Tag Archives: friendship

No Strangers Admitted

No strangers admitted. It sounds cliquish or downright hostile—not a legacy we want to leave as Christians.

Yet two of the most spiritual women I know (who are among my favorite people) practice this theology every day of their lives. And without apology.

Debbie and Mindy would never dream of admitting a stranger into their lives. Instead, they make everyone a friend and usually about as quick as it takes to say hello.

Years ago, Debbie and her husband John sat a few rows in front of us on a flight to Cancun. On arrival at the Mexican terminal, Debbie proudly introduced us to the third occupant of their row. She not only knew the girl’s name and story, but informed us that she’d invited her to visit us at our condo in Akumal sixty-five miles away.

That might not sound terribly unusual if you’re imagining a couple of twenty-somethings planning a beach party or splitting the cost of a boat rental.

Not the story here.

Though Debbie isn’t against being the life of a party, what she had in mind was encouraging a  new friend. You see, Debbie makes a habit of engaging those she can point to Jesus. And if you already know him, your burdens are hers. People are her calling.

When I walk with Mindy in her neighborhood, we stop to talk with people blocks away from her house. She asks one how his wife is recovering from a recent illness and the next about the job. She knows family members by name, and everyone seems to know her.

When Mindy’s in a crowd of teenagers, she’s no less popular. That’s because she has a knack for zeroing in on those who might benefit from her special brand of mentoring. It makes no difference whether they are church kids or random youth on a picket line; the eager and the hostile alike benefit from her gentle concern.

Those of us who find it difficult to dive into friendship with strangers often chalk it up to a difference in personality.

I’m just shy. Or that’s not my thing.

After all, we say, I ‘m friendly and caring. I chat with strangers in the line at the grocery store. I empathize with my friends, and even weep with those whose troubles are plastered on the television screen. But if you are like me, you’re usually too self-conscious and second-guessing of your observations to enter someone’s life without a direct invitation. It makes us uncomfortable.

At a Hume Lake marriage retreat we attended years ago, Bob Phillips and Ken Poure taught about the four basic personality types using the then popular Gary Smalley/John Trent Personality Inventory. Each character type is named for an animal with corresponding traits. (For a quick synopsis or to see how those line up with other assessments, check here.) At the conference we learned that Otters, for example, find it easy to talk to strangers, while Golden Retrievers are good listeners.

Those groups ought to shine at the hard and sometimes messy work of befriending strangers because it fits their personality. The rest of us rest of us are off the hook. Right?

But the Otters have a handicap. Sometimes they’re shallow and egocentric. And the Retrievers can be too fearful to approach people. So then maybe the job of befriending strangers should go to the adventurous Lions. But it turns out they might as easily be cold when it comes to people. And the discerning Beavers have a tendency to be unsocial.

God created every personality type to minister to people.

Though each of us has a strength we could use, we also carry one or more potential weakness that could sabotage the same mission. That’s because all strengths become liabilities when they are not continually nurtured and led by the Spirit. Sounds like these personality downsides might have something in common with sin.

The S… word is our clue that self-conscious reticence will have no place in God’s kingdom. We won’t be able to claim our quiet contemplative nature, our fear, or our lack of emotional warmth either. Our temperament does not excuse us from the business of loving. Besides, if we’re honest, we often don’t even see those who are hungry for kindness. We’ve got our nose in the grocery list, the meeting agenda or some other equally urgent matter.

Like Gears in Sync

Like Gears in Sync

All of us should approach strangers with our eyes open to possible friendship, witness, and service. Like Debbie and Mindy we need to let God empower the strengths he has given us. Though my friends do have winning personalities, their secret is that they are already moving in sync with Jesus when it comes to caring about people. And, like Jesus, people admitted into their lives don’t remain strangers. They become friends.

Ditch Picnics and Poetry

BooksThe spring my granddaughter, Kaylee, was five we took lessons in reading outside of the box. I, of course, had years of reading behind me. But she had only the alphabet and a handful of three-letter words at her command. Together we ventured by way of a picnic of cheese sandwiches into poetry and friendship.

My book club had met for a year or two when we settled on George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind. In the story, death is personified as the mystical, gentle, and yet fierce North Wind who takes the young boy, Diamond, on night excursions that foreshadow his impending death. Sunny and silly poems temper the solemn subject matter in the children’s story. The prose is light and lovely, devotional in nature.

In a new move for our book club, Jana, who has an English degree, wanted to read aloud a poem from Diamond’s idyllic day at the seashore. I remembered the one—birds flying, lambs skipping, daisies growing—sweet, but a little repetitive.

Jana thumbed through the book to find her place and began to read. Her voice of silver and earth soon dissolved the room. Meadow flowers overhung a brook crossing at our feet. Birds wheeled on the wind, diving fast with wings spread, celebrating the gift of life. Lambs stumbled and balked, then nosed each other before skipping away to beginning their worship anew.

Jana’s voice wavered with emotion. Tears came to our eyes while the daisies waved, showering thankful petals on the breeze.

I don’t know if I got all the details exact. But that’s due to time, not because I didn’t see it clearly then. Jana’s voice transcribed the poetry into pictures. Her emotion made them magic.

Tea Party

Tea Party

A day or three later, I was playing picnic with Kaylee. I sliced plastic donuts on petal-pink plates with a tiny plastic knife and fork. Kaylee poured pretend tea from her silver pot and looked up at me. “Couldn’t we have a real picnic?”

“Well…I suppose we could make sandwiches.”

“And can we go outside?”

The grass was damp, so we folded the old tan bedspread with the modern art flowers double on the flat grass above the drainage ditch that cuts across our hilly lot. We nibbled our potato chips and quarters of granny smith apples, pouring juice from a Popples thermos that had belonged to her mother.

With lunch finished we poked sticks into the gully, snagging winter-rotted leaves as they hurried for the pond that would be their grave.

When I retreated from the water, I grabbed my book and called Kaylee back to the blanket. “Do you want to hear a poem?” I asked, hoping to share the magic of the book club with her.

Kaylee plopped down to listen and lay very still, her feathery hair floating with the breeze. She seemed mesmerized by the song-like words. But when I got to the end, she bounced up without a word to pick the flowers, small as seeds, that littered the lawn.

Maybe she was a bit young.

At lunchtime the next day she brought the tea set downstairs. “Can we have another picnic?”

Her pleading eyes sealed the deal. I headed for the kitchen to make the sandwiches, but she called me back. “Don’t forget your book.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThough we had read Dr. Seuss and the Grimm Brothers all her short life, the ditch picnic marked the beginning of our literary friendship. We returned to the ditch and the George MacDonald poem more than once.

But soon, Kaylee was off to school and bringing me things that she liked. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo were two of our favorites. Later, we fell in love with A Bridge to Terebithia and Inkheart. Discussion questions sometimes led to thoughtful conversation we might have otherwise missed. And we celebrated too, rewarding ourselves with movie premiers or video rentals.

Kaylee has grown a lot. Our discussions turn now on the writing style of The Wind in the Willows, the faithfulness of The Hobbit movie to the book, or the moral issues in The Hunger Games. We continue to share our discoveries, but in addition  we encourage each other in our writing adventures as well.

We learned lessons in reading and listening outside of our little boxes that spring. And I learned that my granddaughter makes a thoughtful companion. Our picnic and poem inspired what I hope will be a lifelong legacy of friendship through books.