You’ve got a friend in me

Toy Story may have been the first to make the line “you’ve got a friend in me” popular, but it’s basically been my unspoken motto for years. I have always dreamed of having that inseparable, totally amazing best friend. Every time a new friendship started, I hoped it would be THE ONE.

Sometimes, that friendship would work out… for a while. As long as I kept in touch, made plans to spend time together and talk, listen, and sympathize, gave them a birthday gift each year, and interacted with them on social media, we stayed friends. As long as I made an effort, they would typically let me. And I kept at it, hoping that they would become as interested in being my friend as I truly was in being theirs. That maybe one day, they would text me first and want to get together — and not just to tell me about their new pet, problem, or crush.

But each time, that special friendship didn’t quite work out. At all. Things would be good for a while until I finally noticed something: I was initiating almost everything. I started conversations; issued phone calls, invitations, and gifts; and committed a lot of time to these perceived friendships. I went out of my way to show interest in their lives, listen as they talked about things that were important to them, and make them feel special and loved. I didn’t have entirely selfless motives; I was hoping to get a best friend out of the deal. But I wanted to be there for them and help them as much as I could; to be the friend to them that I hoped they would be to me. Perhaps instead of being so desperate for a friend, I should have considered the type of girls I would even want to be friends with. I mean, this is what I was dealing with:

The attention-seekers ~ “It took me way too long to realize that you shouldn’t be friends with people who never ask how you’re doing.” The first group of perceived friends wanted all of the attention all the time. They gave no apology for taking up tons of my time talking only about themselves. In the name of being a good friend, I would listen to endless complaints and rants, just hoping that talking would make them feel better. I would offer them some biblical advice and attempt to encourage them in the Lord, only to be met with more complaints (usually about the same thing) the next time we spoke. If I got brave enough to interject something about a time when I had a similar experience that related to the discussion, they listened wordlessly until I was finished speaking before resuming their monologue. (“Enough about you…back to me.”) No matter what tact I tried, the attention-seekers never respected my time, advice, or kindness; they took as much as I would give them as long as I would give it.

The hit-and-miss girls ~ “I decided to put as much effort into contacting you as do with me – that’s why we don’t talk anymore.” This group just didn’t make an effort. They were generally willing to hang out if I asked and seemed content to let me make all the effort, but they didn’t express any disappointment if we never saw one another, talked, or spent time together. They just didn’t try. No amount of effort or care or concern on my part impressed them enough to invest in me the way I had invested in them.

The part-time friends ~ “I am not a contestant. I will not fight for a spot you’re entertaining others for…” The third group was much more subtle than the first two because these girls really seemed to care. They asked about my life and offered their help. They actually seemed like good friends and were fun to be around; they seemed to think I was great too – until one of two things happened. Either someone they liked better came along, or they became too busy to make time for me anymore. Suddenly the wonderful feeling of having a friend was replaced by the realization that I wasn’t nearly as important as the new girl or the newest thing in my friend’s life. Instead of trying to regain the lost attention, I would usually wait for my part-time friend to remember me or move on. No matter how good this person’s intentions were, I realized I couldn’t count on them to be the committed friend I needed.

So, can you relate? Although dealing with these people can be extremely disappointing and frustrating, I want to encourage you to do two things. First, be friendly. Proverbs 18:24 shares this seemingly obvious truth but sometimes this gets overlooked in its simplicity. Even if you’ve had tough experiences with the groups I just described, you shouldn’t stop being friendly. You won’t find good friends sitting back and waiting for them to come to you. Don’t give up on friendship; instead, become more aware and quicker to identify the people in these categories before you invest too much time and commitment to the relationship. You can be friendly without being friends. Don’t hesitate to reach out, but enter cautiously into friendships.

Secondly, keep reaching out! Even if you know people who wouldn’t be the best friends, don’t stop reaching out to them. It could be that God put them in your life for you to have a ministry to. If you go into the relationship with the mindset of serving, you can ungrudgingly be a friend to them without expecting their friendship in return. Ministering to others without return expectations frees you from bitterness and hard feelings. I’m finally starting to see what true friendship looks like and let me assure you that it looks nothing like the one-sided relationships I had convinced myself that I needed. Pray for the right kind of friends and be the right kind of friend. “Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.”

Waiting with Wonder

What do you feel like you are waiting for right now?

A friend of mine asked me this question earlier this morning and it took me hours to respond.

There are many things I am waiting for answered prayers about: things like spiritual redemption in my family and job decisions for the future and finances to expand our house and timing for when to have another baby. But, I think what shocked me the most? Is that for the first time I’m not in a season of waiting. Oh, I am waiting… for sure. But I’m not in the season of waiting for a husband or a kid or a new job or a pay raise. I honestly feel like I am—possibly, for the first time in my life– not waiting for something out there to fulfill me.

The funny thing about contentment is that you usually don’t realize when you’ve reached it. This is why it shocked me so much when I realized that overall, I wasn’t waiting for anything. Not really. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you a definite answer without batting an eyelash. I can’t wait until I get married. Four years ago: I can’t wait to settle into a house of our own. Three years ago: I’m can’t wait to go up north and see my family! Two years ago: I can’t wait for a kitchen reno! Last year: I’m waiting until after Christmas to have this baby. And then, after that, it only seems to get worse. I can’t wait until she sleeps through the night. I can’t wait until winter is over so I can leave this house. I can’t wait to go back to work. I can’t wait until I get off work and go home. I can’t wait until these kids grow up and leave the house. I can’t wait until I retire. And then after that? I wish I were young again. I wish my kids were babies again. What I would give to be able to go to work!

It seems that we never want to be in the season we’re in…. until it’s over.

Now don’t get me wrong… I am no saint. There have been many tears shed asking the Lord why I’m STILL asking for this request and that healing and those salvations. Why I can’t master housework or parenting and why my husband hasn’t changed those habits I hate overnight. As Christians, God commands us to wait! Not the least of which is for heaven. I literally can’t wait to get there, can you? Titus 2:13 says, “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…”

Psalm 27:4 says this: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD.

He knows waiting is hard. He waited 33 years for His death. He has waited for decades for His people to repent and return to Him. He has waited to redeem us. He has waited for centuries to bring His bride home.

I’ve always struggled with waiting. But today I realized that I was no longer allowing my identity and joy to hinge on another person or event. All of a sudden, I realized that I was broken and the world was broken and this life was broken but that I AM OKAY WITH THIS. And I was no longer waiting for one, two, or three significant things to determine my level of contentment. I was no longer looking to the next thing to determine my hope, my amount of excitement, or my future. I was living in the now, surrounded by baby toys and a full sink of pots and a cluttered desk, realizing that this life I’ve been given is wonderful.

Baby toys means a baby to love, and a sinkful of dirty dishes means food on the table and people I love to eat it with, and a cluttered desk means I have the opportunity to work from home and provide for my family. (Disclaimer: this does NOT mean that I wouldn’t hire a nanny in a heartbeat.)

I suppose we will never stop waiting for things that we call exciting and wonderful and the desires of our hearts. We will never stop hoping for things to be better, for things to change, for things to look up. But the beauty is that in the wait, we can look up and see Jesus. And He is better than anything we have or will ever want. Wait for Him, sisters. Wait for His timing above your own. Don’t be so consumed with what you’re waiting for in the future that you forget to thank Him for your present.

And in the wait, watch with wonder at what God has wrought.

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Cara Cobble Trantham is a freelance writer whose passion is to encourage women of all ages to draw closer to the Lord. She lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, with her husband and one-year-old daughter. She loves to send cards in magazine envelopes, counsel ladies over sugar and cream (with a little bit of coffee), and read a good book at the beach. Her bucket list includes eating pizza in Chicago, staying at a bed and breakfast in Savannah, and following a recipe without leaving out an ingredient.

New Year, New Self-Control

I was introduced (online, of course) to Jen Wilkin in 2015 and have been so inspired by her writings. I am beyond thankful for the way she teaches, her passion for women and Bible literacy, and her devotion to knowing Christ intimately. Things have been a little busy around my house this year, and it hasn’t left much time for blogging here (I’ve been doing some blogging over at Kristin Schmucker’s blog.) But this article is worth reading and I know I’ll need to read it again several times this year. So I’m featuring it here for easy access! Hope you are blessed by it like I was.

New Year, New Self-Control

Author: Jen Wilkin CategoryGeneralCulture

A new year is upon us, and unless this one is much different from others, our conversations will be laden with talk of fitness goals and holiday diet missteps. The New Year is traditionally a time for resurrecting our self-control, so this is no surprise. But this New Years I have a different form of self-discipline in view—one with potentially longer-lasting impact than dropping a dress size.

I recently came across an article showing ads from the 1930s and 40s selling products to help people gain weight. The ads made claims that sounded completely comical to our modern ears: “Add 5 lb of solid flesh in a week!” “Since I gained 10 lb…I have all the dates I want!” I showed the ads to my daughters, whose response was, “Mom, I don’t think those are real. Have you checked that on Snopes?”

But they’re real all right, despite how preposterous they seem. My first reaction, I am ashamed to admit, was that I was born too late. How great would it be to live during a time when well-padded women held the glamour-girl title? (As long as I’m being honest, I had a similar reaction to learning that in South America women get implants in their bottoms to achieve their culture’s ideal shape. By some cruel twist of fate, had I been born on the wrong continent? Why couldn’t I live where hips were hip?)

But of course, to seriously entertain these thoughts is to drink a Kool-Aid that has been served up to women since the dawn of time: the belief that ideal physical beauty exists and should be pursued at all costs. For much of human history, the curvy beauty has prevailed. Statues of women from ancient Greece and Rome celebrate a body type we would call “plus-size” today, as does Renaissance art. Historically, padded women were considered beautiful because only the rich and idle could achieve such a figure, and because curviness indicated fertility. For women of past generations, curviness was extremely hard to achieve unless you had the money to eat well and work little. Thanks to trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup, this is no longer the case. Ironically, the rich and idle of today strive to look undernourished and overworked. And the rest of us rush to follow suit.

So, would it have been better to live during a time when well-fed women were hailed as beauties? I doubt it. Because the issue is not “fat versus thin”—it is “perfect versus imperfect.” There has never been a time when women have not defined themselves by (enslaved themselves to?) some ideal of physical beauty. Though its definition may change across the centuries, one element remains constant: it is always a definition of beauty that is just beyond our reach. We want what we cannot have. If curvy is hard, we want curvy. If thin is hard, we want thin.

The expectation of physical perfection hits modern females early and often. In middle school, girls cut themselves to deal with the pressures of conforming to the ideal. In middle age, women do, too—but allow the surgeon to hold the knife. We carve the record of our self-loathing into the very flesh of our bodies—a self-marring, a literal carving of an idol. Increasingly, physical perfection is the legacy of womanhood in our culture, handed down with meticulous care from mother to daughter, with more faithful instruction in word and deed than we can trouble to devote to the cultivation of kindness, peacemaking and acceptance that characterize unfading, inner beauty.

In this as in all things, there is hope and good news for the believer: one day we will be free of our self-loathings and will live in harmony with our physical appearance. We will be given new, incorruptible bodies—bodies that are no longer on a collision course with the grave. We dare not reduce this future hope to that of an eternity with thinner thighs or a smaller nose. We must celebrate it as the day when vanity itself is dealt a fatal and final blow.

But how should we live in the meantime? By all means, we should steward the gift of our physical bodies—but for the sake of wellness, not beauty. Two women can step onto two treadmills with identical fitness goals and widely different motives. Only they will know the real reason they are there.

January is typically a time when we talk a great deal about calories, workouts and weight loss. What if we didn’t? What if we didn’t talk about body sizes at all? What if we made it a point not to mention our own calorie sins or victories in front of our girlfriends and daughters? What if we started living in right relation to our bodies now, instead of at the resurrection? What if every time we looked in the mirror and were tempted to complain, we said “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” laying claim to the future hope that our bodies will one day celebrate function in right relation to form, living in the glorious truth of that future hope now?

What if this New Year we decided to fast not from food but from body talk? Sure—hit the gym, eat the Paleo diet, run six miles a day, wear Spanx from neck to knee—just stop talking about it. Stop telling your friend she looks skinny—instead tell her you love her sweet spirit. Choose compliments that spur her to pursue that which lasts instead of that which certainly does not. If someone comments on your own shape, say thanks and change the subject. Banish body talk to the same list of off-limits topics as salaries, name-dropping and colonoscopies. Apply the discipline you use to work out to controlling your tongue. Do this for your sisters, and by the grace of God, we could begin a legacy of womanhood that celebrates character over carb-avoidance, godliness over glamour.

Sister in Christ, physical perfection is not within our grasp, but, astonishingly, holiness is. Where will you devote your energy in the New Year? Go on a diet from discussing shape and size. Feast on the Word of Truth. Ask this of yourself for your sake, for the sake of your friends and daughters, for the sake of the King and His Kingdom. On earth as it is in Heaven.

“Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Matthew 15:10-11

Offering of Beggars

I was chatting with a friend the other day (over my ridiculously large iced latte with whipped cream) about our time. There never seems to be enough of it. We both like to journal and paint in our Bibles as a reflection of what we have learned from sermons and Bible studies. She lamented about how far behind she was in a current study. She had considered skipping it and waiting until a new study began, because the thought of starting a week behind was overwhelming.

I can relate. I usually had time to read the devotionals each day, but didn’t have time to meditate and create like I wanted to. So, sometimes, I just put it off entirely.
Jesus is so worthy of my BEST. I don’t want to give Him the leftovers of my day. I don’t want to give Him only a few minutes when He deserves an hour. But as I mulled over the conversation with my friend, I prayed for enlightenment about our problem. What if there was never enough time? What if a month went past and we never cracked open our Bibles because life had simply taken over and we didn’t have time to give Him what we thought He would be pleased with?

I’ve always thought of the widow’s mite as a story for my financial heart. And in so many ways, it is. But what if it also applied to my time? She could have stored up all her mites until she had an offering worthy for a King. Geez, she could have saved up until she had at least more than one. 
 
Maybe she was beating herself up when she put it in. Maybe she looked around with shame. Maybe she cringed, waiting for the religious leaders to make a scene. Maybe she put it in an offering envelope so no one could see what she gave. But Jesus wasn’t ashamed of her.
And instead of reprimanding her for her measly sacrifice, Jesus commended her for giving all she had. He didn’t view it as leftovers. He didn’t view it as unworthy. He blessed her and lifted her up as a beautiful example in front of his disciples.

This gives me hope that I am so much harder on myself about this issue than anyone else is- especially to the One Who matters. He is the One Who gave us time.He gave us the faith to believe in Him. He’s the One Who gave us His Word. He gave us the provisions of paint, bleed-less pens and stickers, as a way to engage with Him. And He gives us a heart to seek Him.

And instead of giving us a mandate for how long we seek Him, He simply says that those who seek Him with all their heart will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Even our best offering will never be worthy of Him. He doesn’t NEED it… but He desires it. So maybe our offering is more for us than for Him. To realize our need. To acknowledge our dependence on Him. To refocus our priorities and our affections on the One Who deserves them most but Who won’t compete with the iPhone and Facebook.

Let’s stop looking at ourselves and what we have to offer, and fix our gaze on the Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The Triumph in the Tombstone

We moms spend a whole lot of time worrying about our babes. Do they feel well? Why aren’t they sleeping? How can we make them like vegetables? Are they keeping up with other kids their age? What is laying around the house that could hurt them? 
 
These concerns are all normal and necessary. So much so, that if a mother was NOT thinking these things, it could border on child abuse. 
 
The hardest part for motherhood for me has been the lack of sleep. Specifically, the lack of sleep that involves my daughter not sleeping. I have tried all the tricks- cry it out, gas drops, Zantac, routine, scheduled daytime naps, extra cereal at dinner, scheduled bedtime, rocking, warm baths and thieves oil. (Johnson & Johnson claims that their three-step bath time routine helps babies sleep. And I suppose it works, because she falls asleep fairly quickly.) (The problem is that she doesn’t stay asleep.) 
 
Because it affects me so much, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with a solution for WHY MY CHILD DOESN’T NEED SLEEP. I’ve questioned whether she can be our child if she doesn’t like to sleep. That is what Brandon and I do for fun! (We got a babysitter for five hours on our anniversary. When we got done eating early, we can home and took naps. It’s a hobby around here.) I’ve become so obsessed that I talk about it with everyone, hoping they will tell me a magic something I’ve never heard before. I read all the posts and blogs and articles and books hoping to get a tip that will change everything for us. 
 
The women who traveled to the tomb early Sunday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion were also fixated on one thing: how would they move that very large stone? They knew it was probably too heavy for them to maneuver, because the religious leaders were concerned that someone would steal the body. The stone was placed there as a surety that Jesus would stay put. Little did they know, the stone wouldn’t be an issue at all. When they arrived at the scene, the stone was already rolled back and an angel was perched up top, arrayed in light and eager to relay his message. Jesus had risen! He was alive! 
 
But the women didn’t shout or cheer. They didn’t jump for joy or quake with excitement. Instead, they were so fixated on their problem- the stone- that they couldn’t see the miracle. 
 
My pastor Scott Wakefield preached on this Sunday and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. “I am worried about so many things that are not worth being distracted or worried about. A lot of our worry is tied to an overestimate of our own knowledge and power. They couldn’t help not knowing what they didn’t yet know. But here they are, most worried, NOT that the power of sin had been defeated and perhaps was available for them, but that the stone needed to be rolled away. When it had literally physically already by been done. They were, at this moment in the text, unaware of the full weight and power of God and how much, even then, the world had actually already changed. So they get there, were worried about what to do, and BOOM, it’s done. Because— BECAUSE someone Bigger is in charge here.”
 
What if I’m so absorbed with my problems that I miss His plan? What if I’m so blinded by my concerns that the beauty around me is camouflaged? What if I miss ministry opportunities because I’m allowing myself to drown in my “misfortune”? Am I allowing small setbacks to distract me from the main mission? The measure of my parenting is not determined by how tall my daughter is, and likewise, the measure of my ministry is not determined by how much sleep I’m getting. His grace is sufficient, whether I’ve had four hours or a full night’s sleep. 
My pastor said that the angel shifts these women’s eyes from memorializing Jesus to being a missionary for Jesus. My life is not primarily about moments or milestones— it’s about my mission. My mission is to raise a child who loves Jesus. Who sees Jesus in me. To serve Jesus, despite comfort or happiness.
As it turns out, the most comfort and happiness I’ll ever have resides in Jesus. I don’t have to live a life of death because Jesus is alive. 

Soul Rest

It seems the Lord keeps bringing me back to the same concepts over and over until I have explored every crack and corner and crevice.

Sometimes, it feels like a canyon.

One thing I’ve never been good at is rest. This concept eludes me. Regardless of what I’m doing, I am constantly guilty that I should be doing something else. When I’m vacuuming, I wish I had started a load of laundry so it could be finished before I run errands so I could hang it out to dry. When I’m cleaning the bathroom, I should have started dinner so it would be ready when my husband walks through the door. When I’m reading my Bible, I should have filled up my water bottle so I could drink a glass while I read. When I’m eating lunch, I should have plugged in my phone so it could be fully charged by the time we headed to the store. As one of my friends puts it, I “should” all over myself.

I’m realizing that it might be more a quest of perfecting the multitasking game than anything. I love nothing more than being efficient, saving time and money, and killing two birds with one stone.

This can also be exhausting. As you might imagine, this lifestyle leaves little room for rest or relaxation (or heck, sitting down!) There’s always something screaming for my attention. Something that, if postponed, will wreak havoc on my life or someone else’s. It sounds dramatic, but in my mind, that is not too far from the truth.

It’s no wonder the Lord continues to emphasize thoughts of rest, the Sabbath, and being still into my mind. And now it pops up in the most unusual places.

I’ve read the book of Ruth a half dozen times or more, and never noticed that rest is what Naomi implores her daughters-in-law to do in the wake of their grief. Ruth 1:9 says: “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” This struck me as crazy for several reasons.

#1 If my husband just died, rest would be the farthest thing from my mind. I’d be updating my resume and handing that baby out all over town. I’d be shopping the clearance sales and stockpiling my pantry staples before all my money ran out.

#2 I would be so overcome with grief that I couldn’t sleep. Unless I might cry myself to sleep.

#3 Perhaps most obvious is that she reminds them of the husbands they don’t have. After Naomi told me to go home to my husband-less house, I would want to call the realtor and look at new bungalows immediately. I would want to go somewhere that didn’t remind me of my grief day in and day out.

Naomi seems to assume that the only way to embrace rest was to remarry and start again. All of us know that starting over is not always possible. We can’t dump a few kids on the church steps or go live in a tent that won’t need the floors mopped or stop wearing clothes so we never have to do laundry again.

How do we then return to rest in the middle of grief and hopelessness? To cease the running and turn off the emergency mode and learn to slow our pace and focus on what matters?

It’s striking what things we think of when we hear the word “rest”. I immediately think of how many hours I’ve had on the pillow. I also think of coffee shops and quiet mornings. A long run. A giant bubble bath. Don’t get me wrong… these things do create environments for rest. They are tools we can use to position us to receive rest. But we can also find it in the middle of a crowded market, in our suffocating cubicle, in front of the washing machine.

Rest is the state of our souls, folks.

Naomi assumed that marriage equaled rest. “{M}arriage is called the port or haven of young people, whose affections while unmarried are continually floating and tossed to and fro like a ship upon the waters, till they come into this happy harbour” (The Biblical Illustrator, C. Ness).

Or maybe Naomi had accepted a few of the ideas from the pagan nation she had been dwelling in. In her grief, she had forgotten the character of God, and was wishing her daughters bodily comfort before soul comfort (Geneva Study Bible, Theodore Beza). Or, it’s possible that she spoke these words knowing her audience was two women whose beliefs were quite different than her own. Either way, she was wishing the evils away that typically accompanied widowhood. Some theologians say that she was actually wishing them husbands who would be better than her own sons who died so prematurely.

What would surprise Naomi is that Ruth not only knew more of her beliefs than she may have thought, but would also know more about rest than Noami gave her credit for. Ruth was willing to leave her house and her family and her people and any hope of another marriage to follow this woman and her God wherever He called…with the realization that she may never have another home, husband, or family.

Because rest is a state of the soul. Our circumstances can be tumultuous. Things happen that we can’t prevent, control, or change. But one thing that we can play a part in is the attitude of our souls and our willingness to trust our Father with the things that happen to us.

“We need not waste time shaking our fists at heaven when we can run full-force into His arms, trusting that He can redeem even us, even this, even now” (She Reads Truth, Amanda Bible Williams). I have witnessed people I love go through horrific tragedies, injustices, and calamities. And in the face of the evil, have still spoken kind words. Still reached out to help others. Still called to check up on me despite what they were going through. The only way they were able to get through this all? The still state of their souls. “He will keep Him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Isaiah 26:3). And, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Naomi’s solution for rest was to escape the mess, seek restoration with a new husband, and start over.

Ruth’s solution was this: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and YOUR GOD MY GOD” (Ruth 1:16, emphasis mine). She somehow knew that the key to rest was in Jesus.

“Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis mine).

No matter the stockpile of paperwork, the screaming children, the dishes in the sink, or the people around us searching for iPhone charging stations, we can silently connect to Home Base and find rest for our souls from the One Who breathed life into us in the first place. He is offering. Now it’s up to us to receive it.