The Value of Relationships

Today is the last day of my trip. The end of a journey. For the last three and a half weeks, my family and I have been traveling across the United States. Richmond to Los Angeles and back again. Today, we finally arrive back home.

We’ve squeezed an awful lot into those 24 days. National parks. Baseball games. Reunions with friends. While we’ve been able to do an awful lot, there have been plenty of things that we just haven’t been able to do. There’s only a certain amount of time in a day and as much as you can try to stretch it, you just can’t do everything.

As we’ve been making our way back east towards home, we’ve had the privilege of staying with three of my closest friends from my time in seminary. On the way out, we connected with some family members and some dear friends of my wife’s from her college days.

In the midst of this valuable time, two things have stood out to me.

First of all, the structure of our trip, seeing all the sights that we could see and ending at a much more manageable pace with relationships at the heart of the final days, has been perfect. I can’t think of a better way to spend these last days as we inch our way towards home than to engage in meaningful conversations with some of the people that I love and respect the most.

All of these friends of mine are spread out across the Midwest. South Dakota. Iowa. Ohio. One friend, who we were not able to see, lives in Singapore. Needless to say, we don’t get to see each other very often. While two of the three that I saw were at our seminary graduation a few years ago and one of the three was officially ordained into ministry two years ago, we all have not really spent time together in years.

The second thing that stood out to me was the importance of these relationships. The nature of life is that it just doesn’t slow down. I’ve spent a lot of time during my three month sabbatical considering that truth and its implications. In the midst of schedules, families, crises, and all the things that life throws at us, we make time for the things that are important to us, but even the things that are important to us can have a tendency to fall by the wayside as the things that are directly present before us invade and overtake us like kudzu on trees in the southland.

As I ramp up to dive back into the fray of ministry after three months away, I can’t think of a more fitting preparation for my reentry than to spend time with these friends and their families. One of the things that I valued most about my time in seminary was time spent with these friends outside of the classroom. Sure, we learned a lot within the classroom, but the nature of the program that we went through was that all of us were in ministry and doing ministry while we were getting our degrees. The ability to share about what was happening and the things that we were learning along the way was invaluable.

I am grateful for all of the people that God has placed along my path. I’m especially grateful to these guys that I’ve had the privilege of spending time with over the last few days. I’m not sure when we will have the chance to connect again, but I sure hope it’s soon. Relationships are a much more precious commodity than we can often treat them, I’ve got to make sure that they become a priority. Spending quality time with trusted and respected friends is worth the effort and sacrifice that we make in order for it to happen. The benefits that we will reap from time spent are incalculable, especially when we consider the alternative and just what we might miss out on.

Sabbatical – Week 1

Here I am, finally at the sabbatical for which I have been waiting. The hours leading up to it seemed harried, stressful, and somewhat surreal. It’s very hard to step away from something in which you’ve immersed your life, all the while knowing that rest and reinvigoration need to be a part of our lives if we think we’re going to stick around for any length of time.

I continue to be grateful for an opportunity that my father never had before me. Although he was a pastor for over 40 years, he never had a sabbatical. While there are some who think he would have gone stir crazy during a sabbatical, I think that’s one of the main reasons why he should have had one, to learn to be still.

Despite popular belief, a sabbatical is not a long vacation. In order to get to this point, I had to put together a plan with goals. Just like stay at home moms don’t sit around and eat bon bons all day, I won’t be sitting at home during these 13 weeks or sipping umbrella drinks by the pool all day long. Rest is an important part of this time, but so is reflection and learning.

I’m excited to spend some time at other local churches that I’ve wanted to visit for years. Having been in this area for nearly nine years, my visits to other houses of worship have been limited…very limited. We’ve had some invites to some other churches where our friends attend and are looking forward to taking advantage of this time to do this. There are also other places where we have been wanting to visit where we don’t really know anyone, so it will be an exciting time to take that all in.

I’ll be heading to a sister church for a few days to spend time with their staff and pastors. We have gotten to know them a little over these past few years through our denominational meetings. They’ve been incredibly gracious in setting up a fairly full schedule for me while I am there. I am looking forward to hearing them share their insights and wisdom that they have gained since they were planted fifteen or so years ago.

I’ll be spending some time with a dear friend and mentor who has extended invitations to me to come visit him in Lynchburg, Virginia. I look  forward to spending time with him as I always do. We usually meet up for lunch in Charlottesville, so this will be a nice change and opportunity.

I’m heading to Minneapolis, Minnesota for four days total to be trained in StrengthsFinders. As that time grows closer, I will be updating this blog about my takeaways and insights. StrengthsFinders has been a valuable resource for me and my wife in our nearly fifteen years of marriage. I’m looking forward to digging deeper and helping others to see the potentials when they can better understand their strengths.

Our sabbatical will end with a cross country trip. Two adults, three kids, one mini-van……it’s will be an adventure, if nothing else. We’ll get the chance to see some good friends along the way. Friends from many different chapters of life spread out across the United States. Texas. California. South Dakota. Ohio. We’ll throw some family in here and there in New Orleans, North Carolina, and it will make for a full trip.

In the time leading up to my sabbatical, God was already beginning to show me some neat things. I’m still processing those out, but I plan to share them as they take shape in my head.

Looking forward to this journey!

Speaking of Now

Having eulogized both of my parents at their respective funerals, I know a little bit of something about speaking words of someone when they’re gone. I consider myself fairly fortunate to have had an open and honest relationship with my parents, enough that not many things were left unsaid between us when they finally died. There were no major regrets felt by me, nothing that I felt I should or shouldn’t have said. Sure, there are always things you wish you could have said more, but I don’t feel like I missed saying anything important to them.

The thing is, while I know they aren’t wasted words, speaking kind memories after someone has gone, they sometimes feel as if they could have been even more significant if the person of whom they are about had been present at the time of their speaking. Like I said, I said all the things that I really needed to say to my parents, but I never stood in front of them and gave them one big tribute the way that I did at their funerals.

It kind of makes you think about the value of words said while people are still alive. Do we reserve the strongest and most powerful words for people once they’ve passed or are we honest with them while they sit across the table, room, computer, or phone line from us? Do we tell them the things that they need to hear or just what they want to hear? Do we encourage them and tell them how much they mean to us?

I’ve had two fairly distinct situations in the last week where encouraging words were spoken over someone who is still here. I shared about one of those experiences the other day, celebrating the 85th birthday of my wife’s grandmother. It was neat to hear the legacy tributes that were shared, the encouragement to her of her faithfulness, devotion, faith, and selflessness. It was probably also great for her to hear those things. While she exudes confidence, I am sure that in her 85 years of life, she’s had some doubts here and there, wondering whether or not all the sacrifices that she was making were really worth the efforts and, well, the sacrifice.

But those words were spoken over her, not over her lifeless body, over her life-filled body with ears that can hear, eyes that can cry, and a brain that can process. Those words will mean the same and still hold their power and strength either way, but they are so much more satisfying to the giver when the receiver can actually hear them.

The other distinct situation was the small birthday gathering of a friend who turned 40. A bunch of guys gathered around a firepit to just talk and hang out. While I had had grand plans of having everyone share stories, I realized in the midst of the time that co-opting it from what it had organically become would have turned it into something that it was not and most likely would have devalued it in some way.

As the time wound down as these men stood around a fire celebrating this brother and friend who is moving into a new decade of his life, the one who was being celebrated looked around the circle and spoke encouraging words over each and every person there. I had to chuckle to myself as I thought, “Wait a minute, this is supposed to be about him, not all of us.” That’s just him though, always wanting to spur others along.

I couldn’t resist co-opting the moment after he had finished his journey of encouragement around that circle. I spoke words over him and we all circled up around him, laid hands on him, and prayed over him. It was a holy and sacred moment, a moment of which you don’t experience many in life. Heaven touched earth and I had a sense that the Father was pleased by what he was seeing.

Not only was the Father pleased, but I am pretty sure that the one who was being celebrated was pleased as well. I think he was glad to have been the recipient of this time and celebration. I think he enjoyed it far more than he would have had he not been there, right?

Words are important. It was a stark reminder to me throughout all of these events, a reminder that I sadly need more than I’d like to admit. We can be quick with words or we can be slow with words. Sometime we wait too long to share them, sometimes we share before we’ve really had the chance to think through just what it is that we plan to say. Either way, words can hurt. In the words of INXS, “Words are weapons, sharper than knives.”

But words can lift up, they can lift us out of the pit, the ash heap on which we currently reside, and carry us up to the mountain, or at least out of the muck and mire in which we find ourselves. It’s important that we share them, especially those encouraging ones, now rather than waiting until tomorrow. After all, none of us knows what today or tomorrow holds.

If you’ve got something to say, say it, don’t wait until it’s too late. The words will be much sweeter for you when they’re shared with someone who can be physically and emotionally present to hear them and appreciate them. Everyone likes to hear an encouraging word, so why not share one today!

Still Turning

Life has been interesting over the last few weeks. My two oldest children finished their school year and the next day, I had nose and sinus surgery. The recovery hasn’t been awful, but trying to slow down for recovery in the midst of a busy life is always a challenge.

The denomination of which I am a part hosts their annual gathering every year in June. As it is a national organization with churches from around the 50 states (and beyond), they try to change the location up every year to accommodate for everyone. Last year, it was in Knoxville, Tennessee. This year, it’s in Orlando, Florida. They also try to make the gathering family friendly, providing opportunities for the entire family during the time together.

So, this year, we decided to take the whole family.

We also decided that we would take two days to get down to Orlando, although we could do it in just one. Last year, we came down for a Disney vacation and we took two days getting down and it seemed like it worked out well.

So, after church on Sunday, we set off on our way.

As I was still recovering from my surgery, I hadn’t contributed much to the growing list that my wife had been making for the trip. I was feeling a little out of it still and I was a little overwhelmed with other stuff that was happening around me. So, my wife had done a lot of solo planning as the day drew nearer for our departure.

With three young children, it’s not unusual for us to turn back home for something that’s been forgotten as we start our trips. It’s actually one good reason that we need to use checklists when we go on trips like this, it helps us save time in the long run.

It wasn’t a surprise for us then, when we made it two blocks and had to turn around. It was a little bit more of a surprise when we got just north of the City of Richmond and we headed home for the camera. I’ve made enough trips in my day to begin to be a little bit more patient with myself and with my family for forgotten items. Some things can be replaced at Target or WalMart for a limited price, but others just require you to turn around and go home. I thought that the camera was one of them.

When we finally got on our way the third time, I settled into the driver’s seat and called a friend who is contemplating a move to Richmond. As we were talking, I noticed smoke in my rearview mirror that seemed to be coming from our van. I also noticed that the van was revving much higher than normal.

I excused myself from my phone call and pulled off the highway. As I made my way into the gas station that was conveniently located at the end of the exit ramp, I smiled to myself as I pulled out of my AAA card at the fact that I had actually looked at that same card weeks earlier and asked myself, “Does it really make sense for us to keep paying for this?” Little did I know!

A tow truck came in about 20 minutes and drove us back home. Because of our multiple false starts, we were actually closer to home than we would have been had we not forgotten cameras and other things. I also realized that my rebuilt transmission was most likely still under warranty.

I was remaining surprisingly calm despite the unexpected and unpredictable circumstances, fairly uncharacteristic of me. Our tow truck had his wife with him and they were both very cordial to my family.

While I was more calm than usual, my kids were panicking a little bit. They didn’t really know what I was going to be up to for the majority of our trip, all they knew was that the trip would end with them at Lego Land. My youngest was the most distraught, not completely understanding that other options were available for us to get to Florida.

One thing that my wife and I have said multiple times in multiple circumstances over the nearly eight years that we have been in our community is that we have never experienced anything like it before. Having had two of our three children in those eight years as well as finishing seminary, losing both of my parents, going through a church split, and experiencing various other events, we have always, always, always experienced the grace and generosity of the people with whom we are closest……and even some who we haven’t really had the chance to get to know well yet.

Within an hour of getting home after being picked up at the mechanic from my lead pastor, we had four different offers for vehicles to take to Florida. Four.

Four.

Different.

Offers.

People knew where we were headed, and they still were willing to let us take their various vehicles on this Griswold-esque road trip.

While three of the offers were from closer friends, one was from a friend who I’ve only begun to get to know. He has actually gone through a lot himself in the past year or so, yet his willingness to be so kind and generous had left me speechless. He was willing to give to our family to get us out of a bind.

Like so many things in life, there’s way more to the story than just that, but the bottom line is that less than 24 hours after being delayed, we were back on our way. Another 24 hours after that, I received word that our transmission was indeed still covered under the warranty.

As I made my way towards Orlando after that phone call, I recounted the past days of events. Detours and delays. Acts of kindness and generosity. It all made me smile and I found it hard to believe that someone might think that there was no such thing as God.

Impending Disaster

Have you ever felt like you knew something was going to happen before it actually did? I don’t mean having “second sight” or something like that. I’m talking about when you see the pieces of something coming together in such a way that you can almost predict the outcome before it actually happens.

Before the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, I felt like this every time they played a game that counted, especially against the Yankees. It was as if the script had been written, that it had been maximized for heartbreak, and that there was simply nothing that could be done to stop it before the train finally went off the tracks.

Through the years, I’ve seen the same sort of things play out within my family, among my friends, and even among people in my church or community. It’s as if there is an imaginary script that’s being written behind the scenes, and although you aren’t the one writing the script, you might as well have because you know all of the plot twists and significant happenings before they take place.

It’s kind of painful if you have any emotional investment in the situation whatsoever. In fact, the more emotionally vested you are in the situation, the people, and the outcome, the more painful it seems to be. And regardless of the emotional investment, there just doesn’t seem to be a thing that can be done to change the outcome.

It’s hard to describe the heartbreak that I’ve felt as I have watched these situations play out. It’s heartbreaking to see scenarios on a path of disaster and destruction that’s inevitable. It’s even more heartbreaking, at least to me, when you feel like you might have been able to stop it if you had had more information along the way, if the person had opened up about their struggles, or there were more people engaged in the situation earlier.

The thing is, it seems to happen more and more and the heartbreak just doesn’t stop. When you’ve watched multiple people walk down the same path of destruction, it gets tiresome and it gets to a point where you just want to grab them, shake them, point to the wreckage of others who you’ve seen and say, “Can you open your eyes? Can you see what you’re doing?”

But what can be done? How can it be stopped? Is it possible to keep the train on the tracks, to keep the impending and imminent disaster from happening? Is there a way to intervene, to step in and direct people towards a solution?

I think that it’s possible. I think that, given the right circumstances, these situations can be halted before they go too far. There are five observations that I have made that seem to contribute to contribute to the inevitability of the situations and make it that much harder to actually find a healthy and helpful resolution. If we look for the signs and are aware of the potential for disaster, we may be able to stop it before it goes too far.

So, here are my five observations:

1. We don’t ask for help until it’s too late

We are proud people who hate to admit weakness. When we are in the midst of struggles, one of the last things that we want to do is to admit that we don’t have the answers and can’t resolve our issues on our own. I’ve seen this in people who I have worked for and with, people within my family or among my friends. When we think that we can resolve situations on our own, we usually try and fail and then brush everything under the rug in hopes that it will go away. When it doesn’t (and it most certainly doesn’t), we may finally come to the place where we ask for help.

By the time that we finally muster enough courage and swallow enough pride to admit that we can’t solve the issue, things have escalated to such a frenzied state that it’s seemingly impossible to bring resolution to the situation. I’m not saying that it is impossible, after all, everything is possible with God, but if we haven’t felt like we could involve other people in the situation, will we really involve God?

When we become aware of an unsolvable situation, we need to admit it much sooner than we do. We need to come to that place of humility far sooner than we do if we really want resolution, otherwise, the disaster will look more imminent the further along we progress.

2. We don’t build deep relationships

We live in a society where we feign connectedness. Social media gives us the illusion that we are connected to many people, but that illusion can easily lead us astray into thinking that the depth of those relationships is greater than it really is. Staying connected in a deep and meaningful way takes more than simply writing some comments on a social media thread and thinking that everyone is being honest, including yourself.

Deep relationships are like anything else that grows, they take time and nourishment to thrive. We can’t expect to build deep relationships if we aren’t willing to spend the time and commit the energy. We can’t throw our relationships into a microwave and have them fully formed in 30 seconds or less.

We also can’t expect depth in our relationships unless we’re really willing to be open and honest. If we are always holding back and never really revealing ourselves to those with whom we are in relationship, how do we expect them to open up to us and how do we expect that some of the deeper issues with which we struggle can be resolved?

We need to do our best to avoid the social media trap that “everything is awesome” when it’s really not.

3. We don’t go to the right place for help

As a pastor, I can point a big finger to pastors in this area. Hear this from me very clearly, if you don’t hold a counseling, psychology, or mental health degree, know your own limitations, pastors. You can only get so far with people and with certain issues before you’re way above your pay grade and need to make referrals.

There’s no shame in it and there is so much more to gain from this. There are certain situations and circumstances that a Bible verse and some prayer just aren’t enough to help. I’m not diminishing the importance of Scripture and prayer, but I am saying that there are often things that we need to do besides simply read the Bible and pray.

We need to be able to humble ourselves enough to realize that we don’t have all of the answers nor do we all have adequate training to move people towards resolution.

Speaking of humility, when we have issues, we need to not just slough them off but confront them in real and effective ways. We can’t simply will ourselves to get better or take the “just try harder” approach, it doesn’t work.

As one who has sought out good counselors, I can say that there is a lack of them, at least where I live. But it’s important to find good people who can be effective and helpful if you want to find resolution. I’m working on building up a list of people to whom I can refer or use myself, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

4. We give up too easily

We don’t show near the loyalty that previous generations have shown. When we our dissatisfied with an experience or product, we don’t try to see what options there are for changing the situation, we simply discard it and move on to the next thing.

Unfortunately, we do this with things other than disposable brands and products. We do it with relationships all the time. You hurt me, I’m defriending you. You betrayed me, I’m leaving you. You’ve lost my trust, I’m never talking to you again.

I’m not sure what happened to the old “stick it out” mentality, but it seems that we move on too quickly to the next thing without giving sufficient time and energy to what’s right before us. Chances are, if we don’t stick around to seek resolution in what’s in front of us, we’ll eventually find ourselves in a situation where we’ll do it again, or someone will do it to us and simply walk away.

I could tell stories about the times that I have spoken with someone who was in the process of walking away because they had “tried” to work things out. When I start probing them about what that they had tried and done, they usually didn’t give me affirmative answers to the suggestions that I have made. In other words, their efforts and “trying” was not nearly as exhaustive as they might have convinced themselves that it was.

There might come a time when you have seriously exhausted your opportunities, but until that time, keep on trying.

5. We aren’t honest with ourselves and with one another

This was mentioned indirectly in some of the previous points, but redundancy is a good thing. When we fail to divulge all of the information about a situation, especially to the people who can most help us out, we will fail to find resolution. When we continue to tell people that “everything’s fine” when it’s much worse than they see, we’re heading for disaster. We need to be honest with ourselves and with one another. We need to be able to admit our faults and admit when we have made mistakes.

I have seen situations come to a head when people have not been willing to admit that the situation was far worse than it really was, and then the whole thing blows up in their face. Even though I’ve sensed things along the way and had even asked about the gravity of the situation, I always received the “everything’s fine” response.

Unless we can come to the place where we are bitterly honest about what’s going on in a situation, we won’t find resolution. It may be really difficult to lay it all out on the table, but if we are really seeking resolution, we need to.

Sometimes this means that we need to probe people more than feels comfortable to us. If we have friends that seem to be in dire straits, than we might need to ask tough questions and dig deep to get to the heart of the issue.

As trite as it might seem, we have to remember that the first step is often admitting that there’s a problem. That admission is the first step towards honesty.

 

Following these observations isn’t a foolproof guarantee of avoiding the impending disaster, but I think it can go a long way, especially if we start to change a few things here and there. If you’ve experienced it before, you know how heartbreaking it is to see it all play out exactly like you thought it would. And, no matter how much you hoped against it, it usually plays out just like you thought that it would.

We can start to see change when it starts with us, not waiting until it’s too late, building deeper relationships, going to the right places for help, not giving up too easily, and being honest with ourselves and with others. I’d hate for it to me that someone was looking at and seeing the impending disaster play out. I think you probably feel the same way.

The Chair

2014-10-13 07.56.16I have a chair in my media room. It’s not the prettiest chair. While it’s pretty comfortable, there are probably way more comfortable chairs out there. The thing about this chair is that there’s so much more attached to this chair than comfort and aesthetics.

When my wife and I got married, like many young couples, we didn’t have a whole lot. I was working in the engineering field and she was working at our church. I also volunteered at our church, playing in the band and leading music, filling gaps wherever they might be. In all of my time and travels, I met some incredibly gifted people, and among them was a drummer named Steve.

Steve and I became friends as soon as I met him. He was a PK (pastor’s kid) like me, so there was an instant bond there between us. We were musicians who played multiple instruments as well. I think that we were both troubled souls as well, like most musicians, there was a deep longing within us, a restlessness that came out through the creative process of making music.

Steve was real and genuine. There was no pretense to him, and I loved him for that. Life’s too short to cover stuff over with fixings that simply hide what’s really going on inside. Every time that I spent with him, I would stand in awe of his abilities on whichever instrument that he was playing. In fact, on more than one occasion of listening to him play, I wanted to hang up my musician’s clothes and never touch an instrument again. But, alas, I continued.

When I got married, Steve mentioned a chair that he had. He and his wife were getting rid of it. Never one to turn down a handout or free stuff, I willingly accepted his offer. He delivered the chair and it began as just one piece of furniture at the onset of this journey that we call marriage. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.

Steve is gone. He’s been gone for a few years. I can’t remember how long it’s been since we lost him. A bass player friend whom we used to play with all the time informed me of this loss when it happened. I was kind of numb when I heard the news. Two young children and a wife. Incredible skills and abilities. The troubled soul had finally found rest. My only solace was the knowledge that his faith stood throughout all that he had wrestled with and gone through. That solace usually doesn’t take immediate action though, it usually takes some time to set in.

Through more than 13 years of marriage, 3 homes in 3 different states, the chair still remains. There’s something about sitting in it. It brings me back. I can’t help but think of Steve when I sink into the chair. It represents something so much more than a simple chair.

As I looked at it the other day, I thought about the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” When Harry and Sally’s friends, Jess and Marie, are getting married and getting rid of some of their individual stuff, they argue over a wagon wheel coffee table. The coffee table finally goes in the trash after some arguing back and fort

One day, this chair will probably end up in the trash too. It seems inevitable.

But, for now, I’ll milk every minute that I can sit in it. I’ll dream of another time and place, of the times that I enjoyed playing music with my friend. It will serve as a reminder to me of the beginning of my marriage as it was among the first pieces of furniture that we ever hard. It will also serve as a reminder of Steve. Sitting there among my music and instruments, my pictures of Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, I think it kind of feels at home…….but furniture doesn’t really have feelings!

On the Road Again

After my last few weeks, I have a new appreciation for anyone who has to travel a lot for work. While there might have been a draw to it when I was in my 20s or 30s, it just doesn’t have that same draw anymore. But traveling up and down the east coast has got me longing for my own bed in my own house with my own family around me.

I wonder how people who travel every week for work are able to manage. How do they even remember where they are? Do they wake up in a different city and forget where they are, not because they drank too much but just because they’ve traveled for such a continuous stretch that they kind of lost track along the way?

I remember the days of being single and how romanticized the notion of travel was to me. You could make plans at the drop of a hat, fly off somewhere or go on a road trip without getting permission, without worrying about childcare, without even knowing exactly where you were going. But let’s be honest, I just don’t think that there are a lot of people who actually did that. Sure, you’re out there, you adventurers, but for the most part, those were dreams that were never fulfilled.

I’m getting used to the 95/85 corridor from Richmond to Charlotte. When you stop at an eatery in Charlotte and recognize the worker from the last time you were there, you know that you’ve been here more often than you thought. For those of you who have traveled or will have to travel that route, beware, it’s heavily populated by Virginia and North Carolina’s finest. I appreciate what they’re doing and they’ve put a fairly healthy fear into me, so I hope to not meet them face to face.

I’m still up for road trips, but now, I’m making new memories with my family. I’m remembering all of the road trips that my family took when I was a kid and trying to instill in my kids the same love and appreciation for travel that I had when I was their age.

But road trips with friends can still be just as fun. What an experience to drive and laugh. There’s just nothing that seems to draw people together like being stuck in a car for hours at a time. I’ve grown to appreciate some of my friends even more over the past year as I’ve driven this route with them and laughed.

Road trips can still be fun, but for right now, I think I’m going to take a break from the road for a while. It’ll be nice to get back home and even nicer to be able to stay there for a while.

The Encouragement of a Friend

Have you ever been in a really difficult place, needing encouragement, and just hoping that someone could say or do the right thing to help you out?

In the book of 1 Samuel, David has been anointed by Samuel to follow up Saul as King of Israel and Saul is showing some extreme signs of jealousy and paranoia. Saul has been pursuing David and has tried to kill him multiple times. But David has formed a very special friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan. Jonathan has helped David escape from his father and has made a covenant with David that he will protect him.

As David runs from Saul once again, he is discouraged. Imagine what he’s feeling as he waivers between trust in God, who anointed him, and fear of this disturbed king. And there in 1 Samuel 23, there is a verse that is fairly easy to pass right by without noticing. Verse 16 says, “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

As I was reading through the narrative the other day, I stopped on that verse to really consider what it was saying. Jonathan had everything to lose by David being the next king. Typically, Jonathan would have been next in line for the kingship, so Jonathan could easily have been filled with his own jealousy and rage against David, but he wasn’t.

Not only is Jonathan not full of jealousy and rage, but he reacts in the opposite way, he loves David. He protects him from his father. He makes an oath and covenant with him. And while David is discouraged and feeling low, Jonathan goes to his friend and helps him find strength in God. Jonathan did not wait for David to come to him, he knew what his friend needed. He was paying attention. He could tell that something was wrong AND he knew just what David needed.

Jonathan was a true friend. He didn’t try to assuage David and distract him from his problems. He didn’t offer him false promises and tell him to put his hope in fleeting things. He pointed him to the God who had anointed him, the One who had created him, and the One who had sustained him all along. What an incredible friend Jonathan was to David.

All of us might not realize how desperately we need friends like this. We need people who will come alongside us, listen to us, love on us, and give us words that will help us put things in perspective. We need people to point us to the place from where our trust and strength needs to come.

Not only do we need this kind of friend, but we need to be this kind of friend as well. How aware are we of the circumstances surrounding our friends? How aware are we of what they are going through? Do we pay attention? Are we willing to come alongside them, even when our interests lie elsewhere? Are we willing to turn aside our own needs to help out our friends?

Never underestimate the power of a friend and their encouragement. Never underestimate how valuable the encouragement that you can bring to a friend as well. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, you never know when you’ll be able to bring encouragement to someone who desperately needs it.

Celebration Time

celebrationI don’t think we celebrate enough. I mean, I know that every time there’s a holiday or special occasion, we tend to party it up, but I think we close down the festivities all too soon. Not only that, but I think we sometimes celebrate the wrong things. We can easily impersonalize any situation, taking away the real meaning in the celebration.

It’s interesting to read the Old Testament and realize how long certain things would last. Feasts and festivals would sometimes last for a week. Forget about the 24 hour party, we’re talking a full week here. I often wonder what that would look like for us, here in the 21st century. Are we capable of stopping and slowing down for long enough to be able to party for THAT long? Would we be able to step away from our phones, our laptops, our tablets, our TVs for that long without getting bored, without getting completely nuts over our utter “lack of information” for a full week?

Lately, I’ve really been focusing on embracing moments which need to be celebrated. In those moments, it’s really easy for others to come in and steal your joy. People can easily push you out of those places of celebration. Maybe it’s because they’re jealous, maybe it’s because they’re impatient, maybe it’s because they’re just not happy. Regardless of the “why” of it, it’s important not to lose your joy in those moments.

A friend of mine had a birthday the other day and we spent some time talking and shooting pool. It reminded me of how simple celebrations can go a long way. We don’t need all kinds of fanfare and decor in order to celebrate, we can do it in simplicity, but do we really do it? Do we stop long enough to enjoy the moments of celebration?

I’m growing tired of focusing on all of the things that are not so easily changed. There’s a place for that in our lives, to improve our areas of growth, but how about celebrating our strengths and celebrating the victories and milestones that we achieve……for more than a minute? Imagine what that would look like if we actually focused on the positives more than the negatives. Imagine how different we would be as people. Imagine how much more pleasant we would be to be around.

I want to celebrate, and not just for one day. Next week, Christians will celebrate Easter, the day that Christ rose from the dead. If we can wade through the bunnies and baskets, eggs and candy, we might actually find Jesus in the midst of it all. We’ll take him out, sing some songs, and celebrate for just one day, and when it’s all over, will it have made a difference to us? How will Easter Sunday translate on the Monday after? Will we still be celebrating then?

If our celebrations don’t make a difference in who we are, what value did they hold? If they don’t afford us time to be reenergized or rejuvenated, if they don’t afford us some amount of meaning other than a few hours off, is it really worth celebrating?

Make your celebrations count. Remember why you’re celebrating whatever it is that you’re celebrating. Remember past the cakes and the parties, the gifts and the gatherings. Remember the joy that’s supposed to come from celebration, and let it last for more than just one day.

Sanding Me Down

sandpaperYears ago, a friend of mine was getting married and I was invited to the bachelor party. It was fairly tame, as bachelor’s parties go, I just didn’t have a lot of friends who were into the typical bachelor party fare. This one was held at Dave & Buster’s and it was all harmless fun. I think the worst thing that happened was after I left when someone decided that someone should get dropped off on one side of the Tappan Zee Bridge in order for them to run to the other side.

There was one thing from that bachelor party that stood out above everything else was what we were told to bring to the bachelor party. The best man had contacted all of us who were coming and told us to bring a gift to the party that represented your relationship with the groom. Wow! A gift that I really had to think about, since when do guys do stuff like that?

Well, this friend was kind of a challenge for me. We got along okay, there were a lot of things we had in common, music for one, but in my younger and less flexible days, his laid back attitude was enough to drive me crazy. We would butt heads on many occasions as we tried to figure out how to deal with each other. The relationship came to its largest boiling point when he was producing a CD that I was making and deadlines continued to pass and costs continued to rise. It got pretty stressful for me.

How do you find a gift that describes this kind of relationship? Where do you go? Well, no one ever accused me of being subtle, so it was to Home Depot that I would go. I knew exactly what I had to get. Sandpaper.

I can’t remember whether or not we were told before the bachelor party that we would need to give an explanation of our gift. I don’t recall being surprised when the opportunity presented itself at the party.

I remember standing up and looking at my friend and beginning to describe the present. How does sandpaper work? It quickly begins to take the rough edges off of whatever it is that is being sanded. The more you sand, the smoother it gets. The flaws, the imperfections, the things that are sticking out, they get rubbed away as the sandpaper is applied. I realized that my friend had acted like sandpaper to me. Over time, as we hung out, those imperfections, the weaknesses that I had in my life were getting rubbed away, they were smoothing down.

I’ve had other people in my life who have acted like sandpaper. I’ve got a lot of growing to do, but I’ve also grown a lot, and it’s been because of these kinds of people. I didn’t resist the sandpaper, I let it do the work that needed to be done, I let it begin to sand away those flaws, and I’ll continue to let it do the same thing as I grow more and more.

Unfortunately, I’ve met my fair share of people who resist the sandpaper. They don’t give way when the sandpaper is applied. Instead of having their flaws and imperfections sanded away, it almost seems like they get bigger. It could be because, as they’ve resisted, people have just stopped applying the sandpaper anymore, they’ve stopped trying to help work out the imperfections.

I hope that I never get to a point where I start to resist the sandpaper. I’m a work in progress. I’m still under construction. I’m glad for those people who act like sandpaper to me. They’re not always fun and exciting, sometimes the sanding is painful, but in the end, I become more like I’m supposed to be, I become a little smoother. And that’s a good thing!