Posts Tagged ‘Friendship’

friendsMy Facebook profile says that I have 353 friends. My LinkedIn profile claims 614 connections. I think we all know the number of true friends among those is barely double digits. I am thankful for many great relationships with colleagues past and present, with so many people from my years growing up in Winchester, Kentucky that I’m still in contact with, and with those other friends from churches and elsewhere gained along the way that are truly special people in my life.

There is a difference between being an acquaintance and being a friend. With acquaintances, you may go long periods of time without contact and be just fine with that. In fact, cold as it sounds, you can take or leave most acquaintances. You’re cordial when together and perhaps enjoy the company, but they really aren’t an ongoing part of your life, so if circumstances change and you never meet or cross paths again, it doesn’t really matter.

Friends, of course, are different. You think about friends and anticipate the next time you’ll be together. Friends build on histories together and have key events that get remembered, shared repeatedly, and woven into the fabric of their combined life story. Friends enjoy being together whether there is a lot of talk and chatter or whether there is mostly quiet. With friends, a good time isn’t defined by what happens as much as it is by who is present. Friends expect you to be yourself even with your oddities and shortcomings. Friends forgive you; they don’t hold grudges. Friends come to your aid of their own accord when you’re down or down on your luck. They give without any expectation of return. They comfort you, challenge you, defend you, encourage you. Friends make you laugh at life and at yourself. The thought of a good friend brings a smile to your face.

I count myself fortunate to have friends that go back to high school days. I may not see them in person very often, but Facebook has been an avenue of keeping those relationships alive. I’m thankful for friends I’ve had since college – relationships formed in that critical period of life that have withstood the test of time. I’m thankful for dear friends I’ve gained through churches where I’ve served on the ministerial staff or been a member. I’m thankful for the added bonus of some work relationships turning into friendships that outlive working together at a company. I’m thankful for those special, closest friends where conversations just seem to pick up wherever we left off regardless of how much time has separated our being together.

We don’t need a lot of friends in our lives, but we do need some. I am thankful for all the special people in my life that I call friend.

Thank you, God, for my friends.

AloneA few weeks ago I saw a Facebook post from someone I follow that read: “Whoever apologizes first is bravest. Whoever forgives first is strongest. Whoever forgets first is happiest.” A Web search will reveal other slight variations of the quote. I’m not sure to whom the quote should be attributed, but it’s wise regardless of its origin.

Relationships can be tricky. Obstacles arise and barriers get erected over time that can easily become permanent if we aren’t careful. We can become satisfied with the new normal of broken relationships, allowing them to continue because in one sense that is easier than trying to mend what is broken.

There is a cost that comes with broken relationships, however. The distrust, the ill will, the emotional toll of failing to forgive, and the distraction of living in the past rather than working together for a better future are just some of the costs of failing to be reconciled with others. It’s hard to imagine many (if any) scenarios where the cost is worth it.

I saw the above quote about the same time last month I finished reading again the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. After being sold into slavery by his older brothers, Joseph eventually revealed himself to his surprised and frightened brothers years later when Joseph was the #2 man in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power. The brothers were immediately terrified that Joseph might take revenge for their awful action from years earlier, but instead he forgave them, saw the good that God had worked in the midst of a bad situation, and was reconciled to his brothers.

You and I probably don’t have dramatic stories like Joseph to tell, but chances are good that we have some relationships in need of reconciliation. The damage may be due to the action of the other person. We may be perfectly justified in the eyes of the world for not having anything to do with others who have knowingly wronged or harmed us. The broken relationship may be between you and a (previous) friend, family member, coworker, neighbor, etc. But because continuing to reinforce barriers between yourself and others consumes time and energy best spent on other more positive endeavors, isn’t it better to put an end to such negative chapters and then move forward in a fresh way – if not for the benefit of the other person, at least for your own mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health? Isn’t that the more mature response, even if it requires you to swallow a little pride along the way? It may not be easy to do, but most worthwhile endeavors aren’t easy.

“Whoever apologizes first is bravest. Whoever forgives first is strongest. Whoever forgets first is happiest.”

Valary and Me

Valary and Me

I spent a wonderful few hours yesterday with a dear friend from high school, Valary.  Except for a recent class reunion, I don’t recall that we’ve crossed paths geographically since our graduation in 1975.  We’re connected online via Facebook, but with her living in California and me in Kentucky, opportunities to catch up in person just don’t happen.  So when we realized that we would both be visiting our hometown of Winchester, Kentucky at the same time, we carved out time to commandeer a booth at a local Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant.  Over 2.5 hours later, we thrilled the servers by finally leaving.

We talked about all kinds of things in our time of catching up yesterday, interrupted at least once every 10 minutes by the very… um… persistent servers wanting to check on us.  I could write several posts here from the insights shared in our conversation, but one in particular stands out to me.  In a nutshell, it is this:

We don’t know all the struggles and detailed personal history others experience in their lives – factors that are critical in understanding how people arrive at their current place in life – why they think, feel and act as they do.  Consequently, we often make wrong assumptions about others based on very limited information and understanding.  We see gaps in their story and fill in those gaps with our own wild imagination.  We have fill-in-the-blank relationships, and we fill in those blanks incorrectly way too often.

Instead of creating and acting on our wrong assumptions about others, wouldn’t it be better for us to take the time to hear directly from them so that we can better understand their story?  Don’t just make up something to fill in the blanks of other people’s lives.  Then them fill in those gaps of our understanding.

As Valary and I talked, I learned so much about her and others that shows how little I really knew going into yesterday’s conversation.  I can now appreciate her and those others even more than before because she has filled in some glaring blanks in my awareness.

There is too much misunderstanding and conflict around most us every day, both interpersonally and on a larger scale between groups and nations.  It is a shame that much of the conflict may stem not from the facts of a situation, but from wrong assumptions, suppositions and prejudices that negatively impact our response to others before we even know their true, whole story.

After talking for 2.5 hours to Valary at that restaurant booth, it’s safe to say I know her better than ever, and I appreciate her far more than ever, even though she’s been a friend for decades.  That’s what talking one-on-one with someone can do for us.  We need more of that.

Fill-in-the-blank relationships are dangerous.  We need others – especially the people themselves – to help us fill in those gaps in understanding.

Thank you, Valary, for that important reminder.  Godspeed.

Goodbyes Make My Throat HurtNote: I wrote the following on March 15 after a visit with a friend in the hospital, thinking that it would be the last time I saw him this side of heaven.  He defied the odds and remained with us for nearly two more months, allowing me the opportunity to visit him again.  Still, I share the following as originally written in memory of and with thankfulness for the friend whose funeral I just attended today.  He will be missed.

There have been very few times in my 56 years when I’ve had the chance to say a proper farewell to someone who was about to pass from this life to the next.  The first occasion was in the final days of my sweet sister’s life in 1995 before cancer took its toll.  I will always remember the private moment of being alone with her in her bedroom, holding her hand, telling her I loved her and how proud of her I was, and giving her a final kiss.  She couldn’t speak words back to me, but I know I saw a slight smile on her lips.  In the presence of others that weekend, she said, “Well, hello, Mamaw” – a reference to our grandmother who had passed away less than two months earlier, making us all wonder what she was experiencing as she transitioned between this life and the one to come.

Tonight I said goodbye to an older friend from church.  His life dramatically changed a matter of weeks ago with a diagnosis of leukemia and a series of medical incidents that abruptly took him from an active life to one coming quickly to an end.  My wife sent me a text on my way home from work telling me that we needed to go to the hospital when I got home because time was limited.

At the hospital, my friend was alert, lucid, engaged in meaningful conversation, and had a handshake with his right hand as strong as an ox, while his left laid lifeless – a recent development in his rapid physical deterioration.  In a moment like that, there is neither time nor reason to skirt the issue at hand, no sense in pretending you’ll see each other again in a few days, no reason to pray for healing or to give empty wishes of getting well.  In that moment, it is right and good to acknowledge that earthly life is nearing an end, and that it’s alright.  That is certainly what my friend was telling his visitors.

My friend has had a glimpse of what is in store for him once he passes from this life to the next.  What he has seen and heard and experienced in recent days as he has walked that fine line between this life and the next has given him absolute assurance of what is to come.  Instead of others trying to comfort him, he is the one spending his last days comforting and assuring others, providing hope, and anticipating a life eternal that is more beautiful and indescribable than he could place into words.  I believe in the reality of what he has seen and in the conversations he has had with Jesus to pave the path he must follow during his final days.  He is ready to go whenever his Lord takes him.

It was a holy moment to acknowledge in that final conversation the greatness of our God, our complete reliance on Him, and gratitude that we serve such a wonderful Savior.  It was gut-wrenching but important to tell him that I loved him, that he was a good man and that I had the deepest respect for him.  It was good to hear his kind words to me, recalling the time I asked him if he would be willing to serve as a deacon.  It was bittersweet to walk out the door saying goodbye, knowing I would not see him again this side of heaven, yet knowing that we both understood what I meant when I said, “I will see you again.”

As I think back on the 60 hours I’ve worked this week, on the many things done and undone on my task list, on how I spent my time, I am reminded that as wonderful and fulfilling as this life can be, this is but a shadow of something far more that we are meant to experience.  I left the hospital thinking, “Now that is reality.  That is important.  That is what this life should be about because ultimately this life is only a prelude to the eternal one to come.”

I am thankful for my friend.  I am thankful for his faith and how he demonstrated it in his final days.  I am thankful that I had a chance to say a proper goodbye.

As I write this looking at a screen blurred by tear-filled eyes, I will simply say “Until we meet again, my friend…”

Friends Take Care Of YouMy wife came home last Friday after more than two weeks of being in the hospital and rehab following knee-replacement surgery.  It so happened that I had to be heading out of town at the very hour she was checking out of rehab because I was scheduled to officiate at an out-of-town wedding for the weekend and the wedding rehearsal was just a few hours away.

Enter some wonderful friends.

First was our local friend, Darlene, who met Linda at rehab and brought Linda with all her belongings home and then stayed with her until Saturday, running errands, helping around the house, taking care of the dog and assisting Linda with tasks she is not able yet to do herself.  Linda was not (and is not) ready to be without assistance for a long period of time, and with me out of town, Darlene was a god-send those first 24 hours home.  Thank you, Darlene.

Then on Saturday, two of Linda’s lifelong friends from St. Louis drove to Louisville to spend Saturday until Tuesday with her.  Even though I was back from the wedding trip by mid-Sunday afternoon, Patty and Pam stayed until Tuesday cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, helping with physical therapy, dog-sitting, doing laundry, and laughing about past and present things that only friends with a long history can do.  Being able to spend that amount of time together was extremely rare for the three of them and a real help for Linda in every way – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Thank you, Patty and Pam, even though you didn’t take me up on my offer of paying you $1000 each to make everything in the over-stuffed freezers and refrigerator disappear.  (I fixed the sink you broke, by the way.  The bill is in the mail.)

We live in a busy, busy world with long to-do lists that are a challenge to complete even without interruptions.  How many of us are willing to take a major chunk out of time we could devote to our own to-do lists to be the kind of friend that Darlene, Patty and Pam have been to us in recent days, as well as several others who have brought or are scheduled to bring meals?  It’s a reminder to me that if I want to have friends like that, I need to be a friend like that.

I guess the title of this post is a misnomer because you can’t measure real friendship.  But you sure know it when you see it.