Archive for the ‘surprise’ Category

So far, in our Tough Cookie Series we have taken a look at The Demanding FriendThe Unaware FriendThe Disappearing Friend and The Unforgiving Friend, The Guilting Friend.  We’ll close with the Confusing Friend.

With the Olympics these last few weeks I’ve noticed how meaningful each country’s anthem, played in their language, feels to the gold medalist. They suddenly hear their language, unique and special to their identity.

In friendship, we all speak a language unique to us. And our family of origin or our spouse know it better than anyone else. The key to good friendships is finding someone who wants to learn our language. And I’m not just talking about love language, I’m talking about the specific words we use that mean something nuanced to me or you.

When my husband and I find our son with a tummy ache, our first response is, “I’m sorry.”  This is our family’s way of saying “I’m sad you are in pain. I wish I could make it better.”

But that’s just our family. When our babysitter hangs out with our son, she was intrigued that a two year old is so quick to say, “I’m sorry.” She’s surprised that he tells her, “I’m sorry,” when she scratches her arm on the hike.

She and most of the world use “I’m sorry,” to communicate personal responsibility in the pain.  But in our family it means something different.

This doesn’t mean that the way we use, “I’m sorry” is the right way.  It is simply our shorthand to empathize.

We all have ways to communicate unique to us, our language. But to others this dialect can feel confusing.

The longer you walk with a close friend the more chances you’ll have to face their confusing side.

We communicate one thing, but our friend hears something else.  The only way out of confusing-ness is to learn how to communicate, not necessarily better, but more appropriately. Friendship is nothing if not learning another language.

Each friendship gives us new ways to communicate. In the end we’ll both know another language.

Friendship is one way immersion. Each friendship is a two-way language course, with new confusing ways of communication crossing and hopefully forcing each of us to stop and evaluate how to communicate better. We’ll both leave changed, not just one of us.

If your friend requires you to do all the language learning and has not learned your ways of communicating, guess what?

You’re being treated as a foreigner in your friend’s country with no emotional culture or language to share.  Instead you need to be acting as two sojourners traveling to each other’s countries.

Sometimes it’s easier to spot these foreigner friends in other situations than in our friendships.  You see the mother who requires her child to fit into her life from food to bedtime to travel. She makes no accommodation for her child’s sleep schedule or eating needs. The child’s language is being erased by the mother’s. Or you see the mother who terminates all her work, interests and outside-the-home hobbies for her child. She forgets what used to make her feel alive, she stops having friendships outside of her children’s friend’s parents. She loses her own language for her child’s.

Both mothers are losing something precious.

The same with friendships. We each have friends who have required that we learn their language. The question that is key is how have your friends learned yours? How have you asked them to change their communication for your needs?

If your friend asks you to text her back immediately to show you care, how have you (say you’re an introvert) explained that you feel close when your friend doesn’t expect to see you each week. How has your friend learned your language enough to respect and speak your language (maybe an email instead of demanding a get-together each week).

Confusing friends are normal, but one-way confusion leads, inevitably, to an imperialistic relationship.  We don’t want to be the colony that our friend takes over and remakes her image.  We all need to know that our language, even if it at first feels like confusing communication, is cared about enough for someone to learn our native tongue.

But if you find yourself learning lots of new languages with your friends, but not seeing your friend’s learning your language… it’s time to find a better friends.

Good friends want to know how to speak with you, in your language. And they will make the effort to keep trying, even if their pronunciation is off and their grammar silly.

They will try because they think you are worth it.


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When I first moved to Virginia I knew I needed friends. It was easy to find girls like me.

Photo credit: pamsclipart.com

That’s a rock solid foundation for a friendship: similar interests.

I found a friend, call her Debbie, who loved French class and good tea, talking theology and breaking out of the box in loving Jesus. She cared about organization (have I mentioned that I’m really organized?) and was a true servant.

Seriously, she was always available for me. I cried in her dorm room when I found out some horrible news and I felt comfortable enough to ask for help with my laundry when I was in a pinch.

She was faithful, too. She’d stand up for me and stuck by me when a few other friends badmouthed me.

Sounds like a perfect friend, doesn’t it?

Just when everything seemed to be going peachy, when I would talk to others about how great and stable, faithful and true Debbie was to me, her younger sister came to UVA.

I met and befriended her because I felt a loyally to her, through my friendship to Debbie.

Surprisingly, this angered Debbie. You can hypothesize all you want, you can call it jealousy or possessiveness. You can say I was short-sighted to expect to be friends with both sisters.

Regardless, Debbie confronted and turned on me in a verbal attack I’m glad I’ve mostly forgotten. The words were searing, they took advantage of weaknesses I had revealed and cut me off.

When I prayed and thought and in the end asked for another audience with her, it was as if I was talking to another person. She even mocked me for asking for another chance.

Debbie used our closeness to be cruel. She finished our conversation with warning me away from her sister and set me up for months and months of coldness. Anytime I tried to be warm she cut me off with sarcasm or belittling remarks.

About this time I began analyzing what I thought we had as a friendship.

Was it all my fault?

Could I do something to make things better?

Photo credit: static.freepik.com

But years later I see what was wrong. As Virginia Woolf says, “Truth had run through my fingers.  Every drop had escaped.”

I didn’t realize the truth of two major things.

First, Debbie was quick to meet any need I had, but she couldn’t share a need of her own. She never let me help her. I can’t even imagine her crying on my shoulder or letting me do her laundry. She was needless. This was the first lie in our friendship. Now, I believe Debbie thought other people would judge her if she showed her needs. She, like all of us, believed everyone was judging her as much as she was judging them.  In looking back I can see that any time I let her help me, she ended up feeling superior, stronger, more “together”. There is nothing quite so poisonous to a friendship as taking the moral high road.

Every time.

Debbie could not admit to failing, to being wrong, to needing from me.  But, ironically she did need something, she needed me to need her.

Second, Debbie disagreed with the cardinal rule for all my relationships: there is never a good reason to be unkind.  Dale taught me that years later, but looking back I can see that it is a principle grounded in the heart of everything good about love.  Debbie believed my friendship with her younger sister warranted cruelty. To date she remains one of the most unkind women I’ve been so close to.

Her about-face in how she treated me scared me because I felt as if I was involved with someone who had two personalities.  It shocked and sent me on a looping road of what I had done to cause this.

But if there really is never a good reason to be unkind, then I can still ask and expect kindness even if I’ve made a mistake.

Looking back it would be easy to think of the years of being Debbie’s friend as a waste, as time lost with someone I am no longer close to.

But, I feel both sadness and gratitude. Sadness over Debbie and her current friendships (I know she continues to have trouble being close to anyone).  Gratitude to God, for working a deeper awareness of love and how to build friendships. Love rejoices in the truth, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. And I didn’t let the truth about Debbie come into my belief in how great she was.

I know I need to find women who really rejoice in the truth . . . about themselves.  I need . . .

1- Friends who will let me help them as well as who will help me.

2- Friends who follow their unkindness with humility and apology.

3- Friends who don’t secretly believe they are better than me. Friends who I feel lucky to be close to and who count themselves lucky to hang out with me.

Good friendships will be natural in one way and hard work in another. But the naturalness will grow and the hard work will feel like a highway going somewhere, not a looping track.

Virginia Woolf described that naturalness well at a dinner party where she beautifully writes about the rich yellow flame of good conversation.  “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

What poor foundations have you found in your friendships? Will you share with us so we can build stronger friends for the future?

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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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We talk a good forgiving line as long as somebody else needs to do it, but few of us have the heart for it while we are dangling from one end of a bond broken by somebody else’s cruelty.

(Lewis B. Smedes)

We women can definitely hold a grudge.  We can also confuse being nice with avoidance and end up not addressing situations that warrant a good discussion, and possibly an apology and forgiveness.

When Is Forgiveness Important?

When do I forgive? The short answer is:  when you are hurt and when you are ready.  Indicators that there is a problem might be – avoiding being together, avoiding talking about the situation, awkwardness, talking about the friend with someone else repeatedly, etc.  Most of the time, you just know.  A few ways we respond to being hurt by a friend are:

  • fear and anger
  • sadness and surprise
  • justification or explaining
  • avoidance
  • retaliation or revenge
  • denial or pretending

Forgiveness Is A Gift

What is Forgiveness?

One main thing to understand about forgiveness is that it is a gift, to both the giver and the receiver.

 Forgiveness is cultivating empathy, sympathy and compassion following a hurt or offense.

    • Changing emotional attachment to a transgression
    • Choosing to remember differently
    • An act of mercy toward the offender, a gift
    • A learned skill and lifestyle

What is Unforgiveness?

When we don’t forgive, it is like having a cup of poison and drinking it ourselves.  We think we are hurting the other person by withholding forgiveness, but really, we only harm ourselves. Harboring unforgiveness can show up as stress in our bodies – tension, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, etc….or in our moods – irritability, frustration, anger, resentment, negative outlook, etc.

My Brain Hurts!…My Body Hurts!…My Heart Hurts!

Not addressing hurtful situations can grow into unforgiveness, which can have an emotional and physical impact on us.  Basically, when we grow roots of unforgiveness, we are acting in a self-protective manner.  As humans we protect ourselves when there is a threat to our emotional or physical well-being.  Our brain takes in the information and dumps chemicals into our bodies to help us respond appropriately.  Through unforgiveness, unfortunately, we continue to respond as if there is a threat – even when it is unnecessary.  When this happens, those stress chemicals stay in our bodies and we adjust to living in a state of anxiety.  The result is a frazzled emotional system that interprets neutral or positive things as negative or threatening and a physical body that remains poised for fighting or running away.  The emotional impact living in a state of stress or unforgiveness is lack of trust, broken or strained relationships, anger, irritation, depression and anxiety. The physical results of living in a state of stress might be headaches, insomnia, tension, anxiety, etc.   Basically, living in a state of stress through unforgiveness is exhausting.

Forgiveness is more than:

~ Accepting what happened
~ Ceasing to be angry or hurt
~ Being neutral toward the offender
~ Making yourself feel good or better

Faux Forgiveness: It Looks Good But Is It REAL?

Forgiveness is NOT:

  • erasing the event or hurtful memories
  • letting the offender off the hook
  • condoning, excusing, forgetting, justifying, calming down after a hurtful event
  • faux-forgiveness (just saying the words)

Faux- Forgiveness…

hollow forgivenessperson verbally says they forgive but secretly harbors a grudge

silent forgiveness – person intentionally forgives but does not admit the forgiveness to the offender.  (like buying a gift for someone and putting it in a closet and never giving it to them)

What Steps Do I Take To Forgive?

Here is a great model to follow for practicing the art of forgiveness:  REACH.

Hint:  chose a small event first for practice!  The REACH Steps to Forgiveness are outlined in this document.

R = Recall the Hurt

  • use a pen and paper, describe in detail what occurred – include all you can remember –  sights, sounds, smells, words said, etc.
E = Empathy (this can be hard but push through!)
  • Empathy is vital to forgiveness – it allows you to think and feel differently about the person
  • Empathy = seeing things from another’s point of view
  • Think of empathy as:  “I will not forget, but I will remember differently.”
  • Write the details of your empathy.  Writing down the other perspective is a great way to do this.
A = Altruistic (others-focused) Gift
Remember that forgiveness is a gift for both you and your friend that hurt you.  Empathy gets you ready for this giving this gift.
  • Offering forgiveness begins to relieve you of the burden and stress of unforgiveness.
C = Commit To Publically Forgive
Sharing your decision to forgive helps to cement your forgiveness process.  This helps to prevent a barrier when old feelings bubble to the surface.
  • Anticipate that wounds already forgiven will still hurt sometimes (see: What Forgiveness Is Not)
  • Symbolize your forgiveness:  a certificate of forgiveness, a rock placed in the garden, a planted seed that grows into a beautiful plant or any meaningful small token that represents your forgiveness progress.  Since forgiveness is a process, you can return to these acts of commitment when old feelings of hurt or anger resurface.
H = Hold Onto Forgiveness
  • Without the weight of negative feelings like resentment, bitterness, fear and anger – flashbacks and memories pack less of a punch.
If negative feelings persist, this might mean there are some unaddressed beliefs or emotions about the event that need to be readdressed.  This sometimes happens through seasons of life when an event might take on different meaning.  Build on the REACH work you have already done, repeat the process and pursue continued healing.
Read E. L. Worthington’s work on forgiveness – he offers some great research and information on the topic, including the REACH process.  Much of this post was adapted from his book Forgiveness and Reconciling: Bridges to Healing and Hope (2003).

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“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a [sister].” Proverbs 18:24

During the first year of getting to know Sally, I found myself growing more and more irked with her style of returning phone calls.  To my mind she put me off. Where I would call friends back the day they called me, Sally did not.

After a week which felt like Sally ignoring me, I finally decided to confront the issue. I would let her know that I felt like it took forever to get together and that I felt like she was avoiding me.

I picked up the phone and called, instead of getting voicemail I got Sally’s sunny, “Hello!”

“I have a problem,” I said soon after her greeting.  “I feel like I have to call a lot of times to get ahold of you.”  As soon as I said it I felt a little whiney.  “I guess I’m just wondering if you really have time to get together and if you do, can you get back to me sooner?”

Sally responded so calmly, no yelling or attack back at me.  I can’t remember word for word what she said, but she did confess that when she heard my complaint her first reaction was to roll her eyes.

I was sort of flabbergasted that she told me that, I mean, she didn’t have to. Talk about honesty.  Then, she said, “But I don’t want to have that reaction when you call!”

I totally agreed, though inside I was wondering if I was a pain-in-the-butt friend, demanding and needy.  Sally went on to talk about how she was doing her best to get back to me and how it would help if I could be understanding of her schedule. She reminded me that we had been friends for over a year and by this time she hoped I would understand that she valued me and our friendship.

I remember thinking, “A year? Really? We’ve known each other that long?”  She didn’t inundate me with reassurances that she liked our friendship, she simply pointed to the evidence of time, interaction and intention she had already invested.

I hung up thinking that Sally was right, her record did prove she cared, but I was still sort of annoyed with myself because my insecurity and impatience had pushed me to make a hasty, confrontative phone call.

A few days later Sally and I were driving to a women’s Bible study together.  After we had spent several minutes talking about our last few days, she said, “I’ve noticed that when you have something to share you have this way of approaching  me, with a ‘ready, shoot, aim’ approach.”

It took a moment for me to even realize she was confronting me. All I could say was, “Really?”

The way she explained it, that I would shoot before I would aim was totally true.  It was so weird but I felt understood in my mistake. Sally’s little analogy (she is, by the way, brilliant with metaphors) was packed with knowledge and insight into who I was. Sally knew that I tended to jump to the confrontation before thinking carefully about what I was saying. She was telling me I was hasty and perhaps impatient, but in a way I could hear, even better, totally accept.

She didn’t shame me; she didn’t pull away her warmth; she was kind and even able to laugh about it with me as I realized she was right. I could even tell her I was sorry without feeling dumb about it.

Sally’s formula was simple and full of intentional love:

1- Talk about what you both care about, this allows you both to connect which is the point of your friendship in the first place.

2- Tell her how you’re feeling in a brief, clear way that expresses something that bothers you.

3- Return to your original conversation to be sure that both of you remember that you care about and feel warmly toward the other.

Fudge on 1 or 3 and the confrontation moment will have the potential to rain out your friendship.

My mentor in college once shared a painful experience about confronting her longtime friend.  They never made it to #3, her friend was so insulted that something she had done was hurtful she ended up attacking my mentor.

In the end her friend withdrew her warmth leaving my mentor feeling isolated and punished.  As she said, some friendships mistakenly feel that they can make it through steps 1-3, but in reality, can’t.

I remember and still seek this mentor’s advice, as her experience reminds me that sometimes our friends unintentionally seem to offer more than they can.  As she puts it, we can only continue to grow close to friends who want to know our feelings, even the painful ones.

The friends who long to know what we think and feel, in all seasons, these are the friends who stick closer than sisters.

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After high school, did you have a college or work experience that led you to an entirely new community?

I left Los Angeles for the beautifully bricked, white columned campus at the  University of Virginia, bright-eyed to study American history.

The Rotunda at UVA

The first few weeks were packed with events I can’t help but call mixers, meet and greet, get-out-and-introduce-yourself activities. I saw how exciting and uncomfortable it was to be entirely  unknown, to have the chance to describe yourself in one sentence and be judged accordingly.

I had grown up in a community that invariably knew my family before it knew me. I was Fred Taylor’s daughter–a child of an elder at church, a daughter of an insurance salesman and backpacker, Mary Taylor’s grand daughter–in a lineage of faithful church service, Mina’s oldest–her friends wondered how much of my mom’s creative genius I had inherited, Engracia’s grand daughter, the one she took on walks introducing her to neighbors before picking their cumquats.My family Spring 2010 - photo credit Jeff Lefever

Every time I return home, for a holiday or even for a drive-by visit during a Los Angeles speaking gig, I remember the old patterns of who I am at home.

There are labels we find sticking to us, sometimes stuck to our back without us knowing that define us growing up, labels that make it significantly difficult to grow beyond.  I was the oldest, bossy daughter. The number one command that I broke was “Being the mother.”  Bossy Jonalyn returns home once again.

I was also the outspoken, enthusiastic, talkative one. When Myers-Briggs personality tests came out there was no doubt that I was an extrovert.  Family friends and members saw it in me even before I could take the test.  My mother has stories of my aptness to speak before I turned two and ask impossible questions. My favorite story is after a stream of my talking, she announced, “Joni, I need no questions for five minutes? Unless it’s an emergency, no questions, okay?”

“Okay, Mommy!” I cheerfully sang from the back seat.  Intent on pleasing I looked out the window and the passing trees. Thirty seconds later I cried, “Mommy, THIS is an emergency!  Can we go to the moon?”

Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s is upon us, with opportunities to return home, to visit with family who will remind us of who we were growing up, with stories of our antics and embarassing tendencies–all of which reveal something about us. But they might not always help reveal all we are today.

When I return home, I’m often amazed at how this community-dubbed extrovert, loves to be in her spare room reading.  I’m surprised that I’m not quite as bossy as I used to be.  Sometimes, I think my family isn’t sure who’ve I’ve become either.

Years ago, as I was discovering my strengths beyond my family’s description, a good friend, Lisa told me that it would be helpful to explain to my childhood friends how I had changed.

“Do you think I’m different now than I was a teenager? I asked Lisa.

“In a lot of ways you are,” Lisa replied.

What person were you at home that have since changed?  How do your friends view you? Has your family been given the chance of interaction with the grown-up version of yourself?

Take a moment before you go home to list out a few things–make them the strengths–that describe who you are.  When you arrive home consider if this list matches who your family know you to be.

This last Thanksgiving I considered my current work in the non-profit sector, how I work to listen to what people say and what they don’t say, to help others grow more healthy, more appropriately human, and I considered bringing that side of Jonalyn to my family.

Instead of fearing they’d continue to label me the bossy older sister, or the show-off, or the queen bee (all labels of my past), I gave them a taste, an update of who this woman has become today.  In my friendships, I can offer honesty and gentleness, good listening and sharp thinking.

I brought this to my brother and sister this Thanksgiving.

And surprise! I had some of the best, most grown-up (in the best sense of the word), encouraging interaction with them.  No heated discussions, no arguments, no accusations of being the bossy older sister.

Jacob plays with Finn after lunch

My brother and I had our first grown-up outing together, lunch at Thai Time.  Finn cordially dozed while we caught up. I really enjoyed hearing about his life goals, what he cares about and the food was wonderful.  Jacob even warmed up to Finn.

My sister Abby and I had such a good time talking while we made cookies, swapping book ideas (visit her wry blog at Abby’s Alley), sharing our challenges of living in a small space, that we burned the snickerdoodles.  I count those smokey fumes evidence of success.

This holiday season consider the strengths you bring to your friendships that you can also share with your family.

What did you discover in your family and in yourself? Fun, frazzled or frustrated comments welcome!

Sisters - photo credit Jeff Lefever

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