Are we sharpening one another?

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. —Proverbs 27:17 ESV

When you work every Sunday, a holiday weekend doesn’t really hold the same type of appeal as it does for most. The “woohoo three-day weekend” isn’t really three days in a row, and the Monday holiday observance often only makes the remainder of the week more difficult to catch up with. Still, not too many people I know (myself included) will say they don’t enjoy having an extra day at their discretion, regardless of how it fits in.

I found myself with my own type of holiday this past weekend. I had off Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and for once, none of those days had appointments or outside obligations. So I allowed myself to fill them . . . with friends. Sort of an iron-sharpening few days, you might say.

I think it’s interesting to read what some of the commentaries say about the sharpening process:

  • It can make us/keep us “shiny”—some translations say “sharpens the countenance”—and Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers says that in essence, the verse is telling us that the “play of wit with wit” will actually brighten up the face.
  • Benson’s Commentary says it “quickens his ingenuity, enlivens his affections, strengthens his judgment, excites him to virtuous and useful actions, and makes him, in all respects, a better man.”
  • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary reminds us that we are to “take heed whom we converse with,” and tells us that our conversation should have the end goal “to make one another wiser and better.”

Friendships, I think, boil down to two basic types: those that strengthen and fill us so we become sharper and more effective, and those that weaken and drain us. Not that I’m always tossing Bible verses around, but when I think of my friendships, I think of Proverbs 17: 22—”A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

I’ve often returned from a visit with a good friend, eyes burning from the tears that accompanied some intense bouts of laughter, abdominal muscles more sore than Jillian Michaels could ever hope to make me, saying, “That was EXACTLY what I needed today!” I’m not kidding when I tell you I think I could be really skinny if I only got to spend more time with my better friends. (Never mind the pizza we’re probably eating—we’re focusing on the positive here.) There’s cardio, there’s side cramping, there’s floor work as I roll around, doubled over. And I’m working out those smile muscles like nobody’s business.

THAT is good medicine.

A friend and coworker recently posted her thoughts about iron sharpening iron on Facebook, saying,

“So if that is true, and I believe God’s Word is true, then is the reverse true? Does being dull create dullness in another? Does negativity give birth to more negativity? Have you ever found a rotten potato in your bag of potatoes—that is nasty—and creates a problem for the other potatoes. Are we building one another up or tearing each other down and pulling people in with us? I work in a church—I hear positive and negative comments each week. I hear them at baseball games, at stores, etc. It causes me to examine myself. Am I sharpening others with God’s love and encouraging others or am I spreading viruses with negative words that are not helpful and are not going to change anything? My thoughts on my drive home today . . .”

Just as we have those positive friends, there will always be acquaintances who pull us into a pattern of negativity and complaining. It’s all too easy to slide into and not nearly as easy to climb out of, once a habit has been established. I’m a naturally sarcastic person, so are my kids, and so are many of my friends. However, I’m conscious of not allowing that sarcasm to become mean-spirited (sometimes I fail, but hey, I’m conscious of it), and there are times when I’ve certainly been convicted of being negative. It happens. But I don’t want to live there.

Joy in the Bible is often mentioned in conjunction with strength. I certainly feel stronger after spending any amount of time with my positive-outlook friends. I can conquer the world and then some.

And that’s how I feel on this not-a-three-day-weekend: rejuvenated and ready to conquer the world. Why? Because on Thursday night, I and two of my very close friends (who happen to be authors I work for) made the time for a three-way Skype chat that had me—and various family members as they wandered in and out of the room—laughing for a solid three-plus hours, finally winding down to say goodbye at almost 2 a.m.

On Friday, I got to have a long lunch with another close friend who was in town from North Carolina. This was a total bonus, since I don’t usually get to see her more than once a year; but not only did I see her in November (when we got matching tattoos to celebrate friendship endurance through some really tough seasons), I’ll see her again in July. Three times within a twelve-month period! It means so much to me to see her smiling face, to giggle the moment we are within earshot of each other, and to talk about everything from silly to deep, fitting in as much as we can until the next time.

On Friday night, yet another close friend—my college roommate and still one of my besties—came over to spend the evening hanging out and watching a movie. We know enough about each other to get into some serious trouble, we’ve persevered through thick and thin, we seldom get to see one another though we live less than ten miles apart, and our daughters have somehow managed to become best friends, which we think is super cool. We can follow each other’s tangents and don’t have to explain our dumb jokes to each other.

These friendships, with people who are vastly different from each other, sharpen me. They each have a unique way of encouraging me and yet holding me accountable when I’m not my best self. And if you haven’t noticed by now, I tend to surround myself with people who love to laugh. I can be as serious as I need to be, but not until the very moment I have to be, and not a moment after. There will always be time for tears when they’re needed, so why rush it? Laugh at every opportunity so your strength is built up for those valleys.

I was so buoyed by a simple two days of friend-infilling that my Saturday was incredibly productive. I woke up raring to go. I didn’t get everything checked off my to-do list, but I got little bits of lots of things accomplished, and shared some nice moments with my best friend who just happens to be married to me. In fact, today marks the 30th anniversary of our first kiss, and I will be the first to tell you that a man who still celebrates the kissiversary after thirty years is a an iron-sharpener of the highest quality.

So how about it? Who will YOU sharpen this week?

Mother’s Day reflections

Once again, Mother’s Day has rolled around as it has every year, and once again I find myself mentally reviewing parenthood in general.

Anyone who is a parent knows there are times—sometimes more often than not—when parenting seems like a losing battle. Nobody really prepares you for what parenting does to you, whether mentally, physically, or even spiritually.

The thrill of having a baby is often overshadowed by the sheer exhaustion of all that a baby requires. Babies, by their nature of being . . . well, babies . . . are takers. Any giving they do is completely involuntary. They can’t help it; they are completely helpless, dependent on their parents to keep them alive and content. The involuntary giving is cuteness, snugglability, and the awesome realization of parents that we were given the privilege of taking care of this tiny little person who is somehow so amazing that all tiredness and self-sacrifice is worth it.

Mind you, we don’t always feel that way in the midst of yet another toddler tantrum or sleepless night, but when saner heads prevail, we get it. It’s worth it.

My kids are no longer what I can classify as “kids” in the strictest sense. Our oldest is 23, next in line is 21, and the “baby” is very close to turning 17. They’ve turned into people in their own right, with their own friends (some of whom—gasp!—I don’t know personally), jobs, and interests that may or may not reflect mine. Even so, I still worry about them and still want to take care of them as best I can, even though they really don’t need it in the same way.

The babies who used to wake us up multiple times a night were replaced by toddlers who would wander into our room in the middle of the night, unaware that they were more often than not interrupting the first intimate moment we’d found the time and energy to enjoy in days. The toddlers were replaced by teens who would stay up later than we could manage to hold out, and then young adults who would change plans and suddenly arrive home on a day we’d planned to have the house to ourselves. And still . . . worth it. Worth every instance of interrupted intimacy, every middle-of-the-night phone call that starts with, “I’m okay, so let’s just get that out of the way first,” every “I need you to come and get me because . . .”

Even as the mama of young adults, my time is still not my own, because if they have a need, I still want to be there. If there’s time to just hang out and talk or grab a meal together, I want to be available and it can’t happen as easily as it used to. It makes my heart happy when they actually seek out time with me. But being a mama at this stage has also given me a heart for younger moms and their struggles.

Secondary to raising our own children, one of the best things we can do as mamas is to be there for other moms. I am blessed to be friends with some of the adult children of my own friends, and I think it helps to have a listening ear and an encouraging word or two when they’re feeling overwhelmed. My mother was not someone I could confide in, and was not what anyone would call a listener. Uh . . . and not sympathetic or understanding, either, for that matter. So I completely understand that there are times when it’s easier to talk to a mom other than your own. They can listen and not judge, and it’s not up to them to solve your problem or to take responsibility for it.

My daughter (our youngest) has a couple “extra” moms she trusts when times are rough. We’re extremely fortunate that she is open with us (even when we don’t want to hear what she needs to tell us), but even so, I think it helps her to know there are other adults she can run things by if she’s trying to figure out how to tell us what she needs to talk about, or if I’m not immediately available, or even just to get a differing viewpoint on a problem she’s trying to work out. Far from being jealous, I’m thankful. God has been gracious to put wise people in her path, and I’m not foolish enough to turn down the help.

In the same vein, I have extra “kids” who call me mom, ranging from teens to young adults, and I’m happy to give them solid hugs and a bit of my scant wisdom when it presents itself. In the way that others are there for my children, I want to offer the same. Yesterday, in fact, I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning filled with delicious coffee, laughter, and deep conversation with a beautiful gal who calls me her “work momma.” She wanted to take me out for Mother’s Day at our local chocolatier (mmm, truffles), and it provided a three-hour block of time for us each to be “filled” during an otherwise-draining season of life. She’s a young adult who sees me as my own person, which allows me to be open and vulnerable, yet who also trusts me to treat her with the love of a friend and “extra” mom. She has a terrific mom of her own, and yet there is still a need for that extra set of ears during tough times. I’m privileged to be part of her life.

My mom was sort of a tough taskmaster when it came to Mother’s Day. She had to have the gift, the card, and the phone call—any one of those three missing, and the day was a bust. Over the years, I came to realize that I just needed to do my best and live with it, even though I knew she told her friends and neighbors how neglectful I was. My worst Mother’s Day was the first one after our son had died, and I didn’t want to really interact with the outside world. I was content to spend the day with my husband and children, and yet I knew my mother would be upset if I didn’t call. When I finally did call, I was scolded for not calling early enough in the day. She’d been stewing all day long, not even considering the grief I was dealing with after losing a child only four months before.

I vowed then and there that I would never be like that with my own children. Yes, we all make promises to ourselves to not be like our parents, and I’m sure there are inevitabilities of a familiar mannerism or two, but of this one I’m certain. My children will never be made to feel that a gift will make or break my love for them. Thankfully, in that way, my kids are sort of like me: we love to give or receive thoughtful gifts and appreciate them, but we don’t always feel comfortable having to come up with something simply because the calendar says we should. I think that helps, that we think alike on that point. No pressure, kids. No pressure.

I’m proud of the adults they’re growing into, and yet there’s a whole host of new things to pray about as I trust God to guide them through life. Children are a huge tax on a person’s spiritual walk! They give us so much to pray about, and so much to be accountable for. I love my children with such a fierce, possessive love that I can’t imagine how God can love them more, even though I know He does.

And that kind of love for my kids helps me to understand how God can love us no matter what. The love is unending, even while wanting to punch them in the nose for a callous observation that cuts deeply, or for an offhand remark that makes me cry silently in another room so they don’t see how hurtful they can be. I will wager that there is no child on earth who knows how often his or her parents are brought to tears . . . either for them, or because of them. I would imagine God has wanted to punch me in the nose once or twice. I’m extra thankful he’s more patient than I could ever be, even on my best day.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39

Happy Mother’s Day, mamas out there. You’re doing better than you think you are.

 

We don’t grieve as the world grieves

Last night, I had the privilege of being somewhere most people wouldn’t think a privilege: I sat with one of my best friends in her living room, waiting and watching as her husband of almost twenty years passed from life on earth to eternal life with Jesus.

Only a couple weeks before, they’d found out that a supposed clot in his arm was actually a “mass.” After immediately beginning radiation, only a week or so later they were told the mass was actually a lot of aggressively growing masses, rapidly spreading throughout his body—and untreatable. The decision was made by both of them that he would come home with hospice care for the time he had left. The doctor guessed “weeks to a couple months.”

He came home on Friday. He died six days later.

Today, I’m pondering the nature of grief in a Christian household. From the beginning my friend has had peace, and her husband did as well. That doesn’t mean they would have chosen the pain—physical, often extreme, for him . . . emotional for her and their two teenage daughters—but it certainly changes how they reacted to it.

Instead of becoming angry at God, they turned to him even more steadfastly. Instead of becoming bitter, they prayed that others might see Christ through their behavior during trials. In fact, when I visited for a couple hours two nights ago, I walked in the door to the sound of worship as close friends played guitar and sang at his bedside. The singers included his daughters, who recognized that God alone was the source of their comfort.

So last night, when my daughter and I gathered a few things to spend the night, she decided to bring her ukulele and chord charts so we, also, could minister to our friends through music. Again, we worshiped, and again, the house had an atmosphere of peace, not despair. Amazing how that works.

There were tears, certainly, at the moment of that final breath, but overall, still that sense of peace that truly passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). God gives us peace, and he guards our hearts and minds in the process. These guys knew who was guarding their hearts, and it got them through a night that will change their lives forever, leaving a hole that can’t be filled by another person.

My friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter even recognized God’s providential timing of her father’s death: a day later, and her best friend would have been out of town on a school field trip; her sister’s best friend (my daughter) would have been at the prom and not at her friend’s side. As it was, I got to witness four girls between the ages of fifteen and almost-seventeen comforting each other with a maturity that would have put most adults to shame.

In my friend’s own words, less than twenty-four hours after her marital status was changed to “widow”:

“I don’t know what the days ahead will hold but the girls and I are confident that the peace that God has given us will continue. We are blessed to have so many amazing friends and family members carrying us along! It is such a comfort to us to have people who will not only grieve with us but also rejoice with us.”

We do not grieve as the world grieves, “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b), but as John 16:22 states oh-so-clearly, “. . . you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

I try not to be a person who makes sweeping statements or who makes everything into a drama, but I can say—with absolutely no exaggeration whatsoever—that 2017 so far has, in a word, sucked. Let’s even use two words and say REALLY sucked.

The year is young, only one quarter complete, so I’m hoping with everything in me that the trend will reverse itself. And by the very nature of grief, it must. Yes, it could get worse, but I’m going with the law of averages here and assuming things will ease as the months go by, and my heart will once again soar on a regular basis.

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for so long that it almost feels like starting completely from scratch. The past couple years were a whirlwind of activity and life changes that took everything in me to keep afloat, and every time I started to draft a post, I would find it irrelevant by the time I got back to it, months later. This blog has always been my “dear diary” of sorts, the most personal version of myself, and many of the things I began to draft were not the type of thing that could even be posted, because sharing what I was struggling with would have only hurt others . . . not that any of them read this, but I would rather err on the side of grace when I can (great advice given to me by a friend and coworker).

Last year was especially hard on many fronts, so I was looking forward to that magical fresh start that always comes with the turn of the calendar page to January 1. To be fair, January actually wasn’t so bad. It was full of determination, introspective moments, busyness, silliness, promise, and a few surprises. I had some new experiences opening up for me for work (both jobs) and for personal growth.

But then in February, I lost a close friend. Not due to a death, though it’s just as permanent. One day things were fine, and the next, the friendship was ripped from me with no recourse on my part. I spent most of the next month reeling, denying that this was my new reality and trying to make sense of it in my mind. It still seems unreal in many ways. The sadness of not getting my birthday phone call or texts that start with “I have this great idea . . .” out of the blue only cemented the oh-my-goodness-this-nightmare-is-real feeling.

All the while, life had to go on. I still had to work. I still had to love and take care of my family. I still had to get up each day and function because there was only one person, my bestie, I could talk with to try and sort it out, so the hurt had to be kept a secret. Talking about it hurt too much, and holding it in hurt no less.

I tried writing out my thoughts and it only made me cry more. And then it made me angry. And then cry again. Angry. Crying. Angry. Crying. What an awful cycle. Toss in a lot of bewilderment and disbelief, and self-medicating was starting to sound really good, though I didn’t go that route. I wondered if my former friend was hurting as I was hurting—as I still am hurting—or if it was a simple thing to dispose of that part of life, to dismiss it with an “oh, well.” In my worst moments, I wondered if the friendship was only on my end, and that our rapport was not what I thought it had been.

But the single phrase that keeps going through my head (and has been for weeks, in fact) is this: Why do you seek the living among the dead? Straight out of the Bible, that one. Luke, chapter 24. In that passage, angels at the empty tomb are speaking to the women who have come to tend to Jesus’ now-absent body. He’s not there, and the angels even tell them, “He is risen, just as he said.” I was struck by the thought once again as Easter approached.

Why do I seek where there is only empty space? Why do I seek joy where there is only disappointment? Why can’t I turn away from what is irrevocably gone and look toward the good things? There is plenty of joy around me, and I bask in it. And yet . . . why do I seek the living among the dead? Looking harder only reinforces that there is nothing to be found, and creates more of a downward spiral.

In my case, I am still struggling with the “dead” part of it. I am looking for a friendship that is no longer a living, vibrant, fun and active part of my life. I am looking for what once was, because I simply cannot believe it no longer is.

There is life all around me, and though I am enjoying it in a compartmentalized sort of way, the times when I’m tired or alone with my thoughts are still a huge battle. I sincerely appreciate the good things—and there are many, thanks to a spectacular husband, great kids, a bestie who knows all of it from start to finish and still listens to me, and wonderful coworkers—and yet I still feel the empty space. I replay conversations. I remember good times. And I get angry at myself that the good things don’t always feel like enough, because they are. In fact, they’re more than enough if I allow them to be. In fact, I have to allow them to be, because I have no choice; this is my new reality.

But I think it’s kind of like when you lose a child . . . something I’ve had experience with. There are the other children, and they are a great comfort, but it doesn’t negate that there is grief to be processed and someone is still gone. Those who remain are no less essential, but they don’t fill in the space and replace that which was lost. They can’t. Each space, each person, each relationship, forms a specific shape in a person’s life, much like a puzzle piece.

To lose a friend is no small thing. Not if that friendship was real. That puzzle piece is as unique as God created them to be. And only God can fill the empty spaces where no other piece fits. He has allowed me to be broken in many ways over the past few years, and this is now one more addition to the list. Have I mentioned that I hate being broken? It hurts like nothing else, at times a physical ache that rivals the heart-hurt.

The good news is that God’s pretty decent at brokenness. He’s waiting for me to give it over to him—fully—and believe me, I’m trying because I need to move on and stop looking behind me. I’m trying. I really am. I’m tired of feeling broken and I’m tired of not being myself anymore.

But Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells me this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

In other words, he has given me a longing which nothing else can satisfy, except God. I can’t grasp his plan. I don’t need to. Because he knows me and is waiting for me to hand over what is dead so he can point the way to what is living.

You can find me (not) here

Hey, everyone! I realized (hopefully not too late in the game) that my A to Z Challenge comments left on WordPress blogs are leading everyone here, rather than my editing blog, Easy Reader, which is where all my own A to Z posts are located.

If you’ve ended up here by mistake, I hope it’s not an unpleasant experience for you. I have a few posts lying about for you to read if you feel like exploring, and I encourage you to browse at your leisure. I love hearing what people think, as long as they agree with me completely and are utterly devoted to me.

If you’re horribly put out by having to search for me, I’ll just apologize now and we’ll get past all that awkwardness. Cross your eyes at me, stick out your tongue, stamp your feet at the injustice of it all and then head on over to my other blog without a backward glance.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Many hugs and kisses (especially to those of you who were inconvenienced but who still love me anyway),

Lynda

Wait, what? It’s March?

It’s January, the holidays are officially over, my dear hubby is back to work, and I have mentally prepped myself for the winter re-start of school.

…um…okay, it’s not January anymore. I knew I hadn’t been posting regularly with this particular blog, but when I opened the draft I’d started, I was a little more than surprised to note that the draft had been abandoned over two months ago. TWO MONTHS.

Where have I been? I thought I’ve been right here, but I guess that’s not entirely correct. I’ve been…around. More specifically, I’ve been on my other blog, Easy Reader. When I first set up my blog, my intention was simple: get my thoughts out there while I learned my way around as a freelance copy editor. To some extent, it’s served that original purpose. However, it has evolved over the past nine months into something bigger and better than I’d envisioned. It has become a little community of its own.

Two people have been a huge influence in making this happen: Raymond Esposito and S.K. Anthony. Both are authors I’m now working with, and both have become friends I can rely on for good advice. Raymond has a phenomenal blog, Writing in a Dead World, and is a gifted storyteller, but he’s equally passionate about business. If I have a question—any question—that has anything to do with business planning, growth, or statistics, he’s better than Google. At the very least, he’s able to use it more effectively than I am. I barely get the question fully formed and he’s already provided a chart with facts and figures I can use.

I blame him for at least part of my other-blog busyness, because it was his idea that I start a regular blog post that provided tips for writers from an editor’s perspective. My Editor’s Notes have not only become something people read and comment on with regularity, but they’ve also helped me as an editor. As I research the information for each post, I learn more and more about my own job and how much attention to detail it requires. I’ve grown as an editor with each book I’ve worked on, and each subsequent book is getting the watchful eye of an editor who knows a little more than she did the week before.

S.K. Anthony has helped to turn my blog into something fun. We did an interview together in December that we titled, “Coffee Chat,” and it was so well received that we just never stopped. Every Thursday we’ve managed to come up with something new to talk about, from the ridiculous to the serious, all with a healthy dose of silliness thrown in. I should mention we’re entirely fueled by coffee. She’s also introduced me to a lot of great bloggers and I feel my horizons broadening.

What does this have to do with why I lost track of my real-life blog? Well…I’m not sure anymore where I was going with this one. I’ve been interrupted so many times while typing that I’m surprised I even remembered I was getting a post ready at all.

Because I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge with over 1400 other bloggers during the month of April, Easy Reader will have twenty-six short posts going up (every day except Sunday). And while that might sound like it will keep me even busier, I’ve actually gotten all my posts ready and scheduled. This should free me up to pay attention to this blog again in between book edits and regular life. (On a side note, I encourage you to check out the blogs listed on the A to Z Challenge page; whether your interests are books, gardening, travel, music, cooking, or anything in between, there are some great bloggers there who may have something that catches your eye.)

My real/personal life and my virtual/public/work life have sort of blended in many ways. The lines are a little blurrier than they used to be, and instead of panicking, I’m getting used to it. I’m still going to try and post the non-bookish things here, and you won’t really find much of Lynda the Editor on this blog, but you’ll certainly find Lynda the Person on either blog.

I’ve gotta be me, after all.

The Politics of Persona

I know this isn’t my own writing, but I couldn’t have put it better myself. And it’s an easy way to get a blog post up. And I can always tell people I taught Raymond everything he knows about writing.

Seriously, who we are, deep down, shows in our online persona. I am drawn to people or I’m repulsed by them, based on the way they treat others in the virtual world where, it seems, there are sometimes no filters. Read on…

Writing in a Dead World

female-sociopath-mask-2I spent the last few weeks finishing my latest novel. While I was typing away in my semi-isolated little world, I missed some really great drama over on Good Reads. Now I’m no gossip or drama lover…wait…yes I am, but regardless I still have a decent point to make. The “debate” which had nothing to do with the thread topic, developed over some potential bullying. There was aggravation, accusations, anger, and hurt feelings. The merits of the arguments against or in support of the accused blogger is immaterial to the real issue at hand—Author Persona.

We all have personas. Billy Joel called them the Stranger. It’s really a matter of adaptation. Across the various levels of social intimacy we portray different aspects of our personality spectrum. It’s not a question of being “fake” nor an indication of your sociopathic tendencies, but rather an unwritten cognitive and social agreement We play…

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