Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What is a Friend?

Over the last year, God has brought friendship into my life. 

In my youth, friendship had no real impact on my life and no true depth. Friends were those people I hung out with, gossiped with and those that allowed me to be part of their pack. There was a kind of gratefulness in me that I wasn't alone in my shenanigans but no connection that touched the places I kept the most secret, the most hidden. There was no real reciprocation of love, of sharing, of knowing. In fact, I worked pretty hard to make sure that the truest parts of me were hidden from those that I called friend. (I mean, what if they didn't want to be my friend if they REALLY knew me!  I was messed up, OK?)

In my young adulthood and into my 30's (yep, I am THAT old) I had one friend that I connected with, but to be frank I was never welcomed fully into her life for one reason or another.

I went through an intense year of therapy a few years back and I learned that I often pick people to befriend or hang around with who take from me gratefully but rarely pour into me with equal gratefulness. That's how I made sure I never fully connected and made fulfilling friendships, which, incidentally, meant they were always just a little unfulfilling, even if both of us in the friendship were doing the best we could do at the time.

But, I desperately wanted friendship. So, my therapist challenged me to stop calling everyone, stop taking lunch over "to visit" with people, stop inviting everyone. Stop accepting that they're "busy" and their lives are so much fuller than mine that they couldn't make an hour to connect with me. Just stop. 

My therapist encouraged me to take a five week break from connecting with others and note those that called me, brought lunch over to visit with me, sought me out, asked about me, openly wondered where I'd gone. This was NOT an exercise in seeing who would chase me down. This was an exercise for me to see if what I felt aligned with reality. (How we feel isn't always the truth, in case you didn't know. That was a therapy lesson for me, too.)  That lesson was HARD, but eye-opening. It was a time of deep reflection on what I'd been willing to accept relationally. This was a learning lesson about ME. I learned fully that love is not a feeling. It is an action.

My sweet cousin, who I consider as much a sister as a friend, called within 3 days to find what the heck was wrong with me and let me know she missed me.  She wanted to get together that weekend.  That wasn't really a surprise as she already reciprocated my affection and friendship. What was surprising is that all the other people I called friend were absent for more than four of those five weeks and when I did hear back from them it was a text asking a question or needing advice. That was their choice and that's OK.  No one is required to include me (or you) in their lives. Consequently, I (you, too!) am not required to include them in mine. That was a moment of freedom and sadness, in equal measure. I still care for those people, but they are not the kind of friends that I need and what I need matters, too. (That's a deep lesson right there, in case you missed it.) 

I went through a period of time where Loneliness took up residence beside me and hugged me like an old pal. I prayed for God to send me friends who love me without apologizing for me and my quirks. I prayed for friends I could love, respect and admire. I prayed for friends who weren't afraid to tell me when I was being a jerk but loved me right through my jerkiness.  Friends who not only know my fears and my flaws and my heartaches, but friends who celebrate my joy and my successes and my abilities.  Friends who encourage me to grow and pursue whatever God has in front of me with all the drive and ambition I can muster. Friends who rejoice with me and cry with me for no other reason than because they love me. Friends who want to visit with me and expect me to visit with them in return.

This morning, one of those friends invited the group God has placed in my life for this season (please, Lord, I'm asking that this season be a long, long, long one) to breakfast at her house.  That sweet friend cooked for us, wrote sweet, individual notes for every person present and served us with joy and compassion. She decorated the table for us and used beautiful china that made me feel beautiful, too.  She is everything I admire in a person and epitomizes Christ with skin on, to me.  She inspires me and encourages me to be a better person without judging me when I'm not.  She loves people in a way I have only EVER seen in her and I am praying that God shows me how to love people in that way, using my own personal talents and skills. I love her.

Two of the other ladies who were present know me.  Really, really know me. I went to high school with one of them, so we have a long history that makes us comfortable in a way that's kind of more awesome than chocolate but we weren't true friends until the last 6 months or so.  I'm so grateful for her. She is honest and funny and quirky and lovely and she makes me feel happy and safe and like I can be exactly what I am with no apologies. She is a fabulous example of what someone with a forgiving heart looks like and a walking example of the restorative love that only Christ can bring. I love her. 

One of the other ladies who shared breakfast with us is someone I've known for a long time. In true hurting hearts form, we circled each other for a while before we decided we might like each other. (she kind of didn't like me at first and I don't remember if I liked her or not when we first met because I don't remember exactly first meeting her...that's how I roll, y'all. Captain Oblivious.)  But then, at some point, we talked. Then we laughed. Then, we stopped circling and started seeing. Then we loved each other. And then we trusted each other and that's the real stuff right there, folks. We are a lot alike, even though most people would miss that about us. She calls me on my crap and trusts me to call her out on hers, too. She is hard-working, funny, honest and real. I love her. 

All three of these women inspire me to be a better mother, a better wife and, most importantly, a better version of myself.  They don't want to change or fix or crowd.  They just love and I get to love them in return.

So for all that rambling, what is a friend?  It's hard to define, isn't it? I suspect it's different for each of us, but we all have a few parts that look the same. It's not just a companion. My dog is a companion. We NEED real relationships with real people. We NEED people. We NEED people who see us and know us and love us, anyway.  We need the opportunity to love the people in our lives with our whole hearts and trust that they love us back and they take the time to SHOW us that love without judgment or harm.  We need to be able to share with the people in our lives and know that they honor the sharing. A friend is someone who sees all of you and loves you like what they see is wonderful and fabulous and good. That's a friend and I have them. I am giddy with that knowledge, people.

 I pray that every single person reading this knows the truest Friend and that He sends you a few precious, beloved friends who love you in the way you need to be loved.

"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart."  1 Peter 1:22

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