When Reconciliation Comes Hard

 

A number of years ago, I took offense.

The details, of course, don’t matter. Suffice it to say that my pride was wounded and that I was left holding a grudge—a grudge that played havoc with my emotions and interfered with my peace of mind. The ripples traveled; negative feelings are hard to hide.

At the time I was aware that my plight probably resembled that of the infamous Euodia and Syntyche in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Their conflict had intensified to such a degree that Paul had to call them out by name and urge them “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” While the source of their disagreement is left to our imagination, they were probably engaged in some sort of rivalry that was infecting all those around them.

Regardless of the details of their situation, Paul’s plea for them to come to their senses seemed like it was addressed directly to me and the person I perceived to be my “rival.” In my case, though, it was falling on deaf ears.

Because, of course, being of the same mind in the Lord is rather impossible if you’re caught up in ego issues and you’re in a desperate search for the kind of added-on value that has human recognition and approval as its source. My yearning for significance overshadowed my desire for true harmony, and the result wasn’t pretty. An envious heart doesn’t produce good fruit.

Sadly, I held that grudge for too long.

Then God took me on a new leg of my journey, one that shifted my focus from competition and comparison to a battle for my daughter’s life.

We lost that fight, and the pain from that horrible time still cuts deep into my soul. I distinctly remember, though, one brief conversation with my “rival” while we were in the midst of my daughter’s ordeal. I had been feeling overwhelmed by folks who kept telling me to “have faith,” but in contrast, the words this woman spoke that day freed me—at least temporarily—from guilt over my perceived failure in the realm of belief and healing. I felt surprisingly understood and encouraged. She even gifted me with a book of meditations that spoke life, light, and love to my soul during that devastating time.

But though tensions eased, true reconciliation was a long time coming. Our lives led us in different directions, and since we rarely saw one another there was no driving need to work through any issues from the past.

God, however, does amazing things—even after 20 years. Our paths recently converged again in the context of growth toward a more contemplative following-after of Jesus. By coincidence, and at different churches, we’re both participating in a three-year spiritual formation process put together by an organization called VantagePoint3. The focus is on exploration of who God is, who we are, and what He desires to do in us. We’re learning to pay more careful attention to what He’s revealing through His Word and through the circumstances of our lives.

When I saw some of my former “rival’s” posts on Facebook, I realized that she was seeking and treasuring the kind of walk with God that I was pursuing as well. So when it came time for me to find a mentor for this new journey, I sensed God indicating that she might be just the one to accompany me on the path.

They say that we should take note of the kinds of things that make us cry. In movies, the point that tends to bring me to tears is when rifts are healed and new understanding is born. Was God bringing my former “rival” and me to such a moment?

It seems that He was. To this woman’s astonishment, I asked her to be my mentor, and after prayerful consideration, she agreed. At her wise insistence, we first dealt with “the elephant in the room,” each acknowledging our issues, reactions, and pride of the past. Then we put it all aside and embarked on the first steps of this new phase of our lives.

As we meet, encourage, and prayerfully support one another, I’m gleaning wisdom from the insights my friend has gained during her own journey this past year. We’re now walking together on a path toward greater intimacy with God, not as competitors, and not, for me, as a person desperate to prove my place in the world.

And this brings me greater joy than I would have imagined some 20 years ago.

On Friendship, Silver, and Gold

What Janet and I share reflects that mixed-metal effect of gold and silver: years of friendship make what we share truly “golden,” but our diverging paths of the past few years lend a trace of silver as well.

There are a few songs from my childhood that hold nuggets of timeless truth.

One song in particular is a little tune we sang during my time in Girl Scouts. While most of my memories of those days are rather vague and increasingly fuzzy (summer day camp, “sit-upons” woven out of strips of newspaper, ditties about Little Rabbit Foo Foo, random badges, and of course the infamous cookies), the lyrics of that one unforgettable song have grown more meaningful and poignant over the years.

Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver, the other is gold.

A few years ago my heart was unexpectedly crushed by what seemed to be a crisis in friendship. In reality it was no such thing, but the impact nonetheless sent me into an emotional tailspin. I spiraled downward and crashed hard.

In inexplicable ways, though, that ordeal brought about some deep changes in my life, and I have awakened to the great joy found in forging new friendships. My world is widening and my heart is growing. I’m in awe of the way God is enriching my soul through these people who are opening their lives to me—me, a gal who until a few years ago was encapsulated in a rather small world. While at times these new friends offer me novel thoughts to ponder and conscience-stirring causes to embrace, they are just as apt to open a window of comprehension into my own past experiences as we tell one another our stories and contemplate the paths we’ve traveled.

Yes, silver is precious.

And so, of course, is gold.

My “golden friends,” like me, are getting noticeably older. Over the years, we’ve walked through joy and sorrow, peace and anguish. Weddings, births, and deaths. Misunderstandings, impatience, and ugly attitudes. Fractured hearts and fractured minds, restoration and renewal.

We’ve spoken words of affirmation and acceptance, and we’ve encouraged one another to “keep on keeping on” while attempting to love one another with the love of Christ, knowing that He will carry on to completion the good work that He has begun in us.

But one undeniable reality is that our individual capacity for memory just doesn’t work as well as it used to. We’re becoming more forgetful. For a while, we blamed childbirth and/or hectic lifestyles; now, we blame menopause. And, truthfully, we occasionally even wonder if early dementia is beginning to set in.

But one of the joys of these long-lasting friendships is that we can actually help one another remember.  We can recall the ways our friendships were forged in the midst of college adventures or community outreach and ministry. We can remember times of silly antics and riotous laughter or times when God’s presence was made all the more real to us through the embrace of loving, caring hearts.

This brings to mind, of course, the most heart-wrenching experience of my life, an experience that revolved around the illness and eventual death of my daughter. Many of my “old friends” were the ones that walked me through that time.

And some of them are the ones that helped me laugh again afterward.

I’ll always remember my first belly laugh after Chloe’s death. There we were in Palm Desert, a small group of old college friends on a weekend getaway, and as we were chatting about days gone by something set us off into the kind of laughter that causes your belly to ache and sends tears streaming down your face. And for me, in that moment, tears of sadness merged with tears of laughter as it dawned on me that I was doing the unimaginable: my daughter was dead, and I was laughing. Laughing hard. Yes, she was alive in Christ, but she was physically absent from me after more than a year of horrible suffering. And I was laughing.

That laughter, incongruent as it was with the despair that had gripped my heart for so long, was part of my healing journey.

Of course, when I mentioned that bittersweet experience of 17 years ago to these same friends just recently, they had little recollection of the event. It hadn’t stirred their souls in the same way it had stirred mine. But the memory-prompting, for all of us, served as a palpable reminder of the golden nature of long-lasting friendship.

And then, not to be overlooked, are those “old friends” who for one reason or another have slipped quietly away from our everyday worlds. Reconnecting with a few of these ladies has added an additional layer of depth to my life. In fact, as I interact with them I feel as if I’m mining in a field with veins of both gold and silver, not always sure of what I’ll find as these old friends and I dig into unexplored ground, encountering new challenges while holding onto the richness of our shared pasts.

Silver and gold. These days I treasure both.

It’s the Little Things That Matter

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31 Days of Philippians 4:8

The most sincere compliment is the one passed on to us by others.

This truth has stayed in my mind for years (and here I owe a big thanks to Pastor Doug Moore).  The affirmation I share via a relayed compliment just might be the salve that someone’s soul desperately needs, or, less dramatically, might simply be a bright spot in a person’s rather blasé day. Either way, there’s power there–all the more so because when the words arrive indirectly there’s less doubt about the original speaker’s sincerity.

And that’s just one way to share joy and lift spirits.

This afternoon, my dear photographer friend, Wendell, sent me a photo of my daughter. It’s a photo that I’ll cherish for years because it portrays a certain depth of character that I’ve long recognized but which isn’t always obvious to the casual observer. Wendell truly made my day.

Then there’s my friend Cecy. I’ve noticed that rather than simply clicking the Facebook “like” button, she often takes the time to post affirming comments on people’s posts. Through that one act, her kind, thoughtful words bring smiles to many hearts.

And printed out right here in front of me I have Ann Voskamp’s latest challenge—her November calendar suggesting ways for all of us to “live broken & given, like bread.” For November 1 she writes, “It’s the month of thankfulness—so think of three gifts each day you are thankful for—and then reach out to thank the three people who directly or indirectly make that gift possible!” (You can download the calendar by going to annvoskamp.com/sticky-notes/.)

The kindnesses of my friends Wendell and Cecy.

The truths articulated by Doug Moore.

The challenges put out there by Ann Voskamp.

These dear folks and their examples do for me what the writer of Hebrews exhorts us all to do: spur one another on to love and good deeds. The desire of my heart is to lean into this, to embrace it, to live it. I hope you’ll join me.

The Two-Way Street of Thanks

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31 Days of Philippians 4:8

Some things are just hard to throw away, like a treasured collection of particularly-meaningful thank-you cards that have come to me over the years–cards reminding me that somewhere along the way, in one manner or another, I’ve made a small difference in someone’s life.

Yet last night at parent conferences, when I went out of my way to tell the art teacher how much my daughter appreciates her class, I was struck afresh by the deep sense of joy I experience in expressing gratitude to others.

I didn’t really need to visit this teacher, but it occurred to me that her room probably wasn’t of high priority for many parents. Their most urgent business, more than likely, was with teachers of more academic courses–or with teachers of courses that were threatening to irreparably damage their kids’ GPA’s. But my daughter had mentioned her fondness for this class and for the teacher, and I wanted to pass on the gratitude. After all, I figured, who wouldn’t want to know that they’re appreciated?

But I wasn’t prepared for the response my few little words evoked on the face of this particular instructor. I could tell she was touched, and knowing I’d added just a bit to her happiness gave me a deep sense of fulfillment as well.

Whatever is right…pure…excellent.

Thankfulness–it’s the right kind of mindset.

And thanking those who bless us–it’s a pure, excellent thing to do.

That Admirable Expression of Love

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

I’m pretty sure my dad set a record with the number of care packages he sent my way during my college years.

He’d send snacks of all kinds and numerous odds and ends to facilitate life or brighten my day. Enclosed would be a brief note that always ended with the words “Let us hear from you.” And to make it easy for me to stay in touch, he kept me equipped with one of those calling cards we all used back in the day.

I always had illusions of following in my dad’s footsteps, of being that same kind of faithful, attentive parent once my kids headed to college.  But my son’s been away for more than a year now, and while I’ve mailed him a couple of boxes, the care package thing hasn’t gone quite the way I’d envisioned.

Today, though, I’m renewing my efforts, because I remember how loved and cared for I used to feel when I’d find a package notice in my Biola mailbox. I’d join the line waiting at the window and then head eagerly back to the dorm, anticipating the novelties I’d find nestled inside the box so thoughtfully put together by my dad. And almost always, I’d receive a few envious looks or comments from friends who weren’t loved on in quite the same way as my dad loved on me.

So as my son gets ready to turn 23, I’m sending a few treats his way, hoping that the same affection showered on me in that thoughtful, tangible way so many years ago will be felt in turn by this young man I love so dearly.

Whatever is Lovely, part 2

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

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The mixture of friendship and nature is one of the most delightful combinations on this earth, and when that friend is Jane (Lundgren) Sirianni–the very first person I met at Biola–and the view of nature is one found along Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, well, my heart is beyond happy.

The amazing thing is that this friendship is just one of several that I’ve seen rekindled of late, and the blessing of reconnecting with these friends from long ago has brought me much unexpected joy.

Here’s to renewed friendships, road trips, and memories old and new.

 

 

 

The Fragrant Offering

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

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Over the years, church has been a place where I have been loved on and prayed for—and a place where I have been wronged and offended.

It’s a place where I have encouraged and served people dear to me—and a place where I have hurt those very same people.

It’s a place where I have been embraced with unconditional love—and a place where I have been pierced by harsh, judgmental attitudes.

It’s a place where I have received forgiveness—and a place where I have been called to forgive.

Heeding this call to love and forgiveness is integral to my participation in the mystical body of Christ because—need I say it?—not one of us is perfect. We’re all human. We fail, we sin. But in Christ we have a deeper call—that of living out what Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Just as the sacrifice of Jesus draws me to new life in Him, the way of love lived out by my brothers and sisters in Christ is a fragrant offering calling me to continued communion and community with people dear to my soul. Theirs, too, is a sacrifice that has spoken volumes to this heart of mine–

through the forgiveness freely given by women I’ve wronged by speaking thoughtless words or repeating idle gossip.

through the prayers of those who have helped me fight temptation and persevere through dark nights of the soul.

through the laughter and tears shared with dear friends as we have rejoiced over and lamented the things life has thrown our way, learning to believe that God’s got a purpose in all this, that He’s not abandoning us.

through the faithfulness of my pastors, who practice what they preach, consistently modeling how to love God and love people, who listen to the deep yearnings of my heart, who see patterns and offer suggestions on how I can open up my soul to the life-giving grace of Jesus.

through the hospital visits made by brothers and sisters in the Lord throughout my daughter’s illness and eventual death.

through the ministry of presence, through gifts of time, food and even money shared with my family when life was at its hardest.

For me, these examples of love in action are what God talks about in the book of Hosea. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” These cords are strong. They tie me to God and to my brothers and sisters. For when I see this kind of sacrificial kindness, I’m seeing God, I’m seeing Christ. I’m receiving His love while learning from the examples of those around me. And I, too, am giving, serving, forgiving, loving.

May the aroma created by such kindness, compassion, and forgiveness play at least a small part in drawing people in all corners, in all communities, into God’s fold.

 

Whatever is true…

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

When I think of all that is true, one thing that comes to mind is the loyalty of canine friends. In fact, my brother–who’s occasionally known for waxing philosophical–is always reminding us of the unconditional love of pets. And so in honor of our Aussie, Logan, here are a few images that remind us of the true nature of his friendship over the years.

Whatever is pure…

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

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There are few things so pure and joyful as a mother’s love for her babe–unless it’s this same love in triplicate!

Jen and Mavria, Emily and Teddy, Shara and Dignan–all were spreading delight at church today, bringing smiles to our faces and bursts of joy to our hearts.

 

 

 

 

Whatever is noble–take 2

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

The news is full of stories headlining tragic examples of humankind’s depravity and the devastation that lies in its wake.

Yet always, in response to that devastation, brave and noble souls can be found reaching out to those caught in the crossfires of greed and corruption.

One such person is Kelly Connolly, the daughter of a college friend. Her compassion for people who’ve been marginalized and victimized as well as her passion for demonstrating the tender love of Jesus have struck a chord deep in my soul. Her writing conveys a sensitivity and wisdom beyond her years. I’m fortunate to have come across an interview done with Kelly while she was ministering to refugee families on the Greek island of Lesvos. Take a look–you’ll be amazed and grateful that God is raising up such humble, prayerful, action-oriented servants as this young woman of faith.

It’s been an absolute honor watching the Body of Christ come together to actively engage the crisis by joyfully serving the refugees in Lesvos. Never have I (personally) seen an instance of the global Church operating in so much unity. Worshipping and praying alongside believers from all over the world, who have pressed pause on their lives back home to come to Greece and love their neighbors has been so inspiring. It’s given me a glimpse into what heaven will look like—a beautiful, multifaceted representation of the world surrendered, submitted, and in awe of Jesus and His Kingdom.

You can find this powerful interview at:

http://www.nationsfoundation.org/blog/live-from-lesvos

A related interview with Kelly and her coworker Laura Pennington can be found at:

http://www.nationsfoundation.org/blog/engaging-the-refugee-crisis

At Kelly’s suggestion, I also looked up info on a group called i58. In Kelly’s words, “i58 is an American based group that has had a steady stream of volunteers in Lesvos since last fall — they are the most humble, honoring people I worked with. Their care, cross-cultural commitment to honoring and dignifying the people they’re serving, and love looks more like Jesus than almost anything I’ve ever seen.”

While pursuing the organization’s website, I read one of the articles posted on its blog. While I’m unsure of the writer’s name, the compassion and sincerity in this author”s voice as she expresses her heart to a young refugee leave me amazed and encouraged.

But Zaina girl, as I sat there with you and your parents, I was happy to realize that even in the middle of this overcrowded camp, you are loved. I see it in the way your parents delight in you.
They gave up all they knew to give you peace. Ran from war so that you would be safe.
I know they must struggle to know how they ended up here in an over-crowded transit camp. This place that’s so full that you could slip out of sight among the crowd and disappear in a moment…

and then…

Zaina girl, I wish that I could protect you from all the pain of this broken world. I want to shield you from realities of war and hatred attached to the headlines in the news. I want you to be able to grow up in a world of peace…But more than that, I want you to come to know the peace that passes all understanding…A peace that can live in our hearts even in the middle of war.

What more can really be said–except perhaps that thinking on noble endeavors such as these can provide an impetus for us as we seek to live out the light of the Gospel in the warmth of Christ’s love.

[i58] is a volunteer organization assisting refugee relief in Greece. Every day, we are encountering the overwhelming humanitarian crisis that is devastating Syria and surrounding parts of the world. To us, this crisis comes to us in human faces—the countless refugees we meet and serve everyday, the faces of broken families, hurting children and the vulnerable elderly. We exist to bring help and hope to each of them.

You can read more about i58 on their website, http://i58greece.com/