Claymore on display at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Friends make each other better

When you run into an obstacle in your path, what happens? Everyone encounters obstacles, but some people give up and others press on. Why is that? Granted, there are a number of reasons, and many of those reasons depend on how many other obstacles you’ve encountered previously. But I truly believe one of the most important factors for those people who press forward are their friends. And they don’t even have to be close friends. Even an acquaintance can help someone make the decision to keep going when without them they might have given up.

Claymore on display at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Claymore on display at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:17.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend.

I’ve always loved this verse. I love the symbolism of it. Iron sharpens iron. The thing about it that’s so cool is that if you try to sharpen iron with a metal that’s softer than it is, not only will you destroy the softer material, you’ll dull the iron too. Not saying you can’t have friends who aren’t the same kind of iron, because diversity in our friendships is important too. But a friend who doesn’t challenge you, a friend who doesn’t encourage you won’t help you much.

And I really think that’s what it comes down to most of the time–encouragement. What is encouragement? See many people hear encouragement and think it means you have to love. And that’s not untrue. A lot of encouragement is love. In fact, encouraging someone is pretty difficult if you don’t love them, but love is only a tiny part of what encouragement actually does. Some people hear encouragement and think that means they have to make allowances for people’s failures and accept people where they are with no question. And that’s also good. Part of real love is making allowances for people’s’ faults and meeting them where they are. But just because we’re supposed to love people that way doesn’t mean we need to help them stay there.

Encouragement is building others up. Think about the word itself. It means to give courage. And you don’t give someone courage by giving them a reason to sit on the bench.

Encouragement isn’t easy. No, it’s the farthest thing from easy. It’s so much easier just to pat someone on the back and let them roll around in their insecurities and their failures and their insufficiencies. It’s so much easier to just listen while they want to give up, to stand by while they make terrible decisions, to remain silent when they start down a path that will ultimately lead to trouble.

I’ve been there and done that. I’ve been that friend who was too afraid to encourage someone to make the right choice, and I’ve been that friend who tried to help them pick up the pieces afterward. I don’t ever want to be that kind of friend again.

I have so many friends in my life who have encouraged me–really encouraged me. Yes, I have many who have loved me and who still do (miraculously). But the ones who have encouraged me stand apart because in the moments of my life when I was ready to give up, they wouldn’t let me. In the times when I was on the verge of letting go of my dreams, they helped me find the courage to hold on. When I was facing insurmountable obstacles, they stood beside me.

Do you have those kinds of friends in your life? Do your friends make you better? Or do they just love you from a distance? Maybe they don’t actively tear you down but they aren’t doing anything to build you up either.

Sharpening isn’t really a pleasant experience. To me it feels like pruning. But the stronger we get, the more we can accomplish, the more God can use us, the more people we can help. And iron can’t sharpen itself. Left on its own, it rusts. Without sharpening, it will become dull. The same is true with us. Friends will keep us sharp, and the sharpest friends are the ones who encourage us, even though it may not be fun at the time. The best friends are the ones who never let you give up. The best friends are the ones who tell you the truth in love and respect. The best friends jump into the trenches with you.

If you’ve got those friends, thank God for them. They’re priceless. If you don’t, don’t give up till you find some. You’ll be better off with friends like that in your life. Maybe the people you know now are good at patting you on the back and congratulating you for mediocrity or even when you give up. But I wouldn’t call them friends. Friends accept each other, yes, but they also make each other better.

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My brother and our guide Torleif walking along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Give friendship a chance

Have you ever had a close friend in your life? I’m not talking about just a casual acquaintance. I mean a friend who you spend time with on purpose. A friend whose house you visit just because. A friend who you’re perfectly fine with tossing in your car and driving hours beside. In comparison to the many many many people I know, I can count on two hands the friends who fit in this category. But I’m an introvert. Close friends are difficult for me to make because it takes me a long time to open up.

But if you’ve never had this kind of a friend, you’re missing out.

My brother and our guide Torleif walking along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

My brother and our guide Torleif walking along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

I’m sure I’ve blogged on these verses before, but when I think about the friendships in my life that have shaped me and helped me become the person I am today, this is the passage that comes to mind. Like I said yesterday, I enjoy my quiet time, but while being alone isn’t necessarily bad, being lonely is. And being lonely isn’t just depressing, it’s dangerous. You can get into trouble when you’re always alone, and then what happens? Sometimes you can fall into a pit so deep you can’t climb out on your own. That’s why you need friends.

I’ve been fortunate–blessed, really–to have many close friends over the years, friends who have loved me in spite of my flaws and quirks, of which there are many. And I’m doubly blessed to be able to say that in many instances the friends I had 10 and even 20 years ago are the same friends I have today. But on the other hand, some of my closest friends I’ve only known for half that time, if that.

Friendship can be tricky. It’s absolutely risky. Any time you open your heart to someone else, you’re taking a chance. Any time you are open and honest with another person, you’re risking that they will turn on you. And I’m not going to beat around the bush. That’s happened with me on a number of occasions, and in some specific circumstances, it was damaging–more damaging than I care to admit. I’m praying about how honest I should be about that time in my life on here. We’ll see. But without going into the gory details, I can tell you I came out of that time not wanting friends at all.

During that time in my life, I conveniently ignored this passage because I didn’t need friends. I didn’t need people. I was sufficient on my own, and having friends wasn’t worth the pain they would eventually cause. I lived that way for a number of years, holding people at arm’s length, refusing to allow anyone to get close, burying myself in details and busyness. Staying busy wasn’t a problem. It never was.

But a few people broke through my barriers and walls I’d put up, some forcefully, some naturally, and before I knew what was happening, I had friends again. Not just people I knew. Not just people I went to church with. Friends, who I loved and trusted and wanted to spend time with. Friends who I could be myself with, who loved me for me, who didn’t need me to perform, who thought I was pretty cool. And I hadn’t had that in so long, I’d forgotten what it felt like to be loved by choice.

Without the close friends in my life who have invested in me and believed in me and prayed for me and kept loving me in those times when I wasn’t such a good friend in return, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t who I am. And I most certainly wouldn’t know God the way I do. Most of them actually read this blog, and if you guys are reading this morning, you know exactly who you are.

All this to say that if you’re in that place today, where people have hurt you, I know how that feels. And actually probably most everyone around you knows how you feel. One of Satan’s great lies is that nobody gets you. That nobody understands you. That no one around you could possibly identify with the struggles you’ve been through. And that’s a huge lie. You have more people around you who “get” you than you know, and you won’t know until you give them the chance.

It’s a risk, yes. People are people. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone screws up. And people will hurt you. Guess what? You will hurt others too. So extend the grace you hope to receive in those moments to others. And give friends a chance.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Instructions for facing the end of the world

If the world were going to end today, what would your life look like? If you knew that this was your last day on earth, how would your life change from what it is now? Would you rush out and spend all the money you could? Would you quit your job and spend your last 24 hours in relative relaxation? Would you do that one thing you’ve always been too scared to try?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news (or good news, depending on how you look at it), but the world is going to end a lot sooner than anybody thinks. And knowing that, shouldn’t that affect the way we live? Shouldn’t that affect our priorities?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 4:7-8.

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

The Bible is full of examples talking about the end times and what they will look like, and I’m of the school of thought that says we’re living in the end times. I’m sure there are many who would dispute it, and I’m certain those who would dispute have evidence to point to. But whether we’re actually living in the end times or not, there are enough verses throughout scripture that warn of the end coming soon it’s something to pay attention to.

The end of the world has always been a topic of discussion in books and movies. For a while, Hollywood went through this phase where every other movie that came out dealt with the end of the world in some way, shape, or form. Like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow or other movies of that genre. Of course, then there’s the zombie movie genre, like 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, or the postapocalyptic movies like I Am Legend and other movies like that, which don’t really use nature as the enemy but a disease. But the concept is still there. The concept of the world ending has always fascinated people because it’s something we can’t stop. Unless you’re a fan of superhero movies (guilty), and then the fate of the world rests on the hero’s shoulders. But people like stories, and story is conflict. And there’s no great conflict than the catastrophe we can’t stop. That’s what makes those movies so interesting. People can’t stop their impending doom. All they can do is the best they can to survive, to keep living, to retain whatever they can of what used to be.

The Bible is many things, but among its vast repertoire of possible blurbs for back cover copy, it’s an instruction manual on how to live. And I find it very interesting that the two instructions it gives for facing the end of the world are prayer and love. Prayer and love? Is that really all you need to face the end? Don’t you need a generator? Don’t you need a chemical toilet? Don’t you need to invest all your finances in gold or in unperishables? Well, according to the Bible, what you need is to pray and to love each other. And it says that even between those two, love is more important.

And we’re not talking just passive love. If you check out verse 8 in the Amplified Version, this is what it says:

Above all things have intense and unfailing love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins [forgives and disregards the offenses of others].

So what does this mean for us today? Well, I don’t know about you, but I struggle with loving people on good days. I have a hard time extending grace to people who don’t live up to my expectations. And that’s not love. I need to have an intense and unfailing love for my brothers and sisters in Christ because we are rapidly approaching the end and we’re all struggling. And the thing about this kind of love is that it’s not something that just happens. It’s something you have to choose.

The common thread in most of those movies where the world is ending is that the characters who make it out alive are the ones who focus on what matters. Those people who get caught up in the minor details and the unimportant things are the ones who get eaten or smashed or whatever. And as strange as this sounds, I think that’s where we need to be. Yes, the details are important. Yes, the differences are important too. But above all else, brothers and sisters, we need to love each other. If we have Christ in common, we’re family.

Stay focused on what matters. God will help us sort out our differences if we cling to Him. Pray and love and let the end of the world come.

Me and best friend Katie under the Robin Hood tree along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Real friends share joy

Isn’t it amazing how friends can cheer you up? I can be having a cloudy sort of day, and getting to talk to a friend can suddenly make it seem like the sun is shining again. And it’s not really that anything has changed. It’s just my attitude, my perspective on life. When I am reminded how much my friends love me–and in return, how much I love them–it’s difficult to frown.

Yesterday wasn’t a bad day. On the contrary, it was actually a pretty good day. The water’s gone down outside the house. I got a lot of work done at the office. All the components of a good day were there, but I’ll admit I was a little gloomy. Not sure why. Maybe I don’t need a reason. But on break I got to Skype with my best friend who’s in England and after work I got to go over to my other best friend’s house to spend a little time with her and her awesome husband and their beautiful inexplicably already two-month-old daughter, Audrey. And on my way home, I realized that I was just vibrating with happiness.

I was reminded again what it means to be a really great friend, and that’s meeting your friends where they are and sharing their joy.

Me and best friend Katie under the Robin Hood tree along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Me and best friend Katie under the Robin Hood tree along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Romans 12:9-16.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

This passage isn’t exactly about friendship. It’s more of Paul’s instructions on how to live a life according to God’s will. But if you think about it it’s a pretty good check list for making and retaining friendships.

I have been blessed in my life with friends who celebrate with me when I succeed or when I accomplish something. I have also had a few friends, at least they called themselves friends, who didn’t find my successes all that exciting. And that does something to your heart when the person you’ve chosen to share a part of your life with doesn’t get excited when you are. For me, a friend who doesn’t rejoice with me indicates that maybe I’m being overly emotional or silly, because if it’s not worth them celebrating, maybe I shouldn’t be celebrating either. But that’s me, or it used to be. Now I have learned what real friendship looks like. And real friendship means you rejoice with your friends.

That’s what’s great about joy. There’s always more than enough to go around. Yes, it’s important to share your sorrows with friends too, but there’s something about sharing joy that makes you both better. I got to do that last night. I got to share in the marvelous joy of the miracle that is Baby Hoo. And I got to share my joy and my recent successes with my friend, Baby Hoo’s awesome mommy. Between the two of us there was so much joy going on in their living room, I’m surprised the roof stayed attached!

If you have friends in your life who drag you down, change your friends. Friends are there to help us, to support us, to encourage us, to mourn with us when we’re sad and to dance for joy with us when we’re happy and generally excited about life. Friends who take your joy and treat it like it’s not important aren’t friends, and they’ll bring more trouble to your life than help.

Don’t hesitate to rejoice. Don’t be reluctant to be happy. And absolutely share your joy with the people who care about you. It’s good for them, and it’s good for you too.

Baby Hoo is 2 months old!

Baby Hoo is 2 months old!

And because I’m that kind of friend, behold the face of Baby Hoo and fall in love like I have. I promise, she’s ten times cuter and smarter and more adorable than this photo can tell … and I’m not biased at all. =)