Heart Friends

One of the fun things about blogging is that it generates comments from friends. (Let’s face it, when you are a new blogger, most of your readers are existing friends!)   The majority of comments I’ve received have been through Facebook and email—not “official” comments seen on my blog page.   I have savored every word, not just because it’s nice to get feedback on my writing, but because each comment represents a connection with someone special. I know there is validity in what they are saying, because we share familiarity beyond the pages of my blog. This is particularly true for those who fall into an elite category I call “heart friends.”

best-of-friends-poster-c10048568[1] (2)Heart friends are the rarest and most precious of comrades. Their friendships transcend distance and life-changes. They are the buddies you can go for years without seeing, and then step right back into a deep connection as if you had never been apart. I was blessed with my very first heart friend, Sandy, in fourth grade. Our friendship has spanned the decades from prancing around like horses at recess, to scouring the mall to find the perfect Gunne Sax prom dresses, to swapping stories about being middle-aged!

I have been extremely blessed to discover additional heart friends along several stops in my life’s journey.   All have brought their unique personalities and life experiences to the table. However, I’ve also noticed that there are common characteristics in all of my heart friendships:

  1. We embrace similar core values and beliefs.
  2. We trust each other implicitly.
  3. We talk easily and share deeply.
  4. We laugh with (and sometimes at) each other.
  5. We keep confidential things confidential.
  6. We can “be ourselves” when we’re together, imperfections and all.
  7. We can count on each other for help, day or night.
  8. We pray for one another.
  9. We enjoy just “hanging out” together.
  10. We are each other’s cheerleaders and encouragers.
  11. We aren’t afraid to lovingly speak the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.
  12. We hold one another accountable.
  13. We extend grace and forgiveness to one another.
  14. We challenge each other to grow.
  15. We feel each other’s pain and celebrate each other’s successes.

Heart friends aren’t born overnight. When I think of how I met and cultivated my dearest friendships, it was always through shared experiences. The relationships gradually unfolded in the midst of attending school, participating in musical groups, being involved in church activities, or working together. Over time the connections transformed from acquaintances, to casual friends, to “forever friends.”

I believe everyone yearns for a heart friend. We were designed for emotional intimacy—to know and to be known. All of us need a “go-to” person whom we can count on, no matter what. Our hearts long for someone who thoroughly knows us and yet completely loves us.

Yet there can be times in our lives when the landscape feels void of intimate friends.  I have experienced those desert times when I know many “nice” people, but a heart friend just hasn’t emerged.  If you can relate, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and look for ways to connect with people who share common interests and values.  Most of all, I pray that you will seek a deeper relationship with the greatest heart friend of all, Jesus.   He is intimately acquainted with all your ways (Psalm 139:3) and loves you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). Best of all, he’s available right this moment and promises to never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

God is indeed the best friend of all, yet he also designed us to need earthly companions. My pal Sandy sent me a little plaque years ago with a quote that captures the magical moment when a heart-friendship is ignited:

“What made us friends in the long ago when first we met? Well, I think you know; The best in me and the best in you hailed each other because they knew that always and always since life began our being friends was part of God’s plan.” – George Webster Douglas

To my long-time friends reading this, I treasure you. To my newer friends (and readers), I’m looking forward to knowing you better.   As I close this post, I’m humming a little song I learned in Girl Scouts years ago, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.”

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“A friend loves at all times . . .” Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

“. . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24 (NIV)

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15 (NIV)

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

– Joseph M. Scriven, 1855

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged— Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful,

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness;

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Pain in the Greeting Card Aisle

Greeting card aisle

When I was younger I used to love browsing greeting cards. I found it entertaining to read the sweet sentiments and clever humor.   While I still enjoy the quest to find the “perfect” card for someone, I also find that perusing the wide array of cards can trigger twinges of sadness, too.

One of the first times I felt pain in the greeting card aisle was in May 2008. A bright display of Mother’s Day cards was positioned strategically in the grocery store to make sure no one forgot to say “I love you” to mom on her special day. I wouldn’t have forgotten. In fact, I always purchased a second card along with a Mother’s Day card because my mom’s birthday was May 11 (sometimes the two occasions fell on the same day)! The problem was, that year I had no mom to purchase Mother’s Day and birthday cards for. She had gone to heaven five months earlier. The cards ushered in a wave of sadness as a realized I would never purchase another Mother’s Day card again.

Today I made a trip to the Dollar Store, where the wide selection of inexpensive cards wooed me in.   As my eyes swept the different headings, I became painfully aware of how few categories I could buy from.   I jumped from section to section: Grandparent cards – no. Mom cards – no. Sister cards – no. Nephew or Niece cards – no. Husband or romantic connection cards – no.   Son or daughter cards – no. Grandchildren cards – no.   I also noticed the type of cards I had never received: bridal shower, wedding, anniversary, and birth congratulations, to name a few.

We all face reminders of what we’ve lost or of what we’ve never had. Sometimes those twinges of grief or sadness hit us at unexpected moments. While it’s probably not advisable to start bawling uncontrollably in the card aisle, I think it’s healthy to give ourselves permission to acknowledge the pain caused by a loss or an unfulfilled dream.   Let’s admit it; it hurts. To bury our feelings and pretend we are “just fine” is as artificial as some of the cheesy greeting cards on the shelf.

In addition to admitting the pain to ourselves, it’s often helpful to share how we’re feeling with others. The first place we can go is to our Heavenly Father. God is immediately accessible and we can whisper a prayer anywhere, anytime and be assured he is listening.   He is an ever-present help in times of struggle, and encourages us to cast our cares upon him.

We can also seek out earthly friends. Recently I was carrying (and trying to hide) my deep frustration about an ongoing struggle. In a moment of vulnerability I shared how I was feeling with a trusted person in my life. While my friend couldn’t “fix” the situation, the simple act of verbalizing how I felt lifted my spirits. In return, I need to be that safe place for my friends when they need to share their areas of pain.

The reality is, very few people have a reason to buy cards from every section of the Hallmark store. Each of our lives unfolds differently, and everyone skips certain sections of the card racks. In addition, most of us end up receiving cards we wish we didn’t have to, like those that arrive when we are ill or have lost a loved one.  In truth, the greeting card aisle can be a reminder of painful things. But, it can also be an indicator of life’s blessings.

My scrapbooks and file boxes are overflowing with cards from precious people over the years . . .birthday cards, holiday cards, graduation cards, congratulations cards, encouragement cards, thank you cards, sympathy cards, and “just-because” cards. They remind me that my life has been rich in experiences and in relationships with amazing friends and family.  And I have sent oodles of cards in return, celebrating their joys and expressing my support during their losses.

The next time I go card shopping, I won’t be afraid to admit it if a sneak attack of pain comes along with the task. If it does, I know that God and my friends are available to get me through it. I’ll also strive to be thankful for the opportunity in front of me. As I hunt for the ideal card, I will think of the intended receiver – and be grateful for that person’s presence in my life.  And I’ll remember that the simple act of hand-picking a card, writing a personal note, and sending it may be just the encouragement my friend needs to deal with the greeting card aisles in his or her life.

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“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you . . .” Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NASB)