On friendship and complicated awkwardness

Reading Recommendation: Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover

I think I was in eighth grade. I don’t remember the specific contributing factors but I do remember that it was at church on a Sunday morning just before Sunday school. I remember thinking my heart would break over a friend’s betrayal. I remember sobbing unconsolably while one of the Sunday school teachers attempted to comfort me, no doubt assuring me that the sun would come up tomorrow, that the world had not, actually, ended.

Here was our problem: there were three of us middle school girls attempting a BFF trifecta, which, as anyone who has been around preteen girls knows, is an utter impossibility. Someone is always left out or hurt or betrayed. That Sunday it was me and I was utterly heartbroken.

It was my first taste of the complications inherent in friendships between women.

Though I no longer find myself weeping on the Sunday school teacher’s shoulder–one reason being I am the Sunday school teacher after all–I continue to find friendship awkward and complicated, still, all these many years later. I understand that the common denominator has been me and I freely confess:when it comes to finding and being a friend I am awkward and I am complicated.

When I was a young woman–be it college student, newlywed, or young(er) mom–friendship was fairly easy and free and abundant and without all the drama of middle and high school (yes and amen). My friendships then were born of proximity and commonality. Whether it was in the dorm or over playdates at McDonald’s, we were doing life together and not as a catch phrase but for real. It was life, real life, spent together, hours chatting on the phone, hanging out, taking trips even. True, we were an homogenous group but our common experience and circumstance provided a rich foundation for friendship.

As my kids grew older, friendship became more difficult, no doubt due to the general busyness inherent therein. On top of this, not one but two sets of our dearest friends moved away. Left to my own devices I began to realize how bad I was (am) at forming deep friendships. I discovered I had no idea how to make friends, true friends, apart from the ease that comes with proximity and commonality, not to mention the always surprising grace of someone seeking to be my friend first. Hello, awkward and complicated, with a little diva on the side.

I have lots of “reasons” for my complicated awkwardness. I mean, being friends with women can mean comparison and jealousy and cattiness as well as work and vulnerability and time. Not only that but I’m an introvert. I’m a homebody. I’m independent. I think too much. I crave solitude. In other words, I’m not exactly the stuff your dream BFF is made of.

So when a friend suggested we read Messy Beautiful Friendship for our first summer book club title, I knew I needed it. But I was also wary and maybe even a little frightened of what the book might expose in me.

Christine Hoover’s book is a treatise on the importance, nay the necessity, of Biblical, gospel friendships. We need each other, not in the idealized sense of The One True Bestest Friend Over All Others Forever and Ever Yes and Amen, but in the fellowship and accountability as prescribed by the Word of God. She writes,

[T]he goal of friendship is to secure ourselves to the sure, steadfast anchor of Christ and, while holding to that anchor, give and receive the gift of friendship as we have opportunity. The goal is to enjoy God together with others and, as we move through life, to sharpen and allow ourselves to be sharpened by friends. We imitate Jesus with one another, willing to face the stark realities and consequences of sin, all the while persevering in our efforts to offer love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, comfort, and care to one another. In doing so, we display to one another the world how God loves and, through this, bring him glory.

Yes, Christine discusses awkward and complicated and repeatedly encourages us (me) to vulnerability. She is honest about the reality of disappointment and hurt and that friendship is risky and, as the title suggests, messy. She warns against comparison and harboring an idealized BFF wish-dream. She addresses conflict and confrontation and how to do both well in the spirit of love and gentleness. She advocates for wisdom, especially in our social media pursuits, one of my favorite chapters in the book. She reminds us that our friendships point to the greater and true Friend who laid down His life and who will one day, one glorious Day, answer all our longings with Himself.

I am continually surprised that there are those who genuinely want to be my friend and I am grateful for the women who come alongside me in companionship and fellowship. However, I want to be a better friend. Thank you, Christine, for your guidance and wisdom to that end. I needed this book and I daresay I’m not alone.

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Status Report, post #TGCW14 edition

Sitting…on my back porch. It is a gorgeous morning, a slightly unusual one for July in that the temperature and humidity are a little lower thus making it actually quite pleasant out here. For now. I plan to enjoy it for as long as possible, rare as it is!

Drinking…coffee, black.

Recovering…from my trip to Orlando. Yes, still. I got home Monday and today is Thursday and yes indeed it’s taking me three days plus to get over a four day trip. A mark of a good trip in my opinion.

Pondering…the takeaway from the conference. What did I learn? I mean, I learned lots (!) but what is the main takeaway I want to concentrate on in terms of meditation and application? I think maybe I know but I am still pondering and praying through it all. Hopefully I will blog through some of my thoughts soon.

Loving…that I got to meet so many of my blogging and Twitter friends. Staci (of Writing and Living and my fellow writer at Out of the Ordinary) and I were instant BFF’s. We had fun hanging out through the course of the weekend. Chatting with other friends that I’d previously only known online was both surreal and incredibly encouraging. Not to sound like a fan girl, though I may or may not have totally embarrassed myself in the worst fan girl way in front of an author and blogger I greatly admire, but meeting women I respect so much was humbling in the best sort of way.

Laughing…with my girlfriends who made the trip with me over the fun we enjoyed last weekend. We had a blast. From shopping until we dropped at the outlets to the early morning fire alarm to other incidents I won’t mention in a public forum such as this, it was quite an adventure. I am so thankful for their friendship and for our shared experience at the conference.

Beginning…to plan toward Bible study this fall. I just started reading Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin (one of the many–many!–books I brought home from the conference). As I read I am reminded again of the holy privilege and sacred calling that is mine to encourage women to know the Word and that knowledge to fuel a love for the Lord. Yes and amen.

Thinking…of the precious reader who approached me at the conference to thank me for my blog. Yeah, this blog. Her sweet comments brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. You have no idea how much your words mean to me and how you encouraged me!

Pouring…another cup of coffee.

Happy July, friends!

Surprised but grateful

There is a hospital bed in my living room and a wheelchair in the corner. A bottle of prescription pain relievers sits on the kitchen counter with a scribbled list of dosing times attached via post it note.

My husband wrecked on his bicycle Wednesday, breaking his collarbone and his hip, injuries that, while terribly painful, are also fixable, glory to God. It could be worse, far worse.

I can’t help but think of those for whom a hospital bed and wheelchair are far more than aids to recovery but a fact of life for months, even years. I think of the medical supply truck that I would see unloading box after box at a home here in my neighborhood. That house now stands empty and a for sale sign is posted in the front yard. Our current circumstances require only time to heal; some do not have that hope.

I got the call about the wreck around 1:30 Wednesday afternoon and left quickly to meet the ambulance at the ER. I texted my pastor on my way and within the hour he and two other elders from my church and one of their wives were there, standing with me by the gurney. Over the course of the evening and over these past couple of days church members, coworkers, friends, family, fellow cyclists, all have been kind enough to call, to stop by, to pray, even to build a wheelchair ramp at my back door.

“If we can do anything let us know” I’ve been told time and time again. From my husband’s peloton of fellow riders to our church family, everyone who has told me so has meant it and I know it and I am grateful for it. My phone nearly blew up with all the care and concern and I am thankful for each text message and phone call. We are loved and loved well. It is as humbling as it is encouraging.

In Sunday school at my church we are discussing the book Surprised by Suffering by R.C. Sproul. The coincidence is surely providential because, really, we certainly didn’t expect this. Who does? My husband suffers, the pain is, well, painful, and the frustration real, but we know the Lord is faithful and the body will heal. We believe Him.

So if you would, pray for my husband as he recovers, that the Lord’s would be gracious to grant a quick healing of bone and body and for patience as we wait on Him to do so. Thank you, friends. Your care, concern, and intercession on our behalf are blessings we do not take for granted. We appreciate you all so much!

On Easter, the Monday after, and Romans 9

It’s Monday. Not just any Monday but the Monday after Easter, the Monday after Spring Break, the Monday before a new unit of Bible study that begins tomorrow, and, oh yeah, April Fool’s all rolled into one. I will go out on a limb and predict that it will also be a Monday wherein much coffee will be consumed.

We had a wonderful day yesterday. As has been my custom in years past, I invited friends over for lunch who, like us, were unable to be with family for the holiday. There were 21 of us here for Easter lunch–including my oldest home for the weekend yes and amen–and we had a great time! We all brought food so there was plenty to eat (including my friend’s fabulous homemade rolls). We had a full house, to be sure, some of us grouped in front of the tv watching basketball, some of us out on the porch chatting about everything from dress shopping to bangs to podcasts. It was a good day. I missed being with my family but I was glad to be able to celebrate with my husband and my boys and our friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.

The goodness of our day was not only in terms of food and fellowship. Our Easter celebration at church was wonderful as well. I love my church and our gathering yesterday was marked by eager gladness and joyous worship. I think we would collectively testify with the psalmist: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!'” (Ps. 122:1)

My pastor has been preaching through the book of Romans, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. I know that I am probably biased but I firmly believe I have the privilege of hearing some of the best preaching and teaching there is and this past Sunday was among the best of the best. By the providence of God, the text for yesterday, Easter Sunday, was Romans 9:14-18. Surely Romans 9 is one of the more difficult and therefore most overlooked passages of the Bible. “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” says the Lord, quoted in Romans 9:15. This is a difficult truth–the freedom of God in His mercy–one we want to dismiss or argue or ignore. Listen or watch as my pastor explores what it means for the Lord to have compassion on whom He will in the context of Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus, and the storyline of the Bible as a whole, as well as my salvation and your salvation.

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Happy Monday, friends!

Thursdays

I love Thursdays. It is my day to be home, to catch up on housework and laundry, to rest and read and think, to take life at a slower pace at least for a day or part of a day. Mondays I spend grocery shopping and cramming preparing for Bible study. Tuesdays I teach Bible study and go to lunch with the group and generally make yet another grocery store run for whatever it is I forgot on Monday. Wednesdays I am at the crisis pregnancy center. Plus we have basketball every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings with church on Wednesday evening so on Thursdays I take a few hours to slow down, I take a deep breath, I recover and rejuvenate, I catch up, I (at least make the attempt to) take care of the homefront.

I remarked to someone this week that I am in my heart of hearts a case study in introversion. The person to whom I was talking chuckled a little in disbelief but it’s true. Friends and fun, two things I value and enjoy, don’t come easily to me and quite frankly wear me out. Hermit-hood is my default.

I am particularly tired today, a good kind of tired, the kind of tired that comes from an overflow of both friends and fun and a generous dose of gratitude for each. Our last session of Bible study for this fall was Tuesday. Despite my aforementioned unqualified introverted status, I love teaching Bible study. I love it. I love the studying and the preparation and the learning and the wrestling, yes indeed, but, for me, my passion finds final, full expression in the outpouring, the teaching, the telling. It’s the strangest thing, someone like me who would really much prefer the anonymity of the back row, assuming the teacher’s chair and liking it, wanting it, needing it even.

And so another session of Bible study comes to a close and I am my usual sappy self. Longtime readers of the blog know well my effusion of gratitude and humility at the end of a study. My teaching is a compulsion and that my friends and fellow Bible students would come alongside me for the journey is the Lord’s grace to me, grace in such abundance that I am overcome. In a good way.

And Tuesday night was our church’s annual ladies’ Christmas party. We had a great time! I love those women, my friends, my sisters in the Lord, godly women who love each other well. I love celebrating our Savior’s advent together with great food, good fellowship and fun gifts and games.

So with such a week of study and preparation and release and celebration, I am moving slowly in my introverted induced fatigue but I am also savoring the goodness and grace of my good and gracious God who gives me good gifts of friends and fun and both in such abundance. I am grateful, I am humbled, I am tired. But in a good way.

Friends

This past Saturday I had the privilege of speaking at a ladies’ brunch at a friend’s church here in our community (and if you were there Saturday and thus found your way to this blog then a big “Hello” and “Welcome” to you!). It was a great honor to share God’s Word–humbling too. How I hope and pray I was a faithful witness to the glories of God in Christ! My friend tagged along and I am glad; though I knew several ladies there it’s nice to have the presence of a good friend to support with prayer during and then with much-needed encouragement after.

Always, always, after I teach or speak I suffer from acute doubt. Maybe not immediately, sometimes even a couple of days afterwards, but it always comes. I will find myself worrying and obsessing almost to distraction over what I should have said and didn’t, what I did say and shouldn’t have, and all that I said that was dumb or silly or…well, you get the picture. About the time I was indulging in these usual fears and worries, I received a text from another friend who was there Saturday, a text of affirmation and testimony of how the Lord used my words (mine?!??) to bless. My friend probably doesn’t have any idea how timely her text was for me but I am thankful for friends who encourage!

Later that same evening yet another friend texted (I love text messaging–anyone else?) to see how the brunch went and expressed full confidence in me (me???!). I texted back confessing zero confidence in myself but that the Lord was faithful. She had prayed for me, she said. I am thankful for friends who pray. The Lord is indeed faithful.

On Friday I cooked a meal for my son’s basketball team. Well, to be fair, I cooked most of a meal. Two of the aforementioned friends helped me out just a little: one with a pot of green beans and one with a basket of homemade yeast rolls (with honey butter, yes and amen). My friends were glad, even delighted, to help me out and make me look good in the process.

I am thankful for friends like these I’ve mentioned and many more I haven’t. Friends who will cook a dish or two because I ask, friends who send encouraging texts, friends who give me gifts just because they think of me, friends who love me and love my family and love my boys, friends who let my kids crash at their place while we’re out of town, friends who support and encourage, friends who I know I could call no matter the day or the time and they would help with whatever I needed, friends who sharpen me, friends whose passionate pursuit of the Lord inspire my own. Good friends are indeed blessings from the Lord!

To be honest, I don’t make friends easily. I really am as much of an introverted hermit as I confess here on the blog. Social situations intimidate me. I tend to retreat to my own society and I’m convinced you prefer just the opposite! It is precisely because of this shy (and sometimes sinful) tendency to keep to myself that I am all the more grateful for those who extend their friendship with such open pleasure. It may sound silly and self deprecating but it’s true: I am sometimes surprised when someone truly wants to be my friend.

So, to my friends, and I’m quite certain you know who you are, let me say here that I am grateful for your friendship and for how the Lord has so richly blessed me through you. You encourage me and you make me better as you continually point me to the Friend who sticks closer than a brother: Christ Himself. Thank you for gifting me with your your company, your companionship, and your camaraderie! I am glad we walk this journey together as sisters in Christ. The Lord is so good!

In praise of Skype and friendship

I enjoyed an hour’s worth of conversation today with my friend Leslie, all via Skype. How cool is that? We didn’t video conference, at least I couldn’t see her. I think she told me she couldn’t see me either which I kind of hope is the case because, well, fair is fair. Not to mention that my attire (and hair and make up) are such that befits a stay at home mom who is staying home all day today.
We’ve chatted on the phone a few times, me and Leslie, and we’ve even met in real life, and each time we have opportunity to talk (or email or message via twitter) we always do so with the kind of ease and conversation that accompanies true friendship. We are kindred spirits, Anne would say, and I am glad our electronic paths crossed five years ago!
Today we covered topics ranging from niche blogging to publishing to 1000 Gifts to Legos to Bible study to basketball, just to name a few, and all in an hour’s time! We also talked about my apparent blogging blah’s and Leslie closed our conversation with the wish that maybe I’ll write something today. Maybe, I replied, though I was more than a little dubious.
And miracle of miracles, so I have, such as it is. I’ve said it many times here in this forum and, since it is my blog after all, I’ll say it yet again: I am so thankful for the friendship I enjoy with Leslie and with the other women bloggers who have become my friends (you know who you are!). We mentioned today with affection our “circle” of blogger friends, those women who challenge and encourage us and who actually read what we write and who have become good friends despite, in some instances, many miles, even countries, between us. Where else but the internet? Who else but our God?
Here’s to more online conversations via Skype!

Iron sharpening iron

Last Friday I had lunch with two wise and brilliant friends of mine, godly women passionate about doctrine and theology and the glory of God in all things. They are thinking women, articulate and smart, and love the Lord Jesus with single-minded, whole-hearted fervor. Our conversation swirled around such diverse topics as trusting the Lord in difficulty, seeking wisdom in parenting, Sabbatarianism and choosing a carpet color.

In case you were wondering, my contribution to the day’s conversation was the carpet color dilemma.

It is easy for someone like me, in my more insecure moments, to be intimidated by these friends. So articulate, so impassioned that sometimes I am tempted to feel silly and shallow. Sometimes. Instead, I am deeply thankful, both for my friends and for the healthy and helpful dose of humility that reminds me to press on and press in and seek after the deep things of the Lord in ever increasing determination. They encourage me, these mom-theologians whose theology isn’t merely academic but lives itself out as they mother their children, love their husbands, serve their church, and struggle to be faithful to the Lord even when life is confusing and sometimes disappointing. What examples they are to me!

Iron sharpening iron, I want to be that kind of friend!

In and through it all there is grace

I didn’t attend many funerals as a child and was therefore unschooled in the rite and tradition that accompany the passing of a loved one. As such, when my grandfather died, I, a young mom of a baby and a toddler, knew enough of funeral etiquette to pack the prescribed black dress but neglected to bring anything appropriate for the receiving line during visitation. I wore a khaki skirt and a yellow tee to greet those who came to pay their respects, a fact that shames me to this day.

As I said, my oldest two boys were my only two at the time and babies at that. Unsure both of leaving them with a stranger or taking them in the hopes they would be quiet during the service, we decided my husband would bring our oldest, then two years old, and meet us at the graveside after the service. The baby would stay behind with some family members. Without husband or child in tow, I found myself riding to the graveside with my parents and my sister and brother, the five of us as we always were before college and marriage and kids. As we came up to the cemetery, I saw my husband standing there at the entrance in his suit and tie, my son in front of him watching and waiting, held by his daddy’s firm grip on his shoulders.

I don’t know why that image of the two of them stand in such sharp relief in my mind. Funerals I have learned, now that my naivete has given way to experience, always carry with them a sense of the surreal and my grandfather’s was no different. His death was unexpected–as nearly all are it seems, even those that tarry–and our grief therefore all the more poignant. I don’t know why but seeing them there together, my husband and my son, is something I will never forget, their presence grounding me, a ray of joy piercing the haze of my sadness. They were so beautiful to me, still are, beautiful and strong and full of hope and life even then at that moment of our shared grief. They, my husband and sons, are evidence of God’s grace to me, grace abundant and immeasurable, goodness undeserved and unmerited. I saw it then; I see it now.

Friday a week ago I stood in line to pay my respects as I have done many times in the years since my grandfather’s passing. The line was such that it was forty five minutes before I finally reached the family, before I could tell my friend’s daughters how much I loved their mother, her husband how much his wife meant to me. I never really know what to say in those sorts of situations; I try to tell them something I would want to know if I were them. I loved her, I told them. She was a great friend and mentor to me. I miss her. Very much. I cried as I told them these things and for some silly reason felt embarrassed by my tears.

What I told them was true. I miss her. Very much. She was a great friend and mentor and I will never forget our Wednesday mornings together at the crisis pregnancy center. We would chat; we would laugh; we would talk of husbands and children and homekeeping (or the lack thereof) and in and through it all we talked of the things of the Lord. I would watch her as she would pause outside the counseling room before going into to meet with a client. She was praying, that I knew, and I knew also that once she entered the room she would share the gospel–the good news that Jesus saves sinners–with courage and compassion.

I left the funeral home that Friday night and I went to a football game where I yelled like crazy with the rest of the fans and then I went home and went to bed, my day a snapshot of life as we know it: Grief. Joy. Sadness. Celebration. Loss. Hope. Death. Life. And grace. In and through it all there is grace.

A past not easily dismissed

A few months ago I attended a bridal tea at my old church. After chatting with the bride-to-be, hugging her mom, catching up with a friend’s daughter who lives out of town, and perusing all the gorgeous gifts, I took my plate of goodies and my cup of punch and joined a table of ladies, friends of mine from way back when.

My heart was full as I glanced around the table at these women, women who had loved my kids, rocked my babies, and cooked me supper, women who had prayed for me and with me, women I loved and admired, women who remained when we left the church, women who were no doubt grieved and disappointed by the church split, as were we all.

Yet there I was. At the table. Laughing, chatting, catching up. It was friendly. It was easy. It was good.

I loved those women, those friends of mine. I love them still. We share a history together. We served and sought the Lord together. For years. A past like that is not easily dismissed.

I am so glad it isn’t.

I miss them. I saw again that our decision that July carries consequences, some obvious, some not quite so.

Don’t misunderstand. I love my church so much that sometimes, in the weird way my mind works, I am afraid. The privilege the Lord has granted me, us, to be a part of this work is so great that the weight of it nearly crushes me. To say I am humbled is too trite. To say that it’s a blessing is too empty. I am grateful.

I had lunch this week with one of my friends who remained at my old church. We have lunch twice a year, she and I. I know this for sure because we continue our years-long tradition to meet for lunch on the dates a local church hosts their annual soup lunch in January and their annual salad lunch in August. We did so before; we do so still. We always say we’re going to get together more often, and we always mean it.

Our lunch was good, our conversation easy. Another friend joins us every August and the three of us chatted and caught up and reported all the latest. It was fun. My friend even referenced something that happened “that December after y’all left in July.” It was a statement of fact, not blame or or spite or any other emotion that could accompany a situation like ours, and I was glad that this is what it is: We left. She stayed. She did what she must, following the Lord’s will. We did as well. We are each thankful for how the Lord led us. We’re friends. God has been faithful to us both, to us all. What grace.

I love my friend and I miss her. I am glad for our past that is part and parcel to our present. I am glad for our friendship that continues, and for bridal teas and for our lunches together.

Oh, but God is good, His lovingkindness endures forever.