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A light to scatter the darkness

I think I’m addicted to light.

I was, actually, diagnosed with that SAD disease in my early twenties (a verdict that came as good news when the doc said a trip to Florida was the best cure for what ailed me), but it’s not just sunlight that makes my heart sing. I’m drawn to all kinds of light: candle light, firelight, even the refrigerator light that glows such warm welcome in the wee hours of the night.

I love light, and when this year’s Grand Illumination–the one-street wonder that kicks off Christmas in our neck of the woods–got cancelled due to Covid, it came as a blow. Not a surprise, given the stadium-sized crowd the event draws every year, but still. An emotional setback.

Christmas lights have a way of keeping the gloom of winter at bay. They fill hearts with hope. And in a year that seems bleaker than most, I find myself drawn, like the proverbial moth, not just to lighted windows and trees, but also to Scriptures that come with the power to push back the darkness.

candle-light-in-the-darkness

Verses like Isaiah 9:2, which heralds the coming of Christ: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Or John 8:12, where Jesus reveals himself as the light of the world and makes an incredible promise: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Or John 1:4-5. Here, John says that Jesus gave light and life to everyone, piercing the darkness with a flame that nothing could ever snuff out or smother.

The-light-shines-in-the-darkness-verse

Isn’t that…remarkable? Here we are in the waning days of 2020, surrounded by a world of darkness–families unable to gather, loved ones sick, churches closed–and yet God says we have light. We have the light of life. We are encircled by, and enfolded in, Jesus–a living beacon the darkness can never extinguish.

I don’t know about you, but to me that comes as very good news.

Still, though, there are days–seasons, even–when the clouds try to press in. Days when we know the light’s there, but we cannot perceive it. Days when the gloom settles heavy.

If that’s where you find yourself now–if you need to Christ’s light to kindle hope in your heart this Advent season–can I invite you to lean in with me? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but here are three things that might help.

First, allow Scripture to scatter your darkness. The Bible says that God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. But don’t just read the words on the page; speak them back to God in prayer form. Here’s how John 8:12 might be prayed:

Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world. Teach me to follow you so that I will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.

Second, shed some light on your soul with a life-giving book. I’m loving Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest GiftIt’s meant to be an Advent devotional, tracing the promise of Christ through the Old Testament one December day at a time, but I feel like it would work as a post-Christmas reading. I expect to be digging in all over again, come the dark days of January.

Ann Voskamp book "The Greatest Gift"

And finally, hang some lights.

When Robbie heard the Grand Illumination was cancelled, he missed barely a beat. He spent a couple of days climbing ladders, straddling balconies, and burrowing into the bushes, and then, as darkness fell, he ushered us all out into the yard. Threading his way from outlet to outlet, cord to cord, plug to plug, he lit up our night.

It might not have been the Grand Illumination, but it was our illumination. And it was marvelous.

And honestly? When January rolls around, I think we’ll keep the Christmas lights up. The days will still be short, Covid will still be long, and I’ll probably want to crawl into a hole and wait for the first crocus to spout. I will need–I will cherish–the visible reminder of who Jesus is.

He is the light, and the love, that no darkness can douse.

❤️

P.S. People, as it turns out, are not the only creatures who love light.

I know this because Quarantine Kitty–the one Virginia scooped from the SPCA nine months ago when she fled New York City as the pandemic started to spread–does not go outside. And when the rest of us went out to ooh and ahh over Robbie’s handiwork, the cat did her own light inspection.

Evidently, they taste as good as they look.

Window light with candle intact

Where the candle tip should have been

Quarantine Kitty with Christmas decor

 

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A Thanksgiving Present for You!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

I know I’m not a Monday email-er, but I’m sliding into your inbox today to kick off Thanksgiving week and let you know how much I appreciate YOU.

When we launched the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, my publishing team tucked a set of Scripture prayer cards in with some of the very first copies of the book.

prayer cards

We had no idea how popular those cards would be, but once I realized how much people liked them, I asked the design folks if they could re-create the cards in a printable form so I could share them with our growing online friend group. I’m so incredibly grateful for your encouragement and support!

Click here to download the prayer cards on your laptop or home computer (the file is too big to work on a mobile device).

The set includes thirteen different 5″ x 7″ cards featuring topics like protection, diligence, kindness, salvation, and gratitude. I think they’d be fun tucked into napkins or hidden under plates at the Thanksgiving table–maybe as a “prayer prompt” folks can use to pray for the person seated to their right, if your crew is comfy with that.

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

Or, if you’re one of those squared-away people who is already done wrapping-and-tagging, the prayer cards make meaningful stocking stuffers (especially if you pray them over your children while Santa tucks the cards in with the gifts)!

Prayer Cards as Stocking Stuffer

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a friend or a teacher, package all thirteen cards together with a little easel. I found this one on Amazon as part of a set of six; click here if that appeals.

Prayer Cards with gold easel

Or…just print the collection for yourself. 😊

And as you do, know that I have prayed each one of these prayers over you. I may not know all your names or your needs, but God does. I love knowing that you are on “the other side” of these emails, and that we can meet, as a friend of mine says, “on the bridge of prayer.”

I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)

Much love,

Jodie

P.S. The prayer cards are meant as a thank you gift for email subscribers, but if you want to forward this note, that’s fine with me. Of course, I always love “meeting” new friends, so if you know someone who might like to receive these posts and prayer prompts (the emails show up once or twice a month on random Fridays), please invite them to subscribe. Thank you for sharing!

 

 

 

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I Will Sit With You in the Dark

“When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.”

That’s the message on a little rock I saw awhile back at a farmers’ market. One of our daughters was facing some seemingly insurmountable hurdles in her job, and I knew she was discouraged. I’d offered what little wisdom I had, but it hadn’t changed things. Maybe, I thought, she just needed to know that she wasn’t alone.

I bought the rock. And gave it to her.

Sit with you in the dark rock

And then I thought about Joseph, the technicolor-coat guy.

You know the story: Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, rose to power in the house where he served, got tossed into jail on a trumped-up attempted rape charge, languished in prison for years, and then–finally–found himself at Egypt’s helm, running a famine-relief program that saved not just that nation, but her neighbors as well.

A lot of folks (myself included) like this story because of its happy and redemptive ending. “You intended to harm me,” Joseph tells his brothers when they’re finally reunited, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

It’s a great punchline to a roller-coaster of a story, and it’s true: God does work, in all things, for the good of those who love him.

But what about Joseph’s long years in the dark? What about the time he spent out of the spotlight, wondering (I imagine) why God was letting him languish? Did God still love him? Had he been forgotten? Was God even paying attention?

What you need to know in the dark

These are legitimate questions, ones we may wrestle with when we find ourselves in a pit. Being in a difficult or pain-filled season rarely makes sense. And trying to figure God out never helps; “My thoughts,” he says, “are not your thoughts.”

(As if we need reminding of that.)

What does help, I’ve found, is knowing that God is in the pit with you.

The Bible tells us that God was with Joseph, both in the fancy house where he served and in the dark jail. And it says that he is with us today–and that he’ll be with us always, to the very end of the age.

Scripture has plenty of “God with you” verses–check out Isaiah 41:10, Zephaniah 3:17, and Hebrews 13:5 for a quick sample set–but one of my favorites (at least when we find ourselves in the dark) is Psalm 139:

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
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.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Application?

First, no matter how high we go, how low we sink, or how far we fly, God is there.

Second, he promises to guide us and hold us fast.

And third, the darkness–even the blackest, most desolate night–is not dark to God.

You are not alone

Not long ago, our little farmer’s market purchase made its way to the home of another family member. It wasn’t the first time the “sit with you in the dark” message got re-gifted; that rock has made the rounds with our crew. As one of my daughters once put it, “It’s not something you ever want to get, but when you do, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.”

You are not alone.

Whoever painted our little rock had no idea how powerful his or her message would turn out to be. Because while it’s good to have a friend or a family member who will sit with you in the dark (someone, as the old story goes, with “skin on”), what’s even better is knowing that God is there, too. Our rock points us toward the Rock, the One who is our refuge, our deliverer, and our salvation.

I don’t know what darkness you might be facing right now, but remember: God is with you. He hears your cry. And he will deliver you.

The Bible is brimming with prayers prayed in the pit, and also with songs of deliverance. As you think about your own life, are there places where you have sensed God’s nearness in the dark? How have you experienced his help, his comfort, or his power? Where do you need his presence today?

Reflect on God’s faithfulness, telling him your needs and thanking him for what he has already done. Use any of the verses highlighted in this post if you want a prompt to help shape your prayer, or borrow David’s words from Psalm 40:1-3:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Amen

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Praying for Your Children to be Healthy and Safe

(Note: This post, Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe, ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com, a community of women who are committed to building strong marriages, healthy families, and vibrant relationships with the Lord. You’ll find lots of helpful resources there, from tips on parenting teens to weeknight recipes to a free guide to finding PEACE in your home. Um…yes please!)

I want God to keep my kids safe (2)

Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe

When the Coronavirus first began spreading, our daughter Virginia—who lives in New York City—decided that she should evacuate and come social distance with us. That sounded like a good plan to me; Virginia is a lot of fun, and she’s always full of ideas.

One of her ideas, as she left New York, was to swing by the SPCA and pick up a kitten.

Virginia keeping her kitten safe

Five months later, we were still working from home—my husband and I, two of our four adult children, our one-year-old puppy, and the cat. Everyone seemed happy. One morning, though, Virginia woke up and noticed that Quarantine Kitty had a cut or a burn of some sort on her neck. She was still purring so we didn’t think it was fatal, but Virginia wasn’t taking any chances. She bundled the cat into the car and was at the vet’s office by the time it opened.

The cat, as it turned out, was fine. But Virginia was not. She was rattled.

“I love this kitty so much,” she said, “I can’t stand to think of her getting hurt—”

She stopped, mid-sentence, and looked at me. “Mom,” she said, “I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a child who gets sick or hurt…how panicked you must feel. I bet it’s even worse than when it’s your cat.”

Um, yes. It is worse.

And whether it’s the baby’s 2 a.m. fever, the child’s bloody knees on the playground, or the teenager’s late-night phone call, we all know what it’s like to feel that lump of fear in our throat, to want our kids to be safe, to protect them however we can.

So what do we do?

We pray. We do what 1 Peter 5:7  invites us to do:  We cast all our anxiety on God, because he cares for us.

“I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Twenty years ago, when I began working on a book about how we can pray for our children, I surveyed more than one hundred parents about what they wanted God to do for their families.  One of the most oft-repeated answers was, “I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Boy, did I understand that. We had four kids in six years, and it seemed that somebody was always getting sick or—in Virginia’s case, anyway—running into a doorknob or (not making this up) eating part of a glass thermometer. I knew she was tough, but I wondered how long her luck would hold out. What would become of Virginia during her teenage years?

I remember crying out to the Lord, asking him to protect her. “What happened to the hedge of protection and the guardian angels I asked you to provide for our children?” I cried. “Aren’t you paying attention?”

Almost immediately I sensed God’s answer. “I am protecting Virginia,” he spoke to my heart. “In fact, I’ve had to put some of my best angels on the job, just to keep her alive!”

It sounds funny now, but God’s promise of angelic protection—an invitation he extends to all of us in Psalm 91—was made real over and over again in Virginia’s life, as she grew. And now, as we release the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I can attest to his faithfulness.

My kids—like all kids, I guess—had their share of lumps, bumps, and bruises. And I know that the Psalm 91 promise is not some sort of magical “guarantee” that our children won’t have to suffer. But I am convinced that God hears and answers our prayers, and that his John 15:7 promise (“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”) is true.

Scripture Prayers You Can Pray

Our children are grown, but I am still asking God to protect them and keep them safe. How am I praying? Here are two of my favorite scripture-based prayers; feel free to personalize these for the people you love:

I pray that all may go well with _____ and that they may be in good health, as it goes well with their soul. (3 John 2) 

Let ______ take refuge in you and be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over ______ that they may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)

You’ll find dozens more prayer prompts like these—prayers for our kids’ physical safety, as well as their spiritual and emotional health—in the new book.

God never meant for us to have to keep our children safe on our own. He meant for us to pray, slipping our hand into his as we trust him to accomplish his plans and his purposes in our kids’ lives. And as you pray, know that I am praying for you: “May God cause you to flourish, both you and your children.” (Psalm 115:14)

❤️

You’ll find prayers for your children’s safety, relationships, faith, character, their future, and more in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary EditionThe hardcover volume comes with a satin ribbon and a presentation page (making it perfect for gift-giving), but it’s available in paperback, too. Click here to order.

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Teach Children to Pray (with these free printables!)

How can I teach my children to pray? Where do I start?

I hear questions like these all the time. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed–at least not outside of church,” was how one young mom put it. “Prayer feels awkward and unfamiliar sometimes. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

That’s actually a really good question–and one that led to a new bonus section in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition. The updated book includes pages designed especially to help you teach your children to pray, talking to God not just for them, but with them:

Teach Children to Pray Section in book

Say, for instance, that your child feels anxious or scared. Maybe it’s a conflict with a friend, a fear of the dark, or the fact that the dog really did eat the homework. There’s a discussion starter at the top of the page (“Everyone gets worried or scared sometimes…”), followed by a collection of easy-to-read verses (“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”), and then a prayer prompt that reinforces the link between our needs and God’s provision.

Teach Children to Pray about Feeling Anxious

Every family is different, and what appealed to my kids might not sound at all fun to yours. But as we teach our children to pray–and to depend on the power of God’s Word–it can help to give them “the Why.”

Give Your Children “the Why”

I don’t know how it is in your house, but when Hillary was about five years old, it seemed like every other word that came out of her mouth was why. Sometimes the question reflected genuine interest (“Why is the sky blue?”); sometimes it felt more defiant, like when we asked her to pick up her toys (“Why?”); and sometimes I had no idea what she was even asking about. Once, in an effort to get her to stop peppering me with so many questions, I threatened to punish her if she asked “Why” one more time.

(You can guess what she said.)

Hillary may have been an extreme case on the inquisitive scale (and she grew up to become an aerospace engineer, so maybe she is?), but I think that all kids are naturally curious. And rather that just slapping a Scripture on the kitchen table as a prayer prompt, it helps if we offer some context.

God’s Word makes things happen

Our kids need to know that God’s Word makes things happen. He spoke the whole world into being, starting with light. All the verses we read in Scripture come straight from God to help us know right from wrong and equip us for every good work. And when the words in the Bible go out into the world, they always accomplish what God desires!

As you teach your children to pray, share these things as the backdrop for why there is power in God’s Word. And then introduce them to John 15:7, where Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Tell them what you already know: that the more we spend time in the Bible, allowing what we find there to shape our perspective as well as our prayers, the more the things we want God to do will line up with what he already has planned!

Think this is all a bit much for your kids? I hear you. I was you. Longtime blog readers may remember that, for years, our “morning devotions” consisted of somebody yelling “Bus!” and everyone scrambling for their shoes as I stood in the doorway stuffing permission slips into backpacks and saying things like, “Walk with the King today–and be a blessing!”

(Not making that up. But hey, the Bible says we shouldn’t despise small beginnings; everyone has to start somewhere!)

Coloring Pages, Bedside Prayer Cards, and More

I know that teaching children to pray can be hard. But even the littlest ones have concerns of their own–their friendships, their future, their faith–and the sooner they learn to anchor their prayers in God’s promises, the better equipped they will be to trust him as they grow. Which is why, when we were putting the Anniversary Edition together, my publishing team and I came up with a few kid-friendly resources–colorful printables that reflect the pages and the scripture-prayers in the book.

These little lunchbox cards are perfect for popping into a book bag or taping on the bathroom mirror:

Lunchbox cards to teach children to pray

These 5″ x 7″ bedside prayer cards are the same prayers kids will find in the book:

Bedside Prayer Cards to Teach Children to Pray

And these coloring pages (drawn by my incredibly talented ARTIST-MOM, Claire Gilman!!) make hiding God’s Word in your heart extra fun:

Teach Children to Pray coloring pages

Teach Children to Pray Girl Coloring

Girls coloring - teach children to pray

Want to order the book? Click here – it ships on Tuesday!

Want to view the collection of printable resources? Here you go.

Just want a prayer for your own anxious heart as you head into the weekend? Let’s go ahead and borrow this one from the kids:

Heavenly Father,

I am anxious and afraid about _____. Help me put my trust in you and pray instead of worrying. Thank you for your promise to be with me wherever I go. Help me to be strong and courageous and to rely on the Holy Spirit to give me power, love, and self-discipline. (Psalm 56:3; Philippians 4:6; Joshua 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:7)

Amen

Book by Jodie Berndt with foreword by Audrey Roloff

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