s a start.

So thank you, Lisa. Thank you for being a woman of faith, for reorienting my perspective, and for giving me a reason to be grateful (even for the tricky parts in Romans). Happy birthday!

IMG_0835

Note:  If you’re wondering where the Friday prayer is, check back next week. For now, why not borrow Lisa’s birthday verse for yourself, or for someone you love? Here’s Romans 8:28, in the form of a prayer:
 
Heavenly Father, thank you that you have promised to work in all things for the good of those who love you, who are called according to your purpose. Help me believe that today, and fill my heart with hope.  Amen.

 

Leave a Reply


Lessons from a Chair

So one of Hillary’s wedding wish-list items is to have “soft seating” at the reception. In case you aren’t familiar with that term (which was probably invented by some jacked-up wedding planner who ran out of more practical ways to pad the budget), the idea is to drag couches and ottomans and other “soft” pieces of indoor furniture out to the lawn or the putting green or whatever, and then let your guests sit on them.

When I first heard the plan, I was in – particularly since a couple of soft seats have been languishing in our garage for the past year. I bought them for 25 bucks at a rummage sale, thinking that they had potential. Sure, one had a broken arm, the other had the stuffing coming out, and neither chair was anything I would put in my house, let alone in an elegant wedding display. But really, how hard could it be to fix ’em up?  I put on a visor, grabbed a few tools, and got going.

Two hours later, I did what I imagine any good Pinterest person would do.  I stopped for a cold drink and a selfie:

FullSizeRender

I know it doesn’t look like I’d made much progress. But for the record, when I snapped this pic I’d already used a drill, an electric sander, and a big saw – still in its original wrapper – that I’d found on our tool wall (i.e., the peg board that holds things like rakes, shovels and our disco lights). (I’m pretty sure the saw was a Father’s Day gift from early on in our marriage, back when I thought Robbie might one day want to build something.) I’d also gone thru about half a tube of wood glue and, in an effort to bring the whole project more into my strike zone, attacked the chair with some hedge clippers.

I’m no math brain, but even I could tell that at the rate I was going, there were not enough hours left on the calendar to finish the job. I needed reinforcements. I texted Charlie, the groom-to-be.

And an hour later, it was done.

Charlie works at a pretty swanky trim and millwork shop, where the guys get excited over things like a fresh slab of mahogany and build doors that would make Thomas Jefferson drool. I like to think that, given access to Charlie’s tools – which included a bigger drill, a couple of powerful clamps, and a compressor thing that went off at random intervals and sounded more like gang warfare than craftsmanship – I could have finished the job. But I know it’s not the tools that make the man (or woman). It’s the man that makes the tools. (Case in point: Charlie didn’t even have hedge clippers.)

And watching him work, I realized that it made perfect sense that Jesus would come to earth as a carpenter. Because basically, we’re all just a bunch of soft seats with the stuffing coming out, broken arms and legs pointing every which way. We all need fixing up. But when we try to do the job ourselves, drilling and hacking away, well. Hedge clippers doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s only when we realize our utter hopelessness and call in the Professional that things begin to change. God knows exactly where to drill so that the pieces of our lives will fit together, just how much pressure it will take to make us strong, and which rough edges to sand.

It’s incredibly freeing, knowing that we can relax and trust God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And it’s incredibly humbling, knowing that he’s doing the job not just because he can, but because he wants to. Tim Keller wasn’t talking about furniture repair when he wrote his commentary on Galatians, but his words about our condition still fit: We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope. 

To adapt Keller’s point for the soft-seating crowd: “We are uglier and more broken or unstable than we ever imagined, but in God’s hands we are exquisite workmanship, more lovely and valuable than we could ever dream. And he’s making us fit for a purpose.”

That’s the message of grace, in a nutshell.

 

 

Leave a Reply


Who’s Your Nathan?

Sunday’s sermon featured a close up look at a pretty dramatic scene out of 2 Samuel 12, where the prophet Nathan rebukes King David over the Bathsheba business. To listen to the whole message click here, but if you don’t have a spare 17 minutes, here are a couple of takeaways:

Sometimes, we have to be Nathans. We may need to confront someone about a choice or behavior that runs counter to God’s good plan for their lives. When we do, it can make sense to come at the problem sideways (like Nathan did with the story about how the rich man took the poor man’s lamb) instead of barreling straight in with the conversational equivalent of a taser to the face.

Good to know.

More often, we need to have Nathans – people who can (and will) speak hard truths into our lives. It’s tough to spot our own whoopsies, and in a world where “follow your heart” has become a favorite counseling mantra, we can easily find ourselves slip-sliding away. The heart, don’t you know, can be a tricky thing. And finding your Nathan is not like the dentist, where a twice-a-year scraping gets rid of the plaque. As Paul put it in his letter to the Hebrews, “Encourage one another daily…so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

So…who are your Nathans? Who can help you skirt the sinkholes – or, if you’ve already fallen into one, take you by the hand and help you find your footing?

The value of frequent check-ups (not to mention the inevitable transparency that comes from living with someone) might make your spouse a good candidate. Or perhaps your Nathan is a close friend or co-worker who shares your faith, someone who knows what you look like without makeup (both the Cover Girl kind and the public “face” you wear).  Or maybe you’ll get really lucky, like I did, and have a neighbor come up to you after church and offer to be your own personal Nathan, since – quote – he has “already started making a list of your top ten sins.”

Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of Nathans over the years, including my college roommates, Susan and Barbie. They spent four years keeping me straight and then, knowing that their work was far from over, walked the aisle as my bridesmaids:

IMG_0262

Back then, we didn’t know we were each other’s Nathans. All we knew was that there was punch that shouldn’t be guzzled (the fact that it was served in trash cans served as our first clue), boys that shouldn’t pitch a tent in our hearts (happily, Robbie made it past that screening process), and outfits that should never, ever be worn. (That last one was, perhaps, our biggest blind spot.  But it was the ’80s, so we have mostly forgiven ourselves.)

Spiritually, emotionally, and physically, we had each other’s backs. We tended to value candor over tact, and our go-to line – whether the bad decision had to do with our behavior on Saturday night or our hairstyle on Sunday morning (yes, I did perm my own hair, thank you very much) – was, “Can I just be brutally honest?”

The answer, of course, was yes. Always.

Brutal honesty got me through college. And even now, 30 years later, I know I can count on Susan and Barbie to tell me the truth, whether it’s about my parenting, my marriage, my friendships, and even these blogs. (Susan, who got a perfect score on her verbal SATs, was the very first person to email me with corrections when I started this thing.  That’s my Nathan!)

jbsLast May, these gals were on hand to watch Annesley get married.  Later this month, they will host a bridal shower for Hillary. Some folks might look at these expressions of love and say I am blessed to have such good friends. And I would agree, but not just because Susan and Barbie show up for life’s big moments (or because Susan lives in another state and has to cough up a serious chunk of time and gas money to get to Virginia Beach).  I cherish their friendship because of what it has been in life’s little moments – the “encourage each other daily” moments – where they have been, and will continue to be, brutally honest.

We all need Nathans. If not for the Bathshebas in our lives (and we all have ’em) then for the other really important blind spots.

Like our hair.

 

 

Leave a Reply


The Smell of the Spirit

FullSizeRenderLast week my pal Dee gave me an air freshener for my car. I might have been offended except that 1) she gave one to two other gals, too, which suggested that I wasn’t necessarily a target, and 2) I actually needed it.  It’s like when someone says you have something in your teeth:  Grateful trumps insulted, every time.

Robbie and I buy used cars (“pre-owned vehicles” for those who know to say sofa instead of couch, which is apparently an important lifestyle distinction that I had never even heard of until last week). Anyhow, I love my ride, but second-hand buyers can’t pick every feature, and I got a car that came with an intermittent smell of cleats.  Yeah.  Sometimes when I crank the AC, it takes me back to those long road trips to lacrosse tournaments in places like Maryland and New Jersey, when I’d spend hours in a car with a bunch of 8th grade boys who talked about things like how to catch a rabbit with a goalie stick and hung their feet out the car windows, lest I perish.

I miss those days, but not so much that I would turn down Dee’s gift.  The box implied that it smelled like CLEAN CRISP WHITE.  I plugged it right in, and while I am not really sure what “white” is supposed to smell like, I’d wager that if you are one of those people who hangs a cardboard pine tree from your mirror and immediately gets all ho-ho-ho inside, you’d like it. (Click here if you want one.)

And I do like it, actually.  Not for the smell, mind you (the cleats might be preferable), but because it reminds me of an encounter I had with the Holy Spirit.

(Well, maybe not the real Holy Spirit.)

(But He was probably there, too.  Rolling his eyes.)

Here’s how it went down:

You may know that the Bible talks about the fragrance of God.  Perfume makers in the Old Testament crafted a special oil that was used exclusively for anointing things and making them “holy,” and the smell was both sacred and distinctive.  In the New Testament, Christ’s love is called a “fragrant offering” (Ephesians 5:2) and Paul tells us that, as believers, we spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Corinthians 2:14).  I had read verses like these, and I’d even heard that the Holy Spirit sometimes showed up with a “sweet smell,” but I’d never experienced it.  But I wanted to.

And then sure enough, it happened.  Within a week of my U.Va. graduation, I’d landed a job at the Christian Broadcasting Network.  I loved working alongside so many talented and media-savvy Christians – people who loved both Jesus and TV – and there were days when I felt like I could just sense God’s nearness.  One day, I was alone in the ladies’ room – the ladies’ room! – when suddenly, out of nowhere, a sweet smell began to fill the air.  I didn’t see any air fresheners (and believe me, I checked), nor did I hear any sort of pffft pffft that might signify a mechanical dispensation.  The fragrance was just sort of…there.

And I had to ask.  “Holy Spirit?” I whispered.  “Is that…you?”

Now, bear in mind that I was alone in the bathroom.  (There was no one around to make fun of me except God, and I figured he’d seen worse.)

And I was fresh out of college.  (Where stranger things than finding the Holy Spirit in the ladies’ room had opened my mind to new ideas.)

Plus, I was eager to know more about the supernatural things of God.  I was primed for an encounter.

The heady fragrance grew and, while I wouldn’t have chosen that particular eau, had I been in God’s shoes, I didn’t feel it was my place to judge.  Instead, I left the bathroom and nearly bumped into an older, wiser employee who (you can’t make this stuff up) just happened to be the head of building maintenance.

“I think I just smelled the Holy Spirit!” I gushed.  “In the bathroom!  I was just standing there, after I’d washed my hands, and the fragrance just built.  Out of nowhere!”

To his credit, the man didn’t howl.  He didn’t even chuckle – at least not at first.  Instead, he gently explained that the lavatories had recently been equipped with a silent, timed-release air freshener, and that I must have been right under the air vent when it went off.

Oh.

So that was that.

And here I am, 30 years later, still not knowing what God smells like.  I had actually forgotten the whole CBN bathroom experience until CLEAN CRISP WHITE brought it all back.  I did a little googling, and it turns out that there really are people who have smelled the Holy Spirit.  If you’re one of ’em, I hope you’ll post a comment on this blog, cuz I’m still curious.

But in the meantime, I’m going to drive around in my clean crisp car, focusing on things that are a little easier to understand, like the fact that each one of us really does carry the “aroma” of Christ.  The New Living Translation puts it this way:  Wherever we go [God] uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume (2 Corinthians 2:14).  

Maybe not all of us will get to smell the Holy Spirit, this side of heaven.  But how cool is it that, as we share his love, other people can detect his presence on and around us?  If we could package that fragrance in an air freshener box, I guess the best name would be LIFE.

 

Leave a Reply


Pressure Washed Love

Hillary’s wedding is just two months away, and with an at-home reception, you can imagine the Honey-Do list Robbie wakes up to most weekends.  Some of it, though, he thinks up all by himself.

Like pressure washing the dock.

Untitled design (6)Now, I don’t generally like things that look all perfect and new, so this is not a project I would have encouraged. But when Robbie tactfully observed that we’d passed “vintage chic” a few years back and were now headed into the “slip-n-slide” stage of outdoor decorating, I saw his point. Weddings have enough natural pitfalls without sending Grandma and her wine glass into the bay, mid-way through the party.

While I mulled that one over, Robbie suited up in his duck boots, his hat, and his SPF shirt and headed out to the garage.  I’d always thought pressure washing was basically a grown up version of playing in the sprinkler, and I wondered why he needed all the gear. It was a warm and sunny day; why not do it barefoot?

“If this water cuts across your toes,” he explained, “it’ll saw ’em right off.”

Okay then.

If you’ve read Gary Chapman’s book about Love Languages, you’ll know what I mean when I say that Acts of Service is tops on my list, and when my man came back in the house after a couple of hours – absolutely filthy and only half-way  finished – I thought he was awesome. He was also exhausted, and so when he went off to work on Monday morning I went out to the dock, thinking I’d surprise him and finish the job.

Yeah, so pressure washing is harder than it looks. Just starting the machine (which involves one of those ghastly pull cords designed to make men feel manly) was challenging enough, but if you’ve never pulled the trigger on one of those things, well. It took every ounce of my fourth-grade gymnastics training not to fall overboard from the kick.

Eventually, though, I got the hang of it, and I managed to do another mile or two of boards. There was no way I could finish before sunset, though, and my spirits sagged. Knowing that Acts of Service is not Robbie’s love language, but wanting to send the message anyway, I decided to try Words of Encouragement:

FullSizeRender

Now, if pressure washing a dock is hard, let me assure you that pressure washing a sentence is harder. I tried block letters first, but that involved stopping and starting the nozzle-gun, and the kick got me every time. So I resorted to cursive, which I hear is no longer being taught in schools. Which is a real tragedy, given how had it is to pressure wash “I love you” in print.

On the plus side, the nice thing about pressure washing is that, once you have a good grip (and you stop getting tangled up in the hose), you have a lot of time to think.  And as I watched the boards go from slimy to clean, I thought about Jesus.  I thought about how he pretty much pressure washed our whole lives through his work on the cross. I thought about how his arms must have hurt, even more than mine did, as he hung there. And I thought how cool it was that he could do the job once and for all and say, “It is finished,” without having to suit up again the next weekend.

Most of all I thought about how, in that once and forever act of service, he wrote “I love you” on our hearts.

Leave a Reply


Throw off what hinders

FullSizeRenderNot long ago, Robbie took me along on a business trip to a seaside resort. Knowing that he’d be in meetings all morning, I decided to go for a run on the beach.

I couldn’t.

I mean, like, literally I couldn’t. There was too much seaweed.

At first, I didn’t think it would bother me. Sure, I was a little squeamish about stepping on it, but there was nowhere else to plant your feet, so I had to. But each incoming wave brought a fresh batch of the stuff, and so firmly did the greenish-brown yuck wrap itself around my ankles that, if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that it was after me – and that it was maybe even carnivorous.

I slowed to a walk, yanking my feet free with each step. As I did so, the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Hebrews 12 flashed through my mind:

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

“Everything that hinders.” That category undoubtedly includes some good things that, when allowed to flourish like a crop of seaweed, can slow our progress toward God’s real purposes for our lives. Volunteer commitments, hobbies, relationships, and even some ministry opportunities might be pulling at our ankles, making us less able to pursue the work to which we are truly called.

“The sin that so easily entangles.” Ouch. I guess some sins are fairly easy to avoid (murder comes to mind, although even there I am at least partly guilty, since there are definitely some folks that I’ve wished would just “go away”), but others can kind of sneak up you – things like pride or self-absorption or discontentment – and once they finish spinning their web, you feel trapped. Several of these little nasties came to mind as I worked to extricate myself from the slime, and I found myself wondering if Paul had ever tried to run in seaweed.

Lest you think I am exaggerating (a habit that can be, I admit, a “hindrance” in my life), allow me to share one more pic:

 

IMG_8803

These guys were out there every morning, faithfully shoveling great wads of the stuff off the beach and burying it in the sand. I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for them (the way that one might pity Sisyphus, on the umpteenth roll of his boulder) or admire their diligence. Either way, they enhanced my understanding of Hebrews 12 in at least two ways:

First, throwing off life’s hindrances and entanglements is a daily job. We can’t get our priorities in order once and then figure they’ll stay that way. They tend to wiggle.

And second, if we’re having trouble getting rid of the seaweed (or even identifying where we’ve gotten tangled), it’s good to have a friend who will tell us the truth.

Particularly someone who’s willing to pick up a shovel and help.

Leave a Reply


Wedding Joy

IMG_8916

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

In the days leading up to Annesley’s wedding (and I promise, this will be the last wedding post – at least until September, when Robbie will again fight back the tears as he walks Hillary up the aisle), the “worst case” scenarios were practically all I heard:  A wedding dress destroyed by a red wine-sloshing guest. A caterer who left the dinner plates outside in a snowstorm. Chinese lion dancers run amok, towering over the bride and groom in a loud and somewhat sensual frenzy. (They’d been hired as a “fun surprise” by the MOB, since the newlyweds were Beijing-bound.  Surprise!)

None of these stories really worried me. I mean, short of being left at the altar, most wedding whoopsies are not really  that bad.

Yeah, well. About that.

Okay, yes:  Annesley and Geoff were, technically, left at the altar. But let’s look on the bright side. They were not alone. They had each other. And their four siblings.

I’ll spare you the details (partly because I’m not really sure what all went down, but mostly because I am currently incubating in a sort of post-traumatic numbness that God must reserve for MOBs who live through these things), but somewhere amid the post-ceremony photo flurry, everyone left. The locals left in their cars. The out-of-towners left on the shuttle busses. The wedding party got on their bus, found the champagne cooler, and figured, “Mission accomplished!”

Even Robbie and I left, scampering to our car so as to beat the happy couple to the reception.

Imagine our surprise, a few minutes later, when the cell phone rang and it was Virginia:  “The wedding shuttle isn’t where you said it would be. I think they left us. We are all alone. And Geoff just told Annesley to get back in the church because no bride should be standing out in the middle of Atlantic Avenue in a giant white dress, looking for a ride.”

(He had a point.)

Thank goodness for my mom and John, who’d hung back to spy on the proceedings and were just getting into their car when they picked up the distress signal. Grabbing his iPhone, John began filming, even as he tried to shoehorn all six kids into his back seat. Robbie and I showed up in time to extract the bride and groom, but the siblings had already piled in. John peeled out of the parking lot, taking selfies the whole way (“Smile kids! When are you gonna have a story like this again?”), while Hillary urged him to “Just drive!” and Geoff’s brother Matt sat there wondering what he had done to deserve our family and feeling certain that it didn’t really matter because, as he told me later, “I was pretty sure we were all gonna die.”

And all of that was before the reception.

But hey, I’m sure nobody noticed the torn wedding dress (we “fixed” it with about 18 staples and a couple of huge binder clips), the girl-fight over the bouquet (those photos are gonna be priceless), or the fact that the band didn’t come back to the stage for the second set (I found ’em watching the NBA Playoffs on the bar TV).

The list goes on. And you know what? It was GREAT.

And you know what else? God knew it would be. He knows what it’s like to throw a wedding – and to have things go awry.

Think about it.  He says that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding where the invited guests don’t come, where they have to fill the banquet hall with street people, and where an ill-clad guest has to be ejected (Matthew 22). He knows all about receptions where they run out of wine (John 2), or fuel for the lanterns (Matthew 25). And what about the truly worst-case scenario, back in Genesis 29, when the groom wakes up the morning after and realizes he’s married the wrong gal?  Now there’s a wedding surprise.

Maybe it’s the old misery-and-company thing, but I started reading up on all of these Bible weddings and, truth be told, the only wedding where everything goes right is Christ’s. We can read the press coverage in Revelation 19:  The onlookers are pumped (their hallelujahs sound like thunder), the bride is ready (she’s dressed in fine linen), and the whole thing just smacks of utter, limitless joy.

And the best part about this wedding?  The bride is us! 

It’s true. When we fall in love with Jesus, he gets rid of our ragged clothes. He dresses us in beautiful robes of righteousness. And he changes our name from “Deserted” and “Desolate” to one that means “My Delight” (Isaiah 62). Weddings just don’t get any better than that.

Sure, Annesley’s big day wasn’t perfect, but I’ll tell you this:  It gave me a whole new appreciation for the way God feels about us. I read Isaiah 62:5 this week and, after seeing Geoff’s face when he spotted his gal coming up the aisle, the words fairly jumped off the page. I hope you’ll read them with me today and know that, all whoopsies aside, you are utterly, incredibly loved:

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.

Leave a Reply


In Praise of Friends

The best thing about Annesley’s wedding? Everything.

Oh, plenty of things went wrong (some funny, some less-so, depending I guess on your point of view), and I’m sure I’ll be writing about one or two of those memory-makers soon. For now, though, I just have to give a shout out to the bridesmaids and the house party gals who, through the sheer gift of their friendship, made the entire weekend sparkle.

Bridesmaid selfie

In an age where relationships are often measured in “likes,” it can be tough to know what true friendship is. These girls, though, are the real deal.

From Julia, the “Bond Girl” who has known Annesley since forever…

photo 5

To Kate, the stranger-turned-soulmate in the blink of an eye…

DSC_0643

To Virginia and Hillary, the sisters who spent the better part of a year perfecting the “Maid of Honor” role…

DSC_0523

…every one of Annesley’s ‘maids is a living picture of John 15:12.  That’s where Jesus talks about how he is our friend, and he gives us an example to follow:  “Love each other,” he says, “as I have loved you.”

These girls have done exactly that. They have been loyal, selfless, transparent, resourceful, and fun. Watching them interact over the wedding weekend, I was reminded of how C.S. Lewis likened friendship to “unnecessary” things like philosophy and art. He said that friendship has “no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

I adore Lewis, but modern science might beg to differ with his wisdom – at least insofar as survival is concerned. Psychologist Matthew Lieberman has done all sorts of research on the human brain, and in his book, Social, he maintains that we need a sense of connection even more than we need food and shelter. “Love and belonging might seem like a convenience we can live without,” he says, “but our biology is built to thirst for connection because it is linked to our most basic survival needs.”

Our biology is built to thirst for connection. I am certain that Lieberman is right on this one – if for no other reason than that friendship is at the heart of who God is.

Friendship has existed since before time began, in the Trinity. Friendship was our first-ever felt need, and God knew it:  “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). And the lack of friendship – otherwise known as loneliness – is the one problem we will ever have simply because we are made in the image of God. We long for connection because he does.

That last point – that our loneliness or our longing for connection can be traced directly to our Creator – is one that I wish I wish I had made up, but I can’t take credit. It’s a rip off from a sermon our minister, Andy Buchanan, gave a month or so ago. If you find yourself longing for friends, or wondering how to mend a broken relationship, or even just trying to figure out what real friendship is supposed to look like (and I promise you, it’s not the website I found where, for $200, you can buy yourself 1,000 friends – real people – who will “follow” you and post comments on your social media sites), click here to listen to Andy’s message. (You’ll have to scroll down to the teaching from 5/10/15; look for the title “Friendship.”)

“Love each other.”

Can there be a more wonderful biblical charge? Thank you, wedding girlfriends, for doing your job so well.

DSC_0128

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


“Wait…What?”

IMG_8660“Wait…what?”

If you ask Robbie’s three older sisters to cite the quote they’d heard most often during his growing up years, that would probably be it:  “Wait…what?”

Maybe in a house full of women, a guy has to learn to hone his selective listening skills, lest he get swept away in the torrent of daily verbiage. And maybe Robbie turned the dial a little to far to the right. It’s not like he was trying to ignore us (at least that’s what we tell ourselves), but golly. If we had a nickel for every time we heard, “Wait…what?” during a dinner table conversation, well. You know.

Sometimes the girls and I would repeat ourselves; sometimes we’d just roll our eyes and say, “Forget it, Robbie.”

Thank goodness God’s not like that.

Reading Jonah’s story the other day, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I would have missed God, had he not been willing to repeat himself. Sometimes it’s my own “Wait…what?” lack of attentiveness that dulls my radar; other times, I deliberately choose not to listen. Like Jonah, I don’t always want to hear God speak – or to obey him, when he does.

I think it was Charles Spurgeon who said, “God never allows his children to sin successfully.”  Jonah may have taken a detour when he ran away from God, but his story was far from over.  God hadn’t given up on him.  After that uncomfortable business with the fish (my Bible says it “vomited Jonah onto dry land,” which had to have been fairly awkward for both of them), we read that “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”

A second time.

How good is God?

If you feel like you’ve missed God’s original instruction – be it in a relationship, a business decision, a move, or whatever – don’t let that get you down.  He’s the God of second chances.  He’s willing to speak a second time…or even a third, it that’s what it takes.

We can run away if we want, but – to paraphrase Spurgeon – it’s only a matter of time until we trip.  And when we do, guess who’s gonna help us get back on our feet and pointed in the right direction?

Yep.  He’s pretty good.

IMG_8661(And P.S., if you like the Jonah pic that accompanies this blog, you’ll love the book it’s from:  The Jesus Storybook Bible, by written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago. It looks like its for kids, but don’t let the cover fool you. Lloyd-Jones takes all of the stories you read as a child – Noah, Joseph, Daniel – and shows how, in every case, they point the way to Jesus.  Very cool.  Click here if you’d like to buy your own copy!)

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Happy Anniversary!

We’re on the home stretch with Wedding #1, and the advice I hear most often is:  Breathe.  It will be okay.  Things will go wrong, but it’s going to be great.

I’m sure.

I am sure it’s going to be great for two reasons.  First, we serve an awesome God, one who is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).  Annesley and Geoff’s nuptials might not all go according to my plan, but that’s okay.  As a wedding planner, God has got “immeasurably more” up his sleeve.

photoSecond, I know it’s gonna be great because, well, this isn’t my first rodeo.  Nine years ago today, Robbie and I hosted a wedding reception for my mom, Claire, and her beloved John, a widow and a widower who saw their foxhole friendship blossom into so much more.

Last time these two showed up in this blog, they were making snow angels and sledding down hills on boogie boards. But Mom’s not your garden variety snow bunny. She literally has her doctorate  in Instructional Technology, which means that she is way hipper with digital stuff than I am.  So much so that she made her own wedding invitations on the computer.  That was pretty cool, except that unlike most brides, it meant she could always print more.  (And she did.  If Mom saw you in the grocery store and remembered how much she used to like seeing you at Jazzercise, she’d pull an invitation out of her purse and – bam! – I was calling the caterer again.)

And here’s a little bonus material about John.  Most people know him as the visionary president of Dayspring International, a terrific ministry that’s working to bring education, jobs, and an unprecedented awareness of God’s love to some of the poorest and most culturally rejected people in India.  But John is also a graduate of clown school – the prestigious Bozo University in Florida, to be exact – and it shows.

To make their wedding day extra special, John hired an actor to don a gorilla suit and “kidnap” my mom off the dance floor.  Not your typical champagne toast, sure, but their first date was an accidental screening of King Kong (they’d meant to see Munich, but it was sold out), and it seemed only fitting to carry on with the monkey theme.

I mean, who wouldn’t?

The first hint of trouble came when the actor didn’t show up.  (A better gig?  Hard to fathom.)

Undeterred, John tapped his son, John, who was about the same height as the professional actor, and urged him – during the reception, mind you – to swap his tux for the gorilla suit.  All was back on schedule…except that John Jr. couldn’t see out the eyeholes.  This being a second marriage for both of our parents, he and I didn’t know one another very well, but that didn’t stop him from stumbling into me on the dance floor and hissing through his plastic nostrils: “I can’t find your mother!  Help me!”

I launched him in Mom’s direction, whereupon John Jr. successfully abducted her – in her full length wedding gown – and hauled her down the dock to a waiting boat.  Ever the gallant, Groom John cried out, “I’ll save you!” and hopped aboard a jet ski to give chase.

At that point, most people figured the party was over.  There’d been no alcohol, but everyone was definitely a little loopy.  Knowing that John intended to bring Mom back (he’d already alerted the DJ to break into Pretty Woman when he did), Robbie and I plied the guests with more cheese and crackers and did our best to convince them to stay.

Which is when things got worse.

John had chased down the boat and, out of sight of the party-goers, managed to transfer mom (did I mention the wedding dress?) onto the back of his jet ski.  All that remained was for him to come roaring back in to a hero’s welcome.

Except that he got lost.  When you’re out on the water, I guess every cove sort of looks the same.  Eventually, though, they found us, and Pretty Woman and her groom began to live happily ever after.

Except we forgot the cake plates.  Undeterred again (he’s a dogged fellow), John improvised by putting great wads of wedding cake right into people’s hands.  The kids loved it.  (And if my wedding planner is reading this, all I can say is…I have no excuse.  Consider your job secure.)

Oh.  And we forgot the cameras.  Nobody had iPhones back then, so Mom got a bunch of disposable Kodaks from the grocery store.  (I found them right about the time the tent guys showed up to break ‘er down.)

As the wags keep telling me:  Things will go wrong, but it will be great.  And in Mom and John’s case, it definitely was.  I will admit that I am a little bummed about the lack of photographic evidence, but maybe even that is for the best.  I mean, the stories get “immeasurably more” with time, and it hasn’t even been ten years yet.

So…Happy 9th Anniversary to one of the most fun and resilient couples I know!  You deserve each other.

(Seriously.)

And to anyone who is feeling the pain of loss or bereavement right now, can I just say this one thing?  Your story isn’t finished.  Go ahead and grieve – I still cry sometimes, and especially lately as these weddings approach and I miss my sweet daddy oh so much – but don’t ever fear that this, today, is all there is.  God has a wonderful plan for your life.

You might not wind up on the back of a jet ski with a clown, but I can promise you this:  It’s gonna be immeasurably more than anything you could ever ask for or imagine.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Friday Prayer for a Satisfied Soul

Psalm 63-5No, I am not going to turn into a foodie blogger.

And if you clicked on this post in search of a recipe, I’m sorry.  This pic was from a food tasting (which is probably the best part of wedding planning), and when I saw it in my camera today, I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 63.

David wrote that psalm when he was in the desert.  Physically and spiritually, he felt dry and tuckered out – but when he turned his attention to God, everything changed.  He knew God’s love had the power to sustain him.  My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;” David wrote, “with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

How’s your soul doing today?

If you or someone you love is feeling overwhelmed, tired, spiritually dry, or just plain hungry for something more, try turning Psalm 63:5 into a prayer.  It might not be a recipe for beef tenderloin, but it sure can help turn an achy soul into one that sings for joy!

“Heavenly Father, satisfy my soul as with the richest of foods; may my mouth sing praise to you.”  (Psalm 63:5)

 

Leave a Reply


Living the Abundant Life

When it comes to college students and their Spring Break plans, I thought Robbie and I had seen it all.  Our kids have done missions trips (aren’t we good parents?), the booze cruise (okay, so forget I asked), and pretty much everything in between.  And, over the years, we have dished out all the usual pre-travel parental guidance:  Don’t go out alone.  Don’t forget your sunscreen.  Don’t drink the water.

Clearly, though, we forgot one critical piece of advice:  Don’t jump out of an airplane.

Especially in a foreign country.

With a man you know only as “Ollie.”

Not that any of these tips would have mattered to Virginia.  Maybe it’s a birth-order thing (she’s third in the line-up), but this child has developed a keen sense for how things are apt to go down.  If she thinks we’ll be on board with whatever plot she is hatching, she welcomes our input.  If not, well, there is always forgiveness.

photo 2But if you ask for forgiveness while you are doing something, does it count?

Like, how sorry was Virginia, really, when she held up her hand (“SORRY MOM + DAD!”) so that her new pal Ollie (the one who strapped her into a backpack without anything remotely close to a signature required) could take a mid-air selfie?

(Seriously.  Does she look sorry to you?)

When Robbie saw the Instagram post, his comment was quick and to the point:  “You’re dead.”

I refrained from commenting, not because I had nothing to say, but because I had already commented on an earlier post and I know better than to go on record, publicly, with anything that might be mistaken for an excessive interest in my 21-year-old’s life.

But I was eager to hear about the jump, and when I finally got Virginia on the phone, she summed it up perfectly:

“It was John 10:10, Mom.  It was amazing!”

Now I’m not sure Jesus had skydiving in mind, but his promise to his followers – “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” – actually fits.  That’s the NIV translation; other popular versions describe a life lived “more abundantly” (KJV), one that is “rich and satisfying” (NLT), and one that is “more and better…than they ever dreamed of” (MSG).

And while I wouldn’t necessarily advocate jumping out of an airplane (even with Ollie, who I am sure is a very safe person), I do think there is a metaphor here.  I mean, when we make a decision to trust God – as in, really trust him, with all that we have and all that we are – it can feel a little scary.

A little like losing control.

A little like jumping into the clouds when you can’t see the ground – or even, for that matter, the Person you have decided to strap yourself to.

Trusting God is all of these things, and more.  It takes faith (and sometimes even guts), but it opens the door a “rich and satisfying” life, one that is “more and better” than anything we could ever imagine.

And, at the end of the day, it’s amazing.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Campus Rape: A Survivor’s Story

Note to readers:  Yesterday’s post featured a review of the book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner.  (For a free chapter from the book, click here.)  Today and tomorrow, I’m turning this space over to the book’s author, Wendy Blight.  At a time when sexual violence on college campuses has captured our national attention, Wendy’s story offers understanding, wisdom, and hope.  JB 

 

Wendy.BioPicIt’s the Saturday after my college graduation. I pull up the covers for a few more moments of sleep. Finally, I slide out of bed, throw on some shorts, and run out the door to meet friends for an afternoon by the pool.

My last day with my best girlfriends.  Treasured memories…formals, weekend trips, date nights, spring breaks…so much fun and laughter. How could it be over?

Hours later, I rush back into my apartment, golden brown, smelling like a perfect blend of coconut and the great outdoors. I head upstairs to shower.

As I hit the top step, I see him. A masked man, wielding a large hunting knife. Behind the mask, two cold, piercing blue eyes staring back at mine. Who are you? Why are you here? Surely this can’t be real.

The cold blade on my neck jolts me back to reality. The intruder shoves me into my room. He commits vile acts against me. When he finishes, he leans in close, “I know where you live. If you tell anyone, I will return, and I will kill you.” He walks out the door never to be seen again.

At age 21. Every dream shattered. Every hope dashed. I feel so very alone.

Not a single soul understood the depths of my pain. I locked myself in a prison of fear. At times, living seems too much to bear. No one knew…my loneliness…my helplessness…my hopelessness.

Thankfully, this is not the end of my story. But my journey to get where I am today was long and hard. That day in June 1986, I had no idea where to turn or what to do. I was thousands of miles from home. School was out. There was not an instruction book for what to do after your raped.

Joining the Conversation…

Jodie, thank you for inviting me to be part of the conversation happening nationally about sexual assault on college campuses…both stranger rape and date rape. Sadly, the statistics have not changed since my attack over 25 years ago. One in four women on college campuses are raped. We don’t report our attacks because someone has stepped into our world and cracked our hearts wide open. We have been violated in a most intimate and personal way.

The words don’t come easily: I’ve been raped. 

We believe our attacker’s threats. We fear the administration, the police, our peers will not believe us. We fear the unknown in the investigative and prosecutorial process.

I’m grateful for this conversation. I’m grateful for the proactive stance our government and our universities are beginning to take to protect young women. Victims need a voice. We need an advocate.

Finding Hope…

I also want to be a voice of hope in the midst of this conversation. God makes amazing promises in His Word.

James 1:2-4 says,

“Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.” (The Voice)

Romans 8:28 says,

“We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” (The Voice)

After my attack in 1987, fear held me captive for nearly 15 years. Anger and bitterness consumed my heart. I held daily pity parties for myself.  Desperation led me to my Bible. It was in the pages of God’s Word that God healed my gaping wounds. He restored my soul. He took my shattered heart and, piece by piece, created something good and beautiful.

We live in a world where bad people will make bad choices that hurt good people. But God promises that the trials and sufferings that enter into our lives, when surrendered to Him, will be redeemed to bring about our good, His glory, and point others to Him!

 

Tomorrow on the blog:  Oprah Radio asked Wendy to share strategies for staying safe, on campus and elsewhere.  Wednesday’s post will feature some of these insights, as well as resources and help for victims.

 

Leave a Reply


Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

So a few weeks ago, I got an email from my rocket scientist of a daughter, the one who just got engaged.  (Whoop! Whoop!)  To those who caught the reference in last week’s blog and then called or emailed to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”, I’m so sorry.  I thought I was the only person who stunk at social media; I figured if I knew the big news, everyone did.

Look.  I’ll make it up to you.  Here’s the photo Hillary’s beloved posted to announce the news:

photo 1

(I know that’s not the world’s best shot of Charlie, but trust me:  He’s adorable.)

Anyhow, Hillary has never been the most tidy or organized person, and she was writing to crow about new scientific evidence to indicate that the most creative people actually flourish amid clutter.

I read the article and then, curious, I asked Hillary to send me a snap of her desk at NASA:

IMG_2569

Eeek.

So what’s with the hubcap on the left? I wanted to know.

“That’s not a hubcap,” she told me.  “It’s part of a heat shield.”  (Of course.  I knew that.)

And, um, the tiara?

“My thinking cap.”

I was afraid to ask about the screwdriver.  I mean, if NASA is letting kids who are just two years out of engineering school tighten their nuts and bolts, do we really want to know about it?

I couldn’t live like that.  Heck, I couldn’t last five minutes with that desk.  But Hillary is thriving, and as I studied the photo (longing, I will confess, to get in there with a Hefty Cinch Sak, even if it meant setting the whole “Let’s go to Mars” thing back by a few thousand light years), I was reminded of Psalm 139.  God knows how each one of us is made – messy or clean, wavy or straight, relaxed or uptight – and, in his eyes, we are all wonderful!

So here’s the thing:  If you look at your desk, your house, or your life today and you feel like you just can’t get it together, don’t despair.  God loves you, just the way you are.

Likewise, if you look at your children and you feel like they can’t get it together (not that I know anyone who would worry about their kids’ domestic standards or anything), don’t worry about that, either.  God loves them just the way they are.

Instead of fretting, take a deep breath.  Take a gander at Psalm 139, and let these words permeate your soul:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I praise you because my kids/my spouse/my mother/my friend is fearfully and wonderfully made.

Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  (Psalm 139:14)

Isn’t that, I don’t know…refreshing?

 

(And P.S.:  Even without the hubcap and the tiara, I know that God made Hillary fearfully and wonderfully creative, and I am grateful.  I’m just hoping, as they celebrate Week Two of their blessed engagement, that he made Charlie fearfully and wonderfully good with a vacuum cleaner.)

 

 

Leave a Reply


Snow Day

I’m sitting here at the computer, watching the grey skies get heavier and wondering when the first flakes will fall.  They’re calling for a “big storm” and Virginia Beach is all abuzz.  It doesn’t matter whether we get one inch or two, we know the drill:  Shut ‘er down.  School, work, exercise class…they’ll all be cancelled tomorrow.  Boston, we feel your pain.

Most moms I know have already been to the grocery store, stocking up on things like hot cocoa, chocolate chip cookie fixin’s, and Duraflames.  (Paul Bunyan, eat your heart out.)  The kids are rooting around in their closets, trying to find two mittens that match or some snow boots that still fit, hoping – praying! – that the weatherman got it right this time.  And the grandparents, well…

I can’t speak for every wise old head in town, but I know at least two who probably have their faces pressed to the window, right this minute:  My mom, Claire, and her husband, John.

Last time we got snow, they sent this pic to their kids:

photo 2

At first, I thought they’d been shot.

But then I noticed the boogie board, and the pieces began to fall into place.  Mom and John had been sledding (boogie boards do double duty at the beach) and, eager to make the most of the white stuff, they’d moved on to snow angels.  I have no idea how long they lay there like that, or which neighbor happened along to take the picture.  I just know they had fun.

How do you grow up like that?  I mean, how do you get to be 75 years old and still go sledding on a boogie board?  How do you still own a boogie board?

As always when I confront deep theological questions like these, I turn to the Bible.  Sure enough, there are more than a few tips on aging.  Here’s just a sample:

Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.  (1 Peter 3:10)

Do not forsake [wisdom’s] teaching, but keep [her] commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.  (Proverbs 3:1-2)

And this one, about which I will admit to having mixed emotions:

The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.  (Proverbs 20:29)

Hairdresser bills notwithstanding, I’d still rather be strong than gray.  But I think I’ll get working on the other two pearls, keeping my tongue from evil and storing up wisdom in my heart.  Clearly, that kind of good livin’ pays off.

First, though, I’m going to whip up a batch of slice-and-bakes and light my firelog.  The Pioneer Woman might have a famous blog and a cool TV show, but hey.  We all do what we can, right?

Leave a Reply


U.Va. Hoops: A Lesson for the Rest of Us

photoOn Saturday, January 31st, my beloved (and, until then, undefeated) U.Va. Wahoos fell to Coach K and his perennially strong group of Blue Devils.  I’m sure our guys took the loss hard – we all did – but the boys regrouped, and just two nights later they stomped on the Tarheels in Chapel Hill.  It was U.Va.’s first win over a ranked Carolina team in that venue in 24 years.

If you follow college basketball (and if you don’t, now’s a good time to start, what with March Madness about to hurtle into your living room), you know that there’s nothing sexy about U.Va. hoops.  Well, nothing except the obvious, scrawled on one of the signs waved by a zillion giddy U.Va. fans during ESPN’s Game Day telecast just prior to the Duke game:  “Our Coach is Hotter than Yours.”

“Our coach” is, of course, Tony Bennett.  Under his direction, U.Va. players learn to execute a slow-and-steady game, one whose success is rooted in a defense designed to herd an opposing shooter into a “pack,” forcing him to either kick the ball back out or attempt a heavily defended shot.  The system only works if everyone buys in, putting the good of the team above his own desire to shine.  Where other top-ranked teams rely on a bevy of talent (Duke and #1 Kentucky have 18 McDonald’s All-Americans between them), Virginia (with a grand total of zero of these guys on the roster) wins because of one main reason:

The trust their coach.

I’m not an athlete, but I can’t help but believe that Bennett’s slow-paced, humble approach doesn’t always go down easily for all of the guys, once they get a locker in Charlottesville.  All-American or not, the fact that they earned a spot on an ACC squad means that every kid on the U.Va. team was a total stud in his high school; you gotta believe they all had some pretty heady press coverage in between getting their driver’s licenses and finding a prom date. And you know that all of them come equipped with some spectacular moves.  Granted, we’ve seen plenty of mile-high dunks and seemingly impossible three-pointers, but generally speaking, when you watch U.Va. play you sometimes get the idea that you’re watching a bunch of thoroughbreds who are, by sheer force of will, reining it in in deference to the wisdom of their coach.

Which reminds me, actually, of Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.

photoNow, I am not trying to compare Tony Bennett to God (although the man does love Jesus, and the family resemblance shows).  What I am trying to get across (in what may be my first and only sports column) is that when we make a decision to trust God instead of our own instincts – or, to borrow a phrase from UNC’s Marcus Paige in his post-game interview, to “buy into what our coach is telling us” – good things happen.  We get wisdom beyond what we’d naturally have.  The crooked places in our lives become straight. There may be hurdles along the way (the “Duke Games” of our lives, if you will), but in the end, we will set ourselves up for victory.

From where I sit, it would appear that all of the U.Va. ballplayers trust Coach Bennett.  More encouraging, even, is that a big chunk of them trust their Heavenly Coach as well.  It’s a mighty fine program, one for which fans are grateful.

And, on behalf of those of us who daily make (sometimes difficult) decisions to try to do things God’s way instead of our own, can I just say to all the U.Va. guys (and Mike and Evan, I am going to make you read this):  Thanks for the life lesson.  It helps.

Leave a Reply


Direction for the Year Ahead: Walk this Way

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a time of relative calm, one that can provide space for reflection as the bustle of the one is pretty much over and the demands of the other have not yet come to call.

Sometimes, sitting here with my coffee and a stale Christmas cookie, I find myself looking back with a pang of regret, thinking of mistakes made or opportunities squandered over the past 12 months. Sometimes I turn my attention forward, making lists and plans and wondering how they will all unfold in the year ahead. In either case—looking back or looking ahead—I am grateful for Isaiah 30:21.

DSC_0226Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

I’ve prayed this verse for my kids as they’ve walked toward relationships, colleges, and careers: “Show them the way to go, Lord. Be the voice that they hear, and keep them on the path you have chosen.”

I’ve also prayed it for myself, both as a request for wisdom or guidance when I don’t know what lies ahead, and as a prayer of relief when I realize that I’ve made a wrong move and I need to get back on track. It’s during those “uh-oh” times that I particularly love how The Living Bible captures the Isaiah promise:

And if you leave God’s paths and go astray, you will hear a voice behind you say, “No, this is the way; walk here.”

Isn’t that encouraging? How blessed are we to have a God who cares so deeply about our lives, who is willing to take us by the hand or whisper in our ear to keep us on the right road! As you look ahead to 2015, it doesn’t matter whether you carry regrets from the past, fears about the future, or a sense of hope and excitement regarding all that is to come. God is paying attention, and he promises to walk alongside you, keeping you on the right path as you listen for his voice.

I have no idea what the new year will bring (other than Annesley and Geoff’s wedding, which reminds me that I need to stop eating cookies and start shopping—ugh—for my MOB dress), but I do know this: I am grateful to serve a God who cares which way I walk, who knows what lies around the next bend, and who is willing to hold my hand, every step of the way.

Leave a Reply


Good News: He. Is. Here.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. photo I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

If you grew up going to Christmas pageants and candlelight services (or even if you just watched the Peanuts special every year), these words might be so familiar that you read right over them.  You know what’s coming:  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born.

In other words:  He. Is. Here.

But stop for a quick second and think about how the angel must have felt, announcing the news:  The One we’ve waited for. The One who will bring joy to the world.  The One who will change everything.  He is here!!!

Doesn’t that just make you want to, I don’t know, fall down?  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  And he is here.

Wherever this Christmas finds you–rejoicing in certainty of God’s presence, yearning to experience his love, or anywhere in between, may you know the good news:  He. Is. Here.  And may these words, from Isaiah 60, allow the good news to color your life afresh each morning, both today and throughout the new year.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

photo

 

Merry Christmas!

Love,

Jodie

 

 

Leave a Reply


Give Mom What She Wants for Christmas

photoWell, tonight’s the night. Tonight’s the night that we dust off our Messiah handbooks and haul ourselves off to Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, where a quartet of talented soloists will join forces with Symphonicity to present Handel’s Messiah. And, in what might be the most charitable gesture of the season, they will let people like us sing along.

This will be Symponicity’s 32nd Messiah performance. I figure we’ve been to at least half of ’em; it’s what my mother wants for Christmas every year. She doesn’t seem to care that the lowest grade I got in college was in a course called Music Appreciation. I’d tell you how my kids really feel about the annual event, except that my mom is probably my most faithful blog reader. Suffice it to say, we will don our gay apparel (and yes, there was a year when I wore “the sweater”), clear our throats, and let ’er rip.

And it won’t be pretty. I made my kids take piano lessons (as did my mother before me, and her Juilliard-trained mother before her), but almost none of it stuck. And it’s not just words like allegro (which is not, as it turns out, a pasta dish) that mess us up. We don’t always get even the English words right. For years, Hillary lifted her sweet little soprano voice and warbled, Come for tea! Co-o-ome…for…tea! Little did she know that Handel wasn’t into Earl Grey; he was drawing from Isaiah 40, proclaiming the tender and redemptive “Comfort Ye” power of God.

So why, if we can’t read music and we don’t even sing the right words, do we go to this thing every year?  Maybe it’s because of verses like Ephesians 6:2-3, which remind us that “Honor Your Father and Mother” is a commandment that comes with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

I will admit that I started going to The Messiah with my mom because I knew this verse and I didn’t want to get hit by a bus. Somewhere along the way, though, I began to actually like the music. (Appreciate it, even.) And, although I could be imagining things, I think the complain-o-meter on my kids is starting to drop, too.

Because here’s the thing about a Messiah sing-along. It doesn’t matter whether or not you can recognize a treble clef or even sing on key (although it helps if you don’t park small children in the bass section, which we have been known to do). You can go and pretend to sing—and when you do, you’ll get a short course in biblical prophecy, the events surrounding the birth of Christ, and a rafters-raising “Hallelujah” about God’s eternal reign that is worth the price of admission right there. (And Mom, don’t be emailing to tell me that the event is free; I am just trying to make a point.)

Speaking of…I guess the point of this blog (and I really hope my kids are still reading) is that you should give your mom what she wants for Christmas. You might not appreciate her taste. You might not even think it’s a good present. But she will like it. And, chances are (and with a nod to Ephesians 6), it will wind up being good for you, too.

 

Leave a Reply


Peace On

photo 3

I suppose every community in America has its own version of a Grand Illumination, but I must admit to being partial to 43rd Street in Virginia Beach, which gets “lit again” every year on the first Sunday in December.  It’s a tradition that reportedly began when a few well-intentioned residents put up colored lights for their kids and drew the ire of the more socially respectable “white lights” crowd–whose complaints sparked a rebellion of Christmas cheer.  Take a stroll down the pedestrian-friendly block today and you’ll find everything from dancing Santas and falling snowflakes to a giant replica of the “fragile” Leg Lamp made famous in A Christmas Story.

It’s a remarkable, joyful display.  That being said, the residents are not professional decorators or master electricians, and things don’t always go as planned.  One year, one of the homes featured a real live corps of marching tin soldiers.  It was a brilliant concept tempered only, it would appear, by an overabundance of eggnog.  Another time, one holly jolly husband decided to board up all the windows on his house so as to be able to “wrap and bow” the whole thing–an ambitious move that probably triggered some sort of post-traumatic holiday disorder in his wife, who was condemned to spend the entire season in darkness.

Perhaps my favorite whoopsie, though, happened last year.  Robbie and I were bundled up against the cold, along with several hundred happy revelers, and as we made our way down the street, we came upon a beautiful old beach cottage.  The crowd prepared to take in this new display, the homeowner flipped the switch, and…Peace On.

That was it.  Maybe it was the fact that it had rained earlier in the day, maybe it was a faulty extension cord, maybe it was some “Made in China” conspiracy to derail the American Christmas spirit, but for whatever reason, that’s all we got.  Not Peace On Earth or Peace be with You or even Peace Out.  Just Peace On.

And it was perfect.

It reminded me of John 14:27, where Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”  Paraphrased (and perhaps with a nod to the ’70s), I think the Lord might well have been saying, “Peace on.”

We live in a world that is anything but peaceful.  But let’s not grow anxious or upset, and let’s not give into fear.  Instead, let’s keep God’s promise in mind.  He has given us peace–he IS our peace–and even if we can’t memorize the whole of John 14:27, we can still take hold of the unshakable security that comes when we put our trust in Christ and proclaim, along with the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Peace on.

 

 

Leave a Reply


Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

heart

How’s your heart?

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

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

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

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

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

FZZZT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Which is definitely better than getting tased.)

(Especially by your own kids.)

Leave a Reply


Why God Could Take a Good Selfie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a Reply


The True Colors of Joy

 

joy

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”

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

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

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

Leave a Reply


A Life Complete

puzzleOur daughter, Annesley, loves puzzles. As a preschooler, she’d open a 500-piece box and start fitting pieces together. She didn’t bother with doing the edges first, or with sorting by color. She simply worked left to right, like some little towheaded computer, methodically checking to see if each piece fit before she rejected it and moved on to the next one. Row by row, piece by piece, the picture finally came into focus.

Today, as a 22-year-old architect, Annesley still welcomes a good puzzle—and each Christmas, she’s sure to get one from her brother, Robbie (who does his limited but effective shopping at Target). Annesley doesn’t waste any time getting started; usually by December 27, the puzzle is all but complete.

This year, an untimely swipe of the dog’s tail derailed her handiwork. Unfazed, Annesley picked up the pieces and collected them in the box, planning to start over once she returned to her Charlottesville apartment. Unfortunately, when she put the picture together again on her dining room table, she came up short. It was just one piece, but to a puzzle aficionado, to miss one piece is (I am told) to miss the whole victory. Continue reading “A Life Complete”

Leave a Reply