A Reason A Season or a Lifetime

Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold. Make new friends, but keep…” Do you hear the music? Are you singing along? (It would depend on your age, I guess)

As a young girl, I learned this song in music class. It’s sung in a round. This simple folk song sums up my friendship experience nicely. The theme of this song runs through my entire life. I’ve always made new friends and kept the old ones.

I like to relate to people and connect with strangers. Like my dad, I’ll speak to anyone, but I LOVE making friends much more than merely making acquain- tances. The investment pays huge dividends.

People collect many different things. I don’t mean to say that people are things but rather we invest in people and gather them around us in the same way. We carry them with us. I think I collect many different people.

On one of his summer road trips, my son Andrew collected a friend named Gabe. Gabe came to stay with us at Christmas time and for a few days in the summer too. One summer morning, Gabe and I were talking about life, faith and relationships. We sat on the back deck and soaked up as much vitamin D as the summer sun provided. We both chomped on a crunchy cereal blend, “You know Mrs. Inouye my uncle always says, ‘People come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.’”

I really liked that perspective: a reason, a season, or a lifetime. It was succinct and it resonated with me. Over the years, I’ve seen God provide friends for me and I am truly grateful. Some for a reason, many just for a season and others for a lifetime! Or at least so far, I’m not dead yet! I’d like to highlight a couple of gems.

My dear friend Lisa is a southern belle. We met at Grace Church shortly after my move from the Chicagoland area to Minnesota. Immediately I knew, if I got to know her better, we’d be friends. I was given her number for an upcoming church formalized dinner group. I didn’t wait. I called for a recipe, or some other silly fictitious reason, just so we could chat.

We were both young moms. She had a traveling husband, a pilot, and I had a husband who worked in retail and often worked late shifts. The friendship was rich. We explored our different back- grounds and discovered our places of common ground. We’d talk about anything and everything and nothing. Our time together included a great deal of laughter because Lisa can turn a phrase! For example, when I asked her if she liked to go camping, she said, “Girl, my idea of being outdoors is to be inside with the windows open!”

Lisa and I spent multiple days and extended evenings together. We both lived close to the Minnesota Zoo, so we’d meet there then let the play continue wherever the day took us. Our children spent many summer nights in the yard playing while we moms made dinner. In my mind, a meal shared together is always better than alone. Afterwards, I’d put my son’s pajamas on him and lay him in a play pen while she’d ready her two girls for bed.

We would often pop popcorn and collapse into the couch to watch a “chick flick” together. This routine and rhythm was only the start of hours, even years, of “doing life together.” At that time, we had three children between us and now we have fourteen, counting the married children’s spouses. Which, of course, I do!

We are doubly blessed because our spouses like each other too! BONUS! The two of us, our children and the men bonded. Our children have strong “growing up together” memories and, in a sense, Lisa and I grew up together too. Our friendship is PURE GOLD.

Lisa possesses the gift of empathy and, as we’ve lived life together, I’ve been the receiver more than once. I have a vivid memory of myfirst miscarriage and Lisa’s was the first face to appear at my door. She wondered what I needed and asked how she could help. “Do you want me to take young Michael for you now or is that the last thing you want?” Lisa brought something with her, I believe it was a lush plant in a dark, woven basket, but that is not what stays with me all these years later. I just see her face! It left an indelible mark on me. God sent Lisa. She came. She showed up at my door. It was her presence with me that ushered Jesus’ presence in too. She brought encouragement and sweet healing to my sad, mama heart.

Lisa has continued to empathize with me throughout the years. Not long ago, I stood in an Iowa funeral home and I visited with people who came through the line. I was strong. It was my father- in-law Bob’s visitation. I loved him. He was easy to love. I knew he loved me back. I felt it. He died five days after a cancer diagnosis. It all happened so fast. A constant line of people streamed through the door and it was a comfort to see how many people loved Bob. But my feet still stung, hot from the continual standing. My back rebelled with a dull ache in the lower section, proba- bly the high heels, and I felt drained. I rubbed my back with the palm of my hand, stretched my neck from side to side and rotated my ankles one at a time. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw three of the dearest people on the planet to me. Lisa, her husband and one daughter. I cried. I couldn’t believe she’d come. In that moment, I felt so honored and supported. Not until that moment did I realize how much I needed my friend.

Isn’t that what God gives us friends for? To love, support, encour- age and help us. He gifts us with friends with unique strengths. I have another friend, Stefanie, who is refreshingly honest and re- minds me of the Proverb “an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” Proverbs 24:26. She shoots straight and doesn’t sugar coat any- thing. She gets straight to the point. Her thoughts seem to be without clutter and so is her house. Bonus! She is incredibly clean! So, when I clean my house, shuffling piles of paper from one counter to the other, I often think of Stef. What would Stefanie do? I wonder. I have watched her clean her house. If she found “junk,” she’d march right over to the garbage and throw it away! She doesn’t hem and ha about whether to keep it like I do. She doesn’t think of ALL the ways that item could be used, or whether it could be fixed to be functional, or how to repurpose it. No! She throws it away. Maybe that’s part of the secret to why she is so clean!

When Michael and I visit the Twin Cities, we often stay at Stefanie and Brian’s house. We are so grateful for their long-term friendship and hospitality. One night, while staying in their home, Michael and I crawled into our guest room bed. As I pulled the covers up to my chin, elbows akimbo, I turned my head to the left, looked into his eyes and lamented, “Honey, when we’re here at Brian and Stef ’s, I feel like we’re pigs! I mean seriously, the closets in the kids bedrooms are nearly empty, there’s no dust in any of the rooms, and everything is in its proper place.”

The next morning, I told Stefanie what I had said to Michael. In an attempt to make me feel better she said, “It’s clean because we are selling! For last-minute, spontaneous house showings, it needs to be super clean, clutter-free and ready.”

As true and comforting as that was, the truth is she’s very clean and it’s one of her strengths I celebrate. Her cleanliness is a chal- lenge and great reminder for me. But it’s easy to be jealous of that strength instead of celebrating it. Jealousy twists up friendship and we end up comparing and competing, especially in the age of Facebook. So I’ve learned to celebrate her instead of compare my- self to her. Stefanie has challenged me with the way she lets God’s word stand for itself and I love this dear friend and sister in Christ. I celebrate her and her giftedness. Don’t compare. Don’t compete. Celebrate!

In friendship, remember this mantra and practice it because it keeps the relationship healthy and encouraging. Don’t compare. Don’t compete. Celebrate! Don’t compare. Don’t compete. Celebrate!The mantra needs to be repeated and rehearsed because it is so tempting to forget and slip back into the comparison mindset. I encourage you to practice right now. Don’t compare. Don’t compete. Celebrate!

The comparison game is insidious, dangerous and particularly prevalent in the lives of women. When tempted to compare, I use the only antidote available. I rejoice in my friends’ giftedness and celebrate them. This encourages them and brings glory to the God who created them. It’s a paradigm shift, a conscious choice and deliberate action to celebrate. Instead of feeling small, insignifi- cant or incompetent, feelings that create fertile ground where jeal- ousy likes to wiggle its way in and pollute or destroy the friendship, speak aloud words like “Wow!” Audibly exclaim, “You amaze me!”

When we celebrate one another, we create a safe community where we can belong. And belonging is crucial! God pairs and groups people perfectly together and that’s part of His plan. He wants us to connect so that, through friendship and community, He can cause our connected wires to create even more “electricity” for His glory and the Kingdom’s advancement. We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Romans 12:5-6 ESV). Here Paul is describing the church and how our unique strengths combine and complement one another to better everyone.

Comparing and competing steals away the richness of community. But when we celebrate individual’s gifts, Lisa’s empathy and Stefanie’s honesty (and cleanliness) for example, we reap countless benefits. Because of my involvement with friends, my love for God and for others has grown.

My friends have helped shape my understanding of worship and encouraged my devotion to Jesus. And that’s how life should be! Whether the friendship is for a reason, a season or a lifetime, we are rich when we connect as friends and do life in community. I know I am rich in friendship because I seem to collect real gems and they’re also gold. “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”

Questions for Reflection

What one thought stuck with you?

Read Ephesians 4: 32 and 1Thessalonians 5:11

Think of one friend who you would like to celebrate today. What do you appreciate about her/him? Do something to celebrate them.

Pray and thank God for the friends you have and those He’s going to bring into your life.

 

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Are There Voices In Your Head?

I didn’t blog earlier this week partly because I needed to pack for a trip. But instead of completing the packing task and writing this post, I found myself selecting paint and traveling to The Home Depot. What in the world was I thinking? Anyway I painted, attended a bridal shower and am now I’m about to jump into the shower because the wedding is today. No worries Rachel you will finish only a few minor details remain.

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While I painted the other day, I continued to hear this voice in my head accusing me over and over. “Why are you doing this? You realize you should be getting other things accomplished. You need to be writing a blog, why do you plan to do this project today?  You are so random and you’re not very disciplined otherwise you’d be writing.

ENOUGH!  I realized the source.  The voice I had been listening to was the accuser who was trying to make me feel badly about myself. That’s what he does 24/7 he accuses.

I recognized it as his voice and spoke the truth, God made me and He knows how I’m wired. He knows I do random tasks even when it makes no sense. He is delighted to spend time with me!  I asked God, “Do you want to take today to do this with me? He said. “Yes!” So we headed to Home Depot.

I asked God if he’d help me. He said, ‘Yes!” We listen to music and painted the living room. It was a beautiful time. Later I got to thinking about how we are human beings not human doings. I believe we need to have enough time in our schedules to just sit and soak and be in His presence.

I also know that we can’t fight against the way we were wired and sometimes we need to embrace it. God made us each the way He made us so we too can delight in ourselves the way he delights in us.

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I was walking back to my house thinking through what I should try to accomplish when I finished my walk. I really should get a blog post written, but I still don’t have something I desire to write about. I then heard the sound of a car behind me. I was met by a friend who slowed down and said, ” Hey pretty lady!”

I removed my hood and turned my head toward her familiar face grinning at me. She had the window rolled down so we caught up about my upcoming trip and her recent time away in California.

She then asked, ” Hey, would you blog sometime about the four things that you need to do when it comes to listening to voices in your head? What were the four things again? I saw something on Facebook from one of your retreats about it. I still need to be reminded.”

I said. “Really? I was wondering, what I will blog about today? She stressed again, “Seriously, Rachel I so needed this, this past week. Please write about it!”

So here are some of  my thoughts about the voices in our heads. We must realize there’s always an inner dialogue going on. You’ve heard it, right? Yes, there are voices in our head. We MUST learn to distinguish the source of the voices that we’re listening to.

Here are some things to keep in mind. If the voice is the voice of approval it is from God.  If it’s a voice of accusation it is from the enemy. If it is a voice of comfort and confirmation it is from God, but if it is a voice of condemnation it’s from the enemy. If the voice is based on behavior and your past it is from the enemy but if the voice is based on your purpose and your destiny it is from God.

God; Comfort & Confirmation                  Enemy: Condemnation

God: Affirmation                                         Enemy: Accusation

God: Your position in Him                         Enemy: Your Performance

God: Purpose & Destiny                              Enemy: Your Past & Mistakes

So with that in mind realize there could be four voice sources:

  • An Angel
  • Holy Spirit
  • Your spirit
  • An ungodly spirit – or the devil.

So recognize the voice or even straight up ask Holy Spirit, “Is this from you? God is this you?” Remember the voice is NOT from Father God:

  • If it does not bring you encouragement…
  • If it does not tell you, you are loved…
  • If it does not show you your future, which is bright…
  • If it does not have kindness and comfort… Remember, even in correction God is good and kind.

(Scripture tells us, it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.)

So if the above list is the VOICE you hear- then it is NOT from God. When it comes to that kind of voice you must choose NOT to listen. I’ve told my audiences many times and I will repeat it again in this blog today at the request of my friend. We MUST:

1. Recognize

2.  Reject

3. Repent

4. Replace

It’s pretty simple. When you recognize it’s from the enemy or voice you shouldn’t listen to then reject the thought. then reject the voice and don’t give it any more “head space” or” airtime.” Third you have to think again on a higher level. Think in a kingdom way, re-think on a higher level…in the heavenly places with Christ where we are seated. (Ephesians 2 you have to repent)

BUT REMEMBER you can’t leave the shelves in your brain empty because the thoughts from the negative voice will come flooding back in so you must replace those accusatory thoughts with the truth.

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Let’s use my earlier example of when I was painting the room. I was hearing all the voices about why I shouldn’t be doing this or that. I needed to be writing a blog instead. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t even want to rewrite the garbage thoughts again. I had to silence the voice.  Recognize, Reject, Repent, Replace!

I had to replace it with truth. I had to say aloud, “You know what? This is how I’m wired. Psalm 139 tells me I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. This is the way I roll. I may make my husband crazy, I may drive people around me nuts but I am keeping in step with the Spirit and today this is what we are going to do. We’re going to paint this room!”

I don’t know what you’re battling today. I don’t know whether you’re hearing the voice of condemnation or not. But I do know God is speaking to you and his words over you are words of LOVE. They are words conveying His pleasure with you because He made you. He wants you to know He is proud of you and He sees your circumstances and how you are pressing forward. He wants you to know you are an overcomer. He wants you to know greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. He wants you to know no weapon formed against you will prosper. It may be formed but it will not prosper.

He hopes like nobody’s business you know: you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. He wants you to know He is the friend that sticks closer than a brother. He wants you to know the righteous have NO FEAR of bad news. He wants you to know  He will provide for your every need. He wants you to know you don’t have to dwell on the past. (If you confess your sins He is faithful and just to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.) He doesn’t want you to dwell on things Jesus paid for on the cross. He wants you to leave the past behind and go forward in faith.

Okay, I guess I DID have something to say today and at the risk of ranting, I just want to leave you with the thought that you too can do the four “R’s”. Maybe it’ll help you to remember Rachel said them and they all start with the letter “R”

  • Recognize
  • Reject
  • Repent
  • Replace

(I wrote about this in my book Lily Pads – Stories of God on Display.  Chapter Two- Identity and the Tooth Fairy.  rachelinouye.org)

Let me lead you in a prayer:

Father, help all of us recognize the voices that are coming in and help us to know if it’s from you or not. Lord, if the voices that we listen to are from an ungodly spirit or the enemy I pray, in the name of Jesus that we would reject them. Lord, we repent of partnering with any thought that is not the way you think about us or our circumstances. We repent of thinking on an earthly level when we are kingdom people.

We repent of partnering with the lies and the negative voice of the accuser. We ask you for forgiveness. Give us the ability to think again on a higher level. Lord, I thank you for your word.  Your word is the truth. We can replace any negative thoughts and lies we’ve believed with positive thoughts of what you think about us straight from your word.

Thank you for what you say about us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. You never make junk and you have started a good work and are faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. We thank you, we thank you, we thank you, we believe you are doing a good work in and through our lives. I pray this, in Jesus name, amen!

Weary- Give Me Strength!

Today I have been a bit weary. I think I’m just a wee bit tired. I have so enjoyed my time with Ying Ying, but the time and energy spent doing things out of the ordinary and the effort of wanting to be a good hostess took a toll. Don’t get me wrong, I loved doing all the things I have done in the last few days, however they have contributed to my weariness, I’m sure.

Here is a quick glance at just a few of the activities from the last few days:

  • Downtown Milwaukee
  • Historic Lighthouse
  • Milwaukee Art Museum
  • Eat
  • Retzer Nature Center
  • Shop
  • Thrift stores
  • Walk
  • Bible study
  • Eat
  • Eat
  • Life group
  • Eat

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I just returned from O’Hare airport where I dropped Ying Ying off to catch her flight back to China. I grabbed a set of verse cards and sat down outside on the back deck and reviewed some of the promises of God. I melted into the cushion and simply sat for a moment. I was grateful for the safety and for the chance to just catch my breath before I would think about writing a blog post.

I sat there a minute before I realized I was crying. Tears streamed down my face I flipped through the cards with promises of God printed on them. Why so downcast oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:11 (Serously, that’s the first card I turned. 

I wiped my tears as I continued to read but the tears kept coming. God what’s going on with me? Am I just tired? Do I miss Ying Ying?  Do I miss my children? Am I going to be okay? I feel so tired and weary.  I don’t have any strength to write a blog post today, but you know how much I like to encourage people. I want to write but I don’t have the energy or the strength.

I had a melt down really. God didn’t demand, “Rachel get it together!” Instead He let me cry it out.  He then comforted me and we had a bit more of a chat. I had wiped off all my mascara so I went inside to grab a tissue because I had the “snotty-nosed, ugly face kind of cry” going on.

When I returned I flipped to the next section of promises of God entitled: GOD WILL GIVE YOU STRENGTH.  BOOM! Then I knew what to share with you today. Let it be for the both of us!

PROMISE God will give you strength:

  • My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness… 2 Corinthians 12:9a

 

  • Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73: 25–26

 

  •  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Isaiah 40:28 – 29

 

  • For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9a

 

  • So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

 

  • I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

 

I sure will miss this  beautiful young lady and her precious face.

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I am thankful to God for how relational I am. I am also thankful God gives strength to the weary.  His promise to me was fulfilled. I started to write, went on a walk, attended a meeting, finished this blog post all after the earlier melt down.  I believe God will give me continued strength and rest. He promises to do it. Let it be an encouragement for you as well. God will give you strength.

 

Seeing Through The Lens Of Another

My husband’s second cousin came to visit us from Wuhan, China. She secured her visa and flew into O’Hare airport last week. It has been delightful to meet Ying Ying and see things through her eyes. It’s been interesting for me to answer her questions as she compares her life in China to mine here in the States. Ying Ying speaks English well and I get a kick out of when she really agrees or wants something, she simply uses one word emphatically, “YES!”  She enlightened me about my own surroundings, family, friendships and marriage. Here is a bit of our few days and weekend endeavors:

Some of the things that she wanted to see and do were not exciting really. She told me right away, “I just want to visit you and Michael and see your life and the regular things you do.”

She arrived and we headed to the Willis (SEARS) Tower for a bit of sight seeing. She loved it and paid a boat load for their tourist photographs as a treasured memory. She couldn’t be dissuaded.

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While she was still in China, I told her via a FaceTime conversation, “Ying Ying as soon as you arrive I have to leave to travel to Iowa for a bridal shower for my nephew’s fiancé. I don’t want to leave you here by yourself. Would you like to come along?” (I explained a bit about the American tradition to SHOWER the bride before her wedding day.)

“Oh, yes I have heard of that. I would love to go to American bridal shower with you! I would like that very much.” She smiled and nodded excitedly. So that is what I planned even though I knew she might be dealing with jet lag. I wanted her to meet my sisters and my parents, visit an Iowa farm and experience a bridal shower too.

As we passed the outlet mall on our way to Iowa, we stopped quickly. She had expressed interest in getting some gifts to take back to China with her. We spent so much time in the chocolate shop. I didn’t mind, we got free samples of truffles! It was fun to see her make her decisions, compare prices and assert herself with the sales clerk.

She bought so many things I hope she will be able to take everything with her on her return trip back to China. The two bags were full and heavy. Ying Ying was giddy with excitement and even found some special chocolates for her daughter’s kindergarten classmates.

“Oh, I’d like to buy some more of these please. She counted them out as the salesman waited while she made her final selections for gifts to bring back to China. I had fun watching her generosity and excitement. I watched her compare prices on the web. She was delighted by her deals. Standing in the outlet with her gave me a new vision for things we may take for granted here.

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“Auntie Rachel, let’s get a photo where we see the face of that man making the Lindt Chocolates please? I’d like it better to have his face in the photo.”
“Okay, sure! That would be good.” I concurred.

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I had to reign her in a bit at another store. “We need to get moving Ying Ying, in order to make our over five-hour drive and still help with the preparations for the shower.”

“Oh, okay I’d like to help you.” she agreed.

I had the trip planned, but I did NOT plan the warning light on the dashboard of my car. Nonetheless it did, so I stopped and tried to figure things out at the gas station. I couldn’t even open the hood of my car, even though I have done it before.  I laughed at myself. She opened the glove box and we read up on the warning light that had illuminated.

Ying Ying looked at me and asked, “Does Uncle usually take care of the car issues for you?”

“Oh, yeah! I am blessed and pretty pampered when it comes to the way he cares for me.” I answered.

She said, “I can tell he really loves you. You know. I can tell you love each other. He told you today when we left your house he would miss you and I could tell you will miss him too. You both hugged each other and say kind things.”

I was a bit puzzled. I thought, Yes of course I will miss him and he will miss me while we are apart. (Ying Ying elaborated more about some marriages in China and her observations of them over the years and the isolation that happens over time.)

I called the local Volkswagen dealer. I was delighted to find out we could get my car looked at in just moments. While at the dealership she was so impressed with people’s kindness I received and the warm welcome everyone gave us.

“I think people are happy in their work here in America.” She commented.

I had some work done on my car but I’m not sure she even remembered it. Jet lag kicked in and she slept during most of the time.

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She was Zonked! I texted my husband during my car dilemma and he advised me and enjoyed the photos I sent as we went about our day. We were back in the car and ready to head down the highway for the last three hours of our journey to my sister’s farmhouse. I wondered if she needed anything.

“No, I’m full from lunch and I don’t need to use the bathroom.” She assured me.

We were off! And a moment later she was OUT.

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She was delighted to meet my sisters and parents and it was sweet to have her chat with women at the shower too. She was taking TONS of photos and sending them back to China. Ying Ying had a selfie stick that responded to a voice command to snap the photo. We heard her over and over say “Ceeensaw!” And the shutter would snap.

I took a few photos of the shower too.

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We had a great time together and were invited out for dinner by my parents and we had, wait for it… Chinese food. Ying Ying thought her food was delicious and especially liked how kind the chef was. We met him during our dinner. He is a friend of my parents and they frequent his restaurant often.

As we finished our meal, we all thanked my father for the wonderfully fiiling and delicious meal. “Thanks Dad!” I said.

“You bet!” he smiled in my direction. “It was fun, always a good time.”

Ying Ying walked into the kitchen, pushed the swinging door open and loudly proclaimed, “Excuse me! I’d like to talk to the chef. I just want to thank him.”

“He’ll come out again in just a minute the waiter assured her.

When he emerged Ying Ying said. “I just want to tell you how happy I am to be in your restaurant and how honored I am to have you care for me. Thank you for the special sauce it is just like I have in China!” She bowed.

I was touched by the way her gratitude was apparent to us all.  I love and adore my parents. Fresh eyes on them and their spirits was a wonderful perceptive. She commented, ” Auntie Rachel, your parents are so kind to me. I feel loved and they listened to me.”

I agreed. I said,” They are the real deal. They truly love and care for people with God’s love and they want the best for everyone.” She smiled and nodded at me and stared into my eyes with her black ones.  Then Ying Ying concurred with her typical emphatic response that I learned to love. She simply said, “YES!”

 

 

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