Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Walking on porcupines

Have you ever tried to get a picture of a porcupine? Well, if you do, good for you. I’ve never seen a real one. So I have no photographs of porcupines, but I do have hippos. And that will work for today, because I’m not talking about real porcupines anyway. I’m actually talking about friendship.

I don’t think I post enough about friendships. I don’t even know where to start most of the time because I am so overwhelmed and so thankful to be friends with such amazing people.

Our friends determine so much in our lives. And if you have awesome friends — and I mean truly awesome friends and not just popular ones — you should count yourself fortunate.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Hippos working on their tans – Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

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

Who are your friends? Do your friends ask more from you than they expect of themselves? Do your friends treat you the way you treat them? Do your friends love God? Do your friends speak truth? Do your friends give you sound advice based in Scripture and tempered with the love of God?

If you have friends like that, you are richer than the richest man in the universe. Because there are “friends” out there who will hang out with you just because they want something from you. There are “friends” out there who need a prop. And even though they may be your “friends” when they feel like it, the day will eventually come when they won’t have time for you. And they’ll drop you like a rock.

I always told myself that I didn’t really need friends, that I could get along just fine without them. And, if we’re being honest here, that’s probably true. But how lonely would life be? How empty would life be? And, truthfully, how much more difficult would life be? If I didn’t have my friends to rely on and blow up on and cry on, life would be much harder than it is now.

Today’s verse just made me think about friendship and what it really is. Because true friendship goes beyond blood. It stretches deeper than DNA and further than a family name. Because we don’t get to choose our families; we choose our friends. And, what’s more important, our friends choose us. And what’s more, true friends keep choosing us even when we have a bad day, even when we’re struggling at work or at home, even when we snap, even when we don’t feel good.

Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through a field of porcupines? Just think about that. It wouldn’t be pleasant at all. They’re volatile and unpredictable, and they’re covered in needles. All it would take is one wrong move, and they’ll let loose a volley of needles that will leave you wincing.

But no one walks on porcupines. I’m sure there’s some kind of fee or fine you have to pay for that. But even though we don’t actually walk on porcupines, we do have to walk through life. And life can have its needles and touchy spots. And so many times through Scripture, God talks about friends and walking. It’s not unusual to see the concept of friendship lined right up with the concept of walking through life.

Why? Well, think about it. What else do friends do but walk with you, even through the most difficult times in your life? That’s what friends are for.

I got to thinking about this verse because of a birthday present one of my friends gave me. Silly socks covered in porcupines! They’re adorable! And they’re bright, and they’re fun! I love them! (So far, I have encountered two things that turn me girly: Bath & Body Works hand soaps and funny, silly socks.)

But beyond the fun of the socks, they just made me think about friendship. Because friendships aren’t forged in the good times. Maybe they start in good times. Maybe they start over a fun conversation or a good cup of coffee. But they don’t get very deep there. To grow a deep friendship, you have to walk through some porcupines, and you have to do it together. And somewhere between needles, you’ll make a choice to either keep walking or turn back.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to determine if the friendship is one that’s worth pursuing. Sometimes turning back is the best decision you can make. But if you turn back on every friendship the moment the going gets tough, you’ll never understand what it really means to have a real friend.

I guess, what I’m saying this morning, is that the closest friendships in my life have come through some amount of difficulty — whether it was through a difficult situation we tackled together or through a difficult conversation we had to have to straighten things out between us. The best friendships you have aren’t just going to happen. Like any relationship, you have to work at them.

So if you have a friend (or friends) in your life who you have walked on porcupines with, be thankful for them. And tell them that you’re thankful for them. You never know when you might not have the opportunity to thank them anymore.

And if you’ve never walked through porcupines, you will. So it might not be a bad idea to find someone who won’t mind walking with you. Just remember that true friendship is a two-way street. And if you’re walking through a field of porcupines with a friend, you’ll both take hits, but you’ll both be there to keep each other going.

Empty bench at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Home again, home again!

Hey, everyone! We got back safe and sound, but it’s a little later than I planned. So I decided to post this early … or late?

This isn’t really a deep thought. It’s 1AM. I won’t be capable of much depth. But I wanted to share something I was thinking about and thanking God for as I was driving the 500 miles home tonight.

Empty bench at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Empty bench at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

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’ve blogged on this before, but it really hit home with me tonight.

Driving all the way to Colorado Springs and back isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s enough of a hassle that it could be troublesome for one person alone.

On the way up, I really started feeling awful. So it was nice to be able to hand over the wheel to somebody else while I rested. And tonight, everyone took turns keeping me awake as I drove.

But not only that, I had a car full of some of my closest friends. These are the folks who laugh at my silly jokes and my facial expressions. They know what I’m thinking before I think it. Some of them know what I’m feeling before I feel it, and that’s really saying something.

I am so thankful for the time I had with these awesome ladies the past three days, and I’m really excited because we got to make a whole bunch of new friends too!

I know not everyone has friends who they’ve known for 20 years, but if you do? Be thankful for them. You don’t know how rare it is. And if you don’t? Whether it’s 20 years or 2 months, if you’ve got a friend who will stick with you no matter what, be thankful for them. And stick together because 20 years will get here a lot sooner than you bargain for.

Good night (morning), everyone!

Gorilla sitting by himself

Independent and proud

I’m an independent person. I always have been, even when I was a child. My mom used to tell me that even as a very small girl I didn’t want to be held; I wanted to run around like an idiot. Not much has changed, I don’t guess.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being independent, that is until you start thinking that you can rely on yourself for everything. Then you’re just asking for trouble. Because none of us are strong enough on our own to make it through life alone. I don’t care how independent or self-sufficient you are.

Gorilla sitting by himself

Gorilla sitting by himself - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ecclesiastes 4:10.

If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.

I love Ecclesiastes because it’s pretty much just straight talk, and the passage where today’s verse comes from is all about the advantages of companionship.

Anyone who thinks the Bible doesn’t make sense hasn’t read Ecclesiastes. This is actually the passage where today’s verse comes from. It’s just so good, I had to post the whole thing:

Ecclesiates 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.

Two people are better than one. Why? Because if one person falls down, the other person can help them up. That is relevant in a figurative sense and a literal sense. If you trip and fall and scrape your knee, it’s a lot easier to stand up again when someone offers you a hand. Same thing when you slip and slide into some sin. It’s a lot easier to pull yourself out of a pit if someone helps you out.

In the cold, two people can keep each other warm, while one person will freeze to death. Two people can watch each others’ backs in a fight, while one person will be overcome. According to this passage, having someone to walk through life alongside you is a really good idea. But in our hardworking, busybody 21st Century American thinking, we don’t need anyone else. We are sufficient on our own. And if you ask for help, you’re weak. If you’re seeing a counselor, there must be something wrong with you. If you have an accountability partner, you must have a deep dark struggle with sin.

Well, you know what? Everyone is weak. Everyone has something wrong with them. And everyone struggles with deep, dark sin. Because everyone is human.

This is something I have to really fight in my own personal life because I hate it when people think I’m weak. I can’t stand it if someone feels like they have to take care of me or support me or try to help me carry my own weight. I don’t want anyone to have anything that they can hold over my head.

But that’s pride. And pride is pretty stupid, if you think about it.

Maybe being alone is easier at times because you don’t have to sacrifice to make someone else happy, but the result is that you are completely by yourself with no one to help you when the time comes that you need help. And, trust me, the time will come when you need help.

So weigh your options.

Independence with pride because you don’t want people to think you’re weak? Or independence with the knowledge that every now and then you might need help because you’re not perfect?

Some hungry-looking piranhas

Christians aren’t supposed to eat each other … but we’re really good at it

The church was created for a number of purposes, the biggest being to reach out to people who don’t know Christ and explain how to have eternal life through Him. Another purpose of the church is to support believers. It’s a place where people of like faith get together to worship Christ and learn about Scripture and help each other grow.

Sadly, in my experiences, the church in America is less like a support base and more like a tank of piranhas. They will devour any other fish who happens to come along and doesn’t fit in, and in difficult circumstances, they will devour each other.

Some hungry-looking piranhas

Some hungry-looking piranhas - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 14:13.

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

There has to be a point where we in the church focus less on finding fault in other believers and instead focusing more on how we live our own lives. Now, am I saying that when another believer gets involved in sin, we should let it go? No. That’s not what I’m saying. There are times and places for holding each other accountable. But holding each other accountable is completely different from condemning each other.

That’s what we do in the church. And I’m not talking about nonbelievers. This verse sounds to me like it’s written to Christians.

Christians are terrible about condemning each other. Another believer puts a toe out of line, and instantly they become public enemy number one. They are shunned. They are spoken ill of. Everyone around them treats them like they have leprosy.

Really? Is that how we’re supposed to act? Doesn’t everyone sin? Isn’t the church supposed to help and support people? If we can help and support people who don’t know Christ yet, why can’t we do it with people who share our faith?

Again, don’t misunderstand me, there are circumstances where some people who claim to be believers need to go their separate ways, but not for a single sin. Not if they are repentant and genuinely seeking forgiveness. But the church treats all the same many times. And we focus too much on finding faults in people and bringing them up.

But what about ourselves?

Before we condemn someone else for faults in his or her life, we need to look at ourself in the mirror. How many sins that we condemn others for have we committed today? How many indiscretions and imperfections do we criticize others for because we can’t fix them in ourselves? How many times do we take out our frustration on other people simply because it’s easier than righting something in our own life?

We need to live in a such a way that prevents other believers from falling into sin. If you follow Christ, we are called to live a life above reproach, not just among nonbelievers but among each other.

Care more about the mistakes and choices you are making, rather than finding fault in another believer. And who knows? If you turn your life around and live the way you’re supposed to and love others and make choices in your life that help others, maybe other people around you will understand. More people watch you than you know. And it’s not your job to straighten them out. It’s your job to live a life that points directly to Christ, that keeps other believers from stumbling.

Being a piranha is overrated. Live the way you’re supposed to, and God will take care of the rest.

Written from Cousin Helen’s Kitchen

I am writing this morning from my cousin’s kitchen in Arkansas, listening to the coffee brew. I’m down here visiting family and buying half a cow with my mom and dad. It’s been ages since I’ve had good, fresh beef in my freezer, so this will be very nice. And the best part about it is that I got to catch up with my cousins that I haven’t seen in five years. I’m a dreadful cousin.

It’s crazy to me to see the kids I played with as a child with kids of their own. Considering how many My Little Ponies I got to hold and how many special tricks I got to bear witness to, I think I have been accepted into the category of playmate. I think everyone is going to come up and visit me soon, which will be a riot. I can’t wait to take my littlest cousins to the zoo . . . . but then, I can’t wait to go to the zoo again myself. =)

In any case, the verse today kind of made me smile. It’s one of those verses that Christians can really harp on, but a word in it really made me stop today.

Galatians 6:1

 1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer[a] is overcome by some sin, you who are godly[b] should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.

How many times does this happen? Where a believer sees another believer struggling with some sin and they take it on themselves to set that person straight? In my experience, people usually screw this up totally. They either ignore the problem entireliy or they throw themselves at it so violently, desperate to correct it, that they make the situation worse. The other possibility is that you who are trying to correct the others’ problem will end up falling into the same sin you’re trying to erase.

The big problem with all of these is us. We think that we can do something to convince somebody else to stop sinning. Well, guess what, folks? You can’t. The only person who can decide to stop sinning is the person who is sinning. They have to realize in themselves that what they’re doing is wrong and that it’s not helping them; then, they will be ready to stop.

The only thing you can do in the mean time is love them and pray for them and be there for them when they need you.

You also need to be careful that you don’t rationalize away your situation and say that you need to get on the other persons’ level to relate to them better. Now, there is a certain amount of relational positioning you need to do. Like if you’re ministering to a homeless person, you shouldn’t wear your best clothing and fancy jewelry. What would that say to them? Or if you’re ministering among people in Africa, you shouldn’t cling to your own culture and ignore theirs. However, you shouldn’t bend the truth of Scripture to serve “your ministry.”

I’m going to give an example and maybe some of you will disagree with me on this, but I want to share my thoughts about this. Again, I’m not saying I’ve got this figured out, but I’m pretty sure that I understand at least a little of it.

I’m writing a book. I know that’s no surprise to some of you since I write every day all day. But this book has taken up most of the last ten years of my life. I could have gotten it done sooner if little things like school and work hadn’t gotten in the way, but it very rapidly is approaching completion. This book isn’t for Christians; it’s a book about a Christian living among people who have made other choices. And personally I was tired of Christian fluff. I wanted bad guys who were really bad. I wanted good guys who weren’t perfect. I wanted a story that demonstrated how a Christian’s life isn’t perfect and how they make the same mistakes nonbelievers do. So the language in this book is rough. And the situations in this book are very far beyond what a Christian should be involved with in their lives. But I didn’t write this book for Christians. This book is directed to people outside the church — outside the faith; it’s purpose is to shed some light on what it’s like to be a Christian — and what it’s like to be a religious Christian who realizes how wrong she’s been.

Now, because I’m writing this book with bad language in it, does that give me the excuse to use bad language all the time? Does that give me the excuse to jump into situations that would compromise my witness. No. Absolutely not. I follow Christ so my life must never compromise what I believe, even if the people I minister to don’t live by the truth.

Granted, this example is for ministering to nonbelievers. Ministering to Christians is much much harder. Because Christians always think they’re right.

What we have to remember, though, is “there but for the grace of God go I.” There is no sin a Christian can fall into that can’t tempt another Christian so approaching a situation like what is mentioned in Galatians 6:1 with pride, saying to yourself that you’d never do something so foolish or you can’t be tempted by that, is stupid. But does that mean we shouldn’t help each other? Or does that mean we shouldn’t accept help from other believers?

No.

We’re here to help each other, to keep each other accountable, to offer a hand up back onto the path where God can bless us both. Refusing help when you need it is foolish, just like refusing to help someone who needs it is selfish. We are all a part of the Body of Christ, and — forgive me a silly analogy — but if the foot gets a splinter in it, don’t the fingers need to pull it out?