January is a often a time for reflection. For evaluation. For looking back…and, even more, for looking forward.
For me, it’s a time when I think about things like work and purpose. I want to be sure I am investing time and talent the way God wants in the year ahead, and I want him to help me get the job done.
One of my favorite “work” prayers comes from Psalm 90, which is a prayer that Moses prayed. Here’s what he asked God to do; feel free to borrow this one for yourself, for someone you love, or maybe even for your church, organization, or business:
May your favor rest on ______. Establish the work of our hands for us, yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)
Okay so maybe you haven’t even started the Rick Warren Bible Study book I told you about last month, but if you are married, I’ve got something else you just HAVE to read. Seriously. (And besides. The College FBS Bowl Games are over and season 2 of The Crown doesn’t come out until sometime next fall, so what else are you gonna do?)
Get a jump on Valentine’s Day and check out Mark and Susan Merrill’s brand new books, Lists to Love By.
There’s a volume for “Busy Husbands” and another one for “Busy Wives.” I love them both.
For starters, Mark and Susan are refreshingly honest. Susan is a high-energy, creative, can-do gal who figured that the “game” of marriage would be easy. “I thought the hard part would be finding a husband,” she confesses, “not living happily ever after.” And Mark (a highly organized, very disciplined guy) admits that he had his own expectations dashed, early on. He thought that most of the bumps that came along in their marriage could be solved if only Susan would “think and act more like me.” Right.
They also know their stuff. Mark and Susan have spent the past 20 years delivering books and radio shows and blogs and podcasts all designed to help people love their families well. They have research and experience and things like Google Analytics coming out of their ears, and they know what works. And what doesn’t.
And finally, Mark and Susan make it all very do-able. Each book offers 30 lists, along with step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Couples are challenged to examine their expectations about marriage (see above), evaluate how they are doing (you’ll find handy quizzes and thought-provoking questions), and make improvements that will lead to a more intimate and fulfilling relationship.
I’ve been thumbing through the lists in my book, trying to pick one or two to share with you. Trouble is, I like almost all of them. Even the ones that make me squirm, like LIST 8, which lets me know (point #3) that my man “desires conciseness.”
(Which I understand, except when I think that what I have to say is fascinating.)
(Which is often.)
LIST 18: 7 Things You Should Stop Doing to Your Husband in Public.
LIST 26: 10 Questions to Ask Your Husband Every Year.
LIST 21: 8 Creative Ways to Flirt with Your Husband.
LIST 10: 8 Keys to Understanding What Your Husband is Really Saying. Because we all need a good translator, now and then. And pity the guys, who have a harder time. Their version of this list includes NINE Keys to Understanding what Your Wife is Really Saying. Like, “What are you doing today?” means I’ve got some things that I want you to do today.
(To which I would say, “Duh.” And Robbie would say, “Ahhh. Good to know.”)
And here’s the thing about lists. When I used to write financial planning books (which Robbie still considers a Red Sea-style miracle), I learned that simply tracking expenses (which is the first step in establishing a workable budget) actually makes people spend less. In other words, just listing stuff – just thinking about your spending habits – can make a positive difference.
I can’t help but believe it’s the same thing with marriage. Just thinking about things like misplaced expectations, or areas for improvement, can’t help but make things better. And with pros like Mark and Susan in your corner, offering tips without judgment (“Take small bites,” they advise), you start to feel like a better marriage – a good marriage, one that you like – really is possible.
My goal is to conquer all 30 lists in the book, but you know what? If I can nail even just one of them, it will be a win. We’ll have a better marriage than we did yesterday. And, encouraged by that success, I will be motivated to keep going.
And so will Robbie.
Or at least, that’s the plan. I haven’t yet given him his book of lists. But I am about to.
(But not while pursing my lips.)
(Because LIST 24: 5 Ways to Use Body Language to Connect.)
(Note: I first posted this prayer two years ago, but as I stare down the pile of bedsheets, tablecloths, and dirty socks and towels that represent Christmas Past, I feel like I need it today. Maybe you do, too. Because some prayers are like laundry: You just gotta do them again.)
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the full house and the empty nest is the amount of laundry that needs doing. For years, particularly when we had four children all playing different sports, my life had a rhythm all its own:
Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.
Partly to break up the monotony, and partly to attach some sort of meaning to an existence that seemed to be measured in soccer games and grass stains, I started using the laundry cycle as a prayer prompt. I looked up a few verses about clothing and pressed them (a-hem) into service.
Here’s one of my favorites. This year, instead of groaning over the laundry pile, why not try this prayer when you pull a load out of the dryer? It might not help you find that missing sock, but at least you’ll be investing in something that lasts beyond tomorrow:
Heavenly Father, let _____ know that he/she is holy and dearly loved. Help _____ to clothe himself/herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
We’re on the cusp of a New Year! What will it bring?
A quick spin through Google reveals all sorts of prognostications – some funny, some serious, some terrifying. But here’s one thing we can know for sure: When our trust is in the Lord, we can live lives marked by confidence and joy rather than worry and fear, no matter what the future holds!
Consider what the prophet Jeremiah had to say:
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
Let’s take this promise and make it our Friday prayer…or maybe just use it to cover all of 2017. You can pray this one for yourself, or for someone you love:
May _____ trust in you. Let his/her confidence be in you. Keep _____ free from fear and worry, no matter how challenging or uncomfortable the world gets. Bless _____ with a fresh and fruitful life! (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
When I heard this little nugget of Christmas gift-giving wisdom from my friend Natalie (her mother-in-law likes to hit all four categories), I liked it. And I decided to use it as a bar against which I could measure the stocking stuffers I’d found for the men in my life.
Something you want? Golf balls and surf wax. Check.
Something you need? Razors and (because airport security has all of ours) pocket knives. Check.
Something to wear? Socks and boxer shorts. Because Christmas. Check.
Something to read? The Surfer’s Journal. And (because I am trying to drum up family interest in a visit to the Holy Land) a magazine featuring the spectacular vineyards of Israel. Check and check.
Having covered all the key bases, I was ready for Christmas morning. Still, though, something was missing. I hadn’t yet found the perfect “one-size-fits-all” gift, the annual follow-up to presents like The Posture Brace of 2013 (which was advertised as being “virtually invisible” under clothing but wasn’t, but which, looking back, had the unexpected upside of checking two boxes, since it was both something you wear and something you need).
I gave it some thought. And some prayer. And I finally came up with what I thought was a terrific gift idea:
Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods. Rick Warren (the guy who gave us The Purpose Driven Life) knows that Bible study can be tricky. We don’t do it, he says, because we don’t really know how (nobody ever taught us), we’re not motivated (we haven’t yet experienced the joy of discovery), or maybe because we are just plain lazy (ouch). Warren’s goal is to get us over all three of these hurdles and help us find an approach to Bible reading that works – specifically and personally – for us. To that end, he offers 12 different methods we can try, along with step-by-step instructions for each.
Twelve different ways to study the Bible? I figured at least one of ’em would appeal to my guys.
Now before you go telling me that they would have rather had more golf balls, consider the categories. This gift was something that they could read. And need (because who among us couldn’t use a little professional help when it comes to Bible study?). They couldn’t wear the book, obviously, but since one of our favorite uncles starts most of his mornings by looking at his wife and saying, “Tell me what I want to do,” I figured that maybe I could tell Robbie, Geoff, Charlie, and Robbie Jr. what they really wanted in their stocking.
Read, need, and want. Three out of four. Brilliant.
And, just to be sure that the fellas appreciated what a good gift this was, I tweaked the wrapping. Any old Santa can give you a razor. But a book designed to help you grow in your understanding of Scripture?
Truth be told, God gave me the book, too. Which is to say, I bought a copy for myself. Because this is the time of year when I always do two things:
First, I stop eating the Christmas cookies. (They are mostly gone, anyway, but come December 30 I start making a somewhat focused effort not to eat them. At least not until lunch.)
And second, I make a Bible reading plan. (I’ve written about this one before; click here to see last year’s ideas.) I figure that if I want to get to know God better (and I do), then I can’t just rely on my heart. I need to engage my head. I want to get to know God through the Bible, digging deep to unearth its riches – and letting them transform me. I want to get to the end of the year and say, “I grew. I got to know God better. I fell even more in love with him.
“I was changed.”
Do my guys want that too? I don’t know; I pray that they do.
I pray that all of us do. And if you’ve got your own favorite reading plans or study methods, I’d love to hear about them. Why not post a comment for others who might want to try what you like? There is not, obviously, any “right” way to read scripture; the key is mainly to grow in our faith, to fall deeper in love with our Heavenly Father, and to be equipped for whatever he has in store.
Because there’s a whole new year out there, just waiting for us to unwrap it.
String the lights, sing the songs, wrap the gifts…we have a REASON to rejoice!
One of my kids made this ornament nearly 20 years ago, and it’s always been my favorite:
Today, as we prepare our hearts and our homes to welcome the Savior, let’s borrow a few words from Mary’s song and make them our prayer: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)
May we glorify you as our Lord and rejoice in you as our Savior this Christmas!
Charles Dickens begins his classic tale, A Christmas Carol, on Christmas Eve. It is a day marked by “cold, bleak, biting weather” and Scrooge can hear the people outside his office window “beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.”
It was a day, in other words, not unlike May 21, 2016.
We were in Charlottesville then, celebrating Virginia’s U.Va. graduation. Rarely have I been so happy to have my parka and my hat. And my boots, which I bet I could have sold for a few hundred bucks (and which I did, in fact, loan to another mother whose daughter’s ceremony was after ours).
Like every other family I guess, we took the requisite Rotunda Photo that day. I couldn’t have predicted it back then (if I had, I would have at least ditched the ball cap), but it turned out to be our Christmas card pic:
Which is fitting, actually. Not because it might as well have been snowing on Jefferson’s Lawn (and I promise you, I think I really did feel some sleet), but because of the joy – and the warmth – that Christmas always brings.
In the Dickens story, the thaw happens the moment that Scrooge’s nephew walks in. We hear him before we see him: “A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!”
When the nephew enters Scrooge’s office, he is “all in a glow.” He has a ruddy face, sparkling eyes, and breath you can see, like smoke. Eavesdropping as the young man catalogs the virtues of Christmas and all the good that it does, the clerk (who is in the next office, freezing) can’t help himself. He applauds.
I love it.
I love it because we do the same thing that Scrooge’s nephew did, when we say, “Merry Christmas!” to one another. We warm each other’s hearts with those simple, yet powerful, words.
And I love it because that’s what Jesus did for us, some 2000 years ago. He entered the cold, bleak, biting of our world and basically said, “Merry Christmas, Everyone! God save you!”
Isn’t that just the best?
You don’t have to hate the cold as much as I do to know that Christmas changes everything.
And you don’t have to be like the clerk to applaud.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
That’s Isaiah 11:1, and it’s a verse our minister, Andy Buchanan, covered in his sermon a couple of weeks ago. The gist of the message was not so much about the stump, or even the branch, as it was about the question: “Will God really dwell among us?”
Happily, the answer is yes. And for us, the promise is this: God brings life out of things (like stumps) that appear to be dead.
If you’ve got 15 minutes and you want to listen to Father Andy’s sermon, click here and scroll down to the 12/4/16 message. If you’ve only got time for a prayer, why not do like the Apostle Paul did when he wrote his letter to the Romans, and partner the Isaiah promise with a prayer? Paul quoted Isaiah:
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Romans 15:12)
And then he prayed this:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
The Root of Jesse is Jesus, the one who offers us joy, peace, and hope. Can there be any better Christmas prayer? I’m praying Romans 15:13 for you, and for your families, today!
So Buddy the Elf has been at it again.
He got inspired when we went to Dallas (where they are, evidently, as serious about their Christmas lights as they are about their hair). No sooner had we gotten home than Buddy was off to the hardware store, where he picked up a couple million more strands.
I love that guy.
Buddy also came home with a few boxes of something called the “Net of Life.” I think that name is a little bit misleading, like maybe it should be a sermon or something. Plus, there a lady on the package who, presumably, hung a bunch of lights on her snowy roof. We know she didn’t. She isn’t even wearing a coat.
But whatever. The Nets (which I bet the Dallas people do not use) did the job on our bushes, and then Buddy got out the ladder and started climbing the trees. If he wanted help, he didn’t say so. I imagine that he (like most husbands) is pretty much happy to be out of the house – out of earshot – this time of the year.
My man worked for most of the day, adding strand upon strand.
Anyhow, when when darkness finally came, Buddy was ready. And when he plugged ’em all in, I loved it. Because I’m no fan of winter. Or cold. Or darkness. Or anything, actually, that feels like Not Summer. But Christmas lights have a way of making the brrrr go away, and of filling our hearts with hope.
This is, of course, the same transformation that Jesus makes in our lives us all year long. “I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Isn’t that an amazing promise? We are surrounded by a world full of darkness…but we don’t have to walk in it. Or fear it. Even back when Isaiah was alive, he knew the difference that Jesus would make and he called it: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
The light has dawned. The light has dawned!
Come January, when it’s time to take down the sparkle, we can hang our hope on that. Because we may pack up the Net of Life…but the Light of Life will still shine.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Bhahahaha! Hours after this blog originally posted, you began alerting me to the fact that I’d read the box wrong. Even my mother weighed in, bursting through the door of our home and saying, “Jodie! It is not life. It is lite!” Ahhhh! That makes so much more sense! I couldn’t figure out why someone would market a Christmas decoration as the “Net of Life.” Obviously, my eyes are old.
In my defense, though, I don’t think people should be spelling LIGHT like LITE. “Lite” is for diets. Which Christmas is not. Christmas is all about the FULLNESS of joy. And my prayer, for you and for me, is that we will experience Jesus as the light of life…the bread of of life..and yes, even as the Net of Life – one that is big enough to cover us all!
Merry Christmas! xo
I love the book of Isaiah. Especially now, at Christmastime, when so many of the prophet’s words point to the hope that Jesus brings. He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. He’s the one who binds up the brokenhearted and sets the prisoner free. He is the one whose coming is the glad tidings – the good news – our hearts are yearning to hear.
And he’s the God who changes things.
If you long to experience this hope, or if you know somebody who does, here’s a prayer from one of my favorite chapters in Isaiah:
Bestow on _____ a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)