Lions relaxing in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A little love goes a long way

All this week, I’ve been focusing on friends, but what about the people in your life who aren’t your friends? What about those folks you have to spend time with who don’t like you? If you spend any time in the Psalms, you will realize that David talked a lot about people who hated him. He mourned how many enemies he had. And (just being honest), sometimes I wonder if the Psalms are always applicable to me because I don’t really have enemies.

I was looking for this one clip off of my new favorite television show, BBC’s Sherlock, where John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are talking about arch-enemies, but I couldn’t find it. Watson points out that people don’t have arch-enemies in real life. They have friends. They have people they like, people they don’t like, etc. And that’s how I feel about enemies mostly, at least when it comes to flesh and blood humans.

And I’m positive that there are people in my life who don’t like me. There have to be. I just choose not to think about them, because I’m such a people pleaser that if I start focusing on the people who don’t like me, I’m going to lose my mind. And I won’t be very useful to the people who do like me. But as nice as it would be, you can’t avoid people who dislike you forever. And even though it would be great to be the kind of person who everyone likes unconditionally, life doesn’t work that way. And if you’re going to stand for anything that matters, people will dislike you. Eventually, you’ll stumble across someone who is diametrically opposed to everything you believe in, maybe passively, maybe aggressively.

So how do you handle people like that?

Lions relaxing in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lions relaxing in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 12:17-21.

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

This is a difficult one to keep to. It’s so much easier to reciprocate when someone hurts you. It’s natural to want to hurt them back. And, of course, sometimes reciprocation is necessary. Sometimes for justice’s sake, people need to pay for what they’ve done. But that’s a legal issue. That’s a law issue. And I’m not a law enforcement officer. I’m not involved in legal matters in any way. And I don’t have the right to dole out punishments to people around me.

So what do I do when someone turns against me? How do I treat them when they purposefully set out to hurt me or hinder me or discourage me? I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have few influences like this. Most everyone I’ve met has always been an encourager, but there have been times when people I thought were friends turned against me. And, yes, my first response is to strike back, to make them feel what I feel. But that’s not how we’re supposed to respond.

We are to respond to the negative influences in our lives with love. If they hurt us, we love them in return. If they hate us, we love them in return. If they seek to destroy us, we love them in return. See the pattern? And I’m not talking about the fake smiles that hide the sneers behind people’s backs. Showing “love” to someone with the only intention of hurting them in the end isn’t love, and that’s not what this verse is talking about. When we’re supposed to respond in love, it means real love. It means the kind of love that only God can help us show.

And it doesn’t matter what they do to us. It says never return evil for evil. Not sometimes it’s okay. Not usually. Never. Never seek revenge. Never take matters into your own hands. That’s not your job. That’s God’s business. It’s our responsibility to live the way we’re supposed to, and God will take care of the rest.

But it’s not easy, especially when we have so many means at our disposal to hurt each other. That’s why we need God’s help. We need Him to move in our hearts and help us love the unlovable in a real way. One of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us is love, and not just love for those who believe the way we do but love for everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. That’s the love we need to ask for. That’s the love we need to show the world, because it’s that kind of love that makes us different.

So when you run into someone who doesn’t like you today, remember to show them love. Granted, don’t go out of your way to track them down and shower them with compliments. I mean, you can if you want, but that might make the situation worse. But if you can’t avoid them, if you have to see them, be kind to them when they are cruel. Thank them for their help when they treat you like dirt. Encourage them when they discourage you. It’s not easy, but God will help you do it. And who knows what might happen? You never know how God can work in someone else’s heart. Maybe all it will take is a little love.

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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. =)

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Don’t let solitude become a security blanket

I’m an independent person. I always have been, from the time I was a little girl. I don’t need much to make it through in life. I’m not really the sort of person who requires socialization or a circle of friends. It’s easy for me to be on my own, and by that token, it’s easy for me to isolate myself. I live like a hermit anyway, alone in the middle of nowhere. And now I don’t even have a cat to talk to, as they’ve all either died of old age or got carried off by owls or coyotes.

And while I like the quietude of this lifestyle choice, sometimes the silence lies and tries to convince me that I’m isolated because I’m alone. And there’s a big difference between being isolated and being alone, between being independent and being lonely. I don’t necessarily think that isolation is bad. It just depends on your motives. But if you’re going to live a life that’s solitary–and even if you don’t–you need to be aware that lies get louder in silence. And you need to remember that even if you enjoy being on your own, you still need people.

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:23-25.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 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 one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

I’ve been running wild the last couple of months. Actually, running wild is sort of a constant with me. I’m always dashing from one thing to another, rarely standing still. But that’s me, and I’ve got a lot of plates spinning. So for the last few months, I actually haven’t been able to go to church. I’m fortunate to attend a church that streams their services live, so I’ve watched when I had the opportunity. But streaming online isn’t the same as being there in person.

I got to go this weekend. And being in the service, surrounded by friends and family in the blood of Christ reminded me just how much I need people. When I’m on my own, busy and bustling back and forth from crisis to crisis, it’s easy for me to think that I’m okay without sharing life with people. I’m functioning just fine, after all. But there’s more to life than just functioning. There’s more to life than just surviving. God didn’t put me here to just make it through another day. He wants me to thrive. He wants me to grow. He wants me to live.

And while I prefer the silence sometimes, silence isn’t always conducive to growth. And you can’t experience real friendship if you don’t invest in other people. It’s a risk, yes, because people are people. But it’s worth it.

Pastor posed a question in his message yesterday, asking us to think about the people who’ve loved us the most in our lives and what our lives would look like without them. That’s difficult to even think about. And my first thought was that I didn’t have a whole lot of people who loved me like that, and that’s when I realized I’d been shutting myself away too long. Because that’s a lie.

I started making a list of people who’ve loved me, who’ve made a difference in my life, and needless to say it’s very very long. It was much longer than I expected it to be. I have been very fortunate in my life to have many, many people come alongside me to support me and love me more than I deserved. But when you get so busy with your nose to the grindstone, it’s easy to forget the people who’ve invested in you.

So for the rest of this month, I really want to focus on friendships and relationships in life and how important they are. Granted, I’m not going to change the way I live, unless God tells me I need to. But I don’t have to shut myself away from people. Living a quiet life is good. Having quiet moments is essential. But when the quiet changes from a refuge to a security blanket, you’ve got a problem.

Don’t cut people out of your life. If you were sufficient on your own, God wouldn’t have made other people. And, yes, God is sufficient for you as your friend, your maker, your God, your Lord. But if it was just supposed to be you and God going through life without any other interaction with people, why are there people around you? God designed us to invest in each other. So don’t run away from it. Embrace it. Yes, that means you’re taking a risk. Yes, that means you’ll have to give up some time alone. But what are you really here for?