From the Bookshelf


09.15.2017

Unseen: The Best Book on the Beach

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.”

“Really?”

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.

Here’s Sara:

“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.

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(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!)


From the Bookshelf


09.08.2017

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:


From the Bookshelf


09.01.2017

Parenting in Freedom and Grace (plus a book giveaway)!

Ever feel like your kids’ future is riding on you? Or like you have to be perfect (or at least really good) so that they’ll have an example to follow? Or like God is watching the way that you parent…and that if you blow it, he’s gonna be bummed?

Yeah, me too.

I think I told you about the time Robbie took the SATs. He’d spent most of his childhood playing outdoors, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing him read. Did he know any vocabulary words? I wasn’t sure. And so, in a last-ditch effort to redeem my academic parenting fails and get him prepped for the test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and turned them into flashcards. If Robbie learned even just two or three words while he played, that might help.

Oh how I wish I’d had Jeannie Cunnion’s new book, Mom Set Free, back then! She could have saved me a lot of angst (and kept me from ruining Robbie’s lacrosse stick, cuz the mesh part turned pink when the Sharpie marker wore off).

As it is, I’m highlighting and starring and underlining pages in Jeannie’s book now. My kids may be grown, but I still need all the help I can get when it comes to rejoicing – and actually relaxing – in the blessing of being a mom.

As the book’s cover proclaims, Jeannie’s heart is to free moms from the pressure to get it all right. Our kids’ future (whether they’re headed to kindergarten or college) is not in our hands, any more than it’s up to us to “make” them honest and kind, strengthen their faith, or protect them from hardship. All of those things – and so many more – are ultimately up to the Lord. He has good plans for them (ideas that are way better than ours, BTW), and as Philippians 2:13 reminds us, it is God’s job (as in, not ours) to work in them to “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Don’t get me wrong. Jeannie isn’t trying to get us to sit back and do nothing. Parenting, she says, is hard work – and it involves discipline and boundaries and consequences. But it also involves grace – huge buckets of grace! – the kind that frees us to discipline and teach and correct our children without relying on anger or scare tactics or shame. As Jeannie sees it, parenting with grace is what lets our kids know (the way that God lets us know), that even when they make unlovable choices, they are still (and forever will be) deeply, unshakably loved.

Ahhhh…there’s so much good stuff in this book. And – whoop! – I actually got to be with Jeannie this week to celebrate the Mom Set Free launch. She was a guest on the 700 Club (click here to watch her interview), and some of my young mom friends came over to my house beforehand to get her warmed up:

To see a clip from that interview, you’ll have to head over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt)…but first, I’ve got some good news. I managed to snag an extra copy of Mom Set Free while Jeannie was here, and I want to give it to someone! Post a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a winner at random (unless you are a patent attorney who thinks that my SAT-word lacrosse balls are marketable product, in which case I will probably pick you).

Seriously, y’all. I love it when I get to recommend a book that combines my two favorite things:  Loving my kids and following Jesus. And Mom Set Free is chock full of great verses; I’ll borrow this one from p. 236 and leave you with a parenting prayer:

Lord, you have promised to fight for me. Help me to do what you say and just stay calm! (Exodus 14:14, NLT)


From the Bookshelf


06.21.2017

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!


From the Bookshelf


01.10.2017

Lists to Love By

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.

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There’s a volume for “Busy Husbands” and another one for “Busy Wives.” I love them both.

Why?

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.)

xoxo

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From the Bookshelf


12.29.2016

Something you want, something you need…

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:

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Rick Warren’s Bible Study MethodsRick 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?

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Anyhow.

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.


From the Bookshelf


11.23.2016

Celebrate Everything

(Note:  This post is the last in a four-part series on praying, trusting, and waiting. Please know, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, how grateful I am for you. May you and your families be satisfied with the goodness of God.)

I marked another birthday last month, and my friend Annabelle gave me a sign:

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Annabelle’s always up for fun. I’m thinking she meant the message as a party prompt, like: “Let’s have cake because it’s Tuesday.” Which is not such a bad way to live.

To me, though, the sign felt like more than a sign. It felt like a Sign. As in, it brought me face to face with the question that’s dogged me throughout this entire blog series: Is there really such a thing as the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting? Put another way, when we feel like God’s answers are long in coming (or when we aren’t sure we’re on board with what he seems to be allowing, and maybe it even hurts) do we still have good reason to celebrate?

The answer, I think, is yes.

I’m not quite there yet, but I know some folks who are. Folks like Katherine Wolf, a stunning beauty who was just 26 years old when she suffered a massive stroke that left her unable to speak, swallow, walk, or care for her infant son. As Katherine relearned how to live, she and her husband Jay were forced to reexamine everything they believed about God. Was he truly good? Had he made a mistake? And would they still be able to look at their lives and thank God for what he had given, for what he had allowed to be taken away, and for what he had allowed to remain?

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If you’ve not yet read the Wolfs’ book, Hope Heals, treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy it here. Or watch a trailer about their story here. I can’t begin to articulate how God led this precious couple through the gap between life’s expectations and its reality (and I would hate to even try, since they tell their tale with such raw and exquisite beauty), but I will tell you this: Katherine says that pain served as her teacher, bringing her closer to Christ in a way that went beyond anything she could have imagined. For that, she was unabashedly grateful. And Jay agrees: “The call to give thanks, not at the end, but in the midst, began to reverberate inside of us.”

Giving thanks in the midst. That’s where I want to be.

And that’s basically where Andrew Murray (whose book, Waiting on God, helped launch this blog series) winds up. We may think we are just waiting for the Lord to bless us (i.e., to meet our needs and grant our desires), but the way Murray sees it, God has a higher purpose in mind: We want the gifts, but “He, the Giver, longs to give us Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness.”

Heady stuff. And, for those who have not yet experienced that kind of satisfaction, potentially hard to accept.

And honestly? I might be tempted to think that this whole “satisfied with God” thing is reserved for extra-holy people (people like Katherine Wolf and Andrew Murray and a handful of other “varsity” Christians you sometimes read about) except for one thing. I spent much of 2016 interviewing parents for my upcoming book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. These folks are “normal” Christians, people just like you and me. People who prayed for their kids, took them to church, and tried to do all the “right” things in the parenting books.

But life didn’t turn out like they expected. Instead of picket-fence perfect (or even picket-fence close), these parents found themselves praying for adult children struggling with everything from getting through college to getting a job…from finding a marriage partner to navigating their way through a divorce…from battling addictions and mental health issues to surviving health crises like Katherine Wolf did.

Would these folks say they were satisfied? Would they say they had a reason to “celebrate”?

Amazingly (and almost beyond belief), they would. While none of them would wish their stories on anyone, virtually all of them told me some version of the same thing: Their challenges forced them to take their eyes off of the outcomes, because the outcomes were not always there. But the yearning for something good – something that would satisfy their deepest longings – still was. And the more they pressed in, the more they realized that their desire was not for an outcome at all.

Their desire, for themselves and for their children, was simply for Jesus.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ll be cooking a turkey and looking out at your picket-fence yard, where your picket-fence husband (or wife!) is playing football with your picket-fence kids.

Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be looking at things like loneliness, disappointment, broken relationships, and shattered dreams. Maybe you’ll be wondering where God is, or why he’s taking so long to show up. Maybe you’ll be wondering what you have to be thankful for, or what on earth you can celebrate.

If that’s you (and I’ve been there, so I get it), then can I just encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself the same question I’ve asked myself, time and again: Are you trusting in an outcome, or are you trusting in the Lord? Do you want what God gives, or do you want him? Are you willing to celebrate…not because you have hard stuff, but because God is with you in the midst of it?

God never said he would keep us from experiencing pain, or from having to walk through hard places. Instead, he said he would walk through them with us. And when we face the death of a dream or the loss of something precious, we can do so with thanksgiving, knowing that God is in control and that he has the power to resurrect whatever it is that we have had to relinquish, making it wonderful and new in his time.

Ephesians 3:20 says that God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” This year, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s do so knowing that our Heavenly Father is at work and that, no matter what circumstances or relationships look like right now, we can trust him to do more than we ask. Let’s thank him because he loves us in our questions, he has gone before us in our pain, and he offers us the satisfying and immeasurable gift of his presence.

Let’s celebrate. In everything.


From the Bookshelf


11.09.2016

The Gifts or the Giver

(Note:  This post is part 2 of a 4-part series on praying, trusting, and discovering the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting on God. If you missed last week’s post, click here.)

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When Robbie and I got married, we put Psalm 84:11 on the front of our wedding program: For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

We loved that verse. We felt like God had blessed us with incredible favor already, and since we were technically “blameless” (the stain of our sin having been washed clean by the blood of Christ), we looked forward to a lifetime of more “good things” from our Heavenly Father.

That was 30-plus years ago.

In the past three decades, we’ve seen more good things than we could ever have imagined. But we’ve also seen more heartache, disappointment, and prayers that didn’t get answered (at least not in the way we would have liked). Given the perspective of time, some of these losses are easy to understand (e.g., my failed audition as a radio DJ), but some of them are much harder. Why, for instance, did God “withhold” the miracle we prayed for, when my sweet father was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 60?

Why didn’t we get the house we so desperately wanted to buy? Why did my dear friend’s marriage fall apart? Why didn’t God protect us from making that bad investment? Why didn’t my child get into that school…make that team…get invited to that birthday party? Why do I sometimes feel (like it says at the end of Psalm 88) like “darkness is my closest friend”?

I know you share those questions. We all have them. And when we ask God for something that we know is a really good thing – like the salvation of a loved one, or freedom from a crippling addiction – and he stays silent, that can be confusing. Frustrating. Faith-shaking, even.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But in my own journey (which has been shaped and supported by authors whose brains are much bigger than mine), I’ve found a few anchors that have helped to keep my faith in place. Maybe one of these mooring hooks will help you, too:

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Andrew Murray (whose classic, Waiting on God, served as the backdrop to last week’s post) says that in “every true prayer, there are two hearts in exercise. The one is your heart, with its little, dark, human thoughts of what you need and God can do. The other is God’s great heart, with its infinite, its divine purposes of blessing.”

I get the two-hearts thing. I know God has the power to move any mountain he wants to, so when I don’t get what I want in prayer (either for myself or for a loved one), I figure the problem can be traced to one of two things: Either I was wrong (in that what I wanted was not, actually, a good thing at that time), or God was (because it was good, and he didn’t deliver). Given those two choices – the desires of my little, dark, human heart, or those of God’s great, divine, purposes-of-blessing heart – I know which one I’d better pick.

Jennifer Kennedy Dean builds on this theme in her study, Live a Praying Life (which, incidentally, is hands-down my favorite Bible study on prayer):

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She says that God wants us to grow in things like tenacity and perseverance, and that when it looks like God is moving slowly (or not at all), he is “putting pieces together that you had not thought of.”

I get that, too. God rarely does things in the way, or on the timetable, that I would. That should come as no surprise, given verses like Isaiah 55:8 (which says that God’s ways are not our ways), but I spend more time than I care to admit trying to figure out what he’s up to. I know his plans are good, and I know he loves me…but sometimes, the stuff he does looks an awful lot like a whoopsie.

Dean has been there. But, in looking at the lives of folks who’ve gone through more than a few of those tricky places (guys like Joseph, who thought he was supposed to be a ruler but wound up being sold as a slave), she warns us not to mistake God’s will for his ways, or confuse what he is doing with how he is doing it. We only see part of the picture. And, she writes, “We cannot control God or tell him how to accomplish his plan.” That one may seem obvious, but trust me: When you have as many good ideas for God as I think I do, it can be hard to just sit back and wait. It can be tough to pipe down. And during those seasons when you spend the whole night weeping, it can be a stretch to believe the Psalm 30:5 promise that joy comes in the morning.

Because morning can seem like a long way off.

So what do we do? Where do we turn, when we feel like God has left us hanging, or that whatever he is doing is so mysterious, or is taking so long, that he might as well be doing nothing? How do the unexpected outcomes and disappointments of our lives (as well as God’s apparent silence in the face of these things) square with the promise on our wedding program, that “no good thing will he withhold”?

Again, I don’t have all the answers. But, more than 30 years after Robbie and I walked down that aisle, I finally noticed that our wedding psalm doesn’t end with verse 11. There’s more. Psalm 84:12 (the last verse in the psalm) says this: “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And that, I think, is the key.

It’s not “Blessed is the one who trusts in the good things you give.” Or, “Blessed is the one who trusts in your favor.” It’s “Blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And what I am finding out is that, when I pray, I often get it backwards. My trust is in the wrong place. Instead of trusting in God, I am trusting in an outcome. Instead of looking for him, I am looking for the blessings he provides. Instead of desiring the Giver, I am consumed with desire for the gift.

And when I don’t get what I want, I am sad.

I’ll deal with that next week – with what we do with the grief and anger that sometimes accompany unexpected or unwanted outcomes – but since this post is already too long, I’ll just leave you with some of the questions I am pondering this week:

If all we have is Jesus, is that enough?

Are we willing to explore the blessedness (the “unbroken enjoyment of waiting”) that comes with putting our trust in God?

And, at the end of the day, are we willing to settle for the gifts…or do we want to press in and behold the Giver?

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From the Bookshelf


11.01.2016

The “Unbroken Enjoyment” of Waiting

In his classic work, Waiting on God, Andrew Murray says that waiting “gives a higher value and a new power to our prayer and worship” because it links us to God and gives us the “unbroken enjoyment” of his goodness.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would ever put “waiting” in the same sentence as “unbroken enjoyment.” Not even on the same page. But thanks to one of those cosmic collisions that happens between life and learning, I am starting to believe that Murray might be on to something.

The “life” part of the collision is an unsettling mix of unmet longings and disappointing circumstances, the things I see and experience in the lives of those I hold dear. The dating relationship that was “supposed” to lead to marriage but didn’t. The promotion at work that never materialized. The deal that has not yet closed. The “deferred” notice on the med school application. The gap between homesick and happy for college students. The desire to have a baby (and the heartache that grows with each negative pregnancy test).

Those are the unexpected outcomes – and the unanswered prayers – that can make a person wonder about verses like Isaiah 49:23, which is where God says, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” 

The “learning” part is the light that is piercing the darkness. Thanks to resources like Murray’s book, as well as a Bible study I am doing right now on the Psalms (click here to see the teachings offered through Galilee Church), I’m cobbling together an understanding of verses like Proverbs 13:12 (“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”), and I want to invite you to join me.

Over the next three weeks, I am going to write about what happens when hope is deferred:

What are we supposed to do when our prayers are not answered in the way that we expect – or when they seem to be not answered at all?

How can we handle the grief, or the anger, that can slip in through the door of disillusionment and wrap itself around our hearts?

Is the “unbroken enjoyment of God’s goodness” really an option for believers today? And if so, how do we get there?

Waiting is hard. Murray says that the word patience is actually derived from the Latin word for suffering. That, unfortunately, makes sense. And it might explain why the Bible offers this little pump-up nugget:  “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14 ESV).

“Be strong and take courage” are words you might expect to hear at the outset of some adventure, some challenging or difficult enterprise that will tap (and maybe even exhaust) your deepest reserves. And if you don’t want to slog through that mire with me, I get it. Just check back in December, when I promise to post something more fun (an update, perhaps, to the Posture Brace or maybe even the Christmas Sweater).

But if you want to come along for the ride, I’ll leave you with the promise of good things to come:  A rescue, a firm footing, and a new song:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:1-3)

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And PS, for those who might want their own copy of Waiting on God:  You can download the 1896 version for FREE by clicking here, or order the updated version ($5.99, and with language that is easier to follow but still needs maybe a 600 on the SAT Verbal) here.

 

 

 

 


From the Bookshelf


06.28.2016

Risky Faith, Exciting Trust

At some point during Virginia’s graduation weekend, her grandfather asked if she was excited to trust God for what’s next. Like so many new college grads, Virginia has a lot of irons in the fire, but the specifics (jobs, housing, learning to cope without acai bowls until she starts earning a paycheck) are all still swirling around in her blender, and post-college life can be daunting.

Which is why I love it that Papa John asked if she was excited.

On a good day, I might look at an uncertain future with a willingness to trust God, or maybe a resigned sort of readiness…but excitement? I don’t know. For me, trusting seasons – those times when the future (or even the present) is out of my control – are more often endured than enjoyed. Excitement rarely plays into the picture.

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But my pal Susan Yates would have understood John’s question. Her new book, Risky Faithdoes not discount the fears and worries of our lives (both the real and the imagined ones), but she challenges us to reorient our perspective. Instead of letting our “issues” (things like children, jobs, health concerns, relationships) take up the whole screen and cloud our vision, Susan encourages us to stack these things up against the awesome power and love of our Almighty God.

With 46 years of marriage, 21 (or more?) grandchildren, and a lifetime’s worth of trusting God, Susan is quick to share her own failings. But she doesn’t wallow in them. Instead, she takes us through the hard places of pain, betrayal, and disappointment and leads us into a new reality marked by gratitude, growth, and a confidence that God is soooo much bigger than our problems. Because he is.

And at some point, whether we are a newly minted graduate or a seasoned grandmother, we are all going to have to trust God for what’s next. It might not be easy, but one thing’s for sure: When we live the “risky faith” way (taking our eyes off the circumstances we see and fixing them on Someone we don’t), trusting God becomes less of a muddle, and more of an adventure.

Some people might even say it’s exciting.

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“But 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.”

(Jeremiah 17:7-8)




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