Friends and Family

I’ve just posted a current health update here. Jean and I had a very good discussion with my oncologist on Thursday and I’m happy to be able to share a really good update with you! Thanks for your care and prayer!

Last week I wrote about my brother Skip Stephens and some mild regret I have that we didn’t spend more time together. I’ve also written in other posts about family history questions that have come up, especially since Jean and I moved back to the US at the end of 1999. Many of these questions have been prompted by dozens of black and white photos, taken in the first half of the 20th century, then stored away with no names on the back! There are so many questions we both wish we had asked our Dads and Moms when they were still with us!

During the eight years we lived in the UK, the phone company, British Telecom, developed a billing discount program and named it “Friends and Family.” The plan allowed us to choose ten numbers that we called frequently and receive a 10% discount on calls to those numbers. Within that list of ten phone numbers we could choose one number and designate it “Best Friend” and receive a 25% discount on calls to that number. (It should be noted that at the time all phone calls in the UK, local and long distance, were toll calls, charged by the minute.) It was interesting and revealing when we signed up for the “Friends and Family” program to actually make the list of most frequently called numbers. The list included pastors, people who assisted us with the Bible Training Centres, and friends. “Family” wasn’t on our list as all our family members lived in other countries! My “Best Friend” (most called) number was CompuServe, my dial up Internet Service Provider!

As Jean and I moved from country to country and place to place during the 80’s and 90’s, we found that we had fewer and fewer possessions and “family heirlooms.” We found that God always provided the things we needed in each place, but the emotional or sentimental attachment to those things grew less and less. The things we came to value most in terms of “attachment” were photographs of family and friends and the things that were given us as gifts by those people we love and serve.

Because the material things we value most are things that link us to the people we care about, I have realized that to live in a way that is consistent with my values, I need to invest more in my relationships with those people. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:21 NIV)

Friends and Family…

My father died in 1988 while we were establishing the Bible Training Centre in Kingston, Jamaica. My mother died in 1992 while we were living in London, UK, establishing East London Bible Training Centre. My next younger brother, Skip, died in 1996 when we were still in the UK developing the Bible Training Centres and beginning to minister in Africa. In our immediate family, that leaves just me, the oldest, and my brother Bill, ten years younger than me.

It had been two and a half years since I had seen my father when he died. We lived in Jamaica and he and my mother were in Oregon. We didn’t know there was a health problem. He was working regularly as a carpenter, still strong at 69 years. We were planning a trip to the US only two months later and we would see him and my mother then, and suddenly he was gone! I received a phone call from my brother Skip and suddenly I was the oldest man in the family. By God’s grace and with the help of a good travel agent, I made it to the funeral. As I stood beside the casket looking at Dad’s body, him in heaven and me in Oregon, I began to think of things I would like to have talked with him about. There were things I never told him and questions I never asked him.

I have ever since regretted that I let him go without talking about things. The fact that I left things undone and unsaid has not ruined my life. But I regret this as something that I cannot change. I wish I had made the effort to see him more often. I wish I had spent more time with Dad while he was still alive. Just a slight shift in my priorities involving “ministry” and “relationships” could have made a big difference!

We traveled from Jamaica to the US a couple of months later and spent time with my mother and my two brothers. Then we made another trip to see Mom before we left for London in 1992. This visit was very timely because she died just five months after we moved to London. Once again, by God’s grace and with the help of a very creative travel agent I made it to her funeral. This time I was able to stand by the casket her body was in, her in heaven and me in Washington, without feeling such a sense of unfinished business. But even though we made the effort to see her, to talk about things, there is so much we didn’t ask and say. Now there is no one to ask about family history and the things I’d like to know as I get older.

Friends and Family… Investing in Relationships

    • Maintaining and keeping relationships alive requires investment. It may cost you time. It may cost you money. It may cost quite a lot of both if the people you need to develop relationship with are far away.
    • Cultivating and developing new relationships requires investment. This may involve schedule changes. It may involve stopping some things you are doing and learning to do some new things.
    • This is not primarily a personality issue. This is a values thing that involves caring about people and valuing relationships. Values determine actions.
    • How much do you invest in building relationships? If you’re too busy to invest in and work on relationships, then you’re too busy. You need to do something about this. (Friends, this is me, preaching to me!)

Friends and Family… Here are some ideas and suggestions to consider:

Our daughter Melissa and her family have established some practices to help them stay in touch with her husband Colin’s family in New Zealand. Every week they have a chat with Mum on Sunday nights. Each of the boys chats with her and then she prays for each of them and they pray for her. After the “chats”, it’s game time and they play online games for a while. They use tablets for the chats and games so they have both audio and video. They’ve been doing this for several years and it really does help keep the relationships fresh and growing. It’s such a good idea and effective practice! Stephanie’s husband Philip has been helping his Mom who lives in Georgia with the sale of her house, a recent move into a retirement home, and with managing her personal finances. Technology makes it possible, but intention and initiative makes it happen!

You can…

    •  Write, email, phone, visit, invite. Don’t wait for a reason or an occasion. Just do it!
    • Get birth dates and special anniversaries of friends and family members, put them in your calendar and phone, text, email, Facebook message, or even send a card at the appropriate time.
    • Make a list of questions that only they know the answers to and ask the questions before it’s too late to get the answers!

As fully as you are able, embrace the importance of developing deep relationships with Friends and Family.

    • Pray regularly for the people who are your “Friends and Family” group.
    • Be willing to pay the price in time and money to develop and maintain relationships with your “Friends and Family.”
    • Develop some practices, patterns, and connection traditions that work well for you and your Friends and Family.
    • Take the initiative. Don’t wait for “them” to take the first (or even the second) step. You make the effort to add value to the relationship.

Prayer:

Father, I don’t want to just keep harping on this, but I’m so aware of how important it is and how much better I could have done I’d realized that the opportunities to grow and strengthen these relationships won’t always be there. I pray for my friends and me to be stirred to take the initiative and to do what we can while we can. In Jesus’ Name!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

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