When God Sends You Friends

Friends Canva

My girlfriends and I sat around the black high-top table in my kitchen, the one with the worn edges and the water marks and the stains from children painting.  Stacks of papers and art supplies unloaded at the end of the school year had been shuffled from the tabletop into precarious piles on the counter nearby.  There were chocolate chip cookies, one for each of us, sweet distractions that tempted us from a clear plastic bag.  The glasses of water were filled to the brim when we gathered and remained mostly untouched when we finally hugged goodbye.

And there was a box of tissues in the middle.

Where we could all reach it.

Because when you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, either nobody cries or everyone does.

That’s just how it is.

This wasn’t the first time someone in the mom squad had called an emergency meeting of the black table.  We had gathered around with cookies and a box of tissues in the middle before.  And, because life is hard, I’m sadly confident that it won’t be the last.  The scarred black table has become an unlikely refuge for the broken and weary.  It’s like a crutch.  We hold one another up there.

I am so grateful for all of the very special friends and families that continue to play an important role in my life’s story.  God intended for people to grow and love and serve and seek help in communities of family and friends.  There’s a beautiful illustration of this kind of relationship in Exodus.  In Exodus 17:11-12, the Israelites were locked in a difficult battle after an attack by the Amalekites.  Moses recognized that God’s blessing on the Israelites was being funneled through him: “when Moses held his hand up . . . Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed” (NASB).

When Moses first realized that the Israelites would triumph as long as his hands were in the air, this probably seemed like an easy task.  Really, how hard could that be?  But over time, Moses’ strength began to wane.  His muscles became tired, and “his hands became heavy.” I imagine that his arms began to shake with the fatigue.  Moses’ burden hadn’t become greater, and the circumstances that he faced had not changed, but, as time passed, the responsibility literally became too heavy for him to handle alone.

How many times have I tried to control a difficult situation that I thought I could manage by myself only to realize that I actually needed some help?

It’s important to remember that God was working through Moses, but Moses wasn’t God.  He was just a guy with tired arms and the heavy burden of securing victory for his people.  Since I am human, and Moses was human, I have to believe that Moses called out to God in his struggle.  That’s what we do.  What would he have asked God to provide?  Maybe Moses asked God to bring the battle to an immediate end so that he could rest.  That seems like a reasonable request.  But that did not happen.  Maybe Moses called to God for physical strength.  That would be logical.  But God did not replenish that, either.

Instead, God sent him friends.

When Moses’ brother, Aaron, and his friend, Hur, saw Moses struggling to hold his hands in the air, “they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it.”  And then there is this beautiful picture of friendship as they held Moses up: “Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other.  Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.”

God saw that Moses was struggling.  And his response was to send him friends.

Sometimes God does not respond to our prayers in the ways that we expect, and as a result we may miss that he actually answered.  When you are praying for specific answers and you do not see those coming to fruition, don’t overlook the friends who show up around your table.  Maybe that community IS your answer.

Moses most likely remained exhausted, both mentally and physically, even after Aaron and Hur took control of the situation.  His arms probably continued to shake and to ache.  His back may have hurt, and that rock probably wasn’t too comfortable.  His friends couldn’t fix all those problems.  However, they stayed with him and they supported him and they held his arms in the air until the battle was won.

They did not give up on him, and they did not leave him before his struggle had ended.

In our “who’s-the-best” culture, it’s worth noting that God didn’t send Moses a “BFF.”  He sent Moses a team.  Friendships are not competitions but rather collaborations where friends look for and fill the gaps within their communities like a family.  And when Aaron and Hur helped Moses, they indirectly helped the larger community as well because the Israelites achieved victory.  Aaron and Hur served Moses, which allowed Moses to serve the Israelites.  One act of service often leads to another and then another, allowing kindness to spread through our communities like an ink drop in water.

My girlfriends and I sat around the black high-top table in my kitchen, the one with the worn edges and the water marks and the stains from children painting.  Stacks of papers and art supplies unloaded at the end of the school year had been shuffled from the tabletop into precarious piles on the counter nearby.

We sat around the table with the worn edges because, just like the table, sometimes our lives have tattered edges and our pasts have scars and our dreams are stained.  Sometimes our present is messy with piles of problems and heaps of heartbreak that seem overwhelming.

But our true friends will not give up on us, and they will not leave us before the struggles have passed.  They can’t fix our problems, but they can hold us up.  God can funnel his love and his comfort through them to provide a response to our needs.  We can gather around the table with them with our chocolate chip cookies, our glasses of water, and our box of tissues strategically placed in the middle.

Where we can all reach it.

Because when you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, either nobody cries or everyone does.

That’s just how it is.

 

I See You, Mama, and I Know It’s Hard

I See You Mama

I wanted to write something flowery for Mother’s Day.  I wanted to honor my grandmothers, who were strong, morally upright women, or my kind, resilient aunts, or my mother, who has been a relentless cheerleader throughout my life.  I tried to do it.  I stared at the page, typed, deleted, typed, deleted, while time ticked away.  But the words would not get in line.  When I tried to write about the glory of motherhood, my quiet thoughts were drowned by a louder refrain:  Life is so stinking hard sometimes.

It’s weird, I know, but I typically write with only a vague sense of where I am going.  I don’t check the map and I don’t chase the words.  Ideas approach, and some are shy and scuffle away, and some unpack and make themselves comfortable.  Then words push and shove their way to the front and, if I’m gentle, they allow me to sculpt them like clay.

So far, they haven’t failed me.

So maybe this is what I’m supposed to write this Mother’s Day.  Maybe I’m supposed to say to you that life is hard sometimes.  Like really, REALLY hard sometimes.  Maybe I’m supposed to say to you that Mother’s Day is nice, but it is not enough.  Maybe I’m supposed to acknowledge that you may be cherishing a new grandchild this Mother’s Day or you might be grieving the loss of your own mother this year or you may be celebrating joyously with all of your children in a few days or you may be spending Sunday on your knees, praying that your child will be walking a better path by the time the next Mother’s Day rolls around.  Maybe I’m supposed to say that I see you, that I hear you, that I know that motherhood is fun and rewarding but also the greatest challenge of your life.

Maybe I’m supposed to tell you that when the waves are crashing against your family and they are so high and you are so afraid, I know that YOU are the one who battens down the hatches and selflessly fights so hard to keep that ship afloat.

That’s what you do, Moms.  I know it.  I SEE you.

Not just on Mother’s Day.  On every day.

When you feel like you could vomit every minute of the day and your insides are being karate chopped by tiny knees and elbows, you are the one who drags herself to work so that your coworkers aren’t inconvenienced and the family has insurance.

When you smell like baby puke and your shirt is wet because you forgot to grab a nursing pad and you wonder if you will ever feel like your cute self again, you are the one who sacrifices yet another shower because the baby won’t stop crying.

When you feel like a completely inadequate parent and wonder if your child will not go to college because you are swaddling him wrong, you are the one who reads another book or attends another parenting class or calls on your mom squad for help, even though you are probably doing just fine.

When your toddler throws up all over everything in the middle of the night, you are the one who is gagging while washing the sheets at 3 a.m. and scrubbing the carpet when you would rather just sell the house tomorrow instead.

When your preschooler is throwing the mother of all fits in the checkout line and you have $200 of groceries piled high in the cart, you are the one who refuses to buy the Milky Way despite the glares of  customers who have forgotten that preschoolers are  little monsters with cute faces.

When a person your kids love drives you within a minute of insanity, you are the one who remains calm and composed so that those important relationships can flourish.

When you are so worried about paying the bills that you feel physically sick, you are the one who makes sure that your children feel safe and secure and unaware of the gravity of your concerns.

When you are so tired that you can barely stand but your child has an important project that everyone forgot, you are the one who runs to the store to buy the glitter glue for the finishing touch.

When it is cold and wet and you want to curl up with a book by the fire, you are the one who slogs through the mud to sit in the pouring rain to cheer for your kid who’s playing soccer.

When you feel broken and empty and unable to give one more thing, you are the one who digs deep to find an internal spring of love and kindness and compassion.

When you are sure that your head will explode at the thump of one more bottle flipping onto the ground, you are the one who redirects your kid’s attention to his equally annoying spinners.

When you are overwhelmed with guilt because your kids have exceeded the pediatrician’s recommendations for screen time almost every day of their entire lives AND they don’t eat enough vegetables, you are the one who packs everyone up for a healthy picnic and a hike at the park instead of going to your book club.

When it’s clear that your child just isn’t cut out for the band or the basketball team or the drama club, you are the one who cheers just a little too loudly and gives her a standing ovation from the crowd.

When your heart is pained because your child has been treated unfairly, you are the one who grits your teeth and calmly advises him even though you would possibly derive more satisfaction from punching someone in the face.

When you are emotionally exhausted from constantly fighting for your child’s unique needs to be met, you are the one who refuses to settle and takes more time off work to meet with his teachers about the accommodations outlined in his IEP.

When your child’s skin is so hot and she is so sick and she breathes those germs right into your face, you are the one who pulls her in closer knowing that you will be taking some sick time in just a few days.

When your child’s teacher calls to tell you that she cheated on a test, you are the one who says, “Thank you for telling me” when your internal mama bear wants to scream, “I know you are wrong because my child would never . . .”

When your child or another loved one is in the hospital and you really aren’t sure if everything will be okay, you are the one who holds your kids tightly and tells them that you will get through this together.

When your faith hits a rough patch and you question who God really is, you are the one who loads everyone in the car to go to church and models a commitment to spiritual growth even through adversity.

When you know the family vacation is more work than fun for you, you are the one who makes all of the reservations and packs all of the snacks and stuffs all of the suitcases and then handles the complaints because you bought the wrong colored Gatorade and you didn’t grab the right bottle of hair gel.

When your teenager’s attitude toward you is hurtful and disrespectful, you are the one who suppresses your tears and takes the phone and the car keys, knowing this will make the next week like hell for you.

When your daughter cries and questions her decision when you leave her at college, you are the one who hugs her and reassures her she is doing the right thing and then sobs for five hours on the drive home.

When your child disappoints you by doing something you never ever thought he would do, you are the one who sits down with the principal or pays for the rehab or visits the jail cell and offers that son or daughter the purest and most sincere love and grace.

When you are hurting deeply because your child rarely calls or visits, you are the one who waits with a broken heart but with arms that are always wide open.

When you cry because you miss the innocence and dependence of your kids, you are the one who remembers that your job was never to maintain little children at all but was always to raise strong men and women who would leave you.

Yes, motherhood is an amazing journey of incredible highs, but it is also a journey that is peppered with the most gut-wrenching of lows.  The emotions are extraordinarily sharp on both ends.  We idealize motherhood and spend a lot of energy projecting the bright spots in our journey to others, so it is easy for really good moms to feel alone and insecure when times are tough.  But the truth is that you are probably your most impressive when you FEEL like you are at your worst.  Because those are the times when your ability to handle motherhood was really put to the test.  And you didn’t quit.  You may not have showered.  You may not have fed your kids vegetables.  You may not have said exactly the right words.  But you did not give up.

If you are a mom, I hope that you are honored this Mother’s Day.  I hope that someone buys you some flowers, and I hope your kids write a nice note in a pretty pink card.  I hope that you celebrate the special women in your life, and I hope that you are reminded to congratulate your fellow moms every single time you see their kids accomplishing goals, sharing their talents, or, most importantly, just being good people.

But if you really want to honor special women this Mother’s Day, look for the mom who is tired.  Look for the mom whose son or daughter is struggling.  Look for the mom who is nursing a sick child or the mom who is grieving a loss or the new mom who is just now adjusting to this mysterious new identity of mother.  Look for the mom who has to fight every single day for the rights of her kid.

SEE HER.

Thank her.

Love her.

Remind her that she is doing the most selfless and important work in the world.

Then jump on her ship with a bucket, and help her keep that thing afloat.

 

To My Friend Behind the Caution Tape

I want to know your

I know something is wrong, my friend.  I feel it in your too-quick response when I ask if you’re okay.  I hear it in your veiled excuses and unnecessary apologies, your cancelled appointments and rejected invitations.  Your smile looks like work now, and your eyes are flat like mirrors instead of windows.

I know that you are hurting, but I don’t know why.

I know you, but I don’t know you, because you’ve built a fence right through our friendship, and it does not have a gate.

We’ve been friends for a while now.  We’ve spent endless hours at the park and at the school and on play dates here and there.  We’ve talked about news and kids and weather, about all the things that are light and full of air and float up to the surface.  But we have never filled our lungs and held our breath and risked our comfort to dive down deep, to plunge below the surface.  We have never ventured where the pressure builds and the risks increase – and the discussions really matter.

Our conversations have an edge, my friend, and I have noticed it, and I can see that you are so afraid of falling over.  There is caution tape all around the words we string together, and I have learned to tiptoe carefully without touching your guardrails and setting off alarms.

And this is okay with me, if this is all you expect from our friendship.  I won’t cross the boundaries you have made.  I would never push you past the caution tape and shove you off the cliff.

But I am not sure how to help you.  I don’t know how to dismiss that there is so much more that I can’t know.  You see, my closest friends and I, well, we have thrown caution to the wind.  For this friendship to grow, I need you to jump the guardrail, too, and here is why:

I want to see your REAL.  

With me, you do not need to show your PERFECT or your POLISHED.  Please don’t unpack your unruffled or rehearsed or preapproved for me.  Friend, I don’t need your censored or your flawless.

I just need your REAL.

Because here’s the truth that you’re not seeing: I am a mess

I am imperfect and unpolished, sometimes angry and upset and unprepared.  Some days I feel like a failure.  Sometimes I need advice.  Once in a while, I need to be completely open, painfully honest, unrestrained.  I need to vent to someone safe, a friend who understands.

Sometimes, I need to be REAL, too.

Always, I am flawed.  Because I am human.  And so are you.

But we aren’t really sharing that, are we?  We are just peeking over the fence.

Maybe this friendship is exactly what it is supposed to be, but I care about you, and I hope that you have other friendships without guardrails.  I hope those friends are seeing what I see and encouraging you through whatever challenges you face.  I hope that you laugh together and cry together when you need to.  I hope that you have plunged beneath the surface, that you have faced the risks and felt vulnerable, that you have experienced the beauty and the peace that lie below, in the depths of those friendships where you set your REAL free.

If your REAL is stirring and you are feeling brave, you are welcome to dangle your feet over my cliff and glance below.  You will see me there with a few close friends.  We will probably be in our gym clothes, looking a mess, though we honestly never made it to work out.  We will be taking a break even if our homes are a mess and our schedules are overbooked and our to-do lists are out of control.  We will be eating snacks and sharing drinks that we won’t tell our kids about.  There will be no make-up there, nothing hiding the wrinkles or the sun damage, no magic tricks or expensive illusions to conceal what really is.  We may be sharing our horribly embarrassing moments.  We may be crying about our parenting missteps.  We may be analyzing our fears and regrets.

That sounds like scary stuff, I know.

But it is REAL.  And when we smile and laugh and celebrate, that will be REAL, too, not part of a calculated game of emotions that we pretend to feel.

Friend, I am worried about you, and maybe I am not your match, but when you find the friends to make that jump with you, I know you won’t regret the plunge.

You won’t even miss the guardrails.

In fact, you might feel safer without them.