The Best Friendship In The World

Three friends together laughing
You can listen to a podcast of this post at Keep On with Abigail Wallace.

I am a mess of unfinished business. I feel pangs of “in process-ness” every single day. Not that I have attained or been made perfect, Paul said. But if there is anything true, lovely or admirable about me, odds are it was shaped by my friends.

The truth is, I wouldn’t be me without my friends.

God Grows Us Through Our Friends

But spiritually, as physically, we can’t usually see growth happen. Discouraged, we ask: God, how are you working in me?

If you’ve ever wondered about how exactly God does work in you, here’s a great 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 […] But above all, He works on us through each other…

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 7

God works in us through our friends.

Our Friends, God’s Grace

God uses their hugs to love and heal us, their words to convict and encourage us. God transforms us through our friends. Christian friendships are a means of grace.

If the phrase “means of grace” is new to you, it refers to the ways in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to make us more like Christ. We can think of them as “channels through which God’s love and power flow” to his people. Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments are means of grace.

But Christian friendship is too. Friends are a massive means of God’s grace to us—his transforming, often uncomfortable, grace.

Smoothing And Honing

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I saw any “blind spots” in her. That question is not for the faint of heart. But if she could do it, I could too. So I asked her the same. What she said is another post and I’m not suggesting that you ask.

But I do hope that you have friends close enough to smooth your rough spots and to hone your dull edges. Because we all have those.

Good friends shape us as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and as sandpaper rubs wood (“walking with the wise,” Proverbs 13:20). The second process is more gradual and gentle. It throws fewer sparks.

But both are needful. The sanding that comes naturally from walking together is as necessary for our spiritual growth as trusted wounds from a friend (Proverbs 27:5-6).

What Friends Sharpen You?

Author and blogger Tim Challies couldn’t be more clear about why we need iron-sharpens-iron friends.

You need spiritual friendships for the sake of your soul; a sinful person who can hold tight to your depravity. You are a weak-eyed person who often cannot see yourself as you are; a selfish person who sometimes struggles to live for anyone or anything apart from yourself. And you need friends who will help you, serve you, strengthen you, equip you. You need friends to temper your weakness, to challenge your sinfulness, to comfort your sorrows, to speak truth into your tragedies.

Foster Your Friendships

I am a weak-eyed person who cannot see myself as I am. I need friends. You needs friends.

So who sharpens you? Who is sharpened by you?

What Friends Rub Off On You?

While iron sharpening iron implies a focus and directness that might hurt, sandpaper relationships need not rub us wrong. I think of these type of friendships as those that shape us in less direct, edge-of-blade sort of ways.

Our friends influence us—and not only the closest five—simply by allowing us close enough so that they can rub off on us.

Here’s a short list of some sandpapery friends. Not that they’ve never been iron-sharpening friends, but they come to mind now less for their words and more for their rub-off influence.

They are soft-spoken friends like Traci and Brooke who help me to speak more gently and huge-hearted friends like Julia and Chrissy who make me want to give. They are self-controlled friends like Hannah and Mary who help me skip second dessert and hospitable friends like Christin and Jen who make me open to host. Ginny and Donna’s prayers spur me to be faithful in prayer, Sarah and Sandra’s pure hearts show me dirt in mine, and Shari and Myrt’s art help me see beauty. Then there’s my good friend mom.

This list could go on and on. God must give me so many good friends because there are so many prickly sides of me.

We all have those sides. So what friends are rubbing off your rough sides and rubbing off of you?

The Best Friendship In The World

Michael Haykin’s Iron Sharpens Iron is a short book about great friendships. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. (Any friends out there who’d like to read it with me? 😄 ) My gratitude to Tim Challies for his book review.

This excerpt is from John Ryland’s sermon at the funeral of his friend Andrew Fuller. Their friendship, Ryland said, had

never met with one minute’s interruption by any one unkind word or thought, of which I have any knowledge. I never had a friend who was so willing to stand by me, even in such services as most others would wish to decline; yet I never had a friend who would more faithfully, freely, and affectionately give me warning or reproof, if ever it appeared necessary; or whom I could more readily and freely, and without the least apprehension of giving offence, tell of any fault which I imagined I could see in him. And this I think is the best friendship in the world. 

For no man is faultless; and true friendship will not be blind to the failings of those we love best; but will rather show itself in an anxious concern to prevent the least appearance of evil in them, or whatever might occasion their good intentions to be misrepresented. […]This most faithful and judicious friend is taken from me, and never will my loss be repaired upon earth!

I’ve been reflecting on that description all week.

It is exquisite because it tells how iron and sandpaper meld. Fuller was a friend who both stood by and warned. He faithfully and affectionately warned, Ryland said, and was so willing to stand by me.

And this I think is the best friendship in the world. 

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.

Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15

On Influence & A Good Influence Named Linda

Two women smiling, Linda and author, influence

You cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.

Let’s talk about influence.

Dr. Pepper seltzer, Tim Hawkins, the ragged copy of My Utmost in her WC twenty years ago that led to one in mine; the elegance of Hedgehog and Goudge and countless other good books, whole cream in coffee, radish slices not Ruffles, and those flexible plastic cutting boards. Oh, those blessed chopping mats!

How could possibly forget that legendary Swiss vinaigrette, something like this but on the exact recipe, I’ve vowed secrecy.

Those things are not the half of it. They’re only a fraction of the ways Linda has influenced me.

On Linda’s Influence

You went to Peoria again last weekend? my friends ask. Why’d you go down this time?

It’s alway the same reason: Linda. Linda and John, and their five vibrant kids—remember that long, non-looping trip?— and their beloved “urban family” who have become our friends too.

And Linda. Linda is my husband’s sister, my sister-in-law. But more, she is my friend.

Turns out, my first memory of Linda is my first memory of my husband Jim. I was 14 when my family spent two August weeks at their grandparents’ campground. Jim and Linda would bound and bounce around the deck then spring into that little Meadowlark Acres pool. Vivacious, friendly, bright—I loved the life in them. Thirty-one years after we met at the pool, I still do.

Linda is a good influence—a joyful, faithful, cheerful influence. But you cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.

Linda and her crew are why we go to Peoria. Because we want to know them more. I want them to influence me.

Think About These Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7

What do you think about when your mind is “resting”? Because the teacher wrote, as you think, so you are.

Lovely people think about lovely things, Alistair Begg said in a message on Philippians 4:8. By extension, truthful people think true thoughts, pure people think pure thoughts, and just people think just thoughts.

But the only way we can get those good thoughts a-thinkin’ is to place ourselves with them in the first place. That means we seek out good influences—influences that build our strength, our faith, our joy.

Do you see why all the three-hour drives to Peoria and all the time spent in the Word? In a word: influence.

Because thoughts stick around. For better and worse, they loop.

There’s a sign on a gravel road in Alaska that reads, Choose your rut carefully. You will be in it for the next 25 miles.

We have a say in what tracks we choose. As Christians, we’re called to choose an excellent and praiseworthy groove. Which means I must wisely choose my influencers. I must make an effort to spend time with people like Linda who affect me for good.

And I must set the Lord always before me.

There Are No Ordinary People (So Be A Good Influence)

God created us to be influenced. Over and over, Scripture calls us to imitate, to be influenced for good. First, by the Spirit applying God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But then by the fellow image-bearers with whom we rub shoulders.

But God also created us as influencers.

This bit from Lewis is often quoted, and for good reason. Because we are all in process. We are all heading one direction or the other. We are all influenced and influencers.

It is a serious thing […] to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics

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. 

From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis delivered this sermon at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on June 8, 1941.

All day long, we are influencing each other in one direction or another. Influence is never neutral.

You are not what you think you are. But what you think, you are.

We are influenced—for good or for ill—by who we know and by what we know. This knowledge base directly impacts our thoughts. As we think, so we are.

Which brings us back to the top. Find yourself some good influences. Latch on to a Linda. And set the Lord always before you.

Because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

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

On My Good Dad’s 70th Birthday

Dad and Adult Daughter pedaling paddleboat

Thank you, good daughter, is what my dad said.

He said it last summer as I helped haul hay from the wagon to the mow. That wasn’t the only, but it’s the last time I recall.

Today’s my good dad’s 70th birthday. Let me tell you a few things about him. But in some big ways, if you know me, you already know my dad. For I am my father’s daughter.

A Dad Of Contrast

Let’s start last Sunday. With COVID-19, we worshiped at home. At 9:30 AM, Mom and Dad and my sister showed up with 4 hymnals. Hymnals. Dad and I love singing hymns. We started with Rise Up, O Man Of God. Man, not church, let the record reflect. But dad’s not a musical snob. Not at all.

He loves him some foot-tappin’ Gospel and strong-strummin’ folk. Besides playing the bagpipes- he recorded Danny Boy at dawn on St. Patrick’s Day for my sister to share with her 2nd grade class- he picked up some tin whistle too. He could probably play in a pinch at a session.

It’s like that with cooking too. He’ll whip up the most elaborate, marinate all day, ingredient list the length of spatula, simmer all afternoon with fresh rosemary and thyme from his garden dish you’ve ever tried. Then he’ll go a few days on vegetables with bread and cheese or just plain cabbage soup.

Teaches And Learns

Dad’s at home with the most intellectual. He’s reading a new book on redemption from a Greek Orthodox position- and did I mention how he popped open his Greek New Testament on Sunday to show us that the beyond in 2 Cor. 4:17 is hyperbole in Greek.

Dad’s a thinker. But he’s also a teacher and a lifelong learner.

In fact, he’s taught our boys most of the finer points in etiquette and mending relationships with Laurel & Hardy, What About Bob? and Ernest Goes To Africa. Just ask Gabe- or don’t- who taught him to lick last bit of ice cream from his bowl.

Dad’s always reading the farm journals to improve his horticulture. Currently, he’s learning be a champion broccoli sprouter. He’s already taught us how blowing fans on his tender sprouts toughens them for big gusts outside of the house.

Laughs and Serves

Dad can go toe-to-toe with a gifted theologian, and nose-to-nose with a baby. Dad pastored for decades and now he serves with mom in the little church nursery. I wouldn’t say the nursery is his passion, but I think being there brings him joy. Dad knows a real servant does what needs to be done.

I’ve got a lot to learn about being a servant, but what I’ve learned is mostly from watching Dad. Servants are humble. Dad isn’t all wrapped up in himself. For the Christian, that’s called maturity. Others’ focus is spiritual health.

Dad and toddler

I first remember thinking that about Dad when I was five or six. No kidding. We’d stopped off at a park 10 minutes from home. The park had a tunnel slide and Dad carried my down in his lap. I probably had begged him to go. But when we got off, I looked at him and burst into tears. Because blood ran from the top of his head down his face.

Dad was balding even then and the top of his head had scraped the tunnel and I thought he’d soon drop dead. But instead he laughed and grabbed his handkerchief. That was that.

Now fast forward to my 7th grade year. Dad was my science substitute teacher. I don’t remember anything about it except that Brian whispered, in range of my sensitive ears, “He’s a chrome dome.” Aaron laughed. And I about died of embarrassment- for my dad.

Somehow it came out at dinner that night- the outrageous, shaming slur- and guess what? He just laughed and said, Don’t let that bother you, Ab.

Dad and 4 kids

Dad Loves His Friends

Dad definitely loves his family. I’ve never doubted that for a second. But Dad also loves his friends.

For almost two decades now, Dad gets together with his friend Tom early Wednesday mornings, I think, to study and pray over coffee. Sometimes with Baileys Irish Cream. He used to do that with dear Mike, his literary friend.

Then there’s Paul and Robin their movie-swapping, ag-chat friends and Bob and Jane their all-thing-Irish friends. And for decades, until last year, there was Patsy and Jim. And on Tuesday nights, Lord willing, there’s sweet time with Jen and Tim.

My Dad loves his friends. I have a hunch that watching Dad love his friends has made my friendships second nature. We all need friends, and all different sorts of friends.

A Good Dad

But the best thing Dad did is make it easy for his kids to come to Jesus. I’m sorry some of you don’t have a dad like mine. Some fathers make it hard. They lay stumbling blocks instead of sowing gospel seeds.

But a good father lays down his life for his kids. He goes low to love his ownDad feeds his kids what his sweat has grown, potatoes and berries and beans. He laughs with his grandkids, sings hymns with his kids, and, for love, serves us all in love. Where once he preached in the pulpit, now he plays in the nursery. That’s my Dad.

I have good dad. That’s in large part because he has an even better Father. So I’ll leave off with this song my father loves.

It’s about his Father whose name is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

Dad, Mom and grandchild in paddleboad