Making (and Keeping) Good Friends

College Friends Photo

These girls. We’ve shared each other’s heartaches and joys for more than forty years, since we first met in college. And as I wrote about the gift of friendship in Praying the Scriptures for Your Life, I couldn’t help but thank God for Susan and Barbie— and for the fact that they weren’t put off when they realized that my idea of “dorm room essentials” included a suitcase full of bathing suits and a beach chair.

Barbie was a U.Va. volleyball player who hailed from the mountains of Tennessee. I’d never met anyone who could clog, but drop Rocky Top on the record player and up she would jump. Susan, a native Tarheel, danced the Carolina shag with effortless grace, and she knew—and actually used—every vocabulary word on the SAT test.

(“Corybantic,” she said, was how I danced.)

Corybantic definition - wild, frenzied

I adored (and yes, envied) these gals for their brains, their athletic prowess, and their flawless dance moves. But what really got my attention—and what eventually knit us together in a forever friendship—was seeing how much Barbie and Susan loved Scripture and the way they lived out their beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong. These gals were not theologians. They were certainly not pious or perfect. And they knew next to nothing about Hebrew and Greek (unless you count knowing which fraternity boys were the best dancers). Susan and Barbie simply recognized the value of verses like Romans 12:15 (“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”), and used pillars like that to fortify their friendships. They came alongside other people with laughter and tears, doubling joys and dividing burdens, whether they were hanging out with the cool kids or just talking to me.

(Did I mention that, along with a beach chair, I brought a sewing machine with me to U.Va.? Yeah. I made my own party dresses…)

Me in my homemade party dress with my friends

Fast forward forty years.

Susan, Barbie, and I have celebrated, grieved, and prayed our way through career choices, marriage decisions, parenting curve balls, health concerns, faith questions, cross-country (and cross-ocean) moves, and the twists and turns that now come with caring for grandbabies and aging parents.

We’ve prayed our way, in other words, through life. And I could not be more grateful.

Because friendship is something I don’t take for granted. I’ve lost count of how many times, over the years, I’ve wrestled with loneliness—whether because we’d just moved to a new town or because I simply (and sometimes inexplicably) felt bereft in a place I’d called “home” for years.

Maybe you’ve been there too.

What then? What do we do when we’re feeling that ache? When we don’t know where we belong, or who “our people” are? Or when we find ourselves in a crowd and yet feel like we’re kind of alone?

We can start with prayer. God created us for connection; we are hard-wired, science tells us, for love. We can ask God to give us—and make us—good friends, and to open our eyes to the life-giving relationships he wants us to cultivate.

Those are prayers God delights to answer. Just like he delights to come alongside us as the friend who is “for” us—as our advocate, our counselor, our giver of joy. God delights in friendship.

You’ll find dozens of friendship prayers in the new book (click here to pre-order), but if you just want a few you can pray right now, here are three of my favorites:

Heavenly Father,

Surround me with friends who spur one another on toward love and good deeds so that we can encourage one another when we get together. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Friendship Prayer - Hebrews 10:24-25

Make me the kind of friend who is kind and compassionate, quick to forgive, and willing to carry other’s burdens. (Ephesians 4:32, Galatians 6:2)

Thank you for calling me your friend. Equip me to love others the way you love me, being willing to lay down my life—my position, my agenda, my reputation—for my friends. (John 15:13)

Amen

❤️

P.S. One of my most fun (and funniest) friends is Kristin Adams. You know her as the gal who fell down on American Idol—after singing “Fallen”—and as the pretty half of @KristinandDanny, digital content creators and lip-syncing sensations who spend their lives bringing good stuff to the world.

Fun Friends: Kristin Adams and me

I had a chance to talk with Kristin about prayer not long ago. We covered lots of tricky stuff (How do I know I am asking for the “right” thing? Is it okay to pray for myself? Does God really want me to pray?), and our whole convo is part of the pre-order bonuses that come with the new book. Click here for details!

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Build an altar this summer. And add some ice cream.

Our son Robbie graduated from college in May.

Watching him walk down U.Va.’s storied Lawn, my mind flashed back 20 years to my brother David’s graduation (also from Virginia):

That’s David, perched on somebody’s shoulders. I guess he was trying to spot our folks in the crowd, because the moment he saw them, he scrambled down, threaded his way through the procession, and planted a kiss on Dad’s cheek in a very public display of gratitude and affection!

A few days later I received a letter from my father describing David’s impromptu embrace and telling me how much it had meant. Dad went on to recount about a dozen similar memories and blessings from his children’s growing-up years, pointing out that they were all “a testimony of God’s tender mercies, one after another after another, being bestowed upon our family.”

My father’s note made an impression on me, so much so that I actually wrote about it – and quoted him – in the last chapter of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. “God is so faithful,” he said, “and we must remember to stop occasionally and build ‘an altar of thanksgiving’ before we hurry on our way.”

Altar of thanksgiving

I knew what Dad meant. The Bible is brimming with stories of altars built by those who wanted a lasting memorial of who God was and what he had done. Noah built an altar after the great flood; Jacob erected one after God changed his name; Moses put one up after God gave the Israelites an incredible  victory over a powerful foe. In each of these instances—and plenty more—the altar signified the time and place where God showed up and proved his faithfulness, his power, and his love.

I don’t know about you, but I am not nearly as good at building altars as I am at building to-do lists (even in my prayer journal), thinking of all the things I want God to accomplish in my life and in the lives of the people I love. Rather than thanking God for “his tender mercies, one after another,” I often find myself consumed with present concerns, unmet desires, and problems that have yet to be solved.

Which is where summertime can bring some welcome relief.

Even though our family is long past the annual “School’s Out!” shout on the calendar, the season still heralds a slower pace, one that offers an opportunity for rest and reflection. For meditating on God’s goodness. For altar-building.

So what does an altar of thanksgiving look like?

In Bible times, an altar was often a pile of stones set up by someone so that they (and their children, some who were yet to be born) would have a visible reminder of God’s provision and his faithfulness. I actually have a couple of stones – and one or two seashells – on which I’ve written dates and a few words or a Bible verse that speak to what God has done.

More often, though, my “altar” is simply a page or two in my journal, one where I revisit prayers (which sometimes look more like scrawls) from the previous months and thank God for how he has moved, often in ways I did not expect. With the perspective of time, I can see how God has expanded my vision, stretched my faith, and said no to some of my longings so as to make room for his.

(I realize that this might sound sort of heady. But don’t get any ideas. My journal is not fancy. It’s got arrows and abbreviations and chicken-scratch writing that I sometimes struggle to read. But I tell myself that the Bible altars were probably no architectural masterpieces either. I imagine that, to someone who did not know their meaning, they mostly just looked like…rocks.)

Anyhow.

If the idea of building an altar is a new one for you, I want to encourage you (even as I am prompting myself) to try it this summer. Not only is altar-building  an exercise in gratitude, it’s also one of obedience:  “Tell God your needs,” the Bible says, “and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.”

Write a few words on a rock. Or in a prayer journal. Or, if you’ve got children at home, consider building a basket-shaped altar. Encourage your kids to be alert to the ways they see God at work in their lives, and to note those observations on a slip of paper (chicken scratch is approved!) and slip it into the basket. Then, before school starts again in the fall, set aside an evening to read what’s in the basket together.

And…maybe add ice cream sundaes.

Because trust me. Ice cream, served up with a side of thanksgiving, can be a very tangible reminder of God’s love. 😊

ice cream

Heavenly Father,

Help us never forget the things our eyes have seen you do; do not let them fade from our hearts. Equip us to teach your faithfulness to our children, and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Amen

 

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Champion or Misfit: Jay Huff knows how both those shoes feel

Jay Huff–as in, Jay Huff of the U.Va. National Championship Basketball Team–was in the house last week.

Well, not my house.

Although he did stop by for a bit. And I am pretty sure Minnie’s in love…

Jay came to Virginia Beach with his dad, Coach Mike Huff, as part of a speaker series our church hosts every year. And even though I said I was taking a break from weekly blogging this summer (and I really am), and even though I know some of you don’t give a rip about basketball (that’s okay; people vary), the stuff these guys talked about was just too good not to share.

Stuff like what humility looks like, especially when life isn’t fair.

Evidently, Jay has a super high radar for what’s right and what’s wrong–and when he sees an offense, he feels compelled to speak up. Which sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work so well when you’re hooping it up and the “wrong” is a bad call from the ref. As a high school player, Jay often protested such calls–and wound up setting a record for technical fouls.

Coach Huff helped put things in perspective.

“Nobody,” Mike told his son, “got a worse set of calls than Christ did. He got as bad a call as you can get; he had a perfect life, and yet he was crucified for my mistakes.

“And he didn’t say a word. He stood there and he took it.”

Those words made an impact, ultimately leading Jay to show respect for officials and embrace humility–which, as it turns out, is one of Coach Tony Bennett’s Five Pillars.

Another life lesson came in a sporting goods store.

As a teenager, Jay wore size 15 shoes (he’s a 17 now), and finding them was not always easy. Mike recalled one father-son shopping trip when Jay couldn’t locate a single pair in his size.

“This world isn’t made for me,” the young man sighed.

“You were not made for this world,” Mike gently replied.

Even if Jay didn’t know the exact biblical reference (verses like John 15:19 and Philippians 3:20), he got the point. And when asked what advice he might give to the young people in the audience on Sunday night, he shared his own experience–both at U.Va. and in high school–with not “fitting in.” Even winning a championship, he said, doesn’t change the fact that life, for a Christian, is not always easy.

“You’re going to be a misfit in a lot of situations,” Jay told the crowd. “Get ready for that.”

That “misfit” comment really hit home with me; I wrote about my own struggles in Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to college that I began to feel like I’d finally found “my people.” And, much to my delight, two of them–Barbie and Susan, pictured above–showed up to hear Jay speak!

(And yes, Jay really is 7’1.”)

(I thought if I wore 3″ heels that would help. But…no.)

Perhaps my favorite takeaway from the night was about our identity.

“If it’s all about basketball,” Mike said, “or whatever your activity might be, if that’s where you find your identity, then your life is going to be a whole series of ups and downs. When you’re good–when you have a great game–everybody’s gonna be happy; you’re gonna be happy. If you have a bad game or a bad season, or you get cut from the team or whatever, then you’re devastated.”

By contrast, he said, “if you have an identity in Christ, then those things are just events that happen along the path.”

Jay agreed, saying that he wanted to be known for more than being a basketball player–even if he realizes his goal of playing in the NBA.

“I see a lot of people,” he said, “who get so caught up in basketball and the highlight tapes and the social media posts and everything like that…but when that becomes the sole thing that you feel like you’re valued for, that’s when that goes wrong.

“And so, I’ve always thought that I’d much rather be a good friend. A good son. A good boyfriend–hopefully.”

(Sorry ladies; he’s taken.)

“I’d rather be known for that,” he continued, “because one day all the basketball things that have happened, all the championships, all of that–they won’t mean that much to me. But what will mean a lot are the friendships and relationships I’ve built up over the years, and how I’ve loved people and how people have hopefully loved me.

“At the end of my life, I don’t want to look back and have basketball be the highlight.”

Coming from a national champion, those are some powerful words.

And there’s more where they came from–plus commentary on everything from what Coach Bennett tells his players at halftime (“But you can’t tell the other coaches I told you!” Jay joked), to what U.Va.’s prospects look like for next year, to whether or not Ty Jerome meant to miss that free throw.

Did he?

If you want to find out (or if you just want to know what other great things the Huffs shared), click here to download the whole interview.

And if you just want a prayer for those times when you or someone you love feels like a misfit, why not echo the prayer Jesus prayed for all his disciples, right after he said that we “do not belong to the world,” any more than he did?

Heavenly Father,

We belong to you. Protect us by the power of your name. Fill us with joy, make us holy, and teach us your word. And may we experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent Jesus, and that you love us as much as you love him. (Excerpted from John 17:9-22)

Amen

❤️

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More than a Tee Shirt…

I did an Instagram Story last week where I wore this tee shirt:

Wait. That’s a lie.

I didn’t do the story; my son’s girlfriend did. I am, as we know, painfully slow when it comes to social media, but Instagram seems to be Mary’s love language. She just held up the phone while I talked and the next thing I knew, it was posted–with hashtags, a spinning basketball, and a blinking Easter cross!

More is more, eh? I love that girl.

Anyhow.

The Insta Story was meant to spread the word on some new book releases…

  • Holy Week (a board book from the “Baby Believer” series)
  • The From Me to You Conversation Journals (which parents and kids pass back and forth)
  • and The Path of Life (which you’ll hear more about next week, cuz it’s a great gift for Mom)

…but I got more than a few comments on the tee shirt.

Which made me think that it might be time to revisit the post I did exactly three years ago, the week after Easter. Which was also the week after U.Va. frittered away a big second-half lead and found themselves booted from the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Here’s what I wrote, back then. And if you’re not a U.Va. fan and you can’t take ONE MORE WORD about Tony Bennett, please don’t unsubscribe or leave negative comments. Just scroll to the end. Because all of us–even Tarheels and Tigers–can use the promise of JOY now and then.

Joy in the Morning

Whelp, my beloved Wahoos lost to Syracuse last Sunday night.

Every U.Va. fan I know has been in mourning this week, except for maybe our dogs, who are high-fiving (pawing?) themselves over the fact that I won’t make them dress up to play Carolina tomorrow.

IMG_4593

The loss was a blow, but it was Easter Sunday, and I can’t think of a more fitting day for Coach Tony Bennett to make the comment that he did. When reporters asked what he’d told the team after the game, Bennett said:

“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Bennett said the words came from an old church hymn. They’re also, incidentally, in the title of a book by one of my most favorite fiction authors, P.G. Wodehouse (click here for the hardcover version, here for the paperback):

photo-1

But, really, the promise of joy after sorrow is older than both the hymn and the book. It comes from Psalm 30:5.

And like so many of God’s promises, this one might be hard to believe, particularly when you are in the midst of suffering and you can’t see any way out. But, to quote Coach Bennett, “Joy is coming…I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I know it will be true.”

I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I know it will be true.

Could there be any more encouraging words? If you find yourself aching today, or if someone you love is walking through a season of sorrow and it doesn’t feel like things will ever get better, take hold of the Psalm 30 promise. Make it your prayer.

Because we don’t know what the future will bring, but we know that God is faithful. And we know that He loves us. And that his goal is to make our joy complete.

Joy is coming.

Heavenly Father,

When _____ feels overwhelmed with pain or sadness, may they find hope in and strength in your promise: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Amen.

❤️

And P.S., two things:

First, if you want your own “Joy” tee, click here.

And second, if you’re a regular reader, you probably know that Max and Khaki (pictured above in their U.Va. gear) both got drafted into the Great Beyond. We miss them dearly, but this little gal (who arrived just last week!) is keeping us on our toes. When she’s not trying to eat them.

Blog friends, meet Minnie(apolis) Bennett, aka “Minnie.” 💙🧡

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The Madness is Real

The madness is real.

From the moment I first put on my Lucky Orange Sweater (a pre-tournament “love your enemies” gift from my Tarheel pal Lynn)…

…to waking up Tuesday morning and seeing my son’s face on some reporter’s Twitter feed…

…the rollercoaster ride that is college hoops has (for U.Va. fans, anyway) never been wilder.

And all week long folks have been texting and emailing me, saying “I can’t wait to read your Friday blog! You have so much good material! Did you see where Tony said…”

Yes. I saw where Tony said. Like most Wahoo fans, I’ve done little else this week except watch press conferences, read game-recap articles, and marvel over every single shining moment (and every humility-laced post-game interview) in Virginia’s incredible turnaround tournament.

You know the story.

After an early eviction from the 2018 tourney (one where U.Va. made history by becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16), coaches and players dug deep. As a response to what Coach Tony Bennett has repeatedly called a “painful gift,” they used the devastation as a glue of sorts, one that bonded them even closer as a team and kindled a resolve and a resilience that refused to come unstuck, even in the most pressure-packed moments.

Coach Bennett cited a line from a TED Talk (“If you learn to use it right — the adversity — it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way”), but honestly? He might as well have been quoting Eugene Peterson. Because when Tony said that the loss had “freed him up” (making him want to be a better coach even as he realized that if he never got to a national championship game, he’d still be okay), all I could think of was Peterson’s assessment of what happened to the Israelites, back in 587 B.C.

You know Eugene Peterson from The Message Bible. But he wrote a bunch of other great stuff too, including this commentary, which I am currently loving:

(And for all you U.Va. grads, yes. I am blogging from The Stacks at Alderman Library.)

(Which is my happy place.)

(And not just because it’s where I realized, as I was studying Shakespeare with Robbie, that he had really great hair.)

Anyhow.

Run with the Horses is a look at the life of the prophet Jeremiah, who lived during a time when the Israelites found themselves in a place not unlike where the U.Va. players were, this time last year. The Jews had been exiled–not from a basketball tournament, but from their homeland. They’d been taken captive to Babylon.

And since I doubt you will read about this Basketball-and-Babylon connection in other sports columns, I’ll go ahead and tell you what Peterson said. “The essential meaning of exile,” he wrote, “is that we are where we don’t want to be.”

Roger that. In case you didn’t follow the story, the U.Va. players were ridiculed and reviled after last year’s loss, even facing death threats.

Crazy, but true.

And exile, Peterson went on, is “traumatic and terrifying. Our sense of who we are is very much determined by the place we are in and the people we are with. When that changes, violently and abruptly, who are we? The accustomed ways we have of finding our worth and sensing our significance vanish. The first wave of emotion recedes and leaves us feeling worthless, meaningless. We don’t fit anywhere. No one expects us to do anything. No one needs us. We are extra baggage. We aren’t necessary.”

Okay, so I know some of you are scratching your heads right now, thinking, “Wait. What? I thought this was a basketball story…”

But stick with me here. It is a basketball story. And it’s an Israelite story. And it’s our story.

Because whether it’s a change in our tournament status, our homeland, or our life (as in, a shift in our family circumstances, our job, our health, our marriage, etc.), exile happens.

(It did with me when I hit the empty nest years. Even though I knew it was good and right and all of those things, I didn’t like it. I felt—and I still feel, sometimes—like Peterson’s extra baggage. Like I am no longer needed. Like I don’t know where I fit anymore.)

But even in those dark or unwanted places, Peterson tells us what Coach Bennett did: “This very strangeness can open up new reality to us… With the pain and in the midst of alienation a sense of freedom can occur.”

For the U.Va. players, this very strangeness—the new reality that came wrapped as a painful gift—freed them up to play harder than ever before. Not as individual athletes, but as an entire team focused on the mantra that became “United Pursuit.”

For the Israelites, the new reality meant settling down, finding out what it really meant to be God’s people in a strange land. It meant choosing to flourish–to build homes, to grow families, and to pray for the people–in the land where they never wanted to be.

And for us, exile can mean the same thing. When we find ourselves in an unexpected or unwanted place, that can (and should) be the prompt that motivates us to discover what God is up to. To seek Him with all of our hearts. To live for what really matters–focusing not on what we don’t have, but on what we do.

“Exile,” Peterson wrote, “is the worst that reveals the best.”

That was certainly true for the Israelites. Their exile led to what Peterson calls “the most creative period in the entire sweep of Hebrew history,” one in which they “lost everything they thought was important and found what was important:  They found God.”

And it’s been true for the U.Va. team. Coach Bennett is quick to point out that losing a basketball game (even if it’s a blow-out defeat like what our guys suffered in 2018) is far from “the worst” thing in life. Even so, I think he would agree with Peterson. How we respond to exile—to adversity—is what makes all the difference.

“Though it’s not the way I would have chosen,” Coach Bennett said, in the days prior to Monday’s championship game, “it’s part of our story. And if we use it right, it’ll produce something very valuable.”

It did for U.Va.

And, if we let it, it will for us too.

🧡💙

And P.S. if you want something else “valuable,” you can get my “fascinator” hat off of Amazon. It’s currently out of stock in the orange color (must have been a run on ’em, what with all the well-dressed U.Va. fans), but maybe you want a pink one for Easter? Click here.

You’re welcome. 😊

 

 

 

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How Jesus might get to the Final Four

When our children were in preschool, the school nurse used to push a snack cart (loaded with treats that measured up to her strict nutritional standards) from classroom to classroom each morning. She genuinely loved the kids and her job, so I was surprised to see her storming down the hall one day, her face flushed with indignation.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“One of the children just called me her servant!” she exploded. “I didn’t know how to respond!”

I felt my eyes light up as I burst into laughter. “A servant!” I exclaimed “I can’t think of a higher compliment!”

Bewildered, the nurse stared at me for a long moment before moving on down the hall, again at a loss for words. She may have thought I was nuts, but at least she didn’t say so.

_________________________________________________

That’s how I started the chapter called “Praying for a Servant’s Heart” in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenAnd I couldn’t help but think back to that story this week–particularly the nurse’s confusion–when I read this article about the “Five Pillars” on which Coach Tony Bennett has built U.Va.’s basketball program.

Servanthood is one of Coach Bennett’s biggies, along with Passion, Unity, Thankfulness and Humility. And it’s easy to see why most of these attributes matter–and not just on the basketball court.

We cannot imagine a business succeeding without a passionate buy-in from its leadership. And  as any team member (or parent!) will tell you, unity is a good and pleasant thing, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Gratitude–whether toward other people or God–helps us focus on life’s bigger picture. And in addition to being an incredibly attractive character trait, humility equips us to withstand setbacks (cough-UMBC-cough) with strength and grace.

But…servanthood?

Nobody talks about servanthood all that much anymore. It seems an odd duck in a world where everyone’s goal seems to be to get to the top. Whether it’s in the NCAA tourney, a business venture, or the grocery store checkout line, we all want to be in control. We want to be first. We want to be great. And in a culture that rarely notices or rewards an others-centered outlook, you have to wonder whether cultivating a servant’s heart is all that important.

Coach Bennett evidently thinks so. And, as it turns out, so does Jesus. In fact, were He to map out the road to the Final Four, it might look something like this:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That’s Mark 10:43-45. And trust me:  In bringing these verses into a basketball convo, I’m not being flippant. I love March Madness, but I love Jesus even more. And as we move toward Easter, I want my life to reflect His.

I want to pray for–and cultivate–a heart that bends toward others.

If you want that too–for yourself, or your kids–you’ll find a collection of scripture-based prayer prompts in the Children book, as well as in the Teens version. I’d go back and copy them for you right now but it’s Thursday night and U.Va. is about to tip-off against Oregon, and I really feel like they need me.

So I’ll leave you with just four of my favorites (along with some 💥bonus info 💥 below), knowing that–win or lose–Tony’s guys have got their Pillars in place.

Heavenly Father…

Let ______ do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility may ______ value others above themselves, not looking to their own interests by to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 

Motivate ______ to serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving you, Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)

Open ______’s ears to the cry of the poor so that they won’t be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13 NLT)

May _______ serve others in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Amen

(photo credits Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)

Bonus Material:

I’m traveling and taking next week off from the blog, so here’s a little P.S. to be thinking about:

The Philippians passage we prayed above goes on to tell us that our mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, as he voluntarily made Himself nothing and took on a servant’s nature. So if you’re trying to instill a heart for service in your children (or, um, recognize it in your spouse), maybe keep the focus on attitude over accomplishment.

Like, if you happen to have daughters named Hillary and Annesley and they unload the dishwasher for you without being asked, and then you realize that all of your cupboards have dirty dishes in them, don’t freak out. Affirm your little helpers and thank God for answering your prayers.

❤️

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Never give up (on the people you love)

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

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

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

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

Anyhow.

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

Which brings me to the second thing.

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

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

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

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

The times when family life felt a little bit messy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❤️

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

Amen

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Butternut Squash & Bible Study (and why we can’t do them alone)

(Note: This is the last post of the month. I’m headed to Israel – whoop! – so get ready for an upgrade in the blog material, come April! And in the meantime, if you’ve not yet picked a March Madness team, please cheer for the ‘Hoos!) 🏀

 

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know I’m no Pioneer Woman. Sure, I’ll share a recipe tip now and then, but I tend to not be all that precise.

Which can lead to a situation, sometimes.

Like the time our son asked me to text him the recipe for his favorite birthday meal, Mac-n-Cheese-n-Peas-n-Fleas. (Don’t ask.) Robbie was working and living at a skate park at the time, and he fixed the dish for a bunch of his co-workers:

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You can read the story (and get the recipe, although I don’t recommend it) here. Longtime readers may recall my confusion when Robbie told me that one girl had “freaked out” when she saw him putting the hamburger fat back into the pasta pot.

“You did what?” I asked.

“Added the fat. Like you said to.”

Now, I definitely did NOT intend for Robbie to pour the fat back in, but to prove his point, Robbie sent a screenshot of my instructions:

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Normally, I am more precise with my pronouns.

But I share this story today to help explain why, even with a CLEAR recipe, I can find myself at a loss in the kitchen.

For instance, I’m smack in the middle of Kelly Minter’s Bible study on 2 Corinthians, which is called All Things New. Kelly is as Scripture-smart as she is camera-cute (I can’t decide if she should sell toothpaste or shampoo?), and I am learning a ton about things like finding purpose in suffering, being useful to God, and navigating less-than-easy relationships.

Kelly is also, apparently, a pretty good cook. And she shares a new recipe to go with the homework each week. Which is how I wound up making her Sausage and Butternut Squash Risotto.

In the interest of transparency, I will go ahead and tell you that I had no idea what a “butternut squash” even looked like. I grew up in a home where we ate frozen peas, canned green beans, and (if it happened to be summertime) corn on the cob. Vegetable-wise, that was it.

Nor did I know that the thing would be so hard to cut.

Or that it would be infested with seeds.

(And if you are wondering WHY I am including these pix, it’s because my mom reads this blog, and she’s in my Bible study. And if she ever decides to make Kelly’s risotto, I want her to know what’s new in the vegetable world. Or the fruit world, cuz of the seeds. Whatever.)

Forty-five minutes later (and I am not making that up), I had the squash cubed. I felt super accomplished, so I took a pic and texted it to my pal Annabelle, who leads a small group at our study. “I’m making Kelly’s recipe!” I crowed. “It’s taking a long time, and I nearly sliced off my hand, but it’s going to be SO GOOD!”

Here’s what she texted me back:

All of which is to say: We can’t do life alone. WE NEED EACH OTHER.

If you’re trying to cook, you might need an Annabelle. And if you’re trying to figure out why the Corinthians were so mean to Paul (and how he could love them so much, in return), you might need a Kelly.

Understanding the Bible can be tricky, sometimes. (Harder, even, than getting seeds out of squash.) We need teachers, people willing to do the hard digging to flesh out what the text really says. We need friends to help us process how the words relate to our lives. And we need the Holy Spirit to do what God promised he’d do: Teach us and remind us of what Jesus said.

And as we avail ourselves of these resources – wise teachers, good friends, and the help God himself will provide – even the hard stuff begins to add up. We’ll be able, as Psalm 34:8 so beautifully puts it, to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” 

(And so, as it happens, is Kelly’s risotto.) 😊

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How Does Jesus Want to be Loved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s recap.

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

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

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

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

How do YOU love God?

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

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

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

Because he loved me first.

 

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Facebook, Twitter, and Grace

So the other day, I saw where Facebook wanted to send me a message. I clicked on the little bell and got this:

Improve my reputation? I didn’t even know I had a reputation–at least not on Facebook. Sheesh. One MORE thing to worry about.

Social media, as we know, is not my best sport.

On Twitter, for instance, I recently heard from a blogger who wanted to know where I’d gone to college. I tweeted right back (I was On it!, that day): I went to U.Va.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that tweet, per se. And normally a sentence like that makes me proud. What went wrong, in this case, is that I tweeted my answer to everyone. Like, to all of Twitter. Now the whole world (even the people who don’t give a rip, which is all of them) knows that I WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA!

(Who knew there was a way to keep your tweet convos private?)

(Probably everyone. But still.)

And don’t even get me started on Instagram. I set up an account a long time ago, and I was getting pretty comfy on that platform. Until Virginia saw me looking at my phone.

“Mom.”

“What?”

“You can’t like your own Insta.”

Sigh.

(Is there an Emily Post book for social media? I feel like if I just knew the rules, I could do better at not breaking them.)

(But not really. Because even if I had an etiquette book, I think I’d still wonder: What’s so bad about liking your own Instagram? Isn’t there an entire shelf in Barnes & Noble about learning to love yourself?? Should we not all like our Instas? Seems like that would be healthy.)

Anyhow.

All of these whoopsies–and so many more, like the podcast I did where I didn’t know we were recording for the first FIFTEEN MINUTES–point to a couple key truths:

First, God is so good.

God knew we’d blow it–and not just on social media. He knew we’d stink it up in our marriages, our parenting, our finances, and in so many more areas where we try (and fail) to do the right thing. And so he gave us an answer. “My grace is sufficient for you,” he promises, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God has us covered. Nothing we do can make him love us any less. In fact, our failings–humbly acknowledged, and with gratitude for his redemptive intervention–act as magnets for his mercy. (Don’t believe me? Check out James 4:6, Psalm 51:17 and, most especially, Romans 8:38-39.)

And second, God is hilarious. I can’t point to any particular verse that says “God is really funny” (Psalm 2:4 says he laughs, but in that case, it’s not a sound that you really want to hear), but there’s definitely some good and joyful merry-making in the Bible (see Psalm 126:2 for starters, or consider the fact that Sarah literally named her kid “He laughs”). And even without passages like these, I figure that God has GOT to have a good sense of humor, since he has has put up with us for so long. Since he has put up with me.

And that, according to social experts, is critical. I saw a few minutes of a show about Speed Dating last week (I was trying to find a U.Va. Basketball recap on SportsCenter, but I am not good with remotes), and the number one most attractive quality in a person is (singles say) a good sense of humor. God has one. We should, too.

So next time you blow it, here are two things you can do. First, don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh, if you can.

And second (because sometimes blowing it is not at all funny), remember God’s grace. It’s for all of us. And it’s what God does best. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

That’s the Apostle Paul talking, but heck. It might as well be me. There are definitely days when I feel like THE WORST. (And not just in the social media world.)

But that’s okay. Because nothing–as in, nothing–can separate us from God’s love.

Tweet THAT, America.

 

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What do College Kids Need? Good Friends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At Work and at Pray: Lift Up the Teachers

(September is BOOK GIVEAWAY month! Congratulations to last week’s winner, April from Sidney, Ohio, who’s getting a copy of Jeannie Cunnion’s new release, Mom Set Free. And this week I’m giving a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children to a NEW blog subscriber…so if you’ve got a friend who might like these posts, please spread the word and invite her – or him! – to sign up.)

 

So…Robbie is slogging through the third week of a college course called Theories of Financial Markets. I’d be jealous…except that I’m not.

But honestly? He’s not the only one hitting the books:

The Bible says we’re supposed to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). “The work of the Lord” is kind of a broad category, but I’m pretty sure that praying fits in there someplace. And right now, I’m workin’ it on behalf of Robbie and his U.Va. teachers.

I’m praying, for instance, that they would “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time they will reap a harvest if they do not give up.” That’s Galatians 6:9…and it’s my all-time favorite teacher prayer. Because being tired or worn out is no fun for anyone. And no matter how sorely they’re tempted, I don’t ever want a teacher to give up on my kid.

(Some of you get that.)

I’m also praying that Robbie will be teachable. I want his heart and his mind to be open to things like wisdom and understanding. I want him to have a good attitude as he heads off to class every day. I want him to be able to confront academic challenges with grace, and to see hard things (which, to me, would include theories of financial markets) as opportunities to grow.

I actually wrote about the value of being teachable in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. And, since that’s this week’s book giveaway (whoop!), I figured I’d share an excerpt from the chapter about praying for our kids’ relationships with their teachers and coaches. Here it is:

 

Praying for a Teachable Spirit

If you’re like me, you tend to spend more time praying for your kids to get the right teachers than that they will be the right students. But how our children think and behave in the classroom or on the athletic field can go farther toward fostering strong relationships with teachers and coaches than just about anything else.

Ned and Drew are two of the most teachable young men I know. Eager learners, they are quick to explore new ideas, and they have learned to recognize and respect the giftedness of their teachers – even when some of the concepts they were taught clashed with their own Christian convictions.

Ned and Drew’s willingness to learn is also evident in their athletic pursuits. Both are outstanding runners, a trait they inherited from their father, Jim, an Olympic medalist who was the first high schooler to run a mile in less than four minutes. When Ned and Drew won spots on the high school track team, Jim vowed not to interfere with the coach’s methods. Moreover, he encouraged his sons to respect the coach’s authority, even if the man’s coaching style differed from their father’s teaching.

As it turned out, the high school track coach did not do everything the way the former Olympian would have, and Ned and Drew knew it. But rather than argue with the man or rebel against his methods, the boys opted to buckle down and do their very best, while Jim and his wife, Anne, stayed content to pray for their sons from the bleachers. As a result of the family’s gentle, teachable spirit, the coach saw Christianity in a very favorable light – a testimony that would not have been possible had Ned and Drew taken an aggressive or defiant stand against his techniques. What’s more, the track team won an unprecedented series of three straight state championships.

Every life has it’s share of boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration, and tragedy. But if our children can learn to meet each new challenge as Ned and Drew did, by seeing the value in other people, respecting authority, and looking for opportunities to learn and grow, then even painful or disappointing circumstances can become reasons for thanksgiving. And long after our children have graduated from classrooms and playing fields, a teachable spirit will prove its lasting worth in their careers, their marriages, and their ability to minister to others.

 

There’s more, but you get the idea: When we pray for our kids to honor and respect their teachers and coaches, good things happen. 

So let’s do that.

Heavenly Father…

Cause ______ to obey his teachers and coaches and submit to their authority. Let him know that these people keep watch over him, and that you will hold them accountable for the job they do. Show ______ that when he honors his teachers and coaches and makes their work a joy instead of a burden, the end result will be to his advantage. (Hebrews 13:17)

Amen.

And P.S., if you like that Galatians “don’t get weary” prayer, here are a few more ways you can ask God to bless your kids’ teachers. Click here to download this image as a printable postcard:

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“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over”

Robbie and I spent last week at a lake in Ontario, Canada. It’s a place he went every year as a child, as did his father before him. And it’s where we used to take our kids in the summer, before they grew up and got stuff like husbands and jobs and apartments in far-away cities.

This time, it was just the two of us. We’d been looking forward to cooler temps, water sports, and endless hours to read and relax. But then we pulled up to the boathouse, and I knew I was in trouble. Because here’s how I remember it looking, back in 2007:

And here’s how it looked last week:

Same thing for the dock. It’s where we used to hang out and fish, or have early morning quiet times:

Now, not so much:

Everywhere I looked, there were reminders of days gone by, family memories that we’d never make again. I was becoming positively morose. It was not attractive.

I know what Dr. Seuss says – Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – but honestly? I’ve never really liked that line. I want to do both.

Anyhow.

This was the first time I’d been back to the lake in 10 years, and I just wanted to camp out for a bit and boo-hoo.

I knew, though, that being gloomy wouldn’t solve anything. (It certainly wouldn’t make things better for Robbie.) And it wasn’t like my whole life was over; it was just one season. Plus, my children are basically happy. And healthy. And I am pretty sure they’re all tracking with Jesus. What did I have to complain about?

Nothing.

And so I tried to smile (because it happened). Still, though, I couldn’t shake the sense of loss. I decided to take my case up with God.

“God,” I said, “I know you don’t mean for anybody to wallow, or get stuck in the past. I know you have plans and purposes and good things in store. And it’s not like you’re going to leave me hanging for the next 40 years, right?”

And God is so sweet. He did two things at once.

First, he reminded me of that verse where he talks about turning the page and starting a fresh, new chapter instead of dwelling on the past. I didn’t remember the reference so I looked it up: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. That’s Isaiah 43:19. I think it’s a great promise for an empty nester – or for anyone facing a time of transition, whether it’s a student headed off to college, a family making a cross-country move, or a loved one taking on a new job. If that’s where you are, go ahead and look that one up for yourself. Consider it yours.

The second thing God did came via email. Two years ago, my friend Annesley wrote a column for Theological Horizons, an organization that serves students at U.Va. I missed the article back then, but for some reason they ran it again, and I got to read it last week. It’s a great piece about transition – not because it solves the sadness issue but because 1) if you cry at Kindergarten Graduation, it lets you know you’re not alone, and 2) it ends with a wonderful prayer for our kids as they move on (or, for that matter, for anyone facing a season of change). If you want to read Annesley’s piece, click here.

So here’s what I did (and what you can do, too):

First, I asked God to help me perceive his work and get on board with whatever way he might be making – in the wilderness, the wasteland, or wherever. If God’s on the move (and he pretty much always is), I don’t want to get left behind!

Next, I thanked him for Annesley’s writing, and for the comfort that comes when you realize that you’re not alone in the boat. (And if you’re facing your own season of newness right now, whatever it is, I want you to know that I’m praying for you and your family as I write…cuz I get it!)

And finally (and this was a critical step for me, but one you could probably skip), I took my cue from the Grinch. Remember how he wanted a reindeer but, since “reindeer are scarce,” he had to grab his dog, Max? Yeah, well. I wanted a kid so I could snap their pic on the dock, like I did with Robbie Jr., 20 years ago…

…but since my kids, like reindeer, are generally scarce, I got the dog to stand in. And, like his namesake (we got him on Christmas), Max did a mighty fine job:

 

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Jefferson, Jesus, and the Secret to Greatness

Robbie and I love U.Va.

People know this, and so whenever a friend or family member cleans out their attic, they give us their old U.Va. stuff. As a result, we have an eclectic collection of books, artwork, socks, Christmas ornaments, Wedgewood china, record albums, and even some Kentucky Straight Whiskey in a porcelain bottle, which (inconceivably) some Wahoo forgot to finish, fifty years ago.

I adore all of this junk, but I think my favorite relic might be a fundraising piece, c. 1946:

We inherited the magazine from one of Robbie’s uncles who was of the same vintage. In it, the editors appeal to “Americans of the atomic-power age” to “lift the general level of intelligence” so as to develop “competence for leadership.” In pursuit of this worthy aim, they (of course) quote Thomas Jefferson.

And with today being Independence Day and all, I thought you might want to know what the guy who drafted the Declaration (and, in his spare time, invented U.Va.) had to say about greatness. Here are four qualities that, according to TJ, would make a great leader:

  1. Good humor.
  2. Integrity.
  3. Industry.
  4. Science.

As Mr. Jefferson saw it, “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light principled man than with an ill tempered rigorist in morality.”

(Meaning, I guess, that we’d all rather hang with a cheerful rogue than a grumpy saint.)

(Which is true.)

Of course, no serious discussion of greatness or competent leadership would be complete without the words of another freedom-loving man: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

That’s what Jesus said. And, at the end of the day, that’s what he did.

So today, as we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s do this: Let’s take the advice of two men – one perfect; one not – and do like Jesus did, giving up our lives (our time, our position, our rights) to help others. But let’s not be all finger-pointy or stingy about it. Instead, let’s also take Mr. Jefferson’s counsel (and, for that matter, the Bible’s), and do it with a cheerful spirit.

Happy Fourth!

 

 

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From the Bedside Stack: Summer Reading Picks

My bedside table always has a stack of books by a fairly diverse collection of authors.

P.G. Wodehouse (think Downton Abbey, only funnier and more redemptive), C.S. Lewis (just finished Prince Caspian, again), and John Grisham (always a fun beach read, plus he’s a U.Va. fan) have all been in the mix this summer.

You might notice, based on the photo, that one of my own books is there, too. I keep a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children close at hand since, quite honestly, I need it. I might not re-read all the stories, but if one of my kids needs something like wisdom, protection, or even a sense of purpose or direction in life, I love having a collection of prayer verses at the ready. I’ll never forget the night, years ago, when a teenaged Virginia burst into our bedroom and, seeing me sitting up in bed with my book, stopped short. “You are reading your own book?” she asked. “Oh Mom. That is just so sad.”

(What is NOT so sad is that, from now until June 30, you can download the digital version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for just 99 cents. Click here to order…and please pass the word!)

Another book I am LOVING was a gift from my eloquent friend, Michelle:

“Shakespeare,” author Mark Forsyth begins, “was not a genius.” He was a great writer who “started out badly” and only got better because he “learnt techniques and tricks.” The Elements of Eloquence is full of such tricks, all artfully articulated (which would be an example, of course, of alliteration). Whether you’re looking to snag a Pulitzer or just step up your thank you note game, this book is a winner.

And finally, I am finding myself longing for more of the Holy Spirit. Happily for me, the gals in our church are doing a summer study on Catherine Marshall’s The Helperan oldie-and-goodie that covers who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and a whole lot more in 40 bite-sized readings.

Not only that, but I’ve recently discovered a two-book series about the Holy Spirit by Susan Rohrer. Voted “Most Sensible” in high school (a designation she considered an indictment, rather than a compliment), Susan hardly seems the type to delve into things like supernatural gifts. But she does so – with exquisite grace and with a relentless attachment to Scripture, whether she’s talking about “out there” stuff like gifts of healing and prophecy, or the more socially acceptable graces (things like teaching, encouragement, hospitality, and even exceptional creative or technical abilities).

I realize that the Holy Spirit (and particularly his activity in contemporary times) can be a touchy subject in some churches. And I also know (because I’ve seen it happen) that his gifts can be misunderstood or misused. But The Bible in One Year reading plan has us in Acts right now, and when I read Acts 13:52 this week (And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit), I was like, “Yeah. I want THAT.”

If you do, too, check out The Helper or Susan’s books.

And if that’s not where you are (or where you want to go), then just stick with Mark Forsyth. Because, as far as I know, literary tricks like anadiplosis (which I may blog about next week, so start getting excited!!) have never sparked any controversies.

Happy reading!

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To the Final Four…and Beyond!

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

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

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

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Speaking of…can we please just take a moment?

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

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

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

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

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

Badly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Player photo credit @UVAMensHoops)

 

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Guest Post: Don’t Look Back

If you’re a regular on this site, you know that my daughter Virginia just graduated from the University of Virginia, where I like to think that she sometimes studied. She starts her “real job” in New York City next month, but in the meantime, knowing that I am writing like a crazy person to meet the publisher’s deadline for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, she offered to write a few blogs on my behalf. This one hit home. Pray for me, cuz I don’t really love the thought of all my kids growing up, and I’m having a hard time not looking back.

Here’s Virginia (and yes, that’s her in the pic):

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NeedToBreathe has a song called “Won’t Turn Back” where they sing about having faith like a soldier and the strength to stay put in hard circumstances. It is a great song to encourage you when you know you face an upcoming battle or mountain, but what about in the day-to-day life?

Having just graduated from the best school in the world, I constantly find myself looking backwards. It is so easy to get lost in a daydream about spending the afternoons at vineyards or waking up with my six best friends in the same house every morning, all of them up for any adventure. But here’s the thing about looking back: When I spend excess time thinking about Charlottesville, I constantly miss what is happening right in front of me. I miss what God is doing now.

There is a story in the Bible where Moses delivers the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But as soon as they are out, they miss it and want to go back. They miss the food, water, and life of the past, even though they were slaves. To appease and bless them, God sends bread called “manna” out of the sky for them to eat. God provides them with endless manna, meat, and clean water. He gives them more than they could ever ask for on their journey to freedom. But instead of being grateful and satisfied, the Israelites keep complaining. Every little bump in the road causes them to look back and, as a result, they miss the blessings that are right in front of them.

Transitions are constant in life. Whether it is an old school, an old job, an old city or just an old life in general, we all have things we miss. And like the ancient Israelites, we can sometimes idealize whatever we left behind and long to return to our old “easy” way of life.

But we do not have time for that. I’d pray that God would help us to not dwell on the past but rather, to look toward the future with hope and excitement, praising him for what he is doing in the present. With eyes in the front of our heads, humans are designed to look forwards, not backwards.

There is the manna of God’s provision everywhere in our lives; we just have to face forward to see it.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

  

 

 

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