A Friendship: Lost and Found

I had lunch today with an old friend. We were tight back in the day and did most everything together. For a period of several years, she was my very best friend. We laughed together and cried together and we had each others’ back. Well, at least she had mine.

I ended up hurting her. Badly. I cut her out of my life completely because she was telling me the truth about the life I was living. She spoke truth into my life that I didn’t want to hear. I was living in sin and going down a path that ultimately led to heartache for both me and those I love. She knew it and she hated standing by watching me head this direction. She did everything in her power to stand in my way, to try to keep me from continuing this path, and to show me that God was not in it. The more she tried, the more I pushed her away from me. Satan whispered in my ear that she was wrong and I needed to let her go. Sadly, I must admit that I listened to him.

Through this process, I hurt her. Wounded deeply by me, she eventually walked away and we went years without talking.

She was a true friend and was looking out for me. I didn’t want it and my heart was cold. I believe she would’ve continued being my friend despite the circumstances because her friendship was unconditional, but I allowed other influences to persuade me to push her out of my life.

With this experience I’ve learned a few things about friendship.

  • Your true friends will tell you the truth, even when it’s hard.  
  • Godly friends will back up the truth with Godly principles.
  • If her advice lines up with Scripture and Godly principles, LISTEN to her.
  • When your heart grows cold, you don’t care who you hurt. Let God continually work on your heart. Seek Him and let Him guide your life. When you fail to pursue God above anyone else, not only do you get hurt, others do too.
  • Sin in your life separates you from God and His people. If you notice that you’re starting to surround yourself more by unGodly people and things are becoming distant with your Christian friends who really know you, reexamine your life and the state of your heart. There is a reason.
  • Sometimes a good friend can see more clearly the situation you’re in. You may be too close to it to be objective.
  • If you have a good friend, don’t let her go.
  • Once you lose the trust of a friend, it’s hard to gain it back.

We’ve been in contact again for about a year and slowly have begun to open up to each other. So this morning, with lunch planned, I cried. I know I have been forgiven by God for how I treated her and have even mostly forgiven myself, but I still hurt for her. I can put myself in her shoes now and my heart hurts for the pain I caused. As I thought about meeting her for lunch, I thought to myself how blessed I was to have her in my life again. Though it is different now, she’s shown me grace and I am simply grateful.

Today as we visited, I wished I had never pushed her away. I thought about where our friendship might be today if I hadn’t. I wished she could trust me again but I understand completely if she never fully puts herself out there. And I give her that pass. I’m the one who destroyed our friendship long ago and just because I’ve apologized and am truly repentant doesn’t mean that she is now required to trust me again. These things take time.

I’ve learned a big lesson from this one mistake. And I hope and pray I never make it again.

Thank you my friend, for being a true friend to me even though it hurt you, for standing in the gap for me, for fighting for me and my relationship with God, for loving me despite my choices, for showing me grace, and for letting me back into your life. I didn’t love you then like I should have, but I love you now, and I hope to someday be able to make amends for the hurt I caused you. You are a beautiful picture of what a daughter of Christ looks like and I’m honored to know you.

Stop Saying “It’s Just Normal Life”: It May Not Be

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

I Corinthians 12: 26

My brother is an amazing person. He has had a rough life and has made choices that aren’t good, as all of us have at one time or another. His choices landed him in the middle of a war. A war that he will have to continually fight for the rest of his life. A war against addiction and its devastating effects. HE IS FIGHTING that war.

We were having a conversation last week about things people say that do not help him. In fact, one thing said that really bothers him is “It’s just normal life. We all deal with that.” If he has enough courage to speak out about his personal struggles to someone, he doesn’t want or need to hear that.

You see, he deals with things that may seem “normal” to us but many of us have no idea how it affects him. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.”

It’s hard to understand this if you haven’t walked this path, and it’s even somewhat hard to understand if you have. But because of the nature of addiction, seemingly normal struggles can quickly lead to unhealthy thinking patterns and send his life spiraling out of control again. He has to work hard at fighting this addiction. To downplay anything he is struggling with doesn’t help.

I understand the reason behind saying this. I’ve probably said it myself to him at one time or another. I love him and I want him to realize that every little struggle he has doesn’t have to be a big deal. I want him to know that all of us struggle and that he’s not alone. But here is what’s true: We may all deal with struggles but we don’t all deal with the same struggles with the same outcomes. One circumstance that may not seem like a big deal to you may seem like a really big deal to someone else. When we make the statement “It’s just life”, it minimizes what a person feels and doesn’t convey true compassion. What could be heard in this situation is, “You may seem like you’re struggling but it’s really not a big deal.”

In I Corinthians 12:26, it states that if one member is suffering, we should be suffering with him. Rather than downplaying what he is feeling, he needs compassion.  He needs you to be there for him. He needs you to admit it when you don’t have the answers. Above all, he just needs you to listen.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I feel the same way. I want people to really listen and not downplay my struggles. It may seem silly or insignificant when you’re looking from the outside in, but to the person experiencing it, it is very different.

When someone shares with you their struggles, take the time to listen to what they are experiencing. Ask questions. Seek to find empathy first and shower them with love before offering advice that may be difficult to receive. There are times when it is needed; however, showing them you love and care about them enough to really hear them out is an important first step.

Take the time to dig deep to find out what is going on with them, as much as they are comfortable sharing, and try looking at things from their perspective. When we deliver canned lines in an effort to make them “feel better”, we miss an opportunity to identify with their unique perspective.

My brother and I share a relationship that I wouldn’t give up for anything in the world. But I still have no idea the battles he faces on a daily basis. He can tell me and I can imagine, but I have never walked in his shoes. So as I learn how to best support him, I will continue to seek ways to show him I care and will listen to him if I am doing or saying something that isn’t helping.

Let’s walk beside each other through struggles as well as good times, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Even if we may not understand each other, we can still stand together and pray to the One who understands it all and has the power to intervene. When we understand that God is the one who has all the answers, it releases the need to give advice even when we don’t have good advice to give and just PRAY.

For my brother, it’s not “just normal life.” It’s a struggle each and every day to take the steps that others take without even thinking. And because he is taking these steps and getting up after stumbling, I view him as one of the bravest people I know. I’ve never walked in his shoes but I will be the shoes walking beside him and a voice cheering him on as he takes each step.

The Meaning of “Church” and its Importance

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.   Hebrews 10:24-25

In the dictionary, church is defined as a public building used for Christian worship. We use it in sentences as a noun, a place, such as “Let’s go to church.” However the Biblical definition of church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of Church is of people and not the building in which they worship.

Even though it has been hard, I have tried to be very purposeful about not calling the building the “church” but the people. I think it is good to understand this point. It makes attending a building on Sunday morning for worship (or whenever you attend) more meaningful. I am relaxing a bit however because I understand that many people understand this but are just using the English definition of the word to describe the place of worship we attend. It’s not all bad as long as we understand the Biblical definition. Pick our battles, right?

I have been raised in a Christian environment my entire life. I speak “church” language well and usually know all the right things to say. I’ve also grown to understand that many of our traditions are not Biblically based. Many may say that meeting together as a church body is not necessary and is one of these traditions. But our beliefs must be based on a Biblical view and Hebrews 10:25 says otherwise.

Let’s focus on the words “Encourage and warn each other”. On a Sunday morning where I attend services, there is a packed building and we all file in right before it starts, sing some songs, listen to a sermon, and file out like our pants are on fire to make it to the nearest restaurant before the crowd gets there. Am I right? It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But ideally, you come into a room full of people you’ve had the opportunity to get to know at some point, REALLY get to know, and worship Jesus with one voice and a common goal. It’s not Sunday mornings that “encourage and warn each other” usually takes place.

God has much more in store for us than one service a week where we never really get to know anyone. He formed the church as a way to support each other. How are we to “encourage” if we don’t know the needs of those with which we worship? How are we to “warn” if we don’t know the struggles of others in our church family?

This works two ways. We need to be willing to plug into the church family we have decided to be a part of and open ourselves up to them so they know how to encourage us. We also need to do what is so hard for us sometimes and LISTEN to others so that God can speak into our lives ways we might be able to encourage them.

So how do we accomplish this? Being in a new church like I am, I have learned that this is hard. It takes years in our busy lives to form deep meaningful relationships within our church family. But I can guarantee you this, it will not happen attending a service once a week.

The Church as God intended is lived out in restaurants and homes getting to know others, serving together in some capacity, reaching out to the lost and hopeless together, meeting in small groups, having coffee with someone, and even sitting together at ball games. Many of us are missing this very important element! Our lives outside of the church services have nothing to do with the people with which we worship. Many times, we feel as if we have two lives. The one we live on Sunday mornings and the one we live the rest of the week. I have felt like that before. Have you?

I want to be a part of a family. A real family in which we truly know each other. We know our strengths and weaknesses. We defend each other from attack and lovingly warn and encourage if we see each other stumble. I want to share my life with the church, at least a small part of it, and work to meet each other’s needs. God knew we needed each other and set this in place for OUR benefit.

Being the church looks much different than attending “church”. I would love for us to catch the vision of what God truly intended the church to be and start investing in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is nothing we cannot do together if we rise up and join each other in our daily lives!

Have you found a church with which you can belong? Are you BEING the church or are you just going to church? I’d like to challenge you to embrace the Biblical meaning and join the group of people who truly understand the power that can be found within the church that God established. I invite you to consider changing your view of the church as a building to a community of God’s children. Find a group of people where you can be real with others about who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and invest yourself into being a part of the church God intended. Then on Sunday morning, if you choose to all come together to worship, it’s truly a combined effort to praise our Savior together as family, meeting as one in Christ, and being reminded of the greatness of God, the importance of His Word, and the encouragement that comes when we follow His plan.

Why Pay at the Pump Costs Society

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit,but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

I was traveling to a small town in Arkansas on an assignment for my job when I noticed I needed gas in my car. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere so when I turned a corner and saw a gas station in the distance, I was relieved.  As I approached the pumps, I noticed that they were not pay at the pump and became slightly agitated. I was in a hurry to reach my destination and this was a setback I had not planned. I would have to go inside to pay and it would cost me a few extra minutes of my time.

I finished up pumping my gas and went inside to pay. There was a woman at the counter with a smile on her face. I smiled back and though I wasn’t there long, we had a pleasant conversation.  I left that place feeling uplifted and I believe she was too just from seeing a friendly face and hearing a genuine “how are you?” I walked away from that little gas station with no “pay at the pump” pumps with a smile on my face and a warmth in my heart.

I resumed my drive and began to think. How often do we miss chances of personal connection because we are too busy to stop? How often do we miss out on opportunities to show Jesus’ love because we are lost in our own little world?

Our society is changing. Drastically. And fast. More and more inventions are being created that cater to our busy lifestyles and cut out the interpersonal communication with others. We are being launched into a selfish cycle of individualism and sometimes we don’t even realize it.

I’ve never thought about pay at the pump being one of these things that contributes to the lack of personal connection until that day. It costs society, if only a little, the vitality of human connection and the chance of reaching someone with the love of Christ.

There are a few things I thought of that we can do to counteract the conveniences that lend to us being self centered.

1. Rather than use pay at the pump, go inside to pay. Make an intentional effort to look around for someone you may be able to encourage. It could just be a friendly smile at the attendant. It might just be the smile that reaches their heart.

2. Instead of sending a text to a friend, call to talk and really listen. Don’t just talk about yourself. Or take them a small token of your thoughtfulness. Make an extra batch of cookies when cooking with your family. Buy something on clearance that made you think of them (or full price if you feel you can! 😉 ). Pick out a card to give them and hand deliver, or make one.

3. Go to the bank instead of banking online. Go inside instead of the drive through.

4. Shop in stores instead of online. There have been so many times I’ve run into someone that needed encouragement when I’ve been shopping!

All of these conveniences that cut out interpersonal connection makes life easier for us. And with the busyness of life, it is much appreciated! But what if we looked at it differently? What if we took the extra 5-10 minutes we spent on facebook or twitter to leave our house early so that we weren’t in such a rush? What if because of that, we opened our eyes to others and had time to make someone’s day by our smile and encouragement?

I believe in a world of modern conveniences that we must make an extra effort to communicate with others and get outside our little busy world. Pay at the pump costs us. It costs us face to face interaction, as so many other things today do. Let’s counteract it.  Let’s take some time to “look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.”

What are some other ways we can do this?

This Isn’t The Life I Dreamed About

I was driving the other day and a song came on the radio that I had never heard before. I’m not sure the title or the exact words but the general theme was that of a happy family, a man who has loved his wife all these years and the two of them watching their children grow up together. It was a beautiful song but as the chorus began, I broke down. In tears, I continued to listen to it and think about how I had wanted this life. I wanted a family that stayed together and I wanted my children to live in a household with their two biological parents. But not just that…

I wanted a happy and healthy family atmosphere for my two precious boys to grow up in. I wanted the very best for them and to provide them with as much stability as possible.

And it hurts me that they do not have that.

I’m tearing up again now as I write these words and open myself up to you, my readers. I imagine this is not an uncommon feeling among divorced women. Is it?

My heart hurts sometimes because of it. The heartache I see in Lance’s and my children is almost too much to bear. We both believe our divorces were necessary and are extremely grateful to have each other, but we both do grieve the circumstances that caused our divorces. We both grieve the loss of a two parent home for our children. We both grieve the loss of our marriages and our ideas of staying married to the parent of our children for a lifetime.

The sadness hits me without notice at times. I was having a great day the other day when the song came on. There was nothing happening that had me stressed or anxious and life was good. When I started crying, my exact thought was “wow, that hit me unexpectedly.”

It happens occasionally and Lance and I discuss it together sometimes. We didn’t want this for our children but it is the life we have. He is so understanding when I have my moments like this and I love him for it.

Lance and I have such a loving and caring marriage. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity we have to be in a happy, healthy relationship that will last the rest of our lives.  I certainly am not complaining about my past because it has led me to where I am today.

God has turned something bad into something very good. He has brought us through the fire and refined us. We are stronger and closer to Him than ever before and understand that all things happen for a reason. I would not be where I am today without the life experiences I have gone through.

God can use our pasts and our present willingness to reach others for Him. He can turn our brokenness into beauty so that all the world can see His power, love, and mercy. 

I know this more every day. But I am sure that there will still be days I grieve my dreams not coming true in the way that I dreamed them.  It is life and it’s okay.

I’m putting my faith in Christ that He will see me through. Every day. Every tear. Every grief.

And I know He will work all things for my good and the good of my children as long as we love Him and according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

This isn’t the life I dreamed about, but it’s the life I’ve been blessed with and the life I love, despite the grief that I may temporarily feel.

Keeping it Real,

Angie

***For more on grieving, see Kevin Thompson’s post An Ever Changing Grief  at http://www.kevinathompson.com/ever-changing-grief/

Always Working On Your Marriage Doesn’t Always Work

The other night was amazing. Not because I was able to catch up on some much needed housework. Or because I had time to work on some unfinished projects.

But because my husband Lance and I had an evening to just sit, watch television, read, and study.

It was peaceful and some might consider lazy. But it was needed. With four children, full time jobs, and a small farm, our lives can be very hectic.

We watched a show together, quietly. I had time to have a long Bible Study. He had time to research fly fishing and put together a well thought out plan to catch as many trout as he can using just the right fly’s at just the right size for just the right conditions and time frames based on the life cycle of the fish (I’m learning a little too I suppose!).

We did what we wanted to do. We were together. And we were mostly quiet.

When we went to bed, he said something that made me think. He said “Thank you. For just letting me be quiet and rest.”

That one statement caused me to analyze myself. It has caused much thought about who I am and my actions.

Here’s what I have realized today in reflection.

I am needy. I want our relationship to be great. I don’t want to always pretend that everything’s okay as I have in the past. I realize how important it is to talk about my feelings, to work on our relationship. I understand that great relationships don’t push things and issues under the rug.

So I study about relationships. I read about communication. I read about having a God honoring marriage. I want to do everything RIGHT.

And I’m constantly wanting to talk to him. About his feelings. About my feelings. I want him to see me for who I am and know my heart. I want to know him better than anyone else and at a deeper level than anyone has been able to reach.

And I exhaust him!

Don’t get me wrong, he has NEVER complained. He always does his very best to converse with me and is extremely patient. It wasn’t until last night and that one little comment that I realized,

I AM WEARING HIM OUT with my chatter. Even though the intent and purpose is good and well, it’s too much. I am too impatient in my quest to have a great marriage.

I am realizing that we don’t have to figure everything out right this minute. We have a lifetime to share and work on our marriage.

In the meantime, we must allow ourselves to enjoy the journey.

There is a good balance somewhere between working on a marriage or yourself and just breathing easy and enjoying life. Sometimes working on your marriage is just being quiet and letting each other rest, enjoying life together.

This trait of mine with him and our marriage is also evident in my personal life and relationship with Christ. I have finally come to terms with my past and realize the devastation it has had on my life and me as a person. I want to heal quickly. I want to spend every moment I can working on myself and restoring my relationship with Christ. I am at the point in my life that I am passionate about my walk with Him. It’s been so long and I love it!

But I need to remember that healing takes time. I need to remember that I am on the right path and there is no need to get in a hurry. God is patient with us and He wants us to be patient with ourselves. He also wants us to enjoy life while we’re on the journey of learning more of Him and even ourselves.

I have turned into a high strung woman. And that is not my natural personality. That is not who He created me to be. I want to return to the laid back and low key personality that He blessed me with when I was born.

I don’t want good relationships. I want great ones. With Lance, my children, my friends, and mostly, with God. I must realize that it takes time and I don’t have to get there overnight. I need to relax and enjoy the journey. I need to be confident that I am headed in the right direction and give myself some space to experience a peaceful life in the process.

There is a good balance between working on yourself and your relationships and just relaxing and enjoying what you have in that moment.

And I’m sure Lance would appreciate me finding that balance quickly before he loses his sweet, more patient than I could ever be, mind!