Never give up (on the people you love)

Two things this week have me camping out on the fatherhood of God and his dogged–relentless, even–pursuit of our hearts.

The first thing was the inauguration of U.Va.’s 9th president, Jim Ryan.

(And I know, I know. Some of you are like, “U.Va. again? Why does she always write about that?” To which I would say:  Hello? Did I write even ONE WORD about our victory over nationally ranked Miami, or last week’s road win at Duke? Feels to me like a U.Va. shout out is a bit overdue.)

(But this is not a U.Va. shout out.)

Anyhow.

In his inaugural address (which was fabulous; if you missed it, click here), Ryan likened teaching to parenting. He noted that both endeavors were based on the faith that the job–despite being a sometimes messy process with unfinished and imperfect results–was worth doing, and that as both a parent and as a university president, he would “never give up on the people I love.”

Which brings me to the second thing.

The second thing that happened this week was that I started reading Genesis.

You know the story. God makes Adam and Eve. And then they eat the fruit that they shouldn’t. And when they realize what they’ve done, they get scared and try to hide from God in the garden.

God knows, of course, that his kids are over there in the trees. And when he says, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9), he isn’t really after their physical location. He is asking where they are, spiritually–as in, where Adam and Eve are in relation to him.

I read that line and, as a parent, I thought back to the times when I felt like my own children were hidden. The times when they felt far away. Emotionally distant. Out of reach (even if they were just across the table, at dinner). The times when I watched them pursue relationships or activities or ideas that, I knew, would not produce good things in their lives.

The times when family life felt a little bit messy.

And then I thought about God, and how he must sometimes feel the same way towards us. Over and over again in the Bible (just as over and over again now), God’s children go wandering off, turning their backs on his love. And we see what God does in response.

Sometimes, we see his desire:  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)

Other times, we see his promise: My people are determined to turn from me…my compassion is aroused…I will roar; they will come…I will settle them in their homes. (Hosea 11:7-11)

Always, though, we see his pursuit. From the “Where are you?” Genesis question all the way to the “I stand at the door and knock” of Revelation 3:20, we see God calling to us. Wooing us. Inviting us into a life marked by purpose, passion, and joy.

And demonstrating, always and forever, that he will never give up on the people he loves.

So…that’s why President Ryan’s speech, taken together with the Genesis story, made me think about God. With one major difference.

Ryan’s presidency, like our parenting, can’t help but yield (as he freely noted) imperfect and unfinished results. But it’s different with God. With God at the helm, we can be confident that, having begun a good work in our lives, he can be counted on to complete it.

He will get the job done, and the results will one day be perfect.

(Which, even though this is NOT a U.Va. blog, is a promise that I would dearly love to see fulfilled on the field, as we take on the Tarheels tomorrow…)

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being the embodiment of love. You are patient and kind; you keep no record of wrongs. You protect, you hope, you persevere.

You never fail. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Let us never grow weary in doing good, especially to the people we love. And when we feel downcast or discouraged, remind us that you know just how we feel, and that there is a promised harvest, at the perfect time, for those who never give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen

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A Fake Coach, a Real Game, and God’s Grace

With all due respect to the platform, I’m not the world’s biggest Twitter fan. To me, it sometimes feels like a one-liner fight club, where anyone with a handle or a hashtag can jump in and start punching. Like the person who skewered Beth Moore when she encouraged Christians to lighten up and laugh a little. The critic took offense to Beth’s suggestion, noting that it is “not funny when people go to hell.”

(It isn’t. But maybe less of them would if we smiled at them a little more often?)

Still, though, I have a Twitter account. I do this to keep my publisher happy (because I guess nobody reads entire books anymore) and so that I can keep up with U.Va. sports. Especially during basketball season. And Double-Especially during March.

Hands-down, my favorite sports-tweeter (if that’s the right term) is Phony Bennett. He’s a self-described “fake coach” who borrowed the real coach’s name to create his Twitter persona: @IfTonyTweeted. (He doesn’t.) And like the real Tony Bennett (who has built his U.Va. teams on humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness), Phony’s tweets rest on five pillars of their own: Humor, sarcasm, self-deprecation, trash talk, and school pride.

Phony hails from Virginia Beach. I actually met him once at a U.Va. event (where some overzealous Twitter fan pre-maturely unmasked him), but he’s been anonymous to most of the rest of the world until this week, when he revealed himself on UVAToday. And honestly? It was a mighty fine week to come out. It’s the ACC Tourney, our guy Isaiah made the Sports Illustrated cover, and on Monday, the U.Va. Men’s Basketball team (after starting the season unranked) earned a unanimous #1 ranking from all 65 AP Coaches–an accord due, at least in part, to U.Va.’s incredible, unforgettable game against Louisville.

Had this contest been played in February, things might have been different. But it was Day One of March, and clearly the basketball gods (and for those reading on Twitter, that’s a lower-case “g,” so don’t hate me) were ready to rumble. The Washington Post provided my favorite end-of-game recap (complete with video highlights, and with a headline that starts Hahaha), but if you don’t have time for that whole piece right now, here’s my own version:

Me (getting into the car at the airport, after speaking in Nashville): Why aren’t you listening to the U.Va. game??

Robbie (who had pulled up, curbside): We’re getting killed by Louisville. I can’t take it anymore.

Me (mumbling something less-than-edifying, something you might read on Twitter): I think we’ll come back. Turn it on.

And by the time we pulled into our driveway, U.Va. had come back. With 4:12 left, we were down by just 7. And by the time the clock ticked down to .9, we’d cut it to 4. (Let me just say that again: With .9 seconds left, we were losing. By 4.) And then, thanks to an utterly improbable combination of missed shots, fouls, and violations by both teams, we…won.

Of course, I woke up the next day and checked Phony’s take:

Isn’t that a great summary? And you know what I thought, when I re-read that tweet? I thought of Jesus, and the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

(Because really, who wouldn’t?)

(Don’t answer that.)

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of times when I watch U.Va. Basketball, I think about God. I wish there were a market for Bible/Sports Commentary; I’d want a sideline press pass. Because every year (at least for U.Va. fans) there’s so much good material.

In 2015, for instance, a key takeaway was that we needed to trust God as our coach, instead of relying on our own understanding.

In 2016, the game taught us to throw off distractions and live life to the full. To get out there, as Coach Bennett put it, and “play free.”

And last year, NBA star Malcolm Brogdon came back to JPJ and let us all know that love never fails.

As to this year….

This year I’m sure there will be more gold to mine, but so far, that Louisville game takes the prize.

Because in life, just like in basketball, it’s not just about how you play. It’s about how you finish. You can stink it up the whole time–and U.Va. certainly did–but if, at the end of the day, you surrender to Jesus, you win.

Sure, some people will complain about that. If I were a Louisville fan, I know I would. Their guys played hard–and well–for a very long time. They deserved to get more than U.Va. did. But isn’t that just like the workers, back in Jesus’ day? The ones that did time in the vineyard?

You remember the story. A landowner needs help with his grapes, so he goes out early in the morning and recruits some workers, telling them they’ll get a denarius (that is, a day’s wages) for their toil. Then, at 9:00 a.m., he sees some more guys hanging around, doing nothing, and he hires them too. Same thing happens at noon, and at 3:00 p.m. And then once more at 5:00.

When evening comes, the landowner pays the last pick-ups first. And when they see those 5 o’clock guys get an entire day’s pay, the earlier people are pumped. They figure they’ll get much more, since they’ve worked so much longer.

But no. Everyone gets the same thing.

And, people being people, the early guys start to grumble. They don’t think it’s fair.

But here’s what the landowner says: I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Isn’t that awesome? Jesus used this parable to teach us that, at the end of the day, it’s not our good life or our hard work that matters. It’s God’s grace. And our God is generous. He doesn’t want to leave anyone out and so, even if we wait the whole 39 minutes and 59.1 seconds to turn to him, he gives us the win.

Do I recommend playing like that? No. Life tends to work better (and with less painful consequences) when you “play well” the whole time. As does basketball. But none of us can do that. We’re all gonna blow it in one way or another, in big ways and small.

So here’s the thing: If you find yourself down, or feeling like God could not possibly love you, given the way that you’ve played, it’s okay. He does. He’s crazy about you, in fact. And to God, .9 seconds is more than enough time to redeem a whole life.

If you’ve stuck with me thus far, you might be scratching your head. Like, you might be happy that U.Va. won, but you feel bad for Louisville. So do I. And so did Tony. In the post-game interview, Coach Bennett said he was “so thankful” for the win, but that he felt “pain” and “compassion” for the Cardinals. We get that.

But basketball is basketball and life is life. And thankfully, in life, we all get the chance to cut down the nets.

All we have to do say yes.

Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

#YouAreLoved.

 

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What do College Kids Need? Good Friends!

(This post originally appeared earlier this week on the Theological Horizons blog. Theological Horizons is an organization headquartered at U.Va., and if you click on that link, you’ll find the post, plus some great resources for young women going through sorority rush. Super helpful insights on things like identity, acceptance, and more.)

I remember the high school counselor asking Robbie and me what we were looking for in a college for Hillary, our eldest. He expected, I guess, for us to say something like “affordable tuition” or “strong academic reputation” or even something lofty, like “opportunities to pursue bio-medical research.” I think the guy was a little stunned when I gave him my answer:  I wanted my daughter to go someplace where she would make good friends and enjoy strong Christian fellowship.

Fellowship is a tricky word. Author John Ortberg says it is “churchy,” and that it “suggests basements and red punch and awkward conversations.” I get that. But I also understand what Ortberg means when he says that fellowship is something we can’t live without. And when the time came to send Hillary—and then later, her siblings—off to college, my first prayers were for them to find life-giving friendships, the kind marked by things like loyalty, joy, and a vibrant commitment to Christ.

God answered those prayers, but the road to connectedness has not always been easy, or quick. I remember dropping Hillary off at U.Va. on Move-In Weekend. Someone had chalked a cheery greeting on the sidewalk steps:

The words held such promise! But, two months later, as the newness wore off and homesickness set in, they seemed almost hollow…. (read more)

(I don’t mean to leave you hanging, but that “read more” link takes you straight to the Theological Horizons site, where you’ll find the whole blog. And you have UNTIL MIDNIGHT TONIGHT to enter the drawing for a free copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. Whoop!)

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The Tree Hunt

It’s only a week after Thanksgiving, and my social media feeds are blowing up with pictures of people and their Christmas trees. Some were cut (fresh) on a farm. Some were harvested (less fresh) in a parking lot. And some were purchased, pre-lit, with a coupon at Michaels. In every case, the kids look happy, the parents proud, and the trees very much Above Average.

For us, though, not so much. Our Christmas tree is mostly just…big.

And I blame Auburn football.

Because there comes a time, in every fan’s life, when you just need a win. And when your own beloved team manages to rack up a breathtaking total of zero (as in, ZERO) points in the big Thanksgiving Weekend rivalry game, you go to Plan B. You grab your orange-and-blue pom-poms, write “Go Tigers!” on your orange solo cups, and start yelling “War Eagle!”

Which is exactly what we did on Saturday night. It was great fun. Until the Tiger fans stormed the field and Robbie suddenly realized how late it was. We’d spent all our tree-shopping time watching football, cheering for a team we know nothing about. “Everybody in the car!” Robbie commanded. “We have got to go find The Tree!”

Like lemmings, we obeyed. Getting the Christmas tree is a time-honored Berndt Family Thanksgiving Tradition. And, darkness be danged, we were up for it! War Eagle!

What we were less up for was driving all over Virginia Beach, looking for a place that was open. We finally found a lot with the lights on, but it was clear that the tree handlers (who, as they will remind you, WORK ONLY FOR TIPS), were tired. And cold. And probably a little bit tipsy. (They offered us our choice of beer, wine, or whiskey while they looked for their chainsaw.)

Less than ideal shopping conditions, to be sure, but our family is nothing if not doggedly determined to enjoy the Christmas Tree Hunt, no matter how long it might take. We chose the second tree that we saw.

“How much?” I asked.

When the guy told us the price, Robbie left. I found out later that he’d gone to an ATM but, not realizing that that was his negotiating strategy, I started to bargain.

“That seems like a lot,” I said. “Haven’t you ever heard of Black Friday?”

“Yes,” the guy said. “But that was yesterday. Yesterday you could have gotten a really good deal.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Like 75% off. But we marked all the trees up to $400.”

(I am not much of a whiskey gal, but I was starting to think that I could be.)

I haggled the guy down by ten bucks, and when Robbie came back with the cash we asked one of the handlers (the one who seemed the most sober) to snap the obligatory family pic. Which will probably become our Christmas card, especially since Geoff (who shopped via Facetime) looks so good:

(Next year, I call being Geoff.)

Anyhow.

We got the tree home, put it in water, and went to bed.

At first light, Robbie went outside to take a look at our prize. I hadn’t even started the coffee when he returned.

“We must have been drunk.”

I went out to the driveway, still clad in my bathrobe. I could see Robbie’s point. We had not, actually, taken the tree guys up on their refreshments offer, but we might as well have. Because somehow, stone-cold sober and by the light of an iPhone, we had purchased a Beast.

But Robbie is nothing if not doggedly determined to redeem even the most loathsome tree, and he went to work. He got out the measuring tape, the clippers, and the twine. (He planned to tie the thing to the wall, lest it reach out and kill us.)

And by golly, Robbie got the Beast up. Before church, even. And I realized (not for the first time) how much I love my man.

Less enamored, though, was I with The Tree. It really did sort of spook me, looming as it did over the sofa. Like if you accidentally turned your back on it, you’d be sorry. But later that day, when the kids finished climbing the bookshelves…

…it looked better. Less threatening, somehow. And when somebody pulled out my favorite ornament and strapped it on The Tree’s belly, I knew it would all be okay.

Because if you have to have a honker piece of nature camping out in your family room for six weeks, you want it to say something good. Something uplifting. Something that’s bigger and more powerful than even the most ogre-like tree.

Merry Christmas, Y’all.

(And to all my U.Va. friends, please don’t judge me. I promise that, if you squint hard enough, the Tigers kind of look like our guys. #Wahoowa.)

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Can I Rest on You?

So I finally looked at the calendar. Did you know Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away?

Yeah. You probably did. But I’m not quite there. In fact, I didn’t even think about the holiday until I ducked into T.J. Maxx a few days ago to see if they had any “Give Thanks” paper goods. I wanted some cocktail napkins for the buffet, and maybe some hand towels for the guest bath. Because nothing says “gratitude” quite like a printed paper towel.

Oh my.

T.J. Maxx is a holiday wonderland. But not for Thanksgiving. They’re all decked out for Christmas. I know their slogan says how they have “new merchandise arriving daily,” but honestly? I don’t think you could fit one more reindeer in there.

Not knowing what else to do, I flagged down a saleslady. “Do you have any Thanksgiving decor?”

She looked at me blankly, like maybe she’d never heard of the feast. Or like I wanted her kidney. Clearly, I was a couple months late.

I left with two little red Santas.

And then I sat in my car and wondered how I got so behind. Maybe it was all of that arduous Facebook training. Maybe I just over-blog. Or maybe I watch too much football (and if it’s U.Va., you stay for the whole game, regardless of the score, because #loyal). I don’t know. But whatever the reason, I figured the answer was clear.

I had to move faster in life.

No sooner had that thought formed in my brain than another one entered my head. And this one sounded a whole lot like God.

“Jodie,” he said, “You don’t need to move faster. You don’t need to move at all. You just need to trust me – and rest.”

Maybe it’s the fact that I was staring at two painted Santas, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit, but for whatever reason, I suddenly thought of my dad (who liked the Holy Spirit way more than he liked St. Nick, but his mom was a big Santa fan, and those things leave a mark). Either way, I remembered coming home one day, after Dad had been babysitting three-year-old Hillary.

“Granddaddy,” she had said, “Can I rest on you?”

He told me he wasn’t sure what she’d meant, but he said that that would be fine. And with that, my girl had climbed onto his lap, put her head on his chest, and fell sound asleep. It was something that all our kids did. And Dad loved it.

He loved it for the obvious reasons (and seriously, what’s better than having a little one do that?), but he loved it even more because he was a man who knew his Bible. And when Hillary fell asleep on his chest, Dad told me it reminded him of Deuteronomy 33:12.

Which (and I’m just putting this out there) I had to look up.

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,
for he shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

“When God invites you to rest between his shoulders,” my father explained, “he is talking about resting on his chest.”

(Now, I have never seen that claim repeated in any Bible commentary, but when your dad tells you something is so, you believe it. And I did.)

And sitting there in the TJ Maxx parking lot, I knew God was right. I did not need to move faster; I needed to move different. It wasn’t like God was telling me to come to a full and complete stop (he invented Christmas, after all, and I’m pretty sure there are parts of the hype that he likes). Instead, I felt like God was inviting me to enter in to his presence in the midst of the mayhem, to spend time with him, to be refreshed.

To climb up on his chest and just put my head down.

And if you are beloved of the Lord (and you are), that’s his invitation to you too.

Which is something that some folks will welcome. Others (and don’t make me name names) will read that and stress out. “I can’t stop,” you will say. “I’m too busy. My in-laws are coming. And that cranberry chutney won’t make itself.”

I hear you.

I am you.

But let me encourage you with this one little thought: Matthew 6:8. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

You guys, this is true. God really does know. And when we take time to listen, he always provides. Take, for example, my own situation.

There I was, napkin-less, with the biggest family holiday of the year looming in just under a fortnight (Michelle, that’s for you). And then I got a text from my friend Deb:

“We have napkins, half price, at the Lemon Cabana. I thought you might need them for your family.”

I will show you these napkins in just a sec. But what you need to know first is that U.Va. is – and I can’t type it without smiling – bowl eligible. I know all my SEC friends are like, “Yeah, yeah. What’s your point.” But you Wahoos out there…aren’t we grateful? And, knowing that Thanksgiving weekend brings the biggest game of them all – the game where, for the past more than one year we have gotten beaten by a team whose fans pull into the parking lot in RVs with names like The Rolling Turd – you will understand me when I say that God knew exactly which napkins I’d need. He knew I’d need more than “Give Thanks.”

Because I have two sons-in-law, plus their families, who are major Virginia Tech fans. And when we see them at Thanksgiving, and they help themselves to a drink, I don’t want them to simply be grateful. I want them to know it’s

#Wahoowa, y’all.

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I love Charlottesville. A lot.

I love Charlottesville. A lot.

And, like a jillion other people in our country, my heart hurts over the images of violence and hatred we saw descending upon that city last weekend.

And, like probably every other U.Va. alum and parent, I have received dozens of emails and text messages from school administrators, fellow alumni, and friends – some of whom have no personal connection to the school, but all of whom want to uncover and share a deeper message of reconciliation, understanding, and love.

On the wider message board of national media, there seems to be a fixation with pointing fingers and assigning blame. While I’m all for confronting (and learning from) our mistakes, I would rather focus on that which is good, noble, and lovely – like the marchers in Wednesday night’s vigil, where songs like “Amazing Grace” and chants of “Love wins!” served to scatter the darkness – than on setting our hearts and minds on what’s wrong. As John MacArthur put it in his book, Reckless Faith, “Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing.”

The “real thing” in Charlottesville – and in any place where we want love to win – is Jesus. I won’t pretend to have all the answers (or even a couple of them) to society’s ills, but I am pretty sure that he does.

“Love one another,” he says. “As I have loved you [as in, being willing to give up his position and even his life], so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I could go on, but you get the idea. Whether we are working for love and reconciliation on a national scale, or trying to find a way forward in the face of hurts on a more intimate stage (like in a marriage, or a friendship), these are the sorts of wisdom nuggets that make for lasting and positive change. These are the marks of the real thing.

Our son Robbie starts classes at U.Va. on Tuesday, along with more than 16,000 other undergraduate students. Am I worried about his safety, or about the perspectives he might encounter?

No. Not at all. The University of Virginia represents one of the warmest, most welcoming and inclusive, places I know.

I am, however, praying.

I am praying that Robbie will be devoted to his classmates and teachers, honoring their lives and their needs above his. I am praying for things like wisdom, joy, protection, and peace (to download four of those specific prayers, click here). And I am praying for him – and for myself – in agreement with one of the most beautiful emails I received this week, a forward from my U.Va. classmate, Alexis.

Alexis shared a prayer written by pastor and author, Scotty Smith. To read the whole prayer (in which Smith looks forward to the day when “honoring one another above ourselves will be our delight, not our discipline”), click here. It’s a raw and honest petition, and well worth the read…but if you only have a minute or two, here’s how Smith sums up his plea. Let’s pray this one together:

Jesus, bring the power of the gospel to bear in extraordinary ways in our relationships, churches, and communities. Grant us greater grief and repentance over the ways we love poorly. Stun us, humble us, and gladden us… again and again and again… with glory and grace. There is no other way we’ll change. So very Amen, we pray, with conviction and hope, in your grace-full name.

#Charl♥ttesville

 

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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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“Shocking” New Findings on Friendship

News Flash:  Friendship is good for you.

Researchers at U.Va. recently revealed evidence that backs up the idea that the stronger your relationships are, the better your health will be. I won’t go into all the details (they use words like “hypothalamus” and “epinephrine”), but the gist of the report is that if you are under “the threat of electrical shock,” your brain will be a whole lot happier if “a trusted loved one” is near.

And, if you are holding that person’s hand, all the better.

“Having that hand to hold,” notes the lead scientist, “signals that you have resources – you have safety – so any particular stressor is just not as stressful as it might have been.”

But – and this is my favorite line in the whole article – “Nothing similar was found during stranger handholding.”

(How awesome is it that they actually studied that? I mean, if you took my husband and put him outside in a thunderstorm and asked him to hold hands with a stranger, the threat of electrical shock would NOT be his foremost concern.)

Anyhow…

I love it when science catches up with what Christians have known all along: We are created for connection. We thrive in community. When Jesus told us to “Love one another,” he obviously knew that we’d need an uninhibited hypothalamus in order to effectively respond to stress and other unfortunate circumstances.

In celebration of U.Va.’s findings, I’ve pulled together nine of my favorite “friendship” prayers and created a free printable for you:

To download these prayer cards as a letter-sized PDF (you’ll have to cut them up by yourself), click here. Pray the verses for yourself, for your kids, or for anyone who might feel a little James Taylor coming on (like maybe they are down and troubled, or they need a helping hand).

And remember, next time you get caught in a lightning storm (or if you find yourself in one of U.Va.’s brain imaging scanners while a red indicator “X” hints that you are about to be shocked), God has you.

He is with you, wherever you go.

And, as the psalmist says, he is always holding your hand:

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

(Psalm 139:9-10)

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To the Final Four…and Beyond!

To all my Tar Heel friends: Congratulations!!! Way to make it to the Final Four! I’m with you!

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(And yes, I was actually screaming at the television on Sunday night when your boy Luke sunk that incredible game-winning shot. I thought he was adorable then, but now that I’ve read where he showed up for his 8:00 a.m. class the next morning, I am smitten.)

It’s thanks to you, Carolina, that my bracket still looks okay. I always take every ACC team as far as they can go, and this year I could still be half right. I figured you’d make it all the way thru, at least until you met U.Va.:

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Speaking of…can we please just take a moment?

I love U.Va. Basketball. And even though the pundits didn’t give us much of a chance after we broke up with our big man, I thought we’d still be okay. Because Tony. And London. And those cute first-year boys (who will only get better). And so, when tournament time rolled around, I was all in.

I prevailed on Robbie to make his one-and-only signature dish (unless you count frozen pizza, at which he also excels):

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Knowing that we’d be playing over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I bought a new hat:

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And I even went to the beauty supply store to stock up on extensions and elastic so that even the most closely cropped fellas in our aging fan base could rock a man bun like our Guy:

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Alas, it was not to be. If you are the one Virginia fan who did not fill out a bracket this year (Nancy), I will go ahead and tell you that our Cavaliers lost.

Badly.

But the season was still amazing, and to the coaches and players who gave it their all (even the guys who are transferring now because people vary): Thank you. I think I saw every game and, even if you don’t count the one where you so vigorously took Virginia Tech to the woodshed (which I do), it was a very good year.

My favorite basketball memory, though, didn’t come during regulation. My favorite memory was of being at JPJ the night they retired Malcolm Brogdon’s jersey. (And Nancy, he’s the guy who was named ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last year, before moving on to light up the NBA by doing some very un-rookie-ish things, like dunking on LeBron.)

During the jersey ceremony, Brogdon got up and, in a speech that he said he hadn’t expected to make, he thanked his mom. That right there stole my heart. On the “Good Son” scale, throwing some public love on your mama ranks even higher than showing up for your 8 a.m. class. Like I said, smitten.

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But that wasn’t all. Brogdon also thanked God.

“While I was here in my five years,” he said (and the man got his masters in public policy, so don’t be thinking victory lap), “I learned about having a faith and that, if everything else fails, your faith in God – your relationship with the Lord – will carry you through.”

If everything else fails, your faith in God – your relationship with the Lord – will carry you through.

Those are some very smart words. (Did I mention that Brogdon turned down Harvard to attend U.Va.? As one would.)

And on that happy note, Tar Heel fans, I will wish you the best. Basketball seasons (like so much in life that we mistakenly allow to define us, or to dictate our happiness) come and go, and I truly hope yours lasts ’til next Tuesday. But if not, don’t let that get you down.

Take a page out of Brogdon’s book, and go celebrate life’s biggest win.

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(Player photo credit @UVAMensHoops)

 

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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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Praying the Scriptures for Your Football Team

img_8445Okay so it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Which means football.  Which means U.Va. plays Virginia Tech.

Which means I’m devoting this Friday Prayer space to my team.

Virginia fans will tell you that our beloved Wahoos have not won the annual contest in the last twelve years, and that our record this year (2-9) has not exactly positioned our team as a threat. Alert fans, though, will point to that heady season between 1895 and 1904 (a glorious stretch where we beat the Hokies every single year) as proof that we have winning in our genes.

If you’re not the type to pray about what coaching legend Vince Dooley’s wife Barbara calls “bawl games,” feel free to quit reading now. No hard feelings. Seriously.

But if you like the idea of doing all you can for your team, feel free to join me:

Heavenly Father,

U.Va. Football has suffered for more than a little while; may this be the year that you restore us and make our team strong, firm, and steadfast. Put your law in our players’ hearts so that their feet will not slip, and command your angels to guard them in all their ways. May they be on their guard, stand firm in the faith, be men of courage, and be strong. (1 Peter 5:10, Psalm 37:31, Psalm 91:11, and 1 Corinthians 16:13).

I know, I know.

Some of you are saying it’s not fair to pray for one team over another. I get that. Plus, I have two Hokie sons-in-law, and I really should show them some love. And so, in the interest of keeping things on the level, here’s a Friday Prayer for the other guys:

Heavenly Father,

You are the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. If the Tech folks feel sad, or even devastated, after tomorrow’s game, may your unfailing love be their comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3, Psalm 119:76)

Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all! (And #GoHoos!)

 

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Find Your Confidence and Keep It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday Prayer for Perseverance

James 1-2-4Several of the folks on my prayer radar are walking a rough road right now. Some are facing obstacles that make it tough to see a way forward. Others are grappling with rejection and disappointment in jobs and relationships. And still others have come face to face with failure, whether it’s a short-term setback or the total death of a vision.

I’ve been praying for these loved ones, asking God to help them find joy. I know what the Bible says:  It says that the trials we go through produce perseverance, and that ultimately leads to good things. And this week I read an article that offers scientific evidence to confirm this truth.

U.Va.’s Jennifer Chiu wrote the piece, which you can read here. She maintains that reaching your goals “often involves persevering through failure, learning from mistakes, and the motivation to keep trying to find solutions or address problems.” Success, she says, isn’t always about getting it right. Sometimes, it’s about “daring to make mistakes and learning from failure.”

If you, your child, or anybody else on your “love list” is struggling with a setback, why not ask God to put that trial to good use so that it will produce long-term benefits?

That’s the motivation behind this week’s Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ to consider it pure joy when he faces trials of many kinds, since the testing of his faith develops perseverance, and perseverance is what works in us to make us mature and complete, not lacking anything. Make _____ mature and complete, Lord. (James 1:2-4)

Amen.

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Wahoowa and Welcome Bronco!

The Olympics are over. I am always a little sad to see them go, but never more than this year, when what’s left in their wake is…November. As in, the election.

I’d consider tossing the TV, except for one thing.

Football.

More specifically, U.Va. Football. The first game is Saturday.

Now, I realize that not everyone gets as up for the season as our family does, and that U.Va.’s record (34-61 in the past eight years) is not exactly something to start The Wave over, but hope springs eternal. Especially when you have a new coach.

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For those who don’t follow sports, Bronco Mendenhall came to The University from BYU where, over the past 11 seasons, he led a team that became one of only a handful of programs in the entire country to make it to a bowl game every year. Every year! For comparison purposes (and to bring the non-sports people up to speed), during that same time period U.Va. went to…less.

Maybe all those bowl games happened because the BYU players made their beds. I don’t know, but I heard Bronco speak earlier this summer and he said that, statistically speaking, just making your bed means that you will be 30% more effective during the day. He also talked about how he, his wife, and their three teenaged boys are “literally and figuratively closer than ever” after spending six months in an RV instead of bunking in a hotel while their new digs in Charlottesville were being renovated.

(Six months. In a camper. With a mom, a dad, and three strapping young men, all of whom lived out of a backpack and a small carry-on. Mrs. Bronco – who, I gather, came up with the plan – is my new hero.)

Anyhow, the conversation eventually turned to football, to things like “fiery execution” and “position mastery,” as well as the “swift and certain” consequences that Bronco said would follow both good and bad decisions. With every sentence that came out of the coach’s mouth, I found myself mentally putting another touchdown on the board. And, being the mother-in-law to two Virginia Tech grads, I could hardly wait for the Q&A. Was this the year, I wondered, that my beloved Wahoos would finally take down the Hokies?

You can hear my question – and see Bronco’s answer – by clicking here.

Or I can just tell you what the coach said. Painful as it was to hear, he noted that U.Va. hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech in football in twelve years, and that (given those stats) the in-state match-up could hardly be considered a “rivalry.” Not only that but, until we upped our game, Bronco wasn’t even sure we oughta be calling ourselves “the” University of Virginia.

Ouch. Talk about speaking the truth in love.

But things are about to change! In addition to the bed-making thing, the new coach has all sorts of strategies for getting his guys to perform, both on and off the field. If a player misses a class, for example, the “exchange rate” for that choice is 350 burpees (those awful push ups where, between each one, you have to jump – and in Bronco’s world, the jump is onto a 36-inch-high box – and reach for the sky). After each practice, the athletes are expected to take their own pulse, just to be sure they are still alive. Noting that all players will need to prove that they have what it takes to wear the U.Va. jersey (the mantra is “earned, not given”), Bronco’s plan is to ensure that opponents will be “mentally exhausted from the physical pressure.” Which is not, actually, unlike motherhood.

So I think it will work.

And, come Saturday, I will be right there in Scott Stadium, cheering for Bronco and his guys. And being so glad, I just have to say, that he is our coach, instead of our savior.

Can you imagine? What if we had to earn the right to wear the name of Christ? What if the Christian life meant having to check, at the end of each day, to see if we were still breathing? What if, every time we did something wrong, we had to do 350 burpees? Even without the box-jump, I’d throw in the towel and just head straight to hell.

My hat is off to the U.Va. players. I can’t even begin to think what this blazing hot summer was like, as they won the right to show up on that field. I am grateful for their effort, and I think that “earned, not given” is a great way to play football.

And that “given, not earned” is a great way to play life.

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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