10 Questions that Foster Thriving Friendships

In our virtual world, we can swipe away friends as easily as we send leftover mashed potatoes into the kitchen trash.  We can polish our words and present ourselves as successful and popular, and even produce photos to back up our claim, but the longing of our hearts for true friendship — for genuine connection with another soul —  has to happen apart from Insta-glitter or the shallow disclosure of a tweet.

In Never Unfriended, Lisa-Jo Baker floats the notion that maybe our struggles with friendship happen because we are operating from wrong assumptions in our foundation.  We carry baggage from bad past experiences forward as if they were gospel, and we encumber relationships with unrealistic expectations.  We talk when we should listen, and we fret about our own small selves  when our eyes should be open wide to spot the needs of the other women in the room.

As community manager for (in)courage, Lisa-Jo is the girl in charge of relationships for that online gathering of hearts, but she doesn’t claim to have it all together yet.  We’re all friends-in-training together until we reach heaven.  In the meantime, we live our way into our best relational selves and seek to fulfill our God-breathed desire for community in ways that glorify Him and serve others.   Crashing into my own selfishness and self-protective strategies from the very first chapter of Never Unfriended, a list of ten questions bubbled their way into my thinking about friendship:

 1.  What would happen if I approached friendship from an active posture?

What if instead of asking, “Who will be my friend?” I asked “How can I be a friend?”  The words of Jesus come to mind:  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. . .”

2.  What lies are fueling my fear of or reluctance toward friendship?

Whether it’s a past friendship gone sour or wrong thinking about my own self-worth and relevance, these lies poison friendship going forward and must be rooted out and replaced with the Truth.

3.  What’s the worst thing that can happen if I go first?

It turns out that we’re all still in middle school when it comes to being the new girl — or welcoming the new girl into our established group.  Radical friendship maintains an open circle for others on the outside.  A fierce commitment to community will fuel Brave and risk Awkward.  Lisa shares the example of volunteering to host a group in her home when she had just moved to a new state and a new church.  She took the risk and the result was a sweetly woven network of relationships.

When we keep score with the facets of friendship — Who texted last?  Who’s turn is it to host this time? — and then hold back to wait for “justice,” our world becomes small and stingy.  Lisa describes going first as “the cardinal rule of friendship.”

4.  Am I willing to be radically inconvenienced?

Caller i.d. has made it possible for me to screen out undesirable contact at will.  My busy homeschooling life gives me a ready-made excuse for “minding my own business.”  However, if I live within safe boundaries of efficiency and time management, I’ll miss out on “Velveteen friendship” that loves off my rough edges.  I’ll never become real.

Adrian Plass writes about incarnational relationships modeled on the example of Christ’s radical encounter with humanity:  “Shouting stern advice at people through a megaphone from a very great height never did do much good.”

And it never did make for close friendship, either.

5.   Do I use guilt to get my friendship needs met?

Particularly when distance is an issue, Lisa-Jo advocates for “Guilt-Free Friendship” in which there is no deadline for responding to emails and phone calls, in which each agrees to assume the best about motivations, and in which the tone is always generous and forgiving.

“Guilt-free friendship is the gift that women who are secure in their own sense of acceptance can give each other.”

6.  Is it a joyful thing to me when I see that my friends are flourishing?

God is delighted when His children strive for the well-being of others.  Taking a radical interest in the people around me, making time for their needs, and actively contributing to their success is clearly friendship in action.

7.  How much time have I wasted being “fine?”

Fine is a lie that we tell out of a dusty soul.
Fine is plexi-glass protection for our image of perfection.
Fine is a deal-breaker in the economy of true friendship.
Never Unfriended challenges readers to “step out from behind fine” and offer friendship instead.

8.  Am I ready to drop comparison and competition and embrace a co-op mentality?

Jealousy ruins the joy of the jealous, but it also stifles the celebration of its object.  Better to rejoice in the truth that “there’s enough work in the Kingdom for everyone,” and to lean into the calling God has placed on my own soul than to be continually glancing over my shoulder to monitor the blessings of others with a resentful eye.

9.  What if I’m not the center of the universe?

When I become caught up in the vortex of “I wonder what they’re thinking about me,” it’s helpful to be brought to the reality that it is unlikely that they are thinking about me  . . . at all.  This leaves me free to think about them, or to look around me, to notice the “people at my table” — to practice intentional self-forgetfulness in the interest of pursuing meaningful conversations that do not center around me.

10.  Would the universe crumble if I gave my friend the benefit of the doubt?

What would happen if I believed the best about her instead of holding to the assumption that is clouding my brain at this moment?  Lisa-Jo hazards a guess that (unless a relationship is so poisonous and bitter that we need to walk away) the outcome will be positive and surprising — although it may take time and patience.  The grace of hoping and believing may have redemptive outcomes that could not have come any other way.

Friendship is hard work, but the alternative is a small, safe, and deeply lonely world.  Furthermore, God uses the crucible of relationship to reveal to us the contents of our hearts, to refine us so that we know that we are “the real deal” all the way to the core.

You were friended, ultimately and irrevocably, by the God of universe, when He took on a body and joined us here in the neighborhood of humanity.  If the life of Christ pulses within your veins and you have heard his “go and do likewise” — the next move is yours.


This book was provided by B&H Publishing Group in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If Never Unfriended sounds like content that your group needs for a deeper dive, you’ll be pleased to know that Lisa-Jo and (in)courage have released a Bible study curriculum to accompany the book.  Click here for more information about We Saved You a Seat.


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The Deep Welcome of Friendship

Across the miles they drove, journeying four hours north on washboard roads until they reached this country hill.

“We want to talk about the conference,” they had said on the phone.  “We can fill you in on the details in person.  The more you know about us, the easier it will be for you to prepare.”

I heard their words, but I was deaf to their hearts, because as the date of their visit approached, the puddle of panic around me grew deeper and murkier.  The faithless ponderings multiplied:

They’ll be sorry they traveled all this way to meet someone so ordinary.
Will they want to quiz me on my theology?
I’m sure they’ll take one look at my tiny kitchen and my beat up wooden floors and decide that I’m a mess, too.

This, for me, has been the challenge of the Christian life:  to boldly welcome others into the mess that is me, and then to trust – to trust that God will build a bridge between our hearts, and to trust that others will respond with acceptance and love.

As it happens, my new friends arrived a few minutes late – G.P.S.’s aren’t much help out here!  More important, though, when they showed up in my driveway, they did not arrive bearing an impossible yardstick or hearts of judgment.  They were not expecting me to look or to sound like a conference speaker or to live in a museum of Pinterest perfection.

We exchanged warm hugs and settled down to business.

And may I invite you to join us?
{I would love for you to continue reading with me over at (in)courage . . .}

And while you’re there be sure to sign up here to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, sent right to your inbox!


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Let It Burn!

“You don’t need to fast,” she said.  “Your prayers are enough.”

But I did need to fast, because her situation sounded really bleak, and God was talking to my heart about it.


Bev was traveling alone in Uganda when she injured her knee hurrying across a busy street.  Swollen to nearly twice its size, the knee was painful.

But the itinerary called for travel to Congo.

The schedule called for long hours of teaching and counseling.

She shared her need for prayer through the medium that brought us together:  the internet.

Bev is a warrior (and a SheLovely) whose ministry allows her to see, firsthand, the burdens women bear, sometimes quite literally. During this most recent trip, Bev saw women of all ages and sizes carry bundles of up to 100 kilos or more on their backs. These bundles are secured by a rag, wrapped around their middle and then over the front of their forehead. The women bend forward to carry the weight, but there’s no posture that will lighten the load of  trauma. In the DRC, rape is often used as a weapon of war. Women are marked as damaged goods, husbands abandon them and this back-breaking labor barely finances what’s left of their lives.

Following this most recent trip to Africa, Bev returned to her home in Australia, hair aflame, excited to share the potential for ministry among women of Congo whose whole life trajectory could be altered by the ownership of a simple wheelbarrow or by the introduction of a micro-enterprise that will enable them to provide for themselves.

“I think I need to learn French,” Bev exclaims, “and I have found a couple of women who are connected to the interior decor industry.  They are looking to source products from women across the world.”

Urgency like this comes with the realization that God has given us the ability to solve problems and meet needs in our lifetime. Years ago, Bev stood beside a crib in a Ugandan hospital, looking with grief at one of the 177,000 children living with HIV.  She heard the Spirit say, “You can do something about this if you want to,” and Cherish Uganda was born, a ministry that provides a home, health care, and education for children infected with HIV/AIDS.

Today, she envisions a ministry to women and children of Congo called Scarlet Women – because of the blood and the shame.  She dreams of building a path out of the poverty and hopelessness that her eyes have seen.

What sets your hair aflame?  What challenges you to step outside your safe routines and known ways?

Do read on!  There’s much more at SheLoves Magazine . . .


Photo credit

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Greet One Another with Grace

I lived south of the Mason-Dixon just long enough to be introduced to the word “Hey” as a greeting – not long enough, however, to become accustomed to it. Here in New England, “Hey!” is the word we use to get someone’s attention, as in, “Hey! You can’t pahk heah!” A simple southern greeting would stop me in my tracks on campus, as I waited for the rest of the sentence.

These days, I’m stopping in my tracks when I read the greetings in Paul’s New Testament letters. There were no “throw away” words in his writing – they all carried weight, and he was very aware that his written words were carrying the weight of grace to his readers:

  • grace that would enable them to be peacemakers in times of intense persecution;
  • grace to boldly refute false teaching;
  • grace to forgive so that relationships could be restored.

Maybe that’s why every single one of Paul’s thirteen epistles opens with the words “grace to you” and ends with the phrase “grace with you,” as if his readers could carry the truth of God’s great love and forgiveness with them when they finished reading his letter.

Is it possible for mere words to be so consequential?

In my world of hurry, I have mastered the quick hello, the cheery smile — and the averted eyes. It’s “Destination, Ho!” even on a Sunday morning when, supposedly, I have gathered together to do my part in strengthening and encouraging the body.

With hair aflame, can I really take the risk of asking, “How are you?”

What if they actually want to tell me how they are?

In detail?

Without literally using the words, what would “grace to you” sound like in the paper towel aisle at Wal-Mart? In the hallways of a Sunday-morning church? I am pondering the notion that my greetings, though not inspired as Paul’s were, can truly mediate grace to my sisters in Christ.

Jesus is never recorded as having actually used the word grace. He just taught it and lived it, so whether I find in my heart sufficient grace to pour out to others depends on whether I am faithfully taking the unconditional grace He offers to me. When my mind is occupied with odious comparisons, grace-filled words of greeting will stick in my throat. “I’m so happy to see you! Tell me how you’re doing!” will never find its way to the open air if I’m suffocating it behind judgment, impatience, or discomfort in my own skin.

Like Paul, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Trusting that this is true, and that God is at work in me, I find grace to hold a sister’s gaze and to hear her heart, to scribble down an important date or a prayer request, to pray on the spot for an expressed need.

I’ve been asking God to open my heart during the brief moments I spend chatting with my friends. They’re busy too, and maybe they’re even wishing I’d move along and let them get to their Sunday school class or finish their shopping . . . but maybe they’re hoping for someone to stop for a minute to see their pain and to hear their story.

Living in a nation where Rome’s brutal customs mingled with Israel’s preoccupation with measurable and highly visible righteousness, Jesus chose to address the seemingly trivial topic of greetings in His Sermon on the Mount. It seems that He wants me to offer greetings of grace to people I’d rather not even see!

“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Mt.5:47 ESV)

Greetings of grace make for peace, so there’s no ducking behind the Cover Girl display at Target or pretending to ponder the missionary bulletin board in the back of the church when I run into THAT person. If I open my heart to give a grace-filled greeting, I demonstrate that I am a daughter of a grace-filled God who daily pours out grace into the life of this impatient wife, sharp-tongued mother, fretful blogger, fitful worshiper, and inconsistent pray-er.  As God’s grace is set free to transform me, I am praying to become an instrument of transforming grace in the lives of others.


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Conversation at the Door

Some of our most important and profound words are said in doorways.  Because someone is leaving, words spoken at the door are often more consequential, more weighty.  Time is short and must not be frittered away.  An entire evening may pass filled with light conversation and meandering stories until it’s time to say goodbye, and suddenly the flow of words gushes into the streambed of relevance.

In Just Show Up, Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn are standing in the door together, and this record of their words is raw and real.  Kara, author of The Hardest Peace, writes from the perspective of a cancer patient in her final days.  (Kara passed away in March 2015 shortly after the book’s completion.)  Jill speaks as a close friend who has offered her hands and her heart in service to Kara and her family.  What emerges from their shared writing is a chronicle of the painful, long good-by called cancer, many reassuring and sometimes humorous stories about the agony and the awkwardness of a friendship in which cancer is the unwanted third wheel, the helplessness of watching a dear friend suffer, and the need for both parties to put all pretense aside and fall into the rhythm of God’s choreography.

This pouring out of words about friendship and suffering would be enough if that was all that lived between the covers of Just Show Up — but it’s not, for in the way of showing up, Jill and Kara learned valuable and practical lessons about loving and saying goodbye:

  • The uncomfortable dance of giving and receiving help can be relieved somewhat by clear communication.  Being specific is key.  For example, rather than vague “call-me-if-you-need-anything” statements, offer to grocery shop, to provide transportation to appointments, to assist children with school projects.
  • When you provide a meal, use disposable dishes.  Suggest that the family place a cooler on the front steps so that meals can be dropped off unobtrusively without impacting family time.  Ask for guidelines on family food preferences and allergies.
  • Don’t visit when you are sick!
  • Put your giftedness at the family’s disposal. If you are a skilled photographer, offer to take pictures of the family.  Put your organizational skills to work managing their mail or other details.
  • Don’t become overwhelmed or neglect your own family responsibilities.  If you add a caring role to your life, subtract something else to make room for it.
  • Mourn the loss of your relationship as it used to be, but then find a new normal.
Jill and Kara drew from the wisdom offered in an LA Times article called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing,” which described a series of concentric circles with the name of the person who is suffering in the center.  From there, place the names of family and friends with this in mind:  the closer one is to the person who is suffering, the closer their name goes to the center ring.  Using that as a guide, the key is this:  “Comfort in.  Dump out.”  For example, Jill did not complain to Kara’s family at all (about anything), but Kara’s husband was free to be honest with Jill about his struggles and observations regarding Kara’s decline.  As a general rule, if in doubt, err on the side of comforting instead of dumping.
In a way, what we have here is a devastatingly practical book on the theology of suffering and the sovereignty of God.  With tears, protesting the suffering, and mourning the brevity of Kara’s life, both Kara and Jill assert the truth that “suffering is not the absence of God’s goodness.”  Kara’s suffering and the process of dying were the cause for mourning, but also the occasion for finding “the smallest good and expand[ing] on it.”  Kara made the choice to be transparent about her suffering and to live her final days in a community that wrapped her in love and that continues to support and to love her family.  Just Show Up is the story of suffering being redeemed, “of God showing up in the midst of community here on earth.”

This book was provided by David C. Cook in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Greatest and Hardest Thing


“Do you always read to your kids like that?” she queried.

My friend was referring to my rendition of a Dr. Seuss classic delivered at tongue-twister speed from a rocking chair in the church nursery.

“Just Dr. Seuss,” I replied. “It’s funnier if you read it fast.”

She grinned and raised an eyebrow. “You do everything fast.”

She was right and I think she actually meant it as a compliment, but she spoke more truth than she knew. Hands full and lap full, I was hard-wired for hurry in a world where I knew—I KNEW—that true success might actually mean sitting in a chair holding a sick baby all day. It might mean reading out loud to my older kids while I held the baby, just to maintain infrastructure and rule of law. You can polish off an entire Boxcar Children book that way, but really … How do you cross that off a to-do list?

Fast forward a dozen years, and I don’t spend much time in the nursery any more. These days it’s the women’s ministry in my church that has a way of putting my multi-tasking, hair-on-fire heart into a position to be challenged and changed and brought along the way by women who have learned the secret of slow.

One boils water and brews a scalding mug of tea that can barely be sipped. She’s not thinking about the wonderful work she is doing with her kettle and her pungent brew. She’s not thinking of herself at all. Cupped in my chilly fingers on a rainy day, her slow tea holds me seated in her kitchen. Scanning the pictures on her fridge, putting a hand on the muzzle of her friendly old dog, something lifts from my shoulders with the steam from my mug. We meander through a conversation over the teenage chaos that convenes whenever our kids get together. “What are you reading?” may actually find its steady way to, “Why are you discouraged?” and, “Why don’t we pray now?” That is, if I can just sit long enough to let it happen.

Another woman, another guardian to the secret of slow, shows up for my Sunday school class twice each week—once to drop off her mother-in-law and once to pick her up again. The trip between sanctuary and classroom is a pilgrimage on 88 year-old legs. Slowly, patiently, and with a steadying hand to stabilize, my dear Iris is granted the dignity of choice in this small thing by her daughter-in-law who, with leisurely patience, walks Iris from car to sanctuary, from sanctuary to classroom, from classroom to sanctuary, from sanctuary to car again. She’s not thinking about herself either or all the things she could be doing in those long minutes of steadying and supporting.

If I quiet my brain from its Sunday whirring and invite conversation, I will hear Iris say the words that melt my heart: “I pray for you every day because you are my teacher.” If I look up from my notes and leave space for silence, I will find that I can read the Word of God in the lives and in the tears of the women around the table in my classroom.

Impatient and restless, I’ve had to learn a great deal about slowing down, opening my eyes, and paying attention. Writer and practical theologian Annie Dillard wrote in Life Magazine:

“We are here to abet creation
And to witness it,
To notice each thing, so each thing gets noticed . . .
So that Creation need not play to an empty house.”

When I am present to the people God brings into my life I keep them from playing “to an empty house.” When I expect my husband, my children and my friends to intuit love from the blur that is me then the symphony that is them echoes off the walls, unheard. Coming to a full stop to look into the wide green eyes of the son who was born the year I turned forty–who has never known me without the hurry and worry lines that run parallel between my eyebrows–I will find grace to live slow and to remember that it’s a slow walk that takes us safely through this world:

Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts, (Isaiah 26:8)

“Walking in the way of God’s laws,” I will love: first God, and then my neighbor. Is this not–and has it not always been–the way of redemption and wholeness?

It is in my trusting dependence on God and not in my super-efficiency that the world will stand in awe of Him.

How many times have I missed God’s way in my hurry for my own name and my own renown?

With my hair blowing back and bugs in my teeth, how much do I really even know about the desire of my own heart?

There will be time for agenda writing and staffing plans and beating the bushes for volunteers.

There will be days for canning forty quarts of green beans and organizing birthday parties and studying for the next blog post.

But today, I will pour a cup of slow tea.

This may be the greatest and the hardest thing of all: the secret of slow.


This post first appeared at SheLoves, an online magazine that is really a global community of women who are seeking to glorify God in our every day living, loving, and serving.

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Soul Friends: A Book Review

We live the questions, holding one another’s feet to the fire.
We raise our kids and pray for each other on those “I’m a Rotten Mom” Days.
They know us at our worst, and they love us anyway!
They are our Soul Friends:  What Every Woman Needs to Grow in Her Faith. 

Dr. Leslie Parrot writes that these deep-spirited relationships are the essential element to the formation of her faith, but Soul Friends is no formulaic manual for finding or being a better friend.  Dr. Parrott invites her readers to turn the pages and feel the warmth of a spiritual journey, lived alongside sisters-in-faith who believingly follow Jesus.  Sharing the faith journey “where you are right now” is a process of living, obeying, loving and believing “right there,”  in the context and with the people God has provided.  This spiritual journey in company with one’s soul friends is marked by four major landmarks:

1.  Quest:  This is a recognition of one’s own adventure and involves finding the treasure of God’s will and, in the process, becoming a treasure for those we know and love.

2.  Calling:  God’s action plan for the traveler requires humility, for we are ever in the process of being stretched as we depend on God and the sustenance of our soul friends along the way.

3.  Crisis:  We travel an unknown road and find grace to meet the challenges.  Dr. Parrott’s account reads like excerpts from a spiritual journal as she walks beside those who battle cancer, mourn the loss of a child, absorb the news of unexpected pregnancy, or manage the decline of a beloved parent.

4.  Communion:  The command to love one another is the essence and the destination of our spiritual journey.  Travelling with soul friends, the expedition transcends the ordinary, yielding “fruit that remains,” (John 15).

Rich in supporting Scripture and following a framework of wise quotations ranging from Winnie the Pooh to Henri Nouwen; Harriet Beecher Stowe and Leslie’s own lyrical poetry, Soul Friends is realistic:

“No matter how deep the synchronicity of souls, there will always be gaps.  True love wakes up every morning and recognizes the need to stretch stiff muscles that may even be sore from the work of loving the day before.”

It is inspirational:

” . . . a simple life freely given in love can transcend the boundaries of place and time, stretching across oceans and extending beyond continents and decades.”

Questions for consideration at the end of each vignette probe and push on the point asking, “How would this aspect of godliness look in your real life?”  Each essay serves as a picture in Leslie’s album, compelling her readers to look around and ask, “Whom can I invite to share this adventure?”

We benefit from Leslie’s travels (South Africa, Maui, Italy!), her role models (missionary Gladys Aylward, Jean-Pierre de Cassade, Amy Carmichael), and her mile stones (a family move to downtown Seattle; mentoring a band of delightfully flawed females).  Her quirky perspective and lively faith invite us all into “the ministry of presence,” which makes the presence of God visible in this world.

This book was provided by Zondervan through the Book Look Bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.

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