The Footprints of a Friend

There are in our lives people who simply change everything for us. Individuals who help us to see the world differently and encourage us to see ourselves with compassion and grace. They cause us to dare to believe in our dreams and in our hopes. Flavia Weedn writes, “Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.”

Footprints on the heart show up in places we don’t expect them to. In a quiet moment of reflection, a thought, a story or a memory leaps into our consciousness. Long tucked away and forgotten, but suddenly present. Don was one of those people who left footprints in my heart. I met him first as my pastor, then later he became both a mentor and friend. Had I not been going through such a difficult time during those years, he may never have gotten quite so far into my heart. Sick babies and a marriage falling apart led me to his office where I found counsel and support. He was an encourager and celebrated with me the successes I had as I headed back to college and then to seminary.

I have to admit that there were times when he gave some terrible advice, but on Sunday morning, somewhere in the prayers or in the sermon was the word I think he wished he had said. Don had a special talent that way, which really was not an accident. Later he told me he would go into the sanctuary during the week. Standing at the front on the church, he would visualize the congregation and where individuals would be sitting in the pews. Then he would ask himself what people who came to mind needed to hear on Sunday morning. His gift was his ability to skillfully weave together a sermon which included concerns of the congregation he had heard in recent days. Listening to his sermons could be a profoundly  spirit-filled and holy  moment.  On a practical level, I learned the art of the zinger from him . . . the comment he would make just after he got you to laugh. The words he wanted you remember,  were always found there.

I chose him as my mentor when I was ordained. He was the person who I would be relating to as I entered the ministry. The mentor’s role was simply to share the journey of ministry, which made it possible to admit mistakes and talk about what I had learned. I would bring my questions and he would share his experience. I came to trust his judgement around church problems and difficult people. The official mentoring period ended, but the mentoring didn’t. Along the way mentoring turned into friendship. The years passed and the friendship continued.

Since Don’s death I have been reflecting on his life, his ministry and his unconditional love. In the end, he showed me how to grow old. As he neared ninety, I would ask how he was. He would always say he was doing “pretty well for his age.” One day when I pressed him a bit, he said, “I don’t want to complain. I’ve visited so many people through the years who complained about every problem. I just don’t want to be one of those people.”

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and embrace our silent dreams . . . Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Throughout our lives we are sent precious souls . . . meant to share our journey, however brief or lasting their stay, they remind us why we are here. Some people come into our lives, and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” Flavia Weedn

Don left footprints in my heart.  I’m grateful for my friends life and the way his life touched mine. I’m grateful for the gift of friendship and for the shared journey. I’m grateful for all the other people in my life who have come as saints and also left footprints in my heart. Flavia Weedn’s poem “Some People”  includes these words: “Some people come into our lives to teach us about love… The love that rests within ourselves. . . Let us reach out to others and feel the bliss of giving, for love is far richer in action , than it ever is in words.”

The Gift of Setting Boundaries

Vinyl-Fence-Picket-5-lgPokemon Go has raced around the globe since it was launched in July. My daughter tells me, not only is it a great way to get exercise, it’s also a way to meet people who are visiting the same Pokemon Go hot spots. Churches, parks, monuments, gyms, Senior centers, overlooks, beaches, museums, national memorials are all places’ one can find a Pokemon character. But, like all good things, there are limits to be learned. Preoccupied players have crossed barriers they ought not to have crossed. Some have walked into police cars, fallen off cliffs, wandered into ponds, irritated Veterans at memorial parks and forgotten to be attentive to sacred space.

Boundaries exist for a reason. Boundaries define what is ours and what is someone else’s. The Bible warns, “Do not move the ancient boundary stone.” (Proverbs 22:28NIV) Boundary lines keep peace between nations and neighbors. Boundaries in relationships create space which is essential to healthy relationships. We may not name them as such, but we know when a boundary has been crossed.

I grew up on a small fishing resort in Southern Minnesota which included cabins, boats, and a restaurant. The restaurant was a gathering place for the neighborhood. Our business was only a few years old as I grew up, started shortly after my birth. From the beginning, even as a small child, I learned from my dad that when it came to boundaries, “The customer is always right.” While I loved my father that was not a good means to learn about healthy boundaries. The way that played out in my childhood was a boy named Gary. Gary would come out each Sunday afternoon with his grandpa. His grandpa would be playing cards in the restaurant area and Gary would be back in our living quarters playing with us. I use that term loosely. What Gary would really do, is dig into the toy chest and pull out every toy, spreading small toys over the entire house. Inevitably, he would head home and we were left with the mess. We groaned whenever we saw him walk through the door. Not only did he make a mess, he was also a bully. If we complained to my mom and dad about Gary, we would be reminded that Gary and his grandpa were customers. There appeared no boundary Gary could not cross. My parents never set limits on his behavior. Nor did his grandfather. One Sunday Gary started a fight with my brother. When the fight was over, Gary had broken my brother’s collar bone. I remember my brother in pain, nursing his shoulder, and my upset parents as they headed off to get medical care. I don’t know what was said, between my parents and Gary’s Grandpa. Some new limit was made. A boundary was set. His grandpa continued to come out every Sunday afternoon, but Gary was rarely seen after that

There is a place and a time to set limits on what we will allow. The apostle Paul, writing to the people in the area of Ephesus, used the term “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) He knew that no one can live in community, without speaking truth, setting boundaries and respecting the physical and emotional space of another.

Some Quotes

Do not keep the alabaster box of your friendship sealed up until your friends are dead. Fill their lives with sweetness. Speak approving, cheering words while their ears can hear them, and while their hearts can be thrilled and made happier. The kind of things you mean to say when they are gone, say before they go.
by George W. Childs

Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.

_Mother Teresa

Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?
by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Waymarks on the Journey

In the summer 1987 my family took off from our home in Minnesota on a long awaited trip to Yellowstone National Park. The park is primarily located in Wyoming, and partially in Montana and Idaho. This unique national treasure sits on top of a volcanic system. All of which has made it the place to go if you want to see eruptions of lava, geysers and sulfuric springs. I had always wanted to visit the park. The intrigue of “Old Faithful” known for its regular display of water intrigued me. We would visit other sites along the way.

I suppose it would have been better if I had, had a better car. At the time money was scarce. We borrowed a tent from a friend and rented a camper trailer. Then we set out with one adult, and five children ages ten to seventeen. My almost 19 year old son had just joined the Navy and would miss the trip. Meanwhile, we would be meeting my oldest son at Yellowstone. I had an old, yellow station wagon with fake wood trim which had seen better days before I ever acquired it. The shock absorbers had worn out to the extent that at night there was a noticeable upward swing to the headlights. This made for a bit of an impediment with hundreds of miles of night driving ahead.

From the beginning of the trip we were plagued with car and trailer problems. The rented trailer hitch would regularly fall off the station wagon. As a family, we rapidly learned how to reattach the hitch. We had gone a couple of hundred miles when the station wagon stalled along highway 90 in South Dakota. Eventually, the highway patrol stopped and checked on me. I told them about my AAA travel coverage and they told me that there was no AAA travel coverage in that area of South Dakota. They also taught me a new term: “vapor lock.” I learned it was not uncommon and if I tried to start my station wagon, it just might start. We made it to our destination that night in fits and starts, resting the engine till it would work again. Near Wall Drug in South Dakota, I found a person who could help with the car. I felt better looking at the letters posted on their wall from people around the country and some overseas, who had stopped at their repair shop and gotten help. We were blessed with some honest people, who quickly took care of the problem at a minimal cost.

Our first big item on our trip was to go up Mount Rushmore to see the famous heads of presidents’ George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the mountain stone. The journey up did not go at all as planned. We had to stop and let the car cool down several time when it overheated. After getting to the top, my sons aged 17, 13, 11 and my daughters ages 15 and 10 headed toward the monuments, while I turned toward the cool of the visitor center. I was trying to figure out if we could continue the trip, if we ought to continue it or if we could even get down off of Mt Rushmore. I was feeling alone, frustrated, worried, and wondering why on earth I had ever set out on that trip. Standing in line at the concession stand, hundreds of miles from home, I was feeling isolated and lost. Then I heard someone call my name. Behind me was a friend from seminary. I was worried about a car, but what I really needed at that moment was a friend. I thought I needed help, but what I needed was someone to listen.

God often operates that way in our lives. We venture out on faith. Answers don’t come the way we expect. When there is trouble, we’d like to see steps far down the road. We want assurance we will get to our destination and home safe again. God offers us a listening ear instead. When we travel in faith, we discover waymarks on our journey, places and signs of God’s presence – a certainty of God’s blessing. We face larger challenges than we signed up for, then discover God’s grace is more abundant than we thought.

Oh, we did get down off Mt Rushmore without the car falling apart. There was an hour stop to let the brakes cool down. Yes there were more problems. A blown tire here and there. We regularly stopped to get the trailer hitch back in place. As we traveled around the winding roads of Yellowstone at night, with lights pointed to the sky instead of the road, my then 13 year old kept asking, “Mom, if we fall into a hot spring, will the ice cubes melt before we hit the bottom?” The car made it and we made it. This troubled vacation with all of its problems and trials is a special blessing to us today. We remember it, not for the sights we saw at Yellowstone, but what it taught us about each other. I think that was part of what God had in mind when we set off on the journey.

“Please, Don’t Let Me Look Dumb”

I had ordered a burger and ice tea at McDonald’s. The girl who filled my order was new and clearly stressed. I headed off with my tray when suddenly the same girl appeared with french fries. Putting them on my tray, she said. “You forgot your french fries.”

“Oh, I didn’t order any fries.” I replied.

“Would you please take them anyway,” she asked, “so I don’t look so dumb?”

One of our great fears is not measuring up to our own or other peoples expectations. We don’t want to “look dumb,” especially in front of people we are trying hard to impress. Our egos are fed on the praise of others. The problem is that none of us are perfect. We will inevitably make mistakes. We will fail at times when we most want to look good. Failure is one of the ways that God keeps us humble. Our readiness to admit that we may have made a mistake keeps us human.

Pride can be healthy or unhealthy. There is the healthy pride one takes in a labor of love, completing a degree after facing tremendous obstacles, or nurturing children into people of compassion. We experience healthy pride completing a job which has brought joy to others. Unhealthy pride is the opposite. The Bible says of that pride, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) The pride the scripture writer is speaking of, is the kind of pride which becomes destructive. It’s not the healthy pride of a job done well, rather it becomes a negative force in our lives. Unhealthy pride keeps us from seeing another person’s point of view. It prevents us from caring about what other people value. Unhealthy pride separates us from one another. It separates us from God.

Pride can keep us from relating to a family member or old friend. Pride can interfere at work, school or church. Pride can make a stand, where stands do not need to be made. Stubborn pride even refuses efforts made to reach out to us. It can build a wall declaring judgement on whole segments of the population. A child, a brother, a sister, a co-worker may well feel the full sting of our prideful wrath. Pride can keep us from admitting to anyone, even ourselves – that we may have made a mistake. Pride slinks into our spirits, often leaving us feeling defensive and not quite at peace in our hearts.

The good news is that the sin of pride is not terminal. Confession, really is good for the soul. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9) Jesus said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12) A little humility goes a long way in restoring our relationships with God and with each other.

Is there someone in your life that needs to hear from you a word of reconciliation? Today is a good day to restore a relationship, mend a friendship, swallow some pride, and allow God’s grace to work in and through you.

When the Storms Grow Wild and the Thunder Roars

In our early teen years, my brother and I had taken boat and motor and headed out to do some fishing. With no fish biting, we decided to land the boat and explore along the edge of the lake. Our search uncovered an old cemetery overgrown with weeds. We were fascinated as we looked through the tombstones, all but forgotten in this out-of-the-way place. We were so engrossed in our exploring that we didn’t notice clouds rolling in. A sharp clap of thunder told us we needed to hurry back.

By then, the storm was coming quickly. We had two miles of lake to cover and nowhere to stop. After attempting to out race the storm, we realized about two-thirds of the way home we needed to find some shelter quickly. Wind and rain picked up, lightning flashed, thunder boomed. We knew enough to get out of the middle of the lake, but there wasn’t much protection along the shoreline. We sat out the storm, anxious and fearful close to the shore. Ear splitting thunder crashed overhead while lightening sent daggers into the sky.

I’ve found myself in many other storms since then. There have been times I’ve waited them out anxious and fearful . . . Hopeful, that the limited protection I’d found was sufficient. In our faith we have been given the promise that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Most often I remember that. But from time to time, when the storms grow wild and the thunder roars, I need to be reminded of this truth. I need to be reminded that there is nothing on earth or in heaven that can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ.

At those moments, I need a friend to speak the words of hope. I need a person to remind me of what I already know. God has given us each other. We are blessed to have friends who encourage us through our stormy moments. We are blessed even more, when we can give encouragement to our friends.

The Power of a Word

I received a note some weeks back that brought tears to my eyes. A person from a church I had served wrote, “I hope you know how much you are missed. I hope you know how much you did for us.” Off in retirement land, when I hadn’t felt like I’d done anything for anyone, I was touched by her simple words.

None of us really understand the power of words. We don’t realize what a note from us can mean to another person or how deeply a person can be touched by some small act of kindness, we have done. We don’t fully comprehend that God may well be using us to care for another person, by nudging us to write that note – to express those words.

I had a high school friend who moved away soon after we graduated. There were occasional letters between us. I knew where she was and something about her life, and she of mine. I was busy with a young and growing family and didn’t get around to answering her last letter. I would see it in a drawer whenever I went searching for something there. I put it off, thinking I would get to it later. Over and over the thought came to me that I needed to write her. Months passed that way. I reasoned that she was as busy with her life as I was with mine. I meant to send a letter, but a year and then another slipped away without my ever responding. I never thought about the urgency of time. In July of the year that I and my graduating class turned thirty-three, my friend died of cancer. I have wished hundreds of times that I had paid attention to the nudge that God was giving me.

I wish I could say that I always pay heed to God’s nudges these days. I am better than I once was about making the phone call, sending the note or slipping off an email, when a person comes to mind and stays there. I know now that God is telling me a person in my life needs someone to care . . . needs a reminder that he or she is loved.

I’m grateful for those moments when God has nudged another person to reach out to me. I’m often surprised by who that person is. But each time, I’m grateful that a person cares enough to let me know that I matter . . . to let me know they care.