Saturday, February 7, 2009
Friends That Make Me Never Be the Same and a few sidetrails
God has introduced me to many people in my lifetime. Some have become great friends. Friendship is probably ranked third on the most important relationship list in life, depending upon how you get along with family and God. Friends are something I pray that all of us have because it is awful hard to walk this life without at least a few. I share some of mine today.
I’ve been in Effingham for almost six years now and the first friend I ever made here was at my local Kroger store. I never would’ve pictured the first friend being a guy who would end up bagging my groceries for the next five years, but that’s Ron has been doing. Don’t laugh, that’s a hard job, especially with my two oldest trying to grab the stickers all the time. My kids deem it important to let the entire world know they’ve been Krogering for as long as I can remember. They’ll pass out stickers to anyone strolling by. Ron and I started talking about the Pirates and Cardinals and it developed into other areas. Pretty soon, we joined each other’s MySpaces and he taught me about the fun of Branson and I taught him how funny I can be.
Last Monday, both of us found out bad news. Kroger in Effingham is closing. At the end of February, the store will be gone. It saddened me to think that my Friday ritual of seeing Ron and the other 51 employees would soon be a memory. The economy has been a hard one. As I walked through the store yesterday, I talked with several of the employees and they are pretty upset by the whole thing, as to be expected. Amazingly, Ron was pretty relaxed. He’s looking at his options and on the outside, you can’t tell it’s bothering him. He’s always the professional and I learned why I like him so much. He has such a servant heart. He thinks about the people in front of him rather than himself. I think of the daily stress I have and when things aren’t great, I have a hard time keeping my focus. So as you see, Ron teaches me other things too, like grace.
In my time with God, I talked with him about how unfair it is that these people are being put out of work. He never audibly acknowledges me, but often he gives me other thoughts to think about. The one that crossed my mind was one when I was giving thanks to being able to buy the food at a reduced price as the store is closing. With three kids and a tough economy, money is tight and it was nice to get a break on food. God left me asking myself, “Were you the only one needing the break?” Of course not. I hate seeing these people lose their jobs, but I am thankful that I could stock up on a few things that I know my kids will eat. For some though, it might have made it easier just so they could eat period. That left me with a prayer. Lord, I thank you for the food and I know that you will take care of those 51 families. Thank you.
I’ve been graced with Ron here, but I’ve been graced by my friend Brenda my entire life practically. Amongst all my friends in my life, the only friend I’ve known longer is John Teter. Brenda and I go back to the third grade when I started at Linden School, in 1976. That’s 33 years for those of you that are counting. If you read my blog last week, you know that Brenda taught me how to tie my shoes, but one of the great things she showed me was the most loving family I’ve ever known. I’ve been lucky to know her parents Sharon and Richard the entire time and to be honest, if I could’ve been adopted, I would’ve chosen them to adopt me. I love my mom and I’m lucky to still have her, but for the first time in my life, I saw a mommy and daddy that loved each other and it showed. One of my goals in life is to be half the parent that they demonstrated. Brenda has two brothers as well, Tim and Ronny, and they’re awesome too.
Brenda was one of the first to challenge me as a young adult asking me if I had a relationship with Jesus, probably a couple years before I had one. I had no idea at the time what she was REALLY talking about. One of the great things about Brenda was that she challenged me to be a better person. I occasionally confused that with being pushy, but in retrospect, she was being a bold person. She might be the shortest friend I have, but dynamite does come in small packages. She has seen the good, bad and the ugly Frank. She is my Proverbs 17:17 friend, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother (or a sister) is born for adversity.” Believe me, if anyone knows the adversity of my life, she probably does.
While Brenda may have been the first person to challenge me to be a better person, it was several years later when I finally met someone that motivated me to the next level in my Christianity. While it’s true that my friend Tom Zawacki had a lot to do with my formative years as a baby Christian, it was meeting and working with Randy Jackson that took my walk from milk to meat. Randy and I became friends in 2000 after I spent the first two months at Bible Baptist Church getting my head together. Randy soon invited me to help out with the teen ministry and within a few months, we were almost hanging out daily.
We spent most of our days together. I was working midnights at SunTrust bank, so after a few hours sleep, I was fresh and ready to go meet the rest of the day he had going. In truth, there were times in 2001 and early 2002 where Randy and I probably spent more time together than he did with his wife, Julie. Randy had such passion for the teens he was ministering to that he spent his time doing that. As a single guy at the time, I had nowhere to be, so I was glad to be his partner. I saw so many teens grow in that time. I also saw my waistline grow too. One thing about our time, Randy and I always found a great restaurant to debrief and discuss next moves.
The church saw how much he was working and started talking about slowing down a little. We were trying to keep up with 130 teenagers. That’s a hard job no matter who you are. And I don’t care how good looking I really am, I’d always tease Randy at that point to go home because we both knew Julie was better looking than I am. That was what gave me such respect for Julie. She truly understood God’s mission for her husband and she tried to cut Randy slack. This aside is for all the ladies and gentlemen that have a spouse that has a passion to their ministry. Please give your spouse a little grace when they are busting out a busy time in their ministry. There are times when the ministry has to be worked a little harder. I know there are messed up people out there that might try to tempt them, but please have some faith that 99% will come home and you will reap the reward. For Randy and Julie, 2002 rang in a boy. He did get that job to slow down a little. He got a head pastor’s job in Tennessee and I got married and my life accelerated. Now I have three kids too. Both of us have two girls and a boy. How about that?
Finally, my friend Alvin was the friend that accidently started me on that journey with Christ. I knew Alvin went to church and I didn’t. He just started taking me to concerts and showing me great Christian music and artists. I say accidently because I don’t think he was thinking so much about getting me to Christ when we started hanging out. Our two other closest friends, Kevin and Chris had moved to Pittsburgh and started at the Art Institute and we just started going places on the weekends. But by the second concert, I think Alvin realized I needed Christ and then began intentionally helping me pursue that without much of a push because I realized I needed something more too.
So why did I tell you these stories about my friends? Not so much to put them on a pedestal, but to show you that you won’t meet every Christian friend at church. When I meet new people, it’s not my intention to show them my church, but to show them Jesus. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Hopefully, no matter when you make a friend, the friend should be making you a better person. I’m sure you’ve met people who bring you down. I tell you, run from those people. Mike Murdock once said, “Never go where you are tolerated, go where you are celebrated.” I may not agree with everything the man says, but I’ve always liked this when you pick friends. I want people in my life that are happy to see me and want to bring life to my life. If I want to be brought down, I can turn on the news.
The other thing about friendship for me is that in physical distance, they are closer than family. My mom lives in Florida, my dad in New Jersey and we’re here in Illinois. I have friends all over the country and after a few years here, we are developing friends here in the state of Lincoln’s birth. That’s a good thing. Our families can’t always get in the car and come help us, so with three kids and no life, you see how important friendship becomes. It’s why I love Proverbs 27:10, “Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you-better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.”
I want to be intentional in meeting with God. People think it’s become cliché to say “Jesus is my best friend”, but honestly don’t we want to have that friendship with Him. In Exodus 33, the Lord came down in the clouds to talk to the Israelites. Verses 10-11 say, “Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent (Moses’), they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to his tent. The Lod would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” I’ve met many friends in my life and I’m grateful for all of them, but that is one friendship I long for; a face to face with Jesus.
I love you guys!