This was birthday weekend in our house in more ways than one. Heather’s birthday was Saturday and not wanting to be left behind, my birthday was Sunday. Also on Sunday we celebrated the one year Birth-Iversary for Bethany North. We couldn’t decide if it was a birthday or an anniversary celebration so we rolled them together. The birthday for church was a huge party (more on that later this week) but before we got to Sunday, we needed some time to step away and be with friends. Months before we had made plans to head to the Eastern side of the state on Thursday night with several friends from college and watch the football game that one of my friends from college coaches. And then we would head up to the cabin of his in-laws and spend a few days playing with family and friends.
The game on Thursday night however, didn’t turn out as expected. The team being played was supposed to be a bit of a “gimme” in the win column to get my friend’s team their first win of their season. I’ll save the dramatics but the bottom line was that it didn’t happen and my buddy had the heartbreaking reality of starting the season 0-4. At the end of the game as he walked off the field the anger and frustration was visible- he was mad. Kids were sad. Even the cheerleaders who had been “rah-rahing” their little hearts out for 4 quarters walked by in a dejected fashion.
After my buddy addressed the team and talked with his coaches, he headed out to the parking lot where we had told him we would meet him. There stood three of his best friends in the world. We didn’t have a lot to offer him other than a hug and a smile and a few words of humor to lighten the mood. We couldn’t fix anything, but I can guarantee you our presence helped him shoulder the disappointment a bit easier.
We headed up to the cabin on a river, one of the most beautiful locations for a cabin I’ve ever experienced. There were 9 adults, all friends from college, and 10 kids, recent additions from the last 6 years since we had gathered at the very same cabin. Different couples signed up to cover different meals, the kids ran around in the woods outside, we pulled people water skiing and tubing, and eventually as guys we found our way into competitive basketball and Bocce games (yes, competitive Bocce does exist).
Friday night after a day’s worth of all the activities above, the kids eventually all were tucked nicely into bed. The adults dined on fresh vegetables and ribs and good wine flowed. We sat around the campfire, perched above the river, talking and laughing and sharing old stories. As soon as one story would end, the next would begin, often ending in someone almost crying from laughing so hard. The night sky was illuminated by a million points of light from the stars above and we found the Big and Little Dipper, Orion’s Belt, and others. The Milky Way covered a large portion of the northeast sky. We sat for hours around that fire, huddled in a semi-circle, enjoying the conversation and memories and view of the river darkened below and the stars above. It was a picture of true friendship and it was the best gift I could have received from my birthday.
Friendship isn’t perfect and the snapshot around the fire is one of complete joy and strength, but over the years we have faced challenges and difficulties, broken relationships and struggles. Since the time we were in college there have been some times of more distance with some in the group, other times of total intimacy. There has been lost jobs and parents sick with cancer and more than one lost pregnancy and some very real pain. And yet, over the course of the last 17 years, our friendship has been the glue to keep pulling us together, keep urging us on to intimacy no matter what disappointment the scoreboard has shown at times.
Because the reality is that we often lose the game, and challenges will face us, and hard times will arise. But our friendship and shared faith in the one God that unites us all brings us together eventually to sit together around a fire and laugh and reconnect. This is the joy of the Christian faith. This is the hope of the Lord we love and serve. Not a panacea or promise of never suffering. No the Christian faith is one committed to the long race, the deeper call of the journey to the farthest lands. And when you have a long-term goal, you can withstand short-term failures and hurts and disillusionments. Because the goal of our faith pulls us forward, through the valleys, towards the higher places.
Back in Seattle this week, I am meeting with people who have lost jobs, who have lost relationships, who have lost babies, who have lost hope and some are losing faith. “Cling to the God who has given much, He can still be trusted,” I urge people on. Open the bible and read how David cries out to God in Psalmn 69, “God do not let the water overwhelm me!”. David knows that God doesn’t promise us not to get wet by the floodwaters of life, but David also knows that at the end of the day God can be trusted over a lifetime to provide and care for us and draw us closer to Him in faith.
We don’t always get moments around a fire like this, but in time they do come. And like a brief glimpse of the heaven awaits us, times of joy and unity as friends serve to give us a reminder of a future life in God where unity and joy and peace and laughter is all we’ll know. Revelation 7:17 speaks of a time in the future where, “The One on the Throne will pitch his tent there for them: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat. The Lamb on the Throne will shepherd them, will lead them to spring waters of Life. And God will wipe every last tear from their eyes.” This time only comes after great tribulation though, after the struggles of the end times. A lot of us go seeking after moments of intimacy around a fire pit and when they don’t automatically happen or when friends let us down or we withdraw into spheres of isolation, we question whether we’ll ever sit around the fire again.
Friday night, on a bluff over the Pend Oreille River, under a early autumn star-filled sky, God gave me His reminder: “Scott, keep following me, keep engaging your friends and walking through life together, and enjoy these snapshots of intimacy and joy. All this good stuff comes from me. Enjoy it all.”