Friends in Low Places

I was in my early twenties when Garth Brooks’ smash hit Friends in Low Places debuted. There was something about the earthy guttural growl andselective focus photography of man playing electric guitar on stage sweet southern twang of the song, along with that little bite of sweet poetic justice, that felt right at home in my life as an early twenties single woman living in Nashville.  Although I still find myself occasionally indulging in the nostalgia of the newer oldies, the song had a very different meaning to me then than the phrase does now…Because I indeed really do have friends in low places.

Very low places. Hard places. Tragic places. Not  “where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away” places glorified in the old country song. Years of living, learning, losing, and letting go removed all the glitter and gloss from the drama of broken relationships, revenge, half-hearted commitments, and unhealthy patterns of dealing with life and loss.

I have friends in much lower places than that. Dark, lonely places of loss, abandonment, rejection, abuse, addiction, confusion, sickness, disability, job loss, financial ruin, and difficult diagnosis.

In this world you will have trouble. -Jesus

Well-rehearsed preachers, prosperity gospel, Pollyanna promises, and the proverbial rose-colored glasses can all try to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and loss that everyone will eventually face; but Jesus himself warned us. Prepared us. But He also said:

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Take heart. What does that even mean? Other nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashtranslations say: take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, have confidence…

I like “take heart.” It sounds active and involved. It lets me choose. It’s almost tangible. I can picture myself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking my heart. Speaking words of hope and encouragement. Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. But be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring…then for offering up as a humble sacrifice.

While we may not choose sickness, cancer, divorce, addiction, abuse, mistreatment, injustice. We can choose to take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, and have confidence.

Proverbs 4:23 says Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

heart brass-colored padlockGuard it. Above all else. It must be extremely valuable. I picture it like an ancient city. With walls and towers to protect against enemy onslaught and invasion…but with gates to swing open to welcome friends, provision, protectors, allies, healers. A fortress, not a prison. Guard it as one would diligently, methodically guard a storehouse of plenty and provision during famine, war, and threats of enemy plunder.

Because isn’t that really what we are up against: famine, lack, loss, wars, and threats of enemy plunder? Not merely threats to overtake peace, joy, and hope…but heart-sickening, soul-crushing blows to us and those we love.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

But what does that have to do with friends in low places?

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” Other translations say: carry, share, help, practice carrying, offer a helping hand.

img_8817Loving one another is sometimes hard. Bearing burdens is hard. When they hurt, you hurt, but…Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. 

Being present and available can be scary when you don’t know what to say or do…For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! 

The world can be amazing and beautiful, but confusing and scary and cold…Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 

But we are so prone to isolation and secrecy and self-protection…And though one may be overpowered, two can resist.

But we are called to be present to  share the love and hope of Jesus…Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  (Ecc 4:9-12)

img_8872Not one in isolation. Not two struggling to get by. But three strands! While often symbolic of a wedding ceremony, what does that look like in our day to day relationships and interactions? Especially with our friends in low places? You, your friend, God Almighty…

I haven’t always done it well. Honestly…I have probably failed more than I succeeded at  the face-to-face ministry of presence. But how I have wanted to be the faithful friend who sits in the ashes in the midst of another’s deepest pain and grief. How I have loved and prayed and lamented! I feel it in my very heart and soul sometimes. Real tangible pain and sadness. My friends in low places have walked hard roads recently. An unexpected loss of a young husband, the death of a child, a distant husband, an unwanted divorce, a congenital heart defect, prodigal children, addiction, tragic financial loss, betrayal, old wounds surfacing, a suicide attempt, a botched surgery, a bad mammogram, a pending biopsy… And more, so much more. Evidence that…yes, in this world we will have trouble.

Courage, dear heart.  -C.S. Lewis

Luke 5 recounts the story of a man in a very low place: Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

This  man was unable to take care of his very basic needs. He couldn’t stand, walk, or get to Jesus. His companions lifted him and bore his stretcher, shouldered his load, and brought him, weak and helpless, to Jesus. The man may have had good intentions. He may have had great self-discipline and solid determination, but in his own power he was simply unable to bear his own weight, make his own path, see above the crowd and confusion, and find his healing. He was in a very low place…but he had friends.

Maybe sometimes the best we can do is to carry our friends on a stretcher to the feet of Jesus.

Consider this: Maybe praying for their physical well-being and peace, as well as img_7254being present and attentive to their physical and emotional needs is a type of guarding their heart…

Take heart. Can you picture yourself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking their heart… Speaking words of hope and encouragement: Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. Be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring… Then helping them offer it up as a humble sacrifice…to a God who sees, cares, heals, and redeems. And what an honor to sit, walk, stand, or simply just be with the hurting and the broken. Shoulder to shoulder or face-to-face, but definitely heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

Low places…we’ve all been there, are there, or will be there at some point. But what a blessing to be able to cry out, “I’ve got friends!”

 

A Prayer For My Hometown

Most of us know Proverbs 31 as The Wife of Noble Character chapter, IMG_5693but I want to encourage you all, being of noble character, to read the verses directly before that passage. Proverbs 31:8-9 says:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Few expressions are more noble than speaking up, defending, and caring.

Micah 6:8 in the Amplified says: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you except to be just and to love (and to diligently practice) kindness (compassion), and to walk humbly with your God (setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness.)

I would like to briefly address an event happeningIMG_5564 right here in my very own hometown this week. People from outside our community, many of them paid protesters, are gathering at our beautiful, historic square to stir up, maybe even encourage, feelings of anger, hatred, and division. First of all, in the above scripture, I’m in no way calling any certain group of people destitute, poor, or needy (other than the fact that we have all at some point been destitute, poor, or needy). But God calls us to speak up, to seek justice, love mercy and kindness, and to walk humbly with him. To defend. To love. I know this “demonstration” is not representative of the people in our community.

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Encased bible outside Murfreesboro courthouse

In Matthew 28 when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, this is what He said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Lord we thank you that you love us as a parent loves a child, and you instruct us through your word and the power of the Holy Spirit. We praise you that you enable us to love. We lift up the safety and integrity of our city and our brothers and sisters and ask you to place a hedge of protection (physically, spiritually, and emotionally) around us during this time of attempted hatred and division..


The Way of Love (1 Corinthians)

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,

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Cannonsburgh, near downtown

but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 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.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


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Cannonsburgh chapel, near downtown

Lord God, we come to you in faith that you hear us. Your word says that where two or more are gathered in your name, you are there with them.  It also says that ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” You are our God. We are your nation, your state, your city, your people. We stand on your word from Galatians 3:26-29: for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Lord, we also come to you today hopeful. You assured us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We claim that hope today. We will have trouble but you have overcome. We also stand in agreement with 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 which says: if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

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Murfreesboro Greenway

We pray for forgiveness. We pray for healing. We pray for peace and protection over our city, our neighbors, our families. We pray that as evil, dissension, hatred, and confusion try to invade our community that people will be overwhelmingly, divinely called and set apart to follow the path described in Psalm 34:14 and will Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 John 3:16-18 says: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

God, we are so thankful that you love us. img_5200We are a fallen, imperfect people but we ask you to equip us to love. Open our eyes and allow us to see your image in your people so that we may encourage and build up one another in the faith, hope, and love you have given us, your people. We lift our city to you for your wisdom, your protection, your mercy, grace, and love. We have humbled ourselves. We seek your face, your way. We ask that you go before us, shield us, be our rearguard and defender. In the mighty, matchless name of Jesus.

That’s a prayer for my hometown. Will you make it yours too?IMG_5692

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Soul Ties and Goodbyes

Her name was Lillian. Like Lily…a beautiful flower, a symbol of beauty, innocence, and purity. She wasn’t perfect but she was available. I didn’t recognize it at the time but it was a form of ministry: the ministry of presence and open doors. I didn’t know how to express appreciation at the time but years later I felt the need to call her, to write, img_4810to visit; but I never did. I ignored the spirit promptings because of busyness, forgetfulness, or just not knowing what to say. So I never said it. Her days ended before I was able to speak appreciation, love, and respect. To let her know what a difference her kindness made in my life. I still regret it. I swore at the time that I would always let people know what they meant to me: their influence, their significance, and how much I loved them. It’s a work in progress. I still forget or tread awkwardly in silence. My first trip to the beach…Lillian. First visit to the mountains…Lillian. Camping, a safe place, weekend retreats…Lillian. She opened her home to me for days at a time and made me feel safe and welcomed, even as an awkward, confused teenager. Her family invited me to church and encouraged me to stay involved. They saw me. How different my life would have been without our lives intersecting.

What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.   -Helen Keller

This week the world lost an amazing man, a godly man, a talented man. I lost a friend. My friend lost a husband, their kids lost their dad, a church lost its worship leader, a job lost a dedicated employee, and dozens of other people lost an amazing friend. Heaven gained a talented musician, a man of the Word, a computer whiz, a deep thinker, a leader, a mechanic, an innovator, a provider and lover of his family, a man after God’s own heart.

It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.  -John Steinbeck

Weddings and funerals. How easy it is to make img_4431them our great reunion sites; but how tragic to not make time to spend with those who have impacted our lives not only for a moment, but for eternity. I was recently blessed to be able to live, laugh, love, and celebrate with these loved ones, these dear friends, these brothers and sisters, these who have walked the long road. Now there are two fewer footprints in the dust on the road, but lingering fingerprints and heart impressions of loving and living well will persist in his legacy forever.

But the shadowing questions remain, echo, and begged to be asked: Do we say enough, visit enough, make enough time, speak enough truth, love enough, share enough? Do our loved ones feel our love, img_8817our respect, our appreciation, our admiration? Do they feel loved and valued? Do they know what an impact they’ve  had on our lives, our families, our world? It takes less time to call and visit than it does to linger in loss and regret.

The term “soul tie” isn’t officially found in the bible and when it’s used in modern biblical teachings it often has a negative connotation; but in 1 Samuel it says that “…Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.”  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they img_9058-3keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Those verses sound like soul ties. Aren’t we called the family of God? The body of Christ? Do we live interlocked with soul ties and heart strings? And even with the hope we have, do we still feel a stinging pain or gnawing emptiness at the loss of our body part? As humans we don’t like the pain of loss. We don’t understand why good men, children, or innocent ones are harmed or are taken too soon. But still we have this hope…

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”   Lamentations 3:22-24

So, we hope. We know that a peace that passes understanding will eventually settle over our souls. We’re also reminded that we have only this moment to love, to live, to laugh, to hug, to speak words of life and encouragement and appreciation. Don’t wait til time to say goodbye. There is so much more to say. Love your babies, love your family, love your friends, love those who have stood by you, led you, and encouraged you and your children. Call when you’re prompted to call. Visit when you’re called to visit. Text, email, send a postcard. Hug tightly but hold on loosely. And when you don’t know what to say, when there’s no explanation, verse, or empty platitude to offer, just sit on the back porch with your friend in silence. And maybe take her a little banana pudding.

Rest well, Kelly. You’ve run the race. You’ve won. Well done, good and faithful servant.

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Together Is Better

heal  

verb   [heel]

1. to make healthy, whole, or sound; restore to health

2.to bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups,usually with the strong implication of restoring

 3.to free from evil; cleanse; purify: to heal the soul.
 Working in health care for almost thirty years now, the idea of physical healing is nothing img_9058-3abstract or new. There are some who search and commit to healing at any cost: the best specialists, the most rigorous testing, intentional planning, and conscientious living. Others ignore warning signs, isolate, deny their needs and symptoms, and continue to experience a slow steady decline and loss of vitality. But there is so much more to balanced health and wellness than stable vital signs, a good report on an annual exam, and routine scheduled procedures. Obtaining and maintaining good physical health involves a day by day, one foot in front of the other journey. What about good emotional, mental, and spiritual health? Are they any less important or demand less intentional thought and attention? Are there short cuts, quick fixes, and magic elixirs and oils to soothe a troubled mind, bind a broken heart, or set a spirit free?

So…what do the title Together Is Better and the term heal have in common?

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“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matt 18:20

I recently found myself in the midst of a small circle of women exploring and recounting stories, struggles, truths, and lies learned in the murky depths of life, loss, hurt, and healing. Anytime a tightly woven circle of believing women gather to go deeper into matters of the heart, not only is there coffee; invariably there are tears, prayer, hugs, words of encouragement, and usually snacks. 🙂 Where two or more are gathered, there is great potential for depth, accountability, searching, support, confrontation, and sometimes conflict. But there is also life and love and lessons that are not learned in text books, television, or self-help videos. Somewhere in the midst of the searching and sharing, words and images from a book I had read years earlier found their way into the conversation.

That’s why you’re here…I want to heal the wound that has grown inside of you, and between us…there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away…life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship.

img_9068The Shack, by William Paul Young, was released to both raving accolades and scalding controversy. Different, edgy, imaginative.Yes, it’s fiction, but as God, yes God, met with and spoke those tender words to the struggling, hurting soul in the story, I was reminded of a phrase that my pastors frequently quote: Together is better. I attend a contemporary church that emphasizes the importance of small group ministry. I suppose it’s a phrase that I’ve heard at least a thousand times: a catch phrase, a cliche, a buzzword, good advice? More than that, it’s a direction, a building block, and a ministry. People matter. Words matter.They have meaning and consequence. Sometimes a few black and white words on a page can breathe the hope, healing, and breath of God to a hungry, hurting, searching people.

I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing…
Penned in the introduction to the book, those simple words explain much of life, love, loss, and restoration. They also foreshadow and frame the impending story: not only the fictional story in The Shack, but parts of our own stories as well. Too often people are wounded and subsequently withdraw into solitary shells and lonely retreats; or they build protective barriers that may quickly become fortresses with thick impenetrable walls… more like prisons, that eventually harden their paths, their choices, and ultimately their hearts.
img_9084People are imperfect. They fail. They’re messy, inconvenient, and burdensome. Sometimes they unintentionally neglect, wound, scar. Other times it’s not so unintentional. Sometimes it’s deliberate, calculated, evil, and unrepentant. There is no sorry, forgive me, or I was wrong.  In the book, Mack experiences a Great Sadness that is totally out of his control. He did nothing to put himself in the position of helplessness and wounding. Someone else’s hurtful thoughts, ruthless actions, and destructive sin choices thrust him into the depths of unrelenting pain and anguish. Loss and life change. In the pain, he recoiled reflexively, as if scorched by a searing flame and, in time, his scars grew thicker and colder. They created a solid exterior, tough and protective . At the same time forming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle dividing him from God and, in some ways, others. Then he had a choice. We have a choice.
Getting head issues out of the way makes the heart stuff easier to work on later…when you’re ready…I can set you free, but freedom can never be forced…you don’t even understand that freedom is an incremental process.
Freedom is an incremental process? Gradual? Progressive? Little by little? There is freedom in that alone! It’s permission to relax: to stop the striving, comparison, judgment, and the whys: Why can’t I get over it?  Why can’t I be like __?  Why can’t I just __?  In an era of quick fixes, easy answers, and temporary solutions, it’s easy to walk in discouragement and self- condemnation when easy or sudden healing and transformation don’t happen. Guilty. I’m guilty of great, speedy expectations: A drive thru breakthrough rather than three steps forward and two steps back. Cliches, but real struggles when discouragement threatens to separate us from God or others, when we feel like we will never get over it, we’re all alone,  or  just not good or strong enough. Maybe “since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.” Maybe together really is better.
That’s just a tiny glimpse into the story. Just enough to raise questions and start conversations, but maybe that’s enough. Some may want to dig out their old copies of the book and re-explore; others still claim it’s heresy. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (1 Cor 1:27)
img_9090Together is better. Yes, people can be messy; but people can also be the hands, feet, eyes, and words of Jesus to extend hope and healing in the valley of our Great Sadness, our daily struggles, or just our steady trodden paths.  The term, the Great Sadness resonates to something deep within me. That’s a whole separate post, or ten. It doesn’t have to matter what The Great Sadness is in someone’s life: an event, a loss, a lack. The goal is healing: recognition, reconciliation, and restoration. As I’m finishing up here, I realize that this post isn’t deeply theological, philosophical, or even anything new. It also seems rather incomplete… Like I could write for days and there would still be many corners, avenues, and deep wells to explore. Some people write to entertain or to influence. I write to process. Still processing.
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Friendship is born at the moment 
when one person says to another:
“What? You too?
                 I thought I was the only one.”                     C.S.  Lewis