Saturday, June 23, 2012

Serial Friendship

Source: stayed up late last night, watching the movie “Stand by Me” on TV. Dan happened upon it while flipping channels, and I was sucked in quickly because I have such vivid memories of it from my adolescence. One of the last parts of the movie struck to the core of my heart:

“As time went on, we saw less and less of Teddy and Vern until eventually they became just two more faces in the halls. It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant."

I am in a season of my life where some friendships are dying off. There are numerous reasons for this, and I am partly to blame. But it pains me to lose friendships that were so intimate in my life.

I have always envied my husband. He has three boys he has known since early elementary school (*) and they have stayed friends for more than three decades. They went to college together and two of the three live nearby. The boys have matured into men and then fathers. We see them often, and our kids adore their kids. I always wanted to have a friendship that started in my toddler years or grade school and continued on to my adult years. The closest I’ve come is getting back in touch with the woman who was my best friend in 4th and 5th grades. My other “oldest” friends are my best friend from high school and my best friend from college. I connect with the former a few times a year. I haven’t spoken with the latter in years.

These were women who were mirrors of my own heart for a specific time of my life.

I think about other stages of my life, and there is a friend who matches each of them. I had a best friend at each of my jobs; my “work wife,” if you will. These were women who knew the inner workings of my life. One of them knew I was pregnant even before my husband knew! (Albeit just a few hours before him!)

When I became a stay at home mom, I developed a new set of  best friends through my mom’s group. These women saw me at my worst and still encouraged me and loved on me. We spent countless naptime hours on the phone, chatting and sharing childrearing tips. But the babies grew into school-aged kids, and my intimate friends evolved into acquaintances. Right now, one of those friendships is on its last legs and it upsets me. I keep trying to resuscitate our friendship, but it just. isn’t. working. The truth is our lives have simply changed and there is no one reason why the friendship is faltering; it’s dying because of distance and time and the lack of both.

On the surface, I have a hard time letting go because I feel like I’ve failed at friendship with her. But when I dig a little deeper, I also realize it’s hard to let go because I feel doing so will create another occurrence in a pattern of my life: am I a Serial Friend? Do I make intimate friendships only to back off when the relationship gets too vulnerable?

That thought makes me shudder because it runs tandem with one of the biggest fears of my life: that I will become my mother.

Some people collect stamps or coins or programs from Broadway musicals. My mother collected friends. She never met a stranger, and embarrassed me endlessly in my teenage years when she would talk to any-and every-one within ear shot at the grocery store. She was friendLY and also a good friend to others. A truly beautiful friend. When you needed someone to swoop in and save the day, Brenda was there. She was known to secretly fund people’s college educations. She let friends move in with her when their own lives hit the skids. She showed up unannounced to one friend’s final court date when the friend was getting divorced. She knew how to be a presence in other people’s lives, and gave without hesitation. What a beautiful role model for me, right? Not quite so fast.

My mother was a pro at being there for others but really really bad at letting others be there for her. She didn’t let people in the inner sanctum of her heart. No one got in: not me, not my siblings, and I’m pretty sure not my father. Friends were people SHE helped, not the other way around. She just couldn’t be a recipient, only a giver. When she was dying, she asked my sister and me to keep her friends away from the hospital. She didn’t want anyone to see her in such a needy state. Oh, boy, were her friends angry at me and Mary! They would say to us, “But she’s my best friend!” The sad thing is she never would have said that in return because she didn’t have a best friend. When she died, Mary and I decided to give her eulogy because none of her friends knew her as well as she knew them.

I vowed to keep that from happening to me in my friendships. Doggone it, I want to be overly vulnerable with my friends! I want someone who can give a eulogy at my funeral! I’ll share my pain and the heartache, and help them through theirs as well. I cry and vent and rejoice and celebrate with my friends. And through the years, some of my friends have come to replace the family I lost. (The only problem with this is when my friends’ family events roll around, and I realize I am relegated to “friend” status in their lives, not family. That stings a bit.)

Now back to the Serial Friend question. Am I overthinking things? Am I exhausting and demanding of my friends (as those high school and college best friends so sweetly called me previously)? Is it not only okay but perfectly natural to have “busboy” Serial Friendships?

And doesn’t anyone want more, or is it just me?

*There is one footnote to this story. Remember those three boys my husband has known since early elementary school? True, I don’t have a friend from that long ago, but God has given me with the next best thing: friendship with the wives of those boys. My relationships with the friend-wives has run the gamut from faded to intense on its own long journey, but God is using these women to help me glimpse His presence. Through them, He shows me what endurance and faithfulness looks like. They are a blessing to me!

No Swimming at the Pool

Today I promised the kids we could go to the pool for an hour between lunch and Jackson’s naptime. But I didn’t foresee Jackson being slower than molasses while eating his lunch. It took him FORTY-FIVE minutes to eat one measly pb&j sandwich. Katie ate her whole meal and got her swimsuit and sunscreen on before he was even three-fourths of the way finished. After giving him multiple warnings, I finally broke the bad news: he wouldn’t be allowed to swim because he took too long to eat. Therefore, he wouldn’t have time to get his swimsuit and sunscreen on so he must sit out today. No swimming allowed!

He did NOT like that news. There was much crying and begging of me to change my mind, but I stuck to my guns. I let him pick a book to read at the pool, and we headed out.

Katie got right in the pool, and Jackson sat beside me. Here’s the amazing part: he didn’t whine. He asked only one time if he could get in the pool. I reminded him he was not allowed, and he left the issue alone. He busied himself throwing toys into the pool for Katie to retrieve, and turned out to do just fine at the pool. At one point, he sat near the lifeguard and I overheard him saying, “I can’t swim today because I didn’t eat my lunch.”

I snapped a photo with my phone.IMG_1166

I felt like a mean mom for keeping him from having fun, but he honestly didn’t seem angry anymore. He accepted the consequence and let it go. Yay for us!

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Dear Katie,

I left the house this morning, with everyone still tucked in bed. I paused outside your door, so badly wanting to open it and wish you a wonderfully happy birthday. But last night at bedtime you told me you’d rather sleep in late, then have Daddy bring you breakfast in bed. My heart told me to go in your room for just a peek, but my head told me to grant your big birthday wish. So I stood outside your door, asked God to give you a fantastic day, and I tiptoed down the stairs so I could head off to work.

Today was the first day in quite a few Sundays that you haven’t gone to work with me. For the past 6 or so weeks, you’ve asked me to let you go to work with me. Since my job means I am there for both the 9am and 11am Sunday services, taking you to work with me means you are there for about 5 hours straight. At first, I worried that you would distract me too much from my job. Then I worried that you would distract the classroom leaders too much from their jobs. And then you threw me a curve ball and said you wanted to start serving in the Preschool room. Whuh? My girl actually wants to volunteer and help teach little ones about Jesus? So I let you try it once. I asked one of my top-notch leaders to “adopt” you for the service, and let you be a room helper.

That “once” has grown into a regular gig for you. I’ve checked with the classroom leaders multiple times, to confirm that you are a help and not a hindrance, and they tell me you are a blessing to them. You are thoroughly enjoying making friendships in the room, and have bonded with one little boy especially. Gus is your new pal, and you both look forward to seeing each other every weekend.

I am so thrilled that God has been shaping me into a new person through this job, and He’s also molding my girl into a servant after His heart.

Because I’m afraid of you getting burned out at Mommy’s job, I have made a deal with you the past few weeks: you can volunteer at the 9am service, but you must worship at the 11am so you can continue to learn about God. Then this past weekend, my boss came out of the Preschool room and made a beeline to me. He said you asked him if you could lead worship in the Preschool room at 11am, but that you needed my permission to serve at 11am as well. OF COURSE I said yes, because the idea of my daughter leading other little hearts to Jesus is an immediate AMEN. So you stayed in the room for the 11am service, but it turned out to be a little miscommunication: you didn’t want to lead worship, you were hoping to actually lead the entire class in the teaching portion of the service. Huh? Be still my heart!

You, my little girl, actually wanted to face your fear of being in front of a room full of people. I have never personally witnessed you standing in front of a large group of people for any reason whatsoever. But now? The Spirit is speaking to your heart and giving you confidence to lead others.

My boss has decided to schedule you to co-teach a lesson in July. And I am doing my part: I am staying OUT OF THE WAY of this brand new growth in your life.

So, why am I sharing all these details in your annual birthday letter? Because one day I know you will read it, and I want you to see how God has been faithful for so many years, taking you on a journey straight into His heart. He has great plans for you, little one.

Every day, I am blessed to be your mother and get an intimate view into your sweet heart. Your tenderness for Jesus compels me to be a better model to you and your brother. I want so badly to be someone you can admire, trust, and believe when I tell you about the realities of this life. Thank you for being a joy and a role model in your own way to me: by showing me how to let God use us for His glory.

You are one fantastic person, Katie. I couldn’t be more proud to call you mine!

Love, Mommy

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bearing Fruit

Daily Guideposts from 10/26/96:

Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (John 15:2)

“Cut back the grapes,” I once ordered my teenage son, and went on about my work, vaguely aware of the young figure chopping away. When I looked up later, I was aghast. He’d cut the vines clear to the ground!

“You’ve ruined them!” I wailed. “We’ll never have grapes again.” It looked hopeless. We had to build a big fire just to get rid of what he’d cut down. Yet the next year the vines grew back stronger than ever, the grapes so abundant they bowed trellises – more than enough to give away.

And I think that applies to my life, too – those terrible cuttings and trials by fire. I look back sometimes, shocked but grateful as I remember the pain and problems I had to suffer. I wept and protested at the time; I only wanted to be spared. Yet now I realize how essential they were to my growth. How much pride and self-pity had to go, how much hostility and unforgiveness. Habits that only made the tribulations worse and disturbed my faith in God.

Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Why did He let bad things happen? But I finally understood. Experience taught me: When we suffer, He wants us to be strong and to learn from what we must endure. To grow in sympathy and understanding, so that we can help others in their times of crisis and despair. Only then can we, too, bear abundant fruit.

Dear Lord, please help all those who are hurting. Comfort them as You and Your children have comforted me. – Marjorie Holmes


The devotion above was in the 1996 issue of Daily Guideposts. I received the book from Dad as a Christmas gift every year, up until he died. The year my brother Jackson died, I was reading Daily Guideposts every morning after I woke.

Jackson died on October 26, 1996. I’m sure I read that day’s devotion without even a second thought as to what the day would hold. A few hours after waking, I got the call from Bonnie that Jackson had died. He had simply let go and moved on. That call literally changed the entire course of my life. It was the first brick in a huge wall I built between me and God. I was angry at God for letting Jackson die. After all, I had made a bargain: if God would keep Jackson alive, I would do anything He wanted. I would be a “good girl” and go to church and pray and be nice and a model citizen and all that jazz. Bonnie’s call broke the covenant between me and God. I turned away from Him and didn’t give Him the slightest peek into my heart for many years.

Some time later, I went back to that day’s devotion in my Daily Guideposts. I thought maybe there would be some answer to make sense of that awful day. When I read the last paragraph, it kind of pissed me off. It said:

Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Why did He let bad things happen? But I finally understood. Experience taught me: When we suffer, He wants us to be strong and to learn from what we must endure. To grow in sympathy and understanding, so that we can help others in their times of crisis and despair. Only then can we, too, bear abundant fruit.”

The truth is, I didn’t WANT to be strong or learn or endure. I didn’t WANT to “help others in their times of crisis and despair.” And I most certainly did NOT want to bear “abundant fruit.” Give me a break! I just wanted my brother back!

Tonight, fifteen and a half years after my brother died, I came across that devotion and read it again. It makes me ache for that devastated girl I used to be, the one who turned away from God and hardened her heart for years because she thought He didn’t keep His promises. My heart falters to think I turned away from the One who could have carried me through all those years of grief.

But in turning away, I learned the answer to the question, “Why did He let bad things happen?” Through the deepest pain and complete fracture of the life I used to know, I learned what the author wrote is true: “To grow in sympathy and understanding, so that we can help others in their times of crisis and despair.” In the last fifteen years, I have learned the truth written by another author in 2 Corinthians 1:4 that says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.”

God didn’t cause Jackson to die. He didn’t break a covenant with me. He didn’t abandon me or turn His back on me. In fact, He wanted to hold me closer but I wouldn’t let Him. I scorned Him and spat at Him, and blamed Him for my loss. Because of how deeply He loves me, He allowed me to do that and didn’t force me to turn back to Him. He just kept loving me, bringing good to me, and patiently wooed me with his love songs until my ears were open to hear them again. It took almost five years, but I eventually hit an even deeper low than the one I felt on October 26, 1996. And at the bottom of that despair, the only one who was left beside me is the One I scorned. He loved me and gently whispered to me until I found my way back into the light.

And guess how He did it? With yet another Daily Guideposts devotion. But that’s a story for another time…


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