Friday, May 22, 2015

When Friendships Hurt

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Proverbs 27:17

I cried on my birthday.  I cried and I cried and I cried.  Yes, I'm getting older.  Yes, I'm getting more wrinkly.  Yes, 41 was so anticlimactic compared to turning 40, but surprisingly, I wasn't crying about getting older, I was crying about losing a friendship.  And honestly, I just wanted to give up.  I wanted to stop being friends with people.  I wanted to just close my door, crawl into a hole, and never be vulnerable, never let anyone too close, and never let anyone really get to know me again. 

Ok, so maybe getting older may have factored in a little because man, I was an emotional wreck that day!  It was just everything all wrapped into one "happy freaking birthday to me" pity party, but my main sadness wasn't just about getting older or the loss of that friendship. 

Even though, at times, I miss her friendship terribly, God has brought me such peace and has shown me the amazing way He used this friend to bless my life regardless of the outcome.  My birthday tears were more about the fears that have suddenly crept in making me hesitate in getting close to other friends.

Friendships are hard.  Friendships hurt. 

Think about how tough it was in middle school and high school?  I still find myself sad about a friend with whom I spent the entire summer before my 8th grade year who then left me in the dust once the school year started. 

But who would have thought that adult friendships would be so hard and hurtful too?

Friendships have always been extremely important to me.  I've always valued my friends greatly--desiring to get to know them on a deeper level, encouraging them, spending time with them, laughing with them, and crying with them.  But lately, God has opened my eyes to a pattern of keeping friends at a distance...both emotionally and geographically.   

Since 1995, my best friend has lived in a different town--and for the majority of our friendship, she has lived almost a thousand miles away.  The distance between us didn't stop us from sharing in life's ups and downs.  She and I have shared tears and joys, laughter and pain, miscarriage and marriage troubles, depression and anxiety, deaths and new lives.  We've gone through agonizing and life-changing events together.  Her friendship has been invaluable to me.  She's the kind of friend who I can tell anything to; she's the kind of friend that I can share my darkest, deepest hurts with; she's the kind of friend who would hop on a plane and be there for me in a second if I needed her. 

But the reality is that she is a thousand miles away.  Almost every tear we've cried and every laugh we've laughed was done through a long-distance phone call.  I treasure the moments that we actually can share special times face to face, but unfortunately, those moments are few and far between.  She's not a part of my day-to-day life.  And it makes me sad.  Even though I know that she's always there for me and always will be, she's not here...geographically here.  She can't see the expressions on my face or give me a hug or hold my hand.  Even though I know she would...she can't.  So she's emotionally close to me, but not geographically. 

In fact, when I really looked at my close friendships as an adult, I haven't had friends who were close to me both geographically and emotionally.  All of my girlfriends from college live in different towns, and I only keep in touch with high school friends on facebook.  The friends I taught with were awesome, but I never really opened up to them. 

The friends I allowed to be emotionally close to me were long-distance friends.  And friends who lived geographically close were kept at an emotional distance. 

When I finally met someone who I did open up to, I got hurt.  It was the one time I finally did let my guard down to someone who lived close to me.  For several years,  I was vulnerable and shared my weaknesses.  We cried and laughed together...celebrated birthdays, births, miracles, deep questions, and powerful prayers.  But our friendship took an unexpected turn and it surprisingly and painfully ended.

Unknowingly, my guard went back up.

Now, I find that I'm living in fear of not wanting to get too close to anyone else...hence, the birthday tears!  Will they leave me too?  Will they find flaws in me?  Will they disagree with my thinking, attitudes, thoughts, and path in life?  Will they judge me, lose interest in me, and walk away from me if I let them in...if I allow them to get too close...if I allow them to really know me?  Will they reject me?

I'm still hurting.  I'm still confused.  I want to run away and never trust again, but I can't.  It's not healthy.  It's not what God wants for me.  It's not how we were made.  God has brought some amazing women into my life who I want to trust whole-heartedly.  I don't want to allow the enemy to rob me of precious moments with these friends, but I'm afraid.  I'm afraid to let anyone that close to me again.  I'm afraid to be too vulnerable again.  It just feels unsafe.  I just want to keep them all at a distance and feel comfortable again.

What do I do?  What can any of us do when we've been hurt by a friend?

Over this past year of grieving, I've learned that it's ok to feel hurt.  It's ok to grieve the loss.  But it's not ok to allow that loss to make you feel that there is something wrong with you or make you feel that you're not good enough.  Obviously, any change in life is a good time to evaluate yourself and have the Holy Spirit show you areas in you that need growth or improvement, but just don't downright beat yourself up over it.  And more importantly, I've learned not to let that loss stop you from getting close to other friends in your life...don't run away from your current friends or new friend possibilities. 

In fact, just today, I did the exact opposite of running away.  Instead, I had a very open and tearful conversation with a friend about my fears, my doubts, my questions, and my insecurities about our friendship.  I shared with her my pain of losing that friend and my hesitancy to be close to her because of it.  She listened with tears in her eyes. 

We sat face to face...heart to heart...woman to woman. 

And that conversation opened the door to another honest conversation with a friend.  And I realized that because I was open and vulnerable about my true feelings...because I didn't run away or close my door or crawl into a hole, my fears were gone.  I sat in the same state, city, room and couch and shared my heart...face to face. 

I realized that everyone in one way or another has insecurities about friendships--especially as adults---especially as women.  We all have similar fears.  We all momentarily revert back to our junior high or high school days and wonder if someone is going to leave us for another friend.  We all wonder if someone is going to love us for who we really are. 

I learned that though friendships may seem hard, they are actually quite simple...

Love our friends how Jesus loves us...unconditionally. 

Love our friends despite their weaknesses.  Believe in our friends despite their differences.  Encourage our friends despite their fears.  Listen to them.  Pray for them.  See the good in them.  No judgment.  Just love...unconditional love.

And even though not every friendship will last as long as we'd like them to and not every friend will stay as long as we had hoped they would, we all need to keep moving forward.  See the blessings through the pain. 

Know that God will use each friendship to change us, each friend to teach us, and each memory to remind us of how much we've grown. 

Today, I hope we can all choose to keep moving past the trust love be grateful for all the friends who are still in our lives both near and far away.  I hope we can all choose to get over our fears, let our guards down, allow others to get close to us, and always believe that there are friends who will love us no matter what!  

Lord, I lift our friendships up to You.  Thank You for the beautiful people You've placed purposely in our paths.  Thank You for the lessons learned from each one.  Use us to sharpen others--encouraging them, respecting them, and loving them for who they are.  And allow others to sharpen us--uplifting us, being honest with us, and accepting us for who we are.  Lord, shine Your light on our hearts as we trust in You to heal us and allow others to be close to us again.  In Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Are We All Just Stuck in High School?

"The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

I was never into labels or cliques in high school.  I never cared about who was who or what was what---in-crowd, out-crowd, didn't matter to me.  Everyone deserved my respect simply because they were a human being.  Even as a middle school science teacher when I had gang members sitting in my classroom, I didn't care.  I didn't treat them any differently than I treated any other student.  I loved them even though I didn't agree with their choices.  I respected them and genuinely cared for them and they knew it.  And they treated me with respect in return. 

My parents have always modeled loving people unconditionally.  They've always taught me to look past the exterior and the labels and focus on the person's heart.  I'm grateful for that.  I'm grateful that God has given me the eyes to see the good in everyone.  All throughout my life---as a high school student, as a teacher, as a wife and mom, as a leader---it's been an amazing gift.  And I know that at times I've had to look really hard to see the good in some people, but do you know what?  Every time, even when I thought that there was no good inside, when I took the time to look really closely, I would always find a little nugget of good to focus on.  

I'm grateful that God has given me the eyes to see beyond what others love people no matter who they are or aren't, no matter what choices they make or didn't make, no matter what job they have, no matter what color their skin is, no matter what they look like, no matter what they believe in, no matter what church they go to, I will always love others no matter what. 

And I believe to my core that most of us have that same desire, but we get stuck in the categories that society gives others.  We get stuck in our own "worlds", and lately God has challenged me to take a closer look at how we all tend to get stuck in those "high school" patterns of cliques and labels even today.  If you don't believe me, look around....

Don't we still have cliques?  Only now, we call them small groups, or work friends, or moms groups, or bible studies, or committees, or playdate groups, or sewing clubs, or even churches.

How often do we step outside our adult cliques to hang out with someone new?  How often do we love or serve someone outside of our "group"?

Don't we still have labels?  Only now we call them stay-at-home parent, working parent, single, divorced, homeschooling parent, public school parent, not a parent, unemployed, homeless, addict, gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian, etc.

How often have you labeled someone based on their current "position in life"?  How often do see someone for what they are instead of who they are?

I'm guilty too.  Even though I love everyone, God has shown me how often I "hang out" with the same people over and over doing the same things over and over.  And don't get me wrong, it's never a bad thing to form close, loving, trusting relationships and friendships, but it's a big world out there with lots of people that long to be included, that need to feel God's love, that need to know that they belong somewhere, that need to know that they are seen, that need to know that they are not just a label nor are they just part of a clique that doesn't belong.   

On Monday night, God sent me on my first mission to serve a new group of people...people I have never met nor served before.  Their label?  "The homeless."  I took my six year old with me and our eyes were opened.  As each person walked passed us with dirty fingernails, torn clothes, and scuffed up shoes, I looked in their eyes.  I smiled and offered them a spoonful of baked beans.  They smiled back and said, "Yes, please.  Thank you so much."  

In that moment, they weren't just "the homeless" anymore to me.  They were no longer that label that I had given them.  They were moms with babies.  They were young men who enjoyed watching NBA basketball.   They were people who enjoyed the company and encouragement of others.  They were courageous.  They were grateful.  They were people with gifts and talents and hopes and dreams.  They were people created by, loved by, and valued by God.

See what happens when we drop the high school labels and really take the time to get to know someone for who they are and for how God created them to be? 

And so I challenge you...
  • Drop the labels.
  • Ignore the cliques.
  • Don't be quick to judge.
  • Get to know someone knew.
  • Look around more.
  • Visit a new church.
  • Serve a new group.
  • See the good in others.
  • Love everyone.
Lord, thank you for opening my eyes to see the labels that we give to others.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to love other human beings that I didn't know before.  Continue to open my eyes and understand the vastness of your love and see the commonalities that we all share.  Shine Your loving light into our lives and allow us to love others unconditionally and see the good that You have deposited in them.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.