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You Have Been My Friend: When A Friend Moves Away

Two friends moving day
My friend Cathe and me.

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.

-E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

She writes fiction very well. I write nonfiction not so well.

My Friend Cathe

But my friend Cathe is the one who called me up after reading a post one summer dayand said, “Abigail, there’s something wrong.”

I braced for the worst. Because one thing I love about Cathe is that she speaks the truth. She’s gracious and discrete. And direct and sincere.

So I prepared to hear, “You’re too long-winded, dear. Your message gets lost in your words.” Both true, still true.

But that’s not what I head. Instead Cathe said, “That post you just wrote was good. More people need should see this. I think you need a website.”

But my friend didn’t stop there. Cathe hooked me up with her website host, then took time from her writing with real deadlines to walk me through the nuts and bolts of my little website design.

Earnest Counsel

Proverbs 27 says, Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. It’s true.

As we were loading in the van last night Cathe leaned in- not to talk to me but to my 15-year-old son. “Sam,” she started, “I have some advice about girls. Mind if I share?” We both stared at Cathe, rapt.

Find a girl with a cheerful disposition, she said. I like that. Because the moodier seem to grow moodier still. Sage advice, and kind.

You can see, Cathe doesn’t waste words. She uses them kindly and well.

The Sweetness of a Friend

It was Cathe who broke the ice after a month of estrangement from church, and asked, “Abigail, want to join the Thursday group?” I did. And with 3 week old Gabe in tow I joined the ladies in Cathe’s home over Cathe’s magic carrot nut muffins and spicy sweet tea.

Now 13 years later, I lead “the Thursday group.” It goes on with new faces and a handful of good old, including Cathe, though lately we meet via Zoom.

But after 20 years in our local life, as I write, Cathe is moving away. Last night, Jim, the boys and I got to help fill the U-Haul to its squid-ly brim. Totes, bins, washer, dryer and (Yes, Pat.) even the big brown sofa fit in.

Cathe is candid with herself too. I heard that last night. When she looked toward the sunset, maybe a little wistfully, and said,

“You know, Abigail, heaven is described as a city.

Because Cathe is a country girl, even more than me. So as my friend makes her way to a big city in Minnesota today, I’m back in the country thanking God for her- a friend who goes and chokes me up when she moves.

My tears come, in part and probably a selfish part, because I realize that Cathe is a keeper of my story. She has a valuable perspective on my life that I don’t have. She sees me in a way I can’t.

Friends, the Keepers of Our Stories

While Cathe is a gifted weaver of made-up story threads, she took a few minutes away from loading bins last night to tell some of my own real story threads. Threads that can get all tangled up in my head.

Like the one about how we came for dinner almost 20 years ago. After dinner, her tween son who knew that Jim and had been married a while and still didn’t have kids, leaned in and asked,

Hey mom, are you sure the Wallace’s know how?”

But Cathe also remembers the Sunday in November 2005 when we walked in to church holding our son, fresh from Korea. And how on a Sunday one year later, there was a collective, congregational gasp as my sister announced, “Abigail is expecting in June.”

Then, next June when Gabe was just a baby, Cathe broke silence and breached a tender subject. She broke that ice and welcomed me to the ladies’ study that met in her home.

Cathe has shared some of her precious story threads with me. They’re not mine to tell. But I do want to say, Cathe, that watching you endure with joy spurs me to do the same.

You Have Been My Friend

You know I’ll miss your real hugs and earnest counsel and practical kindness. And, as a keeper of my story, I will miss you because you know- and keep- my story so well.

Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being a keeper of my story the last two decades. I’ll miss you on Sundays and Thursdays and I’m excited to see how God writes this next chapter in yours.

Cathe, you have been my friend. That, in itself, is a tremendous thing.

Thank you.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Sunset on moving night with friend
Unfiltered view last night
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My 3 Non-Negotiables for Health & Peace in COVID-19 Days

Woman with COVID-19 Mask and virus

I’m lost. Going from so busy to no busy is harder than I thought, Jan wrote. I’m struggling to find any rhythm or routine these COVID-19 days.

Don’t Waste These COVID-19 Days

I feel Jan’s pain. Two weeks ago we were sent home-kids with their Chromebooks and teachers with their lesson plans- for God knows how long. The days feel different from before, but all the same.

Oh, it’s Thursday? I thought it was Tuesday, my fourteen year-old said.

So this post is for Jan and me and all of us who want to find healthy, new shelter-at-home routines.

It’s for all of us who don’t want to waste these COVID-19 days.

My 3 Non-Negotiables Each Day

I’ll share those three healthy, stabilizing habits in a minute.

But the first and last word on health has got to be grace.

For in Him we live and move and have our being. Because He is our life and the length of our days. And His word has given us life. (Acts 17:28, Deuteronomy 30:20, Psalm 119:50)

Because any measure of health is a gift from God.

Because the LORD forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases, redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:3-4)

So what are we to do when the foundations are shaken? How do we live in these confusing COVID-19 days?

Well, our God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). So here are my three: three means of grace to find the health and peace we so crave in these turbulent days.

1. Get Physical

The body is . . . for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  –1 Corinthians 6:13

Move your body. Exercise- outside if you can. Because God made our bodies and he made them to move. And- guess what?-he made them to feel good when they do. We weren’t made to stay put, even during these shelter-at-home days.

David Mathis explains in a recent message to Christian fitness buffs.

With the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, and the smartphone in 2007, many of us are still coming to grips with how sedentary human life has become. But this has not always been so. God made us to move, and to do so vigorously. And he wired our brains to need it, reward it, and reinforce it. Exercise makes happier humans, and God made humans to be happy — in him — with bodily movement being an assistant, rather than adversary, to our joy.

Regular human movement has been assumed throughout history, but the innovations and seeming progress of modern life have made a sedentary lifestyle more normal than ever before. Perhaps we’ve never needed to state the obvious about regular bodily movement and “bodily training” as much as we do today.

Lady biking during COVID-19

We get this- the dogs of the world are making out like bandits with all our extra walks. Still, I predict Weight-Watchers will go gangbusters. Because many of us have never had so much food stored up. Nor, I suspect, has the temptation to emotional eating ever been greater.

But getting physical doesn’t just mean walking or biking. My husband’s job is “non-essential” these days. He’s cleaned the garage and chopped lots of wood. Friends are cleaning drawers and sanding tables. That’s work-moving the body. It counts.

So let’s get physical. Because physical training is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8). It’s God’s gift and healthy habit #1.

2. Be Social

Let us…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10: 25

No joke: I’ve phone-called and Face-timed more in the last week than in the six months combined. Yesterday was extra-social: 2 phone dates, 1 Zoom Lifegroup, 1 FaceTime call and 2 6-foot distant visits with my neighbors.

Every single contact was encouraging. And all provided much needed perspective. Each one was a real time was to give and receive love.

Rhythms For Quarantine

Justin Whitmel Earley provides Spiritual Rhythms For Quarantine, four habits that create household patterns of stability and hope in a time of distraction, upheaval and fear.

About Gather Safely, he writes,

Friendship is the lifeblood of the soul. We were made for community, and without it, we wither.

Christian community is the primary place where we process our anxieties and preach the good news of Jesus to each other. While now is a time where we absolutely must significantly alter the way we meet, we must not give up small and safe gatherings, even if that means we have to connect by digital means. These times will either be some of the most rich because of the ways we lean into community, or they will be some of the most despairing because…we fail to [meet]. 

Social isolation is dangerous. But a sweet friendship refreshes the soul. So phone a friend. That’s healthy habit #2.

3. Feed Your Soul

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 42

Social distancing does not apply to God. COVID days or not, God’s call to us is the same: Draw near (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22). Christ calls us to come to him every single day.

Honestly, this non-negotiable is the one I negotiate the most. It’s the one most likely to get squeezed out. Exercise and the friendship have immediate effects- endorphins from exercise and encouragement from friends. They make me feel good in the moment.

But of spending time with my Father who is unseen takes faith. Because I don’t always feel the perks right away. But blessed are those who hear these words of mine and obey them (Luke 11:28).

As if to drive that point home, it just so happened that Mary and Martha were in my daily reading today. Remember them?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better thing, which will not be taken away from her.”

Am I the only one these days tempted to keep checking the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 interactive map? I’ve checked it twice since I sat down to write. The numbers are still going up: 116,505 confirmed cases in the US and 8 deaths in Milwaukee.

And Martha was anxious and distracted by many things too.

Choose The Better Thing

So if we need any reminder of non-negotiable #3- enter Mary. Mary, who chose the better thing that cannot be taken from her. She could have been distracted by the same things Martha was, but Mary chose the better thing.

The better thing was sitting and listening to the Lord Jesus, caring for her soul. Yes, I’m naturally Martha. But by grace these days, I’m becoming Mary – choosing the better thing. Seeking God in the Word and prayer: that is healthy habit #3.

A while back, my friend Jen gave me some good advice about parenting our new teen. Her words have been echoing in my ears: Teach him to care for himself. Don’t tell him what to do. Instead, ask him how he can care for his physical, social and spiritual health each day.

Will you take her advice? Care for your body, your friends, and your soul. Make those non-negotiables.

If you do, you won’t waste these COVID-19 days. Or any days.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31

Recommended and Related:

Author Amanda Barratt wrote a thoughtful piece about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even though his social distance was kept in a Nazi prison camp, his non-negotiables were the same. Care for your body, your neighbor, your soul.

For the most part, his days were spent alone. He organized his time, dividing it between reading, writing letters, working on various writing projects, and exercising, both in his cell and for a half hour every day in the prison courtyard. 

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Known: Why This Knowledge Matters Most

Known gifts

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that he knows me.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Gevalia Gold Coast coffee, dark-chocolate covered almonds, and Downton Abbey CDs.

Two friends recently gifted me with these. Then came the rush.

Do you know this rush?

The Joy of being Known

It’s the same rush I felt when my friend Jen nailed my game clue. “Fleeting” wasn’t too veiled for Jen, because she knows how much I love sunsets.

It doesn’t matter if you know the game. What matters is someone else playing the game knows you. When that happens, there’s that rush.

It’s the surge of joy, of feeling loved, that comes from being known. I felt it last night, too when my friend Jen guessed my card right, in a Dixit game where it pays to be known.

But there’s a flip side.

The Pain of being Unknown

Back to gifts for a minute. My favorite gifts are not the ones that cost most. They’re the ones that show that the giver of the gift knows me. I mean knows me.

Which probably has something to do with the fact that most of the gifts I give are far from a perfect fit. I’ve given plenty of duds: whole-bean coffee to friends with no grinder or who don’t even drink coffee and milk chocolate to those who much prefer dark. Then there are the musical mismatches I’ve made. Just because I like I folksy, hymnsy doesn’t mean my friends do.

Recalling those poorly chosen gifts makes me cringe because I know how some gifts I’ve received have hurt my own fragile little feelings. I won’t tell you which ones. Let’s just say how I felt opening them was probably how someone with a deadly nut allergy would feel if a good friend made him a very special peanut-butter cup birthday cake.

Painful.

But it’s not only gifts. Questions sometimes do this too.

When Questions Miss the Mark, or the Heart

We all long to be really known and truly loved.

I think the reason misfit gifts hurt us is that they reveal that we are not really known, at least not as much as we thought, or wish, we were.

But sometimes gifts show us that we’re not and sometimes well-intentioned questions miss the mark. They miss our hearts.

Like when a friend asks about your work but it’s your kids that are heavy on your heart. Or when she inquires about your sore knee, but really it’s a trouble at work that that’s got you losing sleep.

Failure to read minds is no fault. Credit goes to any friend who gives a gift or cares enough to ask.

Still, when gifts and questions miss, we’re disappointed. Because deep down we want to be known and the misses show we’re not. And since we can’t love something we don’t know, feeling unknown often leaves us feeling unloved.

But maybe you’ve got secrets that you don’t want known, because if they really knew you, they wouldn’t love you.

The One Who Matters Most Knows Most

Maybe it’s not so much that you want to be known as that you’re afraid that if you really are- if you stop hiding- you won’t know love. And you’ve been hiding your “stuff” from everyone.

But Jesus sees it. Which is actually a good thing.

The person who matters most knows most. The person whose judgment about you is all important knows all. Let that sink in. You are totally known. Totally. There is not the slightest part of your heart unknown to Jesus, at this hour, and every hour.

Therefore, there is always at least one person you must relate to who knows everything about you. You may be able to look at others in the face and know that they do not know certain things about you. This shapes your relationship. But there is one who when you look him in the face sees totally through you. If you relate to him at all, you relate as one utterly laid bare. Utterly known. What an amazing relationship!

There is one, and only one, who actually and totally knows you. Nobody else even comes close. Your spouse’s knowledge of you, or your best friend’s knowledge of you, compares to Jesus’s knowledge of you is like first-grade math to quantum mechanics. You are fully known by one person — Jesus Christ.

John Piper sermon, “He Knew What was in a Man,” bolding added.

Yes, do. Let that truth sink in.

Known By God

This truth grips me: that my God knows me. I am known infinitely better than even my husband and best friends know me.

Here’s some proof:

  • “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3)
  • “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22–23)
  • “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:9)
  • “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

It blows my mind to think we can know the Holy, Almighty God. It blows my mind more to think that He wants to know me.

Which might suggest that He loves me.

What Matters Supremely

J.I. Packer wrote Knowing God two years before I was born, but I missed it till now. I’ll close with this wise man’s wise words.

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me.

I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16].

I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me.

I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me.

He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge.

There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.

There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

Certainly, there is great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and I am glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough).

There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose.

Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 36-37, emphasis added.

Do you feel the rush now? I hope you do. Because you are fully known and deeply loved by the One who matters most. You are never out of his mind.

In fact, He even wants you as His friend.

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 25:14

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Do you? Rejoice with Those who Rejoice?

Woman skeptical of friend's new dress

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

In the span of two hours, they came. Bing-bing, bing-bing.

First, the text: Please pray- my brother was just in a hit and run. Taken by Flight for Life. Might be head injuries and for sure broken bones. Please, just pray. I moan- I can’t help but moan and wince in pain- and pray.

Next, the post: One more pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, was how a cousin’s pregnancy announcement came.  No, even at 43, the empty womb hasn’t said, “enough.” Still, I push, Congrats on such a precious gift! 

Then: It was one year ago this weekend that we lost our baby. I was only 12 weeks along, but I can’t stop thinking about her. The tears just stream. Instantly, my own eyes water. I can’t help but hug this friend.

Last: I just started at my dream job this week, she said with glee. In fact, the board actually created the position for me. It’s a perfect fit. I swallow hard, My job is not a perfect fit. Especially not this weekStill.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Natural or Supernatural?

Is it easy for you? I mean, rejoicing with those who rejoice? Does that empathy come naturally?

For many of us, it’s the weeping part that’s easy.  After all, it’s a rare person who is not touched by the sight of someone in distress.

But sharing others’ joy can be hard, especially if their success is right near our wheelhouse- or would-be wheelhouse. I admit: when ugly envy besets me, it suffocates my joy-sharing empathy.

John Piper details several reasons we might not rejoice with those who rejoice. And rock bottom for most of us with this problem is the life-choking weed of pride. Because the self-preoccupied- whether with disappointment and hurt or with a sense of superiority- find it hard to rejoice in another’s success.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains why so many of us find it harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep.

Because the one rejoicing has probably had a great success or bit of good fortune. Then this element of competition comes in…. It’s innate within human nature. We want to become high and great and important. It is one of the main things that happened to man after the Fall: he became proud and self-centered…

And so we find it easy to sympathize with people who are not successful. They are not in competition with us. We feel we are in a better position. We’re up and they’re down, so we can afford to weep with them. It’s more or less natural.

Yes, for me the weeping part is natural. It’s the other that’s supernatural.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

If you can’t feel the joy?

Fake it till you make it might not sound like sage spiritual advice. But I think it might be.

For so much of my own spiritual stretching has been related to those times I’m called not only to do, but to feel a certain way and I can’t seem to feel it- like joy.

At those times, I return to this practical advice from C.S. LewisWhat are [you] to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.  

Rejoicing doesn’t always feel like 100% authentic Abigail. Rejoicing with those who rejoice can feel like pretending. The joyful kind of empathic love doesn’t always come naturally. We know that the natural is opposed to the spiritual, that the flesh and the spirit conflict.

So no matter if sharing the joy doesn’t feel natural. God’s rule is simple: Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. Don’t waste time worrying if you feel the joy. Do not worry if it feels artificial to smile and say abouthis huge new house, or her wedding gown or his all-star son- That’s great!

Saying it might feel fake. But that’s okay. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

A Very Fine Nature

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success. What Oscar Wilde- a paragon, by the way, of a natural, self-preoccupied life- called a “very fine nature,” I call a  “new creation.”

You’re absolutely right: No one can ever do this for himself. No natural man cannot do this. Only the new creation can. It’s only as we work out while the Spirit works in that we can genuinely share the joy.

It’s only by grace through faith in Christ that I’m able to set aside my hurt and disappointment and pride so I can rejoice with those who are rejoice in things that aren’t mine.

Or are they? Can others’ joys be mine?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones again,

One trademark of our faith is that we are members of the same family and the same body. Nothing can happen to them unless it happens to you. When one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it [1 Cor. 12:26]. Whatever happens to the other  is really happening to you. The body cannot be divided into segments that are not connected. No, no- the body is one and organic and whole. An infection in the little toe can soon cause a headache.

When we show the joy, we might be surprised to find our friends’ joy really does become ours.

But who ever said anything about the Christian life being easy? Who ever guaranteed no growing pains? 

Not the Apostle Paul. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Cor. 15:10). In fact, I’ve heard it said, that there is not more thorough test of our profession of the Christian faith than just this, that we:

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Joy Comes

Back to bing-bing #4. Remember that conversation with the friend who just landed that highly-satisfying, custom-fit job? I smiled, leaned in and asked,

So can you show me some of your work?

She did. She took me to an amazing website she’d built. And it was. It was a perfect fit for her passion and skill.

Then by some miracle of grace, it came. Genuine joy- the feeling not just the showing- welled up in me and I really did,

Rejoice with those who rejoice.