Monday, August 27, 2012

Who Are Your BFF's?

By Lisa Littlewood

As I inch my way further into my thirties, I realize that I just might be getting a little too old to use acronyms such as BFF. You know, that acronym that teenage girls like to use as a secret language to communicate in a semi-elusive way that they are, in fact, “best friends forever.”

As a young girl, relationships could loosely be based on things as simple as wardrobe preferences or an affinity for the same movies. These days I’m looking for women who will be gracious enough to not judge me on said wardrobe (because they understand how hard it was to get out of the house with small children in the first place!) and who might offer an encouraging thought or scripture reference to brighten my day.

My true friends, my “best” friends in the last decade, have been the women who have baked muffins, brought them over and sat on my kitchen floor with me on a particularly difficult day several months into new motherhood (true story). They are the women who have sent meaningful cards to brighten a hard week or who have sent emails of encouragement when it comes to using God-given gifts for a bigger purpose.

They are the women who know when to ask if I should be taking on one more thing and yet somehow also know when I am shying away from something I should be trying because of my own fears or insecurities. They are the women who are able to ask the tough questions and offer the right advice.

They are the women whose addition to my life, even when life seems overly full, seem to make the fullness easier to bear.
As I look back over the last decade of my life, through the many changes and new stages and even new places, as I ponder at times where it is all going and why the road looks different than I had expected, one thing seems to be a constant. Even when I am unable to see clearly how God is directing me, he has always provided incredible friends-strong women, encouraging women, brave women, to help me along the way.

When I think about it, maybe that is all I needed. In her book Cold Tangerines Shauna Niequist speaks often of the importance of friendship in her life. “Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways,” she says. “We were made to represent the love of God in each other’s lives, so that each person we walk through life with has a more profound sense of God’s love for them. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.”  

Hmm. Now I can see God didn’t want me to see clearly on my own, but to see things through someone else. Friendship is about teaching us that we are only capable of so much on our own, but of so much more together.

Now that is something to BFF about.

Lisa Littlewood is a freelance writer from Buffalo, N.Y. who has a heart for writing about how God uses imperfect people to accomplish his perfect will. Her articles have appeared in Buffalo Rising, Thrive Buffalo, Bay State Parent magazine, Unite magazine and The Buffalo News. She also blogs about faith, writing and life as a mom at

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Surviving The Silence: How to Help

By Lesa Engelthaler

God was silent. I could not feel His presence. And this was different-this time I had been walking with him, yet it seemed like He moved.

For those with friends suffering such a “dark night,” I have some suggestions.

- Avoid platitudes.
The standard reply I received was, “Just remember that Moses had to wander for forty years in the desert.” Or “If it feels like God is far away, guess who moved?” More helpful replies were, “Wow, that sucks,” or “I am there right now.” Better yet was loving, silent presence.

- Explore alternative ways to “do church.” Where two or more gather in His name, Christ is present. Meeting with a few friends ministered to me far more than Sunday morning church services where I felt like a spectator.

- Encourage different practices from the usual. For me that meant exploring silence, solitude, kneeling by my bed for prayer, and attending a silent retreat.

- Recommend a spiritual director. I needed someone who understood spiritual formation, not merely a therapist. My spiritual director listened without judgment to my raging, and prayed over me.

- Suggest new authors. Eugene Peterson’s classic, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction was a welcome companion.And prayer from the Book of Common Prayer reminded me that others had walked the same path. Most helpful was the honesty of old saints: St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius, and Thomas Merton.

Eugene Peterson’s grace-filled words assure that God will hold onto us:

“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us. Neither our feelings of depression nor the facts of suffering nor the possibilities of defection are evidence that God has abandoned us.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sitting Next to Jesus

By Joanna Foote 
We often see prayer as a way to go to God with our uncertainty and surrender our concerns and the problems of the world at his feet. But what if prayer is also a way to enter into the overwhelming reality that is our world? Perhaps, when we pray, we are stepping deeper into the world with God’s eyes and God’s heart.
I have found myself on my knees quite a bit recently - in part for clarity in my leadership, in part for more certainty as my future creeps closer. Mostly because I have spent six months of the last year walking alongside people in poverty as I worked in migrant shelters - first with deported migrants on the US/Mexico border and later with Central Americans in southern Mexico. So yes, I have plenty of concerns to surrender to God, but also many invitations to experience deeper compassion.
We could just pray for our own issues and our personal concerns and the problems our close friends present to us. Prayer can also be an extension of the work that we do and the life that we live - an effort to bring God in to our vocation and calling. And those prayers are important. But such attitudes make prayer a one-way street in which we give up our concerns to God and continue on with our work. From that perspective, prayer is a self-help tool to bring us joy and peace.
I’m discovering another side of prayer. Prayer is not just bringing God into my life. Instead, it is entering more deeply into God’s heart for the world.
Entering into God’s heart means slowly facing the uncertain and overwhelming reality of the world, which we can easily ignore if we just focus on our little corner. Sometimes when I pray, I picture myself beside Jesus, looking out at the world and seeing what he sees. I see migrants jumping freight trains. I see people dying in the desert. I see violence and insecurity. I see broken families and loneliness.
I cannot resolve all of these problems-or even some of them. But when I sit with Jesus and look at the world, I start to understand his love for people. I start to see how intense the suffering is. I appreciate the gravity of God’s promises and the necessity of hope in them. Perhaps this form of prayer motivates us into action or invites us to support a new part of God’s creation or new group of God’s people. Or perhaps this prayer simply invites us to more prayer where we can humbly admire the work that God is doing and, through our confidence in God’s love, pray for an end to injustice.
So we pray. Not just to resolve our own insecurities and powerlessness, or to address a specific cause. We pray because when we do, God just might share his vision for the world.
Joanna Foote is learning to see the face of Jesus in the stranger as she volunteers through service and research with immigrant communities. She will graduate next year from Georgetown University with a degree in international culture and politics focusing on migration.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Behind the Fence

By Stacy Voss

Every day, a small boy watched as we played soccer in front of his house in Juarez, Mexico. He leaned against the short fence at the front of his yard, watching our every move. As we kicked the ball, we'd yell over for him to join us, but he'd simply smile, cast a glance down, and then nod. We'd call over to him again as we went into a church to begin Vacation Bible School, but he'd still decline. All through VBS, he'd stay at his fence, listening to the music and the stories from afar, while missing out on the crafts, snacks and games. This went on for weeks. Finally a co-worker walked the few steps across the road to extend a more personal invitation. What she discovered shocked us all. Little Damian had a cast going from his waist down each leg to his toes.

After weeks of inviting him, I finally knew why he never came over. It became so obvious, but before that moment it had been hidden behind a fence.

I had a similar experience last month. A friend accidentally hurt me. I knew it wasn't deliberate, but it hurt nonetheless. I couldn't shake the pain and didn't want it to affect our friendship, so I sent her an e-mail telling her how I felt. Her response left me speechless.
After apologizing, she described events happening to her and her family, things that left her with little energy or desire to even get out of bed. I'd known only a portion of it, and that part would have been enough to put me into a deep depression. What I didn't know until that moment was that there was more-much, much more. Her normally serene life now had all the makings for an outlandish soap opera.
She let me see behind the fence, and in so doing, let me see the real reason for inadvertently hurting me.
Proverbs 9:6 says, "Walk in the way of understanding." If I hadn't known what drove my friend to do what she did, I might have walked away from our friendship or pretended things were okay when I knew they weren't. I was only able to walk in the way of understanding by learning what really was happening in her life.
Damian and my friend showed me that many times the things we see are just the surface. There usually is a much deeper reason why someone does or says something, or even a reason why they don't. They also taught me that I have a choice: I can judge based on what I see, or I can take the time to get a glimpse behind the fence.

Stacy Voss is an author and speaker known for her ability to bring Biblical characters and principals to life in a way that affects our daily living. Connect with her at