Tag Archives: God

Better Than a New Car

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Friends are like little gifts from God. Or not.

“Little gift” implies something small, inconsequential. A pack of stationary, a bracelet that is just your style, a $5 gift card to Starbucks – just enough for a pumpkin spiced latte. mmmm… Okay, maybe not entirely inconsequential. Little gifts are delightful, we’ll all agree.

But I’m talking about great big, knock-your-socks-off, here’s-a-key-go-look-in-the-driveway sized gifts. Presents with gigantic red bows!

When God created us to have relationships, he didn’t just mean man-and-wife or mother-and-baby, he gave us FRIENDS. Seriously, this was His idea! Oh so beautifully.

Your friends are beside you to laugh, cry, scream, tell you to change your shirt because you wear too many stripes, beg you not to leave because there is a snake in front of your house and you cannot move, send you a message to ask after your child. Those seemingly small, inconsequential acts that all add up. That’s friendship. That’s love.

Friendships are a reflection of the love we pour into others. You are drawn toward self-sacrificial acts for another just because she matters to you. It’s easy to pick up the phone and call a friend to ask if her interview went well, to make dinner for a friend when she isn’t feeling well and her husband is traveling, to drive hours just to share a meal with a friend. We do this, not out of obligation, but because we want to. We are created to love, created to have friendships.

And what a magnificent lesson our friendships are for us! We do for others, without thinking, only asking for their love in return. We don’t expect to be compensated in act. We pour out because our friends’ hearts matter to us. This act comes so naturally to us because we are made in the likeness of the perfect example: Jesus. He called you “friend” then laid down His life in sacrifice. He doesn’t guilt us into returning any favor or want us to write notes of thanks, just as we wouldn’t ask so much of a friend. He merely wants us to remain as close to Him as our hearts allow, to open our deepest wounds to His loving touch. And He is there. No guilt, no shame, not even a mention of the lettuce stuck between your teeth.

True friendship is non-judgmental, always cheering from the sidelines, making me laugh until my guts hurt, bringing me cups of nourishment and joy, enjoying sunny days and walking close in rainstorms, reminding me I am beautiful even when I’ve put on a few pounds, challenging me to live better because I deserve it, hugging holding cherishing uplifting on the darkest days. Each of my friends, my better-than-a-new-car friends, gives this to me. But none so much as my Truest Friend.

Thank you, good and gracious Lord for the gifts you have given. Friendships modeled after your unconditional LOVE for us and our desire to return the same to one another. You are so good. And so creative!

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:12-15

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Routine of Togetherness

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Summer is in full swing! Time to shake off those burdensome, tight schedules. Put on our bright, loose-fitting agenda-free days. School is out, kids’ activities are wrapping up for the season, obligations and meetings will finally give us that much needed break. Hooray, right?

As each last day arrived this year, I found myself feeling drained rather than rejuvenated. Not exhausted-drained. More like my cup was being emptied, like I was no longer able to replenish myself.

The first agenda item to go was my weekly Bible study. It started in September and ran throughout the school year. For two hours each week, I was able to fellowship with other women, pour into the scriptures, and make new, lasting friendships. Together we studied the book of John and learned more about the ministry and legacy of Jesus. The nursery attendants watched my little one grow from a itty baby into a mobile, playful toddler. Most Tuesdays this year, I was blessed to study alongside my sister-in-law, an extra treat before she moves overseas for two years.

In short order, Wednesday evenings also became free when our church children’s choir finished for the summer. On the drive home that fateful Wednesday, my daughter cried, sad that this weekly ritual ended too soon. When I reassured her we could connect with our friends all summer, she responded that she wouldn’t miss the socializing, group dinners, or play time so much. It was the opportunity to be with her friends, singing to God.

Next, the small prayer group from my daughter’s school held its last meeting. Whether I attended or not each month, I had relied on these mothers meeting regularly, powerfully praying over our children, their teachers, and one another’s families. The local chapter of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) wrapped up the same week. Soon thereafter, we said goodbye to church Sunday School classes, our daughter’s weekly Bible class (AWANA), and other obligations.

Finally! We were free! Our schedule was clear and the summer lay before us open, wide open. Almost desolate. Very quickly I found myself longing for something more. I missed my friends, my Sisters, and the inspiration I drew from them.

My daughter, with her 6-year old wisdom, had understood early what would take me several weeks to grasp. When we no longer fellowship with one another, spend time in community, study God’s Word, or pray out loud, we become drained. Dry. Our souls become parched, a place weeds choke out the flowers of truth and living water stops flowing.

Without those school-year routines, how can you and I make time to be together? To encourage one another, like we do the other nine months of the year? To study, learn, and grow through each other’s wisdom? To pray for one another, pour out God’s blessings, speak His promises into each other’s lives?

Can we maintain the routine of togetherness, despite the lack of routine? Can we retain our community without being physically present?

I believe we can! If you’d like to join me, please let me know. I long for communion with you, my friends, my Family.
If you’re local to me, let’s get together a few times this summer to talk about what God has shown us this year, how He is moving in our lives. Let’s pray with one another. How about my house, Sunday evenings at 5:00?
If you’re not local, distance will not keep us apart! Perhaps we’ll read a book of the Bible together? We can email, talk, text, FaceTime, message, whatever.

Let’s find time to be together without the pressure of schedule, agenda, or obligation. Because no amount of summertime freedom is as liberating as simply being together in Christ’s love.

Celebration on the Horizon

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Some folks turn forty without a second thought. My husband will likely try to get away with such craziness. Not one for public acknowledgement or parties in his honor, he’d rather allow his day to pass quietly, like any other day. I learned years ago that if I want my day celebrated, I need to “manage up” and give him ideas. Which begs the question… What DO I want for my fortieth birthday? How do I want this next year to go down in my personal history?

I’ve thought about the usual suspects: a weekend getaway with my mom and sisters, a cruise with my family, maybe even a return trip to Paris. I’ve explored options outside of my comfort zone like inviting my mom and sisters on a three-day walk for breast cancer. Noble, yes, but not quite “me.” In fact, for all the fun celebrations I dreamed up, none of the ideas felt inspired.

When my oldest sister first tipped “over the hill,” we girls celebrated together with a weekend of shopping, wine, and pampering at the Ritz. It was a time to honor the coming of age for all the women in our family: the birthday girl, our sister and myself, as well as our beloved mother who raised us so gracefully. We four take every opportunity to weave our bond as tightly as possible; being together for this milestone was no exception.

My middle sister marked the occasion more solemnly. She had recently faced a health scare and was as thrilled to celebrate life itself as the four decades behind her. The four of us gathered at a friend’s vacation home for time together, a few tears, and a lot of laughter. The birthday girl then returned home and hosted a joy-filled autumn harvest party with dozens of her family’s closest friends.

Just before my 39th birthday, my mind was preoccupied with what I would do during the coming year to make it special. Something to make me feel more mature, like I found my place in this world, like I was finally a grown-up. That’s when God spoke to me, directly to my heart.

Missions. Go.

At the age of 16, I heard God ask me to serve Him through missions. I felt a tug (pull, yank) on my heart and I answered Him. Yes, I’ll go. When the time is right. But first I needed to finish high school and start college. Then I didn’t want to miss a semester, so my commitment would have to wait. After I graduated from college, I was too busy proving myself to the world to bother with God, much less missionary work. When I finally settled down and found a church home with my new husband, the topic of international missions seemed as foreign to our relationship as the languages I had never learned.

For twenty years, I watched friends go on short- and long-term trips all over the world. Surely they were better prepared than me, holier and more righteous. And perhaps I was mistaken all along. Maybe I had been a sappy, heartsick teenager who just imagined the “still, small voice.”

This time there is no mistaking. Missions. Go.

For my fortieth birthday, I will ask my family to give me the gift of the opportunity, to care for my children, to support my husband as I go. I’ll ask my friends for the gift of prayer as I seek God’s direction for the place and time (please, Lord, not much longer than a week away from my daughters). I will finally fulfill the commitment I made decades ago and admit that forty-year-old me will never feel like a grown-up, I’ll never find my place in this world until I take that first step: Go.

Visiting My Sunroom

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I hate meeting new people. There, I said it. Meeting people terrifies me. Networking is my husband’s idea of a good time; the very mention of it gives me a headache! He actually signs up for this stuff, gets all giddy at the opportunity to meet-n-greet. (Shudder) Sometimes, he takes me along to meet his connections and friends. Just the idea of going is usually enough to start me whining, complaining (loudly), and bickering (louder). It’s rather embarrassing, really, the level of discord I create when my inner self is screaming “I don’t wanna go!” Grow up, Leslie.

Ironically, I actually love getting to know people. I thrive on finding connections and building relationships. It just takes me a while. But when I do, watch out! If I make a friend at any given event, I can chat with that one person – and not have to meet anyone else, hooray! – all evening. I’m looking for Real. Someone who is willing to set aside their plastic networking smile, squint their eyes just so, and crack the door to their soul, where Real lives.

One of my favorite rooms in a person’s Real self is the space they reserve for church. In most of us, church usually isn’t front and center. More like a sunroom, a pretty little room tucked in the back. Guests don’t get to see it upon arrival, but only after visiting other spaces: the family room, the homey kitchen, perhaps even the messy playroom. Then they see Church. What a delightful addition to an already beautiful space.

Where the fun lies isn’t just in discovering we both attend church, and where, and how long. Real gets real when we open the cabinet and display WHY we go to church. No, I don’t actually ask that of anyone. Honestly, I’ve not really asked it of myself much, until a recent hiatus from my own church left me feeling down, isolated, and without direction. Several weeks passed before I recognized my feelings and, subsequently, the source. To be honest, I rather enjoyed those first few weekends of productivity and long, luxurious mornings with my family. But as I began longing to return to our Sunday morning routine, I examined my motivation for attending church.

God: The most obvious. If I am going to follow His commands, I cannot pick and choose which I will follow. I will share His message of love, I will raise my children to know and respect Him, I will offer Him my gifts, I will keep His day holy by reserving time for worship.

Community: Christ said where two or more are gathered in His name, He would be present with us. He prayed for all future believers, that we would be unified in His name. In other words, God gave us to each other. Time and again, I am blessed and encouraged after spending time in fellowship with other believers.

Free childcare: Nursery, Sunday School, other adults guiding our children to think about others, to be quiet and respectful, to love one another. My oldest daughter cried when children’s choir ended for the year. “It’s my favorite activity all week,” she lamented. Not because she socializes and eats dinner with her friends, but because she loves singing about God. Her soul has found freedom and joy in learning words to praise her creator. I pray our children always have such a strong desire to be embraced by the church.

Quiet: If we allow it, a peaceful sanctuary can be just that to our bodies, our souls. Like Jesus calming the storm, His house can quiet the everpresent noises of our lives and calm even the busiest hamster-on-the-wheel. Sometimes, I sit in the pew, look at the pastel-colored windows, and simply breathe in His presence. It is in that space He restores my soul.

Family: For better or worse, we are assigned our biological families. We have a little more choice in our church family, but the members often serve similar roles, for better or worse. And, like with our relations, we can choose to grow in love despite our imperfections. We can also bless one another abundantly in that love. The ties that bind us together are strengthened when a fellow church member voluntarily steps into a supportive role typically reserved for related-family. A meal when we are ill, a ride when we cannot drive, a baby shower when no family lives close, a simple hug when our mother is not near. Family cannot be replaced, but the holes can be filled to overflowing by the love of a church family.

Service: I love to be needed; I need it. To that end, the world has needs! One of Christ’s last commands while He walked the earth was to go out into all the world, sharing His love. No simple task for an individual. But standing side by side with our church family, we are able to further His kingdom here on earth. Make meals for the homeless, teach the children, provide supplies for the needy, build homes for orphans. What blessing we receive when we give of ourselves to bless others!

So, why do I go to church? Sure, my husband gets to meet new people and I get to build relationships. But that isn’t what gets us out the door Sunday morning or to committee meetings and events throughout the week. Initially, my husband and I wanted to be with God, to walk with Him in our lives and our marriage. We sought a place of quiet refuge from our busy lives. We had children who we chose to raise in the Christian faith. We became part of a family who never lets us go. We started to serve and found joy came from the work of it. We discovered that the more we learned of God, the more real He became in our lives. The more we gave of ourselves, the more freedom we had to truly live. The more we spoke of His love, the more we loved all of those around us.

Church. That small room kept off to the side of our Real, visiting only on Sundays, at best. Perhaps it’s time to renovate, to rearrange it, or even move it to the front room of our Real selves.