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“Tears are words from the heart that can’t be spoken.”

I’ve spent extended time with two close girl friends from my childhood recently. We were in the preschool Sunday School class together.  E and J know me from when I was loud and bossy.  They made fun of me, I made fun of them, we made up.

After church, we spent Sunday afternoons together making movies and inventing new worlds. We graduated from high school at the same time, we got married and now have kids near the same age.

This last week I shared with both of them details about a terrible time in my past, when something happened to me that I cannot recover. I know it means growth in me that I can breach the subject out loud, with someone other than my therapist. I know it means I trust them and that they’re good friends.

In some ways it’s easier to write cryptically on blogs for thousands than to share privately with one friend.  Do you know the feeling of sharing something terrible and being heard?

The day I found the courage to share what I know with close, trusted friends was the day I found healing soaking further into my heart.

Both E and J responded as good, long-time friends now how, intuitively, naturally, with full-hearts.

They listened with their eyes growing wide, they asked few questions, they tried to understand and then, they wept.

I do still, sometimes, cry over this, but I’ve invested enough tears and thought, prayer and therapy to not feel teary-eyed as I watched them reach for some tissues.

I sat beside them watching them cry and knowing they were entering my pain and discovering that I felt like my heart was healing with their tears. It reminded me of Rapunzel’s tears in Tangled.

Tears from friends–I believe they have God-given magical power.

“Faithful friends are a shelter. Whoever has found one has found a treasure.  Faithful friends are beyond price.

No amount can match their worth.  Faithful friends are the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find them”

(Ecc 6:14-17 paraphrased by Elaine Storkey).

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In third grade the most popular girl in school invited me to go to Disneyland with her.

We got to take off school. We were in heaven.

Photo credit: socal.catholic.org

I wore a pair of flowered pants that I thought were pretty. My friend wore spandex pants that looked really good on her legs. A long slouchyT-shirt came over the top, tied at her hip.

Then entire day she kept looking at me and saying things like, “Can you pull your pants up, they’re so baggy.”

I tried, but seriously, baggy pants are hard to find.

I couldn’t tell her my mom wouldn’t let me out of the house in spandex.

I couldn’t very well defend my choice as the best pair of pants for the occasion.

I just sort of slunk around in my bagginess.

On the way home I felt pretty ambivalent toward my friend. Why did she invite me if she was going to spend the whole day telling me how embarrassing I looked to her?

I guess she didn’t realize my behind-the-times wardrobe since we, mercifully, wore uniforms to school.

Disneyland wasn’t as fun as I had hoped it would be.  And our friendship sort of fizzled after that.

She took someone else with her to Disneyland the next year.

Photo credit: stylehive.com

I never convinced my mom to buy spandex.

Thank goodness for the uniforms.

The times a friend has corrected me live eternal in my memory.

There were my closest friends who once all told me to stop being so bossy.

They were right.

There was my third grade friend who wanted me to get with the spandex fashion.

She was wrong.

There was my husband, yesterday, who told me he felt like my voice was too stern for the situation.

He was right.

How to give your opinion?

A few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Do not . . . 

– offer advice or correction when you’re not invested in the friendship long-term.

– ask your friend to change something she cannot currently change whether because of finances, family upbringing or personal courage.

– require your friend to take your advice after offering it.

– assume you know what it’s like for her before speaking into her life. For example take time to investigate the feelings of a stay-at-home-mother before critiquing or broadly summarizing their lives in public or in private.

Do

– share if an outfit looks unflattering with your friends who are safe and long-term, with whom you have both received and given suggestions and advice on fashion.  This is especially true if they ask you for your honest opinion about their clothes.

– explain the thing that bothers you about a friend when it personally tramples you. For instance, if a friend has hurt you it is appropriate to share this with them, most particularly if they have indicated their openness and safety to listen.

– pray about the things that bother you to determine if it’s your issue or theirs. Consider using these phrases to share if you’re not certain, “I have a problem, I feel confused, left out, etc. . . ” or “I’m not sure what to do right now, I feel (fill in emotion word here). . .”

Overall, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid fixer-uper friendships.

I do not feel flattered or loved when I find out my friends have taken me under their wing to fix my fashion or my habits or my career choice.

I want friends who see me and say, “Oooh, I like that girl” (Thanks, Molly Aley) because of someone I already am.

When I’m believed in and loved, and know it, I can hear almost any correction.

Do you agree?

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In a recent study in Cinncinatti, BFFs were found to help relieve stress in young girl’s lives.

So girlfriends can continue to be anchors, helpful supports when we’re not sure what to do or how to respond to life’s pushes and pulls.

But not just any friend will do, as I explained last week, some friends are gold and others are silver.  Let me elaborate on that metallurgy.

Photo credit: mariuszstankiewicz.aminus3.com

Some friends are gold and silver, others are . . . rusty tin.

When it comes to friendship, some women are going to corrode your ability to trust. Some “friends” are going to leave you convinced you have nothing to offer.

These friends may be hiding in the shadows, ready to appear when you return home for Thanksgiving this week. These friends may be subtle and sneaky and insipid, but regardless you have the power to invite them into your life or hold them at arm’s length.

Consider the close friends who give you safety to let you be you.  Now use them as your gold template. How do you keep the rusty tin from cutting your arms?

A few tips to preserve your heart and mind for the gold and silver friends in your life.

  • Listen, but don’t share. Ask questions until you find one value you share (see list of values ). Spend time learning about these value in their life. For instance, “How have you been spontaneous this week?”) Give yourself the freedom to hold your values closely and privately.
  • Minefield alert.  Consider ahead of time the topics or values that leave your ears ringing, the places you feel picked apart and devalued by them.  Choose ahead of time to state the minefields to yourself and then plan to avoid these topics as a way to keep the peace. For instance, my friend accuses my anti-Juice Plus stance as the main reason I get sick, so I avoid topics of eating, cooking, restaurants and working out.
  • Sally offers a good list of ways to perk up your holidays, instead of getting stuck doing (or being) the false stuff.

As the Jewish King Solomon says,

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Renoir's Two Girls Reading in the Garden

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I have this friend I used to always see on or near Christmas. She and I have been friends for our whole lives. Seriously, we were babies in the church nursery together.

Though we’re now married with children we aren’t in the same places anymore. She and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes I’m not even sure I want to see her over those precious, packed days of holiday festivities. When we do get together we spend a lot more time reminiscing than diving deeper. I used to be afraid the time was misspent, but because there is an overlap of our common values, we still make time for each other.

I want to remain friends with the childhood girls who I sold brownies with on the roadside on endless Saturday mornings because I know the common experiences also carved similar shaped values in each of us. For a few of these friends I know we still cherish the same things, even if we express that in different ways. There are still authentic ways we can care for each other and enjoy each other’s friendship as adults.

But I also don’t want to feel so disappointed when it’s not “like it used to be.”

How can I be friends with those in my past with courage to be myself as I am now? How do we, as the old song goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold”?

Photo Credit: silversite.info

Take a moment and consider what makes old friends so valuable? What is gold and what is silver?

For me the gold is a friend who values much of the things I value. The silver is a friend who values some of the things I value.

All our values are different, but this doesn’t mean there’s only one set of values that count as good or godly or best. As a good friend of mine recently presented on life transitions at a Soulation Gathering, I learned precisely what values are. As she explained, transitions help us recognize what will stay the same and what must change through the transition. Values, she said, remain steady. Beliefs, she explained, often need updating.

For instance, if my friend moves away, I notice my belief that she would always be geographically close needs updating, but my value for authenticity in our friendship remains steady. It’s just expressed through email and phone calls instead of face-to-face time.

Realizing the distinction between beliefs and values helps me consider how to connect with those friends who are more than acquaintances but not best-ies. Let me break it down.

  1. Figure out what you value.
  2. Figure out what your old friends value.
  3. Take time to notice the overlap and spend time building up those conversations.

Let your values be part of your tool set of “holding onto yourself” as you re-engage with old friends this holiday season.

Here are a list of values (there are many more), use these to find three or four that are yours. Of course, you’ll be tempted to say you value all of them, but honestly, we all have a hierarchy of what we value. Can you find your top 3-4?

Values (in no particular order)

  • Security
  • Authenticity
  • Spontaneity
  • Preparation
  • Integrity
  • Fairness
  • Humility
  • Honesty
  • Simplicity
  • Dignity
  • Fidelity
  • Quality
  • Temperance
  • Service
  • Courage
  • Nurture
  • Justice
  • Potential
  • Patience
  • Encouragement
  • Work ethic / Industry
  • Freedom
  • Modesty
  • Responsibility
  • Kindness
  • Acceptance
  • Golden rule
  • Love

If my life’s values are Preparation and Justice I will find it difficult to simultaneously and equally value Spontaneity and Acceptance. Now let me be perfectly clear, this is not bad, this is actually good, for it means I’m an adult, knowing how to choose what God has put within me, to value the strengths I have and to act on them without constant apology.

Seeing old friends gives me a chance to take note of some values (still valuable, let’s call them the silver) that are not my values (also valuable, let’s call these the gold).

Photo Credit: goldalert.com

So you take the time, and you meet with an old friend or two. And after egg nog or hot apple cider and cookies we will find ourselves glad for the gold and grateful for the silver. And we will be also glad we’re adults, and no longer children. And we will be able to notice the sparkle and beauty that makes the holidays a time to thank God for his variety and purpose on this good earth.

Photo credit: designcrafters.com

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I looked up the other day and realized I was making plans for NOVEMEBER. Where has October gone?  Where has 2011 gone?  It seems like yesterday I was having iced tea instead of hot tea?  New Years and 2012 will all be here quickly.  Thanksgiving…for many that means big, steamy meals with family.  Thanksgiving also marks the coming of Christmas, Hanukah, Black Friday, reminders of what we don’t have in our bank accounts, sparkly and fragrant trees and last minute mailings.  And then…discounted gym memberships and suggestions on how-to-beat-the-winter-blues that follow New Years.

Same ‘ole, Same ‘ole

Every year, we cycle through the end-of-the-year holidays, the repetition allowing us to build traditions and also be bored by them.  Holidays are not happy times for many people.  Even for “normal” people, there is often tension during holiday plans.  Or loneliness, or a tremendous amount of stress, or sadness, or grief.  The All-American Holiday can include some difficult memories, difficult moments and difficult feelings.

Ready or Not

The hard part about what we see holidays “should” be (e.g. easy, warm, calm, fulfilling) is that the harder experiences cannot be avoided, or snuffed out by the best laid plans, creative decor, and cozy homes.  This year, I know people that will celebrate their first Thanksgiving without a much-loved family member, never to return to their table.  I know friends who will suffer through Thanksgiving with their difficult mothers or mothers-in-law, fathers or fathers-in-law, or wait for a sister or brother to criticize the way they always have, or try to connect with an estranged child, or cringe as mom and dad (or whoever) try to mask the regular angry, bitter interactions.  We could all list what friends might experience, fill in blanks of awkward or painful situations that they will face in the 2011 holiday season.  Remember to think about yourself…your own blank, your own strain or unfilled desire…and what you might like to see happen in a new and different way.

The Family Stone

When writing this post, I thought of a movie I love…The Family Stone.  An all-star cast presents a well-rounded version of what many holiday situations include – they involve people we may not like, nosy family members, lots of travel, awkward conversations around the dinner table.  This story is told over an upcoming engagement that never happens (hence the need for the family stone), but the bigger picture is what is happening in the family.  The matriarch whose

Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton & Sarah Jessica Parker in The Family Stone

breast cancer has returned and will soon die, the gay son and his partner who are trying to adopt for a second time, the awkwardly rigid girlfriend attending this family’s holiday gathering and seems to make a mess of things, even when it is not her fault.  What most can relate to in this story may not be the specific situations, but the desire you sense from all family members to enjoy the holiday, but the difficulty in having Reality and History as guests – we cannot escape what has happened to us all in our families…Reality and History do not take breaks for the holidays.

Any Ideas?

How can friends support one another during times of holiday stress, pain, loneliness or grief?  There are no quick fixes to the issues we face, ones that usually require work and change prior to the holidays (e.g. if something is ignored all year, why would it have changed by Thanksgiving?), and sometimes may never be fully resolved.

  • Do something new.  Make a new tradition.
  • Do something new with a friend.
  • Gather with a group of friends to encourage, celebrate, give thanks.
  • Share your true angst with someone you trust.
  • New Traditions With Friends!

    (One of my personal favorites…) Don’t eat your feelings.  It can start a nasty spiral downward.

  • Say no.
  • Offer a kind word to a friend you know is going to have a hard time.
  • Invite a lonely person to join your family.  Many people do not have the All-American meal, with or without the awkwardness.
If I Can Do It…
My attempt?  For a few years now, I have filled my Thanksgiving morning with my brother and some family friends (in matching knee socks) and thousands of others running the Dallas Turkey Trot.  The run to Starbucks afterwards allows for warmth, laughter and reconnection.  A great start to my day, to my holiday season.

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Every one of us can imagine that our friendships with our female family members could be better. For instance, think of your mother-daughter friendship, either with your own daughter (should you have one) or with your mother.

Many mothers love to have their daughters close, both relationally and geographically. I know a mother that felt very close to her daughter, until this daughter moved thousands of miles away. Now, where was their friendship? How would they remain close?

Moving to Steamboat away from my family has meant many changes for me.

Instead of a crisis, irrevocably harming their friendship, this move could be the first real adult test of their friendship.

Just as I cannot know if I can do a pull-up (I can’t) unless I hang from the monkey bars and try, I cannot know the strength of a friend unless we walk through a difficult time.

This month we’re talking about “fresh starts”, an idea that assumes something about our friendship needs a restart.

Think of a family friendship that feels strained, an unspoken awkwardness, a past sticky conversation or confrontation, a feeling that you are walked over or ignored or unwanted. I think every woman wants to have a better, fresher friendship with SOME female family member, don’t you?

How can you begin afresh and initiate a healthy friendship?

  1. What do you believe about your family member right now that bothers or concerns you? Something is causing the strain, what is it? Another way to put this is what expectations do you have and how have they not been met? My friend who left her family chose to join a mission in Hyderabad, India. She wanted her mother to be excited about her new sacrifice and adventure. She wanted her to believe that she still loved her even though she was moving. She also wanted her to promise to visit. These expectations led her to a lot of disappointed, at first. Any time we face our disappointment we have fresh material for forgiveness, though this doesn’t mean we just forget what happened.
  2. How do you treat the family member who has disappointed you? One jewel I’ve held close from Harriot Learner’s book The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships is mature, loving boundary making. Learner teaches if you are about to change something in your relationship, you are also responsible to maintain warmth and connection in your relationship. With my friend who moved to Hyderabad, the distance was created by her. She would be part of a work, community, church and friendship circle that didn’t overlapped with her mother. Because she was initiating change: it was also her responsibility to move with warmth toward her mother even as she geographically moved farther away. She regularly called her mother, footing the extra phone bills, and visited every few months for the first several years. Of course, her mother may not have felt warm and close with me. Practicing Learner’s principle with success does not mean the person will feel warm and tight with you. She may feel the opposite, but it is important to know that you have done what you could to be warm and loving even as you set up boundaries to move in any way.
  3. How do you respond when your family member doesn’t like what you do? Do you try to fix your family member’s feelings or can you listen to their disapproval or feel their coldness without picking up guilt? With my friend, she had to walk through some strained moments, where her mother was clearly not in the cheering section of her move. When her mother once came to visit her in her new home, her mom left early, when she spoke on the phone she didn’t know how much to share about how delighted she was with this new culture. But, she tried to let her be her because deep down she hoped she would, one day, be able to say, “My mom let me be me, even with a cross-cultural move halfway around the world.”

My friend has lived in India for over ten years. In that time her friendship with her mother has changed.

Market in Hyderabad

Her mother visits her regularly and she visits her mom in the States. Her mother accompanies her to the local market and they cook together like they did back in Tennessee. And when my friend visits, she stays with her mother in her old childhood home.

Though, they still work to be fully themselves with each other, they are beginning to see the integrity and hope of letting a huge move re-start their friendship.

As my friend put it, “Our friendship has gotten better, better even than the friendship we had when I lived in her same town. I feel supported and respected by her in ways I could never have experienced before.”

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Earlier in my marriage Dale and I would find ourselves fencing along the same corridor.  We still have arguments that sound like same song, second verse.

The surface features change, we’re disagreeing about how often the living room should be picked up instead of when the bathroom needs to be cleaned, but the root cause is the same. So is the outcome.

Dale feels misunderstood, because I assume he’s trying to hurt me.

I feel annoyed and un-listened to because he’s assumed the requests aren’t top priority.

I’ll be full steaming ahead to make a really good point, when Dale will stop and say,

Do you think I would have done that, said that, meant that, to hurt you?

Ohhhh, yea.

My husband is not the kind of person who would hurt me, not on purpose.

It’s been years since Dale’s introduced this pause into our arguments, but only recently my therapist put it more clearly, “First of all,” she said, “Remember that you’ve married a wonderful person.”

True and easy to agree with most days.

But in the fiery frustration of the moment it’s much easier to assume he left the papers out because he knew it would bother me.  I mean, why else would he do it?!

To believe the worst, to imagine he’s plotting to annoy me, to think the most incriminating backstory, to fail to offer Dale the benefit of the doubt comes easily to me. It’s the rut I fall into most naturally.

But the times I’ve told him, “Okay, I know you would never do this intentionally to hurt me, but I was wondering (insert request here),” our conversation burst with mutual understanding and even a few grins thrown in.

Now, how does my friendship with Dale apply to girlfriends?

I wish I could say this lesson is easily applicable to girl friends. But I’ve known girls who hurt their friends on purpose: the longtime friend who snubs you at the reunion, the sister who pokes the sore topic, the colleague who drops casual hints that prove her higher pay grade. I once told a friend, “What you said really hurt me!”

“Good!” she returned.  I was completely baffled at her outright animosity.  Later, I learned she had felt hurt by me (unintentionally, but still) and was returning in-kind.

Girls do know how to hurt on purpose.  But I don’t think good friends sow seeds of malicious hurt. In fact this might be a good way to distinguish a good friend from a frenemy. If they hurt me I can bank on them doing it unintentionally.  For instance, I’ve had long time, safe friends confront me. They’ve hurt me, but not on purpose.  Their loving, humble, careful approach in asking me to consider something, with freedom and openness to hear my side speaks louder than my hurt.

Girl friends that I will keep near me do not hurt on purpose.

A few months ago a childhood friend, call her Lavinia, told her husband about a personal failing (PF) I shared in confidence.  Her husband, unaware of the secrecy of the PF relayed the story to a mutual friend, who I’d rather not know about my PF.

The day Lavinia realized what she had done, she called me.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “What can I do to remedy this situation?”

Taking a cue from arguments with Dale, I had to ask myself questions:

  • Was Lavinia trying to hurt me?
  • Did this harm my ability to trust Lavinia in the future?
  • Was this a pattern of Lavinia’s in the past?

To each question I had to answer no.

Lavinia is a wonderful friend, someone whose heart is true, who is for me. Someone I can gladly extend the benefit of the doubt.

So I told her so, “I know you didn’t do this to hurt me or make me look bad.  Thank you for telling me what happened, for wanting to make amends.  But it’s okay.  I don’t see this as a make or break moment in our friendship.”

I could hear her sigh of relief into the phone.  After we chatted for a few more minutes I hung up and thought about how Dale had offered me the training wheels to easily coast into this moment.

I hopped off the chair to go find him and give that wonderful guy a big hug.

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