True Freedom in Friendship

Backpackers-TravelingThe trail was long and dark and it was easy to stumble upon the pathway. He reached out a hand to help me walk but I still stubbed my toes on the jagged rocks and cracked a few toes. I had given my hiking shoes to a friend to wear in a sacrificial act of love – and buying my friends. Terry had never been backpacking before and she and a few mutual acquaintances had taken a short day hike to meet us as we traveled back. She was poorly dressed and not prepared for hiking. The hike up wasn’t so bad – it was a sunny day and her boyfriend and the others had taken turns giving her a piggy back. Everyone was already pretty high on dope.  They had arrived much later in the day than anticipated and we were already wanting to descend the mountain, but the fire tower was a cool place to hang out and party.

As the day progressed and evening began to fall, John and I repeatedly stated we needed to head back down the trail, but the marijuana and other drugs had been free flowing, and the more wasted everyone got the less willing they were to listen to reason. By the time darkness fell everyone started to get nervous and agreed to leave. With only a couple of flashlights it was up to us to lead the way, trying to follow the trail markers and descending down the two miles to the parking lot. Terry was immediately in tears wearing rubber flip flops and repeatedly stubbing her feet. No one was willing to give her a piggy back ride, they were too high by now keep from tripping over the tree roots and boulders in the dark.

I don’t remember even hesitating in the thought that I needed to give her my hiking boots; after all, I was the more athletic one – she was fragile and had a rough life. I love her. I remember sitting down and removing my ankle high backpackers boots and reflecting that it was going to be a long two miles. John was not pleased that I would give up my boots –  the others were the foolish ones – they had been told what they needed to wear to hike into the Bear Mountains. Johns shoes were far too large for me, and we both had heavy packs on. There wasn’t much he could do to help me or he would have. He loved well.

It took us half the night to descend what was normally a fairly quick downhill trek. By the time I got to the bottom my feet were bleeding and several toes were largely swollen. We began to part company with our companions who had traveled in separate cars, but before doing so Terry unlaced my boots and tossed them back to me. We had been friends for about a year and I had really tried to be a good friend to her. I love deeply. Too deeply. “Here, see you later,” she stated as she turned and walked away. I felt empty. I wasn’t looking to be praised or receive the Bronze Star, but I had expected her to notice; I had expected her to say thank you. Maybe even look in my eyes.

He was bloody too. Really grossly disgustingly bloody, because of me, because he was my Friend, and that’s what friends do.  I never really saw it that way in the cult where I was introduced to Him. How could I – He was not introduced to me by friends, or as a Friend. He was introduced as someone who was waiting for me to screw up so he could banish me back to the hell I had come from. Back to the drugs. Back to the loneliness. Back to a life without direction. I had to do what He required or He wouldn’t be my friend. I had to be perfect because of His sacrifice, His blood. Sure I said, “Thank you,” but I had to. He wouldn’t love me if I didn’t.

But that’s not what it was about. He doesn’t expect me to be perfect any more than I expected Terry to be perfect. He took off His shoes for me in a sacrifice of love. Jesus took off his shoes for me because He loves me. Plain and simple. Love for loves’ sake. Ironically, when I tried to do all the right things, when I could not accept that I am a broken, beat up, ex drug addict, PTSD surviving mess,  who is completely adored anyway, Jesus wasn’t getting thanked for what He did either. You can’t really understand what someone else is giving up for you until you understand what it is to accept a gift of love. It hurts too much to love and be loved. It hurts to forgive and be forgiven. You are vulnerable. Really stinkin’ vulnerable. Terry didn’t know how to accept my gift of love – how could she. Love to her had been all sexual abuse or prostitution and based upon meeting the conditions of the screwed up household she lived in – put out or get out. And I didn’t know how to accept the gift of love Jesus gave to me when He was beaten and killed on my behalf either. I was taught it was conditional – based on what I did – put out or get out. Not much of a friendship.

I have very few people I consider friends now, and even less I trust. Sometimes the pain of life can make us a bit cynical towards the motives of others. But it’s OK, I actually forgive more deeply and ask forgiveness more quickly. I have needed to be a bit wiser in whom I trust. In the last year I have learned it is OK to love and walk away without expectations. It is OK to be hurt and let go. (sometimes failing). I’ve had to. I am learning what it really means to live in grace.  I am learning.

I understand what it looks like when others take off their shoes on my behalf. I have a few friends who do that for me. Unconditional love. They know my faults and weaknesses and I can be transparent before them. They don’t hold unreal expectations because I am a pastor and chaplain.  My best Friend gave up his whole body broken and bloody for me and He sets the tone of how I am to love others; and He gave me a few friends who get that.  They get Jesus. We can all hang out together in the
“room of grace.” I understand now what it really means to love, and to be loved. I want to say, “Thank you.”

Letting go of expectations sets us free to truly love. I know what it means to be free. It’s a great place to hang out, and you don’t need to take off your boots or get high to be there.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36

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