We had four kids in six years. Robbie’s job kept us on the move (it got so that people would ask if I were a Navy wife and, when I said no, they’d squint their eyes and take a step back, like maybe we were in Witness Protection). Without any family nearby, I reached out to anyone who looked nice. Including potential babysitters. I didn’t check references; if you had a pulse, you were hired.
I must have had the look of the blitzkrieged back then, because all sorts of strangers gave me advice. Some of it was not super helpful (like the lady who said it was “not safe” to put four children into one grocery cart, especially when they were covered by boxes of Captain Crunch, Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, and some cheap Chardonnay. “Can the baby breathe under there?” she wanted to know. But did she offer to babysit so I could go by myself to the store? I don’t think so).
Some tips, though, were really good. Like, a gal in one of my Bible Studies (I went to at least two, whenever we moved, because Childcare) told me that I would never remember all the funny/cute/awful/wise things my kids said, down the road.
“Just write what they say on a napkin, or a receipt or whatever,” the sage woman said, “and then throw it into a drawer. Later, you will be glad.”
Well, it’s later.
And I’m glad.
Because I accidentally found the contents of the drawer (which, during one of the moves, got transferred into a filing box) last week. Consider the following:
Annesley (and if you’ve read my books or been around this blog for awhile, this won’t surprise you) was always a girl with a plan. And her questions were usually deep:
Mom, when you die, can I have this ring? (She was a five-year old, eyeing my wedding diamond.) Like, if I just slip it off your finger real gently and quick…would you mind?
I wish I’d recorded my answer. I have no idea what I said. I hope it was something wise and comforting, something along the lines of, “Oh honey, it will be a long time before Mommy dies.”
(Or maybe something a bit more to the point. Like, “Get thee behind me, Child.”)
On the plus side, the file also revealed Annesley’s keen ear for the Lord. How, she wanted to know, could you tell if it was God speaking to you, or if it was just your own voice in your head?
A fair question. And one that many of us might be asking today. And my answer started out well.
“Well,” I said, “For one thing, God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.”
Annesley looked a bit blank, so I plowed ahead (and here’s where things got a bit dicey). “Like, the Bible says things like Thou shalt not kill, and Honor your father and your mother. So if you felt like God was telling you to kill your mother, you could be sure that that wasn’t his voice.”
(Okay, okay. I had four kids in six years, remember? I was not at the top of my intellectual game.)
“Kill your mother?” Annesley repeated, incredulous (which I took as a good sign, given the whole wedding ring thing). But then she folded her arms, and gave it some thought.
“Well,” she finally said, “it that was God, he’d have to have a PRETTY GOOD reason.”
Anyhow. I know my example might not be the most appropriate one, but the principle remains true: When God tells us something, it will never run counter to what he says the Bible. That’s one sure way we can check to see if it’s him.
Another telltale sign that it’s God is that he may convict or correct us, but he never condemns. You know that inner voice that says, “You’re pathetic… You stink… Shame on you…”? Yeah. That one. That one is not God. That’s our enemy, the accuser. Also known as the father of lies. Don’t listen.
Listen, instead, for encouraging words. Words that build you up and prepare you to live a purpose-filled life. God’s voice is like his written word, “useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training” so that we may “be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
And finally, God’s voice is never scattered or frantic, and it’s rarely loud. Instead, it might come as a whisper. And it might take awhile to discern. Which is one of the reasons why the Bible is so keen on us biding our time. “Though [the revelation] linger,” Habakkuk 2:3 reminds us, “wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
These three signs – consistency with Scripture, convicting rather than condemning, and focused rather than frantic – are hallmarks of God’s voice. There are others, of course (and you can discover more via studies like Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God, which I quote in the upcoming Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, because I think one of the keys to writing a half-decent book is tapping into the wisdom of people way smarter than you).
But at least I’ve got these three markers down. And the next time someone gives me advice – whether it’s a lady in the grocery store, a gal at my Bible study, or a voice in my head – I’m gonna be ready. I will stack the words up against the counsel of God.
(And the next time one of my kids comes up with a question, I am for sure going to have a better reply.)
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.
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
When Annesley was three years old, she loved puzzles. But rather than fitting the edge pieces together or tackling certain sections of the picture, she would methodically work from left to right, trying each of the two or three hundred tiny pieces in sequence like some sort of towheaded computer.
Later, when she learned to write, Annesley became a list maker. At night, she would pick out clothes to wear to school the next day, and then make a list of the clothes and how they were to be worn (“Pull socks up to knees”), just in case she forgot. When she babysat for her younger siblings, we always came home to a written report (“Virginia fell on my homework and pulled my pants down”). And one New Year’s Eve I found Annesley working away on her top ten resolutions, recorded in capital letters for added significance:
EXERCISE EVERY SATURDAY.
GO TO BED AT 8:30.
TALK TO GOD EVERY MORNING. (A noble goal, to be sure, but clearly less important than Annesley’s desire to HAVE A GOOD BIRTHDAY).
In addition to making lists, Annesley liked to clean out her drawers, label sections of her closet according to season, and keep track of things like assignments, appointments, and family vacations on the calendar she got from the dentist. None of my other kids were so compulsive, and I didn’t know any other seven-year-olds who begged to make chore charts for the family. To be honest, I didn’t really know how to take Annesley. I thought she was quirky. In a good sort of way.
It was not until years later – as I watched my girl make hard jobs look easy, pay attention to small details, and visualize goals and the steps needed to get there – that I realized she was not quirky. Annesley has a God-given gift of organization.
My friend Susan Alexander Yates, who wrote a book called Character Matters: Raising Kids with Values that Last, advises parents to pay attention to the gifts that God gives their children, and clue them in on the fact that God has given them these talents or abilities for a purpose. “A sense of destiny,” Susan says, “will encourage our children. Learning to recognize their gifts will enable them to discern more quickly the ways in which God might use them.”
By the same token, learning to recognize our gifts can help us (or our children) avoid misusing them. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” That’s true. But perfect gifts in the hands of imperfect people can sometimes be tricky.
Organizers, for instance, may be really good delegators, but they can also be bossy. They can become easily frustrated when others are slow to grasp their vision. And they can put projects ahead of people, neglecting the Colossians 3:14 command to cover all of our virtues with love.
How do I know these things? Because I am an organizer. And as Annesley grew, I prayed that in sharing my gifts, she would be spared my tendencies to misuse them.
Today, Annesley works at an architecture firm, designing buildings and managing construction projects for big universities where inches and dollars both matter. (She actually likes to keep track of that stuff.) And God continues to use her organizational abilities and her Be Prepared personality to bless our family; she’s the one we can always count on to have Advil, a notepad, and money.
(And Annes, if you are reading this, thank you.)
But here’s the thing. Maybe your child’s not an organizer. Maybe she is an accomplished musician, or a technological whiz. Maybe his heart beats with compassion, and you already see him caring for people who hurt. Maybe your child is a leader. Or maybe he or she delights in encouraging others who lead.
If you want to discover (and celebrate) the way that God created your children, I’ve got some good news.
First, this post was excerpted from Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, which Amazon is offering right now in the Kindle version for just $2.99. Click here to get a copy (or, if you already have the book, consider passing this news along to a friend).
And, even better, the fact that God gives our kids gifts – and that he equips them to use them – is actually an invitation to pray. There are so many good verses that speak to this topic (check out Exodus 31:1-5, Romans 12:6-8, or Proverbs 22:29 for just some of the gifts God provides), but here’s an all-purpose prayer we can use. Because it doesn’t matter how old our kids are, how organized (or not) they might be, or even how totally committed they are to getting exercise EVERY SATURDAY: God loves them just the way they are, and he has a wonderful plan for their lives!
Equip ______ to use whatever gift they have received to serve others, faithfully administering your grace in all its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
I am one of those people who was FOMO before that was a thing. Like, early on in our marriage, Robbie and I would be driving down a street and we’d pass a house where there was clearly a party in progress.
“Just look at all those cars,” I’d say. “Slow down. Look at the lights in the windows…”
Robbie rarely looked. Or slowed down. He usually kept driving, while I craned my neck. And then, as the house slipped out of view, I would lean back in my seat.
“I wish we’d been invited.”
“Jodie,” Robbie would reply, drawing my name out the way you do when you are trying to explain something to a particularly low-wattage person, “We don’t know the people who live there.”
“I know,” I’d sigh. “But we could meet them. And I am pretty sure that they’d like us.”
I want to be liked.
Last week, for instance, I went to the grocery store, and the checkout gal was not very nice. I gave her my best “Hey there!” smile, but it was obvious that she did not want me in her line. The only thing she wanted was to scan my Klondike Bars and get me out of there.
“I bet you’re not gonna go back there anytime soon,” a friend laughed, when I told her about the experience.
“Are you kidding?” I countered. “I’m going back there tomorrow! I’m gonna get back in her line every day, until we are friends!”
All of this is to say that you would THINK I would have been the first person on Facebook, back when Mark Zuckerberg brought it out of his basement or whatever. Say what you will about the social behemoth; it is clearly a place to find friends. In fact, I did a video series about friendship a few years ago, and I found a website where you could even buy friends. For $200, you could get 1000 of them. Seriously. And these were real people—people who would actually follow you and post comments about your life.
(What’s not to love?)
You would think I’d be all about Facebook…but you would be wrong. Maybe it’s the idea of buying friends that was kind of a turn off. Maybe it’s the whole “look at me” thing. Maybe it’s that I’d read all these studies showing how people actually get depressed after looking at Facebook, since their friends are laughing and drinking and dancing in Paris or wherever, while they’re sitting home watching Netflix. As one of the founders of FOMO, I knew I’d be taking a risk.
Or maybe my Facebook aversion has more somber roots. Maybe it’s that I was brought up in a highly evangelical Christian home where we were warned, from our earliest years, to avoid “the mark of the beast.” Nobody ever explained what the mark actually was, but anything that had the power to lure billions of people and capture what felt like their every waking moment certainly, I thought, had potential. There was a reason they called it “The Web.”
(And when Robbie reads this blog he will tell me that Facebook is not the same thing as the Web. And I will say, “That’s what They want you to think.”)
Change happens. And in my case, change happened when the marketing team that HarperCollins hired to help promote my new book (Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children releases in just a few weeks!) discovered that I was not yet on Facebook.
“Jodie,” they said (again, speaking slowly), “You need an account. Facebook is where your readers are.”
“Yes. All of the demographics agree. Facebook is where the older women hang out.”
Ahhh, yes. The older women. My people.
And so, despite the potential for depression and my fear of the beast and all that, I jumped in. The marketing folks (who, if you need marketing folks, are actually amazing; you can find them at C. Grant and Company) designed a big, beautiful page and then set up my training.
(Seriously, y’all. I had Facebook training. Over the phone. And, about 20 minutes into the first session, Robbie—who was in the other room listening to me try to upload a photo, while the poor C. Grant person tried to coach me through the process—finally decided he couldn’t take it anymore. “Do I need to come in there?” he yelled, loud enough for the marketing lady to hear. #Marriage.)
I finally got the hang of it—at least enough to log in—and I put my account into the Facebook search bar: Jodie Berndt Writes.
And here’s what came up:
Can you imagine? It’s like the entire Internet was looking at me, saying: You have no friends.
Not knowing what else to do (I didn’t want to ask the marketing gal how I could find friends; there is only so much stupid one person can take), I did what all of the other old ladies do.
I reached out to my kids.
(You can’t like regular people? Lord, help us.)
I don’t really know what I am doing. But if you are already on Facebook, you probably do. And if so, will you like me? Or follow me? Or maybe even share my page with any geriatric people you know? I hope if you click here it will take you to the right page; here’s what it looks like:
I think the C. Grant folks did a great job. And honestly? I feel like I did when my Dad gave me that really nice tennis racquet for Christmas one year. He was a good tennis player, and that present made him so happy.
I wanted to be happy, too. I just needed to figure out how to use the darn thing. And I’ll figure Facebook out, too. It might take me awhile (tennis sure did), but I’ll get there.
And in the meantime, I will be going back to the grocery store, trying to find my cashier. I don’t care if she doesn’t like me. Because Jesus, the best friend a gal could ever hope to have, never said anything about “likes.” He talked about love, the kind that is patient, forgiving, and faithful. The kind that puts other folks first. The kind that would do anything – anything – to show someone how much she is loved.
So here’s the plan. I’m gonna load up on the Klondikes, put on my very best “Let’s be friends” face, and go show that lady who loves her.
Once upon a time, when my man put on his wetsuit, it meant there were waves. And his Bean boots? A sure sign there were ducks.
Now, though, these wardrobe staples are more apt to mean there is mildew.
I keep trying to tell Robbie that pressure washing is kind of a sport. He’s less than convinced.
(And he did not really want to smile for this pic, which only makes me love him even more.)
The bad news is that I snapped this photo right after the pressure washer blew up. The good news (at least for me) is that seeing Robbie out there reminded me of a post I wrote two years ago and, since I am on the road this week, you’re getting a rerun. Hope that’s okay – and that you’ll read this and still know how much you are loved!
Pressure Washed Love
Hillary’s wedding is just two months away, and with an at-home reception, you can imagine the Honey-Do list Robbie wakes up to most weekends. Some of it, though, he thinks up all by himself.
Like pressure washing the dock.
Now, I don’t generally like things that look all perfect and new, so this is not a project I would have encouraged. But when Robbie tactfully observed that we’d passed “vintage chic” a few years back and were now headed into the “slip-n-slide” stage of outdoor decorating, I saw his point. Weddings have enough natural pitfalls without sending Grandma and her wine glass into the bay, midway through the party.
While I mulled that one over, Robbie suited up in his duck boots, his hat, and his SPF shirt and headed out to the garage. I’d always thought pressure washing was basically a grown up version of playing in the sprinkler, and I wondered why he needed all the gear. It was a warm and sunny day; why not do it barefoot?
“If this water cuts across your toes,” he explained, “it’ll saw ’em right off.”
If you’ve read Gary Chapman’s book about Love Languages, you’ll know what I mean when I say that Acts of Service is tops on my list, and when my man came back in the house after a couple of hours – absolutely filthy and only half-way finished – I thought he was awesome. He was also exhausted, and so when he went off to work on Monday morning I went out to the dock, thinking I’d surprise him and finish the job.
Yeah, so pressure washing is harder than it looks.
Just starting the machine (which involves one of those ghastly pull cords designed to make men feel manly) was challenging enough, but if you’ve never pulled the trigger on one of those things, well. It took every ounce of my fourth-grade gymnastics training not to fall overboard from the kick.
Eventually, though, I got the hang of it, and I managed to do another mile or two of boards. There was no way I could finish before sunset, though, and my spirits sagged. Knowing that Acts of Service is not Robbie’s love language, but wanting to send the message anyway, I decided to try Words of Encouragement:
Now, if pressure washing a dock is hard, let me assure you that pressure washing a sentence is harder. I tried block letters first, but that involved stopping and starting the nozzle-gun, and the kick got me every time. So I resorted to cursive, which I hear is no longer being taught in schools. Which is a real tragedy, given how had it is to pressure wash “I love you” in print.
On the plus side, the nice thing about pressure washing is that, once you have a good grip (and you stop getting tangled up in the hose), you have a lot of time to think. And as I watched the boards go from slimy to clean, I thought about Jesus. I thought about how he pretty much pressure washed our whole lives through his work on the cross. I thought about how his arms must have hurt, even more than mine did, as he hung there. And I thought how cool it was that he could do the job once and for all and say, “It is finished,” without having to suit up again the next weekend.
Most of all I thought about how, in that once and forever act of service, he wrote “I love you” on our hearts.
Last week, a friend summed up the reason for Las Vegas (and pretty much every other awful thing). “These things happen,” she said, “because the world is evil. And until people recognize that–until they realize that the only answer is Jesus–they will never know peace.”
I had to agree. I was less worked up than my friend (we’d been running, and she was pretty sweaty about it), but I realized that she was completely and totally right. Nobody is good. “We all,” Isaiah 53:6 says, “have gone astray.” And we’d all be doomed, except for the second part of that verse: “…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Garden Club.
Which is, I realize, an unusual, and possibly inappropriate, segue. But I promised to tell you about the Pansy Sale. And I think it kind of fits, here.
If you’ve ever been in a garden club, you know it’s the sort of group that attracts Very Capable women. Women who get things done. Women who, had they been aboard the Titanic, would have had duct tape stashed in their purse.
The Virginia Beach Garden Club has about 60 of these gals. And every year, we put on our aprons and get together to raise a boatload of money for veterans’ gardens, children’s hospital spaces, environmental education and conservation efforts, and all manner of community beautification projects.
It’s pretty good stuff. And, generally speaking, people are happy.
Except when they aren’t.
Which happens, sometimes. Like when a customer orders Delta True Blue pansies and decides, when she comes to pick them up, that she really wants Delta Blue with Blotch. (We let her switch.)
Or when someone who is not “authorized” tries to put her hands in the order form box. That’s not cool.
Or (and honestly, this is the stuff of garden club nightmares) when we run out of flowers.
Which is what happened this year.
Due to an accounting error (which would, ah, be mine), we came up ten flats short. Of Delta Pure Orange. Which, in case you don’t know, is a great-looking pansy:
We had customers waiting to pick up their orders – their orders of Delta Pure Orange – but we had run out. There was not an orange blossom in sight. Fortunately, I remembered seeing ten flats of the coveted flower outside of the sale, in the place where we’d stashed 115 flats for the City to plant.
(And if you think you are bored right now, please. I lived this.)
“Come on,” I said to my co-chair, Latané. “Let’s grab those orange pansies outside.”
And we did. We grabbed a giant metal rack, dashed out to the parking lot, and loaded ‘er up. We thought we were safe. But no. Somebody’s husband was watching. It was just like I used to tell my kids, when I’d quote Numbers 32:23. “You may be sure your sin will find you out.”
The guy texted his wife:
(It’s true. Garden club is a dirty business.)
The thing is, though, I was not, technically, stealing the pansies. I had a plan to replace them. And I was just about to get on the phone to our supplier to order up ten more flats of Delta Pure Orange when I heard a commotion on the other side of the pansy cart. I poked my head around the flowers just in time to see the guy from the City rip into my friend Dee (who, in addition to being a long-time member of the Garden Club, also happens to be the subject of our book The Undertaker’s Wife).
Dee, having spent half her life in the funeral business and all, ain’t scared of much. Normally, she has an answer for everything. But as she stood there, getting positively clobbered by a very big man who’d been robbed of his pansies, I could see she was shaken.
“I–” she began. “I don’t know anything about your missing pansies.”
Dee’s profession of innocence did nothing to curb the man’s ire. He went on. “I want my pansies! I want the pansies I ordered! None of this funny business, okay?”
(He actually said that. He actually said “funny business.”)
Now, at this point you are probably wondering why I did not step in to rescue my friend. I was about to, but you know how sometimes things unfold in slow motion? Yeah. All I could think, as I watched the assault, was how much Dee was looking like Jesus. She had done nothing wrong (and she is, in fact, a garden club member in very good standing) and yet here she was, paying the price for my sin.
It was like watching the entire gospel message unfold in less than 30 seconds. I was smitten.
You’ll be glad to know that I finally stepped in, calmed the guy down, and got his flowers replaced. Pansy crisis, averted.
But the whole thing got me thinking. Nobody stepped in for Jesus. He absorbed all of our sin, every last bit, so that we could be free. And he did it so that our hearts (which are so naturally bad) would have the chance to be good.
And in that act, he gave us the answer for evil. The only answer. And every single time somebody turns toward him, the darkness gets pushed a little more back.
Evil will lose, eventually. “No longer,” it says in Revelation 22:3, “will there be any curse.” And in the meantime, we can take heart. As in, literally.
As in, we can take God up on his offer to get rid of our old yucky heart (the one that leads us astray) and replace it with the heart he designed. Cuz that’s been his plan, from the start: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
Swapping True Blue pansies for Blue with Blotch won’t change anyone’s life. It won’t push back the darkness, or deliver us from evil.
But swapping your heart out for God’s most certainly will.
I wanted to write a funny blog this week. I really did. I feel like I could use a good chuckle.
And with it being the Fall Flower Festival week at the Garden Club, it’s not like I don’t have the material. You try locking 70 women in a giant convention hall for two days and asking them to hawk 56,387 pounds of pansies to their family and friends, and see if you don’t roll on the floor at some point. Stephen Colbert, eat your heart out.
Honestly, though? The pansy story will keep. Cuz right now I’m not feeling that funny. The planet is reeling from earthquakes and hurricanes. A friend’s sister lost her new baby this week. And now we have Vegas. I just cannot imagine.
The FBI, according to news reports, is still seeking a motive. Which is ironic, in a way, because so am I.
I know God is good. And I know he is powerful. And when stuff like this happens, I find myself saying, “God, what on earth were you thinking?”
I feel like I’d feel better if I could just see God’s hand, if he just clued me in or reassured me somehow, the way that I whispered to my young daughters in the movie theater during Beauty and the Beast when the wolves came out and surrounded Belle’s father. “Don’t be scared,” I remember saying. “Just wait. I will all be okay.”
Sometimes, though, God keeps his cards close to his vest. And so, instead of grasping his plan, I’m left taking my friend Michelle’s advice, honed during a time when her own faith was tested:
“You can’t always see God’s hand,” she says. “But you can trust his heart.”
Wise counsel. Because we can trust God’s heart. And we can be confident that he is totally, unreservedly for us. In fact, if the only Bible verse we ever heard was John 3:16, that would be enough. God loved us so much that he gave his son’s life.
(Which is another thing that, being a mom, I cannot begin to imagine.)
I do trust God’s heart. I really do. But if you’re like me, and you want to “figure God out” (which Virginia always says I can’t do), you’ll love something I read this past week. It’s from Isaiah 66, a passage that talks about God’s ultimate plan:
“As a mother comforts her child,” God says in verse 13, “so I will comfort you.”
“When you see this, your hearts will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants.”
The hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants. If there is a more hope-filled promise for “figure it out” gals like me, I’ve not yet found it. Just knowing that one day it will all add up and make sense is enough to keep me going, for now.
In the meantime, I will rely on God’s comfort. And if that’s what you want too, here’s one way we can pray:
Send your Holy Spirit, who is called the Comforter, to remind us of your love and give us your peace. Do not let our hearts be troubled, and keep us from being afraid. (John 14:26-27)
And Lord, in your perfect timing, we ask that you would switch things up. Give us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)
Help us, during those times when we cannot see your hand, to trust your heart.
Would you rather be an ear or a hand?
That’s the title of the talk I did at Galilee Church yesterday. We are studying Spiritual Gifts this semester, and my job was to cover the seven gifts that the Apostle Paul outlines in Romans 12. Paul makes a case for the fact that we all have different gifts, and that these things should all be honored and celebrated since “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body.”
Laura, the gal who runs the Instagram account for our study, came up with a fabulous graphic:
Because seriously. Who better than Mr. Potato Head (or, in this case, Ms. “Wonder Woman” Potato Head) to ask whether you need an ear or a hand? Clearly, this is a gal who values all of her body parts.
As I prepared to teach, I remembered a game that our family used to play on car trips, or at other times when we wanted to talk about deep and life-shaping things. It’s called “Would You Rather?” and, basically, it’s a conversation starter where anything goes: Would you rather be somewhat annoying or totally dull? Would you rather have good hair or good legs? Would you rather (and this is the question that actually got our family game started) suck an old man’s toes, or have an old man suck your toes?
(Yeah. I’m not proud of that one.)
(But I did write a blog about it, a couple years back. Click here here if you want.)
As I mulled the Romans 12 list (prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy), and considered some of the other passages we’ll study (like 1 Corinthians 12, which talks about gifts like healing, or having a word of knowledge, or speaking in tongues), I realized that I sometimes approach God’s gifts the way I do vegetables: I like broccoli, but I’d rather pass on the beets. I was fine if God wanted to give me the spiritual gift of teaching, encouragement, or even hospitality (because apparently if it’s a spiritual gift and not a Martha Stewart thing, the linens don’t all have to match). But when it came to the more mystical stuff – stuff like the gift of interpretation (which is where somebody speaks in tongues and you understand what they are saying, and you translate for everyone) I balked. To me, that was way out on a limb. Way too much margin for error.
I mean, I barely made it through French.
But then, as I worked on the teaching, I kept coming around to something Paul said: All these (that is, all of the gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Ahhh. There was the rub. Did I think it was up to me to tell God which gifts I would “rather” have? Or was I willing to let him do the picking?
Like pretty much everything in this Christian life that I don’t always understand, I knew there was only one answer. I had to put myself in God’s hands. I had to let him decide how to “grace” me, even if he nudged me out onto a limb. Because honestly? He knows how I am formed (Psalm 139), and he’s got a plan for the part I should play in the body of Christ.
And that’s actually the crazy part. The spiritual gifts aren’t even about me. They are meant for the body of Christ. They are meant to build others up – to strengthen the church, to meet people’s needs, to point folks to Christ – and to bring glory to God. Who cares if God makes me an ear or a hand? It’s not about me!
Phew. Okay. That’s enough deep thought for today. It’s Friday. It’s time for me to start asking myself: Would you rather have pizza or wine? (Um…I’ll take both.)
But if Spiritual Gifts is a topic that interests you and you want to follow along with our study, you can watch the videos here (scroll all the way down to the bottom; I think my friend Lisa’s captivating message on 1 Peter 4 is up there this week).
And if you find yourself where I was, not really sure if you’d rather let God gift you or not, can I just encourage you with this one little prayer? It’s something I’ve prayed any number of times, as I’ve sensed God prompting me to do something that didn’t come naturally, or that I did not understand. It’s a good one, and it’s one that I know God will answer:
Lord, make me willing.
I want to receive all that you have; I want to follow you with all of my heart. But I am going to need help.
So please show me your truth. Open my heart.
Make me willing to go where you lead.
Okay Y’all. You know that September is book giveaway month — and congratulations to Sharon G. and Beth P., who won last week’s copies of Sara Hagerty’s new release, Unseen (which my pal Jeannie Cunnion and I are super excited about!):
Today I want to share insights from another beloved author friend, Hannah Whitall Smith. And BTW, Hannah has no idea that we are friends, but I know we will be, in heaven. She looks like someone you could confide in:
The reason I want to tell you about Hannah today is because of something she wrote about the “mother-heart of God.” And if you’re praying for a child who has made some bad choices (or who has maybe even walked away from the Lord or from your family), listen up. Because Hannah said (and I know you mamas will get this) that her experience as a mother did more than anything else to shape her ideas about God’s goodness and love.
“Who,” she wrote, “can imagine a mother with a lost child ever having a ray of comfort until the child is found, and who can imagine God being more indifferent than a mother?”
(In other words, take the love you have for your child, times it by about a zillion, and realize that God will never stop loving — and pursuing — your child.)
Not only that, but I love what Hannah said about the whole idea of being “lost”:
“Are we not,” she wrote, “distinctly told that the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine good sheep in order to find the one naughty sheep that is lost, and that He looks for it until He finds it? And, viewed in the light of motherhood, has not that word ‘lost’ a most comforting meaning, since nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found?”
Nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found.
Isn’t that just the best? As a mom, I love knowing that my children belong to God. I love knowing that he is loving enough to go after them, and powerful enough to do more in their lives than anything I could ask for or imagine.
And if you’re praying for a prodigal today, can I just encourage you with a couple of thoughts? This is something I talk more about in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, but that book doesn’t come out until December, and maybe some of you need this right now:
First, God knows our pain. He knows exactly what it’s like to love a child, to teach him to walk, to feed him and kiss his cheek—and then to have that child grow up and walk away, choosing a world marked by bondage, rebellion, dishonesty, and destruction. He knows what it’s like to be angry with a child or devastated by his choices…and yet still be utterly, overwhelmingly consumed by love. (If you don’t believe me, check out Hosea 1:1-11.)
Second, God’s love for our children is not contingent on their faithfulness (or on ours). God’s love is higher than the heavens, his faithfulness reaches to the skies, and even if we are faithless, he remains faithful. He can’t help it; that’s just who he is. (Psalm 108:4, 2 Timothy 2:13)
And finally, God gives us a wealth of promises that we can use to pray for our children. Jesus told his disciples that no one could come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44), so let’s pray that. Let’s ask our gracious Father – the God who is infinitely tender, and infinitely strong – to draw our kids to Christ, and bring them home.
Give _____ a heart to know you, that you are the Lord. Count ______ among your people. Be their God. And draw them to return to you with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
(The quotations from Hannah Smith are from the original edition of her spiritual autobiography, The Unselfishness of God. I can’t find that book in print, and more recent versions omit several chapters. But Catherine Marshall talks about Hannah and the mother-heart of God in her book Beyond Our Selves – you can find the relevant stuff in chapter 2.)
If you have children, you probably know how embarrassing it is to be you. I know I do.
Sometimes, though, I just can’t help myself.
Like on our last family vacation. We’d gathered in Bethany Beach, Delaware, where pretty much every beach-goer is either a lacrosse player, a bookworm, or (and yes, this does happen) both. Oceanfront real estate is dear, and by 9:00 a.m. every day, the good campsites have all been claimed by athletes and readers. Families stack themselves three and four deep, the ones in the back having to thread a course between chairs, towels, sports equipment, and a summer’s worth of New York Times Bestsellers just to get to the waves.
Got the picture? Good.
Because it was going on noon and the beach was super crowded when I finished Sara Hagerty’s new book, Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed.
I’d started reading early that morning, taking my coffee and the book out to the sand.
I read about Sara’s post-college passion to “change the world for God,” and how her escalating effort to get the job done (and earn the approval of others) left her empty. I read about her career in sales and how, in the midst of client presentations and spreadsheets and co-workers who took credit for her work, she found herself craving more. I read about how, as a young mom, Sara tried to make a difference in her family amid piles of laundry, endless meal prep, and bickering kids in the backseat…and how, through it all, she scouted her days, trolling for the tiniest sign that what she was doing mattered.
I read about how God saw her in those hidden seasons, those hard-to-measure “middle minutes” of our lives. And I read how Sara saw Him, too. How she found herself drawn by His gentle expression. By his open stance. By the lines on His face.
The lines on God’s face.
Can you imagine? That image – that one little line, hinting at indescribable closeness with God – just undid me.
Fortunately, my kids didn’t notice the tears slipping out from behind my sunglasses, or the fact that (and I am not proud of this) I had to blow my nose into my beach towel. What they did see, however (and what pretty much everyone saw), was when I stood up.
As I said before, I couldn’t help myself. So captivated was I by the raw beauty of Sara’s writing that, when I finished the book, I had to let someone know. Thinking that I was only addressing my family, I held the book aloft (as in high, as in above my head) and said: “THIS is the BEST BOOK on the WHOLE BEACH.”
I turned, wondering who had spoken.
It was a lacrosse player seated one campsite over. He wasn’t reading, but his mom and his grandmom both had books in their laps. As did about 15 other beach-goers, who all now looked up, expectantly, to see what book was so good.
I had no choice. As my children buried their heads in their towels, trying to signal that they were not actually with me, I plowed ahead.
“Yes,” I replied. “Yes it is.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about…” and here I faltered. How do you tell someone that the best book on the beach is about how God has lines on his face? Or that it’s about how he sees you, and loves you, even in the most mundane and seemingly unproductive moments of your life? Or how he just…knows.
“It’s about God,” I finally said. “It’s about how we were actually made to be seen. And it’s…it’s just really good.”
“Okay,” said the lacrosse player. “I’ll check it out.”
I hope he did.
And I hope you will, too. Because I realize, reading back over this post, that I have not done a good job of explaining this book. Not at all.
Fortunately, Sara gave me permission to share an excerpt with you. And I’ll do that in just a sec, but first, you need to know two things.
Number One. Right now (as in, right now, cuz this promo ends tomorrow), Zondervan is offering a buy-one-get-one deal on copies of Unseen purchased at Barnes & Noble. Click here for details.
And Number Two. If you want a FREE copy of the book, post a comment on this blog. Tell me if you like Sara’s writing (I loved her first book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet), or maybe what you’ve done lately to embarrass your kids. Or just say hello; anyone who comments will be entered to win (and I love this book so much that I’ll actually pick two winners, so your odds just went up). This giveaway will be live through 9/21, so jump on it.
“Why this waste?”
(excerpted from Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed)
I’d been in a suit and heels since 5:00 a.m., and after a full morning, I was at the airport for an early afternoon flight home—home to a husband, but no children.
I’d recently started to crave more. I wanted more from my sales support job. I wasn’t tired of doing it or even tired of the desk work and the travel, but I was tired of working for little more than sales goals and a paycheck. I wanted more than productivity and success. I wanted brushes with God and meaning and almost anything that mattered but wasn’t easily measured.
My work for the day was done and I was tired, but my heart was hungry, and I was beginning to like heart hunger. So I prayed: God, I want to meet with You in this airport.
Meeting Him required quieting my insides enough to hear and respond. The kind of dialogue I was learning to have with God burgeoned when I saw it as an exchange—my mind for His thoughts, my fear for His assurance, my whispers for His response. As I made my way to a restaurant near my gate, I noticed an elderly gentleman who was being pushed in a wheelchair. I prayed for God to breathe life and strength into his frail body. I saw a man running as fast as my mind usually worked, and I prayed his racing heart would come to know Jesus. I saw a young woman with vacant eyes, and I prayed she would find the filling her heart most needed. I realized afresh that the people all around me weren’t merely interesting. They were God-created. I wanted to talk to Him about what He had made.
God, what do You see in the man who is late for his flight? And the one in the wheelchair—how do You see the heart buried underneath that broken body? Rather than looking at people as faces among the masses, I asked for His eyes for them and responded with minute-long prayers: God, I want to meet You in this airport.
No one knew this conversation I was having in my head with God. And I was starting to like these secret exchanges.
At the restaurant, I grabbed the last available seat at the bar, which was full of day travelers with carry-ons. As I scooted up onto my stool and glanced at the laminated menu, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me. He looked to be near retirement, but he was dressed for business. I was drawn to him in the way you’re drawn to someone who is not at all like you, but with whom you feel a strange connection.
Maybe I’m supposed to share the gospel with this man, I thought. I ordered my food and opened my book, trying to concentrate on reading while staying aware of what felt like a nudge from God.
Ten minutes later when the waitress brought out my order along with that of the man next to me, I noticed that we both had ordered the same meal. I awkwardly mumbled a comment about it, looking for a way to begin a conversation. But my voice, perhaps too quiet from nerves, got lost in a salvo of loudspeaker announcements. He hadn’t heard me. I went back to my book, resigned that I’d misread God’s cues.
The book I was reading explored the concept of abiding in the vine from John 15. The author used the notion of tree grafting to illustrate this abiding. After hours of client presentations on throbbing feet, my mind couldn’t absorb the words. I read and reread the same paragraph, but without comprehension. And then this prompt dropped into my mind: Ask the man sitting next to you to explain it.
Uh-oh, I thought.
As much as I wanted to hear from God, I knew that we humans sometimes mishear Him and mistake our mental wanderings for His voice. What should I do? Talk to the man and risk awkwardness and embarrassment? Or not talk to him and risk missing what might well be God’s answer to my prayer to meet with Him in this airport?
Well, at least I’ll never see this guy again, I thought. So I went for it.
“Sir, excuse me,” I said, much louder this time, almost shouting to compensate for my nerves.
He startled. “Yes?” he said, raising his eyebrows like the authoritative boss of a fresh college grad.
“Do you know anything about grafting?” I coughed out.
“What?” he asked.
Oh no. I had to say it again. This business exec didn’t even seem to know what the word meant.
“Grafting, sir. Do you know anything about grafting?” My face was red hot.
“It’s funny you should ask,” he said. I noticed tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.
My heart started racing.
“I majored in agriculture in college and I minored in grafting. I run a farm equipment business but have gotten away from what I once loved.”
Now I was sure I could actually hear my heart, not just feel the pounding.
He stretched back on his stool, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. Then he enthusiastically explained the details of how the branch of one tree is grafted into another as if he were telling me a page-turning story. I showed him the paragraph in my book and asked him questions. He made it all so clear.
I’m not sure if I was more surprised that the prompt to talk to this man really was from God, or that God was personal enough to meet me at an airport barstool. Apparently, God was meeting this man too, right over his hamburger and French fries. He thanked me after our exchange as if he’d been reminded of his boyish love for trees and for grafting, a love that needed rediscovering.
Twelve years later, this conversation remains my most memorable business trip. Still. I can’t remember where I’d gone or even who I met with on that trip. I remember it only because I’d felt seen and heard by God.
God showed up when I was in my suit and heels, and He winked. We shared a secret. During those days of client presentations, excel spreadsheets, and conference calls, He was whispering, I want to meet with you, here. What I might once have considered a waste of time—conversation with Him in the midst of a demanding day—became, instead, food for my hungry heart. It was a gift of hiddenness during a season when my work required me to be on during the workday.
God’s currency is communion—a relationship that grows, nearer still. A relationship that is cultivated when no one else is looking. A relationship accessed not just when we feel we need His help but at all the odd times that punctuate our agenda-driven days. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot.
What a waste. What a beautiful waste.
(Unseen is the last book in our September Book Giveaway series. To those who just joined us this week – welcome! And congratulations to Alexis from Tennessee, a new subscriber who won a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children!)