Friends With a Purpose

Ride on to live. Rearing-White-Horse-On-Cliff

-Twenty eight years ago today (Feb 27) I married my best friend. I know this sounds cliché, it’s what you see printed on napkins at the wedding receptions; “Today I marry my best friend” but it’s true and it’s vital. It’s true that I married my best friend and it has been vital that she remain so. I want you to ask yourself right now, in your head, not out loud; “Is my wife, is my husband, is my fiancé, my best friend?” If they are not than you have a problem and you probably need an attitude adjustment and you need to work on renewing your friendship.

When we got married back in the eighties I had never heard this concept before; marriage was all about finding the one who stirred your heart and your passions and making them yours. Thanks to the teachings of a church that taught the full gospel Donna and I had learned and believed that love was more than just a feeling, it was also a choice, this was a major eye opener for both of us, and so we decided— as I told you when this series started— that  we would love each other for life.

Love is grand, love is powerful, love is to be held on to and nurtured and we were all in love and it was grand. Let’s do this thing!

So when we went through the mandatory marriage counseling at Faith Chapel in Billings so we could git hitched there, I was a little surprised that one of the first questions that the Pastor who did the counseling (Pastor Rich Trees) asked us: “How long have you been friends?” How long have we been friends? Donna and I looked at each other and replied; “Oh, a couple of years I suppose.”

Donna and I really had started out our relationship as friends. She was the sister of my new best friend Charlie. I had started hanging around with Charlie and his wife Barb shortly after I was miraculously delivered from my former best friend, Mary Jane, without whom I could not get through a single day. Charlie and Barb would invite me to lunch with them after church, and then camping, prayer groups, I guess I was kind of like a lost puppy— I followed them everywhere. I was starving for more and more of the Lord and they and their friends were living in his power and I wanted to be with them.

Most of their friends were married and had kids— but that was okay, I loved all these kids and they loved me, in fact most of them were in my Sunday school class. Ironically it was Charlie’s sister, Donna, who decided that I needed to be “Uncle Dan.” She had started hanging around with this bunch also and after a year or so we discovered that we had become pretty good friends.

The Vision

To keep a long story short, the Lord had showed me in a vision— well, I might as well share the vision with you: I was lying in bed one night just praying before I drifted off to sleep when I saw a picture in my mind of the Lord and I, Jesus, riding horses together, running across a green field just laughing and having fun when we came to the edge of a cliff and as we stopped I looked out and saw the clouds  below us part to reveal a beautiful city in the valley below; the Holy City, the new Jerusalem.

As I was enjoying the moment and reveling in the beauty of it all— our horses reared in the pure delight as we laughed for joy— I turned to see another rider coming across the field towards us. A beautiful young lady on a white horse with her brown hair flowing behind her from beneath her beige cowboy hat. As she got close I saw that it was Donna. I turned to the Lord both puzzled and a little incredulous at this invasion of our time together and asked; “What is she doing here?” The Lord simply said; “That is your wife”

That was the end of the vision. I of course did some serious thinking on all of that. My wife? Yes Donna and I had become good friends, we really hit it off. But it just seemed too handy— and I found out later that she had thought the same thing— that whenever we gathered with friends we were usually the only single people in the bunch. So we were both fighting it, we didn’t want to get together simply because it was convenient. But after my vision I had to take a serious look at making this woman my wife.

Of course I couldn’t just run up and say—“God says you’re my wife!” What I did was nurture our friendship, turning it into courting— friends with a purpose— and within a year or so we were married. Still friends but now husband and wife.

So Rich’s question, right on the heels of my having conquered and captured the heart of the one  whom the Lord directed me to love and marry, kind of caught me off guard— “How long have you been friends?” We had been and were friends but I had failed to see the significance of that; What’s friends got to do with it? I’m on a God given mission to marry this woman!

But, as it turns out, there was a lot of wisdom behind that question. My barbarian, “Woo the girl and make her yours” mindset was focused more on the conquest than on the marriage, the relationship beyond the  “Till death do we part’s”.  Rich’s point, as he went on to explain was, that if your spouse was not already your best friend and you weren’t committed to keeping  it that way you would have trouble.

Kids will come and go, jobs will come and go, but you and your wife will still be together. If you are not nurturing that friendship you will be looking at each other one day and realize that your entire relationship was centered around and based on raising your kids— when they are gone will you still be friends?

That really stuck in my mind. It was hard to imagine at that point anything coming between us but as I contemplated having kids I knew that it would be a long term and potentially all-consuming aspect of life. As indeed it turned out to be. But like everything, there comes a time when that season is over and— in the case of a lifelong marriage— there comes a time where you are back where you started, when the kids are raised and, if raised right, finding their own way in the world, you will find yourselves alone again— husband and wife.

At this point will you still be friends?- able to have a life and a relationship apart from and aside from your children?

If you committed to your friendship, treated one another with love and respect, guarded your tongues and made time for one another, yes— you will be. Our kids have come and gone, they demanded a lot from us as they were growing up and are still a huge and important part of our lives but for the most part, at the end of the day, it is just Donna and I again; my wife, my first and only lover, my partner, and still my friend.

And I don’t plan on that changing anytime soon. We are still looking ahead- together, in his strength, we ride on to live.

But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Prov 18:24b


Fear the Tears

We Fear the Tears

Here’s a little secret ladies— men are afraid of your emotions, they don’t know how to deal with them, they don’t understand them and this is scary, especially if they think that the emotions are aimed at them or that they could be turned on them. A man wants to make  things okay. He wants to fix or destroy whatever it is that is causing you grief— he just wants to be your hero— that’s the ultimate expression of love to a man. He wants to be your barbarian and his sword is sworn to your service.

But he fears the tears because if there is a chance that your emotion, your anger or sadness is a result of something he has done, well, then he is at a loss— that means he has to fix or destroy a part of himself.

This usually involves a lot of talking, crying or yelling, listening and I’m heifersorrys — things that just don’t mesh well with a man’s pride and self-respect. Men, that doesn’t let you off the hook— sometimes a part of you needs to be destroyed, sometimes you need to walk the narrow bridge over to the right side of your brain. Even if you don’t talk well from there, you need to at least listen.

Your woman doesn’t always need you to fix things, sometimes she just needs you to hear her.

I remember a few years ago; I was lying in bed with Donna, I had already kissed her good night and was ready to go to sleep when I heard the soft sounds of her crying. Then the battle began in my mind that went something like this:

“My wife seems to be crying, maybe she has a cold… no, she’s definitely crying. I should turn over and ask her what’s wrong,—no, she’s probably upset about something and it’ll get into a big discussion and I need to go to sleep. What if it’s something I did, oh my gosh—then I definitely don’t want to ask— I have to, if I put it off it’ll just get worse. I love her, I have to ask, here we go….”

What’s the matter dear? I’m worried about Lacy, (Lacy was a heifer, one of the few we had kept when we got out of the ranching business, she was more of a pet to Donna and the girls) Suddenly I was very confused and relieved at the same time; “Oh, thank you Jesus that it wasn’t me.” –followed by, “how could she possibly be so emotional about a heifer?” But, being the understanding and sensitive husband that I am I didn’t say any of that. I simply asked; “Why are you worried about Lacy?”

“When I was out earlier to feed she looked like she was getting bloated and I’m just afraid she might die in the night.” Immediately I thought; I can fix this! So I heroically asked— “What if I went out to check on her?”“That would help” So I jumped up and got dressed, grabbed a flashlight and checked on Lacy. I found her bedded down in the barn chewing her cud just as contented, and un-bloated, as could be. So I went back and gave the good report and we all went to sleep.

All the ladies reading this are thinking, “that’s terrible, you would rather go out into the cold and the manure in the middle of the night than have a real conversation with your upset wife in a nice warm bed?” And the answer is— guys?- “Yes, yes I would.” It’s nothing personal, it’s just not the way men are wired. It’s not that we don’t love you, it’s just that we struggle with your emotions because we don’t live there like you do and it takes a real effort to get there and back again.

But, remember, I was willing to go there, I asked the scary question: “What the matter?” Believe me, there have been times when it has not been as easy as running out to the barn yard and I have gotten an ear full. What puzzles me is why she just didn’t go check on her or ask me to rather than just crying in bed? Women are different creatures…- Left brain, right brain.

“What’s the matter?”Men; you need to understand how important that is to your wife, asking the question, it is how she feels love. And ladies; you need to understand how hard that is for a guy. He doesn’t thrive on emotion like you do, it wears him out.

It wears him out because when he does go there he goes all in and it’s hard to get out and it’s especially hard to tell you about it. But when he does, please listen. He will probably only tell you once and if you don’t hear it or you scoff at it, he will shut down and you’ll be lucky to ever see anything but Mr. Left brain again.

A man cannot tolerate being disrespected by the woman who holds his heart. A woman feels love by the words spoken, but a man feels love by the respect he receives when his words are spoken. The important thing is, you need to speak— both of you. Communication is not optional in a marriage.

    in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
your voice is sweet,…  Song of Solomon 2:14

An unspoken love is a hidden love. Unspoken love is a love that Is not perceived, is not received and is in reality doing harm. How many messed up adults do you know that say they never heard a parent say I love you? How many marriages have fallen apart because a spouse felt unloved?

 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me. Song 2:10



Scared of Me

Marry MeHelfrick Cactus? –

When Donna and I were courting— I used the word courting because the world’s notion of dating has become anything but Godly or productive— anyway,  when we were courting one of our ideas of romance was riding together. Out on her Dad’s ranch on Blue creek, what would later become known as the Heyu-Cow Ranch, Donna kept the family horses on the forty acres that belonged to her.

I was living nearby in the old Helfrick house, the one that I told you about last week that would burn down after we got married. Anyway, Donna would come out and we would go catch and saddle up the big appaloosas and ride to our hearts content in the beautiful rugged and broken hills of upper Blue Creek where you could see for miles from the hilltops, or get lost to the world in the ravines— the big coulees, that seemed to have been forgotten by time itself.

It was a time to laugh, to feel truly alive and explore both the land and each other as we rode and talked. On one such occasion I decided it was time. I hadn’t planned it for this moment— it just kind of happened.

We had just turned the horses out into the back side of her forty after unsaddling and brushing them out and were standing near the gate to the pasture. We were in a beautiful bottom where 3 or 4 large coulees came together to form a green well-watered valley where the meadow larks sang and the Red Tail hawks kept watch from up above.

Donna and I were holding each other and just enjoying the moment, I don’t know if she heard my heart thumping or what but she asked me— “Are you afraid of me?” I said no, I’m just afraid of what’s next. She then said; “What’s that— you mean marriage?”

So right there in what we called the horse gate I asked her to marry me. I told her before she answered that I wasn’t afraid of getting married, I just wanted her to know what she was getting into. I said; “I don’t know if you are going to be marrying a welder, or a pastor but I do know that I will always make sure you are provided for.”

I was working in a welding shop that also did pipeline construction at the time and that was the person she had come to know, but she also knew that I was passionately devoted to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world and that I had heard the call from the Lord to become a pastor— someday.

There is a very large difference between the two— the life of the wife of a construction worker and the life of a pastors wife. I knew she loved the life of the working man, judging a man by the callouses on his hands as well as what was in his heart, just making a living and building a home on a little piece of ground where you can plant roots and grow old together. That was the way she was raised and I was kind of fond of that notion myself.

And indeed we did build a home, right there on that forty acres after the infamous fire I told you about last week, and we tried our hand at ranching building a small but very nice herd of cattle. But on that day, standing there with her in my arms before the horse gate, I wanted her to understand that this could all change. I had committed myself first to the Lord and to following him wherever he led.

I knew my call would be a huge challenge as serving the Lord whole heartedly is never convenient nor the path of least resistance but I also knew that if the Lord was in it, that if Donna was the one he had chosen for me, of which I had no doubt, then this would work, But we had to start this relationship with honesty and with our eyes wide open.

Her answer that early spring day in the big coulee at the horse gate was…”I’ll have to pray about it.” I said; that’s the right answer. She didn’t pray nearly as fast as I would have liked though as it took me a couple more weeks to get the answer out of her. I offered her an engagement ring on the trail out of Vernon Lake after a day of fishing in the Beartooth Mountains and finally got her answer when we got back to the car. She said yes.

And they all lived happily ever after… No. but we learned to because we had decided to. Turns out saying I do and doing it are two different things.

Donna says she doesn’t remember that Pastor qualifier in my proposal, though she did know it was a possibility. The notion was, and is, a huge challenge for her; just as passionately, and sometimes blindly, pursuing the life of ministry has turned out to be a huge challenge for me. I wanted to save the world and she just wants to be the mom, the wife and now grandma.

There have been times when we have both felt like the other was preventing us from truly pursuing our dreams. But with the Lord’s help and the tempering effect of being joined together as one in spirit and by choice, we are doing it, not exactly the way she would like to, not exactly the way I would like to, but I am convinced it is the way we are supposed to. Any dream I might have that does not have her in it is not a dream I want to live.

I could have just dragged her along; mandating, manipulating or tricking her into doing things my way. But that is a selfishness and would never have been blessed. Using religious fervor or scripture to bully your spouse is also a form of selfishness.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 2 Tim 3

She could have thrown fits and refused to follow me as well. Even giving up and leaving- I didn’t sign up for this! But she didn’t. We sought the Lord together and came up with the plan that worked for us together, God’s real plan, for us. There is no sweeter place to be.

Happy Valentines day!


Trial by Fire

Covenant Mafirerriage?

I’ve been starting to hear the term; “Covenant marriage” bandied about in Christian circles lately and it has baffled me. It baffles me because that is what a marriage is— a covenant— so why all of a sudden the need to tack on that qualifier. It’s like saying, I just found paying employment, or, let’s go for a vehicular drive,— ‘covenant marriage’ —that’s the whole point!  That’s why we get married, without the covenant it’s just a temporary arrangement where you each try to get all you can out of it before it becomes untenable and is dissolved.

Yeah, if that’s your idea of marriage then don’t bother, Just live together and save the cost of divorce. But that’s not God’s idea of marriage. In the Kingdom of God, marriage is a covenant, and if you’ve ever been to one of my weddings you have heard me say just that.

Hearing and understanding that, and living it, are two different things.

Trial by Fire

When Donna and I first met and eventually became friends who decided to pursue a more serious relationship, we were both at the place in our lives where we had been around the block a few times. And, we were both fairly new in our commitment to doing things God’s way. So we went into our relationship knowing that if we were going to date that it would only be for the purpose of ultimately getting married, otherwise it was just a waste of time.

Because we did take our walk with the Lord seriously and wanted to avoid any train wrecks down the road— and because we earnestly desired his blessing— we had many serious discussions about what marriage was about and what we could do to make sure that this  would be the one that would last a lifetime for both of us.

We decided before we even set a date that divorce would never be an option, that it would not even be a part of our vocabulary, that this marriage would be a lifetime commitment— no ifs, ands or buts.  We sought godly counsel from our pastors, kept our relationship pure until the honeymoon and made the vows before God and a couple hundred of our closest friends. A truly blessed day.

I have a hard time imagining the anticlimactic nature of a honeymoon that has  had the wonder of discovery taken out of it by too many rehearsals— but that’s a topic for another week.

The honeymoon was amazing on all levels and we returned home to our Honeymoon cottage on Blue Creek; the old Helfrick homestead all fixed up and added on to by previous owners and we set out to build our lives and our family there. Then came that fateful night three weeks after our wedding when the smoke alarm woke us up just before midnight.

Having a wood stove this wasn’t the first time the alarm had gone off so I didn’t think much of it as I got up to wave my hand in front of the smoke detector to dispel the smoke that surely just got belched form the stove. But this time it only stopped momentarily before it started blaring again.

I was about to pull it off the wall and throw it outside or something when I noticed out the window that our back yard was all lit up. Not a good sign. I ran and grabbed my bathrobe and went outside to see what was going on— the roof was on fire The blaze rapidly spreading across the old cedar shakes. I grabbed the leaky garden hose connected to the outside spigot and did my best to spray water on to the roof with the pathetic water pressure that emanated from that particular orifice of this old house as the cold water ran down my arm on this frosty mid-March Montana night.

Donna came out to see what was going on and I told her to go in and call her brother who lived next door and to grab our clothes from the closet. We were outside of any existing fire precinct at the time though the Blue Creek volunteers did venture out eventually. Anyway, long story short, after Donna’s brother and a few close neighbors helped us salvage a few items from the house it got to the point where all we could do was stand in the driveway and watch it burn.

By this point many more neighbors and just random people who could see the blaze from the highway had also gathered round. I met many of our neighbors for the first time that night wearing my bath robe, a pair of old cowboy boots and my old brown cowboy hat. When things had settled down to just being pretty much a bonfire gathering, I did manage to sneak into a shed and change into some clothes from the laundry hamper someone had thought to grab from the house.

So there I stood, next to Donna who was standing next to her mother who had come out all the way from the farm on west end of Billings. You know what I’m thinking at that moment? ‘Donna is going to go home with her mother and our marriage is done for, just three weeks into it.’

I know that sounds absurd in light of all that I told you about our commitment to a lasting marriage but think about it. She had just moved everything she owned into that house— 30 years’ worth of  stuff, photos, treasures, childhood keepsakes, artwork, furniture, yearbooks— you name it. All of our wedding presents were still piled up on and around the kitchen table where we had opened them after our honeymoon trip.

The house on the land that she loved, that her Dad had loaned me the money to buy on land in the area she had always dreamed of living in, where we had planned to raise a family and critters— it was all going up in smoke. We were suddenly homeless and owned little more than our bathrobes and a hamper full of dirty laundry.

It’s embarrassing now and I feel ashamed for even having had the fear because I grossly underestimated her strength of character, but that was what I had seen happen all around me growing up; when things get tough— cut and run. She didn’t. We spent the rest of that night on her brothers hide-a-bed in his living room being traumatized by the sound of the fire crackling in his wood stove. But we were together and have been ever since. Trial by fire, a great way to start.


I was afraid because I had missed the whole point of commitment;  The lack of fear that it will be broken. I knew that I was not going to break it, but I was only trusting in one side of the covenant. That’s not a covenant, that’s just a hope, a hope that the other person is going to stick around also.

A covenant is worthless, those marriage vows are worthless— as far as affording the stability and security that makes a marriage worth entering into in the first place— if you are not convinced that the other person is as committed to it as you are. Donna was not going anywhere, we were in this together and together we built a new house, a life and a family, all based on one thing— trust

As I stood there and watched all that Donna owned go up in flames, not to mention all that I owned,  I was afraid; not trusting her commitment to our marriage, to our vows. I have since learned to have faith in her promise that we were in this together through, good times and bad, richer and poorer.

And believe me there has been plenty of other tests of this promise, but each and every hurdle and challenge has only made us stronger, has solidified the covenant, because we learned to trust each other’s commitment.

That is a marriage, and that is why you need to get married.  Without mutual trust there is no covenant, without covenant there is no marriage, without any marriage there is no blessing and your tears will flood the alter.

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Malachi 2