Monday, March 30, 2015

When Your Friends Hurt (Part Two)

The Backdrop

Please see Part One for the full story.

Within 30 minutes of hanging up with our friends' pastor, who bore the unenviable yet sacred job of conveying terrible news to several people, we had booked a one-way ticket for my husband. He also called his parents to notify them that we likely would need their help soon. We discussed what, how, and when to tell our children that their friend was gone. We went to bed but lay sleepless or restless all night.

The next morning he left for the airport before the kids awakened. I bluffed my way through the breakfast routine and dropped them off as usual, then returned home to face my next tasks: how to get to South Carolina myself. With four kids and a weekend of activities, plus school the next week, I could not just jet off at will.

But then...

The church showed up. Not just those in my local place of worship, but family and friends and colleagues who recognized our need and stepped in to help. Each one was able to help in a specific way, AND THEY DID. Not one person shrugged off.

Thank You

1. My in-laws (MIL and FIL for these purposes): We called Thursday night, knowing that the following morning my sister-in-law was scheduled to deliver her firstborn. Granny is always on call when a baby arrives. This is fact in most families, yes? But she and FIL rearranged their weekend plans to cover for our children, taking turns when necessary, cooking for a small army, overseeing homework, carpooling to football practice, attending church and Bible drill, carpooling to and from school. My FIL in particular got a first-hand look at my daily routine, as MIL eventually joined my SIL to help with the baby. For four solid days he kept up with four loud, energetic kids. We are so grateful for their care...they allowed us to focus on our friends and not worry about our kids back home.

Flying home over Dallas, TX
2. I texted my friend Erin just to share the news. She checked in with me Friday morning, and only then did it occur to me that maybe she could help. Specifically with an airline ticket, since her husband flies for a regional airline. We've done it before for more pleasant outings, but it had not even crossed my mind the previous night. So thanks to her, and her hubby, I flew out Saturday morning (direct!), then home again several days later. They also were able to get my hubby home as well. This saved us hundreds of dollars, no small gift!

3. Sometime on Friday I realized that we were supposed to teach our BFG (Sunday school) class that weekend. One quick note to Bruce Q, who with his wife, Lynn, helps direct our class, and we were covered there. Praise God he was in town, available, and willing.

4. My hubby is a junior high principal in a small town north of Dallas, TX. He called, but had to leave a message for, his superintendent shortly after we received the news. His assistant principal easily stepped in for Friday, but his "supe" eased his mind by graciously encouraging him to go, stay as needed, miss the Monday board meeting, and let his AP cover. Knowing the pressure at work was off allowed him to focus on being all there, unburdened by worries at home.

5. Emotional and prayer support: Seriously, I don't even know if I can name everyone who inquired with sensitivity, texted to say they were praying, cried with us, called to express their sadness for us--because they knew we were grieving as friends as well as grieving for friends. So thank you to all who reached out personally, and you who prayed but didn't say anything. We felt the love.

6. In South Carolina itself, we saw the local church spring into action with efficiency, grace, and affection. Two, maybe three, local churches worked together to coordinate meals, the memorial service, activities for the siblings, pastoral leadership for the parents. It was truly incredible to watch how NewSpring Church, in particular, handled the details of a large, youth-themed funeral service. Jeremy in Greenwood, we appreciate the way you loved on our people. You will make a great campus pastor!

No Gift Too Small

The Bible speaks of spiritual gifts and services within the church. In 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7 we read, "Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." 

A bit later, verse 27, "Now you [plural, as in y'all] are the body of Christ and individually members of it." 

So, collectively, believers comprise the body of Christ, which we more commonly call the church. Individually, each of us has a specific role to play, empowered and enabled by the Lord himself. It can look "spiritual," as in teaching, helping, administrating, and all that. And it can look practical, too, as in babysitting, cooking, sitting with, listening, praying, carpooling, mowing, arranging flights, creating videos, playing "bouncer" to visitors ...

No gift is too small. Each one contributes to the need. Each one is a blessing. Each one shows love. If each one of us will respond with our particular gift or ability, the church will show the world what true love really is.

"Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things... So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor 13: 7,13)

Friday, March 27, 2015

When Your Friends Hurt (Part One)

This week the story in Luke 5, in which the friends of the paralyzed man got creative when he needed to see Jesus, speaks to me. No, it shouts at me. "This is your life! Today you are one of the friends. One day you will be the cripple." 

The Paralytic's Friends

The scene shows friends carrying a paralyzed man on his stretcher to the house where Jesus is teaching. Realizing the doorway was blocked and the room too crowded to push through, they refusing to take no for an answer. They climbed up to the flat roof and cut a hole in it so they could lower their friend into Jesus' presence. Owner and crowd be damned, they were going to get that man within reach of the Healer (Luke 5:18-20).

I like those friends. I want to be like that. I don't really want to be the paralyzed guy, but sometimes crap happens, and we are crippled by what life throws at us. Simple math, however, tells us that we will more often be supporting someone else in their trials.

"Our" couple

To paraphrase Shrek, relationships are like onions -- they  have layers. Strangers, acquaintances, friends, family, friends-like-family. Each kind meets a need in one's life and can be a blessing.

When my hubby and I first met, his best friend was married to a girl I worked with. A year later we married, and they had already morphed into "our" couple--unique friends that every new couple needs. Not his, not hers, but "ours." And then they moved away. Like, back to the East Coast where their family lived.

The nerve.

What I thought was terrible (and it was!) caused us to be intentional. We all had other important friends in our lives, but we didn't want this one to fade away. Since we couldn't see each other often, we began vacationing together annually.

As the children came along--four for them, four for us--they became special to one another as well. We send birthday and Christmas boxes to each other. For 17 years, we have driven or flown a thousand miles to share summer vacations, special events, and difficult seasons with one another. We once left our kids with various grandparents and went on a cruise to celebrate my and my hubby's 10th anniversary (see photo). Just 10 days ago we confirmed our upcoming visit to see them in June. They qualify as "friends-like-family" standard after all these years.

So last week when their pastor called to tell us that their oldest son had died that night, we moved heaven and earth to get to them. The only question was "How fast can we get there?"

Carrying the Mat

When my stepfather died years ago, many friends hurt on my behalf. Sometimes you just can't drop everything and travel like that, so you reach out at other times and in other ways. A few friends were able to attend the service, and I remember that feeling of gratitude that someone was there for me. In a tangible way they helped carry me.

This week it was our turn. We were privileged to be allowed in, to be invited to come close. I think we maybe held up one corner of "the mat" together, by just showing up.

Did we fix anything? Ha. As if that were even possible. All we could really do was be there. Such an inadequate feeling. But it's comforting to know that Jesus thought it fitting when his friend Lazarus died. He wept with Mary and Martha.

We listened and cried and prayed. We are still doing that. We loved that boy, too. My husband did laundry one day (did it even occur to me? Again I say Ha!). We kept them company, provided a diversion. I think we were just safe people for them.

Eventually we had to return home to our family, our regular responsibilities. But they are well loved, with others continuing to hold them up. Limited by distance, we text them (or their local friends to coordinate goodies, share concerns, etc), call (or leave voice mail), and pray (constantly). They know their Healer loves them and is even now working to comfort and heal.

The Village

We were not able to fly cross-country within hours of the news without considerable help. We needed our own support system.

In part two, I'll share more about those who enabled us to go.

Two Final Thoughts

First, if ever or whenever someone dear to you comes into suffering of any sort, err on the side of reaching out as opposed to doing nothing. You will know the dynamics of your relationship and what's appropriate. But don't let fear cause you to step back when they desperately need friends to step in.

Second, and on a lighter note, I want to ask you about your friendships. If you are married, do you have an "our" couple -- friends that you did not inherit from your spouse? How have you managed long-distance friendships? Share your creative solutions to the challenge to maintaining long-term friendships.

And a request: please pray for our friends. Even if you read this blog post randomly a year or more from now, they'll still need your prayers.