Five Habits to Ditch for Better Communication

So Robbie and I are at it again. We’re working on our relationship, courtesy of The Marriage Course. And we’re taking 30 other couples with us.

We love this class. The material is developed by the folks at Alpha, and in seven sessions (during which you get to enjoy a candlelit dinner at a table alone with your spouse every week), you cover some of the hottest topics in marriage. Topics like dealing with conflict, handling in-laws, having good sex, and learning how to show–and receive–love in ways that will matter.

(And heads up, Guys: There is literally no “group sharing” time. You get to come, have dinner, and talk just to your wife. #Do-able.)

This week, we dipped into The Art of Communication. Which is how I wound up holding a napkin.

Why, you may ask, was I holding a napkin?

The short answer is that it’s not good to give one spouse a less-forgiving object, such as a hammer, when he or she is trying to make a point.

The longer answer is that in this particular exercise (which is designed to help folks listen better), the person doing the TALKING gets to hold a napkin, while the person doing the LISTENING does not. That way, if either person forgets who’s job is what, they can just look at their hands (“Oh yeah, I don’t have the napkin”) and remember that they are supposed to be Paying Attention.

And Paying Attention, as it turns out, involves steering clear of at least five of the worst convo killers. Wanna know what these bad habits are?

(Be careful now. I thought I did, too. I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.)

(Ah, no. Did I mention that there are five habits? Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1. Reassuring.  The Reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem–which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The Advice-Giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit. Sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom or a dustpan. She just wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice-givers, too. I mean, I write a blog.)

3. Intellectualizing.  The Intellectualizer might also be called the Explainer, the Rationalizer, or the Pontificator.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, the Intellectualizer may jump in with something like: “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about money.” (Another word for “Intellectualizer” might simply be Buzz Killer. They don’t care how you feel; they just want to be smart.)

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a spouse or a friend, only to have them say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a Deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and to them, more interesting or attractive) path.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to speak or express emotion, it’s a bad habit.

5. Same goes for Interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Ouch.) Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then jump on in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is wayyy more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone. Seventeen seconds. Seriously? That sounds long, to me.

(Like, I remember one time on a car trip when I decided to be quiet and just let Robbie talk. After a couple of minutes, he asked if I was okay.)

(I think he thought maybe I’d died.)

Anyhow. Just knowing what the bad habits are is supposed to help you listen better–and after teaching this course six times, Robbie and I are starting to get there. What the habits don’t help with, though, is the age-old Mars/Venus divide. Like, when it’s Valentine’s Day, and a woman says she does not need flowers:

 

Yeah. I’ll report back if the folks at The Marriage Course ever discover a way for a man to fully comprehend the female brain.

Stay tuned. ❤

(And BTW, if you want to find a Marriage Course in your area, or even start one at your church or for your friend group, they make it SUPER EASY to do. Click here to get the full scoop.)

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“It’s Alive!” Museum of the Bible is Worth the Trip

By the skin of your teeth.

Out of the mouths of babes.

He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Who came up with these phrases? According to a random sample of Americans (well, okay, according to two people in my family room), these familiar words likely originated with 1) John Wayne, 2) Shakespeare, and 3) Aesop.

Good guesses. But…wrong.

These everyday sayings–and about a zillion others like them–come straight out of the Bible. They crop up in movies, music, and everyday conversations. They are God’s Word, hidden in plain sight. Makes it easy to see why one of my favorite presidents, the guy with the big stick, said this:

Teddy was right. And I think he would love our nation’s newest treasure, the Museum of the Bible, which opened less than two months ago in Washington, D.C. If you’re making a bucket list for 2018, put this place on it.

If you want the official (and professionally produced) Top Ten reasons to visit the Museum, click here.

Or, if you want just five from an everyday tourist, I’ll give you my own.

Keep in mind, though, that Robbie and I only got to spend a couple of hours in the museum. People who are way more organized than we are say you actually need “nine, eight-hour days” to see the whole thing. Clearly, we missed gobs of the good stuff. But here are five things we liked:

Reason #5 is the Technology.

I’m not the biggest museum girl (I would generally rather paint a bad picture than look at a good one), so I really appreciated the way that the MOTB draws guests in and invites them to engage with Scripture. In one room, for instance, you can write a word to describe how the Bible makes you feel…

…and then it shows up on the wall with everyone else’s. (I don’t know who wrote the word “Mom,” but I love them.)

And I know the museum Big Wigs have come under fire for not being “evangelical enough” in their presentation, but honestly? I loved how they worked to make everyone feel welcome. When I logged on (if that’s the right term) to a screen to do one of their surveys, this was question #3:

(Not being an “Other,” I could be wrong; there’s a lot about this particular topic that I don’t understand. But if I were an “Other,” I’m pretty sure I would like to have a Bible person ask and value my opinion, instead of leaving me out of their survey.)

Reason #4 is the Nazareth Immersion.

Back when our children were little, we took them to Vegas. (Don’t ask.) Spotting the fake Eiffel Tower, we made a beeline for the ride and ordered up hot cocoas all around, at the top. We let our kids think (and I am not proud of this) that they were in Paris. I figure we saved about $10,000, and it was at least seven years before any of them wised up and asked to see the real thing.

If you’ve got kids, you’ll want to bring them to the MOTB Nazareth. Having been to the actual Holy Land twice, I can tell you that this village is a pretty good knock off. It looks and sounds a lot like Nazareth probably did, back in Jesus’ day, and you can ask the friendly natives any question you want. Like, I wondered how long it took this gal to make dinner:

Reason #3 is the World Stage Theater.

Robbie and I were thrilled to visit the museum during the Amazing Grace run (the Broadway musical moves on after January 7). We weren’t allowed to take pix during the show, but I did snap some earlier in the day, when we got to hear the INCREDIBLE Wintley Phipps sing on the same stage. I don’t know who or what will be playing when you go, but be sure to check it out because, like everything else in the EIGHT STORY building, the World Stage Theater is state-of-the-art and will not disappoint.

(And it’s time, I think, for an Insider Tip. Don’t show up at the museum and expect to waltz right on in. Do some Advance Recon and get your tickets online. That way, you can show up at a pre-assigned time, without waiting/freezing outside.)

Reason #2 is the Bible itself.

Everywhere you look in the MOTB, you feel the life-shaping presence of Scripture. Sometimes it’s overt, like when you see the Bible’s influence on science, education, or fashion:

Or when you consider how Scripture permeates art, as described by Vincent van Gogh:

And, of course, music:

(And yes, that is Elvis’s actual Bible. He said he “believed in it” and that “I don’t believe I’d sing the way I do if God hadn’t wanted me to.” I’m not gonna argue.)

Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God is living and active. As you experience the museum, you get the idea that this verse really is true. Whether you’re looking at artifacts (Robbie liked the slingshot stones, c. 701 BCE, that authenticate Sennacherib’s campaign to destroy Israel and Judah), perusing the Dead Sea Scrolls (they have gigantic mock ups of Isaiah’s writing), or just passing by any one of the silent-yet-powerful banners, you don’t get the sense that you’re looking at history. You get the sense that you are surrounded by–embraced by–a force that’s alive.

And finally, Reason #1 why you should visit the Museum of the Bible is the Stuff You Can’t Plan.

If you do any research before your trip (and I didn’t), they’ll tell you not to miss things like the Washington Revelations, which is where you strap yourself into a “flying theater” and soar high over the nation’s capital, taking in all of the ways that the Bible marks our landmarks and buildings. I heard that exhibit was cool (and I will see it next time), but I doubt it’s the one I’d like best. The thing I liked best (and that Robbie did, too) was a panoramic, 12-minute movie we did not mean to see.

Robbie and I were looking for an exit when we sort of stumbled upon a theater door. The friendly docent ushered us in, explaining that the show was “just starting.” We found two open seats in the dark and plopped down, having no idea what we were about to watch but delighted, after two hours of touring, to be off of our feet.

Oh my.

The movie was animated. I have no idea when cartoons got so good, but by the end of the story–which was about how the early church spread–I had pretty much lost it. As in, “Get me a Kleenex; this is gonna be ugly.” I was a mess.

I can’t explain it, but even now, looking back, the picture of an aging John (the disciple Jesus loved, the last one to die) sitting there in his rocky prison, stooped in the dim light, intent upon writing his scrolls…it just undoes me. John had to know that what he was writing was powerful; did he have any idea that, 2,000 years later, you and I would be reading his words?

Just buckle up, if you accidentally wander into that theater. That’s all I can say.

So there you have them. Five things I liked. And truly, there are at least 55 more. Like the giant quote cylinder that showcases the answers to my little “Who said that?” quiz:

“By the skin of your teeth” comes from Job 19:20.

“Out of the mouths of babes” is Psalm 8:2 and Matthew 21:15.

And the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” slips into the picture in Matthew 7:15.

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Too Busy for Peace? You’ve Got Options

Christmas is three days away.

Which, if you’re like me, means you are kinda busy. I’m wondering if the kids would mind if, instead of wrapping their gifts this year, I just shoved all the Amazon boxes into the family room and wished everyone a Merry Warehouse.

It could work.

First though, I have this blog to write. And you have this blog to read. And since we are all short on time (except maybe for my friend Sara Jane, who does things like fly fishing, and who knows how to quilt), I’ll give you some options.

  1. If you want a post about finding peace in the midst of the mayhem, click here for an oldie (and say a little prayer for our family, as we mark our first Christmas without Khaki):
  2. If the whole family is coming and you aren’t sure what you’ll do with everyone when the eggnog wears off, try the game we played on our family stay-cation. Put Grandma under the sheet for added fun:
  3. If you don’t want a post but you’d still like some peace, try this: Swap worry for gratitude, tell God what you need, and think about stuff that’s actually worth thinking about. Here’s a free Christmas printable to help you remember these tips:

And finally, if you’ve been dying to know who won the book giveaway from launch week, I’ll tell you: Mary Martha (what a great name) in North Carolina, Alice in Virginia, and Crystal in Colorado. Thanks so much for your kind comments, Girls!

All right y’all. Let’s get to it. And, whether you plan to spend the weekend shopping and wrapping or fly fishing and quilting, may grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! (2 Peter 1:2)

Merry Christmas! 🎄

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Black Friday Gift Deals!

Whelp, here we are again. Black Friday. What are we buying?

I like the jewelry at enewton designs (and they’re having some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions!)…

…but I am still on the hunt for a few stocking stuffers for the men in my life. So far, I have asked two different guys what a good “man gift” is. They both said golf balls.

Seriously? Golf balls?

I might bite if the balls came with Bible verses on them, but the ones that just say things like “Titleist” seem sort of…expected. But maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe guys don’t like surprises. I am pretty sure my son doesn’t, at least not when they are ones picked out by his mom.

Which brings me to today’s throwback post. If you’ve seen this one before, just skim ahead to the end, cuz I actually do have one gift idea I’m excited to share…and right now it’s almost 40% off!

 

When You Need a “Virtually Invisible” Gift

My pal Michelle says that shopping is her “spiritual gift.” Sometimes, when she doesn’t want to sound all holier-than-thou, she just says she was born with “the shopping gene.” Either way – anointed or genetic – she’s got it.

And I don’t.

And nothing shines the spotlight on my deficiency quite like Christmas. Every year, I try to get my kids one practical gift, something that they can all use, something that will enrich their lives. For years, I went with what I considered to be faith-building presents like The One-Year Chronological Bible (I think the best effort only made it through February) and the Navigator’s Topical Memory System (all I can say is that my kids don’t know quality when they see it), and then–because uprightness is not just a spiritual condition–the most inspired gift of all: The Posture Brace.

The ad promised that the brace was “virtually invisible” and could be “comfortably” worn under clothes.

The ad was wrong.

photo 2

Another Christmas fail.

(But can we all please just say thank you to my children, who still talk to me even though I post this pic every year?)

How much better off would I be – and how much more grateful my family – if I would just stick with my grandmother’s gift-giving strategy? She never gave us anything, at least nothing you could wrap.  Instead, she asked us to memorize a Bible verse for her each year and, in return, she promised to pray for us.

I will admit that, as a teenager, I was less-than-enthused by Gammy’s scheme. I don’t know how I ever memorized any verses, given that my eyes were rolled so far back into my head. Today, though, many of these nuggets are still locked in, and in terms of things like wisdom and peace and joy I can promise you this: Gammy’s Bible verses have been a far better support system than even the most “stylish” posture brace!

And, while I will never know the full impact of her prayers, I am confident that my grandmother’s gift to her grandchildren opened the door to all measure of divine protection, favor, insight, and blessing in our lives.  As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather give my children.

🎁

And y’all…I really am giving prayer to my kids this year. And to pretty much everyone else on my list. And you can, too, because right now “Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children” – which releases in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS – is available on Amazon for super cheap. Click here to pre-order!

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Sharp Dressed Man

Once upon a time, when my man put on his wetsuit, it meant there were waves. And his Bean boots? A sure sign there were ducks.

Now, though, these wardrobe staples are more apt to mean there is mildew.

I keep trying to tell Robbie that pressure washing is kind of a sport. He’s less than convinced.

(And he did not really want to smile for this pic, which only makes me love him even more.)

The bad news is that I snapped this photo right after the pressure washer blew up. The good news (at least for me) is that seeing Robbie out there reminded me of a post I wrote two years ago and, since I am on the road this week, you’re getting a rerun. Hope that’s okay – and that you’ll read this and still know how much you are loved!

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, midway 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:

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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.

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Jefferson, Jesus, and the Secret to Greatness

Robbie and I love U.Va.

People know this, and so whenever a friend or family member cleans out their attic, they give us their old U.Va. stuff. As a result, we have an eclectic collection of books, artwork, socks, Christmas ornaments, Wedgewood china, record albums, and even some Kentucky Straight Whiskey in a porcelain bottle, which (inconceivably) some Wahoo forgot to finish, fifty years ago.

I adore all of this junk, but I think my favorite relic might be a fundraising piece, c. 1946:

We inherited the magazine from one of Robbie’s uncles who was of the same vintage. In it, the editors appeal to “Americans of the atomic-power age” to “lift the general level of intelligence” so as to develop “competence for leadership.” In pursuit of this worthy aim, they (of course) quote Thomas Jefferson.

And with today being Independence Day and all, I thought you might want to know what the guy who drafted the Declaration (and, in his spare time, invented U.Va.) had to say about greatness. Here are four qualities that, according to TJ, would make a great leader:

  1. Good humor.
  2. Integrity.
  3. Industry.
  4. Science.

As Mr. Jefferson saw it, “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light principled man than with an ill tempered rigorist in morality.”

(Meaning, I guess, that we’d all rather hang with a cheerful rogue than a grumpy saint.)

(Which is true.)

Of course, no serious discussion of greatness or competent leadership would be complete without the words of another freedom-loving man: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

That’s what Jesus said. And, at the end of the day, that’s what he did.

So today, as we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s do this: Let’s take the advice of two men – one perfect; one not – and do like Jesus did, giving up our lives (our time, our position, our rights) to help others. But let’s not be all finger-pointy or stingy about it. Instead, let’s also take Mr. Jefferson’s counsel (and, for that matter, the Bible’s), and do it with a cheerful spirit.

Happy Fourth!

 

 

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Friday Prayer to Pay It Forward

What a treat it was to come home from a weekend away and find this on my doorstep:

Who left this lovely bouquet? I have no idea. But the flowers came with a tag: Hope this blesses you & that you pay it forward!

Reading that little note, I was reminded of the power that all of us have to make a difference. To share God’s love. To brighten someone’s day.

Maybe that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words in a letter to some people he loved:  So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.

Isn’t that a great prayer? Let’s borrow it today. Let’s ask God to make us fit for whatever he has called us to do, to infuse our good ideas with his power, and to help us “pay it forward” in the lives of the people we love:

Heavenly Father,

Enable _____ to live a life worthy of your call. Give _____ the power to accomplish all the good things that faith inspires. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NLT)

Amen.

(And if you’re the secret friend who delivered this sweet blessing…thank you. I can’t wait to get out in the garden, refresh the bouquet, and pass it on!)

 

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And the Winners Are…

I love Easter traditions. One of ours is to drag The (Very Heavy) Egg out to the street on Saturday night, under the cover of darkness…

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…and then take a family pic the next day (an exercise that almost always involves stopping traffic and checking around the ankles for stray poison ivy!):
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And speaking of Easter traditions…thanks so much to everyone who posted a comment on last week’s Easter Basket Giveaway. I LOVED hearing your stories and reading about all the ways that you celebrate our Risen Lord!

Congratulations to Laura in Charlottesville, Virginia, who won the One Word Cards from author Susan Alexander Yates and artist Christy Yates (who, coincidentally, is also from C’ville)!

And to Emily in Leesburg, Virginia and Sally in Winston-Salem, NC, who each received a copy of the new book, Unshaken. Sally, lots of readers told me how much they liked your story about setting your alarm for 1:45 a.m., dragging your blanket-wrapped kids out of bed and onto the front porch, and listening for the sounds of the Moravian Band and their 1.5 minute-long rendition of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” That took top honors in the unofficial “favorite memories” contest!

And finally, a shout out to Cindy in Chesapeake, Virginia, a next-door neighbor to Virginia Beach, who got her teenagers up for the sunrise service at the beach – after they’d been out super late the night before at a Youth Group event! Double points for the parenting effort we all know that took! Cindy won the limited edition Scripture Prayer Cards that were lovingly created by the gals at Sisters Ink. (You can’t buy the cards, but you can contact the Sisters for wedding invitations, exquisite stationery, and more!)

Many thanks…lots of love…and He is Risen Indeed!

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Created for Community: Burning Bright Together

I wasn’t much of a Girl Scout. I finished my stint with the Brownies, but no sooner had I graduated to the green dress with the awesome badges-sash when my mom (who was a Den Mother) suggested that I might quit. I don’t think it was the prospect of cookie sales that damped her enthusiasm (we loved those, still do); all I can think is that maybe she made one-too-many sit-upons:

situpon

We made them – lots of them – to take along on our Big Camping Trip. But, for reasons that were never entirely clear to me, we never actually went camping. We went to the library. Where the sit-upons worked just fine.

All of which is to explain why I can read, but I cannot build a fire. The closest I ever came to having to build one for myself was in college, when a few girlfriends and I decided to skip the mayhem that was Fraternity Bid Night and go camping. Armed with a tin of Jiffy Pop and a bottle of wine, we drove to the outskirts of Charlottesville, parked our car on the side of the highway, and started hiking. Never mind that we didn’t have any wood (or, for that matter, any sit-upons); we had an entire semester’s worth of unread Wall Street Journals we’d subscribed to for an Investments class, and they burned remarkably well.

All of which is to further explain why, when it got cold this year and I threw a log into the fireplace, my husband looked at me like I was crazy.

“What?” I said. “I am going to put some newspaper in there. What’s the problem?”

“You can’t burn one log by itself,” Robbie explained. “You need a bunch of them.”

Robbie grew up on a farm. He lived in a drafty old stone house with charming fireplaces that a smallish person can actually stand up in, and his fire-building prowess (coupled with his ability to drive in the snow, which no boy I had ever dated could do) had me smitten from Day One. And so, when he said I needed more firewood, I knew better than to challenge his wisdom. I added more logs.

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And maybe this is a stretch, but I couldn’t help but think about fire-building when I read this from @DailyKeller on Twitter:

If we are made in God’s image, and He is three persons – then at our fundamental core we are made for community.

I know Tim Keller is a big City Boy now, but I’m guessing that he has been camping. Or that he grew up on a farm. Because even though he doesn’t come right out and say it, I think what he really means is that people are like firewood. We can sputter along on our own, but if we want to realize our full potential – if we want to burn brightly and well – we need to spend time with other people, people who will ignite our faith and kindle our understanding of God and his purposes.

People with whom, and through whom, we can get to know Jesus better.

Do you have friends like that? If not, ask God to give you some. He’s the one who originally said it wasn’t good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and that we are supposed to sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17).  He knows that we flourish in community. Here’s how he puts it in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?

Two are better than one. We are created for community. And friendship, I think, is a blessing that God wants to give us.

Sometimes, though, the connections he ordains don’t look like we think they will. Be alert to the unexpected, life-giving friendships that might be in store for you this year.

And don’t be afraid to pursue them. Perhaps you know an older person who loves the Lord, and who might be willing to mentor you in the coming year. (It can’t hurt to ask.) Or maybe your church has a Bible Study or an Alpha Course you could join. Or maybe you’re feeling ambitious enough to start your own group. You could invite a few friends to come over and try one of Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, or maybe do one of the online studies offered by the gals at Proverbs 31 Ministries.

And wait. I just had another idea.

If you home or apartment is small, and you don’t have enough chairs for everybody, you could just go ahead and make your own sit-upons. It’s easy. All you need is a couple of vinyl tablecloths, a hole punch, some yarn, and that stack of old newspaper you’ve been meaning to burn…

Happy camping!

😉

(And okay, so while you’re making new friends and punching holes in your tablecloths, I’m gonna be taking a little vacay. I’ll still post Friday prayers, but the mid-week blogs won’t show up again until early February. Until then…lots of love! – J.)

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Warmest Wishes for a Merry Christmas!

Charles Dickens begins his classic tale, A Christmas Carol, on Christmas Eve. It is a day marked by “cold, bleak, biting weather” and Scrooge can hear the people outside his office window “beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.”

It was a day, in other words, not unlike May 21, 2016.

We were in Charlottesville then, celebrating Virginia’s U.Va. graduation. Rarely have I been so happy to have my parka and my hat. And my boots, which I bet I could have sold for a few hundred bucks (and which I did, in fact, loan to another mother whose daughter’s ceremony was after ours).

Like every other family I guess, we took the requisite Rotunda Photo that day. I couldn’t have predicted it back then (if I had, I would have at least ditched the ball cap), but it turned out to be our Christmas card pic:

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Which is fitting, actually. Not because it might as well have been snowing on Jefferson’s Lawn (and I promise you, I think I really did feel some sleet), but because of the joy – and the warmth – that Christmas always brings.

In the Dickens story, the thaw happens the moment that Scrooge’s nephew walks in. We hear him before we see him: “A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!”

When the nephew enters Scrooge’s office, he is “all in a glow.” He has a ruddy face, sparkling eyes, and breath you can see, like smoke. Eavesdropping as the young man catalogs the virtues of Christmas and all the good that it does, the clerk (who is in the next office, freezing) can’t help himself. He applauds.

I love it.

I love it because we do the same thing that Scrooge’s nephew did, when we say, “Merry Christmas!” to one another. We warm each other’s hearts with those simple, yet powerful, words.

And I love it because that’s what Jesus did for us, some 2000 years ago. He entered the cold, bleak, biting of our world and basically said, “Merry Christmas, Everyone! God save you!”

Isn’t that just the best?

You don’t have to hate the cold as much as I do to know that Christmas changes everything.

And you don’t have to be like the clerk to applaud.

Merry Christmas!

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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:

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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:

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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:

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On the flip side, I put the date:

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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.

 

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Do You Know What Time It Is?

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Back in the 1970s, when I was a middle-schooler, my family spent two weeks every summer at Christian camp that catered to families and singles of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. The camp met at a mansion in the Hamptons, but if the place had a celebrity status back then (or if, say, Martha Stewart was whipping up a raspberry trifle on the other side of the boxwood hedge), I never knew it. All I knew was that, every year, I couldn’t wait for summer to roll around so that we could all pile into Mom’s bright red station wagon (they got it used, from the fire station) and go to Camp Farthest Out.

(Which was the name of the camp. It was the ’70s, and I guess maybe “Camp Far Out” just didn’t seem far enough.)

I remember one little old lady who came every year, from someplace in New Jersey. If you asked her what time it was, she never looked at her watch. Instead, her face would light up and she would say, “It’s time to praise the Lord!”

At the time, I thought she was a little bit crazy. I mean, I usually did want to know what time it was, so that I wouldn’t be late for lunch, or Arts and Crafts, or for programs like Devotion in Motion, which was a worship-service-turned-exercise-class held on the mansion’s vast green lawn. Sometimes, though, I didn’t really care what time it was. Sometimes I just wanted to hear her say it:

It’s time to praise the Lord!

The phrase seemed funny then, coming at random intervals and when there didn’t seem to be any reason for praise. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve begun to realize that that old gal was onto something. It’s always a good time to praise God, and when you do, you reap all sorts of benefits.

For starters, praise opens the door to hope. When we stop and think about who God is (wise, powerful, loving, etc.) instead of what our circumstances are, problems that once loomed impossibly large begin to shrink in size. When we look at our lives through the lens of God’s love, everything shifts.

Fern Nichols, founder of the Moms in Prayer organization and author of a book called Every Child Needs a Praying Momputs it this way:  Praise, she says, “changes our attitude; brings an awareness of God’s presence; defeats Satan; releases God’s power; brings victorious perspective; provides peace; wards off the spirits of self-pity, depression, and discouragement; and produces strength in an anxious heart.”

I get that. I get it right now, in fact. Because right now I am anxious about a silly little thing that might or might not happen – I won’t even tell you what it is, it’s that little – and the ONLY thing that is helping is praise. When I focus on the “what if,” my knees get a bit wobbly. But when I focus on, say, God’s sovereignty (the fact that he is in control and that no purpose of his can be thwarted), I can stand up straight. Sure, I may still shake a little, but it’s not something that’s gonna knock me down, not when I am looking at a Sovereign God who loves me, and who has promised to work in all things for my good.

If the idea of praising God seems a little too out there (or even a little too “far out” there), all I can say is, “I get that, too.” I may have grown up doing devotional gymnastics in somebody’s front yard in the Hamptons, but now I am an Episcopalian, and if you were to ask one of us what time it was, odds are we’d say something like, “Four-fifteen.”

But here’s the thing. Praise doesn’t have to be loud, or showy. And you certainly don’t need to do it in your yard. All you have to do is tell God how great he is. And consider matching your need to his character, like I’m doing right now in the face of my worry: I am telling God how much I love the fact that he’s got everything under control. If you need guidance, focus on how wise God is. If you’re sick, praise him for being the God who heals. If you’re sad or discouraged, look to him as the giver of comfort and strength. And if you know you’ve blown it, remember his grace and compassion.

If you need a cheat sheet, or if you just want some verses to read to bolster your confidence about who God is and what he can do, click here to get a free printable that lists some of God’s attributes and where you can find them described in the Bible. That way, the next time you feel lonely or abandoned you can just say, “Hey God, I praise you because you are faithful, and I really need somebody I can depend on right now.”

It’s that easy. And that little old lady was right:  It’s always time to praise the Lord.

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Host a Back-to-School Party with this Free Download!

Back when our kids were in elementary school, we’d get together with another family the night before school started. The chief purpose was to pray for the year ahead, but we’d throw in the promise of an ice cream sundae party (with all the toppings) as a way to lure the kids, and the evening became a much-loved tradition.

As the children grew, the friend group expanded. One year we had eight families show up. To keep the trains on time (the teenagers wanted to pray the prayers, eat the ice cream, and get home to finish their summer reading) and be sure we covered the basics, each family got a topic. One prayed for the teachers, one for the school’s athletic teams, one for the kids’ academics…you get the idea. Everything went pretty smoothy – except for that one year when the school bus crashed into a split-rail fence on Day One. Nobody got hurt, but the dad who had prayed for “Carpools and Bus Safety” lost some of his cred.

Our kids are mostly grown and, with only Robbie celebrating the “first day,” we aren’t eating much ice cream. I miss those days. This year, though, I’ve heard from three moms who have put their own twist on tradition. One’s dishing up pizza-and-prayer with the neighbors, another is having women over for a back-to-school prayer coffee, and a third told me she’d purchased copies of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for a group of her pals and invited them to come for “Wine, Cheese, and Prayer.”

That’s my kind of Girls’ Night Out.

If you’re sending kids back to school this month, why not host your own prayer party? You’ll find more than 200 prayer prompts in the books, but if you’re short on time (or cash) and you want a free-and-easy tool to get you started, why not try these?

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These prayer cards are a sneak peek at some of the “wisdom” verses from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children (which comes out next year). I use them for my grown-up kids, but they work well for all ages. Click here to download the collection. (You’ll have to cut them out for yourself; it helps to use card stock, but any old paper will do). You can use these prayers during your back-to-school prayer time and then send them home with your guests as party favors!

Happy praying…and as you send your crew out the door this year, may the Lord watch over their coming and going, both now and forevermore! (Psalm 121:8)

 

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Bake Up Some Love

This blog is not, normally, a place where you’ll find culinary tips or new recipes. And for good reason. Remember the Mac-n-Cheese post last summer? Drain the fat and then add it…

Yeah.

But with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought we might venture into the kitchen once again and bake up a little love. Because who doesn’t love cookies? Or, perhaps more to the point, who doesn’t love easy cookies? (Particularly when the Bible verse that you would be holding up, if you ever got on TV at an NFL game, is Leviticus 3:16: All the fat belongs to the Lord.)

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Anyhow.

You can whip up these simple shortbread hearts in minutes, and then let em chill for an hour or two before rolling them out. (And here’s some good news for the busy baker: NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN if you get distracted and forget you are making cookies, and you wind up leaving the dough in the fridge overnight.)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • a heart-shaped cookie cutter

Here’s what you do (and I use a stand mixer, but a hand-held will work just fine):

  1. Mix the butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the flour and salt, and then the vanilla, and beat well.
  3. Gather the dough into a ball (scrape down the sides of the bowl) and wrap it in something like Press-n-Seal. (Wax paper works, too, or even a zip-lock baggie.) Put the dough ball in the fridge for at least an hour. Maybe even two. Or whatever.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. (Some people like fatter shortbread cookies, so 1/2-inch is fine…you might just need to bake em a little longer). Use your cookie cutter to make heart shapes and place the cut-out cookies on ungreased cookie sheets.
  5. Sprinkle the cookies with granulated sugar.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes (you don’t want shortbread to “brown” so take a peek at about the 17-minute mark).
  7. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool, and dust with additional powdered sugar if you like that look.

Depending on the size of your cookie cutter (mine is about two inches long), this recipe yields at least 30 cookies, meaning that you can show the love to at least one other person. And if you don’t have a heart shaped cutter, no worries. Hillary (who requested the theme from Jurrasic Park as part of her wedding prelude) got a set of dinosaur cookie cutters as a shower gift, and I am sure they will work just fine. Better, maybe. Because nothing says I love you like a plate of shortbread stegosauruses and a night at home with Netflix.

 

 

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All About That Plan

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

I used to write books for a financial brainiac named Ron Blue, and that was one of his money management maxims. He was talking about things like spending and investment strategies, but his counsel applies to pretty much every area of our lives. We make fitness plans, business plans, even dinner plans – all because we know, either instinctively or cuz some trainer or consultant told us, that having a purpose and a strategy are keys to accomplishing any goal.

The same can be said for our spiritual growth. It doesn’t “just happen.” We know that, of course (and plenty of us approach the new year with a fresh resolve to go to church, pray more consistently, or read our Bibles), but without a clearly defined plan, our best intentions can fizzle.

At least that’s how it works for me.

Last week, I wrote about light. If you’ve already got a plan to light up your life in 2016, you don’t need to keep reading. But if you’re looking for a strategy – something to keep you moving forward, all year long – here are four of my favorite ways to add the Bible (the best kind of light!) to your schedule:

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The Bible in One Year. This free Bible reading app from Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you may know Nicky as the guy who launched the wildly popular Alpha course) shows up in your in-box every morning, with three different passages to read and insightful commentary to help you process and understand them. Click here to subscribe.

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The One-Year Chronological Bible. I’ve mentioned this one before (it was the one-size-fits-all family gift a couple of years ago and a significantly better choice than the posture braces that showed up under the tree in 2013). It has all the same words you’ll find in a normal Bible, but the readings are arranged in the order in which the events actually happened. There are several versions available; click here to order the one I am giving Charlie, since he is new to the fam and acted sad when he heard he’d missed out on getting a copy. But don’t tell.

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The Two-Year Bible Reading Plan. I like this one because “Two-Year.” As in, it takes two years, so the readings come in shorter chunks. Plus, they give you periodic “catch-up” days, which are much-needed mulligans for people like me. Pro: This is a free download. Potential Con: There are no notes or commentary, so if that’s high on your list, you may want to purchase the accompanying Guided Tour book. Click here to get the free printable PDF of the Two-Year Plan.

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The Songs of Jesus. New this year from Tim Keller, this beautiful devotional takes you through an entire year in the psalms, which were originally worship songs in ancient Israel. In addition to shaping how we understand and relate to God, Keller says that the psalms “anticipate and train you for every possible spiritual, social and emotional condition – they show you what the dangers are, what you should keep in mind, what your attitude should be, how to talk to God about it, and how to get from God the help that you need.” Alrighty then. Click here to order your copy.

Okay, so we have just over two weeks to order, download, or do whatever we have to do to put our plan in place. Which is good news. Because sometimes even the best laid plans need a little, ah, tweaking…

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Yeah. Buddy the Elf is gonna be pretty sad when he gets home from work.

 

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Thankful for You!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

While I’ve been researching recipes (I need to use up some leftover cornbread from our tailgate last weekend – Go ‘Hoos!), my pals in the blogosphere have been making the world a better place with their wisdom.

Jeannie Cunnion, author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child, has the perfect answer for when your kids start asking for “more.” Click here to read her short-but-super Fox News post on how to raise truly thankful young ‘uns – and get yourself in the grateful spirit at the same time.

And for those of us on the other end of the spectrum (the ones who’ve pretty much thrown in the parenting towel and are instead eyeing a holiday table surrounded by parents and in-laws), Susan Alexander Yates offers some tips for making The Big Day a little less stressful (even if your mother-in-law shows up after you’ve gone through a can-and-a-half of Endust Lemon Zest and offers to “just help with the surface dirt”). Click here to read her post and put a little more “happy” in your holidays.

Me, I don’t have any Thanksgiving tips or strategies. All I have is a recipe for Cornbread Dressing with Sausage and Sage (which looks awesome but which my family will probably complain about because it is “different”). That, and a 1978 book about Napkin Folding, which (you may recall) was a wedding shower gift from my mom to Hillary, and which (sorry, Mom) Hillary left at my house when she packed up all the china and crystal and moved in with Charlie. (But I am sure she’ll be coming back for it soon.)

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So…looking for something to do while the turkey cooks? Want a fun project for the kids? Need a handy diversion for your mother-in-law?

Why not fold some napkins?

To give your table an ecclesiastical flavor, go with the Bishop’s Hat:

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For a British flair, try the Ascot Tie (and I’m thinking that a couple of stick-on eyeballs would make this one extra appealing):

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Or, since the French are obviously so much better at la cuisine, how about giving A La Maison a whirl? I haven’t tried it but, looking at the finished product, it can’t be that hard:

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So that’s all I got. I feel kind of bad, leaving you with “napkin folding” as my Thanksgiving offering. Particularly since I actually made the Ascot Tie and, well.

How about if I close instead by telling you how thankful I am for you? Seriously. I pray for you every week when I post the Friday prayer, and I love knowing that God is working in our lives and in the lives of the people we love. I think I know, at least partly, how Paul must have felt about his friends in Philippi:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s to a day of being grateful that God has started something good in us…and that he’s gonna finish the job!

(And, just so you know, it was not my mother-in-law who offered to get the “surface dirt.”)

(It was my grandmother.)

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Favorite Things

So the Associated Press ran an article this week that detailed “Oprah’s Favorite Things of 2015.”

The annual list, which Oprah started more than 20 years ago, highlights her top picks for holiday gift giving. While this year’s collection does not feature The Lava Seat (shocker, I know), there are more than a few interesting options:  A new, multicultural, line of Fashionista Barbies. A doggie faux fur jacket. And a banana, peanut butter, and chocolate cake known as “Elvis.”

Who could ask for anything more?

As you know, I’m no shopper. And it’s not like anything I recommend is going to fly off the shelves. But if Oprah and Gayle are out there (and I quote) “sourcing stocking stuffers” for the “O” magazine readers, then I want to get in the game. Especially because, unlike the tapered drawstring sweatpants Oprah favors (she owns three pairs), my pick will actually fit in a stocking.

Scripture Cards.

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Seriously. These nifty little cards from Lara Casey feature a verse on one side and a design on the reverse. They come in sets of 20, each one as beautiful (and powerful) as the next. Perfectly sized (3.25 x 2.13 inches) for popping into a lunchbox, taping onto your bathroom mirror, or sharing with a friend in a birthday card (thank you, Lynn!), the cards are miniature works of art and uplifting reminders of God’s grace.

And, perhaps best of all, Lara is one of these fabulous young entrepreneurs who truly believes in “choosing purpose over perfect.” She uses her design talents to benefit people and programs that make a difference, including organizations like the Love One Another Project, which helps needy and vulnerable children in Africa.

I promise I’m not going to spend between now and Christmas blogging about stuff you can buy (although if someone invents a “Host Vac” that actually crawls around on your dog and sucks up all the loose hair before it hits the ground, I absolutely wanna know about it). But if you’re looking for a gift idea that 1) fits everyone, 2) never goes out of style, and 3) comes with the power to encourage, equip, and transform everyday lives, Scripture Cards just might be your Favorite Thing of 2015.

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Happy shopping!

(Click here for a direct link to the cards, or here to browse the whole Lara Casey website.)

 

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What’s Hot this Christmas

Okay, so right off the bat you need to know that this is NOT going to be an inspirational or uplifting post. I have been thinking about how to redeem it, but so far…nada. The only person who could possibly find eternal value in what follows is my pal Michelle, who is convinced that shopping is her spiritual gift, and who proves it with regular Christmas shopping updates from TJ Maxx (where she is one of those people who knows that they really do get new merchandise daily).

Christmas shopping! Can you believe it? I haven’t even finished my second bag of candy corn. Still, I don’t want to get left behind – and I know you don’t want to, either – so as a service to my readers I am currently testing out a Possible Gift Idea. Alert blog followers may recall some past suggestions (The Posture Brace and the Scripture Memory Tool being two holiday favorites), but this one is brand new. I got it last week for my birthday, from Hillary:

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The Lava Seat. The packaging says it’s perfect for “sporting events, tailgating and outdoor activities.” Not having one of those handy today (and not being all that willing to go outside in the cold drizzle, even if a football game did break out in my front yard), I am going to go ahead and run the test in my kitchen.

The first thing they tell you to do is remove the Microcore Pack and pop it into the microwave. They want you to be sure your microwave is clean (which will be a stumbling block to a lot of sports fans right there, cuz of the buffalo wings and all, but whatever). Depending on the wattage of your particular appliance (800 to 1500, which who knows that stuff?), you put it in for anywhere from one to three minutes. I went for two.

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Assuming all goes well (and there’s a whole section about what to do if “swelling” occurs, which I guess is always a concern when you are talking about sports-related mishaps), you flip the Microcore Pack over and repeat the process. Then, because THE PACKAGE WILL BE HOT AFTER YOU MICROWAVE IT!, you are supposed to use an oven mitt to get it out and slide it into the cover.

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Okay. I don’t mean to be non-athletic, but seriously? The Microcore is a floppy sort of product, and unless you are one of those people who can put on mascara, or maybe diaper a baby, while wearing an oven mitt, you’re gonna have a problem. You can’t shove the pack into the cover without touching the thing. (Which is actually okay, because it isn’t THAT hot. I’m guessing that they have to put in the part about the mitt for that person who sued McDonald’s over the coffee.)

Anyhow.

Once you get the core snugged into the cover (which, incidentally, would make an awesome casserole warmer, if you needed one of those), it’s time to sit down.

And they nearly lost me again. There are not a whole lot of products that can instantly make me feel really fat (the wrong kind of white jeans being one notable exception), but trust me:  If you’re concerned about how you’ll look at the next Big Game, you don’t want to be wearing The Lava Seat. See that picture on the package? That’s a two-year-old’s bottom.

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But…does it work?

Yes.

Yes! When all is said and done, The Lava Seat performs as advertised. I’ve been working on this blog for nearly two hours (embarrassing, I know), and the casserole cover is still warm. So is my, um, you know. So, while I can’t speak for sports fans, tailgaters, and outdoor enthusiasts (who might not have ready access to a microwave), I can recommend this product for indoor bloggers.

And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Lava Seat just might be what’s truly hot this Christmas.  I googled the top-selling gifts of 2015, and if you’re not into the Apple Watch (remind me why I want that, again?), the new and improved Fitbit (I’m still trying to figure out my old one), or the Despicable Me Fart Blaster (and we wonder why the French don’t like us), you’ll want to get The Lava Seat for everyone on your list.

After all (and if you’ve have hung on this far, you deserve a Bible nugget), you don’t want to be one of those faith-without-deeds people that James warns us about. You don’t want to look at a cold person and say, “I wish you well; keep warm and well fed.” (James 2:16). You want to do something.

Like, you might want to give that person a Lava Seat.

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Need a Good Laugh? Try this Game!

There’s nothing like having a house full of recent college graduates to upgrade the family fun. They know all of the best games and – as promised – here’s a quick “how to” on one that we played during our Staycation last month. I imagine it’s known by many names, but we called the game “Salad Bowl.”

IMG_0742For starters, divide your group into two teams. Give everyone three slips of paper and have them write down one or two words on each. Almost any noun will do; our collection included patience (as in the virtue), Lawless (as in the movie)and Donald Trump (as in). Once everyone has written their words, fold em up and put them all in a – you guessed it – salad bowl.

(Note:  When picking your words, it helps to be a little bit crafty or off-beat. I learned this lesson the hard way when I picked Sewanee. That’s where Robbie goes to school, and since he would be leaving the following week, I guess I was already missing him. It’s a good school, but a bad word choice, since Round One involves giving verbal clues so your team. All anyone had to say was, “Robbie’s college!” and they got it. Lame.)

So for Round One, everyone gets 30 seconds to pull words out of the bowl and try to explain them to their teammates, using any verbal clues you want. (Think “Catch Phrase,” without the beeping.) You go through all the words, alternating teams every 30 seconds, until all the words have been guessed.

Tally how many words each team got, record that score, and then put all the words back in the bowl.

Round two is a little trickier.  You still alternate the guesses in 30-second intervals, getting as many words as you can in that time, but instead of giving long-winded clues or explanations about the word (“This is what happens when you have to wait for a really long time for something to happen…”) you pick just ONE WORD as a prompt. For instance, if you were trying to get your team to guess the word patience, you might simply say, “Virtue.”

(Since everyone is already somewhat familiar with the words, it’s not as random as it sounds.)

(Unless you are old like I am, in which case you don’t remember any of the words from Round One and you just sit there shouting out whatever occurs.)

IMG_0716Go through all of the words again, giving the one-word clues, until they’ve all been picked.  Tally how many each team got, add that to the Round One score, and put the words back in the bowl.

Round Three is basically charades. You go through all the words again, with each player having 30 seconds to get his teammates to guess as many as they can. (Talented actors may want to tighten the interval to 20 seconds.)  This is where the game can get interesting: Donald Trump was easy (the hair); patience less so. I stood there, doing nothing, expecting people to guess the word. I mean, they were waiting, right? Hello? Patience?

(Maybe I just had a bad team.)

Anyhow, you can end the game after Round Three, awarding the win to whichever team guessed the most words right after all three rounds. Or, you can move on to Round Four and add the sheet.

We recommend the sheet.

With the sheet in play, you put all of the words back into the bowl and pass it to a team member who is – you guessed it again – under a bed sheet.  The person goes through as many words as possible, acting out the motions under the sheet. No words or encouraging noises allowed. No discouraging noises, either.

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(My team got “patience” this time. Nothing like doing nothing to garner the “best actor” award, when you’re under a sheet. And I am pretty sure we won, by a margin of one.)

So…that’s Salad Bowl. It’s a game for all ages, as evidenced by the York family of Atlanta, Georgia. Special thanks to Kelly York for cluing us in to the world of possibilities that can open up in Round Four after her 82-year-old grandmother went under the sheet during their family vacay and pretended to be “Obama.”

Classic.

 

 

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Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas

Robbie is working at a fish shack and living at a skate park in North Carolina this summer (which is pretty much the sum total of everything I know about his current status, which I think demonstrates pretty good parental awareness, given that he is a fourth child) and I guess they cook for themselves cuz he texted me the other day, asking for instructions on how to make his all-time favorite meal.

Given that a lot of popular blogs feature “Tempting New Recipes!”, I figured I’d jump into the culinary fray and share the info with you too – although let me just say right up front that, while this meal is a Berndt Family Classic that gets trotted out for pretty much every birthday dinner (except mine), I will not blame you if you don’t find it the least bit tempting (because I don’t).

Even the dish’s name (coined by my mother, who invented this meal during my childhood), is a little off-putting:  Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas.

Yeah.

So anyway, here’s how you make it:

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-oz. box of elbow noodles (the “mac”)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (the “fleas”)
  • 5 slices of Kraft American Singles, the shrink-wrapped kind (the “cheese,” although I am using that term loosely here)
  • About half a bag of frozen tender tiny peas (not the big fat ones)
  • A stick of butter, chopped into pieces
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Whatever seasonings you like (we use garlic salt and pepper)
  • Optional shredded parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions:

  1. Cook the macaroni in a big pot while you brown the ground beef.  When both are finished, drain the macaroni of water and pour the fat off the meat.  (This is a critical but potentially confusing step – more later.)
  2. Peel the cheese (are you drooling yet?) and add it to the hot macaroni.  Add the butter and the milk and stir over low heat until the butter and cheese are all melted.
  3. Meanwhile, boil the peas in a small amount of water, just until they are no longer frozen…no need to cook ’em for more than about two minutes.  Drain them, and then add the peas and the ground beef to the macaroni mixture.
  4. Stir it all up and add your garlic salt and pepper.  Top with shredded parmesan cheese if you want to look a little fancy (we usually skip that step), and enjoy!

Easy, right?

Robbie managed to get through the whole thing on his first try, and he sent me a snap of his efforts:

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I asked how the crew liked it, and he said it went over well…although one girl “freaked out” when she saw him adding the fat from the burger meat back into the macaroni pot.

“You did what?” I asked.

“Added the fat.  Like you said to.”

Now, I definitely did NOT say to pour the fat back in (although, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am not, normally, opposed to fat in my food).  To prove his point, Robbie sent me a screen shot of the instructions I’d texted:

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Okay then.  So now you know why I am not a recipe blogger.  But if you decide to try this one at home, I’d love for you to let me know how it goes.  If nothing else, it could turn out to be the very thing that convinces your husband that it’s time to make reservations at a nice restaurant, just the two of you, and take you out.  (You’re welcome.)

 

 

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DIY: God Bless America (with pix this time)!

(Note from Jodie:  Many thanks to those of you who let me know that yesterday’s post showed up without photos.  Turns out that the site that does this stuff for me was down – or maybe somebody out there just doesn’t love America.  Either way, it should be working now.  Happy painting!)

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We’ve always been a July 4th kind of family.  Patriotism plays into it, sure, but there’s also the lure of things like al fresco dining (cookouts), free entertainment (fireworks), and easy decorating (throw a few flags around and – bam! – you’re in the holiday spirit).

What’s not to love?

Truth be told, we own a lot of flags.  Normal people buy candy or magazines in the checkout line; I am a sucker for Old Glory.  I can never remember how many of the dowel rods the dogs chewed up in their patriotic zeal last year, so I grab a fresh batch of ’em every June to stick in the ground, the flower pots, or on the front door.  Other kids show up at college with Michael Jordan posters and monogrammed bulletin boards; mine arrive with giant flags.  And if I happen to see an old ratty Star Spangled banner in an antiques shop?  Just hope you aren’t between me and the cash register.

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Because honestly, you can never have too many flags.  That’s probably what I was thinking on a warm June day back in 2002, right around when the family photo (above) was snapped.  We’d found a piece of old plywood in the garage and, not having any other use for the giant board but unwilling to waste it (a reluctance that I like to think speaks well of my fiscal sensitivity), I grabbed a can of white paint and told the kids to let ‘er rip.

Once they’d covered both the wood and their bathing suits, we added a navy square and three simple words:  GOD BLESS AMERICA.  Part proclamation, part prayer, it seemed to fit, particularly since 9/11 was still very fresh in our minds.

Then came the fun part.

We live on a fairly public corner of our neighborhood, and every kid who came by that day was invited to dip his or her hands in a brownie pan full of red paint.  Print-by-print, hand-by-hand, the “stripes” came together, as each child left his mark and then used a Sharpie pen to sign his – ahem – handiwork.  Betsy Ross, eat your heart out.

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Today, most of the kids who slapped their hands on the sign are all grown up – some of them are living in far-away places like Charlotte and Los Angeles – but we still haul the sign out every year.  As a nation, we’ve been through a lot of changes in the past 13 years, but our prayer is still the same:  God bless America.

If you want to join us in that prayer this year (or if you just need a project to keep the kids busy for a couple of hours), why not make your own flag?  All you need is a piece of plywood, some paint, and a bunch of patriotic volunteers who don’t mind getting a little bit messy!

Happy Fourth!

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Sin and Dust

I once read that you don’t need to worry all that much about dust.  If you simply ignore it for six months, the tipster promised, it doesn’t really get any worse.

Or maybe it was a year.  Or two.  I don’t remember.

But I can tell you this, based on my own actual scientific research:  There is no discernible difference between the way that an un-dusted trophy looks after five years or ten.

photoThere is this really high shelf that marks the perimeter of Robbie’s room.  We started throwing the trophies up there when he was about five years old:  the Black Knights, the Purple Wolves, the Buckeyes, the Shark Attack, and even the Coronado Flower Show (Robbie snagged top honors in the “bean plate” division) are all represented.  Eyeing the collection from time to time, I would occasionally think to myself, “I should probably dust those some day.”

Well, “some day” finally came.  Last week, I pulled the hardware  down and got out my all-time favorite cleaning product.  (And seriously.  If you get nothing else out of this blog, you should at least try The Original Bee’s Wax.  It’s pricey, but it literally works great on everything.  Even as I type this, I am thinking about squirting it on the dogs, just to see.)

Anyhow, the trophies didn’t look as bad as I thought they might, after so many years.

Looking at them jumbled together on the floor, I was reminded of something C.S. Lewis said about time and the effect that it has on sin:

We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin.

It doesn’t, of course.  But, as Lewis observed (and if you want the full treatment, check out The Problem of Pain), we have this idea that long-gone offenses – the “cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood” – don’t matter anymore, or that they are of no real concern.

“But mere time,” Lewis said, “does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.”

The fact or the guilt of a sin.  Like dust on the trophies, I guess, these things might not look any worse, over time.  (They might even be less noticeable, on a day-to-day basis, particularly as we get used to living with them.)  But they certainly don’t go away all by themselves.  The need the spiritual equivalent of The Original Bee’s Wax.

They need The Cross.

Talk about a product that works on everything.  Truly.  It doesn’t matter how long the dust has been gathering, or how thick it is.  The trophies that are our lives can be made new again, more beautiful than we could ever have imagined.  All it takes is repentance and a willingness to accept the forgiveness – the cleansing – God offers.

And I don’t know about you, but I want that.  I want my life to be something that showcases God’s glory, something that proclaims the victories he has accomplished – in spite of my layers of dust.

I don’t know if God has a trophy case, but if he does, I definitely want to be in it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Egged: An Easter Surprise

Twelve years ago, when we began renovating our home, the bathroom guys cut a giant oval out of a piece of plywood to make a hole for the bathtub.  The kids were young, underfoot, and more than a little interested in the whole construction process.  In an an effort to keep them from firing nail guns at each other or sawing off someone’s foot, I sent them outside with the egg-shaped wood scrap and a bunch of paint and said, “Easter is coming.  Make something.”

And “The Egg” was born.

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The contractors attached a wooden easel and sharpened the stakes so that the kids’ masterpiece could be displayed in the front yard.  Holy Week was just a few days away, and we hatched what we thought was a brilliant plan:  In the same way that Jesus’s resurrection came as an awesome surprise to his followers, we thought we would “surprise!” our neighbors by thrusting the sign into their yards, all under the cover of darkness.  We taped instructions and a Sharpie marker to the back of The Egg, encouraging each lucky recipient to sign the back and then, the next night, move the whole contraption to a new location as a way to share the love of Easter all week long.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for one thing, tub decks are made of sturdy stuff.   The Egg weighs about 70 pounds and, at nearly 6-feet tall, it’s not like it fits comfortably in the passenger seat.  Or even the trunk.

Not only that but, as it turns out, not everyone wants an Easter surprise.

One garden club guru (whose yard is truly spectacular) caught wind of our scheme and assured us that, while she certainly did believe and endorse the “Risen” message, The Egg would be “happier elsewhere.”

A prominent local businessman got up in the middle of the night, spotted the moonlit orb from his bathroom window, woke his wife (“What the heck is that thing??!”), and then literally ran outside in his boxers to remove it, lest any of our Jewish neighbors (who were also his clients) see it on their way to work.

As word spread, husbands everywhere began to regard The Egg with distrust, knowing that it had the power to puncture a pipe and destroy an entire sprinkler system.

And so, to save both relationships and hydrangeas, we made a new plan.

Now we no longer surprise anyone.  Instead, very late on Easter Eve, long after it gets dark, Robbie taps an able-bodied child (this year, it was a fiancé, which is all part of the on-going hazing plan to be sure the guys know what they’re in for with this family) to help him lug the thing out of the garage.  Together, they wrestle it out to the street and set it up on our corner, where – we hope – it will bless the neighbors.  (If they don’t find themselves cheered by the “He is Risen” message, I figure that they can at least be happy that The Egg didn’t wind up in their yard.)

And I like to think it is blessing people.  For years, we’d come home from church and make our kids (and any weekend guests) stand out on the street, posing with The Egg for the Annual Easter Pic.

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Recently, our neighbors began doing the same thing; this year, The Egg showed up in at least three different Instagram posts.

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Maybe the neighbors know that time is short.  The wood is splintering, the pointy stakes wobble, and the 12-year-old paint job (which never looked all that good, even to the untrained eye) is starting to look what might actually be considered “bad.”  I doubt that The Egg will see many more Easters.

But, happily for all of us, its message will:  He is risen.  He is risen this Easter, he is risen next Easter, he is risen forever.

Indeed!

I’m filing this blog under “Try this.”  For those of you who want to make yourselves an Egg, be my guest.  But for those who don’t (which I would guess might be all of you), the “try this” factor is simply this:  Know that the resurrection doesn’t just pave the way for our eternal salvation.  It also comes with power for daily living, as in right now.  It comes with hope.

Which is certainly worth trying, with or without your own piece of plywood.

 

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What, me worry?

Here we are, marking the end of Lent:  Week 2.  I know people who have given up all sorts of things, from the usual (sweets, which Annesley’s roommate Kate has sworn off for the season) to the interesting (cussing, offered up by my favorite local columnist, Kerry Dougherty.)

(How’s that working for you, Kerry?)

Me, I gave up worrying.

I don’t always give something up, but this year, when the minister said that Lent “reveals where your heart is” and that it serves as a call to draw closer to God and give up anything that gets in the way of that relationship, I knew what I had to do.  My heart, old and gnarly stump that it is, can get bound up in worry – and sometimes, the forest grows so thick that I can hardly see the Light.

Worry can make a person do funny things.  When Robbie was in high school and the time came for him to take the SATs, it hit me that I wasn’t entirely sure he knew how to read.  I mean, I assumed he could, but I had never actually seen it.  Eager to help him nail at least a few words on the vocab test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and personalized them as his Valentine’s present:

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Robbie was kind enough not to complain that I’d ruined a perfectly good case of balls, but when he actually used them (that’s my boy!), things got a wee bit ugly.  Turns out, red Sharpie marker isn’t really “permanent,” and Robbie ended up with pink string – I think the technical term is “mesh” – in his lacrosse stick.

Needless to say, that provoked a few caustic comments.  Irascible, even.

As with sweets and cussing, I am sure there are all sorts of strategies one could employ to get rid of worry, but for me, the only tactic that has shown any promise is the same one Paul used, back when he was pumping up the Corinthians:  “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Cor. 10:5)

Medical research (and buckle up, because I am heading way out of my strike zone here) reveals that the neural pathways in our brains work kind of like a cow going through a cornfield.  The first time a thought goes through the path, it doesn’t leave much of a trace.  But keep on treading the same ground, and pretty soon the stalks begin to separate, the corn gets trampled, and the path becomes so familiar and well worn that it might as well be a highway.

If I am building a highway for my thoughts (and aren’t we all?), I want it to be one that is paved with good things.  The only way I know how to replace worry with peace and trust – to take anxious thoughts “captive,” if you will – is to send the cows through my cornfield armed with God’s promises.

And believe it or not, this plan really works.

Back when my worries about Robbie’s academic prowess conspired to keep me awake at night, I clung to verses like Isaiah 54:13, “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace.”  (I know more modern Bible translations have gone gender-neutral and that this passage clearly covers “daughters,” too…but I’m kind of tied to my old 1984 NIV, especially when it comes to picking prayer promises for my boy.)

Now that I am an official Mother of the Bride, with not just one by TWO daughters getting married within a few months of each other, I have a whole new set of worries:  What if it rains?  What if I forget to order the cake?  What if I never find an MOB dress?  (If you saw my Christmas Sweater blog, you know why this is a legitimate concern.)

To all of these fears, and to countless more of the nasties that try to steal my joy, Jesus says this:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  (Matthew 6:8)

And then, as if he’s had some experience with the whole wedding planning thing, he gets even more specific:  “Do not worry, saying, ‘What  shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:31-33)

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

If you’re looking for a good memory verse, try that one.  It pretty much covers everything, from the willpower it takes to watch your roommate scarf up a cinnamon bun (sorry, Kate), to the mental gymnastics required to excise those dagnabbits from your vocabulary (you can do it, Kerry!), to a good night’s sleep with two weddings coming straight at you on the calendar, like a pair of billowing freight trains.

I’m not sure I’ll ever banish worry entirely, but as long as I keep piling the promises onto my cows (Philippians 4:8, 4:13, and 4:19 are all running loose in my cornfield right now), I know that everything will be okay.

 

 

 

 

 

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Love Letters

Add a little bit of body textAlmost nobody writes letters anymore.

But a mom can hope, right?

When we sent our youngest child, Robbie, off to college last fall, I bagged up the usual assortment of dorm room must-haves:  a desk lamp, twin XL sheets, laundry detergent (again, hope), and whatever random paper clips and pens I found in our junk drawer (the fourth child has no idea that there is such a thing as new school supplies).  I also sent two self-addressed, stamped envelopes, along with a brief encouragement to him to write home:  “Go ahead.  Make my day.”

Why?  I don’t know.  I didn’t really expect to get a letter.  But then yesterday, nearly six months after Robbie Sr. and I hid behind our sunglasses (Tears? What tears?), trying not to be the very last parents to vacate the Sewanee campus (it’s not a big school so lurking parents tend to stand out and yes, I was pretty much “that mom”), I got one.

And I was blown away.

Robbie has no idea that this is Valentine’s week.  For one thing, he’s a college freshman.  For another, he’s a guy.  (Note to any men who are reading this post:  Heads up.  SATURDAY.)  And I’m certain Robbie didn’t think about writing a love letter.  He was probably just rooting around in his desk drawer and saw the envelope under an empty Gatorade bottle and some dirty socks and thought:  Why not?

But as I held Robbie’s letter in my hand – treating it like a rare artifact that could crumble if grasped too tightly – it hit me just how powerful a simple letter can be.  The fact that nobody writes them anymore makes them even more precious.  In an age of texting and emails (and snap chats; I have begged my kids to set theirs so that they don’t expire for 15 seconds since it takes me at least that long to figure out what I am looking at, and if you think I could just take a screen shot then you clearly have no idea where my technological boundaries lie), getting an actual memento that you can hold – that you can clasp to your bosom the way that I imagine Magellan’s mother did when she unsealed the wax and read, “Hey Mom!  It’s round!” – is just huge.

All of this is simply to say:  Write someone a letter.

You don’t have to have a valentine to take advantage of the opportunity to share the love.  Tell a former teacher or coach how much he or she meant in your life.  Boost a neighbor’s spirits with an encouraging note.  Tell your mom you love her, or even just that you appreciate how many times she got the grass stains out of your jersey.  Go ahead.  Make her day.

If you need a little inspiration, why not rip off the Apostle Paul?  Here’s how he starts his letter to the Philippians:  “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

Who wouldn’t want to open an envelope and read that?

The Bible is full of awesome little nuggets just like that, notes of hope and grace that you can tuck into your own writing, words that can speak life into the bleakest winter day.  The whole thing, in fact, is really just one giant love letter, written from God’s heart to ours.

Looking for a little something to read with your morning coffee this week?  Check out 1 John…right in the back, near Revelation.  It’s not a long letter – just five short chapters – but it packs a whole lotta love.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  (1 John 3:1)

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Habits that Kill Communication

DSC_0338Last Sunday night’s marriage course at Galilee Church featured a candlelit dinner and our pals, Anne Ferrell and Bob Tata, in the teachers’ seat.  They hit a home run.  After starting with a story about a British fella who drove 70 miles after accidentally leaving his wife of 40 years at a filling station (“I usually sit in the back because I can move around more,” the lady said, “but normally we talk”), the Tatas dove into the first-class material offered in the Alpha Marriage Course and gave us some great tips on communication.

There was plenty of good counsel on things like acknowledging each other’s feelings, “reflecting back” (trying to accurately summarize what the other person has said, and how they feel), and identifying what is most important in any given conversation.  That stuff was valuable.  But I found myself drawn to the “bad habits” section of the presentation, habits that can prevent someone from talking about their feelings and experiences.  Left unchecked, these little nasties can make a person just shut down, destroying not just the communication, but the relationship.

Wanna know what they are?

(Be careful now.  I thought I did, too.  I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.  Um, no.  Did I mention that there are five habits?)

(Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1.  Reassuring.  The reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman the Tatas know who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem, which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The advice-giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit…sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom. She wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice givers, too.  I mean, I write a blog.)

3.  Intellectualizing.  The intellectualizer might also be called the explainer, or the rationalizer.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, instead of listening, the intellectualizer jumps in with something like:  “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about our finances.”  Um, who wants to keep talking into that information fire hose?  Talk about a buzz killer.

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a friend, only to have him or her say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and more attractive, to them) course.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to feel or to speak, it’s a bad habit.

5.  Same goes for the interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then they jump in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone.  Really?  That sounds long, to me.

(I am going to try to let Robbie talk for at least 30 seconds, just to see.)

(He will probably ask if I am feeling okay.)

So there you have it.  The five “bad habits.”  Just knowing what they are is supposed to help you listen better–a skill that, they say in The Marriage Book, involves things like giving the other person your full attention, coping with distractions, showing interest, and acknowledging feelings.  And not, presumably, mocking them.

See?  I am doomed.

But at least I am in good company.  There are 30 couples taking the Marriage Class, many of whom have been hitched for less than five years.  One of the perks of the class is the free childcare and, at the end of the evening, one of the dads thanked me and started to head out to the parking lot.  His wife looked at me, then looked at him.

He was like, “What?”

(I knew where this convo was headed but, for once, I wasn’t about to interrupt.)

She waits a beat, gives me a look that will make me love her forever, and then says, “Ah…Honey?  The baby?  The one we have to get from the nursery?”

Oh yeah.  Forty years from now, that sweet gal might find herself at a filling station.  I better remind her to start sitting in the front seat when he is driving, just in case.

 

 

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Marriage and Generosity: A Perfect Match

IMG_4352Robbie and I are gearing up for the Alpha Marriage Course, which starts this Sunday night at our church.  It’s a terrific class and you’d think that, having taught it five times already, my beloved and I would be coasting, but every time we go over the material, we learn something new.

One time, for instance, “we” learned that it’s not a good idea to interrupt your spouse when he is talking (even if you are pretty sure that what you have to say is way more interesting).

During another session, “we” discovered that cleaning out the garage is not, in fact, everyone’s primary love language.  Some people, it turns out, would rather have sex.

And then there was the time that we got to grade each other on questions like, My partner is good at meeting my emotional needs, and “we” got a zero.  (Honestly, though, that was not a fair question.  I mean, I didn’t even know Robbie had emotional needs.)

(But now I do.)

So here we are, getting ready to go at it again.  And this time I have a secret weapon:  I’ve been following Brad Wilcox on Twitter.  Wilcox is the brainiac behind the National Marriage Project, and his research offers everything from tips on improving your relationship to indicators that a marriage will last (inviting a lot of friends and relatives to your wedding bodes well; “sliding” into cohabitation before marriage does not).

Sometimes, the findings are surprising.  Like, you might expect things like “commitment” and “sexual intimacy” to show up as factors linked to a happy marriage.  But the third of the Big Three?  Generosity.

Generosity.  As in, being liberal with affection.  Quick to overlook offenses.  And (get this, from the research):  photoMaking your honey a cup of coffee in the morning.

“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful,” Wilcox explains, in a New York Times Magazine article, “but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate.”  And that, he says, promotes a “virtuous cycle” that leads to happier marriages.

Wilcox & Co. even have a quiz you can take to determine your generosity rating.  (Can you tell I recently learned how to add links to a blog?)  I’d take the quiz, but Robbie’s the one who makes the coffee around here, and I don’t want to go into Sunday’s class with another big “L” on my stat sheet.

But I am going to try to be more generous.  Like, when Robbie brings me my coffee in the morning, I will tell him I love him.  Even if it’s not hot enough, because I will know to overlook that.

See?  Who needs a marriage course?

Don’t answer that.

(But do check out The Marriage Course.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for one year or 50, you’ll find it well worth your time.  Even if you already know that your man has emotional needs.)

 

 

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Give the Gift of Prayer

photoI’ve already told you that I am not a good shopper (the posture brace featured in Tuesday’s blog is just one in a long line of epic fails), but I’ve found at least one gift that’s pretty much always a winner, whether it’s for my kids, my husband, or anyone else.

Prayer.

Think about it.  Unlike the “My Size” Barbie we gave Annesley one year (whose main selling point seemed to be the ability to “share” her clothes, and whose allure dropped considerably once they came off), prayer is a gift that lasts.  And not only that, but because it taps into the power of a God who is both loving and strong, prayer has the ability to open the door to wisdom and favor, to provide blessings and protection, and to shape and influence lives.  What parent wouldn’t want that for her kids?

One of my favorite ways to pray for my children (or for anyone) is to use Scripture–the actual words and promises you find in the Bible. I do this fairly regularly on an as-needed basis (Ephesians 4:29, which swaps out “ugly talk” for words that bless and help other people, became like a mantra when our kids were young), but each December, I try to ramp it up a notch.  I spend some time thinking about each one of my kids, considering where they are–emotionally, physically, spiritually–and what their deepest needs might be.  I ask God to give me a glimpse of what he wants to do in their lives, and then I find a verse that I can pray throughout the new year.

When Virginia was in the first grade, for example, she had plenty of boldness.  What she lacked–as evidenced by her willingness to tell other youngsters who didn’t believe in Jesus that they were “going to hell”–was tact.  And sensitivity.  And probably a few other things.  I didn’t think God wanted to dampen her evangelistic spirit, but I figured we’d all be better off if he would temper it with a little grace.  I found a perfect prayer tucked into Daniel 12:3:

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I pray that Virginia would be wise, shining like the brightness of the heavens, and that she would lead many to righteousness, and thereby shine like the stars for ever and ever.

Then I did what I always do:  I traced her hand on a piece of colored paper, wrote the verse on it, dated it, and took it to Kinkos to get it laminated so that it could live on the refrigerator for a year, both as a reminder to me to pray and a sign to Virginia that God was working in her life.

And he was.

I don’t want to get all mushy in a blog, but I stand in awe of the way God used that simple prayer to shape a little girl’s life, growing her into a young woman who loves the Lord and who longs to make him known.  She can still be–as her grandfather used to put it–“seldom right, but never in doubt,” but even when she gets her facts mixed up, one thing is certain:  Virginia cares deeply for other people–and thanks to God’s grace, she has learned to love wisely and well.

God has breathed similar blessings into the lives of all of my kids, working in response to the prayers that he prompted.  I no longer post their laminated hands on the refrigerator–they are all young adults, and to be honest, laminated hands look kind of creepy once you get out of elementary school–but I still make them.  And every year, on January 1, I show them to the kids.  It’s pretty cool, because even though all the Christmas presents have been unwrapped (and, if they were from me, most likely returned or exchanged), the kids know that there is still one gift–one good gift–that will grow and bear fruit all year long.

(Need some prayer verse ideas for your family?  You’ll find hundreds of them in my books, Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenswhich are arranged according to topic–just go to the back of whatever chapter interests you and you’ll find all sorts of good promises to pray!)

 

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Would You Rather Play a Family Game?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you rather be considered slightly annoying or generally dull?

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

Would you rather have peace or joy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Power and Purpose in a Family Blessing

 

BlessingWhen my mother was a young girl, her mom used to send her kids out the door each morning with a charge: Walk with the King today, and be a blessing.

 

Whether or not my mom and her siblings knew it, these words—spoken regularly, and with the authority that comes with being a parent—shaped their lives. They served as a daily reminder of God’s presence (“Walk with the King”), and they injected a sense of purpose into even the most routine or unremarkable mornings: Your mission today is to be a blessing.

 

Robbie and I adopted the practice of speaking blessings over our children when they were very young. Sometimes we spoke or softly sang these words in the tender darkness of their bedsides; sometimes, we practically hollered them at the kids as the school bus rumbled up the street and everyone scrambled to find coats and backpacks.

 

We had a few favorites, all taken from the Bible. Today, our kids (now ages 18-24) might not be able to quote the chapter and verse, but these words are locked in to their minds:

 

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may he make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his face toward you, and give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26)

 

The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. The Lord will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

 

And this one, which the children simply called, “Presence”:

 

Where can you go from his Spirit? Where can you flee from his presence? If you go up to heaven, he’s there. If you make your bed in the depths, he is there. If you rise on the wings of the dawn; if you settle on the far side of the sea, even there his hand will guide you, his right hand will hold you fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

 

The Bible is full of verses that can be appropriated and personalized to create your own family blessing. You’ll also find rich words in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the Methodist hymnal, and even The Fiddler on the Roof. (Our kids had bit parts in that high school musical, and family blessings don’t get much better than the Sabbath Prayer: “May the Lord protect and defend you, May he always shield you from shame…” I could have sat through that number, with Tevye and Golda warbling about things like peace and strength and good marriages, 15 times. Come to think of it, I probably did.)

 

If you’ve never spoken a blessing over your family, start today. If your children are young, snuggle them into your arms as you speak. If they are prickly teenagers, a simple “The Lord bless you!” as they walk out the door can penetrate even the thickest shell. And if they are adults, consider writing a letter of blessing, or giving it to them as a gift for birthdays, Christmas, or as a New Year’s benediction.

 

A family blessing does not have to be eloquent, complicated, or long. Simple works. But I can’t think of an easier—or more powerful—way to speak God’s grace over your children, and to remind them that he loves them and that his power is active in their lives.

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Let’s Dance

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I recently became an MOB. As in, Mother of the Bride. Annesley will wed Geoff, her high school sweetheart, next May. And we couldn’t be more excited.

As soon as the news broke, I found myself on the receiving end of a tidal wave of congratulations (which was exciting), advice (which was welcome), and questions (stressful). Had we picked a date? A venue? A band? Did Annesley have a dress? Her bridesmaids? A signature color? What about the all-important china pattern? Had she registered for that?

Ahhhhh! Could I really survive 11 months of planning? I didn’t think so. Happily (and just as I was about ready to suggest elopement), my friend Michelle (aka “Lucy” to my Ethel; she is a gorgeous redhead who was once almost cast as a Bond girl, while I am the stout and supportive blonde) corralled a group of our friends and decided to host an engagement party. And when she hinted that they might want to include dancing, well…laissez le bon temps rouler! Continue reading “Let’s Dance”

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If You Build It, They Will Dance…

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If you’re the kind of person who thinks pretty much every gathering could be improved with a dance floor, why not build your own? You’ll have to shell out about $240 for the materials, but that’s comparable to renting a 12’x12’ floor, and when you factor in the possibilities for amortization (dinner parties, engagement parties, PTA meetings that could use a boost), it’s well worth the cost. I can’t promise this plan would pass muster at, say, Architectural Digest, but hopefully it will get you started.

Continue reading “If You Build It, They Will Dance…”

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