The Power of a Small Group

Chihuly Glass – The Garden

J.R.Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings,  tells the story of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who embarks on a dangerous journey to the Dark Mountain. Frodo quickly learns that he cannot do this alone. Along the way he acquires some interesting and very good friends. They include other hobbits, an elf, some humans, even a wizard. These odd companions are there for Frodo when he faces his most difficult challenges. Strange though they may be, the friendships formed will encourage Frodo to fulfill his life’s purpose. Through their combined strength they are able to defeat evil, overcome obstacles and find a path when there appeared no way to move forward.

In many aspects our lives in the community of faith fulfill those same needs. Each of us yearns for people who genuinely care about us. We ache for safe places where we can share our deepest selves. Sometimes, like Frodo, the friends who give us support and encouragement are a strange, but likeable assortment of personalities. They breathe life into our hopes, offer wise counsel and stand with us in our discouragement. In other moments we are the listeners, the encouragers and givers of support.

The power of a small group comes as friendships are formed, prayers are prayed, concern and compassion grows and our faith in nurtured. Trying to live our Christian life without other Christians is both painful and isolating. I continue to cherish the friendships formed in such small group settings where the questions of life were asked. For in those times and places I found fellowship and kindred spirits to share my life with. May you be blessed with these same gifts.

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.”

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.

Friendship Is Built on Trust

Integrity is a part of the code we live by as Christians. Our word is depended upon by others. We need to know that we can trust each other in the small stuff, or how will we ever trust in the important stuff. All of which is why I was so troubled when a friend was dishonest with me recently. I wish my friend had simply spoken the truth. It wouldn’t have been hard to say, “I forgot. It slipped my mind. I couldn’t.” . . . Or any number of simple, easily forgivable reasons. Instead my friend told me something I knew was less than true.

Trust is breached when we choose dishonesty. This is especially so, when you consider the person to be a friend . . . A friend that you have trusted in the past and hoped to trust in the future. I’m not sure all that motivated the lie, but I do know that it hurt. The odd thing about the lie, is that it didn’t accomplish what it was meant to do. I’m disappointed in my friend. All of which is causing me to rethink this friendship. Do I want to be around a person I can’t trust? What can I believe that this friend tells me? What other lies have I been told?

The writer of the book of Proverbs says of friendship, “A friend loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) I think that love means that we can be honest when we slip up in friendship. It is alright to admit that our thoughts were elsewhere, and what we should have done, we didn’t do. It is in fact better to be truthful than to hide behind a lie.

To have a lasting friendship is truly a gift. Our friends bless us with their care and faithfulness, through the persistence of their presence in our lives. We may live long distances from our friends, yet with a phone call or visit, years fall away. When a friend hurts, we hurt. We celebrate with friends the joy of life. Relationships grown through the years bring laughter to our hearts and joy to our spirits. I’m grateful for friends who have shared my journey . . . For those who have been with me in good times as well as bad. I’m grateful for friends that I can trust.

I’m grateful for another friendship . . . the friendship that comes in Jesus Christ. This friend will never lie to me, will always be with me offering both grace and compassion. It is a friendship that will not end, with one whom I can always trust.