What You Don’t See

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“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

– C.S. Lewis –


A friend and I were talking this week, pondering about how we view others. We decided that, much of the time, we don’t really see them.

Not the biggest piece of them, anyway.

I see only what I want to see, I suppose. The outside words and actions. Motions and syllables. Annoying things. Pleasing things.

Over and over, I condemn someone in my heart. Sometimes I assign a motivation to their bad behaviors. Other times, I keep my distance, because I just don’t want to get involved in their baggage. Judging, I judge myself.

Because, often, I do the exact same things I condemn others for doing.

A while back, I got irritated at someone for trying to tell me how to do something. I can do it myself, I inwardly argued. Don’t you think I’m smart enough to figure this out?

Of course, not long later, I was on the other side of the picture, making sure someone in my family knew exactly the right way to accomplish a task. Because obviously I am the sole Guardian of the Right Way to Do Everything.

What I condemned, I did myself.

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Romans 2:1-4 –

For some reason, I am so much easier on myself when it comes to sin — or even preferences — than I am on others. If I want to be bossy, fine. But far be it from you to try to be bossy. You shall rue the day.

But one day, a person you silently judged will open up to you in spite of your internal condemnation, and they will tell you a bigger story.

Oh, their sin won’t suddenly be okay, but you will see a much larger story than you imagined.

One day you will wake up and see that you didn’t see them before, not at all. You shouldn’t excuse sin, but your heart will be humbled by the knowledge that you probably wouldn’t do any better if you were in their shoes.

Instead of the cardboard cutout you thought they were, your eyes will open to a real, blood-pumping, soul-scarred human being, with all of the dozens of motivations, complexities, moods, circumstances and problems that you face in your own life.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

So, next time you get angry, next time you are wronged for the hundredth time, next time the flaws of another person shine through in all their terrible blatancy, remember.

You were an enemy. Yet still Jesus, very God of very God, died for you.

You were not lovely. But He took you anyway, to make you lovely.

You were not worthy. But He has made you an heir with Him.

The well-known literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird has this to say about our predisposition to judge:

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
― Harper Lee

Proverbs 8:13 pronounces it shameful to give an answer before the question has even been spoken. How much more foolish is it to pass sentence on the “wrongness” of those around us before we have even understood them?

Sin is not excusable. It never is.

But if God can step out of paradise to touch feeble dust-creatures with His glory, how much more can we extend His love to those around us.

Their worthiness is not the issue.

In truth, we can see ourselves in them, as if we were looking in a mirror. It is not that they are less bad. It is that we, when we truly see them, also see that we’re not as good as we’d like to think.

But our Savior is good.

So today, pray for grace to really see. When people inevitably rub you the wrong way, stop and look beyond your nearsighted perspective. What you find out may surprise you. It will most certainly bring you to your knees in humility and thankfulness for the mercy of our great God.

Oh Father, give us eyes to see those we meet. Our families — those most familiar to us, but so often still unseen. Our neighbors — those whom God has planted us beside. Our fellow church members — co-heirs of the grace in which we live abundantly. The great, unmet horde of unseen — those we never stop to see or hear or know.

Help me see those I meet as you see them. Needy. Flawed. And just as much a candidate for Your unearned love as I am.


“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

 

 

 

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Once They Were Friends

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When I was little, I laid on my bed many nights and cried into my pillow for a friend.

But things are different now. Somewhere along the line, God allowed so many dear ones to spring up along my path. Now, if I’m crying into my pillow, it is more likely to be about the friends that I used to have.

Nearly every one of you, I suspect, has lost a friend.

A move across the country. A new school. A marriage. An argument. A choice.

There are very few things that scar a heart as much as a discarded friendship.

I’ve felt it.

There is helplessness, when despite all your love, they still fade away. There is anger, because how dare she just leave, after all these years? And, sometimes, there is guilt, because she wasn’t the only one who walked away, or kept holding a grudge.

So, what do we do? Shrug it off and move on? Close ourselves up? Choose better friends? Try to never say anything that might ever offend anyone?

If you’re recovering from a friendship-gone-awry, here are a few things to remember.8de599e2752979482266eae519018a25

1. If you’ve tried your best to reconcile, that’s all you can do.

Whether it was her “fault” or yours, it doesn’t matter. If you need to go to her and apologize–or offer forgiveness–do it.

But after you’ve humbly sought to restore the relationship and she still won’t have anything to do with you, you can’t do anything else.

Strike that. You can pray.

I know. That helpless feeling creeps over you and it feels like a prayer might be the most powerless thing you can imagine.

After you’ve confessed your sin or humbly offered restoration, keep living. Move forward. If you have God’s forgiveness, you have what you need to go on. By His grace, your friend may one day see the truth. Or she may not.

But after you’ve done your best, it’s okay to go on with life.

2. Love her from afar.

I could tell you to forget about her.

But you spent nights laughing till 3 in the morning with her. You saw each other at your best and worst. She holds some of your deepest secrets and knows your wildest dreams. She shares some of your most-valued beliefs. You’ve giggled on long car rides with the stereo cranked up, singing along to your favorite CD.

You’ve shared so much love and life.

And now that she’s gone, you miss her. And you probably always will.

Several years ago, I lost one of my best friends. It was sudden, drastic, and final. She dropped off the face of my world, without even a word to me. Others in her life received her hate-filled, backstabbing, anger. I didn’t even get a “Goodbye, I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” I didn’t even rate high enough for that.

The past 6 years of silence have not dimmed my memory. I haven’t seen her at all. A few reports from other friends, a few added sorrows when I hear of the suffering her choices have caused. And you know what? I still love her desperately.

Maybe I don’t cry myself to sleep like I did when she first left. Maybe I’m not picking up the freshly-shattered pieces of trust. But deep in my chest is an ache that is still there. I think it will always be there.

I never got a chance to try for reconciliation. I may not even cross paths with her again. But I have spent the last 6 years loving her from afar, smiling at her memory, tearing up a little at the old pictures of us in our cowgirl hats and bandanas, with the little-girl innocence that we both somehow lost. I can get lost a long time in the photos of her clear eyes, wondering where it all went wrong, wondering why I didn’t notice she was slipping away.

You lost a friend. You may not be in her life anymore.

But don’t stop loving her. She still needs your prayers. And you also need something — you need the bittersweetness of the memories you made together. Don’t throw out the gift she made you, or toss out the photo album of you two together. God gave you those moments, and they were full and true and sweet. Remember them. Savor them, however short.

3. Don’t become like her.

If the end of the friendship was her doing — if you’ve done your best to make things right — then you have been wronged terribly.

Whether it began as a silly argument, a drastic misunderstanding, or a sudden change in her personality, don’t let the hurt she inflicted on you make you bitter.

Friends have shared with me about the lost relationships that still weigh them down. Whether you live 200 miles away or cross paths with your former friend every week, you will still hurt. You’ll have different challenges to sort through, but you are still an abandoned friend.

And it hurts dreadfully.

Often, she is hurting too. It’s not an excuse, but it is the truth. As much as you’ve been hurt, remember that she is a person too, with a complex life and maybe surprising reasons behind her betrayal.

Forgive her. Whatever the reason — big, or small, or completely unknown — forgive her. As you were forgiven all those terrible things that Christ bore for you with joy, forgive her.

4. Relationships are complicated and hard and heartbreaking — and worth it.

You may not want to try again.

Sometimes I get so weary of the hard work of communicating and navigating misunderstanding, that I just want to hide. “People are so complicated,” I mutter. “Life would be so simple without people.” While I’d never want to actually try life without others, sometimes it seems that there are endless troubles wherever there is more than one person involved. It’s enough to drive a girl crazy.

Don’t let the scars keep you from loving again.

Because there are true friends to be found. They will take effort, trust, maintenance, forgiveness, humility. But they exist.

Keep loving and reaching out. Friendship is worth it. So worth it.

Related Post: “Putting the ‘Forever’ in Friend”

5. When all else fails, Jesus knows.

I can say all sorts of true and sentimental things. But one thing remains.

He was having the worst night of his life. Off-the-charts stress. All His buddies were taking a nap when He needed their camaraderie the most. All except one.

That one was coming now, his pale face flickering in the approaching torch light. He was coming silently, standing between a pair of rough temple guards.

And that one friend walked straight up, mustered up his nerve, and kissed Him on the cheek.

Acclaimed writer Michael Card sings these words, words that resonate with everyone who has ever been betrayed:

“Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord?
Why did he use a kiss to show them?
That’s not what a kiss is for.

Only a friend can betray a friend.
A stranger has nothing to gain,
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain.”

– from “Why” by Michael Card.

So when my words run out, my encouragement fails to touch the depth of your hurt, my sharing in your loss echoes empty, this truth can hold you up.

Jesus knows.

 He is not an untouched Stranger, a heavenly man who felt none of our pain. He took it all, tried it all, died bearing it all.

And God took on flesh and bared his face to the mocking kiss of a man who played at morality for 3 years, who put on a role for his own gain, who lived moment after moment in traitorous, silent scoffing at the works of the Christ he claimed to believe.

“And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not”

– from “The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson

So when you’re crying, alone in your bed, remembering that one-time friend…this is all I have to say.

He is not untouched. He knows. And His ears never weary of hearing our cries. His arms never tire of pulling off our burdens.

Once they were friends. Now we only remember.

But one Friend never fails. And thank God — thank God! — for that firm foundation, that soul-anchor.

Because, now, I can love without fear. Whether it is returned or not.


 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:38-39, KJV –

 

Birth of Friendship

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“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…'”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves


We all know why the ugly duckling thought he was ugly.

We call it comparing apples and oranges, that way he measured himself by what he was not.  His fuzzy gray wings–turning white, made for soaring–would never resemble the gleaming, multi-colored plumage of the adult ducks. His ugly feathers made him fear that he would always be an outcast, fitting with neither the adults nor the adolescents. None of the other ducklings were gray. None of the others were turning, slowly, white. But his gloomy contrast to his fluffy yellow siblings was not a true comparison at all, was it? He was a swan, not a duck. When he saw swans skimming across the sky, he felt the connection–the call of the sleek birds that resonated within him.

That’s the grace of sameness, the gift of friendship. When God made us, He formed each of us into a distinct personality, complete with skills, expressions, desires, and a future than no other person shares in the exact way.

But, in the middle of this distinctiveness, He placed a capacity to belong. He sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). Not just biological families, but in groups of acceptance.

What if God had made us all to be loners, incapable of finding a true place to simply be?

Instead, He created a niche, a place where we could say “What? You too?” There’s another person who “gets me,” more of the same kind as me, people who accept that I am one of them. This sharing goes beyond external preferences to the inner person–there are people that, however different, still embrace and understand.

Of course, we’re all at different places. Just because God created us to be relational creatures doesn’t mean that relationships are pain-free, does it? I remember lying on my bed as a little girl, crying, because I just wanted a friend–a real friend. Some days even now, I ache for the far-away people I love, wishing I could just give them a hug or hear them laugh. In a curse-laden world, loneliness still happens. Estrangement still happens. Sin still separates.

And yet…

Yet, there is light in the dark, however fragile it may seem. With gospel-grace, some families cling together in redeemed relationships. Some friends still live out fifty years of fellowship, growing closer as the decades roll. Some marriages, bound together by the love of Christ, still endure till death truly parts. In a world where it is easy to get lost, we still have the hope of finding a home.

Some of you read this with sadness-you haven’t yet found a home as secure as that. Has God made you relational in vain? Has He given you a capacity that He will not satisfy?

For you there is a home–and a home for every one of us, whatever the state of our families or friendships!

Ultimately, your craving for a place was created to be filled by the Only True, Living God.

HE is your hiding place, the secure home where you can rest and be known fully. HE is the One who will take you in and be Father and Friend, the One who understands you because He made you like Himself.

We sons of earth all share an image, like a wax seal imprinted on our foreheads–a seal that proclaims “You are in the image of God.”

There is no surprise that we feel an affinity for one another–a bond unites us, the Signature of the same Artist.

And yet the greatest tie is between each of us and this Artist–and we discover that we were formed to be like Him. Like Him–not as omnipotent deities, but as living, feeling, eternal spirits with knowledge and capacity and ability to love. We were formed to be glorious replicas of Christ, on a smaller scale. But, oh, what we have done to mar the resemblance!

Still, do not fear. All is not lost. You and I are not doomed to search forever for belonging, only to find that no other says, “You too?”

Jesus stepped into a planet He made, walked on dirt that a breath of His could have turned into more men, touched plants that a single word of His could have cause to shoot up to the heavens or wither to the dust. He was not so “Other” that He was untouchable–He made himself touchable. And, in being touchable, He gave Himself over to still more vulnerable things: to the anguish of one friend turning another over to death, to the ridicule of such an unimpressive physical figure claiming equality with the High God, to betrayal from all, to being scarred.

How, how, how could a hunger-less God be faint with famishing pains in a desert? How could a God sweat anguish, first in the wilderness with the brine of humanity and then in a garden with His very blood? How can God have blood, have dependency on the rushing liquid trapped in narrow veins? How could God be Immanuel, with us? He came. Felt, hurt, bore–all this. For us.

Now, when we meet Him on the road, we look around in surprise and say, “What, you too?”

And He shows us the deep scars that can erase ours, and smiles. “I too.”

And then, as He sets His love on you, something changes. The sin of your heart breaks you and you run to Him. Something happens.

Whatever may come of human affairs–all the intricate, endless relational tangles–something truly remarkable has happened.

“Friendship is born at that moment.”

You’re not an ugly duckling anymore. You’ve found a place to belong. Free in all your God-planted individuality and gifting and unique opportunities, you don’t have to search for a nest. And with His two words “I too,” the bond of love pulls your heart into a family of God’s bought ones, siblings also adopted, twice-born, accepted.

You are home.


“You are not alone
I will always be with you
Even to the end



You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy



Do not be afraid
Nothing, nothing in the world
Can come between us now



You work so hard to wear yourself down
And you’re running like a rodeo clown
You’re smiling like you’re scared to death
You’re out of faith and all out of breath
You’re so afraid you’ve got nowhere left to go

Well, you are not alone….”

– Andrew Peterson, lyrics from “Rest Easy” –

Cedar-Lined Love

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“Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web ―


Today, in Part Two of my Practical Love Series, I take a moment to remember the incredible friendships that God has given to me. The Bible says that the greatest love is to lay down your life for a friend (John 15:13), and some of my friends have done that in an eminently practical way–they’ve made a hundred sacrifices, both small and huge, in order to bless me.

If you missed the first part of the series, please do go back and read Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart.

To my dear sisters who have stuck by me through the years and always inspire me to cling to Jesus in everything: This is for you.


I wasn’t there.

But I can see her.

Her long fingers—often busy plucking strings and wielding pens and stirring up biscuits and feeding sheep—glide along an old piece of varnished cedar. Old, but the two-toned wood gleams still.

Her eyes, those sea-foam green orbs that glisten when she tells me about her latest story idea, sparkle now too. She’s stayed up at night trying to dream up something for my birthday. Then she saw the wood. And she knew.

She knows me, the girl-woman she only sees at church. Knows that I truly care, maybe care more than most have dared to love her.

She knows that I understand the inner draw to characters, the unquenchable spark inside to tell a story. She knows that sharp words or cringing shyness or late-night discussions or you-are-totally-crazy looks won’t drive me away. She knows I’ll keep coming back, because God’s put me here, with her.

In a way, she’s my little sister. I thank God for the day He made our lives intersect.

So, in the weeks before my birthday, she scrounges around and finds a still-radiant piece of cedar and a sheet of smooth particle board and a couple old hinges and she pours her heart and love into crafting a treasure straight from her heart.

And, that Sunday at church, the week of my birthday, she gives me her heart-gift.

A lap-top writing desk.

“So you can write in the car,” she says. She bites her lip. “It’s not very good, I know.”

My throat swells and I want to shed tears right there. All I can do is hug her and keep saying thank you.

But my heart said so much more.

Inside, I marveled that somehow God had found for me a place in her heart.

I don’t love her perfectly. I don’t know how, all the time. For having spent twenty-one years in a world full of people, you would think I ought to understand them better.

She is the same way–with love in process, like mine.

Perhaps that is what made my heart swell with unshed tears that Sunday as I caressed the smoothed sides of the cedar lap desk. We both were unfinished, imperfect, not quite symmetrical–much like the dear box that she labored over. A friendship with a few loose nails, a few cracks that need filled with glue.

Remembering now, my heart has a joyful kind of ache, like the rise of a symphony’s crescendo.

My friend’s gift reminds me of the widow who put in her last pennies, or the woman who poured out her perfume, or the child who gave up his lunch to Jesus.

They gave all they had. Imperfect, perhaps. Sin-marred, yes. But, swelling from awakened hearts, the gifts were accepted. Jesus opened His arms with joy.

Those people were unfinished, imperfect, not quite symmetrical. They had a loose nails and cracks in need of filling. But Love does that–it covers and washes and purifies and finishes the less-than-complete, making it not just acceptable, but absolutely Perfect.

Maybe that’s why a small wooden box looks a lot like love to me. It’s not about the gift itself. It’s about a girl who let me see a little more of what love really is.

Something like a lump steals to my throat.

And, in my heart, something like redemption breaks into song.

If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

– 1 John 4:12-16, NKJV, emphasis mine –


 

How have your friends shown you the real meaning of love?

Comment below and share!

 


 

A super thank-you to Lisa Runnels at Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!