Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How much do friends mean to you???

This past weekend I had a crazy wonderful experience. I spent real time with old friends.

I had the opportunity to go to San Antonio and be a part of a regional drum corps event. For those of you who don't know what that is, "drum corps" is professional marching band. For those purists out there, I know I just offended you, but hang with me anyway. Drum Corps is an activity unlike any other, but the closest thing I can compare it to is marching band. 120-150 young men and women from the ages of roughly 16-22 spend their summer competing against other groups all over the country. I've been a drum corps adjudicator off and on since 1993, so it was a great privilege to be a part of this event.

I arrived in San Antonio at 1pm last Saturday and met an old friend of mine from junior high school. We are now in our mid-40s. We had not spent real time together since the late 1970s, so this was a treat. We talked up until the time of the competition; we talked after the competition - it was as if nothing had changed. Our friendship was that solid, that connected. Brent is a lawyer, a musician, an educator and a friend who loves God.

After the competition - 11:30pm or so - we headed over to my favorite restaurant in the El Mercado - Mi Tierra - for a reunion of sorts with some other old 'acquaintances' of mine from my old drum corps: the Sky Ryders, from Hutchinson, Kansas. As we waited for our table, I didn't see any of them; which kind of unnerved me. But within minutes, I heard a voice: "Hey Jay!" I would've known that voice anywhere. I turned around and there she was, one of my dearest old friends - Kathleen. The girl who taught me to love oreo cookies; the only UT graduate I have ever been able to really tolerate and the only girl friend I have that is taller than me! Kat and I marched together in the Sky Ryders - she played mallets and I played baritone. We were one unlikely pair of bus partners! Although she grew up a cradle Catholic, Kat came to know and love the Lord after she got married. And there she was, still the radiant girl after all these years. So Alan (her husband), Brent, Kat and I occupied a table, eating chips, queso, salsa and other spanish hors d'oeuvres until 3 am! We laughed and talked and laughed again until we knew we were too old to be out that late. We said good bye in the bakery of Mi Tierra and Kat gave me one of those lingering hugs that tells you that nothing has really changed in your friendship. The next morning, after a heavy sleep, I woke up, packed up and said good bye to Brent. Gave him a big hug too. It was good. I will see him again in a few weeks.

This whole experience reminded me how important friends really are and how much they mean to me. The root meaning of the word "friend" means "to love." How true it is. I love my wife, my daughters and my family. Indeed, I have a covenant love with my wife; but as special as that is, I love my friends too. I need my friends. All of us need friends.

There have been times in my life where I didn't think I needed friends; or that it was better simply to "go it alone." I was wrong. I need my friends. In a real way, they make me who I am. Friends make the difficult times tolerable and the good times joyous. They make life worth celebrating. They help us to bear the burdens when we don't think we can go one step further. They love us, even when we feel ...unlovable... to ourselves.

I've been blessed with many friends, male and female, young and old. I rejoice in all of them. Each one is unique and uniquely blesses me. When I am in difficulties with one of them, it gives me great pain until the grievance can be resolved and forgiveness shared.

We need friends. You and I were created for just that purpose: to love one another. To make our friend list grow longer and our enemy list become nonexistent. Let me challenge you to do just that. Make a new friend today or tomorrow; patch up a relationship with an old friend in the same way. Whatever you do, don't let this day go by until you tell at least one of your friends how much they mean to you.

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay his life down for his friends." John 15:13

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Simple Gifts

Aaron Copland used the Quaker melody "Simple Gifts" as the heart of his great ballet, "Appalachian Spring." The tune is a simple, yet beautiful diatonic melody with lovely lyrics that has become a staple of American culture. The tune reminds me that sometimes, the simplest gifts can be the best and indeed, that it is those simple gifts that yield the greatest pleasures.

On a recent trip to one of my favorite islands in the world, Orcas Island, I was perusing a local artists wares, when I happened to come upon a bowl of "pocket pieces." These pieces were shaped like shells or fish or porpoises or simply little round shapes. Each piece had a simple statement on back: "live simply", "giggle", "delight", "touch hearts", "explore" or "joy". As Melissa and I left the shop, I purchased a handful of these little "pocket pieces" - I figured they were unique and easy to pack, so they would work well as mementos for friends back home. So we returned and I have handed them out, one by one or two by two, to family and friends at home.

To my great surprise, these little pieces have brought more joy than I could have imagined. Like "pocket crosses", I have found that the littlest pieces can bring the greatest joy. One of my colleagues received the fish that says, "giggle" on back. He tells me that he actually "giggles" when he runs across it in his pocket. Another received the piece that says "explore" - He said it reminds him that he needs to spend more time on adventures with his son. An older friend of mine received the little shell-shaped piece that says "touch hearts" - he says that when he puts his hand in his pocket, he finds the little shell and puts his thumb in it. He says it reminds him that as Christians, we are in the "heart touching business." And the list goes on....

Gary Chapman says my "love language" is words of affirmation and physical touch. Maybe that is true, what I do know is that I like to give and I like to make a difference. I realize that little things make a big difference. One does not always have to hit a "home run" to make a difference. Sometimes a smile and a kind word will do.

Let me challenge you, my friends, to make a difference with a simple gift: a smile, a pebble, a quick hug, a word of appreciation. Sometimes that is all it takes to change a day or a life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finding Our Way...

It has been an interesting summer thus far. I've encountered a number of emotional bumps, several trials and more than my fair share of temptations. The temptations have been minor, the emotional bumps have been severe at times and the trials, well, they've been tough. But in all of this, I continue to realize an important fact: the end is the journey. How we manage the emotions, temptations and trials is just as important as the end they bring.

As human beings in a Western culture, we are taught to aspire to great things: education, status, power and even wealth. As Christians in a Western culture, this cultural imperative sends conflicting messages: on the one hand, we are taught by some theological perspectives that God wants to bless us through our obedience; on the other hand, we are taught that the trappings of status, power and wealth are simply that - a trap. In the end, the pursuit of those things don't bring happiness and stability. So now - as Christians - we are confused... what do we do? What should our end goal be? How should we navigate life?

Well, the truth is, what we do here and now dictates how we will "end up." As Christians, our Spirit-infused character is the key to the joy of life.

Lately, I've encountered people who have the material goods of life and the means to enjoy it; yet they don't live in "joy." Their lives tend to be driven by the 'stuff' or 'status' they desire or have inherited... thus the daily events and joys of real life are lost on them; or better, for some of them, their situation has trapped them in a loop from which they cannot find release - thus they can see the possibility of joy, but it eludes them. It brings me great sadness to witness these scenes.

Please don't think me arrogant or impartial at this point: I'm as guilty as anyone else. I want the stuff and the status too. Indeed, I blog these thoughts in order to better understand myself in light of the life that Christ desires for me. I want the joy of living and I want to find my way, the way that will bring me the life and joy Christ desires for me.

So here is my nugget of truth today: the well-lived life is not found in the what, but in the how. It is not 'what' we accumulate - education, status, power or wealth; but in 'how' we live. The small decisions - the character choices - we make in and for our lives every day. That is how we find our way and that is how we garner the joy of living.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Loving People...

I don't know how He did it.

Loving (agapao) people I mean.

Jesus had this incredible way of loving everyone, even the ones who despised, wounded and killed Him. I find that incredible. Breathtaking even.

Personally, I have a hard time with it. I'd like to think that it should be easier for me; but it's not. The whole Theologian-Scholar-Pastor thing suggests that I know the meaning, importance, implications and complications of love. Even though I have studied the topic seriously; written papers on it and tried to embrace the concept - I find that more often than not I simply miss the boat.


I have feelings and they get hurt. I want the love returned and its not. I am human and I get tired of the pain... I am a middle-aged man and I believe that I should get a break... (ha!) Being crucified is painful...

And there is the rub. God is willing to go the mat for me. That is love. He went all the way; no questions asked.

I guess the question that faces me, faces us, is: are we willing to go to the mat; to go the distance... for love? Are we willing to 'sacrifice' our ego for love? Are we willing to give it all up for love? Are we willing to love and never see that love returned... for His sake... to endure the pain of truly loving? I wish I could always say, "of course!" But sometimes I feel too weak and tired; too hurt; too human...

I loved a bunch of kids and former church members this last week - hopefully, as Jesus himself does - and I may never see them again.

In the last 36 hours I've seen three of my best friends and tried to love them with all of my heart... I pray that they know that love deeply.

Loving people is difficult; they may not love you back. Heck, they may despise you. But the key to loving isn't them - it's not his, her or their response - its you and Him.

When you love (agapao) anyone - you are loving Him. It's not about the friend, family member, enemy or anonymous recipient of love - it's about you loving God in that person.

And so each day I'm going to love. Maybe I will get a smile, a :-) or a thank you... maybe I'll get an "I love you too" or not...

It won't matter.

Because in the end, I'm loving Him... God.