What Are True Friendships To You?

The past few weeks I’ve been thinking over friendships that I’ve had, the idea of best friends, close friends and the thousand+  friends/contacts I have on social media. I’ve lived primarily out of my passport country, the country of my birth, for over 11 years now. I clearly resonate far more with the younger generations, primarily Millenials, than I do with people my own age or just older than me. I have deep friends in the States still and keep in contact with a few on a regular, sometimes daily basis. I’m thankful for them. A couple of them have gone through the steps of recovery along with me and we continue on that journey together.

Last week I had two similar but distinctly different encounters with friends. One was over a phone call with a friend from the States-a friendship that we’ve had for many many years. The second was on an overnight camping trip here in the countryside with a friend that I have grown closer with the past seven years. After getting off the phone call I noticed something had changed, something was different. Actually it was a feeling that I had been there for a long time, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on what I was feeling. It wasn’t until I read an excerpt from a book by my favorite author, Henri Nouwen, that I could put words with my feelings. As Nouwen was visiting his family back in Holland after living abroad for so many years, he had this to say about his reunion with them, “The feeling of having become something of a stranger in my own family was strong throughout the whole day. I had not seen many of the people at the party for more than a decade. Our reunion made me realize how much had happened to them and to me, and made me sadly aware that I no longer know the soil on which we both stand.”*

That. That was the feeling I had been feeling that night as I hung up the phone. It was more than simply not being in the same culture, it was the notion that the ground in which we used to share commonality was eroded away into something different that I didn’t recognize. Not bad, simply different.

Contrast that with my closest friend apart from Iris. While camping we shared way too many laughs, and more than a few tears as we lived life out together raw and untamed. Our emotions and thoughts intersected as we talked about Jesus, coffee, camping, pain, the beautiful mountains we were in, family, cafe design, beer, and the Bible. There was a common ground, a common struggle and a common core belief that we shared. There is freedom for listening with no need for feedback  as well as freedom for pushback and disagreement. This was relationship at it’s core, and I am so very thankful.

I don’t believe that someone has to go through the exact same thing you have gone through, nor has to be older than you in order for them to understand you better. Though I believe everyone is uniquely made and does go through pain that as a total, is unique to them, I also believe that that same person is able find others who can identify with those same struggles and joys they have when looking at a small group or even a society of other people. Meaning, I believe we are not alone in our struggles nor our joys, that God has people around us who can walk with us and can identify with what we are going through. This is what I experience in true friendship and this is what I seek out.

This isn’t so much a call to action post as it is me simply sharing with you my own growth and learning of who I am in Christ. The friendships I seek out and desire are ones that are life giving and leading me to that end. I will say that part of that also involves pain as we are still people and we will disappoint each other. But, walking through the pain and seeing how that leads to peace and joy, it is worth it. As I was caught in a moment of reflection on that this week, maybe you may be encouraged to reflect on your friendships as well. And may God help you to be incredibly aware of His presence in and among them.

be blessed today

*”The Road To Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey” by Henri Nouwen.

Photo Credit:  me 🙂
Advertisements

What Does Your Future Hinge On?

I grew up when the home computer was becoming popular and accessible.  My parents first purchased a computer when my brother was in high school to keep better track of the books for our family farm. It had a green screen, no color. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying a good game of Test Drive.

In high school, there was one game I thoroughly loved though it frustrated me to death. “Myst graphic adventure puzzle,” as it’s called, was a game I was addicted to. Trying to figure out why in the world you were in this place; how to get from one place to another- it was so puzzling it made my head hurt. Yet, it was so intriguing that it captivated my attention. Why was it so frustrating? Oh, let me count the ways. It would often happen that as I would play, I would get pretty far down the game, only to realize that I was stuck. Why? Because I passed up a button, or turned a lever the wrong way 2 hours before and had to therefore go all the way back in order to move on and finish the game (a feat I was never able to do without a cheat book or sheet). This is probably why I haven’t really played video games in the last 15 years.

I’ve written before about my tendency to future trip. It’s part of my default, my way of escaping, my way of controlling–to future trip and try to come up with every possible situation so that I am prepared for whatever comes. Those of us who future trip know that you never fully know what is to come and therefore end up getting blindsided at some point. Or, perhaps by future tripping, we get stuck in the fantastical situation with villans, plots both major and minor, and in the end we defeat the enemy and become the conquering hero. But it is all fantasy. It’s things that have not come to fruition or realization and therefore, my emotional investment in it, let alone my time, is worthless.

Well, at least I have the tendency to live that way. And it sucks. It hurts. It causes anxiety, worry and grave concern. It definitely does not bring out the best in me, and I would assume, it doesn’t bring out the best in others around me either. This is control at it’s worst.

When it comes to over-working towards the future,  CJ Casciotta writes in his short book “Branding is for Cows. Belonging is for People,” that “It turns out the cost does not come close to justifying the kind of Return on Investment we were hoping for, because the investment we were hoping for was fixed on the future, at the neglect of the present. It was 100% focused on doing without any regard to ‘belonging.'” Neglecting family and friends now in hopes for a great future for all of you together,  just doesn’t add up. We’ll never see a return on that investment. This can also be seen in future tripping. At times my thought is that if I can control the future, then life will be better and easier. The problem is that we can’t ever, fully, completely, totally control every single thing in our future.And in order for me to actually try to control everything to that extent, will only push away everyone I love around me.

People get sick, pass away and lose their jobs. There are wars, economic down turns and factories close. We can’t change these things and we definitely can’t control them. And if we focus all of our energies on these things in hopes that there will be no chance for a misstep in the future, we have sadly missed out on the life that was being lived around us the whole time. We missed out on belonging. When we missed out on the present and focused on the future, we realize that the future we wanted won’t happen because we forget about everyone around us along the way. Perhaps the future we wanted may very well be living out in the present around us…we just can’t see it.

Jesus warned us of this danger by simply stating “don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.” He was showing us that this way of life isn’t good for us. He was gently reminding us to simply trust in him. How simple yet so very hard.

For me, I realized that for too long I was running my life as if I was playing a computer game, a game of Myst-constantly doing, trying to get to the next thing, all the while disengaged with what was going on around me. Disengaged with the present has caused me to overlook Iris or important things to her that she values, time with my children or what they are excited about, even missing God in the moment because I was too busy thinking about next week. With the exception that Myst is not reality, the only difference between it and my life is that in life I can’t go back to change things. But I can chose to change things from this moment forward. We are given that opportunity thousands of times a day.

Do I chose trust every single moment or every single day? Nope. I don’t. I downward spiral into the “what ifs” and scramble and hustle for control. Just yesterday I did it and had to go make amends with a friend. I’m thankful for their grace towards me. It is a constant, continual choice to trust in Him, to believe in Him. God invites us on the journey of self awareness and of God awareness. Engagement is the only way that happens. May we all choose engagement for this moment, this day.

be blessed today

Photo Credit

Are You Feeling Like You’re In Exile?

I try to share from my heart, things I’ve read, things I’ve experienced, not to preach at or down to anyone but simply to say “I’ve been through this, maybe you’ve gone through or are going through something similar. Let’s walk the path together.” At least, that’s my hope. Sharing our stories, I’ve found, brings freedom, enlivens us who are despairing and equips us to continue on this journey with Christ in this world. Many have done this with me over the years, and I am so thankful for them. It may sound cliche, but I honestly don’t know where I would be right now if it hadn’t been for the countless people who continue to walk alongside me.

There have been a couple times where, even though I had that group of people, I felt as though I were in exile. That group of people that supports me, prays for me, listens to me and gently helps me see where the Spirit is in the midst of my struggle, most of those people don’t live close to me. Technology affords me the ability to interact and engage with them. And, for that, I’m thankful. But there is something to be said about having people nearby. I mean physically near by, close enough to have a face to face cup of coffee or commune over a micro brew. To be able to see the body language, eye contact and the occasional hug speak make up a conversation so much more than just a dialog made up of words.

Exile, or the feeling of exile, is hard. The feeling that the world as you know it is against you. Perceived or real, it’s hard, it’s sad, it’s a horrible feeling of aloneness. Two years ago was such a year for Iris and I. I felt alone, in exile, with no one truly understanding what I was feeling and what I was perceiving. There were one or two people who were physically there to listen and be with me in that. But, most of “my people” where thousands of miles away so very distant from what was going on in my world. Yet, God still had them in my life. I felt alone but I never felt abandoned. For almost a year, it seemed as though my exile was increasing in intensity. Iris and I had each other and we had our people, but that feeling of being in exile, an outcast and rejected was there and more overpowering than my people at times.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in exile, abandoned, on the edge of civilization when in fact I am being pressed to the center…where God is. social-icons-01

I was journaling one day and decided to draw out what I was feeling. I later recounted to my spiritual director the image I had so crudely drawn. I was on top a hill, looking out to the valley and the village by the sea. But I was surrounded by forest in every direction, fog settling in and no clearly marked path. I saw the village, a Zion maybe, but I had no earthly idea how to get from where I was to that place. I felt like I was in exile. I could have chosen certain paths to remove myself, my family from the pain I was feeling (quit, slander, gossip, etc), but that would not get me to that village by the sea I drew. Instead, Iris and I continued to follow God’s leading by staying in the fog, moving ever so slowly down the hill. I felt as though I was in exile, abandoned on the edge of civilization when in fact I was being pressed to the center where God was. I was being pressed into deeper communion with Him.

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet and novelist William Faulkner once wrote “It’s hard believing, but disaster seems to be good for people.” Everyday we are given a set of choices from rolling over and hitting snooze to whether we should run that red light because it will get us somewhere faster. Some choices are bigger than others and what may seem small to one person may be a monumental decision to another. And the same holds true for those moments we are in disaster, in exile or in crisis.

We are given choices as to how to work through, move forward or simply engage with the situation we find ourselves in. When we are in exile, again perceived or real, it feels like a catastrophic disaster. But it is in those times we have a choice to either allow ourselves to be pressed to the center where God is, or to excuse ourselves from stepping deeper into Him. Some times this is pressing into the exile, sometimes it is accepting and sitting in it and sometimes it is removing ourselves from it. Depends on what God is leading you to do.

Whatever He is leading, if we are being pressed to the center where He is, we will never be abandoned, crushed or destroyed. That is a true promise of His. I’d like to say that in that time of exile that I followed His leading in every choice, but you know that’s not true. I am a fallen human saved by grace. But I can say that in the times that I did follow His leading I was never alone. I still had my people that God had so divinely and timely placed in my path, no matter how close or far away they were. And regardless of them, Jesus was always present. Maybe He wasn’t revealing everything He was doing at one time, but He was guiding my next footsteps even if it was one at a time. After a long time of leaning into the exile and sitting in it, He led us out of it. But it was hard. It was depleting.

I say all of this to simply share a bit of my journey and past. Not from a desire for someone to look at me and say “oh look at this holy chap.” No, I am the worst of these. I share this for those who might feel as though they’re in exile that you may know you are not alone. Others have gone done a similar path and were not crushed, abandoned nor destroyed. My prayer is that you won’t be either. He is a God of peace.

be blessed today

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/

Are You Savoring the Finer Things in Life?

I like watching the food channel on tv. To me its up there with design shows both fashion and homes-it always amazes me what people can come up in their creativity. Seriously. Watch anyone of those shows and I’ll bet you can list off at least 30 different ways you can make a hamburger differently. Or what someone can do with a couple yards of fabric draped just so, over someones body. Or how a simple piece of wood can become an original, one of a kind piece of art in a home. It is amazing. As I have grown in my hobby turned profession as a coffee roaster and barista, I have also come to enjoy the fine subtle flavors of food and drink. I’ve come to appreciate craft made delicacies. I’ve also come to understand what the word “savory” means. It’s the richness or lushness of a particular food, that’s the savory aspect that I’ve come to appreciate and desire. Savory food is something to be savored-enjoyed, slowly in all of it’s complexity.

Last month I was gone for a week traveling with a friend through the Gobi Desert, the lower mountains and the massive sand dunes of Mongolia. I was so very thankful for this trip as it not only gave me the opportunity to see some incredible landscape, but also to spend time with my friend. A couple of days later, after returning and getting back into life, Iris and I were sitting down talking one night. “I’m so glad you’re back, I really missed you,” she said. “It’s not that I didn’t have a good time without you I did. And, it’s not like I couldn’t have enjoyed my time without you present. I could. It’s just that……I don’t know, It’s just that it seems…..it seems that life is more savory with you than when you’re not here,” she continued.

Savory. Not flavorful…though that is probably also true as I tend to be a little more crazy than  her. No, savory is what she said. But savory is the aromatics, the herbs, the right blend of spices that leaves that enjoyable flavor that keeps you coming back for more. Life is more savory. I guess savory could be a word used towards a work of art as well. There is something that is pleasing when looking at art, something that catches your eye and holds you fast to it. I, for one, enjoy Monet’s paintings as they are pleasant to my eye. The brush strokes, the somewhat muted colors, it is relaxing and peaceful to me. But in regards to something holding me fast, where I can’t move and, yes, even brought to tears…..Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. It draws me in to all of it’s subtleties.

And I guess that is where I have landed with this place, this world, this life. This world is just not savory without Christ in it. Or, perhaps, life seems to be bland if I don’t have the savoriness of Jesus enhancing or even adding to the beauty that is creation. It’s black and white instead of in technicolor. It’s muted somehow. It’s like eating “dry toast…no butter, no jam, just dry” to quote a line from the highly theological My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Savoring isn’t just the “finer things” in life….it is life itself.

Today, I sat down to finish this post. I usually write my posts a few days (or weeks) in advance and do a simple edit the day I post them. But as I was thinking about this one today, I was trying to figure out what made today so savory. It came down to relationship. Not just relationship with “my people” be it face to face or via some app on my phone, it didn’t matter, it was simply relationship that made my day savory. Of course the whole day wasn’t savory…traffic, traffic isn’t savory at all. But the time in the car talking to a friend while in traffic, that was savory. Lingering, which I’ve written about before. To savor. As with anything, I’m learning that there is always something to be thankful for and now I’m learning that there is a savory part of life because of Christ that I’m beginning to become aware of. What is it about today that made it savory for you? Just curious.

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: here