Monday, November 17, 2014

At the feet of the Master

When we moved to Arden, we decided that 300 acres would be enough for a second dog. When I reserved our border collie puppy with a local breeder, I imagined this cuddly ball of furry submission. Border collies love to please, right? They live to make you happy?

Not this one. Not Page.

Our Pagie is the feistiest dog I’ve every owned, and that includes a Jack Russell and an Aussie. She is busy, busy, busy. She’s all about creating entertainment for herself. She’s way too preoccupied looking for the fun to stop for a cuddle. If you try to have a snuggle with her, she wiggles and struggles and finally pushes away, then races off for the next good time.

Early in the morning, it’s usually just Page and me awake. I sit by the fire, drinking my coffee, reading my Bible and listening to music. Page has a different agenda. She chews mittens, steals firewood, tries to eat my pen and barks at her own reflection in the window. Sometimes I laugh out loud at her mischief, and occasionally rescue items from certain destruction.

However one morning recently, she took her chewy toy and curled up next to me. She wasn’t touching me, we weren’t snuggling, but she was within a few inches of me. I was so pleased that with all the potential fun and games all over the house, she chose to lie next to me. I stroked her cheek gently and enjoyed her warm, puppy presence.

That’s like God and us. We’re awfully busy running around, amusing ourselves with this thing and that thing, chasing our tails and looking for a good time. And I think He enjoys our shenanigans. After all, we were made for relationships and activities. But when we do slow down and curl up quietly next to him, it brings Him such great joy.

Like Page coming close and resting next to me melted my heart, so we move the heart of the Father when we draw near to Him. He so enjoys even a few moments of our attention, of our devotion.  In those moments, he wants to shower His affection on us and remind us how much He adores us. 

“You’ve captured my heart with one glance of your eye.” Song of Songs 4:9

I could judge Page for being busy. I could decide she’s a bad dog. But she’s not. It’s just who she is. It’s how she interacts with the world. And so I take pleasure in her antics. And little by little, she’s learning to enjoy quiet times of communion with me. As am I with my Master.

“Be still and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10

Friday, January 31, 2014

The finer points of friendship: Fun is fun

This seems like an obvious one, doesn't it?

But my posts about friendship have been kind of heavy so far. And I'll admit it, I love to sit down with my dear ones and have a good old D&M (deep and meaningful). I want to know what's going on in the inner sanctum.

However, a close friend pointed out to me this past summer that shared experiences build relationships in ways that talking can't. That's a good word. She's right. After she said that, I began to notice how much my summer friendships grew while mountain biking, doing crafts or jumping off the high dive wearing life jackets as diapers.

My new friend Sarah and I decided to go for a walk last Friday. We picked the Sacramento River Trail, planning to compare notes on our school experiences. She and her husband, Steve, have asked us to be their mentors, so many of our conversations have been intense and thoughtful.

On our walk, something magical happened. We came across this prayer labyrinth, a maze of stones forming circular pathways with prayers painted on rocks and sticks. Some were decidedly Christian prayers; others were generic words of life and optimism. There was even a tribute to a long, lost beloved black Labrador. Beside the labyrinth was a ribbon tree decorated with strips of fabric blowing in the sparse California breeze. People had written prayers on these multi-coloured strips  and tied them to branches.

Sarah and I marvelled at the beauty of these strangers' prayers blowing and tangling together in the wilderness. We each wrote a prayer and tied it to the tree. We explored the various painted rocks and read them to each other.

One of the greatest joys God has given us in this world is shared experiences, opportunities to explore this wondrous world together. I am so grateful for friends who share my love of adventure and spontaneous experiences. And I'm grateful for how fun connects us.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The finer points of friendship: Know yourself

In my novel, Breaking the Ice, both of the main characters, Sam and Carly, find there are things in their personalities that  profoundly affect their relationships. And not always in good ways.

Isn't it true that your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness?

But ouch. It actually really hurts to find that out the hard way.

I am currently awake in the wee hours of the morning, smarting from the last 24 hours in which I discovered some parts of my personality that really hurt people. I inadvertently betrayed a confidence at school today. I had a conversation with a leader who pointed out some broken ways in which I relate to people and the potential downfalls of my leadership style. And finally, I received a painful message from a friend, from which I'm still reeling.

So it feels ironic that I'm writing a series on friendship.

However, through a series of mistakes I've made recently, I'm learning that God has grace for my mistakes. More than that, I think He actually wants me to learn to push through my mistakes--even my relationship mistakes--without crashing emotionally.

And I would rather learn more about how I hurt people so I can do something about it. I don't want to go on hurting people.

I think when you get to know all sides of yourself, even when the process is painful, you'll be able to save others some pain.

You can only make improvements in your game if you're honest about where you're starting from. Delusions about yourself only lead to more mediocrity - Carly in Breaking the Ice

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The finer points of friendship: Quality beats quantity

I feel like I'm wandering alongside spreads of food in one those enormous buffet restaurants. There's so much food of so many types and my stomach is growling but I don't know where to start. How will I ever choose? So I just hug my plate to my chest in anxiety because I know my time and appetite are limited.

But the buffet isn't food, it's people.

There are phenomenal people all around me in the here in Redding, California, in the ministry school program my husband and I are in. These people are fascinating, compassionate, influential people and I've had coffee dates with a bunch of them.

But I'm lonely.

Yes, I admit it, I'm lonely for community, for friends who truly know me.

We've only been here for 18 months. And I'm realizing that relationships take time. And I'm also realizing that perhaps I made a crucial strategic error: I tried to be friends with too many people.

Choose your people. Commit. Go deep. 
I know other people who picked their friends in the first few months of school last year and have reserved their coffee times and weekend social slots for these people. And I see that 18 months later, they have deep community.

I, on the other hand, was fickle. I wanted to get to know a lot of people. And now I find myself running from party to coffee date to group meeting to lunch date, still getting to know amazing people, but not feeling like I belong with anyone.

If I have one pearl of wisdom to offer from this experience: don't try to be friends with everyone. Choose your people. Commit. Go deep. Because having a few good friends beats having lots of friends. Community beats popularity. I know that firsthand now.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The finer points of friendship: Learning to listen

I love to talk. Love. To. Talk.

Talking helps me figure out how I feel. When I'm able to express my thoughts and feelings, it gives them order, makes them understandable and manageable and safe. Words give structure to those scary or uncomfortable or joyful things inside me. For me, the tangible formation of words takes some of  the negative power out of negative emotions and increases the celebration of the good things.

Words are my love language. If I'm testing the waters in a new friendship, I'll tell you what I've been thinking and see how you handle it. The more I like you and trust you, the more words I'll share with you. If I really love you, I can talk to you for hours. Like literally. Ask Andrew.

A few years ago when we were living in Guelph, one of my best friends and I would drive to hockey every week. The drive was about half an hour and sometimes we'd be pulling up at the rink and I'd realize that I'd been talking the whole time.

Part of it was that she's such a good question asker. Bonnie can draw anyone out, but especially a verbaphile like me. So it got that I would have to almost look at my watch and stop mid-sentence halfway through the ride to ask her how her week was. It took all my self-control to do that. Not because I didn't want to hear from her, because I did. But because I had so much to tell her. Over years of driving together, Bonnie taught me so much about being a listener.

Some people find all my talking overwhelming. We were learning about communication styles in class the other day and found out that some people consider interruptions the sign of a good conversation. When I'm so excited about what you're saying that I'll interrupt you to build on your thoughts, we are truly connected. (Me.) Other people need pauses in conversation to feel like they're welcome to speak, like there's space for them to think and express themselves. (Not me.)

So here's what I've learned about listening: Sometimes silence in a conversation is the most important moment. And sometimes a good question is far more meaningful than my very best wit or wisdom.

Despite how much of a gift I feel it is to offer up my inner world to my friends, it's an even greater gift to my friends to value their inner world enough to listen well.

This is the first post in a series called "The finer points of friendship."