Friendships {Part 3}

Moving across an ocean at 17 did NOT do wonders for my FOMO. I mean, it wasn’t even a handy acronym at the time, but it was definitely still a thing.

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For any of you who have made a significant move in life, you will know what I’m speaking of. That fear of missing out. More and more this is becoming the story of our world. People living thousands of miles away from the most significant relationships in their lives. Missing out on graduations, holidays, weddings, births....and deaths. Distance is heartbreaking.

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Back to 2005. Several of my friends were off to the same university, or still in high school, and I was about 3,000 miles away. That first lecture, I sat in a 400 seat auditorium and didn’t have one person who had known me longer than a week in the entirety of the undergrads that walked on campus. (Granted there were a few masters students who were a part of the church plant team, but no one my age.). And most of these people didn’t really like Americans either. Loooools. The fear of missing out stepped up a notch. Skype didn’t exist at that point. No what’s app. We had instant messenger, emails, or phone cards. Daily life went on, and I was not a part of it. The fear of not knowing what was going on in the lives of those I loved....the fear that we’d drift apart and I’d drift off into a sea of loneliness....though it sounds overly dramatic, it was so real.

Looking back, some relationships have grown and deepened over the years. Others have faded. A part of my life back then, but no less beautiful. For me, a few things have defined the former....

First, I think long distance friendships require real intentionality. I’ve been known to schedule Skype dates over a month in advance. It sounds crazy....but it’s so vital. Intentionality also involves messaging the other person even when they forget to ask. You had a big day last week at work and they didn’t remember to text and ask how it went. Tell them anyway. Be vulnerable. In an intentional way, not in a passive aggressive way.....ha. (She speaks from experience. Oops. Sorry.)

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Second, friendships that span the miles require perseverance. Perseverance past the insecurity and fear. A transcontinental friendship can really reveal to you your deep insecurities. Are they forgetting about me? What if they meet someone awesome and stop sharing their life with me? The fear of unworthiness is real. But the reality of the God of love is more tangible than any lie that would try to tear you apart. The antidote to fear is always love. Receiving love, enables us to give it without fear.

Third, I think in ordered for these relationships to thrive there has to be an awareness that both of you are no longer the same person that you were when you lived in closer proximity. New experiences have become a part of who you are. You’ve both grown and changed. And this is a GOOD thing. Not a thing to be feared!

2011. My bridesmaids and I, the week before my wedding. Now they are all long distance friendships! 

2011. My bridesmaids and I, the week before my wedding. Now they are all long distance friendships! 

And fourth? An embrace. Embracing all the transition, the loneliness, the messiness, the pain, the longing, the change, the joy, the laughter, and the uncertainty of it all. Embrace the sharpening iron of friendship.

This started off being about long distance friendships. But here’s the thing.....distance is measured in miles, but also in years. We all have lived lives of distance. And when love travels the distance of miles and years, there’s a beauty that wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the deep pain of separation. Physical. Emotional. Mental. The pain breaks you open. And if you’re broken open - broken free from insecurity and lies - more love, joy, and grace can break in.

 {Grace}

Friendships {PART 2}

When I was eleven years old I received the Balfron Primary Citizenship Award. It was basically my school's trophy for being a good person and a good friend. Don’t worry this is not a brag about how I was a kind and sweet friend-to-all as a pre-teen. You’ll see.

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The award was a tie between three people. My friend Lynn, one of the other awardees, and I had spent the year collected clothes and supplies for refugees in Kosovo. Those of you who remember the war in Kosovo can now work out how old I am. So of course when two prepubescent girls use their time to get clothes and supplies to the survivors of genocide you give them a freakin’ award. Lynn and I may have single-handedly fixed a major European crisis but the other winner hadn’t done anything like that. He had just been a good friend. He wasn’t the most popular guy in our year but I realize now that when we were all asked to vote for the person who was good at friendship it was him who won. I see now with adult eyes that he was the kindest person in our year and he was most people’s ‘good’ friend even if he wasn’t their best friend.

In contrast, I wasn’t always a kind person with good friend qualities. To illustrate this let me tell you another memory I have when I was eleven. The same year I was into righting the wrongs of genocide, I also played netball. Don’t worry people who know me and that I have a ridiculously hard time catching a ball; everyone played it. Anyway, we hosted a tournament for the whole area at our school and I was hanging out with some friends avoiding actually playing sport. A girl, who I did not know, came to ask me for directions to the bathroom. I gave her some. To the boy’s bathroom. Which my friends and I thought was hilarious.

When you are ten or eleven is there any greater social faux pas than entering the public bathroom belonging to the opposite gender? I think not. I met this girl years later when we were both women, both married, and thankfully both forgiven by Jesus. And she told me her story of how when she was ten I sent her to the wrong bathroom. She still remembered. And she made me remember. I remembered that yep, I had definitely done that to a stranger on purpose. I remembered my cocky ego only truly possessed by eleven-year-old girls at the top of the pecking order. Happy to stamp on anyone weaker whether strangers or friends. And I remembered that in some circumstances I wasn’t a very nice person. What is more, I am strategically avoiding the questions of whether that counts as bullying.

Recently, my three-year-old has started to declare various people his ‘best friend’. These people range from the woman who birthed him (yes me) to a nameless child he played with at the park for 10 minutes. Brace yourself Ailsa, here it comes. He is starting to enter the complex world of friendships and relationships outside his family. I worry, in equal measure, that he will be the child purposely sending someone to the wrong bathroom or he will be the child being sent to the wrong bathroom. I am not sure which is worse.

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Now as a mother it is my job to teach him how to be a good friend. Or perhaps teach implies the wrong thing because really children generally learn from seeing you do something not telling them what to do. I have to show him how to be that boy I went to school with who also won the trophy. But of course, I am meant to model this for him at a time in my life when maintaining and building friendships is at its most difficult. In your thirties everyone is busy and friendships are the easiest place to slack. Friends don’t wake you up at 3 am to ask for water or to tell you they have wet the bed. You are not contractually obliged to work on friendships from 9 am - 9 pm. And you never make a public declaration in front of 150 people and God that you will always love that friend. 

All this begs the question, in the absence of awards and votes, how do we define the qualities of a good friend? Not how should my son get a best friend, but what qualities should I teach him to have to be a good friend to others? And perhaps more importantly, what qualities should I have as a friend? I’d like to think I am past the ego-driven nastiness of being eleven (yet another reason to be thankful to Jesus). You can decide that one. But, now I have to fight the busyness and obligations of life to truly be a good friend. And, honestly, how well I am doing at the friend thing is not something I have spent much of the last few years thinking about. So I am challenging myself, as I start to talk about friendship values with my son, to not be lazy in my own friendships. They require effort just as much as the next relationship. I will try to model something worth having to my son. At the age of thirty, I am going to try to live up to that Citizenship Award. Easy. 

Who do you know that is the best at being a 'good' friend (not necessarily your best friend)? What do you think are the most important qualities that make a ‘good’ friend?

{Ailsa} 

To My Daughter: A Few Notes on Being a Woman.

At my twenty week scan, I found out you were a girl. I had a mild panic. I realized I was going to raise a woman and honestly that was petrifying. It is complex being a woman. I mean I am sure it is complicated being a man too but I have never experienced that. But instead with you, I have some idea of what you will face. Hence, the mild panic.

You are only one year old right now but I already see that you are fearless and reluctant to take my help. But I am your mother so I choose to give you advice anyway. You can read these at your leisure…. you know when you can read.

1. Society is full of contradictory and complicated standards for women. Be hot, be nice, be successful, but not intimidating. Be a domestic goddess but don’t look like you are trying too hard. Make sure you have a great body etc. Let me help you out, as the woman who loves you the most, you will never meet them all. But if you turn out to be a rebel and try to shun them all you will get yourself into a guddle too. Try not to be defined positively or negatively by the standards you see around you. And yes I would even include church standards in that. We are guilty of adding definitions to womanhood that I am not sure are any more Godly than others. Instead find what is true, worth fighting for, and define yourself by that. I would call that walking by the Gospel and the fruit of that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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2. Don’t be a gossip. There are just some opinions you shouldn’t share. If you can’t say it to someone’s face then don’t say it. We often gossip to make us feel better about our lives and our problems. ‘Look, at least I am not them.’ But inflating yourself by indulging in chat about someone else’s issues is a cheap and mean way to make yourself feel better. The Gospel calls us to a level of realization about our own brokenness so we don't consider our issues as superior to others' issues. Oh, and don’t you dare use God as an excuse to legitimize your gossip.

‘I have to tell you this so you can pray.’

That is using God’s name in vain. I will metaphorically kick your butt if I hear you do that. I am sure God is not that pleased either.

3. Please do not mistake ‘being nice’ with kindness and love. Often as women, we are taught that love equals saying the polite encouraging thing rather than the challenge in love, respectfully disagreeing, or explaining in a situation that you were hurt.

‘Oh it’s okay, you didn’t hurt me.’

‘I love it when you do that. You are so sweet.’

‘I totally agree.’

Don’t misunderstand me you have no right to dehumanize someone or take your pain out on them by hurting them. But I do challenge you to love by being truthful, having opinions, and having hard conversations. When we assume that God calls us to always say the ‘nice’ thing rather than the ‘hard’ thing we sometimes deal with that pent-up energy and frustration by venting and gossiping about someone. Say the hard thing to people’s faces so that you don’t dehumanize them behind their backs.  

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4. If you find yourself single when you would rather you weren’t, please know you are not in a waiting period before marriage. If you get married, know you have not made it to a more legitimate stage in life. Both singleness and marriage are representations of God’s love for the world. Marriage is an expression of the depth of God’s love by concentrating on one person. Singleness is an expression of the breath of God’s love by the diversity of the relationships you can build. Both require work and faithfulness to walk in healthy marriage or healthy singleness. Try not to look down on one or the other whatever your stage in life. Be friends with married people when you are single and single people when you are married. We can learn a lot from each other in community. If you are single don’t let other people assume upon your time and faithfulness. You also have relationships to build and invest in.

5.  Don’t watch porn. This is hard to summarize in a paragraph, especially as a woman because the dynamics here are varied and far-reaching. But we were designed for connection. And porn was designed to bypass connection. It was designed to give pleasure without the need for the ‘messiness’ of relationship. It is the easy way but it is also the falling short way. I will also add, that no matter how many women you know who watch it, porn was designed for men by men. You are watching something that will warp your definition of power in a relationship. And it will warp your definition of womanhood. I am pretty sure we should not learn our definition of female identity from a medium designed for men to masturbate alone in their bedrooms.  

6. You may find yourself taking your struggles in life out on your body. Either by controlling it to feel like you have some form of power in life or abusing it to walk out your pain. You might do this by restricting food, indulging in food, addiction, or self-harm. You may concentrate a lot of energy on your body to define your self-worth. This might get confused with normal ‘feminine behavior’ but women and their bodies have a complex relationship. Your body is a poor vehicle to express control and it is heart-wrenching to take your pain out on yourself. If you find yourself doing this please find someone you trust and tell them. You may not want to tell me. That is okay. Please tell someone.

Love, your mum

{Ailsa}

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Women.

We all have stories. Stories of the backs that have broken. The blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured out, the battles fought, the arms that have pushed us forward at the very moment their own strength failed. The shoulders of greatness upon which we stand.

Today is the day to tell these stories. Stories of women who have gone before us.

One of these courageous women once wrote....

‘I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.’ (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

Here are some of the women that have gone before me, and bravely fought through the stormy waters, ensuring that I had a sail and a compass to go forward....

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Here’s my mum. Carol. Of the many things she gave me, my education was one of them. She decided, against cultural norms at the time, to homeschool me. All the way till university. She would hand pick the curriculum every year, driving hours to a conference to wade through the decision making process. Now that I’m a mother myself, the weight of that sits heavy on me. She gave me a love of health food well before it was fashionable. One of the most incredible gifts she gave me was ensuring my brother and I had read through the entire Bible before we graduated high school. What has shaped me the most, though, was the way she created a home that was founded upon hospitality. From the age of nine, we always had people living with us. To this day, I have many older ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ around the world of different ethnicities and backgrounds. We hosted meal after meal, guest after guest. As a kid, it meant a lot of chopping, cleaning, and laundry. But, I am beyond thankful for this. Thankful for growing up in a home centred on hospitable love and welcome. 

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This is my mum’s mum. Nana. She was the daughter of Portuguese immigrants to the USA at the start of the 20th century. She battled through discrimination (she changed her name from Rosa Edwina to Edna Rose in order to fit in with all the other northeastern fashionable girls) and poverty. She left school after the 8th grade, was sequestered in a sanatorium for two years at the age of 16 for tuberculosis, and saw numerous young women die. Age 18, she met my Papa at a 25 cent dance hall, he was in the navy and soon after they were married. She went on to have 7 amazing children, 25 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren. All of whom still love each other and who prioritise family. But most of all? Her love of Jesus shined the brightest. Her favourite thing to do was lean over to a stranger in the grocery store queue, or next to her in the doctors office, and ask ‘Do you know Jesus?’ What a legacy. What a saint.

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This is my dad’s mum. Grandmother. Helen. She raised five children with a husband who flew planes for a living and had to be gone much of the time. Her strength carried her family through when my Grandfather, Jim, was in an accident that left him in a coma whilst she was pregnant with my dad. Her home on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia was an oasis of peace and beauty. She went before me. Raising a man, my dad, who serves and loves with dignity and strength. Her legacy.

Who are the women in your life who courageously set out from the calm waters and braved the storms so that you could sail?

 

{Grace} 

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