friendship

Change is the Place Where Joy and Grief Mingle

Here are some things I’ve learned about change.

Sometimes you don’t choose the change.

When my father-in-law had a high count of white blood cells, it was a change that we didn’t choose. It would take a few weeks before the doctors confirmed his leukemia diagnosis. It would be only a few weeks before we said goodbye to him. This wasn’t a change anyone would have chosen.

When my dad woke me up with a phone call to tell me my brother was gone. Tragically, my brother chose this change, but I didn’t. I would never have.

When someone’s bad choices throw our life into a tailspin, we have no choice but to adjust. Sometimes people make a choice that isn’t necessarily bad but it causes ripples of change to your life too.

Change brings grief.

It is obvious when the change we are considering is a death of a loved one that grief would be involved. What about when it is a different change that isn’t death? Sorrow comes in every change.

Change can also include trauma.

My adopted son’s life had traumatic changes that were out of his hands. His little brain and heart hold those experiences deeply. Last week we had a good change in our life. An extremely kind friend gave us a van. It’s a hand-me-down, but it feels like we won the lotto because it’s so comfy and nice.

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Having nice seats for you and your people to ride in around town is really delightful. I am thankful for this new car, people who enjoy blessing others, and these silly boys who think it’s cool that the back seats can swivel and face backwards, “limo-style.”

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We were all having fun taking the car for our first spin. We drove my husband back to work to drop him off. After we got back home, I was getting my youngest out of his car seat, and he busted out crying — not whining — heartwrenching tears. “I want daddy,” he said. I knew instantly the source of his anxiety and grief wasn’t dropping off daddy eight minutes earlier. The grief was the change. Change is scary when a change has undercurrents of past trauma. I reassured him the best I could that he was safe in his family even with the new car. We talked about the new car and hugged for a long time.

I know this feeling. After my brother’s death, I panicked every time I heard a phone ring. If that phone ring was late at night or early in the morning, I was on edge for hours. It took me years to get past that reaction. It has been almost 9 years, and I still catch my body tensing at a ringing phone.

Sometimes you choose the change.

Not all change is bad, like the new van. Sometimes we choose the change. We decide to change homes, schools, churches, friendships, food intake, habits, clothes, hobbies, or hairstyles. The change might be new, exciting, and fun. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something lost.

Even when you choose the change, grief still exists in the change.

Every change big or small, good or bad, brings a measure of grief. We lose things. Even when the change is your choice, you still are allowed to let yourself grieve explicit and implicit losses. Comparison has no function in this grieving because grief does not follow reasoning. It is not kind or healthy to shame yourself for your feelings. God is good. The gifts of the change are good. Our feelings cannot change that.

We are complex, and grief does not steal my gratitude. Ingratitude can definitely steal my joy, but I can hold my joy, sadness, and thankfulness up to God in shameless honesty without worry that He will not get it. God is much more complex than me. My complexity isn’t confusing to Him. I’m thankful He joins me in the place where mourning and celebration mingle without hesitation. I have this stupid habit of letting my brain blurt out silver linings like they will outshine the grey. Only The Light can push the darkness away. Silver linings are just circumstances that get put in the pro column. I am not loved and liked by the pro column. I am loved and liked by the Son. You are too.

We all have some measure of change in this life or we are not alive. This is what I’ve learned about change: changes are sometimes chosen and sometimes not, but all change brings grief.

What are you learning about change?



I like to include a song for you every now & again. Here’s a new one. I might like the acoustic version better.

Do we need to be friends in the church?

Did you know a synonym for kindness is friendship?

kind·ness

/ˈkīn(d)nəs/

noun

  1. the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

friend·ly

adjective

  1. characteristic of or befitting a friend; showing friendship:a friendly greeting.

  2. like a friend; kind; helpful:a little friendly advice.

  3. favorably disposed; inclined to approve, help, or support:a friendly bank.

  4. not hostile or at variance; amicable:

I learned this little synonym fact teaching a kids Bible class how we could use the fruits of the Spirit to help us know how to pray.

I started asking myself this question: Do we need to be friends with our brothers and sisters in the church?

Why is it that showing friendship is sometimes hard for us? Why is it that we want to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, but it does not come naturally? Small acts of kindness sounds so simple, but small acts of friendship doesn’t sound as simple. How do we take friendship into our communities and imitate God’s kindness? We are going to need His Spirit to help us share that fruit.

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Lord, help me to be kind to those who know you and to those who don’t. Let me be a friend to those who are easy to show care for and also to those who are challenging to show care towards. Amen. 

The problem I encounter in my heart when I think about showing friendship as a fruit of the Spirit is that friendship sounds deeper than kindness. I want to pick and choose who I show friendship to. This is me struggling with the sin of partiality. When I pull back from showing friendship to my brothers and sisters, I am either wanting something out of my effort or I am trying to protect myself by withholding vulnerability.


Lord, help me to see your image in all of my brothers and sisters. Help me to not put a premium on friendship with the wealthy or people who look like me. Help me to be vulnerable enough to hold friendship out to others without the instinct to protect myself or use friendship to get ahead in life. This friendship is though you as a fruit of your Spirit so I know you will help me. Today help me to go deeper in relationships and commit a random act of friendship. Amen.

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, ‘Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!’ and either ignore the street person or say, ‘Better sit here in the back row,’ haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—‘Christian’—used in your baptisms?
— James 2:1-7 MSG

I’ve been reading the book Anatomy of the Soul, and it explains how brain science teaches us that we were made for community. We need to be kind to others, and we need them to be kind to us. We need to see our brothers and sisters as friends, and we need to be treated friendly in return.

Anatomy of the Soul also teaches that what we need is a few very close friends that we can trust with all of our story. This isn’t everyone in our church community, but we need to be really known by a few people to help us process our story.

It is hard work making friends, going deep with people, going deep with God, being kind in our church community, being friendly to our family, letting others know us, but we need it. We can’t go it alone and accomplish anything as the church. Alone we are just one body part of the body. We need each other to serve and to be healthy.

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When you keep your relationship with God exclusively fact-based and rational, it’s easy to make judgments about others and yourself. Such judgements reduce your anxiety and increase your sense of safety and protection. However, this way of being also has the curious effect of increasing the isolation you feel, both from others and within your own mind. If you allow yourself to be known by God, you invite a different and frankly more terrifying experience. You are now in a position of vulnerability. If you permit others to know you, they can make their own assessment of your worth. They can react to you. You grant them the option to love you or to reject you. In essence, you must—must—trust another with yourself.
— Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul

What about you? Do you struggle with friendship in your community? You are not alone, but I pray we can begin to show love through tangible acts of kindness and friendship.

Day 23: Charade

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line. Here’s the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade.

But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”
— Galatians 2:11-14 The Message

I always felt icky after those conversations I talked about on Day 21: Reputation.  Whenever I would engage in agreements to conform to whatever friend group I was around, assuring them of my conformity to their pre-set parenting methods or behavior, it felt dishonest.  I was seeking their approval.  I would agree and nod my head.  I would throw ideas out that I knew they would like.  It felt like an over exaggeration of the "good job" I was doing as a parent.  I would leave those conversations with a yucky feeling.  I had just affirmed the choices we had made as "right" even though they were decisions made from privilege.  I could feed my kids healthy food when I could afford it.  Others cannot.  I could stay home with my children and home school because I had a husband with a full-time job.  Others don't have that luxury.

I would leave my conversations affirming our privileged decisions that defined "good parenting" to us, and I would go downtown to minister to single moms who couldn't cut McDonalds out of their lives or home school their children.

It felt like I was setting a standard for "good parenting" that could never be achieved by the majority of moms.  And I felt icky.

I didn't fess up to the times I had yelled at my kids trying to get to the gatherings of moms either.  I didn't fess up to the times we ate McDonalds or Burger King with our church group or as a family.  

It felt dishonest.  And I felt icky.

I don't know if Peter felt this ickiness when he conformed to the conservative Jewish men from Jereuselum.  Maybe He did.  Peter wanted to fit in with the Jewish click, and he was pulling back from the gentile Christians that he was discipling.

Paul confronted him for his actions.  Paul told him that he was not living in the freedom that Christ had brought us.

If something is true, worthy of defending, it will be just as true for the mom stuck in poverty as it is for the middle-class mom.

Conforming to friend groups just to get their approval compromises your honesty and vulnerability that allows you to connect with others.  If the parenting or behavior rule isn't true for the single mom struggling in poverty, then it is a cultural decision, not a spiritual one.  It isn't something we define our Christianity by.  We shouldn't hold others to standards set by our middle-class culture.

When we create or conform to these standards, we create cliques among believers.  We create an "us" and a "them."

Let go of this charade and live in the freedom Christ died to give us.

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post.  Here's one for today.

Day 22: Vulnerability

Paper Tiger & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Yesterday we talked about not worrying about our reputation with others.

It turns out that acting like we have it all together doesn't attract friendship anyway.  Those conversations of reassuring people that I wasn't sinning, that my behavior was good, was the opposite of being vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is where real relationships are formed.

A few years ago, I read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, and it wrecked me.  Why didn't I know all of these things in my teen years?  In my twenties?

Listen to what Brene says.

Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.

...

Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.

...

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.
— Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

When we are not honest about our struggles, we are being unkind to our fellow Christians.  When we pretend we have it all together, parenting, relationships, good behavior, and good works, we are being dishonest about our life.  This is actually a disservice to yourself as much as it is a disservice to your friends and church members.  Perfectionism pushes others away, but vulnerability draws them in.

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
— Colossians 3:9-14 The Message

Wearing love is impossible to accomplish if you keep people at arms-length away, only allowing them to see the pieces of your life that are pretty and clean.

Being vulnerable shows kindness and love, and it glorifies Christ.  Our testimony is only shared when we are not the hero.  Don't be afraid to honestly share how Christ is working in your life, in your past and your present.

 

Click to return to series table of contents.

I like to include a song with each blog post.  Here you go.

Broken Bond, a book review of Love Embraced

One of the joys of finding community online with other Christian writers, is that you form such unlikely, precious friendships.  One such friendship is with the tenderhearted and kind Anna Smit, who makes a home with her family of four in the Netherlands.  Anna is actually not Dutch, but a transplanted, self-proclaimed “kiwi,” hailing from the beautiful country of New Zealand.

Our online friendship began as we both attempted our first blogging challenge, Write 31 Days, this last October.  Anna agreed to read my compilation of the challenge turned book.  Her encouragement was paramount to me as I turned my month of writing into a full-fledged book.

When Anna decided to compile a book herself, I knew I wanted to read her words and encourage her in her writing in way possible.

I finished reading her new book Love Embraced back in March.  I had set out to encourage Anna, but instead, her writing encouraged me.

My favorite idea from the book is an idea that is closely related to our adoption.  We have been waiting to adopt from Ethiopia for almost three years now.  During our waiting, I have read books and listened to seminars about attachment, trauma, and other adoption parenting topics.

Anna shared in her book, Love Embraced, about her adopted brother who was added to their missionary family at 15-months-old from an orphanage in Romania.

When I read this portion of Anna’s story, I was deeply moved.

Only He truly understood the hurt, the broken shards that pushed this little soul to rebel, to repel the arms that sought to love him. My little brother, suffering from the severed bond with his birth mother, fought against those closest to him, just like all of us who are traumatized by our severed bond with God through sin do. But His Saving Grace has the power, through transformational love of restoring and healing us through a reunion with Him. And so, only our Heavenly Father could have taught my parents to see beyond the rebellion to find the little soul crying out for love, perfect love: a love that is patient, kind, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, that doesn’t keep track of wrongs, doesn’t rejoice in evil but in the truth, always protects, always hopes, always trusts, never gives up, never fails (1 Corinthians 13: 4- 8).
— Anna Louise Smit, Love Embraced, chapter 17

The idea that we have trauma separating us with our bond with God is something I have never considered.

This is a beautiful example of the universal human experience.  We are suffering from a trauma that we try to deny, because we have been torn apart by sin from our Loving Father.

Anna shares so genuinely about her family, but also her experience with loss, rejection, suffering, PTSD, and grief.

She takes these hard places and shows us how God has faithfully replaced her peace, given her comfort, filled her with hope, and deeply embraced her with love.

And so, in those moments I feel His Peace being stolen from me, He has the Power to restore it to me. All He asks is that I lean into Him, that I believe Him at His Word. And even then, He tells me that where I struggle to trust, He will not abandon me, yet patiently teach me because “saving” me is all His idea and He will bring it to completion (John 6: 35-40). And in teaching me He is, ever so patiently, yet also firmly, reminding me of the Hope I have in Him that can never be shaken. A Hope overflowing into an abundant peace.
— Anna Lousie Smit, Love Embraced, chapter 38

Love Embraced will be released on Mother's Day, May 8th, as a dedication to Anna's mother.  You will be able to find it on Amazon and CreateSpace for purchase.  I hope you will add it to your "to read" list, and let it be an encouragement to you this Mother's Day.

More about Love Embraced:  A Journey In and Through Suffering -

Not one of us is immune to suffering. So many of us have experienced loss, rejection, trauma and/or deep hurt. But often we decide to keep working, to keep going and to keep numbing that which we are terribly scared will break us into tiny little pieces. Love Embraced records the author’s own journey through such suffering, in: caring for her mother dying of cancer, grieving her mother’s death, her diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and working through repressed childhood memories. 

But, it also reveals how in starting to face that which she was too frightened to face, she began to embrace and be embraced by a mighty God into:  freedom, hope, comfort, peace, strength and deep joy.

More about Anna Lousie Smit -

Anna Smit is a Kiwi-Dutch Mum currently living in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and two girls. Since losing her mother to cancer in April, 2014, Anna has used her gift of writing to lean into God’s Great Love through grief, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, recovering perfectionism and repressed childhood memories. She shares her journey of faith with others to encourage, embolden and inspire them in Christ.

Day 13: Target Friend

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 13:  TARGET FRIEND

You’re probably wondering what a Target friend is.  No, it’s not a friend that goes shopping at Target with you.  Although, if you’re interested in going to Target with me, I’d love to do that.  I’m a recovering Target addict.  I have to delete Target emails immediately from my inbox, or I’ll be triggered to go browse those red and white isles.

Let me tell you what Target friend is, it’s a term that I heard on a Periscope broadcast.  Here’s the definition of it from Urban Dictionary.

Can we just pause and agree how cool I am?  Periscope, sharing new slang with you, and defining terms from Urban Dictionary, can you just even?  (Reality check.  I’m sitting in my home school room typing this.  I have a hot glue gun on my desk and a kitchen piled high with dirty laundry that I’m going to push aside so that I can warm up a frozen chicken breast in my toaster oven for lunch today.  Steve Urkel lives a cooler life then I do.  Side note on this side note:  Did you see Jaleel White on the new car commercial for Scion?  I totally geeked out when I saw that.  Did I do that?  Ok.  Case proven on my uncoolness.)

Now I know that you are wondering what a target friend has to do with faith adventures.  Well, let me tell you.

Back when James and I had just begun our adoption journey, I made a friend target of my now actual friend Shelly Wilson.

Our adoption agency has a FaceBook group for families in the Ethiopia program.  I saw Shelly post something about speaking to her women’s group about her adoption story.  I was so excited when I saw someone from my hometown waiting to adopt from Ethiopia, I knew we had to be friends.

I recruited my mother-in-law to come to listen to Shelly talk at her church, a church I had never even set foot in.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it was a huge deal for me.  I was stepping out to make a new friend, and meeting new people is one of my least favorite things to do.

I have social anxiety, and interacting with people can cause my head to go crazy with insecurity, fears of rejection, and wacky thoughts about myself.

Putting all that aside and being aggressive about making friends with someone was a step of faith for me.

I realize now what I might have missed out on if I hadn’t made friends with Shelly.  Shelly was the one who passed along the invitation to join the adoption advocacy group In His Hands.  I’ve made lots of sweet friends in that group, and I’ve been able to help make a difference for orphans in Uganda with the fundraisers we’ve organized.  I also went on two mission trips to Ethiopia with Shelly through our adoption agency.  Those trips were so educational for me, grew my faith, and gave me a better awareness Ethiopian culture.  I’ve also had the joy of cheering on Shelly’s adoption, praying for her, and watching God move.  That alone has been a tremendous blessing to me.

     Van selfie with Shelly on our first trip to Ethiopia.

     Van selfie with Shelly on our first trip to Ethiopia.

     Shelly and I watching the children play on our second trip to Ethiopia.

     Shelly and I watching the children play on our second trip to Ethiopia.

    Our team getting ready to leave on our last day in Ethiopia, our second trip.

    Our team getting ready to leave on our last day in Ethiopia, our second trip.

That little step of faith, making a new friend, led to other faith adventures that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

What about you?  What simple step is God calling you to make today?  It may be connecting with someone new or even connecting to family member.  Jesus called us to servanthood and to friendship with Himself.  He was speaking to his disciples right after He was led into Jerusalem on a donkey, and He told them this.

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
— John 12:26 ESV

Almost week later, the night before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples this.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
— John 15:12-15 ESV

Jesus asks us to serve Him and love Him as a friend.  He also commands us to love one another.  And He also promises that God the Father will honor our service.

Stepping out to connect with others may not seem like important Kingdom work, but it is!  Loving one another is the greatest thing we can do here on earth.  Sometimes servanthood and friendship takes a lot of faith.  But luckily God supplies that faith measures.