How Does Jesus Want to be Loved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s recap.

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

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

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

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

How do YOU love God?

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

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

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

Because he loved me first.

 

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Merry Christ-Mess!

I saw my friend Rhonda this week. “Your house looks so pretty!” she exclaimed. “Who does all your lights?”

Y’all know who does our lights. It’s my husband, Buddy the Elf, and this year’s blast of frigid air in Virginia Beach got him more inspired than ever. Robbie claims he “cannot work” when it is above 50 degrees (something about the warmer air kills his holiday mojo) and so, thanks to this recent bout of global cooling, we are starting to look a little Chernobyl. In a Christmasy way.

Inside, though, it’s a different story.

The kids brought the boxes down from the attic over Thanksgiving weekend and put them in the living room. Which is where they are now. Last week, I pulled out the nativity scene to get myself in the Jesus mood, but it didn’t really take. I don’t feel all that Advent-y; I mostly just feel…overwhelmed.

Even the Christmas cards–a tradition I normally love–don’t seem to have what it takes. I came up with a prototype back in November, but when the kids saw it, they gave it the ax. So I went back to the drawing board, designed a Plan B, and had them printed this week. Now, the cards are sitting in their own little boxes on the kitchen counter. If they never get sent, will Christmas still come? If a tree falls in the forest…

Speaking of. I am thinking that my problem actually might be our tree. You already know it’s too big for our house; we had to move the furniture all to one side in order to get the thing into the family room. It fit–barely–but there is zero feng shui. And if you want to watch TV, you have to crane your neck around the branches to see the whole screen.

And, positioned as the tree is in front of the room’s big double window, it literally blocks ALL THE LIGHT. I keep thinking about how Jesus came as the “light of the world,” but I am not feeling it, at least not in our family room. All we are in there is just dark. It’s like the year that my friend’s husband boarded up the windows and gift-wrapped their ENTIRE HOUSE house so that it looked like a big Christmas present. He was all happy and proud of himself; she started asking people if they had any spare vodka.

Honestly, though, I am kind of surprised by our tree’s darkness power. It has already lost so many needles that you would think it would be see-through by now, but no. On the plus side, I get a little chuckle out of looking at Buddy’s hair. My man faithfully waters the tree every night, and he always comes out with a head full of pine.

(Which explains why I keep finding Christmas tree parts in our bed.)

All of which is to say…appearances can be deceiving. Because if you rode by our house at night, you would think that a very “all together” person lived there, someone who was probably inside baking cookies and wrapping presents while Bing did his thing on Pandora. And, if you are one of those people who sometimes falls into the comparison trap (and who doesn’t?), you might even go home and start feeling badly about your own Christmas prep.

But don’t. Because, looking at the outside of somebody else’s life, you never get the whole picture.

One of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was this: “Don’t judge your insides by somebody else’s outsides.” I feel like that’s especially important for parents to remember. It can seem like other people’s kids are always more squared away than ours are, or that other families have it all together in their marriages, or their finances, or whatever.

The truth is, none of us do. We’ve all got gaping holes in our lives–boxes that clutter our living rooms, cards that smack of things left undone, pine needles that mess with our heads–and we all need huge buckets of God’s strength and his mercy. We might look all fresh and festive on the outside…but inside we’re all desperate for grace.

Which is, I think, the whole point.

Jesus didn’t leave his glorious home in heaven in order to come into a picture perfect world. He came to inhabit our mess. To walk through it with us. To use it, even, to draw us to himself. To invite us, in the most beautiful way, to surrender.

Which is kind of what happened with me. I sat there yesterday, looking at all of my undone decorating and my unsent cards (and trying not to make eye contact with the tree, lest it hurt me), and I prayed.

“Jesus,” I said (and, as pathetic as this sounds, I am not making it up), “do you mind waiting a little while, while I try to put up some decorations? Like, I really want to worship you, to celebrate Advent, to breathe deeply of Christmas.

“But until I have all my Santas out and maybe cut some magnolia, I just don’t think I can do it.”

And y’all, I promise. I didn’t hear Jesus laugh–not out loud–but I sensed him smile. And I felt him whisper these words to my soul:

I can wait. But I won’t. Not for this. Not for you to make yourself–or your living room–perfect.

I came for your mess. I love you in your mess.

And I’m here.

Alrighty then. We don’t have to wait until December 25–or until we get our halls decked–to celebrate Jesus. We can enjoy him right now. We can know, in the midst of our mess, how very much we are loved.

Even (and especially) on the inside.

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FOMO, Friendship, and Facebook

I am one of those people who was FOMO before that was a thing. Like, early on in our marriage, Robbie and I would be driving down a street and we’d pass a house where there was clearly a party in progress.

“Just look at all those cars,” I’d say. “Slow down. Look at the lights in the windows…”

Robbie rarely looked. Or slowed down. He usually kept driving, while I craned my neck. And then, as the house slipped out of view, I would lean back in my seat.

“I wish we’d been invited.”

“Jodie,” Robbie would reply, drawing my name out the way you do when you are trying to explain something to a particularly low-wattage person, “We don’t know the people who live there.”

“I know,” I’d sigh. “But we could meet them. And I am pretty sure that they’d like us.”

I want to be liked.

By everybody.

Last week, for instance, I went to the grocery store, and the checkout gal was not very nice. I gave her my best “Hey there!” smile, but it was obvious that she did not want me in her line. The only thing she wanted was to scan my Klondike Bars and get me out of there.

“I bet you’re not gonna go back there anytime soon,” a friend laughed, when I told her about the experience.

“Are you kidding?” I countered. “I’m going back there tomorrow! I’m gonna get back in her line every day, until we are friends!”

All of this is to say that you would THINK I would have been the first person on Facebook, back when Mark Zuckerberg brought it out of his basement or whatever. Say what you will about the social behemoth; it is clearly a place to find friends. In fact, I did a video series about friendship a few years ago, and I found a website where you could even buy friends. For $200, you could get 1000 of them. Seriously. And these were real people—people who would actually follow you and post comments about your life.

(What’s not to love?)

You would think I’d be all about Facebook…but you would be wrong. Maybe it’s the idea of buying friends that was kind of a turn off. Maybe it’s the whole “look at me” thing. Maybe it’s that I’d read all these studies showing how people actually get depressed after looking at Facebook, since their friends are laughing and drinking and dancing in Paris or wherever, while they’re sitting home watching Netflix. As one of the founders of FOMO, I knew I’d be taking a risk.

Or maybe my Facebook aversion has more somber roots. Maybe it’s that I was brought up in a highly evangelical Christian home where we were warned, from our earliest years, to avoid “the mark of the beast.” Nobody ever explained what the mark actually was, but anything that had the power to lure billions of people and capture what felt like their every waking moment certainly, I thought, had potential. There was a reason they called it “The Web.”

(And when Robbie reads this blog he will tell me that Facebook is not the same thing as the Web. And I will say, “That’s what They want you to think.”)

Anyhow.

Change happens. And in my case, change happened when the marketing team that HarperCollins hired to help promote my new book (Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children releases in just a few weeks!) discovered that I was not yet on Facebook.

“Jodie,” they said (again, speaking slowly), “You need an account. Facebook is where your readers are.”

“My readers?”

“Yes. All of the demographics agree. Facebook is where the older women hang out.”

Ahhh, yes. The older women. My people.

And so, despite the potential for depression and my fear of the beast and all that, I jumped in. The marketing folks (who, if you need marketing folks, are actually amazing; you can find them at C. Grant and Company) designed a big, beautiful page and then set up my training.

(Seriously, y’all. I had Facebook training. Over the phone. And, about 20 minutes into the first session, Robbie—who was in the other room listening to me try to upload a photo, while the poor C. Grant person tried to coach me through the process—finally decided he couldn’t take it anymore. “Do I need to come in there?” he yelled, loud enough for the marketing lady to hear. #Marriage.)

I finally got the hang of it—at least enough to log in—and I put my account into the Facebook search bar: Jodie Berndt Writes.

And here’s what came up:

Can you imagine? It’s like the entire Internet was looking at me, saying:  You have no friends.

Not knowing what else to do (I didn’t want to ask the marketing gal how I could find friends; there is only so much stupid one person can take), I did what all of the other old ladies do.

I reached out to my kids.

(You can’t like regular people? Lord, help us.)

Anyhow.

I don’t really know what I am doing. But if you are already on Facebook, you probably do. And if so, will you like me? Or follow me? Or maybe even share my page with any geriatric people you know? I hope if you click here it will take you to the right page; here’s what it looks like:

I think the C. Grant folks did a great job. And honestly? I feel like I did when my Dad gave me that really nice tennis racquet for Christmas one year. He was a good tennis player, and that present made him so happy.

I wanted to be happy, too. I just needed to figure out how to use the darn thing. And I’ll figure Facebook out, too. It might take me awhile (tennis sure did), but I’ll get there.

And in the meantime, I will be going back to the grocery store, trying to find my cashier. I don’t care if she doesn’t like me. Because Jesus, the best friend a gal could ever hope to have, never said anything about “likes.” He talked about love, the kind that is patient, forgiving, and faithful. The kind that puts other folks first. The kind that would do anything – anything – to show someone how much she is loved.

So here’s the plan. I’m gonna load up on the Klondikes, put on my very best “Let’s be friends” face, and go show that lady who loves her.

❤️ 🙋

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When You Can’t See God’s Hand…

I wanted to write a funny blog this week. I really did. I feel like I could use a good chuckle.

And with it being the Fall Flower Festival week at the Garden Club, it’s not like I don’t have the material. You try locking 70 women in a giant convention hall for two days and asking them to hawk 56,387 pounds of pansies to their family and friends, and see if you don’t roll on the floor at some point. Stephen Colbert, eat your heart out.

Honestly, though? The pansy story will keep. Cuz right now I’m not feeling that funny. The planet is reeling from earthquakes and hurricanes. A friend’s sister lost her new baby this week. And now we have Vegas. I just cannot imagine.

The FBI, according to news reports, is still seeking a motive. Which is ironic, in a way, because so am I.

I know God is good. And I know he is powerful. And when stuff like this happens, I find myself saying, “God, what on earth were you thinking?”

I feel like I’d feel better if I could just see God’s hand, if he just clued me in or reassured me somehow, the way that I whispered to my young daughters in the movie theater during Beauty and the Beast when the wolves came out and surrounded Belle’s father. “Don’t be scared,” I remember saying. “Just wait. I will all be okay.”

Sometimes, though, God keeps his cards close to his vest. And so, instead of grasping his plan, I’m left taking my friend Michelle’s advice, honed during a time when her own faith was tested:

“You can’t always see God’s hand,” she says. “But you can trust his heart.”

Wise counsel. Because we can trust God’s heart. And we can be confident that he is totally, unreservedly for us. In fact, if the only Bible verse we ever heard was John 3:16, that would be enough. God  loved us so much that he gave his son’s life.

(Which is another thing that, being a mom, I cannot begin to imagine.)

I do trust God’s heart. I really do. But if you’re like me, and you want to “figure God out” (which Virginia always says I can’t do), you’ll love something I read this past week. It’s from Isaiah 66, a passage that talks about God’s ultimate plan:

“As a mother comforts her child,” God says in verse 13, “so I will comfort you.”

And then:

“When you see this, your hearts will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants.”

The hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants. If there is a more hope-filled promise for “figure it out” gals like me, I’ve not yet found it. Just knowing that one day it will all add up and make sense is enough to keep me going, for now.

In the meantime, I will rely on God’s comfort. And if that’s what you want too, here’s one way we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Send your Holy Spirit, who is called the Comforter, to remind us of your love and give us your peace. Do not let our hearts be troubled, and keep us from being afraid. (John 14:26-27)

And Lord, in your perfect timing, we ask that you would switch things up. Give us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Help us, during those times when we cannot see your hand, to trust your heart.

Amen.

 

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Michael Phelps, Dots, and Jesus

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I’ve seen those dots before.

The kind of bruises that Michael Phelps is sporting in Rio look painful. I first saw the circular marks years ago, when I visited my brother in China. David asked if Robbie and I wanted to get a massage after a long day of hiking on the Great Wall, and we agreed. Until we saw the “spa.”

It was a place on the street (one of many similar establishments, as it turned out) where folks could pop in on their way home from work or wherever to relieve sore muscles and stress. I stared, baffled, as one after another Chinese person lay, face down and without an ounce of self-consciousness, on little cots tucked side-by-side, in full view of the sidewalk. The technicians (masseuses?) would cover their clients’ backs with little glass cups, let them sit for a bit, and then pull them off with a thwock, leaving a collection of pinkish-purple spots, each a little bigger than an Oreo. The Chinese people seemed very happy with the results; to me, they looked possibly awkward and definitely uncomfortable.

When our turn came, Robbie demurred, but on the “when-in-Rome” principle, I plopped down on a cot and asked my gal for “no cups, please.” I guess something got lost in translation, because what followed was second only to maybe childbirth in the “sensations I’d like to forget” category. And I actually did forget, mostly–until I saw Phelps and his majestically dotted shoulders.

And then I remembered the cups, and I thought two things.

The first was that, as I’ve said in this space before, “People vary.” Phelps and a handful of his fellow Olympians credit the treatment with providing healing and relaxation. It’s just “superficial bruising,” they say (which I guess makes it more appealing than the normal kind of bruising). Again, people vary.

The second thing I thought was that people will subject themselves to pain for all sorts of reasons. Phelps & Co. do it to heal themselves; Jesus did it to bring healing to us. The Bible says that he was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4)

Thinking about these two guys today, Michael Phelps and Jesus, I am struck by how each got what he wanted. Phelps has 25 medals (and counting); Jesus has the salvation of our souls. That same Isaiah passage says he suffered and then, when he saw what his pain had accomplished, he was “satisfied.”

So here’s the good news, for all of us:  If you want to be like Mike and try the ancient Chinese secret, you can actually order your own set of cups on Amazon for about twenty bucks. If you want to do like the old song says and “try Jesus,” you can do that for free.

(Having been up close and personal with both–and with all due respect and a boatload of admiration for Phelps–you know which treatment I’d pick.)

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The Road to Victory

I love college sports. I’m partial to U.Va., of course (and how about that Anthony Gill, praying for Coach Bennett on the sidelines last weekend?), but I’ll watch almost any team, particularly if a big game is on the line.

But there’s one part I definitely don’t love. Even if the whoopsie is on the part of the “bad guys,” I really hate it when a contest comes down to the wire and the guy on the free throw line misses his shot. Or the goalie lets a zinger rip past his shoulder in lacrosse’s “sudden death” overtime. Or (and this is probably the worst) when it’s up to the kicker, and he misses the last-second field goal. Even just writing about it, my stomach hurts.

It’s not that I hate the thought of losing. It’s more that I hate the thought that (as one of our football-playing friends put it), “First you’re the hero, and then you’re the zero.”

FullSizeRenderWhich is, when you think about it, kind of what happened to Jesus in the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. At first, the crowds are lining the streets, spreading their coats on the ground for his donkey and waving palm branches while they shout cheers like, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed!”

But then the mood shifts, and some of these same people are turning their backs on him. Pretending they don’t even know him. Spitting on Jesus, even. And shouting, “Crucify!”

And he took it.

Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus “made himself nothing.” He emptied himself of all the glory that was rightfully his and, voluntarily, became the biggest zero the world has ever seen.

To most people, it looked like Game Over. But it wasn’t. And I know we’ve still got a few days before the stone gets rolled away, but honestly? Easter is the best come-from-behind, bust-all-the-brackets, zero-to-hero story that has ever been told.

And I love it. I love it because Jesus didn’t just win one for himself; he won it all of us. “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

And I love it because he didn’t just triumph over death so that we could go to heaven when we die. He did it so that we could be on the winning team now, so that we could play with confidence and joy, even when the game doesn’t seem to be going our way.

I don’t know where you are, spiritually, or what you’re dealing with this Easter season. But I can tell you this: God is all about the zero-to-hero thing. To him, it doesn’t matter how badly we’ve messed up our marriages, our parenting, our jobs, our whatever. He knows all of that, and he still wants us to play for him. He wants to take all the zeroes of our lives and turn them into a win.

If you’ve never made a decision to trust God – to just hand him your life, cuz he’s already given his for your sake – I want to encourage you to do that this Easter. Being a Christ-follower doesn’t mean you’ll never get fouled, or that you’ll never get a bad call. You will. But you’ll be playing for a Coach who is crazy about you, who has a wonderful game plan for your life, and who has already won the victory.

And March Madness doesn’t get any better that that.

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A Life Well Lived

When I was in high school, nobody had ever heard of Martha Stewart, Bunny Williams, or even Pottery Barn. Anyone who was anyone decorated with posters. The guys all had that eye-popping red swimsuit shot of Farrah Fawcett; we girls chose a more varied mix of rainbow-colored peace signs, Shaun Cassidy or that other Hardy boy, and anything that looked good under a black light.

All of the cool kids got their wall art at Spencer’s. I got mine from my dad:

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Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Dad bought the poster at the Christian bookstore (the same one where he and Mom got my extra-large “Jesus is Lord” purse, but that’s a story for another blog). I knew the poster wasn’t cool (neither was the purse), but I liked it. I taped it onto the wood paneling of my bedroom wall, just above my orange beanbag chair and my collection of Peter Frampton albums. When I went off to U.Va., I hung it up in my dorm room, just above my bed, right across from my roommate’s shrine to Bruce Springsteen.

I know my dad meant for the message (which you can read for yourself in Matthew 6:8) to point to my Heavenly Father, but I felt like it applied to him, too. Dad usually did know just what I needed, and he was always quick to provide an encouraging word, a sound bit of advice, or even, sometimes, a material gift. Like this tennis racket, which I had not asked for (and clearly did not think I needed):

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The best thing my dad ever gave me was an introduction to Jesus Christ. A pillar in the church, a softball coach, and a bright light in our community, Dad came home one night and said he’d been to a men’s meeting where someone explained that it wasn’t about being a “good” person. If you wanted to experience the abundant life here on earth, and then get a ticket to heaven for eternity, you had to have a relationship with Jesus. That was big news to my dad, but when he broke it down for me (starting with the fact that I was a sinner and wrapping up with an invitation to grace), it made perfect sense. I confessed my sins, asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, and never looked back.

I was eight years old.

My daddy was only 61 years old when doctors discovered an inoperable, golf ball-sized tumor in his brain. When they started using words like Stage 4 and glioblastoma, we knew there was not much that they could do. We spent the next twelve months singing praise songs, counting pain pills, and letting Dad use what we decided must be Russian words when we played Scrabble, as the malignancy stole more and more of his brain. We also prayed, both for a miracle, and for God to be glorified.

The first prayer, for the miracle, didn’t happen (at least not in terms of a return to physical health, but I guess when you get right down to it, getting to spend eternity in heaven is nothing if not miraculous). But the second prayer, the one for God to be glorified, did. Dad lived well, and he died even better, leaving a legacy of faith for his family and friends. He pointed us down the path where we could grow closer to God in a deep and life-changing way, and he left us secure in the knowledge that we would one day see him again.

I miss my father more than I thought I would, after 15 years. (Grief is funny; you think it’s over, and than it just sort of sneaks up, unannounced, and jumps you.) There have been plenty of times in my own parenting when I wished, more than anything, that I could have my own daddy around, just to talk things over. But, as one friend who knew him put it, “Jodie, you don’t need to talk to your dad. You already know what he’d say.”

And I do. He’d say “Pursue Jesus.” He’d tell me that of all the things I run after in this world—being a better wife and mother, writing a book or a blog that someone might actually want to read, decorating my house with something (anything) other than posters—there’s only one thing that matters, only one thing that lasts.

And he’d be right.

My father would have been 77 today. I don’t know how much time people in heaven have to pay attention to stuff on earth (and I kind of hope it’s not a lot, cuz I’d hate for him to know how bad I still am at tennis), but if my dad does have a chance to check in, I hope he’ll see that I’m still trying. I’m still running hard after Jesus and, even though I trip and fall way more often than I’d like, I don’t plan to quit.

Allen Rundle. 1939-2001. A life well lived.

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Friday Prayer for Your Soul

It’s February.

If you’re like me, you’re flipping through the calendar to see when Daylight Savings Time begins (ugh – we’ve still got like a month to go), you’re tired of your same old sweaters, and your soul is just plain weary.

You need some greener pastures.

Psalm 23-2-3 (1)

I love this painting by my friend, Sally Corpening. It’s called “The Lord is My Shepherd,” and I’m grateful to have this image as a backdrop for our Friday Prayer. Pray this one for yourself, or for someone you know who needs God’s refreshment today:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being our shepherd, for giving us all that we need. Let ____ rest in green meadows today; lead ____ beside peaceful streams. Renew _____’s strength. (Psalm 23:1-2, NLT)

Amen

 

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Report Cards

Two things happened this week to get me thinking about parenting, performance, and our perception of God’s love.

The first was that my friend and fellow parenting author, Jeannie Cunnion, wrote a terrific opinion piece for Fox News. She said that today’s kids feel “overwhelming pressure to get it all right” because their identities – and, in fact, their “lovability” – is linked to their behavior, their accomplishments, and their performance. “If I am good,” the thinking goes, “you will love me more.”

The second thing that happened was that I got my dad’s kindergarten report card.

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My mom and John are downsizing, and as part of their domestic purge she is unloading pretty much everything she thinks her kids and grandkids might want. (And more than a few things we might not, like a c. 1978 how-to book on napkin folding that she gave Hillary at one of her wedding showers. But that’s material for another blog.)

Anyhow, I wound up with a box of old photographs and papers. In it, I found this gem:

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That’s my dad, Allen Rundle. He was a kindergartner in 1944, and from the marks on his report card (also in the box), he had some growin’ up to do. I was relieved to see that he was clean, but he clearly had a ways to go in a few other areas, including walking (seriously?), using a hanky, and and…wait for it…breathing with his mouth closed.

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Oh my gosh. What did my grandmother think, when she got this report? Was she like, “Allen! Close your mouth!”?

That’s how I would have been, if he’d been my boy.

But even if he had sat there, staring at me with his tonsils hanging out, I wouldn’t have loved him any less.

I mean, things like being a mouth breather (or missing a free throw, or flunking a test, or pouring the fat back into the macaroni and cheese, or any of life’s imperfections) don’t make or break our love for our boys. Or our girls. We love our kids just because they are ours.

Which is pretty much what Jeannie writes about in her article. And she brings it around to the bigger picture – the one that has to do with God’s love – by reminding us that nothing we do could make him love us any more, or any less. Because it’s not about what we do. It’s about what Christ did. He’s the one who makes us lovable.

If that idea runs counter to what you’ve always thought, you’re not alone. Most of us have been there – and as Jeannie knows, the performance mindset can make it really tough to be a parent. “I was once the mom who put unbelievable pressure on herself to be a perfect parent setting a perfect example for her kids to follow,” she confides. “And because I wasn’t accepting God’s grace for myself, I couldn’t give grace to my kids.”

I won’t steal any more of Jeannie’s thunder; click here to read the piece for yourself.

I will say that I hope my grandmother was into the whole grace thing. I didn’t want to show you my dad’s whole report card (some family secrets are better kept that way), but she couldn’t have been happy with how he scored on “Originates stories and poems.” (But maybe that’s just hard to do, when you breath through your mouth. I don’t know.)

At the end of the day, though, it all worked out. My dad shut his mouth, learned some rhyming words, and wound up at Harvard Business School. Plus, he married a gal who knew how to make a napkin look like a lobster.

What’s not to love?

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Perfect Grace

So Hillary is now Mrs. Charlie Blakeley, and the wedding was perfect.

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Well, maybe not perfect.

Like, the top of the wedding cake slid off in the heat. (But hey, Hillary likes things a little messy and asymmetrical, so I’m chalking that one up as a plus.)

And one of my travel-weary relatives, who got to town too late to make it to the rehearsal dinner, let himself in to what he thought was his rental cottage and climbed into what he thought was his bed. Turns out, he was wrong on both counts (as both he and Charlie’s aunt discovered, much to their mutual surprise, later that night).

Oh – and a stripper showed up at the brunch (a casual affair, held on the beach, where the woman had presumably spent the night) and said that yes, she was in fact with the wedding party, and could she please have a breakfast burrito? Charlie’s mother was standing right there when the gal introduced herself – by trade, not name – to the party hosts. (I guess, after the mix up with the beds, she just figured the newcomer was another one of “those people” from our side.)

But things like these are minor details. Nobody noticed or cared. (Well, nobody except Charlie’s aunt, but I like to think hers was an extenuating circumstance.) And if I’ve learned one thing after throwing two weddings in four months, it’s that no wedding is perfect. At the end of the day (like, as in the literal end of the day, when your husband lies next to you in bed and asks if you baked that wedding cake by yourself), it’s all about grace.

It’s all about grace.

I know that (in my head, anyway) but it’s a lesson I learned all over again from watching Hillary’s cousins, the flower girls. During the rehearsal, Anna Joy and Elizabeth had been told exactly where to stand. The wedding guild gal even taped quarters to the church floor, promising the girls that they could claim them if they stood on the “treasure” the next day, during the ceremony.

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Come show time, the girls nailed it:  They made it down the aisle, found the quarters, and planted themselves. Everything was perfect – until Hillary and Charlie moved up to the altar to say their vows. At that point, the girls could no longer see what was happening. And whether it was out of obedience or avarice (to an almost-five-year-old, a quarter looms large), Elizabeth was definitely not willing to move her feet. She leaned over as far as she could, straining to catch a glimpse of the action, until I was sure she was going to topple.

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And she really might have, had not the beautiful bridesmaid standing next to the girls noticed their struggle. She reached out her hand and pulled them forward, assuring them that it was okay to move just a bit. To me, it was like God said, “See? You can’t keep all the rules, no matter how hard you try. Nobody can. And if you try to make things perfect – standing on your quarter, no matter what – you’re just going to topple over and hurt yourself. That’s why there’s grace.”

(Lest you think I am super-spiritual or that I had this amazing deep convo with God right in the middle of Hillary’s wedding, I need to tell you one thing. The bridesmaid’s name is Grace. And what went through my head wasn’t some long theological observation. It was more like: “The girls can’t stay on their quarters. Thank goodness for Grace.” Bingo. Cue the lightbulb.)

And, in the “Lessons for the MOB” category, I’d venture to say that grace is probably the single most important thing that a bride’s mother needs. (Especially a bride’s mother who happens to be a perfectionist, like some people.) Because here’s the thing:  You work like crazy to pull off a beautiful event, and you want it to be “just right.” And when it’s over, you fall into bed, happy and exhausted. You think about how pretty your daughter looked, right down to the “perfect” Tory Burch heels that you found to go with her dress.

And then, just before you turn out the light, you check the wedding hashtag…

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Ahhh.

I should have suspected.

I love my girl. And I love God’s grace. Because when it comes to throwing a wedding (or doing anything in life), it’s really the only thing that is perfect.

 

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Paddle Hard

If you’re a mom (and especially if you’re a mom with an empty or mostly empty nest), you know that there’s nothing better than having all of your chicks in one coop. You love it when “the gang’s all here,” and you’ll do just about anything to make it happen.

For instance, I have one friend who rents a big beach house on some island every year and lets her adult children know that, if they “want” to come, she’ll cover their flight. (Um, that would be a yes.) Another pal keeps a family bucket list in a notebook, with a bunch of must-do’s like “learn to ride a horse” and “get scuba certified” as a way to keep everyone focused, engaged, and (this part is key) participating. And then there are moms like my grandmother. I am pretty sure she faked her own death-watch more than a couple of times, just so we’d come visit, all at once.

From a mom’s perspective, no cost is too high, no scheme too desperate. Which is how I found myself at a local tee shirt shop, having eight matching shirts printed up with the words, “Paddle Hard.”

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Paddle Hard has been a family motto of sorts for several years. Robbie likes it because of surfing. I like it because it reminds me of Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…” And when I got everyone to agree to give me 30 hours of their summer for a “staycation” (two weddings in one year pretty much kills any normal vacation), I decided to co-opt the motto for our staycay theme.

As with most of my grand ideas, there were plenty of holes in this one. Like, who knew you couldn’t put a period in a hashtag? (Well, my kids knew. But why don’t they post this sort of rule someplace where mothers can see it? Like, before they try to be all hip and put it on a tee shirt?)

Anyhow.

The first item on our agenda (because what’s family fun without a typewritten plan, with copies for everyone?) was paddle boarding (because theme). Robbie hadn’t even finished telling us which way to hold the paddle (you’d think that’s a duh, but trust me) when Khaki the lab decided – like, suddenly – to shed her “mostly dead” persona and get with the program.

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Khaki is 12 years old, riddled with tumors, and pretty much doesn’t move (unless you count the 27 steps from our couch to her food bowl). She has no idea how to paddle hard…but she wanted to. And her enthusiasm was contagious. Pretty soon everyone was on the water. They even lined up, with minimal groaning, so that I could get in the photo:

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We had a wonderful 29.5 hours of good food, good laughter (I’ll share the how-to’s for our favorite game next week), and good conversation about what it means to paddle hard in life – in your relationships, your work, and your time with God. Plus, Khaki survived, which was a definite plus.

Feel free to borrow our motto for your next family gathering. You can even make everyone a handy scripture card, like I did, for when you pass out the agendas.

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Or not.

(I thought folks might want to memorize the verse, but from what I can tell, nobody got much farther than “Paddle hard.” But hey. A mom’s gotta try.)

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Spiritual Fruit

Galatians 5-22I saw these peaches at the Charlottesville City Market last Saturday.  As irresistible as they look, their gorgeous-ness pales in comparison to the fruit of the Spirit!  Use today’s prayer verse to ask God to grow a bumper crop of beautiful virtues like patience and joy in your life today, or pray it for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Fill ____ with your Holy Spirit.  Let ____’s life be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22)

Amen.

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Friday Prayer for a New Song

Psalm 40-2-3Tired of slogging through the muck of life, looking for a firm place to plant your feet?  Turn today’s verse into a prayer and soon you’ll be singing a brand new song:

Father God,

Lift me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire of life’s problems.  Put my feet on a rock; give me a firm place to stand.  Put a new song in my mouth – a hymn of praise to you! – so that all who see what you have done will put their trust in you.  (Psalm 40:2-3)

Amen.

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Sexual Assault: Don’t Become a Victim

This post is the third in a three-part series on sexual assault.  Monday’s blog featured a brief review of Wendy Blight’s book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner, and yesterday Wendy recapped her story for us (if you missed that post, click here to download a free chapter of the book).  I am grateful for Wendy’s perspective, and for her willingness to write these posts.  The strategies she offers for staying S.A.F.E. are worth sharing.  JB

 

How I wish someone had shared with me what I’m about to share with you. If they had, perhaps the events of June 7, 1987 would have ended very differently.

A few years ago, Oprah Radio invited me to Chicago to share my story and the facts, statistics, and practical lessons I learned from my experience. I’m sharing that same information with you today. I write this NOT to instill fear but to inform and educate. I invite you to read through to the end…inform and educate yourself… and share what you learn with your friends.

The Facts

  • Did you know that 1 out of 4 college women are sexually assaulted every year?
  • Did you know that 1 out of 6 women some time during their lifetime will be the victim of sexual assault?
  • Did you know that approximately 60% of sexual assaults go unreported every year? And 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

The Effects

Victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

(Statistics taken from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.)

Be S.A.F.E.Ways to Prevent Becoming a Victim:  Be S.A.F.E.

Sexual assault is a crime of 0pportunity!!! What do I mean by that? Rarely is a woman assaulted by a stalker. A perpetrator selects his victim because, by her unintentional actions, she has made herself an easy target. By following a few simple steps, you can avoid being an easy target. I learned some of these first-hand. THE KEY TO AVOID BEING A VICTIM IS AWARENESS; please share these “Be S.A.F.E.” strategies with all the women you know!

S – Avoid Compromising Situations

When you go out….

  • never leave your drink unattended (alcoholic and non-alcoholic)
  • never accept a drink from a stranger and accept drinks only when you see the bartender pour it and hand it directly to you
  • never leave the keys to your home with anyone (valet, service station, car wash)
  • never be alone with someone you do not know
  • always be sure a friend or family member knows who you are with and where you are going
  • be conscious of what you post on social media; never announce you will be alone…anytime or anywhere
  • use apps that will help contact people when you are in trouble and locate you (for example: Circle of 6 and bSafe)

A – Be Aware of Your Surroundings

  • know where you are at all times
  • know what is going on around you
  • know who is around you
  • never have conversations within range of a stranger that reveal you will be home alone, closing a business alone, traveling alone, etc.

F – Trust Your Feelings

  • if your intuition tells you something is not right, pay attention and respond (chills down your spine, hair stands on end, knot in your stomach)
  • flee if you feel uneasy or uncomfortable
  • call 911 if you sense danger
  • never ignore your feelings because they may save your life

E – Don’t Be An Easy Target

  • secure your home, apartment, and car by locking your doors and windows at ALL times – NO EXCEPTIONS
  • carry your cell phone at all times and be sure it is charged 
  • never walk alone at night ANYWHERE
  • never open your door to a stranger and ALWAYS ask for identification when expecting workmen
  • don’t leave a friend alone … ever
  • watch what you drink and don’t exceed your limit

Some of these sound simple and obvious. But I violated three of these prevention steps. I had a conversation outside at the pool which unintentionally announced to everyone around me that I would be home alone that afternoon. We left our front door unlocked, which allowed the rapist easy access. I had a “strange” sensation when I walked in the apartment and saw our front door locked because we usually left it unlocked for each other. But I didn’t trust that “feeling” and walked up the stairs right into the arms of an armed, masked man.

What to Do If It Happens to You

  • Immediately call 911 no matter what your attacker threatens.
  • Do not change your clothes.
  • Do not shower or bathe.
  • Do not brush your teeth.
  • Do not move or remove any item from the location of the attack.
  • Write down anything you can remember immediately (race, age, height, weight, hair color, hair length, eye color, distinguishing marks, facial hair, clothes, weapon, odors).
  • Go to the emergency room.

For help, contact 1-800-656-HOPE, the national hotline for RAINN. Anyone who believes they have been raped or abused in any way can call this number.

This is a message I’ve shared on many college campuses and in radio and television interviews. I invite you to share what you have learned today with those in your sphere of influence…women you care about…it could save a life!

 

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Renovation: When God Grabs the Hammer

photoRobbie and I have a shared love for fixer-uppers.  Everywhere we move (and we’ve moved a lot), we look for the ugliest or most neglected house we can find, and we make an offer.

One time, we bought a house and raked the leaves in the front yard – a move that soon had neighbors stopping by to admire “what we’d done to the place.”  (Yes, it was that bad.)  Another time, we added some crown molding to the living room and a wrought iron railing to the front balcony, prompting the former owner’s wife to berate her husband:  “See honey?  That’s what wanted to do when we lived here!  I kept telling you…”

Poor guy.

And, in the house we currently call home, the hardwood floors rose and fell in so many directions that, if you’d dropped a marble, it wouldn’t have known which way to roll.  When the contractor removed the eight shims that he found in the basement (and I use that term very loosely…it was more of a hole dug during Prohibition by an enterprising bootlegger), the floors suddenly dropped into place.  Less charm, more structural integrity.  It was a trade-off that made Robbie happy.

Suffice it to say, we love making old things pretty again.  And right now, as I type, there is a handyman working away on our breezeway, which, thanks to one too many nor’easters in these parts, had begun to rot.  At first, I was kind of annoyed by all of the banging (children, dogs, workmen…there’s always something that gets in the way of the Pulitzer), but then I remembered one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes.  It’s from Mere Christianity:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Wow.  That’s a nifty perspective-changer, isn’t it?

Today, if you find yourself with some rotting woodwork or wavy floors in the space that you call your life, or even if there’s something pretty yucky that’s lurking in your crawlspace, don’t worry if the Carpenter comes in and starts making some noise.  Renovation can be messy, and even painful sometimes.  But hey – you’re becoming a palace!

And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s exciting.  (I could definitely use a new tower or two.)

 

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You are Loved

Like many of you, I have been following the University of Virginia rape story, a sensational, horrific, and (as it turns out) inaccurate account published last month by Rolling Stone magazine.  As a U.Va. alum with three Wahoo daughters (two have graduated; Virginia is in her third year there now), the school is dear to my heart, and the students dearer still.

Even with the magazine’s reporting now discredited, almost everyone agrees that there are problems that still need fixing:  Students drink too much, the “hookup culture” contributes to confusing relationships, and sexual misconduct – while arguably not the norm at U.Va. – certainly takes place, and no matter how you parse the statistics (and there have been dozens of studies trotted out), one rape is one rape too many.

If you’ve read even a handful of my blogs, you know that I don’t use this space for social or political commentary and – despite having a host of strong and not necessarily well-informed opinions – I don’t plan to start spouting off now.  I wouldn’t even mention the story except for this photo, which Virginia texted to me early yesterday morning:

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YOU ARE LOVED.

That’s the message on Beta Bridge, the oft-painted University landmark that doubles as a billboard for parties, charity events and – too often, at least this year – a community’s grief.

How fitting that these words – YOU ARE LOVED – would show up during Advent, a season when the space between heaven and earth seems to shrink, a time when we mortals may stop, even just for a moment, to consider how God sees the world.  How he sees us.  And how he longs to breathe new life into our lives, to fill our hearts with hope, and to show us how incredibly much we are loved.

You are loved.  Amid a cacophony of finger pointing – It’s the fraternites’ fault!  It’s the administration’s fault!  It’s the parents!  The government!  The police! – this is a message that cuts through the noise.  It’s a message that offers hope.  It’s a message U.Va. needs to hear.

It’s a message we all – with our anger, our pride, our confusion, and our pain – need to hear.

Hear it now:  You are loved.

 

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Grateful for You!

THANK YOU for signing up to receive my blogs via email!  I am grateful for you.

Here’s hoping that you get some really good help in the kitchen this year!

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Happy Thanksgiving!  And remember…

The righteous eat to their hearts’ content! (Proverbs 13:25)

 

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