Simple thoughts about a complicated subject

It’s nearly 10:00 Wednesday night in the city of Carlisle in northern England, where I’m writing tomorrow’s devotional. It’s weird because it’s only 4:00 in the afternoon back home in Kansas, but I’m going to try to sleep after being up since 4:00 a.m. Tuesday (I didn’t sleep much on the plane).

But I just felt led to post something that’s pretty awesome that God reminded me of as I was walking down the ramp of the Carlisle train station this afternoon: I’ve been gifted with tremendous friends.

Me and Katie

Me and Katie

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
    but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Friends are priceless. And if you have good friends–real friends–hold on to them. Because the real ones will last forever. And no matter how many miles might separate you, you’ll be able to pick up again like you never left off.

I have friends around the world, and I’m so blessed to be able to say that they are as close to me as a family.

I haven’t been in the same room with my best friend since last October. She lives here in England. We Skype, of course. We text. But after so long an absence, you’d expect that there would be hesitation in getting used to each other’s company again. There wasn’t. It was like we hadn’t even been separated.

If you’ve got a friendship like that in your life, don’t sell it short. Don’t discount it. And, whatever you do, don’t let it go. Friendships like that are worth fighting for.

Just a simple thought for this morning … or evening … or whenever it is.

Someone who has walked in your shoes understands how you feel

I’m planning a trip to England. I will be crossing the pond in May to visit my best friend and see some sights. I’ve been once before in summer 2013, and while that trip was a riot, I’m more excited for this return trip.

Why? Because I’ve experienced London already. I know what it’s like to ride the tube and to look the “wrong” direction for oncoming traffic. I know that the first floor of the British Museum is really all that’s there worth seeing and that the Museum of London is better overall. A lot of the peculiar little quirks of British culture won’t be such a shock this time around.

But what’s interesting is explaining it to my dad, who is coming with me. You can’t really explain London or any of the surrounding areas until you’ve actually been there. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s something else to visit. That’s what I learned the last time I was there. It was something my best friend could describe, but I couldn’t really understand it until I’d lived it.

in-mums-shoesToday’s verses are Hebrews 2:17-18.

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

Life is hard sometimes. Everybody knows that. But there’s something really comforting in talking to someone who’s walked a mile in your shoes.

If you’ve lost someone you love, friends can tell you they understand, but they don’t really. If they haven’t experienced the same loss you have, they can’t. It’s like someone with a full-time, paying job with benefits trying to console a part-time, minimum wage earner that rising grocery costs are a part of life. They mean well, certainly, but they can’t actually comprehend the terror of an empty cupboard and a failing bank balance.

Having a friend in your life who has been where you’ve been, who’s walked where you walked and felt the same hurt you have is priceless. If you can talk about how you’re feeling and your friend truly does understand the same emotions, there’s comfort you can’t really quantify. Especially if that friend experienced the same hurts you have and they’ve come out shining on the other side. You walk away from the conversation with hope. If they survived, so might I.

You realize that Jesus went through the same struggles we have, right? Maybe not specifically. I mean, there’s no evidence in Scripture that Jesus was ever laid off, but He most certainly struggled to make a living. He wasn’t a property owner, and He wasn’t always sure where His next meal would come from. Maybe the circumstances in His life are different from yours, but I guarantee He experienced the same emotions you have.

That’s why He came. Jesus chose to become human so that He could be made like us in every way, suffer in every way, struggle in every way, so He could understand. So that He could bridge the chasm between us and God the Father.

When someone knows what you’ve been through, they can speak for you. They can explain how it feels to stand where you stand, to live how you live, what the world looks like from your eyes. They can speak to it because they’ve lived it too, and that’s what Jesus does for us.

Jesus experienced fear and loss. He knew what betrayal felt like. He knew what failure felt like. He knew what it was like to lose friends and family–and to have friends and family turn their backs on Him. Everything we struggle with on a daily basis, Jesus experienced Himself. Maybe the circumstances weren’t identical, but the emotions were.

And you know what? He came out shining on the other side. He lived through all of that pain and abandonment and hurt and frustration and didn’t once turn against God. He still lived a life that was pleasing to the Lord, and because He did it, so can we. And when we struggle, we can turn to Him and ask for help.

When you’re on the edge of making a really stupid decision, ask Jesus for help. Tell Him about what you’re going through. He’s listening, and He’s been there. He had the strength not to go down the road to stupid, regardless of how much He was hurting, and He’s still there to help us make the wise choice too.

Jesus experienced life before we did, and He survived. He actually did more than survive. He thrived. And we can too. We just have to be willing to talk to Him about it and ask Him for help.

A toenail doesn’t have to be friends with an eyeball

Who is that person in your life that you just don’t understand? Is it a family member or a coworker? I know people who just bug the fire out of me, and I really want nothing more than to shake them or throw something at them or pop off and tell them what I really think of them.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, I’m not nearly bold enough to do any of that. So I resort to creating characters like them in novels and making them look dumb. Yes, passive aggressive. I know. I’m working on it.

But do you ever wonder why you have to put up with it? The Bible is so full of examples of Jesus’ patience and goodness toward stupid people, and it frustrates me. Because I don’t want to be nice to stupid people. I want to be angry at them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned growing up in the church, it’s that not all Christ-followers agree. When I was younger, that bothered me, because I thought everybody had to agree. We all have to believe the same thing, don’t we?

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, friends, but you’ll never see a time when everyone in a church–or any gathering of people–believes the same thing. Sure, you can agree on the basics. You can find common ground on the important things. But everyone sees life differently or has lived a different kind of life.

Those differences are valuable if you harness them, but if you let them drive a wedge between people, they can tear everything you’ve built down.

As you follow Christ, you’re going to encounter other Christ-followers who come from different cultures and different traditions and different perspectives. If they truly follow Christ, you can have a deep relationship with them because you have something in common with each other, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to agree on every subject. And that’s okay.

A Christ-follower from Africa is going to have a very different view of life and living than a Christ-follower from Canada. That doesn’t mean one is wrong and the other is right. What matters is that both people believe in Jesus for their salvation. But for some reason people love to point out things that are different, and once they see something that’s different, if it threatens them, they’re likely to decide it’s bad.

But if the Bible doesn’t say it’s wrong, who are we? If God doesn’t have a problem with it, why do we?

Our differences make us stronger. It all comes back to the Body of Christ. We all have different jobs, different loves, different passions, different talents, and we all come together in the name of Christ to serve Him. But if you’re the hands of the Body, don’t be telling the lips what to say, and vice versa. If you’re the feet, you don’t know how the eyes work. If you’re the ears, you’ve got a different job than the nose.

Because we’re different, we complement each other. Because we’re different, we are stronger together than we are alone. But because we’re different, it’s hard to remember that sometimes. Being different is difficult. We don’t communicate the same way. We don’t see life the same way. And if we aren’t careful, all we’ll start to see is the differences, and before long, we’ll convince ourselves that we’re too different to work together.

What would happen if your body parts decided they were too different to work together anymore? Yup. You’d fall apart. And the same thing will happen with the Church.

So give each other a break. Yes, we’re different, and that’s the point. You’re going to run into members of the Body that drive you crazy. And you’re not going to understand them, and they’re not going to understand you. Imagine a toenail trying to comprehend an eyeball. One is hard. The other is soft. One protects, and the other is protected. They have absolutely nothing in common, except that they are both in the Body.

Maybe that’s all you have in common with that person in your life that you don’t understand. And if that’s the case, that’s fine. A toenail doesn’t have to be best friends with an eyeball, but they do need to recognize that they each do an important job–and they have to do it their own way.

If you focus on what makes you different, you’ll be frustrated and angry because how are you supposed to get along with someone you don’t understand? But if you focus on the things you have in common, understanding each other won’t really matter. Instead, you’ll enjoy getting to see the other person’s point of view.

Yeah, they might learn something from you, but you might learn something from them too. We’re different for a reason. And that reason isn’t to destroy each other. It’s to learn from each other.

Friendships need more than common ground

How many friends do you have in your life? Some people have a lot of friends, and that’s great. Others have a small group of friends, and that’s equally great. But what happens with friendships over time?

Some friendships get stronger. Others drift apart. And it doesn’t mean there’s wrong done. It just means that people don’t always stay the same, friendships don’t always stay the same. Life has a tendency to change all of us.

In most cases, friends just don’t have anything in common anymore. Maybe you were inseparable in elementary school or high school, but you changed in college. Maybe you were the best of friends in college, but life in the workplace made you reprioritize.

But then, you have those special circumstances where you start out as friends and you remain friends for the rest of your life. I am so very blessed to say that I have a lot of friends. But not only do I have a lot of friends, I have a lot of friends who have been my friends for a very, very long time.

It’s those friendships I treasure so much, and what amazes me–leaves me speechless–is that I can spend years apart from those friends and when we meet up again, it’s like no time has passed. There’s no awkward silence. There’s no scrambling to keep conversation going. It feels just like coming home, like you are where you belong, like being reunited with your favorite family member.

How do you get that kind of friendship? How do we cultivate relationships like that? I’m certainly not an expert, but I have learned that there does seem to be one unifying factor in every friendship in my life that has lasted: Who is your friendship about?

Me and best buddy Katie in a telephone booth at Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK

Me and best buddy Katie in a telephone booth at Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK

Today’s verses are Colossians 3:16-17.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

If you build a friendship around things you like to do together or things you have in common, your friendship might last a while. It could last a long while. But what happens when you grow tired of doing those sorts of things? What happens when you’re no longer interested in the things you used to care about? What happens to your friendship then?

Friendships that last have to be built on something that doesn’t change. That’s what I’ve learned over the years. The friendships that have meant the most to me have been built on mutual love of Christ and a desire to do whatever He’s called us to do. No matter where. No matter when. No matter what.

Those friendships have changed my life. It’s those friendships that I can pick up en media res and just start talking like we’ve never been apart, even if we haven’t seen each other in three years. Because no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done or how long you’ve been apart, the thing that drew you together in the first place is still the same.

What’s God doing in your life? What did you see God do today? Or yesterday? Or the day before? What do you think He’s going to do tomorrow?

Those questions never get old. The conversations and the stories and the memories never wear out. Because when you’re talking about God, when you’re focusing on living life with Christ at the center, you never run out of stories.

What kind of friendships do you have in your life right now? What are they built on? Are they built on commonalities like what books you enjoy or what music you like listening to? Those friendships are nice. Are they built on the ages of your children? That’s nice too, especially in the difficult years of child rearing when you need someone who understands where you are.

But don’t think those friendships will last longer than your common interests. Your common interests will change, and if you don’t have something stronger to hold you together, you’ll eventually drift apart.

If you make Jesus the center of your life, the center of your family, the center of your friendships, you’ll have an anchor that never moves. And, let’s just face it, you’ll have so many adventures to talk about, you’ll never have to deal with awkward silence again.

I had dinner with crazy Italians last night

Seriously. Not making it up. Well, the crazy part maybe. (I know you’re reading, and you know I love you guys.)

I’m a pretty closed person when it comes to being myself around people. I try to be compassionate and pleasant and likeable as a general rule, but there’s a lot more to me as a person that I keep bottled up until I know my ridiculous, loud personality isn’t going to scare you to death.

I am so fortunate to have friends who know the ridiculous, loud me and love me. I’m even more fortunate to have friends who love the real me who don’t hesitate to tell me when I’m making a really stupid decision. So when those friends (the real ones, who won’t feed me a bunch of lines about positive thinking when I’m acting on a truly dumb idea) get excited about something I feel God leading me to do, I jump for joy.

It’s one thing to have a friend’s words of encouragement when you’re undertaking a big challenge. It’s something else to have a friend’s actual support, knowing they’re behind you 110%.

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 13:20.

Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.

I’ve posted about friends a lot on here, mostly because my friends are such a vital part of my life. I’ve really tried to be wise about the friends I choose because so many of them play a role in helping me make decisions, and if my inner circle of advisors aren’t wise and don’t live their lives according to Scripture, they won’t give me counsel that will help me do it either.

I have been so very blessed to have such a variety of friends from all corners of the world, all cultures and backgrounds, all personality types. I have friends who are as introverted as I am. I have friends who are insane crazy people. I have friends who occupy high-ranking corporate positions and friends who work minimum-wage. And the most beautiful part about all my close friends is that they love Christ, and in the dark moments of my life, they help me remember how much I love Him too.

Do you have those kinds of friends in your life? If you don’t, you really ought to look for some. Just remember that the best friends you can have don’t always say yes to you. The best friends you can have are the ones who love you for who you are but don’t want you to stay the same. Yes, that’s a paradoxical statement, but I believe it’s true.

The best friendships I have had in my life are with people who love me for who I am as a person, but they love me too much to let me plateau in my growth—both professionally and spiritually. If you have a friend who just agrees with you all the time, that could be nice, but do you ever get to really know that person? The best friends you can have challenge you to grow and love you regardless.

My friends are patient people because I’m stubborn. Compared to me, donkeys are easy to get along with. I’m set in my ways, and I don’t like change. But you can’t go through life without changing. Everything changes. Granted, the things that matter don’t, but it’s how you grow to survive the little things that don’t matter that help you determine the real things that do.

Is there a friend who is open and honest with you in your life? Is there a friend you trust to tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it? Is there a friend who loves you too much to let you make a foolish decision?

Find that person. Because that person is worth his or her weight in gold. And the more you hang out with wise people like that, the wiser you will become if you’re willing to pay attention.