Love Despite Flaws

I recently listened to a lecture regarding writing on family. He continually qualified everything he said with, “I love my family.” “I want to make it very clear that I do love my family.” “People often ask me how I can love my family”.

              I found this repeated declaration odd. It rarely occurs to me that some irritating trait or negative experience would cause me to question my affection for those I love. People are annoying. Relationships are difficult. People are flawed.

              The idea that we don’t love someone because we are open about their flaws, or that we don’t love someone despite any number of major blunders I find problematic. This can breed fear of losing a friend for even petty things.

I love my friends

I originally had written a much longer post, but as I wrote it turned into the substance of three or four. So finally, a short one.

I recently listened to a writers lecture regarding writing on family. He continually qualified everything he said with, “I love my family.” “I want to make it very clear that I do love my family.” “People often ask me how I can love my family”

                I found this repeated declaration odd. It rarely occurs to me that some irritating trait or negative experience would cause me to question my affection for those I love. People are annoying. Relationships are difficult. People are flawed.

                I would hate for my friends to question my devotion to them even when I may be telling them how annoying they are. I am saddened for people constantly qualifying devotion towards friends. I wish for honesty in love and confidence in loves commitment

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Friendship and The Lord of the Rings

              I have been in 7 weddings as a groomsman or best man (I regret it not being 8 as I declined once to be a best man due to travel difficulties). The last three weddings I have been in I always give the same speech. Below is a piece of it.

              In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring we follow the characters Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin as they are caught up in a journey to destroy the Ring of Power.

              Frodo is elected to take the Ring because of his relationship with Bilbo, the one who found the Ring and left it to him. Sam is found outside Frodo’s window when Gandalf is discussing with Frodo the journey and is tasked to go with him (though also with a full commitment of loyalty). The two of them run into Merry and Pippin stealing from farmer Maggots crop and are then caught up in the adventure as they are chased by the Nazgul.

              They sort of get caught up in this adventure by circumstance. JRR Tolkien tells a different story in the book. Frodo leaves the Shire with the ring under the guise of looking for Bilbo. Merry, Sam, and Pippin all choose to go. They all encounter the Nazgul together and find themselves at Brandyhall. Here Frodo had made up his mind to leave them and was figuring out how to tell them.

              Frodo is shocked to find they have ponies ready, everything packed and all are determined to go with. They knew he was leaving on some long journey. He is shocked again when they can tell him details of his journey about the ring he had kept hidden. His friends commend him that he had been careful. But they, being his close friends were with him and new him so well they saw all the little changes and hints that let them put it all together.

              Finally Merry speaks for all of them,

“It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you can keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo”

              The theme of friendship continues through the rest of the series. When I give a speech at weddings I add in bits bout a fellowship and “I can’t carry your burden but we can carry you” and so on and so forth with emotional things and strong analogies.

              But here we see a picture of friendship that we do not see very often anymore. Friends choose to give up their lives, their rest and good comfort, to help someone else in their specific journey. They knowingly face danger to help one carry a burden or finish a task. When I read the LOTR I don’t desire to be a Frodo, or Gandalf, or Aragorn – I wish to be a Merry, a Pippin, or a Sam.

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Key Issues and Direction of Future Posts

              Social media and the news pulls us in all directions. There seems to be an endless number of issues and it is a full time job just keeping up with issues without time spent changing them. I have several friends overwhelmed in complete distress over what to focus on. I always remind them the news is not to be our guideline for the issues we choose to respond to. Though it can give a pulse on what is going in the world they can easily take a statistical anomaly and make it appear to be a daily issue.

This distracts the Christian from responding to what they should. The Christian is called to take care of, those directly around them. The people they can directly impact. “give a cup of cold water to a little one” I attempt as often as possible to make my postings relevant to conversations I am having with those I am interacting with daily.

              I see five major issues affecting the church at large and my friends that I directly impact. Though I only wish to speak to four of these. They are “Calling and the will of God”, friendship, sexuality, dating, and social justice. Admittedly dating can be categorized under friendship, however, due to how much damage that it causes behind the curtain I believe it deserves its own section. The issue of social justice and political involvement is one I have an interest in but am behind on current trends and have not place to speak on it.

              Every young person, and by that I mean under 40, that I have talked to has struggled with understanding what they should do with their lives as well as how their lives are to impact the kingdom of God. When we understand the calling of God as it relates to every part of our life from how we dress, to food choices etc. it creates freedom, not stress, in serving Him.

              Social media primarily has affected friendships. Both in how it can undermine true community and how it encourages poor character such as petty-ness. I believe, outside of Christ himself, building solid friendship is the root solution to all other issues. Friendship supports all aspects of our life, calling, sexuality, dating, and our involvement in social justice.

              Sexuality has run rampant in culture and the church seems to still be undecided on how to respond. They oscillate between ‘sexuality as a single person’ and a near monastic lifestyle that encourages no thoughts of sex to complete freedom in marriage. Neither of these extremes are beneficial.

              Finally, I only know a handful of people undamaged by terrible dating choices. The amount of time lost to nights sobbing, stressing, playing games, or just wandering through romantic feelings lost is astounding. I wonder how much more we could do for the kingdom if we just fixed how we find a spouse.

              This is a brief summary of the issues I will be writing on over the next several months. What specific sub topics would you like to hear more about?

The Dating Disease

No one knows when the epidemic started. But it spread rapidly and was discovered all at once all over the world. It infected young and old and crossed international borders. The devastation broke up families, caused best friends to abandon each other, and un-measurable heartache. The dating game is now a disease and wrecks emotional havoc on the human heart.

This phenomenon is not unique to America. I have friends in Germany, Latin America, France, Japan, and even neutral Switzerland that all attest that dating is horrible. Symptoms include ghosting, bread crumming, one date willies, long drawn out breakups, repeated makeups, and more time spent analyzing symptoms than living.

Articles are starting to pop up with cures for the above list of dating symptoms. Most articles deal with avoiding the symptoms. These are not cures if you want fulfilling lifelong relationship. The only way to cure dating rather than avoid symptoms is with healthy platonic friendships. If you can find un-infected ones. The worst part is that the cure itself has its own issues.

Platonic friendships are infected by the transient delusional realities of social media and a consumer driven culture. Most communication happens through electronics. Interpersonal communication has mutated from an in-person eye to eye communication of events that requires intention and care, to the upload of a simple photo / or status share with no particular ‘friend’ in mind as the recipient. Without a specific intent, the communication becomes insignificant to a relationship.

Friends become commodities. A seemingly endless supply exists through dating apps / friendship apps, and the ease of adding someone on social media. One can try on friends like one tries on clothes. Don’t like how they respond to your complaints? There is that one acquaintance you had in high school you can meet again. Do they expect you to grow up and occasionally disagree with you? There is that other person you met at the bar last week. No permanence. No humility. No self-sacrifice to stick by your friends.

Friendships should be for life, at least a few of them. You should have a few friends that know everything, you intentionally make time for, plan trips with, bring up the difficult conversations, allow to call you out, and call them out. These types of relationships are difficult, time consuming and require you to sacrifice your own wants and needs for theirs.

The lack of these tightly connected relationships allows the infection of romantic relationships with the feelings and desire for support that should be held by lifetime friends. This emotional attachment is more than a dating relationship, or any romantic relationship, should bear on its own. The emotional attachment to an innately unstable relationship is what causes most of the pain in dating.

Each relationship needs to have an emotional, physical, and time commitment that is equal to its permanency. If the relationship has no permanency or commitment, don’t give up the emotional parts of yourself that are important. Is the friendship permanent? Then you should actively seek them out to share in person the important parts of your life.

A dating relationship is not permanent. When it is given the same amount of emotional and energy input as a permanent relationship, it causes the pain and sickness. The only way to make dating less painful, is to treat it like dating, and treat your best friends like best friends, with energy, intention, and dedicated love.

From belief to doubt to love part 1

From belief, to doubt to love part 2

I care deeply about people and want them to feel loved. One of my principle ways of doing this is thoughtful intentional listening and probing questions to help them open up. My goal was always to console past hurts and pains.

I had many experiences pouring time and energy into others in this way. I was always happy and joyous about the opportunity and saw the blessings and the fruit. It was a signature part of who I was and how I loved people. Then I met Eric.

Eric had previously been known to be a very happy go lucky energetic individual. Everyone on campus knew who he was. We had very opposite upbringings. He was raised mostly by a single mother from divorced parents just above poverty. I was raised by two married parents in a middle class home. However, we always respected each others point of view and enjoyed our conversations that stretched our previous beliefs. I was looking forward to my year with him as a roommate.

Unfortunately, the happy bubbly individual I had known went through an identity crisis and began wallowing in all of his childhood daddy and family issues. I was happy to help despite my own identity crisis where I was terrified of who I would become and that our conversations were rarely conducive to my sleep cycle.

He believed that he was a sham on the outside pretending to always happy. Now he was going to live in each moment honestly. He wanted so bad to have some sort of female affection. And many things like that. On several occasions I gave up what turned out to be a whole letter grade in order to spend time listening and sympathizing with him. Worth it.

I was falling into my own pit of depression, but still I made it a point to share in his life. A girl he had been good friends with had written him a letter saying he was sexy. Most of the conversation I do not remember, but this, “You know what she said, she thought I was sexy. Sexy? Me?” He was rather overweight. “She has a boyfriend and yet she has been my friend and encouraged me. She wrote me a note. The only bit of encouragement I have had all semester. No one else has tried to be a part of my life or encourage me or understands what I am going through.”

Of course not. Especially not the guy sitting across from you two hours past his bedtime who was in the middle of spiraling towards thoughts of suicide. Nope no one.

It was at that moment that I realized… People suck. People will suck you dry of all of your energy. Then, in return. They just sit there and do nothing. No growth. No life change. No progress. Just a black hole sucking up all of the attention.

My identity was wrapped up in my ability to help effect a positive change in others. I had always been able to be some sort of a blessings in others lives, regardless of how small. And now someone who I thought was going to be a close friend threw out all of my loving efforts. My care was rejected and the seed of doubt was planted. If they can just throw away all of the care and attention, why bother?

When Friendships in Christ Fail

I have this almost constant battle in my mind of what should happen, and what actually does. One of the most difficult for me is relationships with Christians that fall apart. Everything in me screams that we are supposed to love each other and that Christ at the center can fix it. I hate saying goodbye to anyone. And even years after I lose contact with a friend, I still think of them fondly, regardless of what brought about that change.

He came to set us free from our sins, and really it is our sins that break relationships because if we were all perfect, we would all get along. Even within the broken world I so desperately want my relationships with my fellow followers of Christ to be different. So at the recent loss of yet another close friend (I remember each and every close friend I have ‘lost’ to a relationship breakdown, and I think of them throughout the year) I must ask myself, what am I to do? I cannot make others happy. I cannot control their actions, so when they wish to leave, I must let them leave and live in peace. But how shall I respond.

At this moment, I cry. I cry because I see that is what Christ did. When I read the story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, I don’t believe that he was crying because his friend died. Christ new that he would raise Lazarus. Crying over his death doesn’t make sense.

Christ tells them that he is glad that he was not there in order that they may believe, and that his sickness would not end in death, but was for God’s Son to be glorified through it. Christ tells them that he is the resurrection and the life, and not that he is the life that will bring Lazarus back from the grave then, but eternal life for, “they will live even though they die.”

When he saw them weeping, even after he explained this, he began to weep. Not because he was sad for his friend, but because his dear children did not believe. They did not see the truth of life that he had brought. In a sense he is crying because his relationship with them was broken, or at least very childish. Rather than having belief in who he is, which is required of eternal life. So he weeps.

I may be stretching this exact passage a bit, but if we look at a lack of faith as being a broken, or at least immature relationship with Christ, and that is what Christ weeps over, then we to in being like God are to cry over broken relationships.

So, as I continue to wish that Christ would return and make all things right so that I can have wonderful perfect relationships with my friends, I do what I must now, which is cry my temporary loss of relationship with them.

Dating, worth it?

One of my friends and I were having a conversation about relationships recently.
“You know what will be great about heaven?” I said as I pointed out the hope, “when we get to heaven we will get to be friends with all of the ones we have lost or never had a chance to have along the way. And we will be perfect so no drama!”
“Yeah. And you know what else will be great about heaven? There won’t be any dating. Want to know how I know there won’t be dating? Because the Bible says there won’t be any weeping or gnashing of teeth.”
A while ago I talked about the question of, “Are people worth it?” which now I usually have decided that they are. However, now I often find myself asking, is dating worth it? I have seen few friends attempt the cultural oddity and come out unscathed. Most have had enough bad experiences that I do not need to focus on all the hurt pain and ‘darkness’ that can come with the territory.
Instead, in light of my last few posts on light and darkness, I want to share just a little hope. Hope that is there even with all the negative issues that may arise, and hope that can be applied to all relationships in which there is a loss—either from a broken relationships, friendship or other, or just after saying goodbye.
Idina Menzel is the wonderful singer that sings the hit song “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. (The irony of that song alongside dating is intended) As the first Disney princess I ever wanted to marry, when I found out she sung a lot of other songs I immediately looked them up. I found one song, “Better to Have Loved.” The song is marginal, but the lyrics are poignant. Better to, “fall into the earth for a trip into the sky.”
This song, though intended romantically, pushes forward the idea that the light is worth the darkness. That good in the world is always worth fighting through everything that is bad, and that we should do that good whenever possible. The good in the song being love, the bad being the loss of the object of affections.
I had a good conversation with another friend recently where he told me a story about the Christian musician, Keith Green. Keith Green, in reference to his wife, (paraphrase) “Even if I had never had the chance to marry her, I would have been thankful just for the opportunity I had to know her.”
The only change I would make (If the paraphrase is in fact correct) is that it is worth it to have the chance to love whomever it may be that we lose. It is not dependent upon who the other person is, but a thankfulness that we have the opportunity to love another. I am thankful for every instance I have had in which I am able to love any and all of my friends, past or present, here or there, whole or broken. Loving them is the good I love in and of itself.

Life Worth Living: Purple vs. Green

Life Worth Living: Purple vs Green part iii
In my last post I shared that it is only in God redeeming the world by loving us while we were still sinners that I may enjoy creation. However, this understanding is part of a struggle I deal with daily. I waft to and fro between believing it and acting on it with joy and peace, and despairing at the monotony of life. It God’s use of other people in the body of Christ that I have had the biggest move towards understanding his love and redemption.
I have a problem. I have a personal fear that all of my wrongs and mistakes will be held and accounted against me. It is not just wrongs within a certain incident and the time frame it takes to resolve it. I remember mistakes I made when I was five.
I went shopping with my mom one day, and as we were checking out I wanted to be helpful so I turned around to the people behind us and without asking began to try and move their groceries onto the conveyer belt. As I grabbed a loaf of bread and felt its softness squish just a little, I also felt a firm uncomfortable grasp around my arm as he stopped me from helping. He was angry. I felt awful for not asking. This memory will periodically pop into my head. Even now as I write this I feel some sense of regret over the incident.
I have one very close friend that I have had for many years. With this friend I share my heart. My hopes, fears and dreams. My friend both celebrates with my success, and mourns with me in my sorrow. Unfortunately I made a long series of sinful choices that hurt him/her deeply. My friend had every right to be angry, and cut off the relationship. However, I vividly remember, one late Saturday afternoon, as we both stood leaning up against my car, we talked. I was asked how I was doing, “Fine” I replied, then, “How are you really doing” I fought back tears as I confessed I was doing terribly. Throughout the conversation it became obvious I regretted and felt anguish over my decisions.
“You know I forgive you right? I was angry, and pissed, and I cried. But I forgive you. I don’t regret any of the decision I made, and I do not regret being friends with you. I still love you and forgive you.” At this point I began crying. It didn’t occur to me then, but this conversation changed my whole outlook. I have been forgiven by others. Yes. But not for as bad of choices and not one so well communicated and acted out. That friend stood in the face of my broken decision, accepted the pain, and then choose to act lovingly and keep no record of the wrong so as to be willing to still assume the best and continue in a friendship even though it means they will be hurt again.
In that moment I found freedom. Christ revealed himself through the body of Christ. My friend acted out the forgiveness of Christ for me. Now whenever regret overwhelms me, I remember God’s redemption through forgiveness, not just between God and man, but between men through Christ. This redemption and forgiveness of brokenness makes brokenness worth loving.
I can love life because love is perfect in brokenness.
With this story in mind, I think of one of my family friends, who loves the color purple. She is the one who loved mischievously in one of my previous posts. She is one of my good friends, and her whole family at that, I trust to stick by me no matter how weird I get. She isn’t perfect. She can be stubborn and a bit irritable at times, but I enjoy hanging out with her even when she isn’t acting perfectly. So as I ponder on Christ, and the family of Christ that teaches us and acts as Christ to us, I know exactly what color I would choose. Purple. Why? Because Ashley loves purple.

The Facebook Connection

                The Facebook Connection

                At one point, when I used Facebook I sent several dozen messages to friends at the end of a college semester encouraging them to stay strong. I also used it to keep in contact with friends that were far away. It worked like an email and I was able to encourage others while keeping up with them. However it has taken a turn. I find that most of the time when I send messages, there is either no response or a delayed one.

I don’t believe it is because anyone is ignoring me, or that they don’t like me. I find it to be because of the distraction of our current generation and the ADD. If the message is too long, or the response requires too much thought and time it takes second place to whatever else is going on. Then the business of life and the internet take over, and the relationships that are seeking real life interaction take second place to the thrill of online connection.

The thing about online conversations and connections is that the inhibitions of the brain do not kick in. People in general will release more information because  when you don’t see another person, you are not as worried about someone else thinking poorly of you etc. This is more prominent in chat conversations where it is quick and less thinking is involved. Even reading wall posts help people feel more connected with others when we read information. Furthermore the culture of the new and instant takes over, long messages are not nearly as important as the quick new details of other people.

                Also, people develop a habit of going to Facebook when they want to connect or fill a gap of loneliness. I was going into that habit to. So I got rid of mine. I have only had it active for about three days in the past two to three weeks, and I am thrilled. Whenever I want to connect with someone, or feel lonely, I call a friend. I arrange a real in person hang out and go do something. I am less distracted about wondering what is going on in people’s lives who I don’t see often and focus on the people I have a direct influence on.

                I am not saying Facebook is bad. I know many people who redeem it with encouragement and joy. However, I find that most people would be greatly benefited from having a Facebook fast. Don’t waste time on the internet, and invest it on others.

                This also means that I am trying to build this blog without Facebook, so please, tell your friends. Also, if you are redeeming Facebook, and you like anything that I have to say, recommend me. It helps.