Monday, May 30, 2005

What Makes A Good Friend?

This is something I have been thinking about lately as I realize one of the most important callings in my life is to be a friend. I have been in the habit of befriending those whom I am naturally attracted to and letting relationships ebb and flow as life takes me to different places and circumstances and changes swirl around me – never too sentimental about people as they come and go in my life. But in the past year or two I have been challenged to be more intentional about things that are important to me, and I realize that good friendships are made, not the result of a series of fortunate events. Growing and maintaining a friendship requires time, effort, generosity, vulnerability…but wait, I am getting ahead of myself. At a recent home group meeting, we put together a short list of what makes a good friend and I thought I would share the results with you. Here they are:

- Depth of honesty
- Unconditional love
- Faithfulness
- Good counsel
- Fun
- Enjoyable company
- Generous and sharing
- Believes in you
- Would lend you their jeans
- Present in your life on a consistent basis
- Shares your joy
- Has a similar outlook
- Respects your values, and you theirs
- Is real
- Listens
- You can be yourself around them
- Unguarded
- Friend of God
- Friend to the needy
- Dependable
- Someone who protects
- Someone who knows you
- Welcoming, open, accepting
- Sticks with you
- Always on your side
- Gives things up for you
- Defends you

We all love having good friends, but how good of a friend are we? True, selfless, friendship, like the kind David and Jonathan exemplified in the Bible, is very inconvenient (you can read about it in 1 Samuel beginning with chapter 18). Jonathan gave up his right to become king for the sake of his friend. Jonathan risked his life for the safety of his friend. Jonathan put the relationship with his family at risk for the sake of his friend. The words used to describe the bond between them sound strangely like marriage vows and have made more than a few people uncomfortable with their intimate nature. I believe that discomfort reveals a lot about how little we know about this quality of friendship.

I have often expressed a desire to be a friend of God but will readily admit that most of the time I am dumbfounded as to how to get there. Something I heard our friend Mike say when we were in New York really struck me. “If you know how to be a friend, you know how to stay connected to God, because that’s what it looks like: friendship.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Things People Say

We just returned from 4 days in New York City, a sort of mini-vacation that was a gift from the folks in our church who were wise enough to know that a change of pace can do wonders for your soul. While we were there the news was filled with talk about a story put out by Newsweek that mentioned US troops flushing the Koran down the toilet as a tactic to get some prisoners to talk. The story incited some rioting in Afghanistan and 17 people ended up dead. The sad part is that the report turned out to be unsubstantiated and the incident most likely never happened. So who is to blame for the 17 deaths? Primarily the radicals who got violent and directly caused the rioting, but the reporters and publishers are not without blame. The thing that saddens me about today’s media is that while believing they have the freedom to inform and influence, they do not seem to want to take the responsibility for the weight their words carry. Someone’s right to know or tell all is supposedly more important than any effect that information might have.

I have had the misfortune of saying things to people in an unwise and untimely manner and having them tell me later that those words haunted them for years and years. Man, someone just tell me when I say something inappropriate so that I can apologize! Just this week I heard a young man talk about his parents fighting a lot when he was growing up, and one day, in frustration, his dad said to him, “Don’t ever let a woman control you!” Those words became a curse that, along with some other factors, drove him into a homosexual lifestyle that it took him 10 years to break free from.

I have trapped myself in many restrictive patterns by creating a prison with my words: I can’t swim. I don’t speak French. I don’t like living here. I am not interested in politics. I don’t drink or dance. I don’t have what it takes to do that. I don’t have the money. I am NOT like my sister. I don’t eat meat. I hate that song. Let me tell you about that one. Yes, every time I heard “My Heart Will Go On” from The Titanic, I used to say, “I hate that song.” Then I had to accompany some young performers at a festival who were singing that very song and I had the hardest time learning the piece, even though it is not a difficult one. After a day of frustrating rehearsal, I finally repented of my words and attitude towards it because that was keeping me from doing what I love to do: helping and supporting kids in the arts. And after that, I tried to be more careful about the things I said and the opinions I developed and expressed regarding the people and situations and music and movies and all manner of things I encountered on a day to day basis. On the other side of the coin, I have been accused of not having an opinion or not expressing it, and perhaps I am a bit too cautious in this regard, but I daresay it is a healthy caution most of the time. Words can change things, and I want to handle them responsibly.

I have heard many people say they hate George Bush. I flinch every time I hear that. Not only is it totally averse to the character of Jesus (love your enemies, remember?), but I do believe hatred clouds people’s ability to see clearly in that specific area.

On a positive note, I have told people some very simple things (“be good,” or “you will do well”) that have become their motto and given them the confidence to complete a difficult task. I still remember the words my father spoke to me as a gangly, awkward teenager struggling through puberty (“You are becoming a beautiful woman”). Those words had much to do in building the healthy self-image I carry with me today. I have made it a point to avoid using words like “stupid,” “idiot,” “moron,” “ugly” or any other terms that will hack at someone’s self-worth. Causing someone to feel inadequate is never funny. Truth can be painful, but it is never mean.


Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, God.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Something people don't like to talk about:

I have recurring dreams about being naked. Many times I am in public, often I am trying to take a shower and people are watching or won't give me any privacy, and though the dream might begin with my feeling confident and secure, it usually ends with shame and frustration getting the better part of me. Now, if you are a professional psychoanalyst, I am sure you have a ready diagnosis, but let me offer a few observations of my own.

Despite being a somewhat shy person, I have little trouble revealing some very private things when I think there is a point to be made. I have shared these dreams with people on several occasions, and there are always two reactions.

1. People listen politely and then pretend they never heard it. And if I bring it up again, they either change the topic or leave the conversation. There are some things people are just not comfortable talking about.


2. A few people respond by taking me aside (for some reason it has always been men) and wanting to speak to me about their own disturbing dreams regarding sexual matters. Ugh! My dreaming about nakedness seems to make them think I am qualified to hear all about their deviant desires. I kindly but firmly direct them to a male counselor as quickly as possible.

Avoidance or perversion can't be the only two responses! So what's the big deal about nakedness? Mankind is naturally naked. We were created naked, in fact, this was our perfect state! Covering the body only became necessary after sin and guilt and shame entered the equation. Isn't it strange that we have managed to turn this 'cloak of shame' into not only a huge industry, but an art form of sorts, a status indicator, and a national obsession? So what was the original intent of clothing? Plain and simple, it was a symbol of our need to have our sinfulness covered in the presence of a holy God. The first people tried to make due with a few leaves, but God replaced their inadequate covering with something more appropriate: animal skins. Blood had to be shed to cover the effects of sin. I am not going to get into the ethics of leather and natural versus man-made fabrics. Suffice it to say that we have come a long way since those first hairy tunics. Much of today's fashion exhibits a sort of dichotomy in that it covers to some extent while at the same time tries to reveal. Unfortunately, nakedness has come to be equated with sexuality and I believe that is just so far from the truth.

Because of our seedy history, the naked body has lost its innocence, that is true, but there is still something about the human form that is inherently beautiful. Some artists have found a way to see and represent that without perversion, but it is admittedly a most difficult thing to portray with purity, especially in adults. In babies or children, we acknowledge it much more readily. Most of us Christians, though proclaiming to be redeemed from sin, still live with the effects of it every day, and quite comfortably. We have grown accustomed to the trappings associated with our downfall. We actually enjoy acquiring and wearing clothes. Many people derive their living from the field of medicine and pharmaceuticals and count on sickness being around for a long time in order to feed their families. The justice system does not stamp out crime, but merely attempts to manage it in such a way that society can continue to function.

So are we to accept the effects of sin or chafe against them as if they were bondage? I think for the most part, we have simply grown tired of the effort required to truly believe and live in redemption. It is much easier to embrace things as they are and really, they aren't all that bad, right? That's the first lie.

So what do my naked dreams mean? I believe they are a cry for innocence, a desire to be known as the person God created, to be free from shame and the man-made coverings that promise to make me more attractive to my fellow sinners, and to be able to confess and come clean with dignity and confidence that righteousness is really possible.

I don't think the world is ready for Christians everywhere to strip off their clothes (we are certainly not purehearted enough to handle it!) and I am not advocating joining the nearest nudist colony, but I think it is time to stop running and hiding like Adam and Eve did.

Monday, May 02, 2005

What a Girl Wants...

  • to be known for who I am
  • to laugh without hesitancy and cry without shame
  • to love without selfishness
  • to embrace pleasure and suffering with equal courage
  • to know someone very different than I am and not feel the need to compare or judge
  • to be needed by someone and know I make a difference in their lives
  • to be truthful and confident
  • to be loved even when I am unlovely
  • to give good gifts of lasting value
  • to be with people and not afraid of rejection
  • to be alone and not lonely
  • to be special and know it
  • to explore and be explored
  • to be held close