How a Group of Friends Changed History

Jessie & Me

A few of my besties: (Jessie, my friend & co-founder of our awesome writing group)

I recently caught a few minutes of a TV program about castle mysteries and in this particular episode they told a story about Martin Luther.

According to this program, Martin Luther was on his way to face trial for translating and proclaiming the Gospel in ways that went against the grain of the Catholic Church. If convicted he would likely be put to death. On the way to his trial, a group of men dressed as guards captured Luther and took him to a remote castle on top of a mountain.

It was at first believed that this group of guards was sent by the Pope to seize Martin Luther, but instead this group was comprised of Luther’s friends who had come to his rescue.

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(Sarah, the first friend I made when we moved to Charlotte, NC)

Upon capturing him, these friends secured Luther within the walls of the castle where he could be free to write in safety. It was here that Luther completed his translation of the Bible into German and made a way for common man to access and read the scriptures for themselves for the very first time.

And it was all because of this rescue.

As I sat and watched this story unfold, I thought to myself, Wow! What if? What if those friends hadn’t been brave or daring enough to stage such a rescue? What if they hadn’t believed in Luther enough to risk their lives for his work, his mission? What would or would not have happened? How might history have changed?

(I also thought, Wow! I wish I had a group of friends to come rescue me and lock me in a castle where all I could do is write…but that’s another story…)

Or is it?

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(Beth, like a sister to both Chris and me)

In all reality, I do have a group of friends very much like this one. I have a writing group, and while they’ve never rescued me and locked me in a castle in order to save my life what they do for me is not much different.

They believe in me and my writing. They give of themselves and resources time and again to help me, encourage me, and spur me on. And our bi-weekly meetings, which come in the midst of daily life and heartfelt struggles, are their own sort of rescue.

Friends like these, and Martin Luther’s are priceless, and I think they are what God has in mind when it comes to friendship.

The Bible tells us “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NIV)

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(The Blum Family from our days in Virginia)

And while we often think of God as our Heavenly Father or our Great Shepard, I think we sometimes forget to consider that He is also our friend. By laying down His life for us on the cross Jesus modeled the greatest love. He modeled the greatest friendship.

And in order to experience this kind of friendship we must start by being this kind of friend.

Consider your closest friend. What is her dream, what is his passion? What is their vision and how can you play a part in helping it come true? How can you aid, support, and rescue?

Mel & Me

(Melanie, my sister and friend since the day I was born)

Consider the people God has put in your life? How can you lay your own life down to show them the love of Christ? How can you give your time, your energy, your resources to further His work, to enhance His kingdom, to show up as Christ with skin on and make a difference in the lives of others?

I know friendships aren’t easy. Friendship of this caliber is hard to come by and even harder to hold onto but it is possible. More than possible it’s the very essence of what Christ has designed for us to experience in relationship and community.

After all, in laying down our lives for our friends there is more than love built between us. There are bonds.

Bonds that mirror the Greatest Love. Bonds that can rescue and save a life.

Bonds that just might change the very course of history.

When You Want to Find the Perfect Gift

Aletheia's PresentsThis Monday marks the start of a beloved Christmas tradition in my house: Chris’s Ten Days of Christmas. Every year starting on December 15th, my husband gets to open one present each day (sometimes two when he get’s snoopy) leading up to Christmas.

It’s a tradition that’s become rather legendary. Year after year our friends and family look at Chris, and all his presents, and think him completely spoiled. Honestly he is. But as his wife, I don’t mind. Chris spoils me all year long, and I love the chance to make him feel loved and special, to speak his love language of gifts.

This year, our oldest daughter is joining in the fun. This week, Aletheia and I went shopping at the dollar store for our “Honey.” With money from her piggy bank she made a list of items to shop for, got her gifts with a little help from mom, and came home to wrap them all by herself. It was awesome fun to watch her go. To watch her purchase and prepare gifts for her daddy and other people she loves.

MaryThe love language of gifts is a big deal in our family. My husband loves to give, and like a little kid on Christmas morning he also loves to receive. And now, what a joy it is to see our little girl following in his footsteps.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the idea or the pressure of finding the perfect present. Something tangible, something bought, something wrapped and stuffed beneath the tree. But the art of giving is so much more.

I n his book, The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman explains that everyone has one or two love languages that resonate more deeply than others.

According to Chapman the five love languages include:

Acts of Service

Words of Affirmation

Quality Time

Physical Touch

and Gifts

Our strongest love language not only determines how we best receive love from others but also impacts how we are most likely to show love to others.

When it comes to Christmas giving consider each person on your list. How do they often show love to the people around them? What sort of ‘gift’ would most likely speak love to them?

Personally a gift that speaks volumes to my heart isn’t a present under the tree but the chance to go write for a few hours. For my birthday my mom watched my girls for a whole day so I could do just that. It was the best present she could possibly give me.

When we take the time to observe the people we love and find what really makes them tick we can often give to them in ways that are far more lasting and far more meaningful than anything bought from a store.

NativityThe best gifts are gifts that speak to the heart, that say, essentially, “Hey, I noticed this about you. I saw this need or sensed that unspoken desire, and found a way to fill it.”

These are the gifts that echo the One Gift we celebrate at Christmas. The One Gift need wasn’t placed under a tree but inside a manger. The One Gift that came and met the need of a lost and broken world, that filled the deepest desire of every human heart.

When it comes to love languages, Jesus speaks them all, and He speaks them straight to our hearts. He is the master of gifts. The master of all we enjoy.

This year, don’t succumb to the pressure of finding the perfect gift. Succumb to His example.

Be the gift. Meet the need. Fulfill a heart’s desire.

Speak the language of Manger Love. The language that swaddles everything in billowing folds of grace.

The Truth About Suffering

Fairyland QuoteThis past June my husband and I found out we are expecting our third baby and while I was excited to share this news with our family and friends there was one friend I couldn’t tell.

Within days of discovering our happy news I received an email from my friend, Caye. In this email Caye openly shared the devastating news that she had just lost her baby at seventeen weeks.

I have journeyed with Caye through one miscarriage and to hear that she was now facing another, when she had just started to grab on to the hope that this pregnancy would last, broke my heart for her and her husband and their dream of having a family.

In a desire to be sensitive to the grief and loss she was going through I decided not to tell her that I was pregnant until I knew she had some time to heal. It was hard to keep my news from her. I didn’t like the feeling of not being open, of hiding something so important from a friend I felt so close to, but I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting her, of adding to her pain.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of spending some time with Caye. After weeks of not being able to get together it was good to see her and I could tell that something was different. Instead of sadness she was full of joy. Instead of grief she had hope in her eyes. I sensed in my heart that the time had come to share my news with her.

“Caye, I have something to tell you but it’s kind of hard.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “What is it? Tell me.”

“I’m pregnant,” I said with my hands literally covering my face.

“Oh my gosh!” she said. “I had no idea. How far along are you?”

“Nineteen weeks,” I said with an apprehensive smile.

“NINETEEN WEEKS!” said Caye.

Together we laughed and hugged and I know my sweet friend well enough to understand that she was genuinely happy for me. I explained to her why I waited and how I’ve wanted to tell her for so long.

“Thank you for waiting,” she said. “It would have been hard. There was a time when it would have really hurt but now…”

I watched as tears filled her eyes.

“But now, I’m over-the-moon happy for you. God has done such a work in me through this suffering and it is so, so good. I can’t believe what He’s done.”

For a moment we were both quiet, because really, sometimes there just aren’t words. But there is friendship, and there’s this way that two hearts that know Him and love Him and love one another have the ability to understand.

I’m not sure how to express what her happiness meant to me. What her words spoke to my heart. What her courage and openness inspire in my life. I am honored to be her friend, to walk with her through suffering, to walk with her through joy. And my own joy feels more complete now that she is a part of it.

Caye’s words on suffering remind me of what Mr. Beaver says about Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis pg. 86)

When we make the choice to walk with God through this life on planet earth we are not choosing a God who is safe. On the contrary we’re choosing a path that is marked with pain and suffering. There are pitfalls, and trials, and tests. There is adversity, darkness, and danger. But even in the wild, even in the pain, even in the darkest night He is there, working in us, molding us, shaping us. Creating something beautiful, creating something good.

And in the end, isn’t it the good we’re after? The beauty? The wholeness? The satisfaction of staring down adversity and finding what we’re made of?

The satisfaction of finding Him?

I’m currently reading a book by Catherynne M. Valente titled, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making. (Awesome title, I know!) And in this book Valente writes of her main character, September:

“There must be blood, the girl thought. There must always be blood. […] It will be hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.” (pg 36)

This life, it is hard and bloody. And sometimes we’re left wondering why. But in it all and through it all there is One.

There is a Lion, who isn’t safe. There is a King who is always good.

There is a Savior who went to the cross, to prove once and for all, that there are wonders worth bleeding for.

For more on Caye’s story please visit http://www.cayeser.wordpress.com.

When You Want to Feed More Than Stomachs (Plus Recipe)

I love the chance to bless the socks off of someone I love. And while I’m not a baker or an expert chef, I love to bless with food.

A few weeks ago my neighbor and friend left for a two-week vacation with her family. While she was away I happily agreed to water her flowers, pick up her mail, and keep an eye on their house while they were gone.

About a week into their vacation she sent me a text saying their plans had changed. Her husband’s father had been scheduled for surgery to treat a cancerous tumor that had been found in his brain.

Feeling deeply for my friend and her family I wanted to do more than water plants and pick up their mail so I started to consider other ways we could bless our friends in their time of need.

Before my friend left for their trip she mentioned to me that she was trying her best not to go to the grocery store so food wouldn’t spoil while they were away. With this in mind I knew they were coming home to an empty fridge and pantry.

The last thing I want to do after being away from home is head for the grocery store. And I didn’t want my friend to have to do this either.

As I did my own grocery shopping I picked up a few basics to get them started upon their return. Milk, eggs, bread, fruit, and juice for their kids went into my shopping basket and home to my kitchen to await their return.

Still I wanted to do more. I knew they had been through two hard weeks. Having a long awaited vacation interrupted by a serious family emergency is trying on so many levels and all I wanted was to show them we care.

On the day before their expected arrival my husband mowed their lawn and I baked zucchini bread. I added a fresh loaf to the grocery pile and planned a supper to take over to their house for their first night home.

As I boiled pasta, chopped veggies, and sliced up bread for their supper I thought about food and how it so often seems like the most natural way to comfort the people we love.

When babies are born, when friends are sick, when loved ones pass away food may be the number one way we show our support and care.

A meal taken to friend seems to say far more than even the best Hallmark card. Essentially it says, “I can’t fix this, but I can fix a meal. I can bring you food that nourishes something basic, something core to who you are. I can show you, in a fundamental way, that you are loved, and cared for, and taken care of.”

The gift of food is also amazing because it nurtures not just the receiver but also the one doing the cooking, the baking, the taking of the meal. As I cooked for my friends I felt drawn to God as if I were taking on a part of Him, a part of who He is, a part of what He does by nourishing far more than physical needs. While I cooked I also prayed that through these groceries, that through this meal, my friends would be drawn to Him as well, that their stomachs and hearts would be filled.

When the groceries and food were delivered my friend’s reaction was priceless. As I fussed over whether or not I got their preferred type of milk, and how I should have thought to bring cereal, or how I forgot to grab their mail, my friend stopped me and said, “Jen, we feel so loved. Everything you did was perfect.”

These are words I’ll always cherish, not as a pat on my back or boost to my own ego, but as evidence we accomplished our goal. We made them feel loved. In the midst of a crisis we saw a need and met it. We became Christ with pasta and brownies.

I love the chance to bless the socks off someone I love because, really, it blesses my socks off too.

The Perfect Take-Over Meal

This recipe is one of my favorites when it comes to a meal that is easy to prepare and easy to transport. It is delicious, perfect for a new mom, kid-friendly, and has become a favorite amongst my family and friends. I love to round out the meal with a tossed salad, a loaf of Italian bread, and brownies for dessert.

Creamy Pesto Chicken

Ingredients:

2-3 Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (Cooked)

16 oz. (1 box) Rotini pasta

1/3 c Basil pesto sauce

1 jar Alfredo sauce

Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Oven Temp: 350 degrees

While chicken is cooking, boil and drain pasta. When chicken is fully cooked remove from the oven and cut into bite size pieces. Mix cooked pasta in large bowl with Alfredo sauce, basil pesto, and chicken.

Pour mixture into a 9×13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until hot. Top with shredded parmesan.

Today Was A Fairy Tale

The Last SummerOnce upon a time there was a girl who loved to read…

…and that girl is me! My friend Susie Finkbeiner, author of Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile (two books you simply must read) says that reading for writers is like flexing your muscles.

I heartily agree. For writers and non-writers alike, reading is rarely a waste of time.

While March is typically a time in which our nation loses its self in the world of college basketball, it is also National Reading Month. In honor of this celebration I thought it would be fun to share with you a passage that I love.

Taken from the pages of The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares, this passage captured my heart several years ago.

It’s the type of passage that made me cry in the middle of the break room at work. It’s the type of passage that lingers long after finishing the book. It’s the type of passage I visit from time to time, to savor its sweetness, to remember its hold on me.

This passage speaks to me of love, loyalty, and friendship. It speaks of finding what’s true in a world of many things false. It reminds me of the magic found in words and reading.

These words may or may not speak to you…but even if they don’t I hope this post will inspire you to pick up a book and seek a little magic of your own.

Enjoy!

An Excerpt from The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

As a band of children, they had laid a magical world over the topology of this skinny place, spread it from ocean to bay. It had places and creatures both evil and good, and part of the enchantment was their power to change sides whenever a good game required it. Both he and Riley realized this world was fragile. It would sink unmarked into the sea if they let it. It required believing in, and fewer and fewer people did.

In outward disgust and inward fear, he and Riley had established a mostly wordless covenant. Bodies were being snatched left and right, but they had each other to remind them what was true. If they kept each other honest, they decided, it would not happen to them. They would lash themselves to the mast of prehormonal bliss and sail through the storm that way. They’d had the prestige at that time to say, “This we know is true.” And if ever anyone said it was untrue, they would know that evil was whispered in their ears and the enemy was at hand. They would not talk. They would not give in. They’d carry the poison pill and use it if they had to.

But what would happen when they came out on the other side of the storm? They hadn’t thought it through that far. They hadn’t quite considered that by trusting one part of your life, you could undermine all the others. By siding with an early version of yourself, preemptively, you would doubt all future selves the conflicted with it.

Alice had been easy to enlist at the age of ten. Alice who would…attune herself to the broader and subtler frequencies of human interaction. She hadn’t known what she’d be giving up.

The rest had been looking backward. Trying to remember what was true rather than seeking it. They were holy men divining the ancient book, judges interpreting their constitution. They harkened back to a calmer, more just time.

But time went on, as it will, and the seasons changed. What did not accord with the covenant Paul did not tell Riley and Alice. The ambitions, the petty preoccupations…the laughing girl in his history class junior year. He went ahead and lived those seasons, all the while feeling that his real life lay here, on this beach in the summer, with Riley and Alice.

What was powerful at thirteen and even seventeen should have grown quaint by twenty-four, and yet the covenant, by its nature, had durability. It still existed between them. He could feel it even now. You could go away for months or years, but it was still here, bound to what you loved, binding you to it.

Alice kept it out of loyalty, he suspected. For Riley, it wasn’t so much like a choice. And for him?

For him, what he’d had here on this island with Riley and Alice was the best and most lasting thing in his life.

Brave Prince, Lovely Princess, may you wake up this day to the fairy tale found in the love of reading. May you flex your muscles and find that few things in this world have the power to strengthen and nourish like well written words and a passage that feeds your soul.