Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Song that Katie Grace Taught Me

There’s this girl I know. Until I met her, I’d never known anyone so fearless and authentic, and so comfortable in their own skin. If I hadn’t lived with her, I wouldn’t believe a girl could be so sure of her own heart. But that’s just part of what Katie Grace has taught me.
The day she was born, my dream of having a daughter came true. I had hoped against hope that our third child would be a girl, afraid to speak my wish out loud. And then she was there—all seven pounds and three ounces of soft, pink perfection! I can remember just staring at her as she slept in my arms, growing more in love with her with each passing moment. I was anxious to see how raising a daughter would be different from my boys. I pictured frilly dresses, hair bows, and pink everything. But Katie had other ideas.
My girl embraced life with a sense of adventure and daring—she loved to move fast, climb high, and walk to the edge of every high place she found. She tried to do everything her brothers did, and it seemed that nothing scared or overwhelmed her. She walked when she was eight months old and was running by the time she was ten months old. She climbed the furniture and used toys to get on top of the pool table. When she was 18 months old, I found her perched on the top of the refrigerator, looking down at me and smiling and laughing at her great adventure.
And talk—oh my, that girl could talk! She was talking by the end of her first year, and never seemed to run out of words. When conversations lagged, she would break into song—mixing her words with whatever random melody would pop into her head, creating endless nonsensical songs that always made me smile. Even now, I can picture her sitting on the couch, playing with her toys and singing to them about everything she was doing—and I can see her smile up at me and ask how I liked her song.
It’s not always easy growing up with two big brothers. But Katie made the most of it, learning to appreciate dinosaurs as well as dolls; trucks as well as tea parties; superheroes as well as Snow White. She didn’t just keep up with them, she learned to embrace her femininity and make the most of it. She could be fearless in her attempts to join in their rough and tumble play one minute, and batting her eyes at her Daddy the next, as she asked for a special treat. The boys would get so frustrated with the way she could turn on the sweet charm with her Daddy and get out of trouble!
There was only one time that Katie was afraid…nighttime. While the boys shared a bedroom, she slept alone. She would prolong bedtime for as long as she could and often woke at night with bad dreams. At one point, I woke up to find her at my bedside almost every night, asking if she could crawl into bed with me and snuggle, because she had been awakened by a dream that upset her. During the day-time she moved through life with energy and laughter, but at night her anxious thoughts would come out in her dreams.
And then adolescence came along and my girl began to grow and explore life in new ways. Katie found her own style in clothes and music and books. It was wonderful watching her develop her singing voice and share her talent at school and at church. She joined the Acro Team (Exhibition group specializing in a combination of gymnastics and cheerleading skills) her Senior year at boarding school and turned her love for climbing and standing at the edge into a new extracurricular activity that she loved!  
Katie also became quieter and more introspective. At the dinner table, she stopped fighting to join her brothers’ conversations and sat there quietly listening and watching their interactions. I worried that she was going to fade into the background and lose her voice. I would “push pause” on the talk at the table and ask Katie what she thought about the conversation of the day and then nudge her brothers into a habit of listening to her answers.
My girl was noticing that there were times she agreed with her brothers and times she didn’t. She was learning that she didn’t need to adopt their opinions as her own, and that disagreeing didn’t mean they would grow apart from each other. That disagreement might manifest itself as a feisty retort or a quiet comment spoken in a tone that was all business. Sometimes she would be so passionate about her thoughts that tears would spring to her eyes—and she was never ashamed of her tears.
Katie Grace is 23 years old and such an amazing young woman! She works hard and loves deeply and is about to set off on a new chapter of life, as she prepares to move far away and go back to college to study nursing. She sees that the path ahead of her will be hard in spots, but she’s not backing down—she’s climbing higher, so that she can look over the edge and smile about how proud she is to have made it.
I watch my girl in awe, to be honest. Every day I wish I could be more like her. Every day she is teaching me.
To listen with my heart and know that it’s OK to disagree with those I love.
To look within, ask the hard questions, and know that who I am is more than good enough.
To push past obstacles, reach for my dreams, and climb higher than I thought possible to see what is just over the edge on my own path.
And I just know that Katie Grace and I will look at each other and grin when we see how high our climb has taken us.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Song that Wendy Taught Me About Friendship

It began in an online Bible study group that we both belonged to; I learned a bit of her story and she learned a bit of mine. Our group was pretty close-knit, but sharing my whole heart and soul was still hard for me. I was wrestling with powerful not good enough feelings in my current friendships and struggled to be completely vulnerable.

I prayed for her—for health concerns and her children. She prayed for me—for family losses and stress at work. We exchanged messages on Facebook about our work as Small Group Leaders. It felt natural and easy and we enjoyed helping each other. Wendy took the first step toward vulnerability and sharing, and I felt drawn to her; I felt a strong desire to be a part of her story.

Wendy and I met in person for the first time in August 2014 at a book launch event. Normally, she would be a thousand miles away, but she and her son Alex were on a road trip exploring Civil War battle sites and would be able to attend the event in Charlotte, NC. I was so excited to meet her! 

So were about 40 other people she knew through Proverbs 31 Ministries.

We exchanged a brief hello and she was whisked away to meet more of the women attending. It was a short, but powerful, first impression. I could see that Wendy had all the friends she needed and there was little need for me in her life. It was pretty much what I’d experienced with every new school I’d entered as a kid.

What surprised me was a series of messages, after that first encounter, leading up to the OBS Retreat in September. Wendy wanted some time to talk alone—apart from the bustle of a crowd of women. I assured her this would happen, but she seemed uncertain I would follow through.

I arrived at the Retreat with a heart tender from the events of the morning. I messaged Wendy to see if she had arrived; it seemed like we would never be in the same place, but eventually we connected! It was important to me that she know I would keep my promise and that I wanted to get to know her better. I asked if she would like to go for a walk and we headed down the path…about ten yards, to the first available bench. As we sat down, I turned toward her and dove immediately into a pretty serious topic we had messaged about recently. As we talked, I realized our connection was just so powerful! We could finish each other’s sentences from the beginning (OK, I might have been interrupting…) and I felt like she could read my thoughts. We ended up sitting together for every meeting and almost every meal, and we went for a ten-yard walk to that bench on Saturday and Sunday, too.

On Saturday, the speaker encouraged us to consider the dream God had put in our hearts. I knew what mine was, but I was afraid to say it out loud. When Wendy and I took our ten-yard walk, she sensed that I was holding something in and she asked me about it. I dared to tell her about my idea to write a series of blog posts about the ways the different people in my life had influenced me; I wanted to share the “songs” they had taught me. 

My Mockingbird idea was laid out in full view.

I was terrified to be so open about my dream, but Wendy loved the idea! She made me promise to write it. She asked me to make a weekly appointment with myself, and promised to hold me accountable (and she has). She offered to review and edit my posts and told me she would always be completely honest about my writing (and she has). Because she tells me what she doesn’t like and what doesn’t ring true, I know I can believe her when she tells me it’s “just right”. 

We said good-bye on Sunday with trepidation. I know we both wondered if our date to talk on the phone the next Sunday would actually happen. She was afraid I would forget her when she was 1000 miles away. I was afraid I would never be anyone’s first choice. But our fears were never realized. We talked for an hour that first Sunday; we talked for 90 minutes the Sunday after that. Each day and week and month and year have brought us closer together, as we intentionally and truthfully connect and help each other grow.

And that is the song that Wendy taught me and teaches me every single day. The Song of Truth is the bedrock of our friendship; we share our heart even when it is hard. I know the real Wendy, and love and admire her because she shares herself with me. She knows exactly who I am and loves the real me. And then she challenges me to grow. I am more than good enough and always her first choice!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Song That Friendship Taught Me

Moving so often as a child was hard. School after school—new friends and more new friends. Sometimes I found my niche right away and sometimes I never really fit in. Many of the kids I wanted to befriend were fine with a casual friendship, but made it clear they didn’t need anything more. In other places, I would bond with someone quickly, only to be ripped apart a year later when we moved again.

Over and over again, I experienced not fitting in, not being needed, not being good enough, not being anyone's first choice. It didn’t take much for that message to resonate in my heart.

To dig in deeply. 

To make me desperate to figure out where I belonged.

The first stable social group I had was my friends at boarding school. My Sophomore year I spent most of my social energy on hanging out with a bunch of kids who were in full-blown rebellion. I wasn’t far from that point myself and I loved the attention I received for breaking the rules. Most of them were expelled from school that year and I had to “re-group” my Junior year.

Most of them. There were two girls I met that year that I became incredibly close to. Tami was my roommate and Wendy lived across the hall. We shared the typical dormitory confidences and some disagreements, but we were definitely fixtures in each other's lives. My friendship with Tami and Wendy formed the framework for female friendships that sustained me over the years. I learned about the importance of honesty and vulnerability from them. And I learned about the hurt of broken confidences and forgotten promises. They taught me the strength that comes from being woven into each other’s lives and the emptiness you feel when you realize you’ve unraveled. I let them down sometimes, but they didn’t let go of me—and vice versa. 

Wendy and I remained close friends after graduation. She understood when I was sad and discouraged, and she never stopped loving me, even when I wasn’t the best friend she needed. To this day, I can look forward to the occasional comment on my Facebook page reminding me that we have a lasting bond. Tami and I were close for a few years, but in adulthood we drifted apart and my attempts to stay in contact with her were unsuccessful; I gave up several years ago. 

Over the years that followed, I had many more transient female friendships. Some were intensely important for a season, but most just grew out of common activities like church or our children’s social groups.

But then two special friends came into my life. We met through church and school activities. Through our volunteer work at our kids’ private school, we developed a friendship that deepened when they helped me through a family crisis. Once again, I had friends who would make me their first choice. And I grew more and more dependent on their friendship.

The first heartbreak came when one of them moved--sixteen hours away by car. 

I cried when she left, because I suspected she was the glue that held the three of us together. Once she was so far away, the two of us talked less often, but our conversations were always meaningful. We could go months without talking and pick things right up where we left off. To this day, we can just look at each other and know that our hearts are still connected.

My other friend and I grew closer after the move—talking and texting every day. Other friends moved in and out of her life (she was seriously the most popular person I knew) but our friendship was steady and strong. At times I would get a bit jealous of all the people who wanted to be part of her life, but we maintained an active and growing friendship throughout the next few years. And through her I made other friends who became very important to me.

And then she moved. And I cried again at another loss. 

She was only a couple of hours away, so it seemed completely doable to maintain our friendship. After all, it was a place I travelled to frequently, as my children were nearby. For a long time, we continued talking almost daily. We often stayed at her home when we went up to visit. There was always time for coffee and conversation.

Until there wasn’t. 

We were visiting and had gone to church together. She said, “You don’t mind if I go and sit with _________. I don’t get to see them very often and want to catch up with them.” 

I said I didn’t mind. But I did. A lot. After all, I didn’t see her that often and those people lived right there in the same town. 

I was fine with moving from “BFF” to “close friend” most of the time. But again and again during a visit, she would leave me to go and hang out with someone else. I was so insecure in my ability to find a new best friend that I convinced myself that everything was OK.

All of that changed in September 2014. It was the weekend of the Proverbs 31 OBS Retreat, which just happened to be near her home, and I had emailed her a couple of months prior to see if we could have a “girls’ day” on the Thursday before the retreat started. I knew September was often a busy month for her, so I was careful to ask if she had other plans. After a few days, she replied that she was free and we planned the day. 

Thursday was wonderful!  We went for a drive and shopped and talked and ate and had so much fun. We stayed up late talking and I looked forward to spending the morning together the following day, before I left for the retreat.

After breakfast on Friday, she asked me when I planned to leave, because she had some friends coming over so they could all leave together for a girls’ weekend. It was pretty clear that she needed our visit to be ended by the time they arrived, so she could focus on them. She knew a couple of them really needed to talk. I understood, didn’t I?

I understood. I was no longer her first choice. I packed and was gone within thirty minutes. I knew it was done. I was done. I was tired of not being good enough to spend time with when someone better came along. I treated myself to a fancy lunch and a couple of glasses of wine. I was so sad and felt so unnecessary. I had become someone who was easy to leave behind.

I headed to the retreat with a heart that was heavy. I felt unwanted, unimportant, and definitely not good enough for anyone to invest time and energy in.

And that day I met Wendy. And everything I knew about friendship changed.

How ironic that as this friend drifted away, another Wendy told me she’d never give up on me. But that's another story...