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The Prayer Circle Letter (the answer for social distancing?)

Note: This post showed up last month over at Club31Women, a place where you can find encouragement and inspiration on everything from family life, to dealing with anxiety in uncertain times, to knowing what to fix for dinner tonight (I’d pick these fudgy cappuccino crinkles). When I wrote these words two months ago, I didn’t know how much I’d be craving connection today–or how grateful I’d be for the prayer partners who continue to remind me that, whether we’re six feet or six states away from each other, we are never alone…

The Prayer Circle Letter

Daniel did it. Moses did it. Even Jesus did it. All of these Bible people – and plenty more – asked their friends to join the prayer circle.

And I was reminded of the power of multiplied prayer earlier this year when I got together with my best college pals.

Prayer Circle Reunion

I shared that pic on my Instagram feed, along with one taken a few (okay, more than a few) years earlier:

What makes this group precious to me, apart from the fact that we share memories now like we shared clothes back then (which, given that we mostly wore leg warmers and shoulder pads, was maybe not as appealing as it sounds), is the way that these girls talk to God. We’re spread up and down the east coast, but all it takes is a phone call or a text message to prompt us to pray. And, more often than not, the request is for one of our kids.

It sounds simple now, but it wasn’t always that way.

Life Before Facebook

None of us had gotten very far along in our parenthood journey before we realized that we were in way over our heads. Don’t get me wrong; motherhood was (and is) an incredible blessing. But you know how all the young moms share their birth stories on social media now? I’ll just go ahead and tell you that, the day after Hillary entered the world, I was pulling the nurse cord to ask the epidural man to come back and give me the full-body treatment this time. (And did they have an extra to-go needle that I could maybe take home?)

I knew I’d need help. And so did my friends, when they left the hospital with their own bundles-of-joy. We wanted each other’s support but, spread out as we were (one of us lived in Japan!), we couldn’t just pop by with a casserole, a burp cloth, and some wine. The best we could do was to pray.

And in what I still consider one of her most inspired decisions, Annesley (top middle, in the old college pic) came up with a way to keep us connected. We didn’t have access to email chains, Facebook groups, or text threads (nobody had invented the internet yet), so Annesley started a letter. We could, she said, write our prayer requests on actual paper and pass the letter around. We’d pray for each other’s needs, record God’s answers, add new requests, and then pop the whole thing into a new envelope and send it on. A prayer circle, facilitated by postage stamps!

I have no idea how many times that thing made the loop, or where it is now. But when the girls and I got together two months ago, we didn’t need a written letter to let us know that God had been at work in our families’ lives. Our children’s needs have changed over the years, but God hasn’t. And what a joy it was to remind one another that our kids’ stories are still being written!

Invite God into the Prayer Circle

The Power of Multiplied Prayer

Praying with other people is nothing new; again, Daniel recruited his buddies; Moses had Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms; and Esther called all the Jews in her city to fast and pray. God loves it when his children get together – and he loves to listen to us, even if we’re not actively trying to get his attention! Consider Malachi 3:16:  “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.”

(Kind of wild, right?)

And lest there be any doubt about the power that is unleashed when believers connect with one another in prayer, Jesus put it very plainly for his disciples:

“I tell you,” he says in Matthew 18:19-20, “if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

When two or three of us get together, Jesus is there. And that, says bestselling author Ray Stedman in his book, Talking with My Father, “is the charter principle underlying all prayer meetings.”

If you don’t already have a friend or two who will join you as you pray for your child (or even for strangers, during this crazy COVID time), ask God to give you a prayer partner. Be alert to the names he might put on your heart, and don’t be afraid to take the initiative and invite people to pray with you. You don’t have to be formal or fancy – and you certainly don’t need to start by writing a letter that you can all pass around.

Just come together. And know that Jesus will be with you in your prayer circle.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your promise to be with us when we gather in your name. Today, as we meet virtually instead of in person, let us consider how we can encourage each other. And, as we have opportunity, show us how to do good to all people. (Hebrews 10:25,  Galatians 6:10)

Please encourage _______ today.

Amen

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A Healthcare Worker’s Take on COVID-19

I know it’s not polite to read other people’s mail. But when I got this letter from Emily, a precious young healthcare worker, I asked if I could share it with you. Emily is a family nurse practitioner who’s served in some of the world’s neediest places, most recently in Bangladesh with Rohingya refugees. Today she’s working in a COVID-19 isolation unit at one of our nation’s largest public hospitals.

I hope you’ll find Emily’s words as encouraging as I did, and that you’ll join me in praying for her – and for her co-workers and their patients – in the days ahead.

Healthcare worker Emily

Dear Friend,

What a week. It’s been nearly impossible to keep from being overwhelmed by the onslaught of statistics, restrictions, and realities of the coronavirus over the last several days. However, I spent some time with the Lord today and was so encouraged by what He said that I thought I’d share it with you, in hopes that you too will feel empowered and purposeful in this wild season. 🙂

God can take what is evil and use it for good

When asking the Lord this morning about the current coronavirus situation, He first reminded me of Who He Is. Though many things are uncertain, He is certain. Though so much is unknown, He is known. Though this virus is strong, He is stronger. Though the information and situation are changing rapidly, He never changes. Though the spreading of coronavirus seems out of control, He never loses control. Though we are separated from our friends and loved ones, His love can never be separated from us. Though the enemy intends this virus for evil, the King of Kings can turn it for our good and for His glory.

Our Father reminded me of His heart to heal, and that He loves to give good gifts to His children. He reminded me that He is always moving, always working, always speaking, always looking for people who are vessels willing to receive what heaven wants to bring to earth. He reminded me that we have not because we ask not, and that He loves to be generous and lavish blessings upon us.

He reminded me that my circumstances are not a reflection of His faithfulness, nor a measure of His goodness. He reminded me that He hates to see His creation suffer, and that He longs to bring restoration and redemption to His children.

But what can we do?

Being reminded of these things, an urgent question arose inside of me, one that I think many of us have been asking in this time of quarantine and separation:

“What can we do? What should we do, Lord?” I asked Him.

I have always felt the need to DO. I am a doer at heart, and if you’re anything like me, the idea of being unproductive is terrifying. Thus, the recent “in-home sheltering” and restrictions on work AND on gathering with people have rendered me feeling somewhat worthless over the last week. This forced separation and new space has felt disempowering instead of energizing, and I have felt restless inside, wondering what I can possibly do to help.

So I asked Him again, “What can I do, Papa? What is on your heart for me to do?”

In the stillness, the Spirit replied, “Rest, My child. Rest in Me.”

I was struck by this instruction. “Really????? When the whole world seems to be coming undone, You just want me to REST?? That’s all?? There’s got to be something more helpful for me to do!!!!”

The Spirit then explained, “How can you receive the healing and hope and restoration that I have for My people when you are frenzied and focused on what you can do? This is not about you.  Instead, focus on what I can do, and on receiving what I have to give. I have sooo much to give. I am looking for those who are willing to stop, to sit in My presence, and to receive. Not those who are desperate to do on their own. My child, in your desperation to feel productive, you let frenzy and fear overtake your heart and mind, and you miss this opportunity to be with Me. The secret to this season is to enter the rest I have for you, not to try and do.   

Then Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” -Isaiah 30:15

God wants to do more than “flatten the curve”

What a perspective shift. The desire of the Lord for me today is to return to Him and rest in His Presence. In the quietness of my room, He wants to renew my trust, which will strengthen me for the days ahead. He is mighty to save, eager to love, and always intervening… it is up to me to posture myself at the foot of His throne and rest in order to receive what He has. And we can know with confidence that what He has to give is better than anything the world has to offer in this time. He has things to give us that will do so much more than just “flatten the curve” or “stop the spread”….He has gifts to give that include everlasting hope, miraculous healing, and unending love. He wants to save our world not just from the coronavirus, but from an eternity without Him. And we, as His people, get to be a part of this restoration and redemption…if we are willing to rest. 

In a place of rest, we will find ourselves in His Presence, connected to His heart. In being connected to His heart, we will actually be able to hear the voice of Our Good Shepherd… and then we can receive His wisdom and His power as He faithfully leads us through the treacherous paths ahead.

In a place of rest, we also are at the end of ourselves; we are surrendered at His feet, letting go of all we think and all we want to do because we realize that His ways are higher and better than ours. When we choose to rest, we will finally be available to do the work that He has for us, which will undoubtedly be more impactful and helpful than anything we can do on our own.

Just Say Yes

So, dear friends, the invitation from the Holy Spirit stands waiting for you and me both: will we rest? Are we willing to let go of our fears and uncertainty and instead grab onto the hands of Perfect Peace Himself? Are we willing to push through the temptations to make to-do lists and curate feelings of usefulness, and instead sit patiently in the stillness and quietness? Are we willing to humble ourselves at the foot of the throne, to worship Him as we wait, thanking Him now for the miracles we have yet to see?

If our answer is yes, then I believe we will see more healing and more courage and more strength in the body of Christ than ever before. If we say yes, we have the privilege of not only finding rest for our souls, but being a part of bringing that rest to those around us. If we say yes to rest, we can be more in love with our King and more empowered to receive the kingdom.

I pray that together we can say, “Yes, Lord. Yes to Your rest. Yes to Your Promises. Yes to Your Love. Yes—may Your kingdom come, may Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” May we say “yes” to what the Lord has for us in this moment, for we were made for such a time as this.

❤️

Will you join me today in a prayer for Emily, and for all the healthcare workers who find themselves on the front lines?

Heavenly Father,

Spread your protection over our doctors, nurses, and everyone in the healthcare field. Surround them with your favor as with a shield. Protect them from worry and fear; may your peace stand guard over their hearts and their minds. Take what was intended for harm and use it for good, to accomplish what is now being done:  The saving of many lives. (Psalm 5:11-12; Philippians 4:6-7; Genesis 50:20)

And may all who are weary and burdened come to you, learn from you, and find rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Amen

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Be Still and Pray

Note:  I shared this “Be Still” how-to on Facebook and Instagram earlier this week. Based on the feedback I got, I figured I’d post it again here, along with some of the other favorite scripture-prayers people shared. I’ll be back next week with a more regular post, but in the meantime, I can’t think of a better way to keep COVID-19 fear and worry at bay than to take hold of a Bible promise and let it sink into your soul…

Be Still

An anchor that holds

Reading the scriptures is not the same thing as praying the scriptures. And today, as we find ourselves tugging at anchors to see which ones will hold, let’s give the latter option a try.

Read Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Now let’s pray it:

Heavenly Father,

Help me be still. Let me get off the treadmill of worry, busy-ness, confusion, and fear. Quiet my heart. Help me be still.

I want to KNOW that you are God. I don’t want to just hope that; I want to be certain. Show me, God. Let me know…

…that you are GOD. You are in control. You are the Lord of lords. King of kings. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. You are God.

See how that works? With just a few breaths, we can move from panic to peace, from striving to stillness, from fearful to free.

Try this at home

If you like this idea, here are a few more scripture-prayer anchors, shared by our Facebook and Instagram friends. Just click on the verse, read it, and then turn it into a prayer:

Psalm 91:4

Psalm 5:11-12

Zephaniah 3:17

2 Timothy 1:7

Colossians 1:9-14 (a longer prayer, but one that is jam-packed with good stuff for yourself and for the people you love–things like wisdom, strength, patience, joy…and the promise that we have already been rescued!)

❤️

I’m sending love your way today, along with gratitude that in a world marked by social distancing, we can still meet on the bridge of prayer. See you next week!

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Coronavirus Concerns: How to Cope

Thanks to the Coronavirus, I am learning new things.

Like, I didn’t know what “social distancing” was, or that it could be a healthy thing. Now I do. And I have a whole new respect for folks like my husband, who has never once struggled with FOMO and will be fine if we get quarantined.

Or WFH. (Who knew that what I’ve been doing as a writer for the past 25 years had its own acronym?)

Or even the fact that people, when panicked, will hoard toilet paper. I read where one newspaper actually printed eight extra  pages in a recent edition–“emergency rations” was how they put it. Can you imagine?

Actually, I can.

Because the newspaper people are not the first ones to make this particular link. Years ago, my mom asked me to donate a carton of books for a mission trip she was going on. When I learned that the supply coordinator had asked her to bring toilet paper, I balked. “Mom,” I said, “Don’t you think the missionary people will wonder why, when they asked you for toilet paper, you brought books instead? What will they think when they go to the supply cabinet and open the box?”

“They will think that it’s brilliant!” my mother exclaimed. “Because with toilet paper, all you have is toilet paper. But with your books, you can read them, and then, if you still need supplies…”

Anyhow.

I hadn’t planned to post a blog this week, but I figured that if we’re all WFH and feeling socially distanced, maybe a few words of comfort would help.

I’ve written about things like worry and fear in the past. If you’ve got time for a longer post, click here to read about how–whether we’re up against a bear market, a bear of a disease, or an actual bear–God doesn’t want his kids to be scared. For now, though, I’ll share just two quick recommendations.

Replace the bad with the good.

First, have a plan. Anyone who’s ever tried to accomplish a goal–Lose weight. Save money. Stop cussing–understands the importance of action steps. It’s not enough to just state the objective; you have to replace the bad habit with something better. Something good.

Which may be why, when Paul said, Don’t worry about anything, he followed that command up with this charge:  Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Don't worry (about the Coronavirus)

That verse–Philippians 4:6–was apparently the “verse of the year” for 2019. I don’t know who decides stuff like that, but if we needed to swap our worries for prayer last year, how much more do we need to make the trade now?

So here’s Part One of the plan:  When you feel the fingers of worry starting to crawl up your back, don’t panic. Use them as a trigger–or a prompt, if that’s a happier word–to remind you to pray.

Look up.

Part Two of the plan is to quit looking around and look up.

Longtime blog readers will know that Sara Hagerty is, in my view, one of the most gifted writers of our time. I savored her last book, Unseen, and now she’s got another masterpiece hitting the shelves–one that can help move us from panic to peace.

Adore Book Cover

I pre-ordered Adore the moment I caught a glimpse of the cover. And now that I know a little more about what’s inside (click here for a quick peek at the trailer), I CANNOT wait for this book to arrive.

Because here’s the thing.

Sara knows what it feels like to worry. To live in the world of what if. To wonder if you’ll ever measure up…or if your child is okay…or even why you didn’t get invited to that party.

Or if your loved ones will be safe in the weeks ahead.

More than that, though, Sara knows that God wants to meet us right there in those thoughts–in the “middle minutes” of our lives. And to get us to look up. At him.

Adore releases on March 31st.

Which, if you think like my mom does, might turn out to be perfect timing if you run out of supplies…

And in the meantime, here’s one of my favorite anti-virus prayers you can pray for yourself, for the people you love, and for strangers on the other side of the world:

Heavenly Father,

Spread your protection over ______. Surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

Amen

❤️

P.S. If you want more scripture-based prayers to keep Coronavirus fear and worry at bay, hop on over to Instagram and check out the latest post by @abigailCBN. And as always, if you order a book that I recommend in this space, Amazon sends me a teensy commission…which means I can keep buying new books and letting you know which ones are the best!

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How has your mother shaped your life?

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you’ve met my mother. You’ve read about the gorilla who came to her wedding (a story that comes with a side dose of hope for those who’ve lost spouses they love); you know she goes boogie-boarding in the snow (because age is a number, not a lifestyle); and you’ll remember how she helped save the day when the bus we’d hired to transport Annesley’s wedding party left the bride and groom at the church.

IMG_8916

And in a brand new book called Faithful Daughter:  True, Inspiring Stories Celebrating a Mother’s Legacy and Love, I’m telling the story of how Mom taught me to get back at people who hurt me.

Mother-Daughter Book

Faithful Daughter is the brainchild of noted writer and editor Ami McConnell. Ami asked 35 of her friends (award-wining novelists, best-selling authors, and gals who just love a good story) to write about how their mothers’ lives had shaped theirs. The compilation of essays–some marked by joy, others by searing pain–is as varied as the women themselves. But there is one common theme:  Namely, that there is no such thing as a perfect mother. And no perfect daughters, either. We’re all just women, daughters of God.

Who loves us just as we are.

If you want a chance to win a free copy of Faithful Daughter, pop on over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@jodieberndtwrites) and leave a comment about your own mom. I’d love to hear how her life, or her faith, left its mark on yours. And in the meantime, here’s my story…

An Inheritance of Blessing

I could hear him back there, bouncing his basketball. We were on our way home from elementary school, together and yet not. Thomas, the coolest boy in the whole third grade, walked twenty feet behind me. I didn’t look back.

Suddenly, the bouncing stopped. A split-second later, I felt the breath leave my body. Thomas had thrown his ball and—since he was also the most athletic boy in third grade—it had hit me, square in the back.

I took off running.

Three blocks later, I burst through my front door. “Mom!” I cried through my tears, “Thomas Mayfield [not his real name] just hit me in the back. With his basketball!”

My mother has never been known for her nurturing personality. She could tell I wasn’t seriously hurt and so, rather than letting me wallow, she pointed me toward the door.

“Jodie,” she said, “Thomas will be walking past our house in about one minute, and when he goes by I want you to say, ‘Have a nice day, Thomas.’

“And then I want you to curtsy.”

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that my mom sounds a little bit crazy. And she is, in a mostly good kind of way.

Like, when my sixty-one-year-old dad was battling brain cancer and lacked the strength to get from the car to their condo, and my mom told him to sit on the sidewalk. “Stay right there,” she said (as if my father had another option), and then she disappeared into the building. Five minutes later she returned, carrying the cushions from their lanai, a bottle of Pepsi, and a bag of Doritos.

Which is how my parents wound up spending an entire afternoon sunning themselves in a parking lot until my dad found the strength to begin again. Crazy right? Yeah. Crazy good.

Repaying Insults with Kindness

But back to Thomas.

Per Mom’s instructions, I went out to the street and saw him coming my way. Thomas didn’t acknowledge me but, as he drew abreast of our house, I spoke up:  “Have a nice day, Thomas.” And I curtsied.

(Having seen The Sound of Music at least three times before I turned eight, I knew how.)

If Thomas was surprised, he didn’t show it. If anything, he looked a bit worried. He probably figured my mother had called his—and that he’d have to face the music when he got home. That’s what most moms would have done, back in the day:  called and tattled. But not mine.

Claire Rundle may have been short on maternal sympathy, but she was long on the Bible. She knew what it said. And whenever anyone tried to hurt her or one of her kids, she always found a way to pay them back.

With a blessing.

“Do not repay evil with evil,” the Bible says, “or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

That’s 1 Peter 3:9. And it worked. Thomas never bothered me after that day; in fact, we became friends. And my mom’s crazy counsel—to repay insults with blessings—has stood me in good stead, over the years. Because what I’ve found is that the more I try to extend kindness to people who hurt or offend me, the better life gets. It’s like grace finds a way to get rid of the sting.

“That’s the ugliest thing I have ever seen.”

I have four children. They’re all grown up now, but I tried to raise them in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:9. I’m sure there were times when they thought I was as crazy as I thought my mom was. I’m sure there were days when they thought I was worse. One year, for instance, they gave me a homemade Mother’s Day card where they’d picked a word to go with each letter in the word MOTHER. Next to the e they wrote EMBARRASSING.

Honestly, though? I didn’t care if they thought I was nuts. I just didn’t want them to miss out on a blessing. And so I encouraged them to invite the mean girl to their party. To bake cookies for our grumpy neighbor when he complained about the noise they made. To pray God’s richest favor over the middle school bully.

I did not, however, ever ask them to curtsy. So there’s that.

But here’s the thing:  Repaying meanness with kindness almost never makes sense, nor is it usually easy. Yet it opens the door to a life full of freedom and blessing—one that refuses to take up an offense—and for that wisdom nugget, I will be forever grateful to my mother.

She and my dad enjoyed their last parking lot picnic back in 2001, the year that my father went to be with the Lord. Mom got remarried several years later—her name is Claire Gilman now—and I love my stepdad. John is just as generous and crazy as she is.

They downsized recently, moving from a big house to a small condo, taking only their most beloved possessions. As John pushed his favorite stone bench into place outside their new front door, a neighbor approached.

“That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” the neighbor said, inclining his head toward the bench. “Where do you plan to put it?”

John straightened up. “Well I guess I will put it wherever you like,” he said with a smile. And then he invited the man and his wife over for dinner.

Which is not, to be perfectly frank, what I would have done. But it’s the sort of thing I want to do when someone gets under my skin. And so, even as I ask God to help my children “repay evil with blessing,” I pray that 1 Peter 3:9 prayer for myself:

Lord, make me willing to return kindness for cruelty. Let me meet meanness with love.

Lord, make me more like my mom.

Mother-Daughter Book Quote

 

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