A Friend

Three years ago God began revealing something to me: Love Him, others, then myself. Everywhere I turned, the message was clear. I was pretty bad at loving people, and He was doing a pretty good job of showing me that. But I was too calloused and stubborn to really see and love people, so He had some work to do.

At the moment when things started to shift in my life, I quickly formed a couple deep friendships quickly. The Lord had brought people into my life that hadn’t really been there before, and friendships rose out of crisis. These relationships weren’t out of mutual respect or admiration but rather out of needs that needed to be filled. These friends needed a shoulder to cry on, and as I would find out later, I really needed to be needed. And I wasn’t afraid to manipulate, push, or deceive to fill that need, and all-the-while I was convinced that I was being selfless in my  actions because I was caring for them. As quickly as the friendships arose, they crumbled. There came a time when I no longer felt needed, so I became desperate, and the relationships, which didn’t have a stable foundation to begin with, died as a result of my actions.

Within two months, I went from having few friends to having two “best friends.” Six months later, I had royally messed up both relationships and distanced what friends I’d had before the whirlwind began. Crash and burn.

Somewhere in that messy process, God awakened my heart. He showed me my deep need for relationships, which I’d never known before. I think that’s part of the reason I went so crazy when I finally had people around me who I felt cared. I’d never really known that, outside of my family. I craved that feeling of companionship. I panicked when I wasn’t around someone. Even my poor roommate had to deal with my extreme neediness.

But as He’d planned, when I felt all was lost and I thought I’d lost my two closest friends, I turned back to God. He was all I had, and, as I remembered, all I needed. He showed me His grace and then humbled me by bringing in other friends, friends who’d I’d distanced through those few months, to love me and support me with no questions asked.

Both friends have opened their hearts back up to me. We’re building on new foundations now… a foundation of trust, boundaries, respect, and admiration. I don’t know how far or how long I’ll be blessed to have them in my life, but I’m still humbled by their forgiving hearts. The relationships are drastically different now, and that’s hard for me. I’m having to reshape how I think, how I behave, and how I respond to my feelings.

I want more than anything to have mature, Christ-seeking, young women in my life who can come alongside of me and pray WITH me, not just FOR me. I want mature friendships, but I know in order to have those, I must be mature. And I must learn how to LOVE. Easier said than done.

Moreover, I want to be known. I want to be understood by someone. I want inside jokes, and coffee dates, and shared favorite movies. I want someone to care about how my day went at work or if there was traffic on the way home. I want to be known for all my faults and loved anyway. Part of me says that if God would just hurry up and bring me the right man, that’d all be fixed.

But I know better. I know MYSELF better. This isn’t a physical need that deserves a practical solution. It’s a spiritual need that deserves a supernatural solution. I think about what King David wrote in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! … Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether… You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

David was admired by his kingdom and loved deeply by his many wives. Surely he had enough companionship! But David’s search for love, more often than not, got him into trouble. But he knew how well God knew him, and I imagine that as he wrote those words down, it was an encouragement to him.

Like David, I deeply want to be known by someone. I don’t want to struggle with loneliness anymore. But I know it’s a battle that’s mine alone to fight, a battle of the heart as I seek to be nearer to Christ. I know He can fill that hunger I have. But truthfully, I don’t know how to let Him do that. I don’t know how to let Him be my friend and confidant. So that’s what I’m praying about. Tips are welcome.

That said, I’ve become all too aware of my own messiness and increasingly aware of Christ’s grace and patience with me. He loves me on the days I can’t stand to be around myself, and He makes it bearable. It’s that kind of love that I want to be the foundation of all my future friendships and relationships… love as an outpouring of what’s inside me for the glory of God, not demanding from others what I lack for my own fulfillment.

So I’m discovering what it’s like to have a real friend in Christ. He’s the best role model for everything else, so I guess that makes sense that He’d be good at this whole love and friendship thing too.

John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

 

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The Great Tapestry

I have an eye for detail. And it isn’t that I just notice details; I delight in them. I hate going for nature walks because I pass by everything no matter how slow you go, because isn’t the the goal of a “nature walk”? To keep walking onto the top of the mountain or end of the trail? I’d rather just sit there and stare at a tall tree from afar, then get up close to it to look at the cracks in the bark and pick up a leaf to look at the veins. I’m amazed by details. I’m the same way with works of art. I’ll sit and stare at a painting for a while, but my urge to get closer is too strong, so I eventually end up staring at the piece from 2 inches away. I like to get close and see the details: the brush strokes, the individual colors, the intricacies that went into the final product. I look like an idiot standing so close to things, but I don’t really care, because it’s what fascinates me.

I’m like that when it comes to God and His master plan, too. I’ll often sit and think about all of the little events that happened in order for me to be where I’m at (spiritually, mentally, and physically) today. It’s amazing, and overwhelming, to know that God began arranging things in my life long before I had the mental capacity to understand cause and effect, and long before I had an uncontrollable urge to manipulate the events and situations in my life.

I labeled this post “The Great Tapestry” because as I was brainstorming what I should blog about today, an image came to mind. Think of a tapestry, or maybe a woven blanket like this one, since “tapestry” is a bit of an outdated term:

If you look at a cotton thread, it’s simple. It doesn’t carry much weight, and it isn’t of much importance. Threads are events, people, and ideas in our life. There are a few large, life-changing factors that enter into our life at critical points, but for the post part, the events, people, and ideas in our life play small roles. That’s why there’s a lot of them. And I’m sure you’ve guessed where I’m going with the tapestry/blanket: it’s our life. Wow, I’m so original.

There are so many things that can be drawn from this metaphor though, especially when you zoom up close to the detail of the threads, as I tend to do.

First of all, the threads are very different from each other. It takes all kinds of people, events, and ideas to make our life (and us!) colorful and interesting. You need all kinds of dark, bright, and colorful moments and people in your life to make your tapestry interesting. Each plays its own role. Don’t get so focussed on the black thread (let’s say it’s a dark event in your life or the person that really drives you crazy) that you forget about the yellow thread next to it. It’s the black thread that makes the yellow look so stunning and wonderful.

Secondly, you’ll notice that sometimes threads disappear for a while, only to pop back up elsewhere, seemingly out of nowhere. If you were knitting a blanket, you couldn’t simply cut off a thread when you were done with that color. Each thread remains a part of the blanket until the ends are tied and finished. It may not be visible in all places, but it might be in the back, holding together threads in the front. And it’s always there, it never goes away. In the same way, I think that every event and person that comes into our lives always leaves an impression. The person might not always be present and the event might not always be on the forefront of our minds, but the impression those things leave on us and the way they affected us will always be a part of our life; for the good or bad. And their impact will always have an effect on who we are as a person, whether we let it show to others or not.

Thirdly, if we zoom out, we can see the big picture that God is working on. Since He’s the master knitter (I just got this awesome image in my head of God with two big knitting needles, haha!), we have to trust that He knows what He’s doing. Because I’m so detailed-oriented, something I have to constantly remind myself to do is focus on the bigger pictures. I get so caught up in the tangled threads as they are coming together that I miss the tapestry God has already, and I lose faith in the final product. I can’t look at my life’s tapestry and get frustrated because it doesn’t quite look right. It’s because God isn’t finished with me yet.

There’s a lot more details in life than we notice. I challenge you to stop today and look at the cracks in the pavement, the creases in your best friend’s face as he/she smiles, the scuff marks on your favorite pair of tennis shoes, and the colors of the hairs on your dog’s head as he sits in your lap. You might be surprised at all of the details you’ve missed.   And with that, think about the events and people in your life and the roles they’ve played. You might be surprised at where your train of thought goes.

Parts of the Body – Friendships

Nearly every Christian has heard the analogy the body of Christ as it relates to spiritual gifts and their applications to ministry (1 Corinthians 12), but I’ve been seeing a new area in life where this also seems to be true.

Friendships.

Just like no one person can be an evangelist, pastor, prayer warrior, healer, administrator, or wise mentor (etc…) in the body of Christ, no one person can give you everything you need in regards to the “needs” that we have that are satisfied by friendships. For example, I can’t rely on only one friend to give me sound Biblical advice, hold me when I need to cry, always be available to talk, cheer me up when I’m in a crappy mood, pray for me, or encourage me when I’m struggling. Yes, my best friends will do all of those things if/when I need them to, but that’s too tall of an order to put on just one person  for a long period of time.

Instead, and luckily so, God has been working on giving me a network of people to rely on. I have mentors at church ( I can’t forget my mom!) to give me the sound wisdom I desperately need. I have a few solid people who will feverishly pray for me in a moment’s notice. I have a couple girls who will sit in silence next to me on the couch as tears fall down my face when I need to cry. Between a few of my friends, I know that if I need to talk to someone, one of them will make themselves available. I have a friend who I can geek out with about film and computers, one who I will run to for parenting advice (a while down the road… don’t worry!) or to vent about the Route 68 middle school kids, one or two who have terrific senses of style/fashion, and a couple who can turn any boring situation into a fun and silly adventure… and the list goes on an on. I’m blessed, aren’t I? And this “network” or “web” of friends I have keeps growing as I grow in my walk with Christ.

I’ve realized that one of the greatest disservices you can do to one of your friends is to expect them to be someone they’re not and to hold too high of expectations for them. This has been a very tough lesson for me to learn, because it also means I can’t be everything to each of my friends either. And the greatest disservice you can do to yourself is to close yourself off from new people and friendships because you’re satisfied with how many friends you have now, or because you keep hoping that you current friends will change. Not everyone needs to be your BEST friend, and it’s natural for there to be different levels of intimacy and time spent between your friendships, but don’t close yourself off. You may be missing out on someone God has picked out to make a large or small difference in your life.

That said, I love my friends with all of my heart, and I am so thankful that God built each of them the way He did. I love learning about them and who God created them to be (and who he DIDN’T create them to be!). And I LOVE growing in Christ beside them. I’m learning so much through them and because of them. I know that my journey these past few months has only taken place the way it did because they chose to put up with me and show up when God asked them to.

The King and I

During summer 2011 I enrolled in a 14-week class that my church offered called “Experiencing God”. We went through a workbook by the same name, written by Blackaby, Blackaby and King. It was an eye-opening process for me; I was at a stage in my life where I was really ready to see God, to EXPERIENCE Him in a way I hadn’t before. I was also at a personal crossroads and was looking for His direction in my choices.

The study had a ripple effect on many things in my life, but one of those ripples was an idea that I’d always been taught growing yp, but I had never embraced or understood it before: When we pray, we should expect an answer from God.

I didn’t know what “expect” really meant until now, though. Was I supposed to just be determined that God was going to respond to me in His small, quiet voice eventually, if I sat in the silence for long enough? Was I supposed to open my Bible to a random page, pick a verse with closed eyes, and try to interpret it to fit my situation? Was I supposed to go ask the wisest Christian I know their opinion, and go with it? How was I supposed to know when and where my “answer” would appear? What was I supposed to DO?

This past week has been intense. God has been teaching me more in this past week than He has in the past year of my life. And it’s only getting more exciting. But what I’ll pull out of those ramblings for the purpose of this blog post is that GOD RESPONDS. He not only responds to prayer, but He responds to our thoughts and ideas.

After my last blog post, “Just Show Up,” was published, I went to bed and opened my Bible. I usually read two chapters a night, unless I’m especially on fire. The last section I read was from Luke 17:

 7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

I sat there and cried like I often do these days as God’s power washed over me. I was amazed that God had listened to my rambling thoughts just an hour before when I wrote my blog post. Those thoughts hadn’t even been expressed in “prayer mode”… I had just been thinking. And I was amazed that He sent me to a part of His Word where I could find His thoughts and His words about the subject.

So, this is what “expecting” looks like: It’s listening, everywhere and to everything, but not trying to FIND the answer. There have been times this week when I’d hear a verse in a worship song that speaks to what I’m experiencing. It encourages me and puts little joy in my heart. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a random stranger or a friend, and they word something just so, and I know that what they said was a hint to me from God (for an example, see the 5th paragraph in my post “The Godly Condition” about not being able to let God down). Or I’ll open my Bible to do my nightly reading, and something LEAPS off the page at me, and I can’t help but sit there in amazement.

I’m not wise, but I am a quick learner usually. One thing I’ve seen these past few weeks is that when God really shows up, and when He speaks and I’m listening, it’s very hard to miss because it clicks in my heart and my head. When I’m aware of His power and His caring concern over the details of my life, I know when He’s telling me something. It has been a daily exchange between the King and I.

But I’m learning to DO less and TRUST more. I need to stop trying to do the right things to find the answers to my prayers…

I need to TRUST (there’s that word again!) that if I keep living on God’s path, He’s going to walk by my side. Then I won’t have to go looking for Him when I need some advice.

Thank you for speaking my language

Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book a few years ago that you may already be familiar with: The 5 Love Languages.

He defines a love language as a person’s “primary way of expressing and interpreting love.” He says that each person has one these dominant categories, or languages:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

I’ve known about these “languages”  for years, since my mom read the book that was written about children when I was younger, and they’ve always interested me, but they’ve recently become the topic of a many of my conversations. I love psychology, so these, like personality types, fascinate me.

Dr. Chapman wrote his first book on how love languages relate to married couples. He then authored a book on how these languages play out in children. To my knowledge, he hasn’t announced a third book, but he should write a book on love languages as they should be spoken between friends or colleagues. In my humble opinion, the world is seriously lacking meaningful relationships. The song “All You Need is Love” comes to mind. Yes, people often lack the motivation, attention span, and time to really love on other people. Most of the time people genuinely don’t care. But what if the public was made aware of these languages, and they have the capacity to apply them to everyday situations? What if you could learn what your boss’s love language is, and walk in the office every morning “screaming” their language to make them feel appreciated? What if you could recognize the love language of your best friend and really get to know them on a deeper level?

As you may have guessed from recent blog entries, God has been working on my heart these past few months. I’m learning to embrace a lot of things about me — some of them are good, and some of them are faults that I struggle to admit. One thing I’ve been able to grasp onto is my love language. My mom “diagnosed” me at a young age of having the “physical touch” language. I knew it as I attended middle school and high school, but I never owned it as a part of myself. That’s beginning to change. God has placed people in my life now that are allowing me to throw out my insecurities and speak my language. I’ve been running around and telling everyone about it, because as they see the change in me, I want them to be able to understand what and why.

There’s so much that I want to write and include in this post, but I think that if you invest some time into learning about the person God made you to be (not just the person you really want to be), you’ll come to those conclusions on your own.

The official website has some great quizzes. I’m not sure how accurate they are, but you should take them, and then look through the descriptions of all 5 languages to see if you agree. If you’re still not sure, start experimenting. Look at what the people around you do for you, and try to figure out which is the most meaningful for you as they fit those categories. It’s a cool feeling when you learn something about yourself.