Every year when Memorial Day rolls around, I find myself drawn to Psalm 91. With military imagery (things like shields and ramparts, arrows and tents) and promises of angelic protection, this psalm has often been called “The Soldiers’ Psalm.” It’s a great one to pray for our service men and women; to read the full psalm and discover some of the promises you can claim, click here.
This week, though, the psalm took on fresh meaning after a dear friend’s mother went to be with the Lord. She was a gal who simply radiated joy – whether she was hosting a dinner party or fighting a prayer battle on behalf of her loved ones – and her daily presence will be missed. And as I have prayed for my friend’s family, the words of Psalm 91:4 keep coming to mind:
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Maybe you’re grieving a loss today. Maybe you are one of our nation’s beloved Gold Star families, and you know the pain of a loved one’s sacrifice. Or maybe you find yourself mourning a friend or a family member who “fought the good fight” on the battlefield of life, someone who – like my friend’s mom – stood in the gap on your behalf with prayer, wisdom, and love.
If that’s where you are (or if you know someone else who could use the covering, the refuge, or the shield of God’s comforting presence), join me in making this your Memorial Day prayer:
Cover _____ with your feathers. May _____ find refuge under your wings and be shielded and strengthened by your faithfulness. (Psalm 91:4)
(And thank you, Susan Harrison, for sharing your beautiful pic for this post. You are the best ornithological photographer I know!)
When Captain Robbie pulled up to this dock for re-fueling during our January vacay, I scampered (okay, sort of fell) off the boat. I couldn’t wait to open the door to the old phone booth and see what was inside!
It was just an empty shell, attractive but useless. No lines, no connection, no power.
Aren’t we so glad it’s not like that with God? When we call, he promises to answer! And no topic is too big (or too small) to discuss.
Whatever is on your heart today, take it to him. Let’s start by joining our voices with David’s, and make this request our Friday Prayer:
I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 17:6)
We made camp on the beach on Mother’s Day, surrounded by an assortment of family members and friends. When I turned around and saw my brother, David, tossing his youngest into the air (and caught the uncertain-yet-delighted expression on Julia’s face), I had just one thought:
Lord, I want to be like that.
When the future feels uncertain, when I find myself sort of suspended (or even on the way down, after one of life’s highs), I want my outlook to be one of delight. When I can’t feel the ground beneath my feet, I want to behold the face of my Father and trust in the strength of his arms. I want to choose joy…even if doing so takes more faith than I think that I have.
Which is, I think, a good thing. Over and over again in the Bible (like, literally, more than 150 times), we are exhorted to rejoice. I don’t know why God thinks that’s such a big deal, but looking at David’s face in this pic, I have an idea. I think God takes delight in us. And when he sees us rejoicing – trusting him in life’s trickiest moments – he cannot contain his own joy.
I’d wrap up this post with one of the joy verses (something like Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”), except that, if you’re like me, you might want something more. You might want to rejoice, but maybe you need a little help getting there. And so, with the image of a father and his child fresh in my mind, I am gonna scroll all the way back to Deuteronomy, where Moses blesses the sons of Israel, and offer you this:
There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help… The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27, ESV)
Underneath are the everlasting arms.
Rejoice in the Lord today, Beloved, knowing that you are safe in his arms…and that as God looks into your face, he is smiling.
There is no perfect family. And there is no perfect mom.
We know this, of course. But it can be easy to forget, particularly in an age of professionally produced Christmas cards and Instagram posts that showcase trophies, vacations, and siblings who appear to genuinely like each other.
And it can be easy to feel like you are the only one who is seriously blowing it. Like when you go to the parent-teacher conference and she asks you, in the nicest possible way, if your son is going to get “any pants” for Christmas.
(As if you are the only fourth-grade parent who doesn’t think wearing shorts in 37-degree weather is that bad.)
Lately, I’ve been reviewing some of my parenting failures. (Which, given the fact that Mother’s Day is on Sunday, seems only natural.) And so it was with no small amount of gratitude that I heard my good friend, Susan Yates, say the following:
Your ability to ruin your child is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem him.
Isn’t that awesome? (You can stop reading right there, if you want, and go have yourself a Happy Mother’s Day.)
Susan was in Virginia Beach this week to talk about her new book, Risky Faith, as well as her One Word Cards. She wasn’t here to talk about parenting. But as she cataloged God’s attributes (including his love for us, and his power to provide for our needs and cover our mistakes), I found myself thanking God (not for the first time) for putting this wise woman in my life.
And, listening to Susan speak, I found myself thankful for another wise mentor. My mother. Here she is, on the far left (with Susan and my daughters, Hillary and Annesley, between us):
I’m thankful for my mom for a variety of reasons. Partly for the sappy ones, the sentiments that show up on Mother’s Day cards (You are an amazing mom…I’m so proud to be your child…Thanks for hanging in there with me), but even more for the less-sappy/more-real reasons that don’t. Like the fact that my mom made about a zillion parenting mistakes.
Seriously. My mom consistently modeled imperfect parenting. She was great at that. And now that I am making the exact same mistakes with my kids, I could not be more grateful.
I am grateful to a mother who taught me that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
That it is God’s job (not mine) to work in my kids’ lives so that they will think and behave in ways that line up with his plans. (Philippians 2:13)
And that I really can rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4), even when my kids choose to wear shorts in the snow or make other, more impressive, mistakes of their own. God is, as Susan Yates said, all about redeeming that stuff.
So thank you, Mom. Maybe you aren’t exactly the Proverbs 31 woman, but you’re mighty close. Especially when you get to the second part of verse 25, which you pretty much nail every day: You can laugh at the days to come. You do that well.
And if you’re not my mom – if you’re more uptight like me, and your heart gets in knots over all the things that you didn’t do right, or the things that you could have done better – can I just offer this Mother’s Day prayer? Most of my Friday Prayers can be prayed for your loved ones, but maybe keep this one just for yourself:
Thank you that your grace is all that I need. Help me remember that your power works best in weakness. Let me be glad about my own weaknesses, because that’s what unleashes your strength and releases the power of Christ to work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Thank you that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and that nothing – NOTHING – can separate me from your love. (Romans 8:1 & 39)
What a treat it was to come home from a weekend away and find this on my doorstep:
Who left this lovely bouquet? I have no idea. But the flowers came with a tag: Hope this blesses you & that you pay it forward!
Reading that little note, I was reminded of the power that all of us have to make a difference. To share God’s love. To brighten someone’s day.
Maybe that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words in a letter to some people he loved: So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.
Isn’t that a great prayer? Let’s borrow it today. Let’s ask God to make us fit for whatever he has called us to do, to infuse our good ideas with his power, and to help us “pay it forward” in the lives of the people we love:
Enable _____ to live a life worthy of your call. Give _____ the power to accomplish all the good things that faith inspires. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NLT)
(And if you’re the secret friend who delivered this sweet blessing…thank you. I can’t wait to get out in the garden, refresh the bouquet, and pass it on!)
I need a 12-step plan.
For my addiction.
It’s not something that plagues me all year long, but right now, in the springtime, I cannot pass a nursery or a garden center without stopping. There might be a plant that I missed! A climbing vine I’ve not tried! And I don’t care if it is raining and 57 degrees outside; I can’t wait to start digging! The garden newbies may be small and unremarkable right now, but just wait. In a few weeks, they’ll be spectacular.
I can’t help but think that’s how God looks at us. We’re all works in progress, but he has a vision. He knows what we’ll look like, in time. We may appear small or weak or even broken right now, but in his capable hands all that will change. We’ll become “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
So let’s make that our Friday prayer, trusting the Master Gardener to come in and shape something beautiful in our life, or in the life of someone we love:
Work in _____’s life. May _____ become like a mighty oak, a planting for the display of your splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)
I’ve been poking around in The Book of Common Prayer (which, if you don’t already know, has prayers for just about everything, from unemployment to the care of children to how we spend our free time), and there’s a line in the wrap-up to Holy Communion that goes like this: Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart…
I’ve probably prayed that one 500 times. It’s a wonderful, uplifting way to walk out of church and “go forth into the world” – even if the only place you go forth to is the grocery store.
Maybe it takes 499 times for a prayer to sink in. Or maybe (more likely) it takes a particular sermon. Either way, asking God for “strength and courage” took on new meaning for me this Easter. Our minister, Andy Buchanan, gave a talk during Holy Week where he said that the whole foot-washing thing was a nasty business (so much so that you could not even command a Jewish slave to do that for you), and that when Jesus did the remarkable – the unthinkable! – and washed the disciples’ feet, it set the stage for a dramatic perspective shift. No longer was it enough to simply “do unto others” (as in, treating other people the way that you want to be treated); now, Jesus upped the ante: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Let’s be honest. Most of us get the Golden Rule. Most of us (even if we don’t really follow through) would say it is a good idea to do things for other people that we would want them to do for us: Say thank you. Don’t gossip. Save some of that cake for your husband.
Nowhere, though, would washing somebody’s feet show up on my list. Having grown up in churches where it’s actually a thing, I have been on both sides of the basin – I have washed, and I’ve been washed – and truthfully? I think the whole process is a little bit awkward. It is too intimate, too potentially embarrassing (it’s not like we all have fresh pedicures), and too out-of-my-strike-zone.
Much easier, I think, to just take somebody a meal.
Which is, I think, the whole point. When Jesus gives us a “new command” about how we are to love other people (and accompanies it with a demonstration of the most humble and unappealing service) we have to do a little gut check. I mean, I like to think I would obey Christ (that I would “love as he loved”) but would I? Would I love and serve other people even if it meant getting too close? Going out of my comfort zone? Doing something that is inconvenient…messy…or hard?
I don’t know. I doubt it. Which is why, when I prayed that post-Communion prayer for the 500th time on Easter Sunday, the idea that I could ask God for “strength and courage” came as a blessed relief. If I am going to go forth into the world and serve God “with gladness and singleness of heart” in the awkward or difficult places, I am going to need some divine help.
Because again, let’s be honest. When you get up and go forth after church, you never know who you’ll see at the grocery. Chances are, they don’t want their feet washed. But you can bet that they want to be loved.
We missed having our daughter, Virginia, home for Easter. She lives in New York City and couldn’t make the trip, but we did get to enjoy some FaceTime with her on Sunday. She called us during an afternoon walk.
As I looked beyond her face and saw the bustling city, with all of its people and traffic and noise, I couldn’t help but wonder: Did anyone know it was Easter? Were people thinking about the Big News of the day? Did they care that He is Risen?
“I don’t know,” Virginia said. “But I kind of doubt it. Like, it looks pretty much like any other day in New York.”
I don’t know why, but that hit me. All of these people, walking around, going about their business, seemingly oblivious to the depth of God’s sacrifice…the height of his resurrection power…and the immeasurable breadth of his love. How could they not know?
And then I felt God whisper something gentle to my heart. “Jodie,” he said, “You don’t really know, either. You have not even begun to grasp the full extent of my love.”
Okay then. That was kind of an eye-opener, and it’s really stuck with me this week. I want to know more of God’s love. I want to take hold of it. And I want my children, my husband, and my friends to grasp it, too.
Which is why I am borrowing some words first written by the Apostle Paul as the basis for today’s Friday Prayer. And if that’s where your heart is today – if you are longing for more of God’s love – I invite you to join me. Pray this one for yourself, for someone you love, or (if you’re feeling like you want to go big) for every single person in New York City.
I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
I love Easter traditions. One of ours is to drag The (Very Heavy) Egg out to the street on Saturday night, under the cover of darkness…
…and then take a family pic the next day (an exercise that almost always involves stopping traffic and checking around the ankles for stray poison ivy!):
And speaking of Easter traditions…thanks so much to everyone who posted a comment on last week’s Easter Basket Giveaway. I LOVED hearing your stories and reading about all the ways that you celebrate our Risen Lord!
And to Emily in Leesburg, Virginia and Sally in Winston-Salem, NC, who each received a copy of the new book, Unshaken. Sally, lots of readers told me how much they liked your story about setting your alarm for 1:45 a.m., dragging your blanket-wrapped kids out of bed and onto the front porch, and listening for the sounds of the Moravian Band and their 1.5 minute-long rendition of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” That took top honors in the unofficial “favorite memories” contest!
And finally, a shout out to Cindy in Chesapeake, Virginia, a next-door neighbor to Virginia Beach, who got her teenagers up for the sunrise service at the beach – after they’d been out super late the night before at a Youth Group event! Double points for the parenting effort we all know that took! Cindy won the limited edition Scripture Prayer Cards that were lovingly created by the gals at Sisters Ink. (You can’t buy the cards, but you can contact the Sisters for wedding invitations, exquisite stationery, and more!)
Many thanks…lots of love…and He is Risen Indeed!
You know the verse. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
But here’s another nugget, one that brings John 3:16 into a little sharper focus: Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)
I’m letting these verses – the one so familiar, the other so sobering – make camp in my heart. Taken together, they’re giving shape to our Good Friday prayer: