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.

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!

Finding encouragement and community as an old-er woman

Today I’m posting at Out of the Ordinary about old-er women and our need for gospel community and encouragement:

At 44, I am what many (myself included) would consider an older woman. Not old necessarily, but old enough to be old-er. The distinction is important, at least to my vanity.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not aging well. I do, of course, suffer from the usual physical effects of forty plus years on this earth: the gray hair and the corresponding appointment with my hairstylist every 6-8 weeks, the wrinkles, the hormonal migraines that take me down for nearly a whole a week at a time, just to name a few.

Growing old, it’s not a pretty sight.

But it’s the unexpected repercussions of these middle years that have me reeling: the sudden grief over an emptying nest, the regrets of past failures and deficiencies, the question of “What now?”

Don’t get me wrong. I like my 40’s. Life is good here in the middle years, good and rich and happy. Yet there is also much that is confusing and stressful and surreal and, well, hard. It can be a lonely stage of life and a difficult one.

Read the rest of the post here.

Friends

We spent our weekend enjoying an extended visit from some old friends. Surely one of the Lord’s happiest blessings is having old friends, dear friends who knew you when, and reconnecting with such friends was our joy this past weekend.

We met some ten or eleven years ago, back when our boys were little and playing basketball together. We chatted in the stands, they had us over for supper, and then for the next several years our boys were nearly inseparable and our families scarcely less so. There was a great void when they moved and it was quite some time before I grew accustomed to watching a soccer match without my friend sitting beside me, our boys playing as teammates and our husbands coaching together across the field.

It’s been two or three years since we’d seen each other last, my friend and I, and when we were all standing in my kitchen not long after their arrival I thought to myself that it was as if they’d never left. Indeed the only indication that any time had passed could be found in the size and height of our kids. We, of course, look exactly as we did ten years ago (of course we do!).

I don’t make friends easily. In fact, it always surprises and embarrasses me a little when I realize someone genuinely wants to be my friend. Since I am such a freak I am all the more grateful for true friends, friends who know me and love me and persist in offering me their friendship despite my weird reserved nature. In other words it can’t be easy being a friend to someone like me and I am so thankful for those who do so despite the risks involved!

I am being a little silly, yes. Despite this feeble attempt at self deprecation what I really want to say is that I am so very grateful for friends, for fellow sojourners and companions to this life, for godly women who model to me a passion for Christ and a love for others. I am blessed to count several such women as my dear friends and I am thankful for the bond we share because of Christ. He knits our hearts together as sisters and as friends and in His gracious providence allows us the privilege of being sharpened and edified one to another. I am thankful for my friends, then and now, those who knew me when and those who know me now.

I am blessed.

On friendship and funerals

She was one of the first friends I made when we moved here sixteen years ago. I don’t remember when we first met exactly but I do remember attending church supper on a Wednesday night as a visitor and feeling every bit of that appellation and all the unease it signifies. In our nervousness and discomfort, we were nearly ready to bolt, ditching prayer meeting entirely, when she plopped down at the table beside us and chatted and laughed like we had been, and would be, lifelong friends.

That, I would soon learn, is her gift to us all: open, unreserved friendship offered in heartfelt sincerity and generous love to any and all. We stayed for prayer meeting that night and ended up staying for church too, for some thirteen years or more. Her son and my son became the very best of friends, spending countless hours at one or the other’s home or at her parents’ home. When her dad died her boy was here spending the weekend with us, his parents and us both hoping to alleviate some of the heaviness that weighs on a young kid’s heart and mind when his grandad is so very sick.

Ever since that Wednesday night in the church fellowship hall, I have remained grateful for her generous friendship, for her contagious joy, and for her humble faith.

My husband called me last Friday, our conversation beginning with the preparatory warning: “I’ve got some sad news.” My friend’s mom had died, he told me, suddenly, unexpectedly. I couldn’t believe it. None of us could. I’d just seen her, I protested, at the grocery store. She who lived with such cheerful vivacity and determined optimism now dead? It seemed shocking, inconceivable, one so full of life passing so quickly.

We stood in line Monday morning to pay our respects, me, my husband and our oldest boy. So many were there to offer their condolences and to honor this godly lady so highly respected and so dearly loved. We waited over forty five minutes before finally reaching my friend and the rest of the family. As she greeted us, she commented on how beautiful her mom was and we had to agree. With a smile and a laugh my friend acknowledged her confidence in her mom’s reward: “She’s up there all mad at us for crying and making a big deal,” she quipped. We loved her, we told her.

My boy hugged his friend and I wondered where the years had gone and how in the world those two little guys had transformed seemingly overnight into the men I saw before me. Funerals make one realize, among many things, the fleeting nature of our lives and the quick passage of time.

As we waited in line my son received all sorts of congratulatory handshakes and heartfelt well wishes. I thought to myself, and not for the first time, that this one of the things I love about our community: we grieve together and we celebrate together.

During the funeral service, I sat next to another very dear friend of many years. I remembered her remarking once, many years ago, that the years would pass and there she and I would be, friends still, the “little old ladies” that form the backbone of church and community. We laughed about it in our youth and should I remind her of it we would probably laugh still. Sitting there at the funeral I remembered and I thanked God for friends, for shared journeys, for boys becoming men, for the legacy of a life well lived, and for the hope we have in Christ and Christ alone.

We were pulling out of the parking lot and I told my son, my boy-now-man, that I didn’t want to be unnecessarily morbid but funerals tend to make you think and this is what I’m thinking: that when I die I want whoever preaches my funeral to remind the mourners (however many or few) of but one thing: that I was a wicked, depraved, rebellious sinner and my only hope is Jesus.

Yes and amen.

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!