Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Befriending: 3 months in


I started this little informal series on friendship a while ago since I am in a unique position, after having just moved far away from everyone I know, to process how to make friends, why we make friends, and the fact that God has a plan apart from all of my own plans.

That's what He's showing me so far. His plans are really awesome. And mine, well, they're well-intentioned but it's like I'm walking through my days with blinders on. I can't see the whole story, only what's right in front of my face.

The first two months of living in MT, I tried pursuing new connections in several ways. Here are a few.

- I hung around the school after the kids got out, and prodded them to point out kids they liked so I could pounce on their moms.

- I called & emailed the church we've been attending to find a women's Bible study to join.

- I chaperoned two school field trips with the hopes of meeting other parents and getting a feel for the other kids.

- I punched numbers into my phone as soon as I met another mom at school or church or a field trip. I think I got at least 4.

- I was happy to converse with any and everyone who showed interest. Neighbors. The woman at the pool. The mom in the grocery store parking lot.

So far, I can confidently say that much of my effort fell flat. It didn't amount to much of anything. Sometimes, the people I tried to pursue further turned out to be not the best match, for one reason or another. (Really there are SO many factors involved, no wonder it's so hard to make a friend. A huge factor, if you're a mom, is the kid-to-kid dynamics, then there are different grown-up personalities, life stage, and a huge one, I'm realizing, is simply how busy a family has chosen to be. Super busy families are probably not ones willing to fit in new relationships.)

The chance to meet women at church could have been better if we had not moved in April, right when every Bible study and ministry was wrapping up to shut down for the summer. Those efforts too fell flat.

But as nearly all my efforts to make friends were failing, I observed that during all my wheel-spinning, God was at work too. Separately. Not sharing His plans with me, just secretly acting on my behalf. It was as if He was right alongside me, making things happen I could have NEVER predicted or pursued.

The first weird thing was that a stranger who reads my blog spotted something familiar in one of my pictures I posted months ago. Though she had never contacted me before, she had the courage to email me, saying she knew exactly where I was, grew up in my town, and spends the whole summer here with her husband and three kids. She was arriving in only a couple weeks and SHE asked ME to meet up for coffee. Notice this? God just casually placed not a creepy stalker, but an amazing mommy friend in my path who was pursuing ME. He made it clear that He was the one doing all the work this time.

Since then, we've hung out a lot. Our boys love each other's company. They attended VBS together. We spent the 4th of July with their extended family, and I cannot tell you how blessed I've felt to have her as a friend. I might cry when she goes back home in two weeks. I took that photo of cowgirl boots at the top the night we met up for dinner and she offered to show me the best places in town to find some. I'm so blessed by her friendship. I know I said that already. I have no pictures of the boys because, well, they're boys. They move a lot.

The next weird thing that God did was to draw my children each to one friend in class who, turns out, happens to have an amazing Christian family. I think that is pretty remarkable. I didn't find these friends. God did. He planned this whole sneaky thing. And in the 9 weeks my kids attended the local public elementary school, they connected - just enough - with a child.

I met one family at Open House, as they were checking out their son's classroom the same time we were. We exchanged numbers then, and I talked further to one of the parents on the field trip, who also chaperoned. Then one day, the mom invited my kids and I on a picnic at a park. Our time turned out to be such a salve to my soul! True fellowship with another believer who easily speaks about matters of faith is a treasure. And God brought this family, this fellow mommy, into my life just when I needed her. She was so loving to me. I'm so thankful.

And finally, my daughter connected with one of the sweetest girls you could find. They had a couple playdates, but recently, the family invited us over to their house for a last minute casual dinner. It was our first dinner invite since we've moved, and again, I can't tell you how much it blessed me. I kept thanking them for extending friendship to us, and offering a night away from home to enjoy adult company while our kids played throughout the evening. I don't know if they felt the same, but it seemed a great fit. You know how it is; it's tricky when you meet another family. There are mom dynamics, husband dynamics, and kid dynamics. Other than my son getting a little picked on by the swarm of girls, everyone enjoyed each other's company. Who knew that love from the body of Christ could be so powerful simply amongst pulled pork sandwiches, trampoline jumping, and the warm July night? There was no intense prayer time or deep spiritual conversation happening. We were just laughing and eating and parenting. But together. 

Then they invited us to the rodeo. That was a really fun time too. Well, for us, anyway. Not the baby cows getting flung down into the dirt. We had nachos, snow cones, watched fireworks, and oooh'd and ahhh'd at a lot of fancy cowboy tricks. This is the way relationships grow. Togetherness, shared memories, and junk food.

So three months in, lessons learned:

1. No matter how hard I try, God has plans that WILL meet my needs when I need them met. If I'm looking for them, I'll be ready to respond and cooperate and do my part. (It's not charity; He always makes sure I have a part to do too.)

2. Extending friendship to another woman or another family is a BIG deal. People don't do it enough. I didn't do it enough in the past. But now, realizing how much it means to me, I'm resolving to be more proactive, particularly to newcomers like in my neighborhood or church. You could too, if you're at a place in life to do so. Invite a family over for dinner. Ask someone to coffee, or to a picnic with kids at the park. Open your life up to someone who may be in need of fellowship or a little hospitality. I bet you may even need it too.

Have someone in mind? You may be the person God wants to use to meet her needs.

She'll be grateful beyond words.  



Monday, July 08, 2013

Growth by subtraction

Since we moved, I've been working hard at building.

I've been building a functioning living space for us in our home, a new community of friends, a new routine, a new circuit of resources....grocery stores, restaurants, dry cleaners....building a new life for my kids and my family.

I guess it's human nature to see growth as dependent upon our building. We see growth as upward only. Brick upon brick.

Even in my faith, I start to see growth as simply a process of adding. Character AND serving AND ministry AND godly motherhood and so on are all bricks I keep layering to build an elaborate structure that maybe impresses God a little bit. Maybe I believe that.

I mean, I don't believe that, in my mind. I know that nothing I can do - good or bad - can ever cause Him to love me any more or any less that He already does and always has. I know that's what the Bible says. But in my effort to serve Him and respond to His love in obedience, I can get ahead of myself. I can let the high school overachiever in me loose and try hard to assemble this impressive building. I may even start to believe I am the one holding it together, with my mortar of trying.

God thinks it cute, I guess, like I think my son's latest Lego creation is. Almost daily, my 8 year old constructs something of which he is very proud: a fragile structure with childish engineering that usually crumbles within minutes. It's adorable. And I pretty much do the same thing to God.

But lately I'm realizing I have it all backwards.

(God's ways are usually like that: completely counter-intuitive, counter-culture, wholly counter to my human logic.)

The best kind of growth happens by His disassembling. By His breaking, pruning, cutting off. It's growth by subtraction.

How He comes up with these ideas, I do not know. It sounds crazy. It is crazy. But if Jesus is our ultimate example, we can see it is true. Jesus, of course, didn't need to "grow" but God needed to break Him since He was going to be punished in our stead.

There are a handful of ideas in the Bible that have regularly haunted me. Notions like when Jesus says, "If you want to follow me, take up your cross." "Lay down your life." "To live is Christ and to die is gain." There is a motif of suffering for the believer in the gospel of Jesus. If you really read it - really take it seriously - we cannot get away from the fact that within the process of growth, suffering and death are essentials. And Jesus modeled it. Fun times.

Growth by subtraction. Stuff in me needs to be killed. Lots of stuff.

I've always cringed when I've heard others say, "I want to marry someone that doesn't want me to change." And "I'm not going to change for anyone." Which is the same as saying, "Take it or leave it, I am who I am." Like Popeye. These statements could not be more against what the Bible says our attitude should be. I should eagerly want to change! If my husband doesn't think I need some serious changing, then either there is something horribly wrong with his judgment (like a starry-eyed cartoon character that swoons, "You're just purrrrrrfect!"), or He just doesn't know me at all. (Neither are true; I assure you, my husband is well aware of how much I need to grow.)

I desperately want to be more Christ-like, and feel I'm still so far off. It will take a lifetime for me to inch towards sincere, consistent godliness. There is nothing in my heart I want to cling to so tightly that God cannot have, if He asks for it. (Well, there probably are things that I just don't know about yet.)

Whereas growth by addition, me stacking a bunch of great things into my life, leads to pride, growth by subtraction leads to humility. It is humbling to suffer, to let go, to surrender my heart yet again into the hands of the Author of this story.

It's humbling to bow my head in prayer and say nothing. To allow Him to give and to take away, without complaint. To trust that He knows what He's doing, and that His plans are good, when they really don't seem good at all.

The bottom line is that Jesus loves me too much to let me stay the way I am. And growth by subtraction is anywhere from uncomfortable to straight painful.

I know this is an abstract post. But I'm hoping you're following me. I think you know what I mean. Oswald Chambers can put into words the essence of truth so well. Of being pruned by God, He writes, "It is better to enter into life maimed and lovely in God's sight than to be lovely in man's sight and lame in God's."

It's so tempting to try to look lovely for the world. I'm sure I do it more than I realize. Who really says, "Hooray, God! Start breaking me down and making me suffer so I can get rid of all these sinful attitudes, worldly desires, selfish thoughts, and fleshly habits!" No one. We all fight growth through suffering. We all try to keep it together; we frantically manicure our pride.

Look at the value we put on these statements: She really has it all together. She seems good at everything. She has such a huge ministry. I can't believe she can handle all that so well! She looks amazing in every picture. Her kids always look so cute. She has incredible taste and such a beautiful home. She and her husband seem to have the best marriage.

Now think about these phrases: I am such a mess. I can't handle my kids. I am hurting. No one really sees me. If only they knew what I looked like on the inside. I'm broken. I'm needy. I'm not sure how God can solve all these problems. I sure can't.

Which set of phrases do you strive for? Me too. Which set of phrases do you actually relate with most? Me too. In this world, being humble and messy is very unpopular. In God's world, it's exactly where He wants us to live.

The older I get, the more I notice that I have not yet come close to attaining the posture of Jesus towards suffering. I'm not in the same zip code as He is when it comes to humility. I say, "Not my will, Lord, but yours," but then sometimes I really prefer my will.

I want to be more like Jesus, I do. And at the same time, I'm afraid of the cost. Because I've read the Bible, and the cost is my life: all my ideas, all my wishes, all my rights, and all of the still-wrong beliefs I hold so dear.

But all He asks for is my surrender right now, just in this moment, in my immediate issues. He doesn't require I grow up into perfect in one day. He is patient and kind to me.

And that kindness is all I need to say "Okay, Lord. I'm yours.

{If you have a quiet moment, think about how you may be suffering in this season. Is God trying to work in that place? What can you perhaps surrender? Where can you say, "Okay, Lord. I'm yours."}