Monday, June 8, 2015

Friendship: Iron Sharpens Iron


Urban Dictionary: True Friend
A true friend is someone who has touched your heart and will stay there. Someone you care for, who cares for you. Someone you can do the stupidest things around and always be forgiven. Someone you'll instantly remember in ten years because they are in your heart and not just your mind. They have the ability to change you, even if they don't. They will be etched in your memories forever.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to friendship, but especially friendships that evolve from church and how they impact us and our walk. We talk a lot about relationships in church, but do we talk about friendship? Think about some of your best memories, I bet they involve friends. Your worst times are made better by friends, and your best times aren’t as wonderful without sharing it with friends.

Here’s what I’ve learned from personal experience; I bet your happiness with your church is based on two very important things. If you’re really happy within your church I’m sure you have an excellent leader who is providing you quality teaching and you have quality friends within your church. Yes, there are other important things that make you happy with your church, but in my experience these two things are what matters most.

So what happens when church friend’s behaviors change because you are changing? Perhaps God is calling you in another direction, not calling you to leave your church but directing your talents to be used in another capacity? How does that affect church relationships & friendships? In my life, I’ve noticed differences in friendships since I’ve dedicated my talents to ministry outside my church. At times it’s come in the form of complete disinterest when I share a story I find inspiring, but it’s also come in the form of rejection.

I never noticed before now that some members of my church are exclusive and I am no longer a part of that exclusivity. They do not want to hear about my new path, they have stopped calling, they don’t look at me the same, and in many ways pretend I don’t exist; they are disassociating themselves. 

I’ve found on particularly hard days when I struggle with this that I feel like an outcast. I’ve asked God to bridge the gap between my path and my church friends. I know that suffering for our faith comes with continued growth. I pray my discouragement turns to encouragement.

I can’t begin to understand the rejection, but I can pray for strength; I will pray for guidance. A wise friend pointed out that in these circumstances often church friends think that by branching out, broadening your path, reaching others outside your church walls for God that perhaps you are being called away from your church and that can seem threatening, especially to a small church.   

God is teaching me every day through the blessings He gives me and the trials I suffer, whether they are self-made or brought on by change; there is a lesson. In this lesson I’m learning I will not be the kind of friend who is a sponge, one who avoids and does or says nothing, but also contributes nothing to the friendship. I will not be a sword, the kind of friend who cuts to the quick but also destroys the friendship in the process. I strive to be a stone; the kind of friend that upon which others can be sharpened, to be made better and more mature. A stone makes a faithful friend which is much better than a sponge or a sword.

Losing friends doesn’t mean forever. Differences challenge us, but if we walk with God then the challenge strengthens us and the challenge is a good one. It’s during tough times that we discover what we’re made of, especially when we endure them by remaining respectful and kind to others. 

Let me say, it doesn’t feel good to lose friends or have a friendship weaken. It feels like persecution, but it is testing my character, endurance and my sincere attempt to live by faith. I know evil will do all it can to work through my situation and will use the people in my life to cause me doubt and to convince me to abandon my path. By understanding that sometimes I have to lose life as I have known it, I will embrace the totality of the path God has brought me to, the one with open doors and miracles waiting to happen. I prayerfully need to stay open to the change God wants for me.

I will be a stone.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

To Be or Not to Be? Marriage is the Question?

What do I look for in a person I'm marrying? “You just know,” is probably the most unhelpful answer of all time and in my opinion a very bad way to base a decision such as marriage on. But a lot of people would say this how they knew they wanted to marry. I guess the majority of the population are very intuitive decision makers. But for me, although I don’t have all the answers, there are some factors I have pondered since I am recently engaged. This is not an exhaustive list, more like musings or ramblings if you will, and I think these points can apply to either gender.

In this world I think there is a myth floating around our individualistic and idealistic society. A myth that claims that marriage will only work when you find your “smoking-hot, filthy rich, love-at-first-sight, sexually charged, accept-me-as-I-am and don't ask me to change, The Notebook-Sweet Home Alabama-Titanic-esque, soul mate.”

Don’t believe me? Flip to your movie channel and look at the message Hollywood communicates; look at the evidence of the media pointing to shorter and fewer marriages; research studies suggest this is a primary factor that holds both men and women back from marital commitment – they just haven’t found their soul mate. They believe in their heart of hearts that their match-made-in-heaven is still out there, somewhere. Really? Really? Are we really that stupid hopeless?

Here's a possible solution I think you can live with. Here's what you do when you find yourself in a relationship with the wrong person. Again, these are ramblings from a crazy, soon to be wed, wine drinking optimist. Try it and see what happens:

  1. Every time your mate falls short, find another. On to the next one. Then when they fall short, and they will, do it again. And again. And then again. Forgiveness is futile. Reconciliation, pointless. If they were your soul mate they’d never make those kind of mistakes. Right? Right? If they really loved you, they would have thought before they acted. If they were your soul mate they wouldn't have made such a heinous error. Of course, there will be significant emotional baggage that'll carry over with each new partner. But sooner or later you’re bound to find Mr. or Mrs. Right, right? And they’ll be perfect, right? Of COURSE they will. 
  2. Avoid it all. Make it girls’ night out every weekend. Feed your appetite for sex when it’s hungry, and be sure not to let anyone too close. Marriage is old news anyways. Commitment is so over rated. No strings attached. Lock your heart up in an “iron-clad case” throw away the key where no one can reach it, and allow it to grow “motionless, unbreakable, and impenetrable.” Then no one will ever break it… or capture it.

OR, try this on for size!

Whether you buy the biblical view of marriage or not, realize that love takes hard work. And that, as long as you limit the field to human beings, you’ll never marry your “soul mate.” Because there are no 100% “right people, especially the person writing this advice.” Sin’s presence in the world guarantees it. There are only wrong people who pretend to be right and wrong people who are becoming right, through Jesus. That’s why I like the biblical view of marriage. The fairy-tale image of two soul mates finding love at last is just that, a fairy tale. But the biblical image of marriage provides something so much more beautifully realistic.

It paints a portrait of two sinners, committing to the task of one another, for the sake of one another, until death do them part. It’s two imperfect people, committing to the sanctifying work of expressing Jesus’ self-sacrificial love, to their lover, so that they might see him or her become the person God has always intended them to be, knowing full well that neither of them have yet to reach this goal. Also knowing full well that God put that person in their path to help one another become the person God wants them to be.

God’s view of marriage is one that commitment is the key. Not chemistry. In fact, commitment is chemistry. There is no greater proof of love than the willingness to commit your life to and for someone else. Just ask Jesus. 

But commitment is so out-of-style today in our “me, me, me-first” world. It’s old, boring news. Stifling. Oppressive. Obsolete. This is why marriages are happening less and lasting less. Might as well retire the institution to a museum. It’s a goner. The only solution to marriage is to avoid it. Many people avoid serious commitment all together because the prospect of pain is too great. They probably won’t say this because that means admitting they have issues up front. But that’s the truth hidden behind their mask. Let's face it, that's why I have avoided commitment in the past.

Commitment allows someone into your life in an up close and personal way. And we all I know we I have issues. So the prospect of someone seeing these issues, and then rejecting you me, is horrifying. “What if they don’t like me?” “What if they expect me to change and I can’t?” “What if they find out that I’m the wrong person?” “And what if that leads to divorce?” Ouch!

C.S. Lewis wrote something of this:

"Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."

Am I writing this about you or myself? In all writing there's a touch of the author within, your bruised toes are also mine.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Have you heard? The Plague of Gossip in Church!!!

Oh how I hate gossip, and until these last several months I have prided myself that I don't participate in it nor have I been the subject of it.

Remember the telephone game we played as a child? You sat in a circle and whispered something simple like, 'she's a girl.' By the time it was whispered to everyone in the circle it turned in to 'she's a nice gorilla.' Well, so it is with gossip in church.

I've learned through the years that truly confident people and those who are walking close with God don't feel the need to gossip. I try hard not to tear others down, it's hurtful and I know when this is done it only invites others to treat you the same. So it is with gossip, if you do it then you're inviting others around you to gossip about you as well. Gossip is also nothing but idle chatter and empty noise, and it's spread and repeated by those who otherwise feel insignificant. Gossip may be fuel to feed your ego, but it causes heart breaks and shatters confidence. It also may give you short lived satisfaction but believe me it'll NEVER propel you forward in life!

I think we all can agree gossip is verbal battery. If you don't agree with me then you've obviously never been the subject of it. What do you gain by spreading gossip? The next time you're around someone who is gossiping ask yourself what you have to gain by repeating it. My guess is, NOTHING!

I started writing this to address gossip in church. This is the one place everyone feels should be free of gossip, right? Nope. Not everyone. Everyone deserves the right to feel secure and safe in God's house. Right? Nope, not everyone according to the few who participate in gossip. Gossip in church leads to a decay of trust. It is painful, a violation, and humiliating. Broadcasting private information about someone exposes the flaws of another for all to judge. Inside the church this leads to an erosion of trust and it ACTUALLY exposes and casts light on the gossiper's flawed character.

God's word is infinite, powerful and alive. But what about our words? Our words are finite, unlike God's word, but our words can be harmful to ourselves and to the body of Christ.

You know the most damaging and hypocritical words someone uses when spreading gossip in church? 'I only mentioned it because I was concerned.' Isn't that a little like the saccharin sweet adage, 'bless her heart." We all know it's said with malice and there's no concern or blessing in either of those statements.

Gossip accuses people. It charges others with wrong. People love to talk about the alleged actions of others. Gossip slanders the person sitting beside you in church, it destroys a person's character and reputation. People who say anything that pops in to their minds spread gossip. Just listening to gossip makes YOU an accomplice. If someone comes to you with gossip it's as simple as, DO NOT LISTEN, WALK AWAY! You may think talking about others will not hurt anything because you are just stating what you have 'heard' as fact, but you're wrong. When someone says something that will hurt another they are disobeying God.

NEWS FLASH people! If you gossip about someone you are judging them. And if you're a Christian you know there is only one judge and that is God. Be careful you don't trample on God's law and make your own. You're treading on some dangerous ground when you believe you're God's equal and have the authority to judge others.

And let's talk about SLANDER! Such a harsh word isn't it? When does gossip go from idle chatter to slander and harassment? Isn't it sad that you profess to want to help others, lift your brothers and sisters up, but yet you want to spread 'juicy" gossip and slander another's character? You're the first one in line to throw stones at the one you think has wronged you. Did you know effectively, slander is information which presents a damaging view of someone, whether it's done innocently or maliciously? In the New Testament there are several Scriptures about gossip and slander. James 4:11 tells us, "Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement of it." AND 1 Peter 2:1 says "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind." There are many Scriptures prohibiting gossip and slander; I HIGHLY recommend if you're someone who can't help but partake in malicious gossip, whether you're repeating it or listening to it that you sit yourself between the covers of your Bible and become a little familiar with God's Word.

So, TAKE A STAND! Be the person to say the buck stops here and make sure gossip always stops with you. Never circulate something or be an audience to words of something that you're not proud to be a part of.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The BIG 4-0!

Yesterday was the BIG 4-0 as some people call it. Did I wake up feeling differently? Not really. In fact, it was a day just like the one before with the exception of all the wonderful birthday wishes, time with friends, the flowers, and cards. :)  Thank you to all those who helped make the BIG 4-0 memorable. 

I did spend some time reflecting yesterday and today on what have I learned in 40 years, some lessons I've learned by personal experience and some by observing others. I pass this list on with the simple hope it teaches you something.
  1. Friends come and go. When I was younger I was okay with this, as I get older I treasure each friend with the fierceness of a mountain lion. 
  2. I wish I had grown up with a family, I think maybe the lessons I now know would have come much sooner in life and some of my mistakes wouldn't have been so damaging to myself and others. 
  3. It's sick to want to be be sick. Be happy to be healthy, and sometimes you have to 'chin up' when you're sick, there's something to be said for sucking it up. Thank you mom for teaching me this. 
  4. It's a choice to look for the good in others. It's easier to see bad, to make it the focus, but I choose to look for the good. Sometimes, I must look deeper into people and see their true spirit, what drives them, and who they are, rather than just looking at the outside person. I have made many misjudgments simply because I was too lazy, too blind, or did not care enough to find the truth, or look into another's heart. 
  5. It's a bigger blessing to BE the blessing than to receive it. So the more I give to others, the more rewarding my life is. Sometimes all I have to give is my time, and I've realized sometimes this is all someone wants. 
  6. Keeping my balance in what I give is important because I can't give what I don't have. 
  7. Forgiving others is way more freeing for me, because holding on to what others have done to me only hurts me. 
  8. Praying for others to change rarely works, I've found that change has often come in my life when I've asked for God to help me instead of changing others. 
  9. Saying 'I'm sorry' to someone is not enough. Specifically apologizing by saying 'I'm sorry for...' validates what the other person feels, and this helps mends hurts whether real or imagined; imagined hurts are real for someone else. 
  10. Every person is leading someone somewhere. I have an impact on someone's life so where am I leading that person right now? 
  11. Saying hard things to the people I love in my life is never easy, but it is NECESSARY and it always pays off. Even if the person I am saying it to doesn't 'get it' I am no longer holding on to feelings I need to let go. 
  12. Following what God wants for me isn't always easy but it's never wrong. 
  13. Getting in shape is important to me. I'll never be the size 4 I once was, where I can eat anything and not gain a pound, so relying on discipline for the next 30 years needs to be a priority to keep me where I want to be. 
  14. I can't be all things to everyone in my life, I will kill myself trying so instead I choose to try and please Christ in all things. 
  15. Everything I have can be used to love others, my time, my hobbies, my job, and my material possessions. After all, God gave me these things and all of it belongs to Him so why not allow it to be used by Him to show love to others. 
  16. Praying with someone is invaluable, whether I do this in person or over the phone, I am blessed every time. 
  17. It is important for me to remain open to hearing the truth from everyone. Even if I haven't given that person permission to tell me, they usually have something really valuable for me to hear. 
  18. Taking ownership of my failures builds a foundation for my future. I can't regret what has happened in my life, it can't be unchanged, undone or forgotten but I can move on with grace. 
  19. God loves me because of who He is, not because of something I did or didn't do. 
  20. Taking deep breaths calms my mind and praying soothes my spirit. For me praying is my act of talking with God and meditation is the act of listening to what He has to say. 
  21. My life isn't very long. It's what's happening right now as I write these words, as I draw my breath, it's the here and now and it doesn't last forever. 
  22. I need to fight for what God says is right. 
  23. My actions speak the truth. I can say all the right words, but in the end, it's my actions that will say everything. 
  24. There will be sadness in my life journey, but I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other because happiness is right around the bend. 
  25. Self awareness of my choices will free me from negative, reactive behaviors. I choose to never stop learning and growing. 
  26. I will never seek my self-worth at the expense of someone else's. Devaluing someone else will only prompt them to treat me the same. 
  27. Praying in the morning gives me a productive day. 
  28. Giving thanks at night gives me a peaceful night's rest. 
  29. My pets give me great JOY, they are as much my family as the people in my life. Puppy kisses and kitten snuggles really make me smile. 
  30. I have enough. More is not better. 
  31. I want my legacy to be to add more value in the world than the resources I'm using up. 
  32. Being honest in all situations is sometimes by far my hardest choice, but it's the best choice for the rest of my life. 
  33. I hate uncertainty. This isn't a cliche, it's the truth. Life is uncertain, tomorrow is not promised, and because of this my choices need to be pleasing to God. But still, I hate uncertainty. 
  34. Taking time doing nothing is important for my growth. During this time is when I reflect on choices I have made and if I'm always busy I miss lessons I need to learn. 
  35. Coffee time with my girlfriends is therapeutic and I will work hard at maintaining those relationships. 
  36. No matter how much I swore when I was younger that I wouldn't become like my mother, in many ways I am. I AM VERY PROUD OF THAT. There is no greater woman than her, no one I'd rather be like and I hope as the years come I'll continue to grow into myself with some of her best qualities. 
  37. I need to let anger go. My anger is a cover up for my fear. I have fears because I haven't turned them over to God, I am a work in progress. 
  38. Not everything is about me. When people in my life do and say hurtful things I need to remember it's not always about me. Sometimes it's about something they're not dealing with. 
  39. I need to make daily deposits to the life of my dreams because perseverance pays off. When I take an active involvement in my own life by making decisions and taking action towards my goals I feel accomplished. 
  40. I must remain passionate about what I do, this is a must, and if I'm not passionate about it then it's not what I need to do. I need to be sure that it's something in me, in my heart and that I love doing.

And 1 to grow on:
  1. Carpe' Diem. I will enjoy life now. I will enjoy the moments more, I will relish the good times and absorb the not so good times because God's got this.
So look out 50, because if the first 40 has taught me this much; I can't wait to see what the next 10 teaches me.