O Holy Night: The story behind the song

Years ago, back when I thought Spotify was a stain remover, Annesley’s not-yet mother-in-law—a gal who loves music more than almost anybody we know—gave us what might be the best Christmas gift ever:  A CD on which she had burned O Holy Night.

Twenty-seven times.

O Holy Night CD

We heard Carrie Underwood. Pentatonix. Bing Crosby. And 24 more incredible voices—each one seemingly better than the artists before and after. That one disc is the reason we still have a CD player; we play the thing on repeat every year. Every line—from the thrill of hope for the weary soul to the promise of an end to oppression—feels weightier and more glorious with each new Christmas season.

And you can imagine, when we got our hands on a copy of Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas a few weeks ago, which song we read about first…

Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas

The “O Holy Night” story begins in France in 1847, when a wine merchant—a fellow known more for his poetry than his church-going—was asked by a parish priest to write a poem for Christmas mass.

Intuiting that the poem should be religious, wine guy turned to the gospel of Luke. He tried to picture himself in the narrative; what would it have been like to be present at Jesus’ birth? Inspired, he quickly finished the piece and then, “moved by his own work” (I loved that line from the book), he decided his words were not simply words; they were lyrics.

Not being musically gifted himself, wine guy tapped his pal Adolph, a brilliant and already famous composer. Music guy went to work and the result—a song called Cantique de Noel—became a smash hit in France…

…until wine guy threw his lot in with the Socialists (which did not sit well with the Catholics) and it was revealed that music guy was a Jew. Sensing a sticky situation, the church banned the song. Cantique de Noel was effectively cancelled.

Except that the French people loved it. And kept singing it. So much so that, a decade later, a reclusive American writer—a Harvard Divinity grad who would have been a minister but for the debilitating panic attacks that kept him out of the pulpit—discovered the song and translated it for an American audience. O Holy Night took off on our side of the pond and, in 1906, it became the first song ever broadcast on radio.

You can read the whole tale in the book; author Ace Collins provides lots more details—like places and dates and actual names—in a chapter that’s nine pages long. I just had to share a quick recap.

Because only God could take these particular people—a poet who knew wine but not the true Vine, a composer who didn’t call Jesus “Messiah,” and a minister so crippled by anxiety that he could not go out in public—and use them to create such a powerful, enduring song.

And only God can take us—with our doubts and our fears and our messy, upside-down lives—and call us Beloved.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name!

O Holy Night lyrics

Merry Christmas, Friends. May all that is within us praise His holy name!

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How to Keep Christ in Christmas (even if Jesus goes missing)

I was addressing Christmas cards – I’d gotten all the way to the “H’s” – when I heard a jingle-jangle in the next room. It wasn’t quite sleigh bells; it sounded more like…ornaments.

Before I could get up to investigate, Minnie poked her head around the corner. #Busted.

Minnie busted

Minnie's mouth

Minnie and Ornament

I didn’t blame her, though. The fact that the puppy had such easy access to the Christmas decorations was mostly my fault. In my haste to get the house prepped for the season (I had cards to mail! Presents to buy! Cookies to bake!), I’d played “beat the buzzer” one afternoon. I’d grabbed the boxes out of the attic, set a timer, and decked the halls quick as a wink.

(It wasn’t quite like my friend Jeannie, who got shatterproof ornaments this year so that her husband and sons could just throw them at the treecheck out the video on Instagram @JeannieCunnion – but it was close. Safe to say that none of our stockings were hung by the chimney with what Santa would think of as “care.”)

And honestly? My B+ attempt at decorating (okay, C+) didn’t bother me much, not even after Minnie rearranged things a bit. What got me was when I walked past our Nativity set and noticed that something didn’t look right…

Nativity with emoji

Jesus was missing.

Jesus was missing.

Now, I know some people don’t put their baby Jesus into their manger scene until Christmas morning, but not us. We let him lie there, under Mary’s watchful gaze, all season long. I like looking at him, too.

I couldn’t point the finger at Minnie this time. Not because Jesus didn’t look chewable, but because our set is up high, out of her reach. Where could Jesus have gone? I mean, I always take such good care of him, nestling him in the box right next to Mary when I put them back in the attic each year.

The box…

I scrambled back up to the attic and shoved my hand into the carton. Sure enough, amid wads of old newspaper and tissue, I felt something small and hard. It was Jesus, wrapped up in his manger.

I wouldn’t have thought it was literally possible to take Christ out of Christmas, but I’d pretty much done it. Racing around like a deranged elf on a holiday bender, I’d spent myself on all the wrong things. I’d been prepping my home, not my heart. And I was #busted.

Let every heart prepare him room

I needed to change. But I didn’t know how. So here’s what I did.

I asked God for help.

“I want to see Advent like the angels,” I said. “I don’t want it to be all about cookies and gifts (although I do like those things). I want my heart to be ready for Jesus. Please help.”

I waited awhile, and an impression – one that felt like the Holy Spirit’s imprint – began to form in my mind.

Give your agenda to me. That was the first thing. Instead of just making my to-do list and then knocking things out, I sensed God prompting me to pray over each day, inviting his presence into the things that I thought had to “get done” (and being willing to release them when he showed me that they didn’t).

Thank me each night. That sounded like a good idea too. Instead of collapsing into bed after a long day of wrapping and tagging, I resolved to replay the hours in my mind, reviewing conversations I’d had, emails I’d sent, the errands I’d run. I realized that if I paused long enough, I would see God’s hand in the mix. I could thank him for the guidance he’d given along the way – as well as for his forgiveness, when I failed to heed it.

Pray for your Christmas card friends.  Ahhh. God was reminding me of a long-held tradition in our family, one where we’d open cards together each night and pray for the families who’d sent them. That pattern started when our kids were young and we moved every few years and we wanted them to remember the friends we’d made along the way. Praying through the cards seemed like the best kind of connection. As empty nesters, Robbie and I had gotten away from this practice; God was nudging me to renew it.

Those three thoughts didn’t sound all that life-changing, but I’m trying them out. And they’re helping.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

What about you? Are there Christmas traditions or habits that help keep you focused on the Reason for the Season (which, by the way, is my favorite ornament, and one that I put waaaay out of Minne’s reach)?

I’d love to hear your ideas, and I bet others would too. If you’ve got a minute and can pop over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment on this post, I’d be grateful.

And in the meantime, here’s a prayer that could well have inspired that “prepare him room” line in the Joy to the World song. This one was originally written by the Apostle Paul, and I think it’s a great verse to carry us through the next two weeks – and  beyond!

Heavenly Father,

I pray that out of your glorious, unlimited resources you will empower us with inner strength through your Spirit, so that Christ will make his home in our hearts as we trust in him. (Ephesians 3:16-17, NLT)

Amen.

 

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Have Yourself an Amazon Christmas? Not so fast…

Does anybody else have a husband whose phone lets him know when a credit card charge goes through?

Blame it on Amazon Prime. That “Buy now with 1-click” thing makes it a little too easy. And when I overheard Robbie on the telephone with the nice Amex lady, explaining why he thought our card had been hacked, I knew I had to ‘fess up. It’s like I used to tell my teenagers, back in the day. Numbers 32:23. You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Honestly, though, it didn’t feel like a sin. Not at the time, anyway. It actually felt like a good idea to add this to my cart:

(It’s a Santa suit.)

(For your toilet.)

Before you judge me, be advised that this was not an impulse purchase. Granted, I was not looking for this particular product when it popped up on my screen (because I guess, based on my shopping history, Amazon thought the ensemble was something I’d like?), but I did not “Buy Now” right away. I did some research (and as it turns out, there are actually quite a few companies that make Santa suits for your bathroom), and I read the reviews.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Who would review that?” I thought that too. I mean, I can’t get my own family members to leave a comment on Amazon about one of my books, but there are apparently hundreds of strangers who are willing–eager, even–to talk pros and cons when it comes to toilet seat covers featuring three-dimensional cheeks.

To my credit, I will admit that I was tempted to go with the $4.99 suit, but I stopped myself. I chose the $18.99 version instead because I am nothing if not an eager learner, and my very wise smart-shopper husband always says, “You get what you pay for.”

Anyhow.

All of this is to say that this is the last you will hear from me about shopping. I am super grateful to those of you who submitted ideas (especially the gal whose husband went out on Black Friday and came home with SEVENTEEN HAMS, because I guess 16 was just not ham enough?), but clearly, it is time to move on. Let’s talk about something else Christmas.

Let’s talk about best-loved traditions.

My favorite tradition, hands down, is Christmas cards.

I love Christmas cards so much, in fact, that I cannot throw them away. I didn’t really see this as an official Hoarding Situation until I went in the attic to get the ornaments and had to shove my way through boxes of greetings from Christmases past. All stacked and sorted in zip-lock baggies, with the years clearly labeled, as if one of my as-yet-unborn grandchildren will one day ask me what the Hamilton family looked like, circa 2001.

As if.

Why do I hold onto these cards? The most obvious reason, I guess, is relationship. I love the friends we’ve made over the miles and the years. And even if we only see some of these people on their most perfect-looking day, once a year, I’m still grateful to know that they’re out there.

And I love the words, too. I mean, when else can we openly encourage one another to Celebrate Jesus-Fest (which, if you Google it, is pretty much what “Merry Christmas” literally means) without the checkout lady giving us the side-eye?

But there’s more to my strange obsession. I hang onto the cards because, to me, they represent stories that are still being written, lives that are still being shaped.

Once upon a time, when our children were young, we used to post the cards on a bulletin board in the kitchen and leave them for months, praying for a different sender each day. Now that we’re empty nesters, Robbie and I do this mostly alone. We sit by the fire, open the cards, and pray for a new batch of loved ones each night. And when I put stuff away in the attic, and see the little boy who now flies Navy helicopters or the girl who’s all grown up with kids of her own, I can’t help it. I’m thankful. It’s good to remember that God’s still at work.

Does that sound kind of corny? Maybe it is. But in a rush-rush season (one where I am pretty sure that Amazon sees me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake), carving out even the tiniest bit of time for things that matter–things like connection with God, and with one another–has become a beloved tradition, and one I look forward to every year.

If you like the idea of praying over your cards–or if you just want a few blessings that you can tuck into stockings, or maybe even use to tag gifts–here are a few of my favorite “one-size-fits-everyone” prayers:

Want to download and print ’em? Click here.

And while you’re at it, maybe pray for me, too. Better yet, pray for my family. Because I still have not settled on this year’s “perfect gift.”

Which means that so far…

 

 

 

 

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Scrabble, Black Friday, and Buddy the Elf

I come from a long line of Scrabble players.

My mother, an English professor who has her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology (which is really a thing), is a family champion, as was her father (also a Ph.D. prof) before her. Even my own dad—who was more into numbers than words—got pressed into action at the family game table. And when brain cancer meant that he could no longer sit up comfortably, he still played—albeit while lying flat on the floor and using words that didn’t always have vowels.

(We decided they must be Russian vocab, and that Dad could therefore keep all his points.)

And so I read with great interest the recent Wall Street Journal article claiming that men are better than women at Scrabble. My first thought was that they had not met my mom. But then I dug deeper. “Championship Scrabble,” the columnist noted, “rewards typical male obsessions:  strategy, math, a passion for competition, and a drive to memorize facts.”

Ahh.

I don’t know about the male drive to memorize (Robbie is working on Philippians 4:4-6 right now for my mom’s Christmas gift, and I don’t think it’s going so well), but my man is definitely all about strategy, math, and competitive play. And nowhere, perhaps, are these traits more evident than during the holiday season, when his Buddy the Elf side comes out and he hangs Christmas lights like he owns the power company.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the Scrabble research.

When I got to the last line in the column, which stipulated that men and women are, in fact, different, I was like: “Um, hello? Any wife with a husband knows that.”

Consider our house, on Black Friday.

Robbie and I were all set to take advantage of the holiday deals. First, though, I had to put away all the platters and silver from our Thanksgiving meal. Which is when I noticed the pile of 14 damask napkins that had to go in the wash. (They’d need ironing, too, but I’d get to that later.) I hit “start” on the washing machine and pulled the brunch fixings out of the fridge so I’d be ready when the children showed up. And remembered I’d promised to make shortbread for a neighbor’s party, later that night. So I preheated the oven–and realized that the amaryllis bulbs (the ones I had timed to start blooming near Christmas) had been neglected during all the Thanksgiving prep. I gave them some water, pulled out the butter and the cookie cutters, and started in on the shortbread.

I got the dough in the oven, moved the napkins to the dryer, and opened my laptop. Oh my. There were dozens of Black Friday emails–plus a few from actual people I knew. I handled the real people first, and then started scrolling the sales. I saw where Target had everything discounted by 15%. Ballard Designs offered 30. And J. Crew was telling me that their entire site was half off. Even Home Depot had Cyber Savings Galore – did I need anything there?

Probably. Let me think…

Meanwhile, Robbie (who’d been reading the paper) stood up. “Lowes has $12.99 light sets marked down to $3.99,” he said. “I’m headed out. Need anything?”

I didn’t. At least nothing I could think of, in between the napkins, the shortbread, and the wondering if anyone on my list needed a new J. Crew scarf, or maybe a ceiling fan from Home Depot.

Twenty-eight minutes later (and I am not making that up), Robbie was back, having purchased 28 boxes of lights. Me? Let’s just say I did buy a gadget my son-in-law wanted, but I am pretty sure that I paid the full price.

So what’s my point?

My point is that we don’t need a Scrabble championship to tell us we’re wired differently. I’m not trying to be all gender-y and political; I’m just saying I’m grateful. I mean, had I gotten in the car on Black Friday and gone out to Lowe’s, I might still be in the plumbing parts aisle. But not Robbie. My man has the eye of the tiger.

So again, what’s my point?

I guess what I want to say–and how I want to encourage us–is that this holiday season (and I am speaking mostly to the ladies here but guys, this applies to you, too), when our spouse (or our child) makes us a little bit cray-cray or we don’t understand what they’re doing (like when my friend’s husband spent Thanksgiving Day napping, all  dressed for dinner and sleeping fully upright on the sofa so as not to wrinkle his khakis, and then happily told her, later that night, that this was “the least stressful Thanksgiving ever!”), let’s not get our undies all up in a wad. Instead, let’s find a difference that makes us grateful, and celebrate that.

I’ll go first, since the Scrabble thing is fresh in my mind.

I really am thankful that Buddy’s strategic. He tried out a new light method this year, and actually sent in-process pics to the family for feedback:

I also love how much my guy gets jacked up about math. Sure, Robbie’s been known to balk at a $5 cover charge, but it’s only cuz he’s saving up for the light show. He calculates lights-per-bush numbers and divides them by strands, factoring in the difference when you use the 100-count vs the 50. (SAT prep, eat your heart out.)

And competitive? Let’s just say that while I don’t think Robbie is trying to outshine our neighbors (we couldn’t), I did see his chin quiver just the tiniest bit when we turned on the TV Wednesday night. That’s when they lit up the Rock Center tree…

It was spectacular. And on Thursday, Buddy might have even gone back to Lowe’s…

❤️🎄

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the glorious variety that marks your creation! May we celebrate and rejoice in those differences!

Help us be devoted to one another, honoring one another above ourselves. And may we always give thanks for each other, growing in faith and increasing in love for our family and friends. (Romans 12:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Amen

 

 

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Yield Fruit and Prosper

If you’ve been around this blog for more than a year, you’ve likely seen pix of our Dock Tree. Which is, on January 19, still out on the dock.

Boats and Christmas both mean a lot to my man, and I guess, somewhere along the way, Robbie figured it made sense to combine these two loves. All he needed, he said, was six new boxes of lights. And maybe eight more extension cords.

To me, the Dock Tree seemed silly, at first. But now that we are in the Empty Nest years, it fills our lives with meaning. And purpose. We look at the Dock Tree first thing, with our coffee. We look at it late at night, before bed. We take pictures–scads of pictures–eager to capture its beauty in different lighting and weather conditions.

And, as with children, we learned that Dock Trees can be tricky. They do not, for example, fare too well in high winds.

This year, Robbie tried a new plan. He mounted the tree on a thick piece of plywood, one that has languished in our garage for the past 15 years (waiting, some might say, for such a time as this). Surely, the heavy foundation would hold.

It did not.

As I stood in the kitchen, cradling my coffee mug and looking out at the fallen tree from the warmth of my window, I thought about Psalm 1. “Blessed,” it says, “is the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” When we love the Bible–when we read it and cherish it and let its truth soak into our lives–we will be “like a tree planted by streams of water.” We will “yield fruit in season.” And whatever we do “will prosper.”

Those are some good promises, and ones I’d like to see fulfilled in my life. And–taking a cue from the Dock Tree–I have to think that a key term is “planted.” Because if all we do is screw ourselves into some plywood, without having any roots to grow down deep, it doesn’t matter how close to the water we get. God’s word will not nourish us. We won’t bear any fruit. And rather than prospering when the storms of life hit, we’ll be apt to fall over.

There’s a note scrawled in the margin of my Bible beside Psalm 1. Apparently, I prayed it over our family, back in 2014. Feels like 2018 might be a good time to pray it again:

Heavenly Father,

May we take delight in your word, meditating on it day and night as we go through our lives.

Plant us by streams of water, with roots that go deep. Let us yield fruit in season (and be patient in the winters of our lives, when the buds cannot yet be seen).

Bless us and prosper us, in all that we do. (Psalm 1:3)

In Jesus name,

Amen.

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Launch Week Fun!

Ok Y’all. It’s Launch Week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenWhich means all kinds of fun. Like, look how happy my kids are.

First of all, thank you! Thank you for letting me test drive so many thoughts and prayers in this space. It’s been a delight to partner with you as we bring our loved ones–our kids, our spouses, our friends–before the Lord every week, and then wait and watch as his faithfulness unfolds in our lives.

And thank you for jamming up Amazon. I mean it. The book earned Amazon’s #1 Bestseller flag on Launch Day–thanks to you!–and the Mother of All Retailers ran out of stock. They say they have more, but I’m picturing (and praying for) their 120,000 new seasonal employees as they drive forklifts around big warehouses, looking for boxes marked “Berndt.”

In the meantime, I have my own stash of books and I’m itching to share! Post a comment on this blog–it can be a prayer request, a favorite Scripture promise, or just a Merry Christmas wish–and I’ll pick three winners at random, who will each get a copy of the new book. Whoop.

And there’s more.

My good friend Susan Alexander Yates (you’ve met her in this space) graciously offered to let me guest blog for her this week. I talked about praying for your child’s marriage and created a Marriage Blessing from the collection of Scripture prayers you’ll find in the new book. If you want your own copy of this prayer, you can download it here.

(And P.S., the prayer card is two-sided, with the prayer on the front and the Scripture references on the back. If you want to frame it as a Christmas present for your spouse, your married children, or a even a new bride, Amazon offers a great selection of clear stand-alone frames; one of my favorite styles is here.)

(But don’t ALL of you order today. I don’t want to make those forklift people any more crazy than they already are.)

And finally… Maybe you saw this pic on Fox News.

Annesley says I blog about her too much (and lately, she’s right), but when I got the chance to write a post for the media moguls so that they could give folks some Good News this Christmas, I couldn’t help myself. Y’all know I’ve made some pretty jolly mistakes (the sweater, the posture brace), but money-wise, this one was the worst. If you missed it on the Fox News site, here’s the story.

And again, you all. Thank you. Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement, and your prayers. May the Lord continue to encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)

You are loved.

 

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Can I Rest on You?

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

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

Oh my.

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

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

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

I left with two little red Santas.

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

I had to move faster in life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hear you.

I am you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Wahoowa, y’all.

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A Reason to Rejoice!

String the lights, sing the songs, wrap the gifts…we have a REASON to rejoice!

One of my kids made this ornament nearly 20 years ago, and it’s always been my favorite:

fullsizerender

Today, as we prepare our hearts and our homes to welcome the Savior, let’s borrow a few words from Mary’s song and make them our prayer: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)

Heavenly Father,

May we glorify you as our Lord and rejoice in you as our Savior this Christmas!

Amen

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Warmest Wishes for a Merry Christmas!

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

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

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

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

jodie-card-wwarmest-wishes

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

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

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

I love it.

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

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

Isn’t that just the best?

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

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

Merry Christmas!

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The Light of Life

So Buddy the Elf has been at it again.

He got inspired when we went to Dallas (where they are, evidently, as serious about their Christmas lights as they are about their hair). No sooner had we gotten home than Buddy was off to the hardware store, where he picked up a couple million more strands.

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I love that guy.

Buddy also came home with a few boxes of something called the “Net of Life.” I think that name is a little bit misleading, like maybe it should be a sermon or something. Plus, there a lady on the package who, presumably, hung a bunch of lights on her snowy roof. We know she didn’t. She isn’t even wearing a coat.

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But whatever. The Nets (which I bet the Dallas people do not use) did the job on our bushes, and then Buddy got out the ladder and started climbing the trees. If he wanted help, he didn’t say so. I imagine that he (like most husbands) is pretty much happy to be out of the house – out of earshot – this time of the year.

My man worked for most of the day, adding strand upon strand.

Upon strand.

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Yeah.

Anyhow, when when darkness finally came, Buddy was ready. And when he plugged ’em all in, I loved it. Because I’m no fan of winter. Or cold. Or darkness. Or anything, actually, that feels like Not Summer. But Christmas lights have a way of making the brrrr go away, and of filling our hearts with hope.

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This is, of course, the same transformation that Jesus makes in our lives us all year long. “I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Isn’t that an amazing promise? We are surrounded by a world full of darkness…but we don’t have to walk in it. Or fear it. Even back when Isaiah was alive, he knew the difference that Jesus would make and he called it: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

The light has dawned. The light has dawned!

Come January, when it’s time to take down the sparkle, we can hang our hope on that. Because we may pack up the Net of Life…but the Light of Life will still shine.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

Bhahahaha! Hours after this blog originally posted, you began alerting me to the fact that I’d read the box wrong. Even my mother weighed in, bursting through the door of our home and saying, “Jodie! It is not life. It is lite!” Ahhhh! That makes so much more sense! I couldn’t figure out why someone would market a Christmas decoration as the “Net of Life.” Obviously, my eyes are old.

In my defense, though, I don’t think people should be spelling LIGHT like LITE. “Lite” is for diets. Which Christmas is not. Christmas is all about the FULLNESS of joy. And my prayer, for you and for me, is that we will experience Jesus as the light of life…the bread of of life..and yes, even as the Net of Life – one that is big enough to cover us all!

Merry Christmas! xo

 

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Friday Prayer for a Crown of Beauty

may-they-be-brought-into-complete-unity-toI love the book of Isaiah. Especially now, at Christmastime, when so many of the prophet’s words point to the hope that Jesus brings. He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. He’s the one who binds up the brokenhearted and sets the prisoner free. He is the one whose coming is the glad tidings – the good news – our hearts are yearning to hear.

And he’s the God who changes things.

If you long to experience this hope, or if you know somebody who does, here’s a prayer from one of my favorite chapters in Isaiah:

Heavenly Father,

Bestow on _____ a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen.

 

 

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The Nativity: Then and Now

I love nativity scenes. I have a set made of olive wood, which I purchased nearly 30 years ago in Israel:

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A set my grandmother brought home from a trip to Mexico:

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A simple scene from my aunt, who was a missionary in Madagascar:

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And a big, beautiful one that, for all I know, was made in China:

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I do not, however, own the Modern Nativity:

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You can’t really tell from this photo, but Joseph is rocking a man bun. Mary’s drinking what looks like Starbucks (while showcasing her cheekbones for the selfie). And the baby Jesus is swaddled in what has to be some sort of handmade, organic-yarn blanket and beanie. The set also features three hipster wise men (who come bearing gifts a la Amazon Prime), a couple of well-fed animals (the cow’s trough is marked “gluten free”), and a teenaged shepherd boy who’s posting the whole thing on Instagram (#babyjesus #nofilter).

Theologically speaking, I’m not really sure what the designers had in mind when they came up with this scene. But honestly? I kind of like it. It makes me feel like the whole scene is kind of…relevant. Like Jesus really is what Hebrews 13:8 says he is: the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is as present in the lives of selfie-taking, latte-drinking, man bun-wearing people as he was in the lives of the folks who gathered around him 2,000 years ago. And I don’t blame Millennial Joseph and Mary for wanting a pic with the Lord. Had I been in their TOMS, I would have taken one, too.

I’ve always thought it would have been pretty cool to be alive when Jesus was walking and talking and telling people where the good fishing was. Sometimes, I’ve even been jealous of those first disciples and all the others who literally saw him do miracles, and who could ask him hard questions, face to face. From an evangelistic standpoint, it feels like it must have been a whole lot easier to bring people to a living, breathing Jesus and say, “Look. That’s him. He fed all those people.” than it is to convince them to entrust their lives to someone they can’t even see.

But here’s the thing. Mary and Joseph and all of those early Christians got to see and experience all sorts of neat stuff. But when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, he told his followers that it was “for your good that I am going away.” Why? Because that meant that the Holy Spirit would come. As a man, Jesus knew that he could only be in one place at a time; as a Spirit, he is able to be with all of us, everywhere, all the time.

So yeah, I would liked to have been at the manger. I would like to have heard the angels sing, and seen the look on the wise men’s faces when they finally got to the stall. I would like to have pulled Mary aside and asked her all sorts of questions. I would like to have thanked Joseph for believing the angel (and for staying).

I would like to have held the baby. I would like to have watched him grow up.

But when I think about the Holy Spirit – his omnipresence, and all of the wisdom, comfort, conviction, guidance, and strength he provides – I am pretty darn glad to have that. To have him. And this Christmas, as I read verses like Luke 11:13 (which says that if we know how to give good gifts to our kids, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to us), all I can do is ask God for more of the Spirit’s work in my life, and thank him for the indescribable gift of his presence.

So again, yeah. I would like to have known Jesus on earth. Mary, too. But you know what? I figure I’ll meet her one day, and (like all mothers, I guess) she’ll probably still be happy to talk about what her boy was like, as a child.

I look forward to hearing her stories.

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(And BTW, if you decide that the Modern Nativity is something you can’t celebrate Christmas without, you can order one here for less than what Mary probably paid for those black skinny jeans.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Peace in Every Circumstance

may-the-lord-of-peace-himself-continually-grant-you-peace-in-every-circumstanceChristmas is upon us…which means we are stacking our desire for “peace on earth” against the chaos of too-busy schedules, relationship challenges, and a barrage of advertisements and emails that seem anything but peaceful (23 shopping days left!!).

If you find yourself taking deep breaths and longing for the peace that Jesus brings, you’re not alone. In fact, Paul closed one of his letters with that very prayer, one where he asked God for continual peace in every circumstance.

Continual peace? In every circumstance? Yes. Yes, please!

If that’s what you want (for yourself, or for someone you love), join me in this Friday Prayer:

May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant _____ peace in every circumstance. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NKJV)

Amen.

 

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Immanuel: He is Our Peace

So on Monday morning, after all of the Thanksgiving guests had left, I crept downstairs, eager to enjoy a cup of coffee in the predawn silence. We’d already decorated the Christmas tree (gotta do it when the kids are home)…

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…and as heart-warming as it is to watch six people climb on your bookshelves and elbow each other out of the way while carols from Pandora’s “Country Christmas” drown out the announcer on the U.Va. basketball game, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I looked forward to turning on the tree lights, grabbing my Bible, and spending a few moments with God.

And then I heard…snoring.

It was loud. And it was coming from the family room. Had a late-night intruder gotten into our Baileys? Would I find a strange man on the sofa? Should I go back upstairs and wake Robbie?

I tiptoed through the kitchen and quickly turned on the lights:

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Khaki.

The dog is not supposed to get on the sofa. I didn’t fully trust her arthritic legs or her tumor-filled belly to keep her down, so I’d put out a spread of books and magazines as a deterrent. To which Khaki said, “Nice try.”

I was not happy.

I didn’t like how the dog had treated my copy of Southern Lady, nor did I appreciate having to get out the lint brush. Again. Even more than these offenses, though, was the fact that Khaki had rearranged all my pillows. One of them wound up on the floor:

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I stood there, listening to the dog drone and looking at my fallen PEACE, and I thought: This is it. This is what my life has become. I get the peace all set in my life, tucked in among the beautiful velvet and linen, and then something comes along to knock it off.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re staring down the weeks between now and Christmas, wishing you could experience the whole “peace on earth, good will toward men” thing, but there’s a little niggle of anxiety, or maybe even fear, that is holding you back. Maybe it’s a decision you have to make, or a deadline you are facing. Maybe it’s a sickness, or a loss, or the sense that you don’t have what it takes to do whatever it is that you feel like you are supposed to do. Or maybe it’s something totally unfounded, but still sort of paralyzing, like the time I went shopping with my mother-in-law and we got half way to the mall when she was suddenly struck by a frightening thought:  What if the stores are closed on Monday?

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I let worry – both about real concerns and and imagined ones – consume my attention. But that is the exact opposite of how God wants us to live. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And when we do that – when we refuse to entertain anxiety and instead bring our requests straight to God – he offers this promise:  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Sounds like a plan.

But, like so many good things in life, choosing to take our worries to God and trade them in for his peace is easy to say and hard to do. It takes practice. It might even take retraining our brains, so that our default position is not so much dwelling on doubt as it is on tacking our trust to God’s promises. It’s do-able, but we might need help.

Which is where Immanuel comes in. Of all the names God goes by, I think Immanuel might be my favorite. It’s not one we think about for most of the year, but when you start opening Christmas cards and listening to carols, it pops up. And, to me, Matthew 1:23 is one of the best lines in the whole Christmas story:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). 

If you’re feeling like your peace is on the floor this Christmas, and you aren’t really sure how to pick it up and get it settled into your life, invite Immanuel to come in and help. He is the order in our chaos, the stability in our insecurity, the anchor in our storm. He is “God with us.”
And, in that very name, he is our peace.
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My Dog Rocks

I’m not the world’s biggest dog person, but I do like them, particularly when they are as easy-going and cheerful as Khaki and Max.

You’ve met these two before. They cheer for the Hoos:

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They are good with kids:

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And they still say “Merry Christmas” to everybody:

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They are nice dogs. Plus, they are incredibly low maintenance. One time, for example, we went away for the weekend and left Max and Khaki in the care of a neighbor. When we got back on Sunday and I went over to pay the kid, he panicked.

“Mrs. Berndt! I can’t take your money!”

“Sure you can,” I said. “The Bible says a worker deserves his wages.” (I didn’t really say that, but it’s in there – Luke 10:7 – and it would have been impressive if I’d remembered it then.)

“But,” the boy protested. “I really can’t. I never went to your house! I forgot!”

Well now, that was interesting. We’d gotten home and found the dogs happy as ever. They were hungry, sure, but that was nothing new. And they hadn’t made any kind of mess in the house. They seemed good. Chalk one up in the plus column.

I tell you this back story so that you will understand when I say our dogs really don’t require much in the way of attention. And so that you will forgive me when I tell you that, when Max refused to eat his kibble last week, I was not all that concerned.

The next day, though, he started hunching when he walked.

“Maybe it’s his dreadlocks,” I suggested. Being a golden retriever in a house where grooming is not all that de rigeur, Max has been known to grow a few long ones, and I thought maybe they’d somehow gotten mixed up together and hog-tied him.

Robbie concurred, and gave Max a dread-cut. But that didn’t help.

“Maybe it’s one of his tumors,” I suggested. (He has a few of them on his belly, one that looks and feels like he maybe swallowed a jellyfish.)

“No,” Robbie said. “The vet says those things are harmless. But he’s clearly hurting. You need to take him in.”

Ugh. The last time I took Khaki to the vet, she refused to get on the scale (a reluctance with which I sympathize) and, in the ensuing struggle, I wound up on the floor, treating (subjecting?) all the other waiting pet owners to an eye-full of my underwear. And I am not making that up. I didn’t want to go there again. But it had to be done, and so off we went.

Max was content to be prodded and poked, but when the vet tried to roll him over, he whimpered.

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“Hmm,” the vet said. “I think we need to do an X-ray.”

That sounded pricey, but what was I to do? To refuse, while my dog lay there whimpering, would appear more than just inattentive.

They took Max away. Ten minutes later, the vet came back. “Does Max eat anything unusual?” she asked.

(If you have dogs, you know that’s not a question you want to answer. It feels – particularly after an X-ray – more like an accusation than a legitimate query. I could think of any number of things Max might have ingested, but I stayed silent. Clearly, the vet had some knowledge she wasn’t sharing.)

We stared at each other, and finally she blinked.

“Like rocks?” she suggested. “Does he eat rocks?”

Ahhh. Rocks.

I knew Max was guilty. It’s not something I am particularly proud of (nor have I ever actually witnessed the deed) but, having found evidence in the artifacts, this was something I could not deny. But I didn’t want them to think less of my dog, so I decided to get on Max’s team and own it.

“Yes,” I answered, confident that I was doing right by my dog. “Sometimes he does eat the driveway.”

Maybe that was first for the vet, because she didn’t say anything. Instead, she inclined her head toward the door, the one leading into the back room (the one where they take animals when they have to do things they don’t want pet owners to see). “Follow me.”

I did. And there, on the X-ray machine, I saw this:

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Those little white things? Gravel. And even an English major like me could see that Max’s belly was full of them.

“Can I take a picture of that?” I asked. “I mean, so I can show my husband, so that he will understand about the bill?”

(I didn’t really need to show Robbie. He likes dogs, and I knew he wouldn’t complain about the charge. I wanted the picture so that I could show you. You don’t write a blog for two years and then pass up an opportunity like this one.)

The vet grabbed my phone and snapped the pic (I guess she didn’t want me to get too close to the machine) and then shooed me back out to the waiting room. Not knowing what else to do, I posted the photo onto our family text thread, and explained the situation.

Son-in-law Geoff was among the first to weigh in:

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Who else, indeed? I was definitely not feeling the love.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the vet came back to deliver the verdict. “We have two choices,” she intoned. “We can do surgery, or we can induce vomiting.”

Well then. I knew which one I would pick. Wouldn’t you? I gave the go-ahead. And then, as soon as she was out of the room, I updated the family to let them know the plan, and to ask them to pray for Max’s upcoming humiliation:

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The situation was going from bad to worse. Not unlike this blog.

(And I know what some of you are thinking. You signed up for these posts to get “prayer verses and encouragement” delivered directly to your in-box, and you are now lying in bed, reading your iPhone and wondering if you should switch to Tim Keller.)

But stay with me. Because I figured there had to be some spiritual application in this experience. And there is.

Max came out of there fine and, since we’ve upped his food rations, he’s never been better. But I wondered whether he was the first of God’s creatures to eat rocks. So I typed “gravel” into the search box on BibleGateway. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s precedent.

Proverbs 20:17 says that people who practice deceit will find themselves in Max’s condition:  Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.

And for anybody out there who is considering adultery, Proverbs 5:3-4 offers this warning: The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet, her soft words are oh so smooth. But it won’t be long before she’s gravel in your mouth, a pain in your gut, a wound in your heart.

If you’re a regular on this blog, you know I don’t normally come down hard on people. I want you to know you are loved. But if you are thinking of lying or stealing, or if you think you wanna cheat on your spouse, think again. A mouth full of gravel? A pain in your gut? You can’t make this stuff up. And if that doesn’t make you think twice about straying from the straight-and-narrow, I don’t know what will.

Maybe just take another look at that X-ray.

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The Christmas Sweater

Back when W. was in the White House, my friend Catharine, who worked there, invited me to be her guest at the Christmas party. I was thrilled! And I had the perfect outfit: A Christmas sweater adorned with snowflakes, red and white piping, and a faux fur collar that gave the whole thing, I thought, just the right touch of holiday elegance. I’d already had the sweater for one season, and every time I wore it small children would come up and ask if I knew Santa. Truly.

Were this story to happen today, I am sure that my daughters would launch an intervention, but they were too young at the time to know better. And so off I went to Washington, ready to meet the leader of the free world in all my fluffy glory.

I should have realized my faux pas as soon as I arrived. Every other party guest wore cocktail-attire black, or a subtle shade of cranberry. Needless to say, I turned more than a few heads, and when the president’s social secretary broke through the receiving line (“I heard about your outfit and I just had to see it!”) all I could think was, “These people are jealous! They all want my sweater!” Holding my head a little higher, I wasn’t even surprised when the time came to shake the First Lady’s hand and she leaned in to whisper, “Love the sweater.”

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Fast forward about seven years. My girls grew up, caught sight of this photo, and—as teenaged girls are wont to do—burst into gales laughter. I still had the sweater and, not knowing what else to do with it, Annesley and I decided to dress the dogs.

Khaki the lab (who clearly has a keener eye for fashion than I do) had the good sense to protest, but after a little bit of snarling and more than a few treats, she and Max were photo ready. The result was our 2009 Christmas card:

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Today, these two photos—“The White House” and “The Dogs”—sit side-by-side on the bookshelf in our family room. To most people, they are simply a curiosity. To me, they are living proof of why we need verses like Romans 12:3 (“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”) and of letting God weigh in on what not to wear.

Colossians 3:12 says, “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” If you’re like me, and getting dressed for holiday parties is harder, even, than getting your kids to show up (showered) for the Christmas photo, consider posting Colossians 3:12 in your closet.

Even the most awful Christmas sweater, paired with humility, can make a good impression.

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(Looking back, I have to believe that Laura really did like the sweater. As my mother-in-law says about almost every celebrity she has never met, “She seems like such a nice person.”)

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Friday Prayer for Spiritual Gifts

1 Peter 4-10‘Tis the season!

As you think about gift-giving this year, consider the spiritual gifts that God has given to you and your family. Have you or your spouse been blessed with leadership skills, a heart for service, or material wealth? Do your children seem particularly merciful, organized, or discerning? Do you know someone who is an excellent teacher, or who is especially good at explaining the gospel and pointing people toward Christ?

The Bible offers a whole catalog of these attributes, which are sometimes called “supernatural graces.” They’re the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit, and they’re all designed to bring glory to God and strengthen his people.

Check out Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12, or Ephesians 4:11-13 to learn more, and as you wrap presents for your family and friends this Christmas, ask God to help them use their Spirit-given gifts to share his goodness and grace with a world in need.

Heavenly Father,

May ____ use whatever gift he/she has received to serve others, as faithful stewards of your grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen.

 

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Let there be light!

Let there be light!“We need more lights.”

That’s pretty much how Robbie opens Christmas season at our house. Every year when he crawls into the attic and pulls out the boxes, he seems disappointed with our stash. Christmas lights, I guess, are like bathing suit bottoms; they spend the off-season lying in the dark, plotting all the ways that they will not work properly when you decide that you need them again.

And so, come December, Robbie heads out to the store (Christmas lights being one of three things he likes to buy; the other two being surfer gear and Fritos).  This year, he came back with 12 boxes, all white.

“It was buy one, get one free!” he crowed.

That would have been fine, except that after three hours of wrapping pretty much every bush and branch in our yard, he came back inside, looking for his car keys.

“Don’t tell me,” I said.

“Yep. We need more lights.”

And off he went.

I, meanwhile, stared at my un-decked halls and the naked tree that Robbie had erected in the family room. It had lights, sure, but no ornaments. They were still in the attic, nestled alongside my beloved collections of santas and nativity scenes, which I keep in separate storage boxes for theological reasons. Ever since my godly mother told my daughters that there was No! Such! Thing! as Santa Claus (“Do you really want to lie to your children?”), making them instant celebrity pariahs when they carried the news into preschool the next day, I have been very sensitive to the Santa-Jesus debate. (And to anyone reading this who had children at Atlanta’s Northside Methodist Preschool in the early 1990s, can I please just apologize again?)

(Seriously. I am sorry. And believe me, I totally understand why you didn’t let my girls come play at your houses that December. I would have shunned your children, too. I shunned my own mother that year.)

Anyhow.

My decorations are still in the attic, and Christmas is just two weeks away. Robbie may be all HoHoHo, but I am just not feeling it this year. For one thing, we don’t have any kids home. For another (and this is embarrassing, but true), I am still cleaning up from the second wedding. And for a third, I think the tree hates me. It’s dropping needles faster than the dogs drop hair. And you know how I feel about that.

So there I was, staring at nothing and wondering if “My tree hates me” was a legitimate reason to seek professional counseling, when Robbie came back inside.

“I need your help to get this tree out to the dock.”

Excuse me?

I knew we’d gotten a second tree (it was a thank you gift from Young Life), but I didn’t realize “we” had decided where to put it. Robbie, though, had a plan.

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Sigh. I do love my man.

We got the thing up and then, sure enough, Robbie grabbed his car keys. “More lights?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. And…more extension cords!”

Robbie was thrilled with his handiwork. He couldn’t wait until dark. And when the sun finally set, he came into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Are you looking out at the tree?” he whispered.

“No, Honey. I am unloading the dishwasher.”

I suppose our holiday season would have gone on like this for the next two weeks, a couple of Christmas caricatures:  One living like Buddy the Elf, the other too tired to even think about taking anyone’s last can of Who-hash.

But then, early this morning, I got up and looked out the window.

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I couldn’t help but smile. Light just does that.

And how clever of God to bookend the Bible with light. Genesis 1:3 kicks off with the familiar “Let there be light,” and Revelation wraps up the whole story with the promise that the time is coming when we won’t need a lamp or even the sun, because the glory of the Lord will be our light and – cue Handel’s Messiah, which yes, we are going to, again – he “shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)

If you’re feeling a little Scroogey and you don’t have your own resident Buddy to string up some cheer, never fear. Just pin up a strand someplace (the Young Life kids who were here the other night made human Christmas trees, so I guess you could maybe try that), and plug it in. And then open your Bible.

Because God’s Word is the best light of all.

Psalm 119:105 says it is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Next week, I’m going to share a few of my favorite ways to help us get this light into our lives in 2016 (I’m all about that plan, don’t you know!), but for now, I’ll leave you with a few choice bits to chew on as you look at your tree. Because even a Grinch like me can’t help but feel her heart growing with encouraging verses like these:

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1:5)

How happy are those who have learned how to praise You; those who journey through life by the light of Your face. (Psalm 89:15, Voice)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

Let there be light! (Even if it takes a few new extension cords.)

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Favorite Things

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

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

Who could ask for anything more?

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

Scripture Cards.

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

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

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

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Happy shopping!

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

 

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What’s Hot this Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhow.

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

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

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But…does it work?

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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Good News: He. Is. Here.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. photo I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

If you grew up going to Christmas pageants and candlelight services (or even if you just watched the Peanuts special every year), these words might be so familiar that you read right over them.  You know what’s coming:  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born.

In other words:  He. Is. Here.

But stop for a quick second and think about how the angel must have felt, announcing the news:  The One we’ve waited for. The One who will bring joy to the world.  The One who will change everything.  He is here!!!

Doesn’t that just make you want to, I don’t know, fall down?  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  And he is here.

Wherever this Christmas finds you–rejoicing in certainty of God’s presence, yearning to experience his love, or anywhere in between, may you know the good news:  He. Is. Here.  And may these words, from Isaiah 60, allow the good news to color your life afresh each morning, both today and throughout the new year.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

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Merry Christmas!

Love,

Jodie

 

 

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Give Mom What She Wants for Christmas

photoWell, tonight’s the night. Tonight’s the night that we dust off our Messiah handbooks and haul ourselves off to Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, where a quartet of talented soloists will join forces with Symphonicity to present Handel’s Messiah. And, in what might be the most charitable gesture of the season, they will let people like us sing along.

This will be Symponicity’s 32nd Messiah performance. I figure we’ve been to at least half of ’em; it’s what my mother wants for Christmas every year. She doesn’t seem to care that the lowest grade I got in college was in a course called Music Appreciation. I’d tell you how my kids really feel about the annual event, except that my mom is probably my most faithful blog reader. Suffice it to say, we will don our gay apparel (and yes, there was a year when I wore “the sweater”), clear our throats, and let ’er rip.

And it won’t be pretty. I made my kids take piano lessons (as did my mother before me, and her Juilliard-trained mother before her), but almost none of it stuck. And it’s not just words like allegro (which is not, as it turns out, a pasta dish) that mess us up. We don’t always get even the English words right. For years, Hillary lifted her sweet little soprano voice and warbled, Come for tea! Co-o-ome…for…tea! Little did she know that Handel wasn’t into Earl Grey; he was drawing from Isaiah 40, proclaiming the tender and redemptive “Comfort Ye” power of God.

So why, if we can’t read music and we don’t even sing the right words, do we go to this thing every year?  Maybe it’s because of verses like Ephesians 6:2-3, which remind us that “Honor Your Father and Mother” is a commandment that comes with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

I will admit that I started going to The Messiah with my mom because I knew this verse and I didn’t want to get hit by a bus. Somewhere along the way, though, I began to actually like the music. (Appreciate it, even.) And, although I could be imagining things, I think the complain-o-meter on my kids is starting to drop, too.

Because here’s the thing about a Messiah sing-along. It doesn’t matter whether or not you can recognize a treble clef or even sing on key (although it helps if you don’t park small children in the bass section, which we have been known to do). You can go and pretend to sing—and when you do, you’ll get a short course in biblical prophecy, the events surrounding the birth of Christ, and a rafters-raising “Hallelujah” about God’s eternal reign that is worth the price of admission right there. (And Mom, don’t be emailing to tell me that the event is free; I am just trying to make a point.)

Speaking of…I guess the point of this blog (and I really hope my kids are still reading) is that you should give your mom what she wants for Christmas. You might not appreciate her taste. You might not even think it’s a good present. But she will like it. And, chances are (and with a nod to Ephesians 6), it will wind up being good for you, too.

 

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The Best Christmas Present Ever

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

And I don’t.

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

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

The ad was wrong.

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Another Christmas fail.

(And Kids, please forgive me for posting this pic.  You know I had to do it.)

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

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

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

I’m going to write more about the gift of prayer in my next post–and I’ll show you an idea that my kids actually did (and still do) like–but for now, would you just say a prayer for me?  I haven’t yet picked this year’s group gift, and I’d be much obliged if God (who, according to Matthew 6:11, actually knows how to give “good gifts”) would weigh in with some ideas.

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Why Shop When You Can Read a Good Book?

photo 3_1I don’t know about you, but the torrent of “Black Friday” emails is stressing me out. I don’t want to start my Christmas shopping; I’d much prefer to savor the tryptophan hangover with a good book by a warm fire. I know I might miss my Big Chance to get 40% off a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System, but you know what? I can live with that.

Speaking of good books…have you read The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs? It came out last year, to great acclaim. The book revisits the birth of Christ through the eyes of Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, and if you are looking for an uplifting Advent read (or simply a way to put off going to the mall), look no further.

Higgs mixes familiar Bible passages with a warm and sometimes humorous narrative, and we find ourselves captivated not just by this fresh look at historical events, but by also by depth of wonder and transformation these “women of Christmas” experienced—and that we can, too.

A few nuggets:

About Elizabeth, the barren woman for whom God’s kindness took away her “public disgrace” (Luke 1:25), Higgs writes, “Through all her years of feeling less-than, Elizabeth had worshipped a more-than God.”

About Mary, who received an unheralded and unexpected angelic visitor: “In the same way, while we go about our daily tasks, God’s divine plan is unfolding. At any given moment our lives could change dramatically. No surprise to God, yet a big surprise to us. That’s what we find happening [to Mary].”

And about Anna, the old widow prophet who worshiped night and day at the temple: “She was standing nearby when she saw Simeon holding a babe and praising God. Her heart must have leaped for joy. The Messiah! ‘God, who had cared for her so faithfully all these years, saw to it that she didn’t miss that sacred moment.’”

and she gave thanks to God. (Luke 2:38)

Verse by verse, vignette by vignette, Higgs gives us the chance to get to know this trio of women who lived in a world not all that far removed from our own, a world in which turkey dinners and online shopping deals can take our eyes off the off the real news of the day:

“All across Judea people went about their business, making their goods and tending their flocks, unaware, unprepared. But Mary, Joseph, and all of heaven knew.

“He is coming.”

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