RELATIONAL: "Know Your Frenemies"

I wish I had come up with the word, “Frenemies.” It predates the popular Disney movie of the same name by about sixty years, appearing in an article by journalist Walter Winchell. At the height of the Cold War he suggested we call Russia our Frenemy. The word is a “portmanteau,” a word-blend of “friend” and “enemy.” You probably already figured that out.
I love the word because it challenges our tendency to draw lines separating people in our lives. Sometimes that line is clear. Our friends genuinely care about us and our enemies are out to get us. But sometimes the line is not so clear, and drawing it can be more of a wall than a line that keeps us from crossing over.
Two examples. In World War 1 the Germans were our enemies. But on Christmas Day in 1914, only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe, German soldiers emerged from their fox holes to greet British soldiers with songs, carols and gifts of cigarettes. At first the Brits thought it was a trick. But soon they too ventured into No Man’s Land between the lines to greet their “enemies” and retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades.
This amazing crossover occurred only once and was never repeated in subsequent warfare, but it did reveal the core of humanity that lies beneath differences of language, culture and beliefs.
A second opposite example is found in the Book of Proverbs. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (14.27). Translation: True friends care enough about you to tell your the truth that hurts. My wife is my best friend. She would never knowingly hurt me but she will sometimes tell me things about myself no one else would dare.
“You need a breath mint. Your fly is unzipped. That was a foolish thing to say. Don’t wear that.”
When I’m smart the irritation soon gives way to gratitude and change. Yes, my wife is one of my best Frienemies.
Having friends and enemies can lead to a kind of Cold War of relationships with walls that don’t permit crossover. There are former enemies in my life that have become close friends. Sadly, there are former friends that would now count themselves as enemies. It happens. But by not drawing a line between the two, you open a path to change, and in relationships, change is

Now that's bad advice!

I have a kind of rule about taking advice. It needs to be from someone who meets three conditions: the person must be wise, must be committed to my welfare and must have a good track record of giving me good advice. My wife meets all of these conditions and has always been my most trusted advisor, but there are others.
Of course these are qualities that can only know over time, but they are essential to staying on the right path in life. Have you ever read the story of Rehoboam? It’s found in the Book of 2 Chronicles in the Old Testament. Rehoboam was in line to be the King of Israel after the death of his father who had made life miserable for his people. The people came to his son and asked if he would lighten their load.
Rehoboam did the right thing at first. He said, “Give me three days to think about it.” He spent those days seeking advice. First the old men in the kingdom told him to be good to the people and they would be his servants forever. But the young men advised him to make life even more miserable for them so as to force their devotion.
You probably know what happened. There was a revolt and Israel withdrew from the Kingdom. Basically Rehoboam’s decision to follow bad advice destroyed a nation. Now that’s bad advice!
Advice is no substitute for good judgment and personal growth in life, but it comes in handy along the way. I’m thankful for the small circle of people who have proven they care enough about me to offer good advice, whether I choose to take it or not. Knowing your limitations is just as important as having good judgment. When you’ve reached your limit, that’s the time to seek advice.
Just be careful in choosing your advisors.Which Way to Go - 3 Colorful Arrow Signs

Raising Mom

I said goodbye to my mother – for a time – when she passed into the presence of God at the VA Home in February. We shared a final worship time in her room with George Beverly Shea and readings from the Psalms (via IPhone).
The three years she spent in our home, descending into the abyss of dementia, is now coming out in the form of laughter and tears in my book, Raising Mom. Caring for a loved one with dementia is reverse parenting. Our natural children come to us as infants and grow into adolescence and beyond. My mom came to us as an adolescent, strong-willed and sure she could do things she couldn’t. Over time she became a child and finally an infant, totally dependent on us. During those precious years, I saw so many parallels to my childhood. All of the challenges, disappointments and hard decisions my mother made raising me, were repeated by us in reverse order.

Two generations spill over into the third, for our children will benefit both from seeing our example of compassionate care and, as we age, we will be better prepared to shelter them from the challenges ahead. I say this confessing that hardly a day passed when mom was alive that I didn’t selfishly yearn for greater freedom and less responsibility; as her world closed in around her I sometimes felt trapped in it. But in the end we both belong to the world that is unbounded, invisible and eternal, to which the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared.



Boston’s early morning streets are empty as I set out for a walk downtown. Out of the corner of my eye (I admit to avoiding eye contact in the city) I see a woman approaching. I would have passed without speaking but she stops, looks at me and says, “Sir, may I speak with you? I don’t want any money, but I’m hungry.” She proceeds to tell a credible story of having been turned away at a couple of shelters.
“Would you consider buying me a few things?” She points to a nearby Shaws supermarket (go figure, right in the middle of Boston!). “Sure,” I say. I have learned over the years to trust but verify hardship stories. This one sounded real.
“My name is Michelle,” she says, extending her hand. “You here for the 4th (of July)?” I explain my wife is at a conference and I am along for the ride, leaving today back to our home in New Hampshire.
“So how about you?” I ask, “What’s your story?”
“It’s a long one, but here’s the short version. I was married for thirteen years to a man who abused women. When I left him I had nothing. I have an eighteen year-old daughter who lives with my mom in Minnesota. She graduated this year.” She says she has been living under a tunnel and shows me bites on her arms from rogue insects there. She hopes to be in a shelter soon.
I am struck at how well spoken she is, and how sincere. There is a brightness in her eyes that doesn’t match the rest of her face. Her hair is disheveled and her face weathered. She wears a knitted shawl and what looks like nurse’s pants. I interrupt her story to let her buy some groceries and tell her I’ll meet her at the checkout. While she shops, I look among the magazines for something that might present the love of God that I could leave with her. Nothing. In a few minutes she meets me with her basket that includes a loaf of bread, milk, bologna, some macaroni salad and donuts. She thanks me ten times while the order is processed.
Outside I consider how I might share the gospel. It comes out something like this: “If I were back home today, I’d be preaching at my church. How about you?” I intentionally ask an open-ended question, to draw her out.
“My church is on Arlington (Street).”
“Why do you go?” I ask. She seems surprised by this question.
“Because right now God is all I have.”
“Do you know Jesus?” She looks down thoughtfully, then up.
“When I was little, my mother would rock me in a black rocking chair and tell me about Jesus. When I was seven I asked Jesus into my heart.” So this is her story, and it sounds real. She doesn’t seem angry or sad, just impatient for change. She continues, “Now I’m working with a couple of ladies at the church. They have helped me apply for SSI (disability), I’ll be getting a room next month and I hope to have a job housekeeping. It’s only twenty-five hours a week, but it’s something.”
I tell her I am sorry for her situation. “Everyone has their problems,” she says. Then we pray, shake hands and walk away in separate directions. After a few moments I turn for one last glimpse of Michelle, but she is gone. For a moment I stand alone, wondering why two souls should be assigned such different lives.
On the way back to my hotel I said a silent prayer to the God who sees.