Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day 18 - Fellowship of Suffering

As I sat across from her that morning while we drank espresso in the local coffee shop, something she shared with me took me away on a quick silent walk with God and my heart melted in awe at His faithfulness to me…. He was showing me what the fellowship of suffering looked like.   We talked about life, our struggles, my fears, my heart, our journey, our hope, and our mutual belief that God is faithful.   As we were one hour into our conversation, she casually mentioned the journal that my sister gave her and a handful of other friends at a luncheon a couple of months after my husband died.  My sister had invited over these women who had been instrumental in holding me up (physically and spiritually) and even running my household that first horrendous week, when getting out of bed, getting dressed for the day, and sitting in my kitchen was the most I was able to do during this stage of shock and numbness.  Those days were, and still are, a blur to me.

She had begun to use this journal as a prayer journal for my kids and me.  She prayed for us continually (and still does) and recorded her prayers and how God showed His answers through events in our lives.  I remember her saying that as she looked through this journal, she could clearly see that God had been holding us in His hand, carrying us, every step of the way, and is continuing to keep us in that safe place. She said “He is not going to allow you to hide because He has done great things in you and He will be glorified for it.”  As she was telling me this, inside I was thinking, “Who am I to be blessed with such a fellowship of friends that would faithfully pray for my kids and me, listen to God on how to pray for us, and stay in it for the long haul with me?”  I was listening to her but my throat was forcing down a big lump because I was washed over with gratitude and amazement at how God had placed friends in my life ahead of time that would practice such a deep level of fellowship with me….the fellowship of suffering.

In the book What on Earth am I Here For, Rick Warren explains that there are four levels of fellowship.  The first and second levels are simply the fellowship of sharing and the fellowship of studying God’s Word together.  Going a little deeper is the fellowship of serving together, but he says, “The deepest, most intense is the fellowship of suffering, where we enter into each other’s pain and grief and carry each other’s burdens.” I remember speaking with the wife of one of my husband's colleagues several weeks after he died and she said, "People are missing out so much by not "going there" with people who are grieving.  It is such a precious time to share in something like that with those we love.  We can learn so much through it."    Warren continues with, “It is in the times of deep crisis, grief, and doubt that we need each other most.  When circumstances crush us to the point that our faith falters, that’s when we need believing friends the most.  We need a small group of friends to have faith in God for us and to pull us through.” I am abundantly blessed to have more than one friend who fits into the category of one who will “enter into each other’s pain and grief and carry each other’s burdens.”   

A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends...” Job 6:14

I wrote something on this very topic in my first blog.

“There is nothing that will test your friendships more, or cause your relationships to build and mature, than death and grieving. I am honored and privileged to have the incredibly strong friendships that remain. They have continued to build, mature, strengthen, and deepen. The friendships that have remained firm are those that have continued to come towards me. They did not just say, ‘You know I am here if you need me. Just give me a call.’ These friends took the initiative and called to check in with me on a continual basis and offered their ear, shoulder, or their time. One of these friends came over one day just for five minutes, arrived with a flower from her garden and said, ‘I just had to see you because I would know how you were doing if I could look you in the eyes.’ After speaking to countless people who have suffered a loss, they all contend that calling someone for help or a need is not something that they did, even though the invitation was put out there by very well meaning friends. During this stage of grieving, it requires too much strength and effort to reach out most all of the time. We cannot think or take our emotions very far beyond our little grief boundaries. Others are welcome to enter into those boundaries but it is not often that we leave those boundaries looking for a listening ear or help in any way. We need the support to come to us.  With that said, I want to thank and honor my friends who have continued to come and have had the courage to enter into the grief boundaries that have surrounded me this past year. They have been giving and giving without expecting anything in return…. and that is what has spurned me to write this. It has been a one sided friendship this year. I have had to take, and take, and take, and have had absolutely nothing to give…. I honestly had a difficult time caring about the daily grind in anybody’s life outside of my boundaries. Nothing but life and love mattered… In my heart, I wanted to be more of a friend in return for them, but I could not physically do it. The ability is slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to emerge. It won’t magically change after the one year anniversary either, which means my friends will continue to hang in there with me, within my boundaries, as those boundaries expand and broaden a little more each day. “
The fellowship of suffering….

The bible also says in Colossians 3:12, “As holy people…be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.” Rick Warren says that in real fellowship, people experience sympathy. “Sympathy meets two fundamental human needs: the need to be understood and the need to have your feelings validated.  Every time you understand and affirm someone’s feelings, you build fellowship.  The problem is that we are in too much of a hurry to fix things that we don’t have time to sympathize with people.  Or we’re preoccupied with our own hurts…Sympathy is entering in and sharing the pain of others.”  These friends shared healthy sympathy with me.  Real sympathy is a byproduct of the fellowship of suffering.

Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

We know that our first and main purpose for our existence is for God’s family.  We also know that, within that family, our purpose is to love, love, and then love some more. We show our love by taking the time to experience life together.  We experience life together by sharing, entering in, having deep fellowship, during the times of suffering. If we keep our eyes straight ahead and our eyelids right before us, (right before us means “in the moment”), then we can be more present to others who desperately need that Godly fellowship to go deeper into the fellowship of suffering.  

This friend calls anyone who is endearing to her, “Love”…. So I thank you, “Love”, for showing me another living example of what fellowship of suffering looks like.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 17 - Love, Love, and then Love some more

I am sure no one has teenagers like mine.  What seems to be typical is the need to repeat myself.  This is not exclusive to commands, like “put away the dishes, please”, “make your bed, please”, “take out the trash, please”, “pick up your clothes, please”.  This also includes the teachable moments of why I ask them to do certain things, why treating someone in a certain manner is important, why we should watch not only our words but how we say them.  It is daily training, daily reminders, daily discipline, and daily conversations of what seems to be the exact same situation…did I mention it occurs daily?

 We are now at a stage where my son will sometimes interrupt me, because he has heard it before, and say, “I got it, I got it, I got it.”  My response is then, “No, you don’t got it! Otherwise I would not be saying this again!”  With each time I re-mind them, re-discipline them, re-train them, re-teach them, I say it a little differently, trying to relate it in such a way as to flip the switch to a truly, “I got it” moment.  It is like a deja vous… Didn’t I just say that to him?  Didn’t I just tell her why?  This reminds me of Bill Murray in the movie Ground Hog’s Day.  He awakes every morning to the exact same day, Ground Hog’s Day.  At first, he has the “I got it, I got it, I got it”, mentality. He slowly learns that he can only break out of the cycle and improve his life by taking what he has experienced on the same day, but the day before, and  learn from his mistakes, then apply it the next day, in the same situation, to make the changes necessary for growth and moving forward.  

We are all not much different than teenagers who require continual training and molding. God knew this ahead of time. He knew that we would need to hear the same thing and be reminded of that thing daily because it is too easy to get caught up in our selfish selves.  He repeats himself,  “By the way, did I tell you to love one another?”  I got it, God.  I got it.  I got it. I got it. No, we don’t “got it” or He would not have put the message of love as the common thread and command throughout the entire New Testament. 

 Love has been the message for the last two blog posts and, now, here it is again!  As I have written in the previous posts,  

”’You are a Christian.  This is what Christians do.’  It is not optional.  We love one another.

Family rule number one, number two, number three, number four, number five, number six, number seven…Love one another.”

Keep ‘that one thing’ in our view.  One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [#*@#*]”☺

When reading the bible, one cannot go very far without stumbling upon yet another scripture concerning love, why it’s important, what it looks like, and how to do it.  Since God is love, that is the one characteristic that we need to practice continually if we are going to grow to become more Christ like.  
In the Message translation, Philippians 1:9-11 says this,

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.  Learn to love appropriately.  You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.  Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus would be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.” 

I absolutely love the way this translates! Paul prays that our love will flourish, or grow luxuriantly, produce abundantly, lush in growth, richly abundant, profuse! Learning to love much is good but loving well is all the better!  Love appropriately…let your love be suitable to a particular person, condition, occasion, or place.  Don’t be moved by your emotions but use your head.  A lover’s life?  Everything you do should be motivated by love.  Be proactive about it.  Think about it.  Let your life be an example of it…a life Jesus would be proud of.  Your soul will prosper from living this way.  People will see Christ in you and want what you have!  This makes everything circle back for the glory of God.  All of this can happen if we only love much and love well!

God’s purpose for our lives is practically a flashing neon sign in the scriptures. Love. Love. Love… and then love some more.  How can we possibly miss it?  Yet we do, daily.  Just as we think we “got it”, we don’t “got it”. But daily He forgives us, daily He encourages us to try again, daily He gives us opportunities to practice it more, daily He gives us the grace we need to love like Him, daily He believes in us, just like we believe in our children.  If we didn’t believe in them, why would we bother repeating ourselves?  We know their potential.  We know God has a unique purpose for their lives.  God knows our potential and in order for us to walk in that unique purpose which He established before we were even born, we must learn to love much and love well.  With our eyes straight ahead, daily we must strive for a love that grows luxuriantly.  Love, love, and when you have done all you think you can, love some more.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day 16 - That One Thing

Watching movies is a hobby that I have enjoyed my entire life. I do not typically watch movies strictly as entertainment but I focus my attention and listen for its intrinsic message. It’s not always about seeing famous people, gazing upon beautiful faces, hearing the musical scores, or even the story line.  For me, I get wrapped up in good dialogue.  Maybe it’s the wordsmith in me, but I love a well-planted nugget of truth within the context of ordinary dialogue. What speaks to me most is when a movie has a memorable quote, which teaches a complicated life lesson in one simple comment that has been worked surreptitiously into the dialogue.  When this happens, something inside of me jumps and immediately tries to settle it into my permanent “favorite movie quotes bank”. The rest of evening I am usually rolling the thought through my mind to discern its truth and its application.

My most recent ones came to me last night during family movie time while watching Brave.  There were two that jumped right off the screen and into my thoughts for processing!  One came at the very beginning and the other came at the very last moment of the movie, which is often where that golden nugget can be found.  We hear Princess Merida say at the beginning, “ There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it."  Her final quote in the movie is, "Some say our destiny is tied to the land, as much a part of us as we are of it. Others say fate is woven together like a cloth, so that one's destiny intertwines with many others. It's the one thing we search for, or fight to change. Some never find it. But there are some who are led.” I am still chewing on this one!

One of these favorite, quotable nuggets came in the 80’s in the movie City Slickers.  Most of you probably remember it.  Mitch, Billy Crystal’s character, is out on the range with Curly, the rough cowboy who teaches the city slickers a thing or two about life.  

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [#*@#*]
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what *you* have to find out.

As I stated in the last post, we can’t say anything, or create anything, that has not already been done.  “That which has been is what will be.  That which is done is what will be done.  And there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new?’… it has already been done in ancient times before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9,10   Jesus looked at his followers, just like Curly did, and said in essence, “One thing. Just one thing.  You stick to that and the rest of it doesn’t matter.”  “’Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’  This is the most important, the first on the list.  But there is a second to the set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s law and the Prophets hangs from them.” Matthew 22:37-40  

 His disciples continued teaching "that one thing” throughout the New Testament.

The whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love others as you love yourself.’” Galatians 5:14

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6  

Love means living the way God commanded us to live.  As you have heard from the beginning, his command is this: Live a life of love.” 2 John 1:6

 “Let love be your greatest aim.” 1 Corinthians 14:1

 “Keep company with God and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us…Love like that.” Ephesians 5:2  I love that last line, "Love like that."....You see how Jesus did it?  Love like that, not cautious but extravagant.

On our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband gave me a continuous string of fresh water pearls that was at least 30 inches long. I can wrap it around my neck three times, leave it long, tie it in a knot or any other creative way that hits me.   I remember opening the package while we were seated at the restaurant and, as I pulled them out of the pouch, they just kept coming and coming and coming until my arm was straight above my head trying to hold them up in the air!  The next day I was telling a good friend about the pearls and she said with a smile on her face, "I just love it when a man can love extravagantly."  Extravagant means to exceed the limits of reason or necessity, profuse, lavish, lacking in moderation or restraint, excessive.  Does our love look like this?  Paul says, "Love like that."

Rick Warren says, “Life is all about love…its what matters most…. Because God is love, the most important lesson he wants you to learn on earth is how to love… It is in loving that we are most like Him.”  This is our purpose.  As we love others, we will discover our unique purpose, but love is our universal purpose.  It really is this simple:  Love God, love others.  Life boils down to this…. that one thing.  When we get to heaven, I doubt God will ask us what we got done, but He most likely will ask us how well did we love.  Don’t just find time, make time, squeeze time, or work in time to practice the skill of loving others, but make it a lifestyle, a part of who you are, that one thing that motivates everything you do. Its easier to keep your eyes straight ahead, and not get distracted looking to the left or to the right, when we only have “that one thing” in our view.

 One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [#*@#*]☺