Friends

Ever since I can remember, I have been blessed with great friends. I attended the same school from second grade through college, so I enjoyed a real consistency of companionship. I have friends I’ve known for more than thirty years who I could call today if I needed them.

 

Throughout high school, there was a group of us—six girls—and we were each other’s best friends. We had a lot of shared interests but the most important common thread in our group was our lack of boyfriends. We didn’t have to choose between dates and friends. It just wasn’t an issue. Our Friday nights were free to hang with the girls.

 

Within this circle of friends, we each had a role to play: Melissa was the mother hen, driving us on road trips in her parents’ mini-van. Mature before her time and an intuitive nurturer, you could always count on Melissa to have a “mom’s supply” of necessary items in her purse. Liz was the creative genius. She was never bored. Liz could easily say your name backwards. She was the one who suggested we whistle in harmony on the way to class or invent a new handwriting style. Rachel made sure we kept it real. Her dry, dry, dry sense of humor cut through every situation until you could see the ridiculousness of the moment and read it for what it truly was. Jenne had the built-in map skills. She was all no non-sense and get-it-done with a heavy dose of kindness and compassion. Jenne kept us moving in the right direction—literally. Karen was the artistic one. She created beauty on canvases and with found objects. She made us jewelry boxes from reclaimed pizza boxes and a lobster costume for herself out of red felt and wood glue. Karen’s art was no respecter of labels.

 

I’m not exactly sure what my role was in this group, or what it is now. Maybe my purpose was to be grateful for it and document the uniqueness of these friendships.

 

Those five ladies prepared me for the relationships I have had since high school, like our friends who lived across the street when we were first married and finding our way in a new city. Those friends who became mothers at the same time as me were my lifeline to sanity.

 

I continue to have friends who amaze me. These relationships have been forged at church and at my kids’ schools and sports teams. They help me with pickup and drop-off. We stand side-by-side for hours, shivering at soccer games and cooking for teacher appreciation lunches.

 

Some days, they share large but mostly hidden, secret parts of themselves, honoring me with their trust. Other days, they tell me little things, like when my friend told me her magnolia tree smells like lemonade when she mows around it in the summertime. These small gifts make me smile and help me know them more fully. When I get bad news, they text and ask how they can help. When I get good news, they text and tell me they cried happy tears for me.

 

I often feel undeserving of their love and concern. No matter what, these friendships have encouraged me to be a better friend—to show up and be real and laugh easily and cry readily. It will take me the rest of my life to pay them back for their devotion, but it’s a privilege to try.

Caring for the Most Vulnerable

While driving to a doctor’s appointment the other day, I saw a group of cars and pedestrians stopped along a residential street. I looked to see where people were pointing, hanging out of car windows and standing along the sidewalk. Eventually, I found the reason for the traffic jam: a mother duck and her four ducklings in tow.

 

Busy people stopped to smile and coo at the little family as they leisurely crossed the street. A woman walking her dog pulled her pup back, wrapping the leash tightly around her hand to protect the ducks from a sudden attack. For a moment, we were all self-appointed caretakers for this fragile group.

 

I thought a lot about those ducks the rest of my day. I wondered where they came from and where they were going. Was there a pond nearby? Were they pets? I also considered the reaction of the other people on the street. Why did this poultry parade elicit such a response?

 

I think I know why. There’s something inside us—the part of our souls where love and generosity and thoughtfulness exists—that makes us want to shelter the vulnerable. When we give in to our better self, we feel compelled to defend the defenseless and love the broken.

 

Of course, we’re also created with the capacity to cause destruction and harm. And, unfortunately, that’s the impulse that gets the most press. We read more of murdering the innocent than protecting them. We’re told of more cruelty than kindness. And though it’s right to shine a light on abuse and injustice, I’m here to say there is still goodness (Thank goodness!).

 

There are teachers who live to impart knowledge and show compassion to our kids. There are military personnel, police officers, and firefighters who voluntarily put themselves in dangerous situations so that we can sleep at night. There are social workers and healthcare professionals who give their time to disadvantaged members of our community who would otherwise go unnoticed.

 

All of these servants in our community minister to the most vulnerable, the voiceless and oppressed. In other words, they see the parade of ducklings and they stop. Maybe we all have this capacity to nurture. We may just be out of practice.

No Pain, No Gain

Here’s a sentence you’ll never hear: “Abby is so graceful. She moves like a feather floating on a breeze.” I can hurt myself just walking down the stairs, but when you add complicated workout machines and the synchronized hefting of heavy weights to the equation, my clumsiness multiplies exponentially.

 

I have managed to fall off of and/or hurt myself on almost every exercise machine at my gym: I was brought to my knees by a moving treadmill. I nearly lost a toe in the stair climber. I hit myself in the face with the bar of the rowing machine.

 

To add insult to injury (literally), I actually pay someone to tell me to do these painful exercises. When I want to quit running or lunging or lifting, my workout coach pushes me to keep going and I do, knowing full well I won’t be able to move my arms or legs the next day.

 

So why do I submit myself to such torture? It’s about losing weight and gaining muscle and feeling energized, of course. It would be oh-so much simpler if I could just pay the monthly fee and see the desired results without showing up to exercise, but that’s not how it works.

 

For many of us—especially those of us with a bit of a stubborn streak—this “No Pain, No Gain” exchange can apply to our quest to transform into the people of character we’re striving to be. When I ask God to make me more patient, He doesn’t just hand over a big plate of patience. He allows me to suffer trials to develop it. When I ask God to help me trust Him with every part of my life, He doesn’t automatically make me a person fully reliant on Him. Instead, He gives me painful opportunities to stretch the muscle of my faith. The soreness and discomfort have a purpose.

 

After exercising, my workout coach suggests that we eat or drink protein to help those exhausted muscles repair and grow stronger. There have been times in my journey of faith where I need the same kind of post-workout treatment. My faith has been stretched with waiting on unanswered prayers and exposure to fresh examples of misery and despair. At the point of spiritual exhaustion, I need the reassurance of friends and the embrace of my kids. I need a quiet conversation with my husband just before bedtime. I need to sit with my Bible and my notebook behind a closed door. It’s time to reflect and repair and, hopefully, take a step closer to being the woman I’m meant to become.