Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Surrounding Myself with Friends that Uplift

As far back as I can remember I've been blessed with some really great friends. They each came from diverse circumstances; from families large and small, from being adopted to facing racial biases, each were unique and held certain attributes that helped shape how I now view friendships.

At an early age the majority of my friends shared a common bond in sports, migrating from one sport through the next together and then repeating the cycle a year later with the first sport. We enjoyed the birthday parties together, school functions, and often church activities. But as we near the age of 12 our realization of just where we were headed and which path to choose became a stumbling block in our friendships.

When I entered into Junior High School I deliberately parted ways with the majority of my friends in hope of a more consistent pattern of righteous living. I quickly realized that loneliness would follow and I spent the majority of those 3 years struggling to find a balance between friends, righteous living and trying to find out who I truly wanted to become.

It wasn't really until my sophomore year in high school when my eyes were opened to an opportunity to cultivate a truly fantastic relationship with friends that would last. While I had known many of these friends for a couple of years, circumstances had prevented our group from uniting and experiencing true and lasting friendships. I literally owe my life and soul to these friends and they continue to lift me up today.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13 While none of my earthly friends literally died on my behalf, they were are loving, prone to acts of service, understanding and compassionate, and accepting of who I was, helping nurture me into the man I wanted to become. Do we not all seek for these kind of friends?

College 70's Night at the Roller Rink
 My best friend in high school shared with me a passion for creative dating. While developing relationships with our lady friends was a significant motivator, having a fun time, enjoying ourselves and giving our dates something out of the ordinary meant more. On one particular date we "kidnapped" our dates early one summer morning, blindfolded them and took them to an overpass where we had set out before them a breakfast. The morning commuters honked their approvals as they scurried on by, helping to add to the fun of the morning. We had selected dates that likewise enjoyed the attention, would not balk at an early excursion and knew our fun loving natures wouldn't lead them into harm's way, though the sound of traffic to a blindfolded date had to have been slightly distracting.

Countless times my friend and I ran into car issues which for some may have ended friendships and not strengthened them. A pin on the accelerator of his 70's VW Beetle snapped and we became stranded on an on ramp in downtown Seattle. While late for the Homecoming dance, he ran out of gas, stranding us again on an on ramp in downtown Seattle. We were struck from behind in a typical Seattle rain storm (can't really call it a storm if it never subsides right?) and somehow walked away without striking another vehicle just feet from our on coming car. Through all of these experiences we relied upon each other, the resources we had, prayers were offered and lesson learned that shaped our faith. Shouldn't we surround ourselves with these types of friends?

Sometimes my friend and I ran into trouble where all we could do was laugh it off and enjoy the experience. At the conclusion of one particular date, my then girlfriend and now wife became anxious about the time of the evening, curfew and our ability to get home on time and went looking for my friend and his date. We had been parked (not in the salacious sense) on Alki Beach piers where fisherman often moor their boats. No sooner had we begun to search the area than we saw my friend and his date on a dock...about 15 feet away from the main dock. Their dock and "floated away." The conversation proceeded as thus:
Friend: "Greg!"
Me: "Yeah!"
Friend: "I think we've got a problem!"
Me: "Yep!"

The rest is doc date history and our friendship continued to only have more fun experiences.

As if on queue, my friend from high school reached out to me tonight and tried connecting via phone call. Unfortunately I was in a meeting and couldn't take the call and oddly he didn't respond to my text (Luddite ;)  But here we are some 20+ years graduated and we still keep in touch.

New friends can be exciting and unpredictable. I don't think we'd lived in the are for even a year when a kind friend surprised both my wife and I with a gift certificate to a spa. The thought of such a date didn't exactly thrill me but I knew it was primarily for Rebecca. Little did I know I'd enjoy the hour long massage just fine. The splurge was exceptional on the part of our friend and we continue to enjoy seeing them when they come back into town.

Some friends come into our lives to not only bring us joy but to provide perspective, balance and remind us of what matters. Other friends combine said perspective with humor. One such friend has my wife and I in stitches, having the ability to personify personalities as well as converse with inanimate objects.

Recently we vacationed with this dear friend and her family. Since they returned home from the road trip slightly ahead of us and our arrival would be late on a Saturday night,  rather than breaking the Sabbath the next morning for much needed groceries, we called upon our friend to do a little shopping for our family, entrusting her with our garage code. Though we should have suspected something from this mischievous and fun loving friend, what ensued has become friendly fowl fodder and has spawned it's own Instagram handle (@uncle__john).

Said friend also recently enjoyed a thrilling ride behind the wheel of my car, a 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8L T. This zippy little vehicle caught her attention some time ago and admittedly I've teased her a bit with the opportunity to drive it. Finally on Fri night she seized the opportunity after a painting party and drive she did. The next morning while entering my car en route to the soccer fields, I spied a white foot print on the floor mat below. I sized up the pattern and realized it most certainly couldn't have been mine. I snapped a pic, teased her some more and in return received the following apology note...to my car.
Footprint is too small for my foot
Dear Car,
I'm ashamed I don't even know your name. Last night was great. It felt like we really bonded. You unlocked feelings that have laid dormant far too long. Seemingly contradictory sensations of reckless abandon and absolute control. The way you purred at me. The feeling in my gut. I'm smitten. And then my thoughtless and ignorant act of defilement! I'm mortified. If I can make it up to you with a day at the car spa or to finally open you up to your full potential and go beyond the century mark, just let me know.
Your friend, 

This is just a sampling of the creativity this friend possesses. She has captured our family in photo sessions, random vacation action pictures, and our love and affection. When we refer to her and her family it goes beyond friendship and has entered into the realm of family.

Over the last 10 years in DFW we have cultivated a friendship with an entire family, husband, wife and their 4 grown up children. We've shared Family Home Evenings, spiritual lessons and countless evenings of games. Bodily noises have been passed and tears have been shed (not necessarily because of the former). Recently the mother of this family, in her frustration, said something that to some may have come across as being offensive and the ire was directed at me. Knowing her heart and our friendship I paid it no mind and had forgotten about the incident until she asked for my forgiveness. I reassured her that our friendship and mutual love for each other transcended such petty offenses and frankly forgave her. The friendship she provides is more mature, almost mothering and greatly appreciated.

What has become important to me in choosing appropriate friends is fairly wide ranging. There are acquaintances with whom I can talk, stand to be around but feel nothing for and likely not think of again and would be content. A true friend is one that nearly consumes my thoughts with how they are doing, what they are feeling and how I can serve them. They reciprocate, not out of obligation, but because they feel a similar sense of wonder for me and my loved ones. Friends help guide and direct our paths when we're blinded by vain ambitions, lost in sin or confused by too many choices. True friends find it in their hearts to forgive, sometimes with great pain but most often quickly and sincerely, leaving little doubt as to their love.
Senior Prom - Isn't She Hot!!!

Through the majority of my life, my truest friend has been my wife Rebecca. We've known each other since we were 13 and have been best friends since we were 15. No one has captured my heart, nor will, with the exception of the Savior. As it should be, Rebecca has shared her most intimate details of her life, her hopes and dreams and confides in me what matters most. She has called upon the Priesthood I bear to bless her life and she has fully given her life to me in a covenant of marriage, sealed together for time and all eternity. Could there be any better expression of true friendship than the love that we've cultivated together?

The one friendship that has it all beat is that of my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He is what makes everything else all possible. In order to feel a deep sense of friendship and love for others, I would also have to understand sorrow and hatred. Without His Atonement those negative experiences would plunge me into the darkest abyss, never to return home to the courts above and be ransomed into eternal life. He unlocks the gates into Heaven and paid the debt of sin with His life. How great an example of love He shows to me in all that He does for me personally. It is Him to whom I look for the greatest example of friendship and it is why I can love, serve and emulate what a friend can be. It is because of Him that I can choose appropriate friends that will uplift me.

How grateful I am for friends in whom I can trust and love. The Lord has greatly blessed me in this area and I'm so thankful for my friends. May they feel a similar strength and love from me as I do from them!

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