Intertwined

Under the sun
disconnection,
isolated life
relational strife.

Oversized homes
lonely souls roam,
seclusion bred
intimacy dead.

Living private lives
independence thrives,
we never bother
loving another.

Who did God create?
People to relate,
intertwined souls
mankind made whole.

-October 2017, home

Our Love Has Grown Up Together

I can hardly fathom
the passage of years.
Is it truly two
decades since we vowed
to love one another
until death should part us?

It was a fairy tale day,
meeting the eyes of
my beautiful bride
walking the aisle
on the arm of her father.

When asked “who gives this woman?”
your dad responded
“her mother and I do”
through tears.

Then we stood before God and family
witnesses
to our promise
to love and cherish
each other.
No doubt, Pastor Ray had fine words
though twenty years later
I remember none.
In the presence
of your radiance
I was blind
to much else.

A lunch of cake and sandwiches,
prayers and well wishes,
Several crystal dishes,
and we were on our way.

Bright eyed and hopeful,
but the years have proven that
fairy tales exist
only in fantasy.
Reality is so much better.

In real life, we have encountered
pain of loss,
sorrow of unfulfilled expectations,
anger toward corruption,
fear of losing loved ones,
bitterness of betrayal,
confusion about God’s plan,
but in all things, joy.

In fairy tales, the couples
(allegedly)
live happily ever after.
Not so in real life.
In real life, we live joyfully ever after,
regardless of circumstance.
Fairy tales are static things
unchanging,
but real life matures
ever changing.

Amidst the years–
sorrows and the pains,
sunshine and rains,
joys and strains–
we grew
deepening roots
as we stretched our branches.

The years have been kind to me.
I left that church newly married
to a luminous bride
eager to make a home
and love her husband well.
She did.
But like a giant tree
her love for me has ever expanded
growing ever more solid
but new branches welcoming
children, friends
and some unknown,
a wise and welcoming beauty
whose love roots deeper into the dark
bringing light to people’s hurt.

A fairy tale it is not; it is better.
I am not fully myself with her, nor she without me.
To know me, you must come to know her,
and to know her, you must know me,
for our love has grown up together.

Band of Brothers

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.–Proverbs 17:17

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.–Proverbs 18:24

True friendship is a rare gift, especially among men. In a culture that promotes rugged individualism on the one hand, and allows people to have thousands of “friends” through social media on the other, we have lost our way regarding what friendship means. We read stories in the Bible about friendships between men and the closeness they have may seem surreal to us because they are so different from our everyday experience.

We may have buddies, but often we don’t have brothers.

We may have men that we like doing stuff with, but often we don’t have men whom we love deeply.

I am grateful that for me, at least, results have not been typical. I want to tell you about two of my friends.

Several years ago, our church held a men’s ministry event where “accountability groups” were encouraged. If you’ve never heard of an accountability group, it is essentially when a group of men get together and confess their sins to one another and pray for one another, usually guided by a list of questions (e.g., did you look at porn this week? Have you managed your money well?). My friend Brad was moved and reached out to a bunch of guys about starting a group. Eric and I, even though we didn’t attend the men’s ministry event, were the only two that responded. We didn’t even really have relationship beforehand, other than a time when I offended Brad. The three of us began meeting at 6:00 on Thursday mornings at Randy’s Family restaurant.

We are an unlikely trio. Let me tell you why. Brad runs an office–several actually–that sells bearings and transmissions. He is a whiz at math, has great spatial skills, has administrative capabilities that most only long for, and is a neat freak (perhaps even obsessively so).  Eric is a locksmith by profession, but also has an eye for beauty that many people lack in today’s culture. Whether from resin or wood, he is able to craft things that amaze. Eric is also driven and visionary. I am a neuropsychologist and pastor. I love words more than anything requiring spatial skills, something both Eric and Brad would be quick to tell you. I am also decidedly not a neat freak.

Brad likes bikes. Eric likes Dungeons and Dragons. I like books.

As I said, we are an unlikely trio, yet these two men are my brothers. The love I have for them runs deep.

When we began meeting, we used ” the list.” Each week we would walk through the questions. Some weeks, I would hope that we wouldn’t get around to me because I didn’t want to tell these guys what a mess I was am.  Week after week we persisted, bonds of friendship forming. Eventually, we put away the list. We didn’t need it to guide our conversations any longer because we had developed enough trust in one another to discuss whatever was pressing. We began to understand what it meant to encourage, admonish, help, and love one another. We were willing to dig down with one another and to allow the others to dig beneath our false veneer we put up.

But don’t get the wrong impression that deep friendship is always easy. It’s not. Every one of us have said something stupid for which we have needed to apologize. Every one of us has been confronted and wounded by the others. We have repeatedly had to apologize and forgive. Every one of us has sinned against the others, often unknowingly.

It would be so easy to live on the surface, to talk about the weather, but never get down to what is beneath. It would be so easy to walk away when conflict arises. It would be so easy to live behind our masks and never let one another see our true selves, but then we would never be truly known and honestly, then we would never grow. My friend Larry says “true growth happens when you look bad in the presence of love.” I have that with these men and I regularly thank God for them. In a society that says when things get tough you are totally within your rights to walk away, a brother who sticks close by when things get messy is an unbelievable blessing.

In John 17, perhaps my favorite chapter in the whole Bible, Jesus prays for his brothers. At the end of the prayer, Jesus tells the Father that his desire is that these men would love one another the way that He and the Father love one another and that we would be one in the way that the Trinity is one (verses 21-22). This is not love like the world defines love; it is a radical other-centeredness and commitment to one another’s good. Jesus wasn’t just praying that this might happen in heaven, but that we might manifest this in our relationships now. I am grateful for two brothers with whom I am able to strive for that goal.

Perhaps as you read this, you are thinking to yourself “yeah, that’s unrealistic,” but what if it’s not? How do you stretch toward this end? First, pray. Ask God to help this type of relationship develop. Second, persist. As I said above, when things get hard, our sinful predisposition is to cut and run rather than persevere in love for one another. Third, patience. Change happens slowly. In our instant society, we need to become people who take the long view, who trust the process of growth and relational sanctification.

Brad, Eric, and I are far from perfect, but we are committed to loving one another over the long haul.

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