Thoughts on Friendship

I sat at a table outside a local bakery and coffee shop. It sits in an old mill, and just a few doors down the covered sidewalk is a small restaurant with outdoor seating as well. As I situated my two children and moved my hot coffee out of the reach of my one year old, I noticed a group, nay, herd, of first time moms circling a table outside the restaurant, restlessly moving strollers around, adjusting blankets and trying to decide where to sit at the table to best reach said strollers. At first glance I thought about last June, when my coffee snatcher was still an immobile newborn who slept almost constantly. I smiled as I thought about my frequent visits to the bakery for coffee and muffins last summer, adjusting to life with two little ones.

Then I heard them talking. I heard words like sleep and Zantac and pediatrician. I was suddenly grateful to be with a grabby pre-toddler instead of lugging around a fragile infant and fragile, over- tired emotions. I looked over at this large assortment of strollers circling the table like Conestoga wagons and wondered what it was like to have so many friends at the same exact stage of life all at the same time. I wondered if they were all friends or if it was a group that advertised for each other on the Internet- like a Keep Mommy and Me Sane (through the first few months) organization.

I realized that friendship has always been a tenuous ideal for me. Life has bounced a me around here and there with a few circumstance precluding me from being part of the Ideal Lifestyle Groups found on the Internet for every stage of life. I have wonderful friends for whom I am truly grateful, but they are all over the friendship spectrum, geographically, age-wise, and career-wise.

When my oldest child was an infant, I didn’t sit at a coffee shop with my life long besties comparing spit up and nap lengths. I sat in a NICU alone for five weeks with a tiny baby, watching her grow and watching the clock tick until my husband got off work. I treasure those weeks however, where she and I sat alone, listening to music, reading books, and just being. When she was 13 weeks old, I left my house each morning at 6am to head off to work, precluding any infant and mommy social groups. When my second child was born, I switched work paths and am home more now. Ironically, either I am too busy or the people I know are too busy and I have no larger tribe of friends than before. Now, before you get sick of what sounds like a pity party, let me be clear. I am not putting out a wanted poster for friends. I have some of the most fantastic friends far and wide that a girl could ever hope for in a short life on Earth.

We spend a lot of time and energy on the friendship model. In churches, we are pounded over the head to be relational. I have heard women bemoan the fact that they have no older female mentors as if their very salvation hangs in the balance of a mentoring program.

Friendship is a gift beyond price. It cannot be bought, it cannot be replicated, it should not be cheapened by undervalued collections of friend lists on social media. Most importantly, Christ is our friend, our very best friend. One who sticks closer than a brother. The pendulum ride between rejection and encouragement in friendship makes me realize that clinging to Christ as our constant friend and salvation, finding our value as a child of God, is the only way to stay sane. Riding the roller coaster of friendship can be exhilarating and exhausting at the exact same time.

Some of us need friends more than others. Some of us are fine left alone with our own thoughts and imaginations. Friendship cannot be a one sized fits all container. What is true though is no matter what personality type we possess, Christ knows and understands us. His work on the cross covers the extroverts and introverts. He is the one relational being who will never fail us. I have failed my friends and mine have failed me. He never will. And, He also puts others into our lives at the right time and juncture to point us to Him. Sometimes, He ordains that we live less distractedly with few friends in order to accomplish the purposes He has for our lives, and to help us find value in His friendship and His alone.

So whether we are in a crowd of friends, riding the exhilaration wave, or we are wandering around alone, wondering if friendships are worth the effort, the great truth is that we have a friend who not only knows us, but made us. Made us in His image, to reflect His nature, to mimic His imagination, to learn to treat others with the love He has shown. Made us to be His children, to talk with Him, to relate to Him, with the understanding of our inner beings that only a parent can have for a child. And that is a friend worth having and a friendship worth modeling with all other friends we ever make.20140626-220928-79768992.jpg

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, and Wonderful Day

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I woke startled, realizing I had slept later than planned. I stumbled into the hallway and noticed the Swiffer mop propped outside of the bathroom, left there by my husband, after an attempt at “post-sickness” bathroom cleaning. At 6:45am, my day commenced as I re-cleaned vomit from corners of the bathroom that I didn’t know existed– a bathroom that had JUST been scoured the previous day.

By 10:00am that morning I had re-scoured the bathroom, been spit up on multiple times, and changed my children’s clothing twice each, thanks to typical small child issues. I was annoyed, aggravated that some days make life seem like a sadistic wheel of repeated tasks, trapping me, messing with my mind. As one task finished, another mess sat laughing at me from the corner. On top of my aggravation, I expressed my frustration in a way that made my little girl cover her face with her hands, in tears. I hate seeing her suffer at the expense of my own shortcomings.  It was, an epic failure of a day, as a parent, as a human.

As I considered how the day had gone, and how it should have gone, I tried to tell myself that everyone has “those days.” I tried to think of ways I could be a better parent and wife. I tried to remember that some days I am a great parent, who is patient and fun.   Surely those good parenting days outweigh the bad parenting days.

Reality often crumbles the pedestals we camp out on. The reality is that every day we live is an epic failure – without Christ’s redeeming power. We have no goodness of our own, no strength within ourselves to be patient, kind, loving, and wise. No matter how hard we try. Our hope can only be in Christ and His gospel that transforms us. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

What does this truth of failure and transformation mean for us? Christ, as our Savior, is sitting at God’s right hand, interceding for us, saving us, keeping us, even as we show our sinful natures to our children. And, He is also able to help us live well with our family and others. (Romans 8:34) Through the power of Christ’s work on the cross for us, He has taken our self proclaimed good days, which are like polluted garments, (Isaiah 64:6) and our bad days that are equally trashy and scoured them clean Himself. He removes the need for our pitiful human efforts and makes us instead, into treasures redeemed for His glory.

The words from the hymn, Arise My Soul, Arise, came to my mind.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
 His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
 His blood atoned for all our race,
 And sprinkles now the throne of grace.”  

 When I wrench life away from my children by wounding their spirit, Christ’s blood remains poured out. It atones for my horrific, life quenching sins. That blood covers our acknowledged “bad” days, and our piously “good” days. His blood is sufficient to draw out children to redemption despite our best and worst efforts.  The implication for us is that, as His children, Christ is interceding for us. His blood, poured out once, has paid for our sin – not just one time, but through every single moment of each day.

Our days on Earth are only of value to our families, to our churches, or to our workplaces as Christ’s redemption is realized in our lives. While our children should not suffer at their parents’ expense, it is important to remember that God is a powerful Father, working in their hearts to teach them the neediness of humanity and the beauty of redemptive transformation. Despite our best efforts, He is the one who captures and keeps their souls. We are to be responsible stewards, but even our stewardship is empowered by the cross.

The truth is that without those terrible, horrible, no good days, we would fail to see and want the wonderful reality of His grace. On the days when frustration builds and threatens to trample us, we see our need for the cross. Without these days we would sail through our lives, proud of our abilities and righteousness. The next time that epic day of failure comes to visit we can give thanks for our scars, confident that Christ has battled sin and won for us. We embrace His strength, knowing that in this strength, we are not captive to scars, wounds, and failures, but freed and living by His mercy.

Reciting When the Winds Shift

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When the year shifts and the breezes come in from a different direction, the air swoops in from an unknown place. With new air comes restlessness, bringing with it questions about life and mulling about identity and wondering what the present tense will look like in the future. When questions and mulling come, doubt and demons sneak through the cracks in armor, riding on the breeze in through the chinks. Suddenly people seem judgmental. Life seems threatening. Retreat seems the most inviting option. Hiding looks like a palpable answer. But instead one breath at a time keeps life moving forward.

This is the point in time that professionals tell their clients to think positively, to rehearse their dreams, to visualize their goals.

It is at this intersection of life that rehearsing the goodness of God drives a person farther to real success than any visualization of dreams ever could.

It’s June. Exactly a year ago, I had a brand new baby and a few brand new ideas. I was emotionally and mentally finished with working in an office doing mindless work all day. But I had no idea where to turn. I had a small bit of teaching experience, a masters in Teaching, a blog, too many years of administrative work on my resume, a toddler, and a new born.

It’s been a year. The prayer I prayed for months leading up to last June was for employment where I could spend more time with my children, forge into a more fulfilling career,  and for provision of our tangible needs. Terrified, I made choices where no clear path was cut in the jungle.

Running through the warm summery, morning air, I thought about the choices I made. No matter what we do, dragons and demons blow fire across our paths and serpents try to convince us, as they swirl around overhanging tree branches, that our failures equal God’s failure to us. That our doubts exist because God is not good and does not really want our happiness.

But just as the nation of Israel shouted with a loud noise, crashing down the walls of Jericho, so the noise of our voices, both aloud and silently, speaking the goodness and care of God annihilates the vassals of the Destroyer.

I spoke to myself and to God, remembering my prayer. More time with my children, in order to be their mother. A more fulfilling career path. Provision of tangible needs. And as I spoke, I recognized that all of these items were specifically answered in the past 12 months, in ways I would never have planned or initiated without God’s loving care and brilliant sovereignty.  Obviously, I would like to kick back and rest, knowing my career is set, my parenting skills are perfected, my financial investments well managed.  I would like to think that every choice I make will have fabulous consequences that will play out for the rest my life and my children’s lives. But God gives manna, not lottery winnings. The “happily ever after” is reserved for Heaven, not Earth.

And so we rehearse prayers answered, promises found, and goodness felt, over and over, telling ourselves, telling our children, that all things work together for good for those who are called of God, whether it’s sunshine for our picnics or rain on our parades.

The words from Be Still My Soul wander through the breezy air.  “Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain.” And as I leave the ordering and providing, I keep reminding myself of His faithful remaining.

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For fathers, for children of fathers

Never mind “Faith of Our Fathers.” Below is a hymn for fathers, for those who wish they were fathers. It is a hymn for the children of fathers and for the fatherless and for those who feel emptiness instead of a father’s love. It is the pleading offer from God the Father to look at His Son and be His Child. To quench your thirst in the water that He wants you to drink. It is the voice of the open heart of God, seeking to heal, to hold, to be a father. For anyone who finds Father’s Day hard, or any other day for that matter, for those adore God because of their fathers or who worship God in spite of their fathers, the invitation to drink this life giving water knows no categorical qualifications. This is a hymn for the father who pursues faith and works to cultivate redemptive grace throughout his home.

Never mind the faith of our fathers (or the lack of faith in some fathers.) Their faith, while a valuable legacy, cannot quench our thirst. While our heritage may be in pleasant places, each of us must come to the waters. The father who had no faith does not negate his child’s ability to take this healing offer. No one is marred beyond the repair that our Father has ability to unmangle. Cynicism is never more powerful than grace.

And so we read these words and absorb them. We sit equal to each other, a needy people. We are each given the offer to be a child of a Father, part of a family, fully whole. Come and drink deeply.

 

Come to the Waters
James Montgomery Boice

Come to the waters, whoever is thirsty; drink from the Fountain that never runs dry. Jesus, the Living One, offers you mercy, life more abundant in boundless supply.

Come to the River that flows through the city, forth from the throne of the Father and Son. Jesus the Savior says, “Come and drink deeply.” Drink from the pure, inexhaustible One.

Come to the Fountain without any money; buy what is given without any cost. Jesus, the gracious One, welcomes the weary; Jesus, the selfless One, died for the lost.

Come to the Well of unmerited favor; stretch out your hand; fill your cup to the brim. Jesus is such a compassionate Savior. Draw from the grace that flows freely from him.

Come to the Savior, the God of salvation. God has provided an end to sin’s strife. Why will you suffer the Law’s condemnation? Take the free gift of the water of life.

(http://www.reformedresources.org/music/hymns-for-a-modern-reformation-booklet/)

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The metaphorical Father

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“We have, then, various analogies by which we seek to interpret to ourselves the nature of God as it is known to us by experience. Sometimes we speak of Him as a king, and use metaphors drawn from that analogy. We talk, for instance, of His kingdom, laws, dominion, service and soldiers. Still more frequently, we speak of Him as a father, and think it quite legitimate to argue from the analogy of human fatherhood to the “fatherhood” of God. This particular “picture-thought” is one of which Christ was very fond, and it has stamped itself indelibly on the language of Christian worship and doctrine: “God the Father Almighty”, “like as a father pitieth his own children”, “your Father in Heaven careth for you”, “the children of God”, “the Son of God”, “as many as are led by the spirit of God are sons of God”, “I will arise and go to my father”, “Our Father which art in Heaven”. In books and sermons we express the relation between God and mankind in terms of human parenthood; we say that, just as a father is kind, careful, unselfish and forgiving in his dealings with his children, so is God in his dealings with men; that there is a true likeness of nature between God and man as between a father and his sons; and that because we are sons of one Father, we should look on all men as our brothers.

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When we use these expressions, we know perfectly well that they are metaphors and analogies; what is more, we know perfectly well where the metaphor begins and ends… Our own common sense assures us that the metaphor is intended to be drawn from the best kind of father acting within a certain limited sphere of behaviour, and is to be applied only to a well-defined number of the divine attributes.” – Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker

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