Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sister Chicks and Friendship

Dinner With Best Friends
When I open my laptop, I’m greeted by a picture of my sisters and me on our Sister Chick weekend earlier this month. What a treat to spend two and a half days with my best girlfriends! It’s been several years since we’ve all three been together, so we chose to meet in Ashland to celebrate our birthdays. We went to “Twelfth Night” in the Elizabethan theater, shopped, ate out, and pampered each other. But the best part was just being together - talking for hours about anything and everything. There was no schedule to keep or husbands or children to attend to.

Before we left, Dad innocently asked what we had planned besides the play. We laughed. We’re going to TALK! We live in three different cities and stay connected by phone, email, and occasional letters. But face to face time is rare. Yet our friendships stay strong because we make them a priority.

Interestingly enough, the greatest example of friendship in the Bible is between two men. David and Jonathan had a bond that went beyond the norm. They chose to bind themselves to each other for life. Their commitment was tested in every way – marriage and family commitments, King Saul’s developing hatred for David, physical dangers, rumors, and opportunities for personal gain. Yet they remained true. Even after Jonathan’s death, David showed his loyalty to Jonathan. Their example of friendship is one I want to emulate.

Laughter and Tears:During our trip, my sisters and I laughed a lot and cried a little. I treasure the laughter and silliness in my heart and the special memories, as well as the sad moments when we shared our heartaches. Authentic friendship takes time and a listening ear - two commodities which are in very short supply in our world.

I’m sure David and Jonathan laughed a lot over the years, but the depth of their dedication to each other is revealed by their tears (1Samuel chapter 20). Jonathan checks out the situation with his father and discovers Saul does intend to murder David, so he meets his friend secretly to warn him. Despite the danger, they reaffirm their commitment to each other and cry, not knowing if they will ever see each other again.

One of the reasons I love my sisters so much is they are such encouragers. We each have exciting things going on our lives but also many challenges. Sometimes, I get mired down and discouraged. Then my sister/friends come alongside and those challenges suddenly seem smaller. I strive to do the same for them. Praying together, sharing verses and insights, and venting in an atmosphere of trust sent each of us home with new courage and energy.

David and Jonathan encouraged each other repeatedly. They affirmed their commitment, exchanged gifts, did favors, defended each other, and listened while the other vented. My favorite verse about David and Jonathan, and my life verse is 1 Samuel 23:16, “Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” Jonathan didn’t go out against his father with an army to defend David (which might have split the kingdom and cost many lives). Neither did he try to bolster David with empty promises about how it would all work out. I imagine he listened while David poured out his fears and frustrations. Jonathan probably expressed a few of his own. Then they left it up to God. Jonathan helped David look to the only One who could help him through this mess, a habit that David continued even after Jonathan’s death.

Friendship is Personal:
My birthday was Tuesday. My parents sang to me on the message machine and both my sisters called. Kelly made me coffee in the morning, sent a rose at noon, presented me with a card when he got home, took me out for a romantic dinner, and treated me to cake and a foot rub when we got home. I received many happy wishes via text, email, and Facebook, and yet it was a very lonely day. Cyberspace cannot replace the physical presence of a friend. It seems silly to complain when Kelly spoils me so, but I missed having a friend who wanted to celebrate my birthday with me.

I know I’m not the only one who longs for this personal touch. In her article “Friendship Dilemma,” Marla Paul talks about her efforts to make new friends after moving to a new community. She attempted many of the same things I’ve tried – inviting women over or out, getting involved, and initiating conversations hoping for a “spark.” Her words echo my own feelings, “People were happy to get together when I called, but nobody ever called me. I was mystified, frustrated and lonely.”

Another gem from 1 Samuel 23:16 is that: “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David...” That speaks volumes. Saul was so jealous of David that he repeatedly took his army into the desert to find and kill him. Despite the danger (and the fact that he was next in line for the crown), Jonathan made an arduous journey into the desert to encourage his friend. He didn’t send a messenger with an encouraging note or a donkey loaded with food and supplies. He went to be with David in person.

Wisdom and Prayer:
Throughout my life, my parents and sisters have been wise and loyal counselors. All five of us have chosen to follow Christ and are bound by stronger-than-blood ties. I ask for their advice, because they do their best to base their answers on God’s truth, not popular opinion. With all of the talking, gift exchanges, fashion and makeup tips, meals, and such, my sisters and I ran out of time for an in-depth prayer time. Yet I know they are praying about the things we discussed together. Each morning as I lift them to the Lord, I remember their specific needs as well.

As for David and Jonathan, “The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained...” (1 Samuel 23:18). Eventually, friends have to go home. They have their own lives to live and families to care for. That’s why praying is so important! Prayers can get in where we can’t and penetrate barriers we cannot cross. That visit in the desert was the last time David and Jonathan ever saw each other. Jonathan and Saul were killed in battle and David eventually became king. But there’s no doubt in my mind that even though parted, they prayed for each other daily. God answered, giving each the courage and strength they needed to do the right thing.

There's so much to learn about friendship from David and Jonathan and I'm inspired to keep growing in this area. Even with a fantastic marriage partner (like mine), we need to nurture same sex friendships. God created us for relationships. When we make friendship a priority and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, He can inspire us in ways we could never imagine. As I sink my roots deeper into this coastal community, I look forward to building friendships with several like-minded women. I hope you find the friends you are looking for as well.

*If you want to read more about David and Jonathan’s story, you can find it in 1 Samuel chapters 18-23 and 2 Samuel 1.

(c) Beth Vice, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gentle On the Journey; Get on the Bus

My fabulous roomate Jan, and me
I've been  memorizing Philippians 4:4-9 for some time now. And the Spirit always stops me at verse five: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Does that grab you like it does me? I see two significant reasons for gentleness. First of all, the Lord is privy to everything we say, do, and even think. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to be gentle with His other children. As a believer, I don't see this as a threat, but a sweet reminder. Dad's around and I want to make Him proud of me.

Secondly, and the one I love most, is the security of having our Lord so near. He's got our back. We don't have to defend ourselves, prove our worth to anyone, or boast about our achievements. He is our Defender, our Creator, the only One we need to impress. So there’s no reason to be harsh or inconsiderate.

I saw that played out at this year’s Oregon Christian Writer's conference. In a profession where competition is fierce and we sometimes confuse what we do with who we are, I came home feeling blessed. This community of writers, all vying for success in the same arena, practiced gentleness. This was a terrific reminder to me as a member of the Body of Christ.

They gave us the bad news: the economy is depressed, publishers are going out of business, and our field is more competitive than ever. It reminded me of Erma Bombeck’s story of her son's first day of school. He said he didn't want to go back because it was too long and too hard.“Kid," she said, "you’ve just described life. Get on the bus.”

It's not just writers who have it hard though. As Christians, we realize our world is depressed, other believers are falling away from the Lord, and the competition for our souls is fierce. There are days when this life does feel like it's too long and too hard. But the eternal rewards are worth the effort. So every day, we choose to "get on the bus" and participate in this life of faith that requires our full attention.

Happily, there was also a pervading sense of encouragement at the writer's conference. Our leaders set the tone, reminding us that character is the most important part of the writing journey. The words and actions of those who have been at it a while said, "Let me help you grow and succeed." This also applies in the Church.
We who have been Christians for a while can reach out and encourage new believers. We're not in competition with each other, but want everyone to grow and be victorious. If we mentor and challenge with gentleness, remembering that our Lord is near, we can inspire one another even in tough times. What a great reminder this has been for me! I hope it speaks to you too.
(c) Beth Vice, 2010