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5 (Fruitful) Truths For (Imperfect) Friends

Friends sitting at table
Friends Who Fit Me

Even though no zig-zagged, half-heart BFF charm has ever graced my neck, I really love my friends. I’ve been given some great ones. Lately, I’ve been thinking how much my friends fit me.

I mean how they shape, form, fit and transform me. I’m learning. 

Truth #1: No one likes jealous, clingy friends. Enjoy a bunch of (imperfect) friends.

My jealous bone came out in 6th grade when my friend Jill spent the night at Teresa’s without me. I pouted. Then Mom’s sage advice clicked: being clingy will drive friends away.

If you think of yourself as a needy, leaky love tank waiting to be filled, you’ll probably stay that way. You won’t have many friends. Mom’s advice made sense and I stopped pouting and soon Jill – and Teresa- were both my friends.

But I still try to take mom’s advice to heart. I get it about how if you love someone, set them free and if they come back they’re yours and if they don’t they never were. That.

But I’m not too proud to say I need friends. A bunch of friends. Because no one soul can bear the load of me, and no one friend can meet all my needs. Friendships flourish when we don’t expect all from one. 

Paul knew this too. He had a big bunch of imperfect friends. 

Truth #2: No one outgrows the need for (imperfect) friends. Not even saints.

For the last month, I’ve been studying the last half of the last chapter of the last epistle that Saint Paul wrote. Paul who wrote the magnificent theology of Romans 8 and set the doctrinal record straight.

But do you know what was on Paul’s mind at the end of his life? His friends. His fickle, deserting, imperfect friends.

Paul ends his second letter to Timothy with mention of no fewer than 17 friends (18 if you count Timothy and 20+ if you count “the brothers”). Verses earlier, Paul wrote those triumphant words, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. He spoke about the crown of life  that the Lord would award him. You’d think that would be the end.

But it wasn’t.

Paul eagerly- desperately?-wanted to see his friends. Do your best to come to me soon…Luke alone is with me (4:9,11). Paul was a spiritual guy. He’d already been caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). He knew what it was to set his mind on things above and not on earthly things (Col. 3:2). 

And Paul really wanted to see his friends: Jesus- soon, Timothy- now.

Truth #3: You can love Jesus and (imperfect) friends. It makes both loves sweeter. 

John Stott explains how these two desires, to be with Jesus and to be with our friends, are not incompatible.

One sometimes meets super-spiritual people who claim that they never eel lonely and have no need for friends, for the companionship of Christ satisfies all their needs. But human friendship is the loving provision of God for mankind. (John Stott, Message, 120)

In other words, if you say you’re beyond the need for human friends- maybe because you’ve been burned by friends- you’re beyond the Bible. Paul had been burned. Paul was deserted by his friends at his first defense in Rome, but said, “May it not be counted against them!” (2 Tim. 4:16) 

(Have I mentioned yet that our friends won’t be perfect? That they will fail us even as we fail them. They will hurt us and we will hurt them. Count on it. There will be the giving and taking of wounds. But that needn’t end our friendships. It’s par for the course. In fact Jesus made Peter- as in Peter denied the Lord and cried Peter- his Rock to build his church.)

Commenting on Paul’s words at the end of 2 Timothy, John Piper clinches the point:

Don’t feel you must choose between the supreme love and delight you have in Jesus and the pleasures of Christian friends… The joy of a Christ-centered friendship is meant to magnify the worth of Christ as the common treasure of the friendship and this deepens the sweetness of the friendship.

Because maybe behind our choices, it’s God who chooses our friends. And because He does use (imperfect) friends who fail us to shape us into Christ’s faithful friends.

Truth #4: God shapes us through our (imperfect) friends. Welcome the rub. 

We are the friends we keep: the faithful and the unfaithful, the timid and the bold, the new and the old. We need them all. Failing friends, failing kids, failing wives can still be our friends- our  sweet friends, John Piper says. God brings them into our lives and they all play a part in the people we become.

God works in us through the friends he gives us.

A few weeks ago a friend told me how she’d asked another friend if there were any “blind spots” in her. That question is not for the faint of heart. But, if she could do it, I could too, and an hour later I asked her the same of me. What she said is another post and I’m not recommending you do the same. But I am suggesting that you have you’re close enough to others to feel loves frets and rubs– divine sandpaper on our rough spots, if you will.

Sometimes that hurts, but it need not be painful. Being with a soft-spoken friend helps me to speak more gently. Time with a big-hearted friend makes me want to be more generous. Being with a self-controlled friend makes it easier to skip bedtime snacks. Sanding me smooth. 

But most spiritual growth is slow. Sometimes we don’t recognize the tools. We might even ask, God, how are you actually working in me?

In Chapter 7 of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives this memorable answer. 

…[It] is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways...He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences…

Now here’s the kicker:

But above all, He works on us through each other… Men are mirrors, or ‘carriers’ of Christ to other men… That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important.

We need friends because they are one of God’s choice tools to transform us to be like Jesus.

Truth #5: (Imperfect) Friends fit us for heaven. And we are fit with them. 

As I write, we’re deep into the Advent season.  And the Advent is about preparing Him room. It’s about making space for the Savior.

But this year, as I shop and bake and wrap and read it’s dawning on me that Someone else is doing the lion’s share of preparing. For all the thoughtful stocking stuffing and gift wrapping he does, I don’t mean Jim.

All this while, Christ is preparing us, fitting us. He is rebuilding our ramshackle houses, transforming our stinky stables, and sanding our rough trim to make a fit throne room for the King.

The last line in Away in a Manger nails it: And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.

It strikes me that He might just be doing that through (imperfect) friends. 

In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:21-22

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For Poor Ornery People

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

John Jacob Niles.

Do you know that old Christmas folk song, I Wonder As I WanderDo you like it?

I never did.

But it’s growing on me.

Just Plain Ornery

Because far too often, I’m just plain ornery.  I turn grumpy and stubborn when my will is not done and impatient and harsh when my rules are crossed.  Other times I crave man’s praise and sulk when thanks doesn’t come. Sometimes my skin’s too thin and my heart’s too hard. That’s when I crumble into an ugly selfish heap.

I do.

In every case, poor and on’ry pretty well fits the bill. And there’s nothing like the Christmas rush to provoke ornery, at least in me. Which explains why I’m humming this tune a lot these days.

It fits me- I. I am prone to wander from the joyful obedience of faith and I feel it.

I simply am not naturally nice.

Driving in a Hard School?

Which is why I’m filled more and more with wonder anymore- in awe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Poor on’ry ones, maybe like you, for sure like me.

I’ve shared this quote before. But I stumbled on it again this week and let’s just say it was a Godsend  for this poor, on’ry mom to whom nice does not alway come easily.

If you are a nice  person- if Virtue comes easily to you- beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel…

But if you are a poor creature- poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels- saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion- nagged day in and day out be an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends – do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all- not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 10)

Is yours a wretched machine? Are you beset and tempted to sin, within and without? Poor and ornery? Keep on. God knows.

Known by God

Keep looking to Jesus. He knows. He’s familiar. Honestly, it’s why Jesus came. Christmas happened to show us that God not only knows us, He loves us. With great love.

He knows all about it. He knows our frame, David wrote. Which means, we are known. Paul slid that blessed truth in to build his don’t-be-led-astray case to the Galatians, but the clause is rich it could stand alone,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…

Known by God. The Father’s children are known by Him. And loved by him to boot. What could be better?

Maybe only  this one other thing: He came to buy back us poor ornery one with his blood. Someplace else  it says that Jesus, had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

To make propitiation. That’s New Testament fancy for atone for our sins. ForJesus the Savior did come for to die. 

Jesus the Savior did Come for to Die

Can you say good news of great joy?

God came to earth as one of us, like his brothers in every respect. He suffered when tempted and we will too. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

He’ll fling that old, wretched machine on the scrap heap and then we’ll forever be free from sorrow, free from sin. Restored, confirmed, strengthened and established. No more poor, ornery. The God of all grace will bring it to pass. 

So fight the good fight of faith. Resist the devil, firm in your faith. Do what you can. Repent of your sin. And keep on. Get back up. Don’t buy the lie that no one knows your struggle or pain. Or that no one cares.

You are known by God and He does care. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Jesus our Savior did come for to die. 

To save sinners. Including poor on’ry ones like you and like I.

 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

1 Timothy 1:15

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Ki-Bum: Joy Doubled And Hearts Wrung

I would give anything to have Ki-Bum just one more night. I miss him so much.

Granted, that’s from Gabe and Gabe’s our emotional one. But we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we both sob uncontrolled sobs. We all miss Ki-Bum.

I  can’t think of a single unkind thing he did. Even when he broke his fishing line and I got so mad at him, he forgave me right away. Or when Dad beat him at Slapjack every single time and he still wanted to keep playing. Or like when I offered him soggy Swiss Chard for lunch on his third day and he turned to the boys and asked, “You like?” They shook their heads and Ki-Bum smiled at me, then shook his head too.

He wasn’t fluent in English, but Ki-Bum understood. When I was feeling some heat for how I was enticing the boys to do summer school work, I asked if his Mom gave rewards to help him study, Ki-Bum shook his head again. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But I not study.”

Ki-Bum was humble too. Most afternoons we were home, like a model son, he’d settle with his math at the dining room table. And break to serenade us at the piano with Summer.

But, Mom, if you had brothers and cousins in WI would you want to still live in Korea?  Gabe wondered, when we’d caught our sobbing breaths.

How Much Love Can You Pack Into One Month?

Short answer: Way more than the 48.6 pounds of luggage- and Pringles and Nerd ropes and Nutella- Ki-Bum stuffed into his suitcase Friday. So much love his leaving hurts.

Long answer: So much that a passing glance at the rice (“bahp”) or Ramen (“Lah-myun”) in the cupboards and the chopsticks (“jeotgalak”) in the drawer chokes me up a bit. We all took a stab at our sticky rice and real Ramen-not soup- with those.

So much that the kings and pawns and a bishop and knight stand hallowed in state, days after the last checkmate. Series total: 18-2, Ki-Bum over Sam.

So much that Gabe won’t shoot HORSE or PIG with his friends because it reminds him too much of fun at the hoop with  Ki-Bum. It makes me too sad. 

That much love.

Joy Shared Is Joy Doubled

I’ve been so slow to learn this JOY lesson.  Still, I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my happy little joys private and Leave well enough alone.Then, by grace, the other side of my mind steps up and replies, Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!

Seeing our daily lives through Ki-Bum’s new eyes proved it again. Joy shared is joy doubled. Ki-Bum helped us enjoy common things more: meals together and “family-sized” ice cream, straw bales and fishing and even flat tires.

In four weeks we played more Sequence and chess, more rummy and ping-pong and spoons, took more bike rides than in the whole year before. There was more just-for-fun plunking at the piano and more lingering around the dinner table with more home-cooked dishes and more meals with friends and cousins and uncles and aunts.

To be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedroom over three-handed wars, more midnight games of slapjack and more waking up at ten AM than ever before.

But I think we grew a little more kind and courteous last month too. Maybe a little more Korean?

Regardless, Ki-Bum brought out our best and smoothed out our worst.

Only Some Other Friend Can Bring Out

We miss Ki-Bum and we miss the joy we shared with him. But there’s one more thing I miss:

Ki-Bum brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him.  I miss what we were when he was with us.

C.S. Lewis writes about that in the “Friendship” chapter of The Four Loves. He describes how he missed his good friend Charles Williams, and the way Williams changed what we’d call ” the dynamics” of the group of friends called the  “Inklings.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth,…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.” *

That’s what happened last month. Ki-Bum brought out sides of Sam and Gabe sides- that only a big brother like Ki-Bum could bring out. Gabe plunking Summer, and Sam turned Chessmate. And fun sides of Jim I don’t see much, and I suppose more domestic sides of me.

Ki-Bum, to borrow from Lewis, “augmented our loves.” That’s the third reason our hearts were wrung.

Wrung

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves, 

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

“I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him;…

If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

So be it. Ki-Bum was a hand-picked gift from God. Sure, the International 4H Exchange Team officially made the match, but God’s hand was in it. I wouldn’t have picked him on paper. But I’m so grateful we were matched.

When Ki-Bum’s profile came a month before we met, I remember what I thought. when I saw his age- 15 (16 Korean)- and thought, So much older than the boys. And when I saw his hobby list; shopping, comeputer [sic] games, webtoon, eating, listening music- Oh dear. I thought. A teenager who likes shopping and video games and webtoon- whatever that is. 

Oh, well- a month goes by fast.

Kamsahamnida- 감사합니다 -Thank you, Ki-Bum.

So fast. The days went slow but the month went fast. But I won’t let myself say, Too fast. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. But it’s so hard to sit loose, to keep open hands. But if our hearts need to be broken and He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it. 

So kamsahamnida,  Ki-Bum. Thank you. Thank you for leaving such a big hole in our hearts that we’re looking to only One who can fill it. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as our son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your kind, patient, courteous Korean heart to us wild Wallaces.

Kamsahamnida, Lord, for Ki-Bum.

So teach us to number our days  that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Psalm 90:12-14

Remainder of *paragraph reads: “Of course the scarcity of kindred souls – not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices – set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”

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As The Ruin Falls: A Poem For A Hot Mess

Are you a hot mess? A broken soul? Ruined and a wreck? Check, check, and check- all in the past two weeks, I’ve been. But there is a balm in Gilead. There is a poem for that.

But I am not a poet and- haiku and limericks, excepted- I do know it.

Still poems bowl me over in ways most prose can’t. A good poem cools a hot mess and soothes a broken soul.  A great poem kindles my heart and nourishes my spirit. The best of poems have undertones that you can’t quite name on the first read-through. I turn the page and say, I don’t get it all the way. But the words are tantalizing, and I return. I know it is there.

It was there, like that the poem,  As the Ruin Falls.

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

 

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love- a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

 

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

 

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains

You give me are more precious than all other gains.

C.S. Lewis, Poems, Edited by Walter Hooper

It was to these words I returned this week, as my ruins fell.

 

Let us not love in word or talk. (A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek.)

Like a partly-pieced puzzle left on the dining room table, I kept returning to those lines, trying to make more pieces fit. But turn the lines as I might, this line– And everything you are was making- would not conform to my prose-formed mind. Those words were an itch I couldn’t quite scratch, a word stuck on the tip of the tongue. I was deaf to its meter.

But I persisted. I kept going back to that poem until I could make the exquisite piece fit, until I could read that third stanza right.

I think it finally happened last night.

First, a word about stanzas one and two.  Because if we’re honest, we are here: fallen image-bearers, lost and ruined by the fall, all of us with pride-tainted, self-seeking, mix-motived love.  In our heart of hearts, we all know our flashy rhetoric about loving God- and his children too-sometimes feels like hollow, empty talk. A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek. 

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth, the beloved disciple wrote. Because words are cheap. Then, when friends correct us and break our rules or dare make us wait. Then our love-talk rings hollow. We see how much our love was all about us.

Yes, there is a gap.

 

I see the chasm. And everything you are was making

Now enter the third stanza. The one with tricky line with you are was above. Those words threw me and kept me coming back to decode.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

I see the chasm. Everything you are-was making my heart-into a bridge-by which I might get back from exile, and grow man. That’s it in prose. The -‘s mark the pauses as I read. Read like this, I think I finally understand what Lewis meant.

I see God, the God I say we love, the God who is love over the chasm of my self-seeking, separating sin. And once I see Him, I am undone. Like Isaiah, I see my unclean lips. Lips that speak lightly of love. Flashy rhetoric.

 

My heart a bridge…And now the bridge is breaking

Do you see what so long eluded me?

That everything you are was making, is God’s mercy? That He is folding all of our hot-mess wrecks to build a bridge back to him? The sooner we see that the crumbling bridge is meant to loosen our grip on the things of earth, the fitter and more free for both heaven and earth we’ll be. We’ll see that the Great I AM- Lewis’ YOU ARE – our God, HE IS working all things together for our good. 

Those broken dreams, that cancer, those tests were a bridge he built (then broke) to bring us back to him.

We see the measures God would take- and everything you are was making our heart a bridge to get back– to cleanse and reclaim us sinners ruined by the fall. He would remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. 

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

There is a hound of heaven.  There is  a Creator who reclaims his own lost and ruined by the fall from sin’s hard exile. Ruined sinners to reclaim is why Jesus Christ came. So yes to Mr. Tolkien: Everything sad will come untrue.  The Man of Sorrows makes all things new.

But denial of self and death to the flesh hurt. Ruin and pains come before everything sad comes untrue.

 

Pains more precious

Once we’re back to God, once our warfare is completed and we are reclaimed and remade new, we’re still this side of heaven. The bridge will break. In mercy,  He will shake us from the chains that bound us. And surgeries and getting old and broken dreams just might be the ruins falling.

But His love is in the crumbling ruin, too.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

The suffering that’s not worth comparing. The pain that builds in us a longing for a better place, where no moth and rust and thief destroy and where there is no crying or dying or heartache.

But we’ve got to be longing for that gain. We’ve got to be longing for his appearing and not looking back across the bridge to where the ruin fell.

 

Saints don’t look back

Lot’s wife looked back. Remember her, Jesus said in Luke 17:32. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  And in Luke 9:62 he warned, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Saints look forward. Hebrews 11:15  says, If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.

So, no. Saints don’t look back. The faithful  recognize these pains- of dying to self and slaying pride- as a saint’s growing pains. And they welcome them as a mother welcomes a baby’s kicks in her once barren womb. It’s Christ being  formed in you.

The ruin- even our ruin-must fall. As it falls, will we echo Saint Paul?

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Will we come to him and bless Him as the ruin falls?

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ’til you’re better
You will never come at all.

-Joseph Hart