I’m forty-four and I’m still learning how to create and maintain healthy relationships, really to be an instrument of love and grace. In this, God recently sparked a major mind-shift, one that arose smack in the middle of tension, confusion, and heartache.
But resulted in incredible hope and peace.
I’ve learned and grown the most through my marriage and interaction with my daughter. Those are my two most important relationships—the ones I most want to hold tight to. Therefore, I have a great deal of motivation to love well, in a way that deepens emotional intimacy, creates wholeness, and builds trust. I’ve discovered, fighting for those things has such greater impact in the long term than any “solution” my mind might latch on to or contend for.
As the saying goes, we can win the battle and lose the heart.
Last month, my daughter dealt with some hard stuff. Long-term life impacting hard stuff, and it’s been crazy difficult to watch her struggle. Whenever I see her hurt, regardless of the reason, a fierce desire to protect rises up. I want to immediately “fix” the situation. Whenever I land in that place, however, not only am I getting in God’s way, but I miss out on amazing, transformational teaching opportunities.
When I seek His heart and will, not just for the situation or problem but for the person I’m interacting with as well, my vision becomes clearer. More Christ-like. And I’m reminded that God is much more concerned with what is going on within an individual than any decision they may or may not make.
I think we probably know this intellectually, but our natural inclination is to focus on the now. On finding solutions and alleviating the pain of today. It’s easy to forget how often God uses our struggles to bring about His greatest and deepest work. By following His lead, we have an opportunity to play a part in that.
In every conflict and difficulty, He’s inviting us to bring life and light into other people’s lives.
Let me explain, using my recent interaction with my daughter. From the surface, one might say she’s facing decisions related to her future marriage and everything that comes with merging two families from different cultures. Focusing on that—advising her on what steps to take or not to take—keeps us centered on one immediate situation. And initially, that was what I did.
But in the middle of vacuuming, it was like God whispered in my ear: This is a good thing. You have an opportunity to show her what healthy dialogue looks like and how to communicate with others who may not share her perspective.
So, setting aside my “fix-it” tool belt, I chose a mentorship role and planned a picnic for her, her future fiancé, and my husband. Together, we simply talked. We addressed tough issues, shared thoughts and feelings, and honestly, solved nothing.
But I built bridges of trust that will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of communication. We also, I hope, demonstrated what healthy dialogue looks like. Those things—how to persevere through relational tension and initiate and hold hard conversations with equal parts love and truth—will have a much greater impact on her future marriage than any decision she and her boyfriend make today.
This was my mind shift—to focus on growth rather than behavior. In short, to reach and protect and equip the heart.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” To the ancient Jew, the heart involved much more than a person’s emotions. It was the core of their being and encompassed their will and intellect as well. In other words, it’s the place where decisions are made.
It’s easy to focus on the “everything else.” To believe the current problem is the problem. But God’s vision goes so much deeper. Scripture says He uses all things for our good (Rom. 8:38)—to mold us into the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:39).
God’s goal is never behavior modification. He initiates transformation.
As my husband and I prayerfully evaluated the afternoon later, I realized God offers me the same opportunity He presented with my daughter in every encounter, whomever I engage. With every conflict or challenge, He’s inviting me to look past the present situation to the health and growth and healing He longs to bring through it.
This is what it means to create redemptive relationships. To help others experience the same mind-shift which God granted me.
My role isn’t to fix or convince or save but to demonstrate, by example, how we, God’s children, can bring life and light wherever we are. This takes courage and trust, not in the person I’m mentoring but in God. I have to believe He has a plan, is at this moment working out that plan, and that He’ll guide me and the one I love step-by-step toward His perfect and hope-filled will. Resting in who He is frees me to love well and without fear and to focus on the long-term growth, of myself and others, rather than whatever is going on today.
My friend’s comments and attitude stunned me and left me clamoring for a reply. At first, I had none. An evening excursion I’d anticipated with joy, that I’d set aside time for, paid money for, was quickly turning to regret.
The words tumbling out of my friend’s mouth weren’t only hurtful, they were unjustified. It was almost as if she were searching for things to criticize and condemn. Though I persevered, doing my best to enjoy the rest of our time together, my mind kept rehashing every painful statement.
My emotional reaction would’ve been different had she had been calling out sin, or perhaps lovingly pointing me to growth. Then I would’ve known her remarks came from a place of love. But that didn’t seem to be the case. Every declaration appeared to erupt from a place of … indignation.
Why was she so angry? Did she really view me the way her words implied?
The next day, still nursing the sting from the night before, I was rehashing it all through prayer to God. Every statement she’d made, why it was wrong and unfair, and what each revealed regarding the state of her heart.
In other words, show grace. Recognize that, yes, her words and behavior had been ugly, but there were countless times mine were as well. If I were to list every time I’ve done or said something hurtful to someone I love, I’d be buried in paper and ink.
I never have and never will love others perfectly.
Neither would my friend. Most likely, her behavior the night before stemmed from something completely outside of our encounter. She was probably hurting or experiencing stress or uncertainty in some area. Or perhaps she’d merely slipped into a sinful state. We’ve all done that.
But God’s love and gentle presence remains, and knowing we still have a great deal of growth ahead, He lovingly convicts then picks us up and carries us to that next level of grace.
Philippians 1:6 tells us all who belong to Christ are in a state of progress. We’re teetering someplace between who we once were and who we’ll become. This verse brings great comfort when we’re the ones who’ve tilted back toward sinful behaviors, but this hope-filled promise involves those who hurt us as well.
With every interaction, especially the most painful and disappointing, may we all remember that each one of us are in a state of becoming. God will complete the work in us, and perhaps most importantly, He carries the bulk of the weight.
I don’t like failing–at anything. But I especially hate when my failure hurts someone else. Unfortunately, there’ve been numerous times when I’ve sensed God asking me to do something–to say something or reach out to someone–but didn’t. There have been even more times when I’ve felt a prick in my heart cautioning me not to act, but my pride propelled me forward anyway.
Praise God for His grace that can turn every failure into a growth opportunity and ultimately, a win. Today my guest, Kass Fogle, shares a time when she found this to be true and what God taught her through that situation.
Learning–the Hard Way–How to Love Others Well
By Kass Fogle
The most self-absorbed person I know is writing this blog. Though I pray against my selfishness regularly, most of my plans revolve around me.
And every day, God’s love and mercy convicts me and reminds me to follow the example of Jesus. Christ surrendered His place with God and, fully obedient, he humbled himself to put the needs of others first.
Though I’ve learned to stop and pay attention to this lesson, it wasn’t always this way.
I missed a friendship opportunity with a friend from high school who was hurting deeply. She lost two daughters in a tragic car accident and reached out to me via social media. While we communicated back and forth a few times, we never connected in person. Though she was only three hours away, I didn’t get an address so I could visit. I didn’t grab a phone number for a quick call of encouragement.
Instead, I listened to the lies filling my head: “You can’t explain this. You can’t help. She has other friends who live closer.”
And I also heard another other voice whisper, “You don’t have to explain. You have to love. She needs you.”
If my heart ached in disappointment for listening to the louder voice, it shattered over my disobedience to God.
Though I take responsibility for my failures, I believe God will use them for the glory of His kingdom. With the example above, He chose to use my poor decisions as a friend to teach me how to better care for others. And not just in a ‘coffeehouse-pay-it-forward” way, but in a Holy Spirit inspired “I can’t wait to share it” way.
Through this, I learned how to better care for others:
- Loyalty First – “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17, ESV). I have a group of unquestionably faithful girlfriends. But sometimes we’re called to show loyalty to those outside our “inner circle”. We can show the same type of care to those we’re closest to and those we aren’t. In those situations, it’s all about obedience.
Not good with words? Come bearing gifts – a coffee cup, a pretty pen, a bracelet, or a snuggly pillow – anything you think will bring comfort.
Not good with words in times of suffering? Try: “You matter.” “Would you like for me to pray with you now or in private at home?” “I’d like to come over and sit with you for a while.”
- Transform Your Mind – Sometimes we don’t help others because we think their values, traditions, or social networks are too different from ours. But I suggest we pay close attention to people who pop into our lives repeatedly. Most likely, they’re there for a reason. We can call them by name and ask God how he wants us to engage with them. Who knows? Maybe they’re there to bless or grow us.
While we need to recognize if someone is not meant to be in our life, we can also pray that God removes our judgmental tendencies so we can become open to the gift of friendship God has in store for us.
Remember friends, we don’t bless others so we’ll be blessed, we bless because He first loved us.
We’ve been saved by the power of the holy spirit, through the blood of the Son, and the grace and mercy of our Father, so our hearts are prepared to best share the blessing with others.
Just for reading today, you can get a free journal page by clicking on Friendship With a Purpose –While you’re there, check out the other freebies!
Let’s talk about this! When has a past failure taught you how to better show grace? Do you have anything else you’d add to how we can love our friends well? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage one another!
Get to know Kass!
Kass Fogle is a Contemporary Christian Author, Speaker and Blogger who lives with her husband and two children in South-Central Illinois. Her first novel, Ruth’s Garden placed third for Contemporary Christian Fiction at the Write to Publish Conference in 2018.
Her new website, THE INTROVERTED BELIEVER will launch in late 2018 and will focus on encouraging fellow introverts in their work, marriage and friendships. Be sure and subscribe to her website kassfogle.com to stay up to date on the launch progress.
When she is not working the day job you can find her at the local coffee house writing, at home baking, hanging out with family or causing trouble with her tight-knit group of girlfriends. Kass is also a raging Football Mom.
She invites you to email her a prayer or other request at kassfogle(at)gmail(dot)com.
Before you go! I encourage you to read my thoughts on finding the courage to obey when others deem our actions foolish. You can read that HERE. And mommas of little ones, you may find my post on MOPS International encouraging. You can read that HERE.
If you read my recent article on Crosswalk, you know almost half of Americans struggle with deep loneliness. We long for connection. We were created to live interdependently. But in our busy, selfie-taking, and increasingly disconnected culture, it can be crazy-hard to find and cultivate healthy, thriving relationships. My guest today discusses this universal need, challenges to it, and how Jesus and the church were designed to fill that need. As you read Jason Joyner’s thoughts, prayerfully consider your friendships. Have you found your “tribe”? Your inner circle–those people who know your ugly and love you anyway? If not, ask Jesus to show you why and how you can move from isolation to deep connection.
Do You Have a Tribe?
by Jason Joyner
In a world that’s supposed to be growing closer, are you feeling isolated?
Today we’re more connected than ever. We always carry our phone with us. Why wait for a letter or card in the mail when you can text someone? People can travel to the other side of the world within twenty-four hours. We have the power of the internet to associate with each other.
Still, it seems people are increasingly lonely. Despite the way Facebook and other social media pretends to bring us together, they may actually isolate us, if not used properly. We post our happy side of life and see the same from others. Then when we run into them and ask how they’re doing, if they mention something seen online, we can glibly say, “Oh, I saw that,” and shut down the conversation.
If we’re too spread out with “friends” online it can keep us from getting into depth of relationship with a smaller group.
However, if we’re aware of this tendency, we can fight it. We can even use social media, our smart phones, and technologies that can push us apart to bring us together.
There’s a concept going around called “having a tribe.” The term was popularized by author Seth Godin, but it draws from a deeper well. Basically, a tribe was a community. People within it knew their role and had assurance that others had their back. Being in such a tight-knit group is a deep source of identity. In our fragmented world, being in a tribe can bring life.
As Christians, we’re called to do life with one another all the time, not just gather for an hour or two on Sundays. Did you know that there are 59 mentions of “one another” in the New Testament? We’re supposed to love one another, be at peace with one another, encourage one another. This is the Christian version of Seth Godin’s concept.
I’ve seen this in my life through a group called Realm Makers. I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer and a Christian. I live in a region where there aren’t many Christians like me, and there aren’t a lot of people who enjoy these fantastical stories. It’s rare to find someone who shares my faith and a love for these genres.
I found Realm Makers, a conference for Christians who write sci-fi/fantasy a few years ago, and I’ve made some deep friendships within this group. We get together once a year in the conference, but stay connected through social media, video apps, and email. We encourage, pray, rejoice, and mourn with each other.
Having a group of friends that know me and are so supportive, has made such a difference. I don’t feel as isolated. I can enjoy my local church body more, because I don’t have expectations of others fitting that niche in my life. My Realm Makers friends meet that connection, so I can enjoy others where they are.
Even Christians, a family of faith designed by God to live in close community with one another, can get isolated in this modern world. But we have a built-in tribe through our shared faith in Jesus. Don’t let the busyness of the world or the shallowness of social media rob you of that connection. Reach out to others. Be that “one another” someone needs, so they can feel that sense of belonging. You can use the tools of our time to build deeper relationships.
If you do that, you’ll find your tribe, and you’ll be blessed for it.
Let’s talk about this! Do you feel like you have a tribe? What steps can you do to find such a community?
Jen here. Before you go, make sure to sign up for Jennifer’s free quarterly e-mailing. Subscribers receive great content–a short story, inspirational message, recipe and more–sent directly to their inbox, and a free, 36-lesson Bible study. Sign up HERE. (If you sign up for my newsletter but don’t receive the link to the downloadable study in your welcome email, please contact me.)
Get to know Jason:
Jason C. Joyner is a physician assistant, a writer, a Jesus-lover, and a Star Wars geek. He’s traveled from the jungles of Thailand to the cities of Australia and the Bavarian Alps of Germany. He lives in Idaho with his lovely wife, three boys, and daughter managing the chaos of sports and superheroes in his own home. Launch, a YA superhero story, is his first published novel.
Check out Jason’s novel, Launch:
Sixteen-year-olds Demarcus Bartlett and Lily Beausoliel are among a select group of youth invited to an exclusive, all-expenses-paid conference at social media giant Alturas’ California headquarters. Led by charismatic founder Simon Mazor, the world’s youngest billionaire, this isn’t the typical honors society. It seems that everyone here has some secret, untapped potential, some power that may not be entirely of this world. An ancient prophecy suggests that if these teens combine their abilities, they could change the course of history. The only question is: Will it be for better or for worse? Grab your copy HERE or on Barnes and Noble
Relationships are hard, messy, and at times, utterly frustrating. But they are also necessary. But as my guest, Nike Chillemi shares, we all need friends who will stay. Our friends that need that from us.
Being a Friend Who Stays by Nike Chillemi
To live of life filled with happiness, women must find and keep true women friends. You know what kind of friend that is. A bestie could be your biological sister, a cousin you grew up with, a college roommate, or someone you met later in life, perhaps on the job. She can and does keep a confidence. She’ll tell you if that “hot little red dress” isn’t the way to go, even if you envisioned it making your husband go crazy for you.
It’s even better if you have a small posse of true women friends in the faith. You need to have friendships with women that lift you up and encourage you to go higher in your relationship with the Lord. Do you have friends like this? Are you this kind of friend? It goes both ways.
However, what happens when a friend momentarily gets “stuck on stupid” or you do? You said something that triggered them or vice-versa? Many times, this is because one of you is having a bad day and the angst isn’t even about the friendship. It might be safer to become passive-aggressive, catty, or competitive with a friend than with the co-worker who just got the coveted promotion. If the bad mood blows over and one of you or both apologizes…nothing to worry about.
I used to be a first-class murmurer, a whiner and complainer. Believe me it became tiresome to my friends. The Lord has helped me grow in this area, but if something triggers me, I’ll start whining again. However, now that passes much more quickly, and I’m sure my friends are grateful.
What if your friend has become insensitive? If you recently lost your husband and a single friend says, “It’s going to be okay,” this is may feel as if she’s thrown a bucket of cold water on you. In that moment, the best thing to do is take a deep breath and say a quick prayer. She didn’t mean to hurt. If she repeatedly “encourages” inappropriately, give yourself some time to heal and talk to her about it later.
What happens when a friend becomes brusque and non-empathetic regarding something? It could be that she’s “Been there, done that, and has the tee shirt.” She’s “conquered” that thing, is beyond it, and she thinks you should toughen up. This could be because she doesn’t want to revisit the pain of those vulnerable feelings. While you are raw and feeling exposed may not be the best time to confront her. Find another shoulder to lean on. Then come back later to work things out with your friend.
You have to know when to address things and when to let them go, and which friendships to invest in and what ones God is calling you to end. Prayer can help determine that. But you don’t want to give up on a meaningful friendship. By the same token it’s not wise to stay in one, for old times sake, that has become toxic.
Let’s talk about this! What are some ways you’ve intentionally held tight to your friendships? In what ways have your friends held tight to you? What’s one action step you can take from today’s post? Share your thoughts, stories, and examples in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!
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Get to Know Nike!
Like so many writers, Nike N. Chillemi started at a very young age. Her first major work was a Crayola, fully illustrated book she penned as a little girl (colored might be more accurate) about her then off-the-chart love of horses. Today, you might call her a crime fictionista with a humorous side. Her passion is crime fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad and her good guys smarter and better.
Nike is the founding board member of the Grace Awards and its Chair, a reader’s choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She has been a judge in the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories; and an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category. Her four novel Sanctuary Point series (out of print), set in the mid-1940s has finaled, won an award, and garnered critical acclaim. The first novel in the Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels/Dawson Hughes series HARMRUL INTENT won in the Grace Awards 2014 Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller/Historical Suspense category. She has written book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and John 3:16 Marketing Network. Find her online at her blog, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on @NikeNChillemi.
Check out her latest release, Blood Speaks:
Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels, Brooklyn gal PI, waited a long time for the solitaire on her finger. When her sometimes boss, a shadowy figure and director of a secret government organization, offers a one-week bridal shopping vacay in Maryland she jumps at it.
Joined by bridesmaids, Sandra Daube and Bertha Dagney, Ronnie sets off for the village of Heritage Cove on Arrowhead Lake, Maryland. Their joyous stay at the rustic yet luxury Heritage Cove Inn is shattered by a murder with tendrils and a clandestine motive stretching back to the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
It doesn’t take long for Ronnie and her gal-pals to become targets of the killer. It goes without saying, Taylor County Deputy Sheriff, Lieutenant Dawson Hughes leaves Texas to protect his bride-to-be. He’s joined by Sandra’s employer, conservative political activist Ben Cohen. No obstacle can keep Gabby Hayes look-alike Hoot Dagney from the side of Bertha, his new bride.
When we lived in Southern California, our church went through an ugly split. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew people were hurt. I could hear it in our pastor’s voice, when he spoke to the congregation. I could see it on his wife’s face, when her tears flowed during worship.
Though I was ignorant to the issue, I could feel the toxic tension every Sunday.
I wonder if this was what Timothy felt whenever he stepped up to speak. Did he sense the tension that arose from the false teachers who, though small in number, had such influence over the congregation? And what was going on with the women who appeared to be jockeying for position and fighting for prestige. (1 Tim. 2:9-10)
What did their conversations look like?
You’ve probably encountered women like them—ladies who are so consumed with pride, in impressing others and gaining power, they don’t care who they hurt. Under the guise of venting, they gossip and slander, creating an infectious mess that hinders the work of Christ.
When you read 1 Timothy 3, you may notice, verse 11 is directed specifically to women. Why do you think that is?
Perhaps because we tend to sin with our tongues?
Paul tells Timothy the women “must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do” (NLT).
The Greek word translated as slander (or slanderer) here means an accuser or one who makes charges that bring others down.
John MacArthur says, “It’s a title frequently given to Satan.” (Matt. 4:5, 8, 11, 13:39; Luke 4:3, 5, 6, 13; 8:12 …)
That doesn’t surprise me. Satan is a destroyer bent on thwarting God’s plans, causing confusion and disunity, and shattering the most sacred of all relationships.
In Southern California I had a friend with a child my daughter’s age. We’d meet on occasion, at the park, her house, or mine. Most of the time, our conversations remained surface level, until one day she started to “vent.”
She’d gotten herself swept up with whatever was going on in the church and “verbally processed” her feelings and conclusions to me., much of which involved not facts but her opinion of our pastor.
I left confused and concerned. I still didn’t know the full situation—only this one woman’s perceptions. And even though I didn’t want to be involved, even though I had no business being involved, I began to question.
That ended my “musings” immediately.
Granted, there are things we should investigate and get concerned about. We must protect truth. We should lovingly confront sin. But not through “venting,” or gossip or trying to pull everyone else into the mess. Jesus laid out clear instructions for how we should handle conflict in Matthew 18:15-19, and if you’ll read them, you’ll notice, never once does He tell us to stir the pot or spew our feelings to whoever will listen or even to our besties. We’re to go directly to the individual.
Our tongues can speak life or death, can foster unity or disunity, can create healing and reconciliation or hurt and destruction. If we want to verbally process, may we go to God. He’s the only One who knows the full situation—and solution—anyway. And in everything we do say, may we follow Paul’s commands in Ephesians 4:29:
Can you sense God’s call to love in that verse? Not self-love that focuses on our feelings, the offense done to us, or our need to verbally unload, but rather what is good for the body of Christ and God’s kingdom. Rooted in a love that is other’s focused—a love that comes from “a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
What are some things can you do when your in a conversation where a person or the group begins to gossip or slanderous things?