Monday, September 24, 2012

You Need a Friend like Scott

What fills your blank?

Traits of true friendship = ______________

What separates good friends from true friends? What bumps a friend to the top of the trust list?

I know.
You need to know Scott. Then you'd know too.
Scott probably considers himself a pretty ordinary guy. He's good with his hands, likes a good steak, spoils his three dogs and loves his beautiful wife. But I consider him extraordinary. A true friend.

It's because of light. Lasers to be specific.

Consider this metaphor. Communication, vital to any relationship, is like light. It can be clear and bright or diffuse and weak. It can clarify or create confusing shadows. It can blind you or show you the way.

I love communication. But sometimes I complicate it. Like beams of light, people's words, inflections, actions (and inactions) enter my brain and refract through my internal “analytical prism” into a spectrum of multiple possible meanings. I'll often attempt the impossible task of trying to address all possible meanings in the first shot with bloated “full spectrum” responses, so as not to offend, mislead or confuse...which ironically often confuses, sometimes misleads and occasionally offends.

Scott's not like that. If I sometimes communicate like a diffuse full spectrum light bulb, he's a focused laser. If he's confused, he zaps back with straightforward questions until he's clear. And once he's zeroed in, he'll give it to you straight. With Scot I'm never confused, seldom misled and often my pride is offended.

And that's why you and I need a friend like Scott.

I really believe that selfish pride is the root of all pain, suffering and evil. So anyone who's willing to help address it in your life is invaluable. In my pride, I like to maintain a certain perception of the type of person I am.

Conversations with Scott can be exhilarating sometimes for a “perception manager” like me. He says the things I'm thinking need to be said, but am afraid to say. He daily shows me that it's possible to be real, to say what's truly on your mind in an appropriate, honest way.

Sometimes honesty, like a laser...can burn or even cut deeply. But I find Scott's laser is more often like surgery; any cutting is focused on fixing and healing.

For me, Scott's a friend who represents Jesus' disarming (or sometimes alarming) straightforwardness, his concern for truth over perception (or even political correctness).

Jesus said he came to be a light to the world. He came to communicate clearly, to do heart surgery with words. Excruciating to the proud, revealing and healing to the humble.

I pray you each have a “Scott” in your life. If you don't, it's OK, you can start with Jesus.

Traits of True Friendship: #1 Loving honesty

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Blessing of Loss

Up until recently, I’d never experienced the death of someone very close to me. I often wondered how I’d react. Now I know. My Grampa, James Letniak, passed away at the age of 94 on August 15, 2012.

James Stephen Letniak was a character…with character. I wish I remembered him better.  In his later years, I saw him too little. What I remember always makes me smile though.

I’ll miss his hearty laugh, it was a wonderful laugh, full of life and earthiness.

I’ll miss the stories he loved to tell, the crooked index finger he’d use to emphasize his points. I’ll really miss those stories. They always reminded me of the tenacity and perseverance that pervaded his every waking day. When I think about the difficulty he faced in his life through the Great Depression and many other struggles that farmers face, I’m always encouraged by the strength and creativity he used to overcome each obstacle.

I learned what real intelligence was from Grampa. It’s not something you get at school. It’s how you live. It’s unrelenting curiosity. A mind fully and completely engaged with life.

I remember sitting in his living room listening to his mind work out loud, marveling at the intensity of his intellect. If he had an idea in his head, he was like a dog on a bone. He often said he couldn’t sleep because he couldn’t turn his mind off. I’m like that sometimes. Maybe that’s where it comes from.

I remember the pride and awe I felt when I first saw Grampa’s tractor-mounted post-pounder. I’d read about inventors like Thomas Edison. But now, I had one in my family. It wouldn’t win any industrial design awards, but in my little eyes, seeing fence-post heads submit to the weight of that hydraulic-powered guillotine as the old tractor bounced back and forth was a sight of beauty and grace.

Grampa was creative in the shop and on the farm but also in music. He was a guitar player and when I took up the guitar he immediately pled with me to avoid “tearing at the strings” like modern guitarists. Instead he suggested I learn the melodic picking-style of Wilf Carter his favourite guitar and yodeling virtuoso. I will Grampa, that’s a promise.

Grampa didn’t seem concerned with what others thought of him, but he was always concerned what his family was thinking and doing. I always knew that talking with Grampa wouldn’t be idle conversation. He would want to know what I was doing with my time and where it would take me. Those conversations weren’t always comfortable, but they were always valuable. I always knew he did it because he cared. He wanted the best for me and wanted me to make wise choices.

I’ll always remember his favourite question for me: “so….have you found yourself any two-legged deer?” I’d often respond that I was still looking and his smiling response was “Oh, well perhaps I need to get you some better binoculars to see with!” That whole conversation sums up much of what I love about Grampa. He was purposeful, he was creative and above all, he cared. He always wanted the best for me.

So how did I react to Grampa’s passing? Honestly, I was most emotional when I considered the joy of seeing him again. I’m a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, so that means when I think about death, it’s simply a sleep. And people who sleep, are at peace…which can only make me happy. Also, when I think about death, it’s temporary, to be overcome when Jesus returns to earth. 
And now it’s personal. 
At the funeral, the picture below was enlarged, framed and sat on a pedestal at the front of the church. As I stared at the image, it transformed. Grampa’s smile remained, but the skin smoothed, his back straightened, his muscles rippled, his arms flung wide as his long, strong legs ran towards me. My tears were real then, though it was an image. My tears will be just as real again when the image becomes reality.