Living in a Neighborhood 101

Living in a neighborhood is new for us.

My kids have lived  their whole lives in a house on a busy street where cars sped around corners and it wasn’t safe to get your mail out of your mailbox,  much less bike ride or walk to  a friend’s house.   We had neighbors on one side of our yard, but an empty, wooded lot on the other side.

There was no communal place to play.  No sidewalks.   If my kids wanted to see friends, I arranged a play date and drove them back and forth.

When I wanted to  take a walk, I drove into town, unloaded the stroller, walked my son down Main Street and back, climbed back  into the minivan to drive home.

Now, though, we’re slipping into something new: Neighborhood life.

Friendly dogs pop over to  our house for random visits and we say hello to “Abby” the red-haired retriever and “Bruno” the little black and white fellow with the stubby tail from next door.

My daughter rides her bike for the first time pretty much ever and we take walks and wave to  people we know and even those we  don’t.

We call out to others about the beautiful weather when a summer’s evening feels unusually cool and we are blessed with extra tomatoes out of the abundance of a backyard garden nearby.

I feel held accountable to keep up with the garden weeds, even in the heat of July, even when I’m busy, even after a summer rain shower that makes everything grow like a jungle overnight.   No more calling it quits in my yard the first time the temperature hits 90 degrees.

After a week or so in our new house, my husband actually had to explain some neighborhood-life  tips to our kids.

  1.  You don’t have  to  ring your own doorbell when you get home from being outside.  This is your own house . You can just come on in.
  2. Don’t just invite yourself over for dinner at a friend’s.  If they are ready to eat dinner, come on home.

We’re all learning and adjusting a bit.

Maybe learning to  live in a neighborhood is a lesson for all of us.

Maybe it doesn’t come naturally, this staying close, being held accountable,  giving and taking and sharing and caring.

After all,  even Jesus’s followers didn’t always know what to  do.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Great!

But, who is my neighbor anyway and do I really have to love ‘that guy’?

The disciples surely had some growing to do in the neighborhood-life department, too.  They weren’t alike and perhaps didn’t have that much in common outside of Jesus.

They were fishermen and a tax collector, a zealot, and Nathaniel sounds to me like a well-educated skeptic.

Some were related by blood, some were friends, others were outsiders.

And, as people in close  proximity are wont to do, they fought over superiority and responsibilities and decisions.

What drew them together wasn’t their “sameness.”  It was  simply going where Jesus was going, following where Jesus led them,  working together as a team to  minister as Jesus sent them out.

They were fellow-travelers and “bunk mates.”  Surely, they had to learn to be each other’s neighbor along the way.

In the Old Testament, Ruth declared her never-ending,  stick-to-it loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi like this:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God (Ruth 1:16 ESV).

This is what she promised :  “I’ll go with you.”

There can’t be many sentences in this life more powerful than that. 

Not just “I’ll pray for you” or “I hope you have a nice trip” or even “I’ll watch your stuff until you get back.”

Not that.  This:  I’ll pack my bags and put on my walking shoes and I will  go with you.  

The disciples traveled together.

Ruth and Naomi traveled  together.

Who is  traveling with you?

Stacey Thacker writes,

The presence of a friend can encourage us to not turn back in grief, but to look forward with hope (Fresh Out of Amazing). 

We all need a little  whisper  of hope today and we all know someone who needs us to whisper hope to them.

None of us can traipse along as fellow-travelers with every single person we meet.  We’d be drained and exhausted.

But we can’t  set off all by our lonesome selves  either.

Instead, God draws us to the right people and we choose to follow His lead.  We whisper the words to them….or maybe they whisper to us:  “I’ll go with you.  We can be neighbors.”

Slow to Criticize and Quick to Pray

Years ago, my friend was crying and telling me she felt like a total flake.  Life had been crazy, filled with mistakes and missed appointments, misplaced papers, forgotten promises, everything lost and mixed up and wrong.

I love my friend and I got it. Truly, I did.  I nodded my head and encouraged her while other shoppers pushed their carts past us in the grocery story.

But inside, in the secret places of my mind and heart, that compassion wasn’t complete.  It was a hollow, pat-her-on-the-back kind of friendship that feels bad, but doesn’t really offer the full covering of grace.

The truth was, deep down, I was judging her as much as she judged herself.  And it was ugly.

Forgetting, missing, losing, making mistakes? It sounded like a too-busy schedule and an absent organizational system.  Maybe a few files and a day planner could save the day.

Two weeks later, I was sobbing at my kitchen table.  It had been a week of misplaced papers and missing items—not little insignificant things—BIG things, like legal documents and DMV paperwork.

For someone generally in control and on top of things, the week had been devastatingly humbling.

Then, I felt the deeper challenge.

God never lets me get away with passing silent judgment or criticism on another.  Never.

Nor should He.

The very moment I start internally critiquing another mom or putting another friend in a labeled box based on her mistakes and weaknesses, I know God will be at work in my life, bringing me to my knees to ask for forgiveness.

Because I need a Savior.

Because I’m a mess, too!

I’M NOT PERFECT AND MY LIFE ISN’T PERFECT AND THE THING WE ALL NEED AS MOMS AND AS WOMEN AND AS FLAW-FILLED HUMANS IS HEAPING LOADS OF GRACE AND COMPASSION, NOT QUIET JUDGMENT OR SILENT CRITICISM.

We stumble into the judge’s seat so easily, thinking we know the people around us:

The frazzled-looking momma with the crying baby in Wal-Mart.
The parents whose teenager disappeared from church.
The couple who met with the divorce lawyers last week.
The husband and wife holding the bankruptcy paperwork.
The family with the nice new car and large house.
Those who homeschool (or don’t).
Those who have large families (or small).
The mom who commutes every day to work (and the one who doesn’t.)

As long as we’re quiet about it, after all, there seems little harm.

Maybe it spills over occasionally into snarky remarks and private jibes with like-minded friends, but mostly we control the collateral damage.

Yet, isn’t that the picture of the pharisees in Luke 5?

Scripture tells us: “One day Jesus was teaching and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there” (Luke 5:17).

They had front row seats, a privileged view of the hurting crowd.

They watched four friends carrying a man on a mat and lowering him down through the ceiling.  They watched as Jesus healed him, saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).

While the man and his friends rejoiced and the crowd marveled, others remained unmoved:

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21).

They were just “thinking to themselves.”  They weren’t gossiping or heckling Jesus.  They didn’t hop up then and there to condemn Him.

It was just an internal dialogue, a private moment of judgment and condemnation.

But, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?‘” (Luke 5:22).

Even our most secretive judgments of others have an audience—Jesus Himself.  

Would He also be disappointed about what I’m thinking in my heart?

After all, judgment that doesn’t appear on protest signs or Facebook posts or Twitter feeds is still judgment and it still hurts.

INSTEAD OF CRITICIZING OR LABELING OTHERS WHEN I SEE THEM STRUGGLING OR HURTING, I SHOULD BE DRAWN TO INTENSE AND CONSISTENT INTERCESSION, PRAYING FOR THEM RATHER THAN PICKING AT THEM.

As Oswald Chambers wrote:

‘God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.’

I SHOULD BE SLOW TO CONDEMN AND QUICK TO PRAY FOR OTHERS.

The truth is I’m desperately in need of the grace Christ has poured out on me, and if I need that kind of grace, then I need to show that kind of grace: unhindered, unqualified, unmarred by an undercurrent of criticism and condescension.

Just grace.

Beautiful, pure, deep down honest grace.

(Author’s note: Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t discern or judge right from wrong, sin from not-sin, etc.)

Originally published 3/9/2016

The Craziest Thing Anyone Ever Said to Me at Target

psalm 30-11I’d been married a week.

A week.

We visited my great-grandmother and she asked me, “So, when are you going to give your mom some grandbabies?”

A week.

I thought the question was mildly shocking, moderately annoying and mostly downright crazy talk.

But, you know, what can you do?  So, I giggled awkwardly or something and dodged the whole wildly uncomfortable conversation.

Not long after that, I was having dinner with a dear friend in a crowd of other friendly folks and someone asked her the question.

“So you’ve been married for a few years now.  When are you going to have kids?”

I thought the question was mildly shocking, moderately annoying and mostly downright crazy intrusive….

It was so much more than that for her.  It was deeply painful, treading like heavy steel-toed boots all over the most tender places of her broken heart.

That’s what she told me later.  How no one ever thought before they asked her that question…and people asked her ALL the time.

When are you having kids?  When are you having kids?  When are you having kids?

The truth was that she was desperate for a baby and yet it isn’t just that easy for everyone, is it?  Hadn’t she prayed and prayed?  Hadn’t she tried and seen the doctor and then had to answer the clueless questions of nosy onlookers?

We just think we’re making conversation, but we’re really battering and bruising the sweet soul we’re chatting with over dinner.

Sometimes, it’s ridiculously comical.  Like when I stood in the shoe section at the Target with my three blond-headed beautiful daughters, my youngest at the time less than 2 months old.  Such precious gifts to me.

And this random lady waltzed right on over and gave me creepily personal tips on how to have a boy next time.

In the Target.

With my kids there.

And I didn’t know her.

Good gravy.

Or when people see my beloved little boy and say right there in front of my three precious girls, “So, you finally got your boy.  I bet your husband is happy.”

Like my daughters were just three attempts at having a son gone wrong.

We just say things, don’t we?  We aren’t meaning to be mean or hurtful.  We just say….stuff….  It seems innocent enough and we just don’t think maybe there’s a world of hurt left trailing after our destructive conversation.

It doesn’t get any harder than when we see a loved one grieving. We want so much to say the right words, soothe the hurt, ease their throbbing pain because we love them so.

But sometimes we get it all wrong.  We try to cover over their hurt with platitudes that sound so right, “It’s God’s will.  It’s for the best.  He always works everything out for the good” and yet what we’re essentially saying is, ‘Suck it up and get over it.  You’re a Christian so you shouldn’t be sad.”

Holley Gerth says in What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days:

While we mean well, comments like those are like stripping off someone’s sackcloth. Instead of helping, we leave their hearts even more exposed. What our hearts need is something new to cover them in hard times. And that’s what God offers.

We leave their hearts raw and exposed, open to further wounding.

Yet, God, such a gracious God, covers us with protection and love.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever” Psalm 30:11-12

It takes time, yes, it can take so much time.  But he does this—he removes our sackcloth and clothes us with joy.

And what I want to be is the kind of person who shares this grace with others.

We won’t get it right all the time.  We’ll say the wrong thing and maybe mess it all up.  Maybe we just don’t even know what to say when we are eyewitnesses to the hurt inflicted by a sin-stained planet.

But we can start here.

Dear friend, I don’t even have the right words, but I love you.  I am praying for you.  I am here for you.

And we can start here—-thinking through our questions before we ask them, so we don’t leave a hurting heart raw and exposed after what we just thought was casual, totally normal small-talk.

And we can start here, praying this:  Dear God, May we be wise and grace-filled in our conversations with others today.  May we speak the words that show Your love—and nothing less than that.—Amen.

Originally published 09/24/2014

25 Bible Verses about Loyal Love

verses-loyal-love

Loyalty to others

  • Ruth 1:16-17 ESV
     But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
  • 1 Samuel 15:21
    But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.”
  • Proverbs 3:3-4 MSG
    Don’t lose your grip on Love and Loyalty. Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart. Earn a reputation for living well in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people.
  • Proverbs 17:17 ESV
    A friend loves at all times,
        and a brother is born for adversity.
  • Proverbs 18:24 ESV
    A man of many companions may come to ruin,
        but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
  • Proverbs 19:22 ESV
    What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
        and a poor man is better than a liar.
  • Proverbs 27:10 ESV
    Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,
        and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity.
    Better is a neighbor who is near
        than a brother who is far away.
  • Micah 6:8 MSG
    But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.
  • Matthew 26:33 ESV
    Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”
  • John 15:13 ESV
    Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV
    Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  • James 1:12 MSG
    Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

God’s Loyal Love

  • Exodus 20:4-6 MSG
    No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
  • Exodus 34:6 MSG
    God passed in front of him and called out, “God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
  • Numbers 14:18a MSG
    God, slow to get angry and huge in loyal love,
            forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin
  • Deuteronomy 5:10 MSG
    But I’m lovingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
  • Deuteronomy 7:9 MSG
    Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations.
  • Deuteronomy 7:12-13 MSG
    And this is what will happen: When you, on your part, will obey these directives, keeping and following them, God, on his part, will keep the covenant of loyal love that he made with your ancestors:
    He will love you,
    he will bless you,
    he will increase you.
  • 2 Samuel 22:26-28 MSG
    You stick by people who stick with you,
        you’re straight with people who’re straight with you,
    You’re good to good people,
        you shrewdly work around the bad ones.
    You take the side of the down-and-out,
        but the stuck-up you take down a peg.
  • 2 Chronicles 5:13 MSG
    The choir and trumpets made one voice of praise and thanks to God—orchestra and choir in perfect harmony singing and playing praise to God:
    Yes! God is good!
    His loyal love goes on forever!
  • Psalm 36:5-6 MSG
    God’s love is meteoric,
        his loyalty astronomic,
    His purpose titanic,
        his verdicts oceanic.
    Yet in his largeness
        nothing gets lost;
    Not a man, not a mouse,
        slips through the cracks.
  • Psalm 66:20 MSG
    But he most surely did listen,
        he came on the double when he heard my prayer.
    Blessed be God: he didn’t turn a deaf ear,
        he stayed with me, loyal in his love.
  • Psalm 100:5 MSG
    For God is sheer beauty,
        all-generous in love,
        loyal always and ever.
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 MSG
    God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
        his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
    They’re created new every morning.
        How great your faithfulness!
    I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
        He’s all I’ve got left.
  • Lamentations 3:31-34 MSG
    Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way

A family motto for summer

My daughter asks, “Why is it so much easier to get along with friends than with sisters some times?”

Four days into summer vacation and she’s already pleading for more time with friends and less time with siblings.

But here’s the truth I tell her….time with others destroys masks, facades, and fake perfection.  It has a way of dragging all of those sins and faults, all of that selfishness and the bad attitudes from where they stay safely hidden during play dates and public outings.

Anyone can behave for a few hours on a play date.gracemotto

That’s what I tell her.

Then I remind myself: Any mom can respond sweetly to her child who is having a meltdown in the Wal-Mart aisle five minutes into your shopping trip when there are people around who might overhear you.

And those TV moms—sure, any of us could be super creative, fun, and even-tempered enough to fill 40 minutes of film footage once a week.

God isn’t satisfied with superficial sweetness, though.  He wants genuine transformation.  He wants the world to look deep and long at us and see the reflection of Christ, not some plastic Jesus or some temporary super-Christian persona.

It’s part of His design with family and others to wield us as tools, chipping away at one another, breaking off the pieces that simply need to go, and  masterfully forming us little by little into tried-and-true, walking and talking, in-season and out-of-season examples of Christ in the world.

Proverbs tells us:

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).

So He places us in families and in community with one another.

And then He gives us summer seasons…when we’re up close and personal and with each other all day instead of scattering away to schools, activities, and our own busy lives.

It’s so much time so close together that causes the explosions….when she won’t share the game, and she says something unkind, and she makes annoying noises, and her piano playing is too loud, and she’s hungry and impatient, and she wants to go to the library when she wants to stay home in her pajamas all day…when all this “self” collides with the “self” in everyone else, that’s when He reminds us of grace.

Maybe that’s the lesson in summer, after all.

Grace to rest.

Grace to stop the frantic running from school pick-ups to evening activities, tossing back granola bars to your kids from the front of the mini-van while you rush to ballet where you yank hair back into buns and push in bobby pins before class begins.

Grace to linger over the cup of tea in the morning instead of putting on the drill sergeant hat and barking out commands to children to get dressed, brush teeth, comb hair, find shoes, pack lunches and then kiss them on the cheek and send them out the door just in time to rush onto the school bus.

Grace to skip the chores and pack the car for the beach.

Grace even that I need to extend to myself—to not adhere completely to the writing schedule, to post late to the blog or even miss a day—because we’re out enjoying the summer and I’m taking this time I’ve been given with my kids for these few short weeks and I don’t want to miss it.ephesians4-32 photo by  Jaroon Ittiwannapong

And grace for each other.

This is the mom speech I make for my daughter after a sibling melt-down.

In this family, we give grace because we need grace. When someone makes a mistake, we don’t mock, or point fingers, or jump up eagerly to show off how they were wrong.

After all, we need grace.  We receive grace, so we show grace to others.  It becomes my call, my standard, my motto for this summer with my kids:

We need grace.

We receive grace.

We show grace.

Paul wrote this:

And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ (Ephesians 4:32 HCSB).

And that’s how we breathe in and breathe out when daily annoyances and mistakes, sins, and forgetfulness, bad days, troubles, and trials threaten to consume us.That’s what we do when others step on our toes and bruise our feelings.  We forgive because we’ve been forgiven.

This summer, we lean back full into this grace and rest.  Choosing not to be stressed over the schedule, but to relax in relationship.  Choosing to forgive the hurts and cease the fault-finding as Christ uses this season together to transform us.

That’s the grace that is summer.

Originally posted June 12, 2013

To read more about this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, you can follow the links below!  Won’t you join me this month as I ‘Invest in Friendship’?

 

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

“Friendship is unnecessary….”

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art..It has no survival value; it is one of those things that give value to survival” C.S. Lewis

It was a simple survey sent home with my daughters from school.

I thought it’d take no more than two minutes to log on to the computer and complete it.  What kind of topics did I want the guidance counselor to discuss with my kids? That’s all it really asked.

Drugs and alcohol?  Grief counseling?  Conflict resolution?  Anger management?  Organizational skills?  Self-esteem?

I rated each category: Very important, somewhat important, not so important.

When I finished, I noticed the box for further comments and almost left it blank.  Almost.  It would have been much faster just to click “Finished” and send the survey on.

But I had something to say.

I’m tired of my children coming home from school upset about some new unkindness, some new drama in their relationships, some new friendship crisis.

It’s hurtful and mean and I’m overwhelmed and astonished.

Someone needs to tell our kids about friendship.  What it means. How it requires friendshiployalty, grace, kindness.  They need to know how to be a good friend and how to choose good friends.

How friends don’t steal your stuff and then tease you about “Finders Keepers.”

Friends don’t jump all over your back when you make a mistake and mock your hair style in front of a whole classroom of students.

Friends don’t expect exclusivity and jealously make up lies about you behind your back to destroy your other relationships.

Friends don’t blackmail you into doing what they want to do and only what they want to do with assertions that, “I won’t be your friend anymore unless….”

Friends don’t whisper into your innocent ear bad words and foolish ideas designed to get you into trouble.

What I really want is someone to echo my speeches to my own children, so that more kids know that in a world of selfishness and cruelty, violence, “me-first” ideologies, and cut-throat tactics—friendship matters.  Compassion, kindness, generosity, selfless and loyal love, matter.

Of course, these lessons always begin with us, and I realize slowly, we can’t just tell it, we need to live it.

The friends we make, the relationships we invest in, the way we treat other people, when we choose to make people a priority and service and compassion our lifestyle, when we take a stand rather than follow sheepishly along with the crowd—this matters, not just for us, but for the children watching our example.

It mattered for Lot, Abraham’s nephew, who chose friendship in Sodom, with those steeped in sin and selfishness.

When enemy kings invaded the land and carried Lot off as a captive, not one of his new “friends” chased down the captors to rescue him.  They quickly abandoned Lot in his need.  Shrugging helpless shoulders, they simply carried on with their own lives.

It was Abraham, the loyal friend, Lot’s faithful, caring, unselfish, God-following uncle, who left his own family and possessions and rallied a rescue team to yank Lot out of disaster (Genesis 14).

The mistake for Lot happened long before he was dragged off by the enemy. As Beth Moore writes in her study, The Patriarchs, Lot’s mistake on behalf of his family was pitching ‘his tents near Sodom’ (p. 55, Genesis 13:12).

And while we may not be choosing to revel in relationships as sin-infected as Sodom and Gomorrah, still we sometimes settle a little too “near” compromise.

Or, like Lot, we focus so much on how to prosper and get ahead, accomplish and succeed, that we fail to feed and water the seeds of friendship with the loyal and Godly few.

Or we form friendships with those who will abandon us in a quick second rather than run to our aid in times of trouble and crisis.

What we truly need is to build relationships with truly loyal, truly wild-about-God, truly kind and compassionate friends.  Friends who show grace and receive grace.

And we hold onto those people dearly, even if we disagree or life gets crazy.

How I rejoice when my daughters choose a Good Friend. Surely God’s heart is also happy when we choose to knit our hearts with good friends, those who will rescue us in trouble and carry us back to Him when we are held captive and too weak to fight the enemy ourselves.

Watching my girls, I learn, ever-the-slow-student, how friendship is worth the time.  Good friends are worth keeping.  Play dates and get-togethers aren’t busyness; they are healthy for the soul.

And this laughing with a friend, this reaching out, this service, this calling, this mourning and rejoicing together, these two bowed heads together, and these knees bending on behalf of another are a blessing to me, are a blessing to my children, are a blessing to the heart of God.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Weekend Walk: It’s Better With a Friend

It’s 61 degrees outside right now and the sun shines down on the girls playing in the backyard. Folks along the street are raking and leaf-blowing.  Last night, I stepped out of my car into the chill and breathed in deep the smell of chimney smoke from fireplaces being lit the first time this fall.

Perfect weather for the pumpkin patch.

We go every year and have taken pictures of my oldest out in the pumpkin field way back when we could barely gather her hair into a ponytail.

This year, though, I surprised the girls by secretly inviting a friend to join us on our family field trip.  We stopped by to pick her up and when I opened the minivan door to present her to my daughters, the squeals of joy were fit for any celebrity popstar or princess.

Today we did all of the normal fall faire.  We climbed on tractors and scaled hay mountains, ran through a corn maze, oohed and aahed over fluffy ducklings, laughed at the rooster’s rockstar hair-do, sat still for face painting, and searched an entire pumpkin field for the one perfect prize—for painting, carving, or pumpkin pie baking.

This year, though, we did it all with a friend and, while we’ve always enjoyed our trips, that made it even better.

About a year ago, a good friend of mine pointed out the tiniest passage in Scripture to me.  Following a long litany of King David’s advisors and assistants, including men in charge of the vineyards and the treasury, his sheep and goats, donkeys, camels, olives, grapes and olive oil, as well as men appointed as his wise counselors and as tutors for his sons . . . one name stands out:

Hushai the Arkite was the king’s friend (1 Chronicles 27:33).

He must have been a special and trustworthy friend indeed to be named among all those who were valued for their position, knowledge, and responsibility.  He was valued for relationship.

Shouldn’t we all build into a friendship like that?

Thus, my verse for the week reminds us that in a world that pushes and races us through to-do lists and accomplishments and an ever-hectic dash from here to there and from this to that, sometimes what God really wants us to be is a friend.

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 HCSB)

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk: Will Break for Beauty

We took a day off for beauty.

Yesterday, my youngest and I waved goodbye to her older sisters as they rode off to school and we climbed into the minivan for a drive on a sunny, warm but not too warm day, passing horse farms and the river and watching sunlight burst through the tops of trees, casting shadows here and brilliance there.

We traveled to see friends.  We don’t do this often enough, just sitting and talking, laughing,

watching kids play with toys.  In all of life’s busyness and the red circles around almost every day on the calendar, we don’t give enough time to friendship.

Sitting along the edge of the beach, we helped tip over buckets of moistened sand to form sand castles.  Pine needles and lost feathers, bits of shell and pebbles smoothed by the waves became castle flags and decorations.

Then we walked and collected treasures washed ashore by the tide.  Children see treasures in ways we do not.  I picked up unbroken shells, shiny, smooth, etched with color and patterns.  My little one picked up massive clam shells covered in barnacles and sand, murky in color and awkwardly shaped.  She handed me slivers of broken shells and even tried putting fistfuls of sand in her treasure bucket.

It was beauty to her.

What is it about the seaside that brings peace to the soul?  My friend says maybe it’s the rhythm of the waves.

I think she’s right.  I stood there for a moment and thought of the comfort it brings me knowing that the wave will come and another and another, in constant motion, totally faithful, reliable, trustworthy.

And that is our God.  He doesn’t wash over us and then pull back never to return again. He brings wave after wave of ever-coming, perpetual grace.  The world is an uncertain teeter-totter of a place, with unexpected terrors lurking around corners and surprises that drop us to the ground.

But God—He is faithful.  God—-He is always grace.  God—He is ever true.

After a stop at the school to pick up my older girls, we raced home to eat dinner and become beautiful: Choosing outfits, doing hair.  The girls fought over bracelets.

Then we met with other friends and drove once more, this time to see Ballet Magnificat, a professional Christian ballet company.

The music began.  Just instruments at first.  The dancers took to the stage and we watched and it was fine and it was okay.

But then one lone female voice sang,“Praise the Lord, O my soul and let all that is within me praise His name” and the dancer stretched her arms high in worship, her fingers almost touched heaven she was so long and outstretched.

And I caught my breath.

This was worship.  This was total abandon in praise to a God so worthy.

Yesterday, we took a break for beauty.  We paused and lingered long with friends and we filled our souls in the deep wells of nature and dance and worship.

I want to carry that along all this week and be intentional about it.

After beauty fills you up, it spills out and sloshes over the sides of your heart every time there is rushing, stress, tension, worry, boredom, work, monotony. 

We must work hard to protect the memory and refill often by taking a break for beauty, by seeking the soul-filling glory of God’s presence.

This week, I’ll be meditating on the verse to help me remember:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple
(Psalm 27:4)

To hear the song by Kristene Mueller that began Ballet Magnificat’s performance, you can click here or click Play on the video below from the blog.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Do I Look Dead To You?

After we’ve packed the cooler, dressed everyone in bathing suits and sandals, double-checked the bag for diapers, towels, tissues, Band-Aids (for blisters), sunscreen, and more, and then loaded every last item and person into the mini-van, we have the same-old chat with our girls as we drive to Busch Gardens, the amusement park near our home.

First we begin with the safety reminders, about strangers, about wandering away from us, and what to do if you get lost.

Then we remind them that we aren’t buying every snack, toy, or novelty item strategically scattered along our path through the park.  And no whining when it’s time to go home.

We finish up with the “friends speech.”   It goes something like this:  You are sisters.  God designed you to be best friends.  Don’t ditch your sister so that you can ride in a boat or car or dragon or whatever with some random stranger who you’ll never see again.  Sisters ride together.

This last speech generally elicits the most protests.  My girls are friendly people.  They like to meet new kids and form what they are certain are life-long bonds of friendship while standing in line at Busch Gardens.

So, it was no surprise that during our spring break trek out to the amusement park, my middle daughter stood in line for a ride and then announced, “Mom, I made two new best friends!”

Not just friends.  Best friends.

And how did she know these two new girls were now her bosom buddies for life?

“They told me their names, Savannah and Julia.”

That was it.  The loyal bond formed simply by exchanging names.

Friends, best friends, nice people you’ve only just met, a stranger whose name you’ve learned, sisters, the person you thought was your close friend but who gossips about you behind your back  . . . it’s a mesh of relationships they haven’t quite figured out yet.

Identifying true friends is a skill only learned over time after experiencing both hurt feelings and faithfulness, betrayal and loyal love.

A mentor once told me that women were designed for deep friendship. Every one of us needs a Ruth and Naomi relationship, not just casual acquaintances whose names we know after a few minutes of standing in lines of life together.

Unfortunately, life is busy, complicated, hectic, and hard, and investing time in those loyal friendships seems an impossible task.

Yet, Scripture tells us this is one investment that’s worth making.

We need a friend who loves sacrificially, and for whom we likewise will sacrifice.  Jesus commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”  (John 15:12).

We need a friend who remains faithful even when we’re at our ugliest, worn-outest, saddest, and yuckiest, just as it says in Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

And we need something else.

We need a friend who is not afraid to get dirty with us as we live this resurrection life.

Jesus stood at the entry to the tomb of his close friend, Lazarus.  He heard the weeping of others around him.  His own tears trailed down his cheek.  The crowd scolded him for not coming earlier and healing his friend while there was still time.  The pragmatic folks complained about the stink of death and decay wafting out of a reopened tomb.  Mary and Martha shot hopeless, hurt-filled glances in Jesus’ direction.

Undeterred, Jesus demanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  (John 11:44).  The shocked crowd watched as the dead man emerged from the grave, living, breathing, and walking—alive.

But he moved slowly, maybe a little like a mummy in a sci-fi horror flick that plays on Saturday afternoon television.  He didn’t leap out from the tomb and dance before the Lord with all the joy of a resurrected fellow.

Instead, “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:44 NIV).

Chris Tiegreen reminds us in One Year At His Feet “When Jesus raises us out of our sinful state of death, there is something left to do before we run free.  The grave clothes must go”  (p. 21).

That’s something Lazarus couldn’t do on his own.  Jesus instructed others to come alongside him and unwrap the linen bindings, the remnants of death and the grave that still had him hindered, trapped, and blinded.

That’s the church’s job.  That’s the job of a loyal friend, who patiently strips away all the habitual sins, guilt, shame, false beliefs, hang-ups, terrors from the past, and hurts that trip us up and slow us down.

Sometimes we simply require a love that doesn’t give up on us.

Sometimes it takes someone holding us accountable with truth and lovingly showering us with grace when we struggle with the ugliness of sin.  Proverbs 27:6 tells us: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV).  Only a true friend skips the flattery and digs past the superficial chicanery of niceness in order to challenge us with a truth and encourage us to change.

Only a friend tells us when they see some of the grave clothes stubbornly stuck to our skin and then lovingly and patiently unbinds us so we can live in the freedom of new life.

We need a friend like that.  We need to be a friend like that, who brings grace and freedom to another.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King