Friday, June 27, 2014

Girlfriending Part Four: My Story of Finding Mutuality in Friendship

Wish we were sharing space right now. My space is unusually sacred...or at least it feels unusually sacred this morning! My mom picked up Liam for a few hours and my heart is so thankful. After a few weeks, even the most in love mama's heart needs an ever loving moment of quiet in her home! I rejoice in the noise and at this moment, I rejoice in the silence. And in the presence of my latte to my left. And in music playing loudly to set a tone in this space. Like I said, I wish we were sharing the space. That is, as long as you'd be okay sitting quietly with me!

Good morning girlfriends! Ahhhh I know that plenty of people will read this well after morning time, but I love the phrase 'good morning.' It's happy. It's hopeful. It's like a latte in the early hours. Heart lifting. So good morning to you!

If you're a process person and want to read the three posts on girlfriending leading up to this one, here you go. Part one, part two, and part three.

May I just say that this series on girlfriending has been so meaningful to me? It means so much to me that I have had the honor of sharing it with you. That you have done me the honor of reading. This topic is near and dear to my heart and I have enjoyed the process of hashing it out with you. I have a feeling I will read back in a few months and see many tweaks to be made so thanks for embracing the raw first version with me. The last two Fridays were delightful off weeks from blogging for me because vacation happened! PRAISES! It was good and I am thankful - I mean, look at that placid blanket of green and blue creation behind us!

But I am jumping back into the series today and maybe it's the latte, maybe it's the music, I don't know but my fingers are tingly as I type. I'd like to tell you a story today. It's another piece of my story and it has to do with my journey to developing mutuality in girlfriending. Ever since I tapped on mutuality as a sign of health in relationships, I knew that there was more to that point and I'm hoping to dig deeper together this morning.

When you look up the definition of the word mutual or mutuality - the most common word you'll find defining it is the word 'shared.' Think about toddlers learning to share (particularly relevant in my world at the moment lol!). A huge part of sharing inevitably becomes taking turns. 'Okay Liam, now Isaiah gets ten minutes to play with the toy. Your ten minutes are over. Take your hands off of the toy and let him enjoy it. No crying.' Every single little human struggles to embrace the concept! And as we grow in age, it gets more complicated but we still encounter moments of struggling to share - to give and to take.

Are your relationships marked by mutuality? Do you both take time to dig at each other's hearts at some point? Can you both easily see when one of you needs the 'spotlight' for a bit and go with that? And after, does she have a heart to check in with you? Of course, mutuality does not mean 50/50. There's no such thing as striking the perfect balance. This is referring more to an overall tone to the relationship. If you take a step back at look at your time spent together from high up - is your conversational time spent talking about both of your journeys or more about one of your journeys? Big picture is the only way to take an honest look at this because certainly, we go through seasons and I may be in a season where I am the one who is simply weak and needs a lot more than the other. If we were to look at that one season, it would look whacked out of balance. Look at the whole of the relational journey.

And here's where we come to my personal journey with mutuality. There are two types in relationships: the giver and the taker. Healthy girlfriending is marked by stepping into both roles - back and forth.

For many years, I was the chronic giver.

To some, it may have looked awesome. I had plenty of close friendships and they were truly enjoyable. Friends shared honestly with me because I tried to listen with compassion instead of judgement and spoke words of life. Sister, if there has ever been a good conversationalist/question asker - it. is. me. I can keep you talking for hours. One question leads to the next. I may start with a general question but after you give your answer I can pick up on what's potentially behind the answer and ask the next question. Before you know it - we are knee-deep. Kind of like a personal psychologist LOL!

For a long time, I felt great about playing that role. It felt good to give. It was natural to me. Often, it was even what I would say was a role God had given me to walk out. He met me there and He helped me love on people right where they were.

But, can you see the pitfalls to always being the giver? Can you read beneath my words to see the roots of my actions?

You probably can, smartypants! You guessed it - being the giver was, in reality, self-protection, insecurity and pride all wrapped into one big ball of being a 'great conversationalist.' Self-protection: if I can keep you talking my vulnerability is nice and low in the relationship. Insecurity: is it okay for me to be needy? For me to ask for attention? How do I even DO THAT????????????? Pride: I'm not needy. I've got my junk together people. You're the one who needs me.

UGLY. Not healthy. Not good. It took a lot of years for the Lord to start prodding me into more and more discomfort with always being in the giver position. Because life happens. We ALL hit moments of genuine need and we have innate and God-given desire to put it all out there to a trusted friend for feedback, input and prayer. At first, it started as this little thought quietly within me 'Grrrr who can I even talk to about this? Is anyone here for me or do I always just have to be there for them? Surely someone can pick up on the fact that I need to talk, why isn't anyone initiating with me???' In other words, 'What's wrong with these people?' LOL. You see where this is going.

Well, the Lord is thorough if He is anything, my friend. He did prompt the discomfort and dissatisfaction within me, but then He started showing me the next step. Oh shoot. It's not them. It's me. I have created this. In essence, I had trained my friends to receive from me. I had told them, through my actions, 'don't worry. I don't need you to think about me. This can be all about you.' (PS - I should mention that not ALL of my friendships were like this. There were treasures of friends just waiting for me to crack open so that they could return the favor. This was simply the pattern that the Lord was trying to teach me about.)

How had I created this? By making sure that I was the one mostly doing the question asking. By giving answers to their questions that were honest but short and quickly followed by another question aimed at them. By not really letting there be moments of space or silence within the conversation. By not being weak in front of them when I felt weak. The list goes on, but I think you get the gist.

This did not add up to mutuality in my girlfriending. It added up to a tired and spent me.

Now what's a girl to do with this kind of realization? Well, for a question asker, asking different questions was the right answer. Which did NOT feel good. It did not feel natural. I was retraining myself as much as anyone else. A few things that the Lord started to lead me in were:

- Asking myself before we hung out, how do I feel? Is something going on that I really should be transparent about? Do I feel strong or do I feel frustrated? If the answer was frustrated then I needed to make sure I didn't keep the conversation moving at lightning speed...allow for some silence.

- Finding some key phrases that worked for me. They were like little flags I could throw up in an effort to shift the dynamic away from me giving to me receiving. Some of my phrases were/are: "Actually, I kind of need to talk." "I'm struggling." "Can I get your feedback on something?" "Would you pray with me about something?"

- Forcing myself to talk. Not every one of my friends is as skilled in asking questions as I am. In those cases, they are skilled in different ways that I simply am not. So, in some situations, I know that they won't ask me the series of prodding questions that I would ask to help someone to open up. Not because they don't care or they don't want to hear the answers...the question asking just isn't in their skill set. In those cases, when I need to talk, I use one of the phrases above and then make myself talk for as long as possible. It sounds so weird and awkward doesn't it??? If it does, that may mean you're a chronic giver like I am!

I am so very thankful to be able to say that the Lord has changed a lot in me regarding this area. I have many friends and family members who are great at listening when I need a listening ear. They are great at supporting me. We enjoy mutuality. But it is because I allowed mutuality to grow within our relationship. I could have kept going and going and kept that door safely shut. I am so deeply thankful that He helped me shift, though. I still LOVE being the giver because He made me that way! But now, I realize that there is nothing He created to only give. All of creation gives and takes. Flowers drink up water and sunshine and receive pollen from bees. Clouds give out water and then they stop giving out water. Horses run hard and then stop to eat the grass and drink the water. At work, we work hard for the morning and then stop to eat food at lunch and give our brains a rest. It is the design of His creation! Mutuality is laced throughout everything He does because HE IS MUTUAL. He receives from us. Mind blowing. Not because innately He needs us but because He chooses to need and receive from us. If He chooses to be a taker sometimes, then shoot! I better get on the bandwagon, too!

A few notes in closing. First, not every girlfriend relationship is totally mutual. Again, refrain from thinking in terms of a 100% goal and look at big picture patterns. There are relationships that are very dear to me that aren't necessarily marked by mutuality. There are other reasons those relationships are meaningful and important to me. Second, I have obviously only talked about givers because that's what I am intimately acquainted with. If you have the courage and grace to honestly take a look and see that your pattern is more in the camp of being a taker - way to go! That takes guts to admit but it's a very very positive thing to realize. My simple tips would be to start praying about it with the Lord and then to start going into time with a friend with a few questions ready to go to get them talking for a change. If you need to talk about something deeply - do it. But then, pull yourself together and at the end say something like "Thank you so much for listening and talking with me about that. But I want to hear about you now! Tell me something that's going on in your life."

Whew! This one was really something! I feel spent in a good way :). I am CERTAIN you have thoughts on mutuality. Please reach out to me with your thoughts! My journey towards mutuality is not complete or perfect. He is still prompting me and teaching thankful for that. But all I can say is that the more I have made space for mutuality, the more beautiful, life-giving, and rich my girlfriending has become. I am convinced it matters.

Happy weekending my friend! I pray it's full of rich and mutual interactions :).

Lots of love,

P.S. Here's one of my dears. We became friends in high school Freshman year book class. We've been bridesmaids in each other's weddings and now we share the experience of raising boys. Treasure. Yep - this was Freshman beauty at its best folks.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Girlfriending Part Three: Signs of a Healthy Girlfriend Relationship

Girlfriend! How are you doing right at this moment? I hope your day is going well so far. I hope that you feel grace today. I hope that you remember that you are not alone. I hope that your eyes are lifted up to where your help comes from! I've been reminded so very many times that all it takes for an entire day to turn around is for me to simply lift my eyes up. Whew - let's all just take a brief moment to stop all other thoughts in our heads and just think on that. We DO have help! There IS a helper!

I want to say thank you for joining me in this topic of healthy girlfriending. Thank you! I have so appreciated your support, your input and hearing about your experiences. The more I think and pray about it, the more I'm convinced we could probably spend weeks upon weeks on this topic! We shall refrain from that :). But, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for journeying with me! Here's a link to to part one and here's a link to part two.

Healthy Girlfriending. Over the years, I have been able to see patterns within my friendships that are healthy. No friendship is the same as another, clearly. And no friendship is perfect. But there are patterns that I've repeatedly experienced within friendship that tell me the relationship is life-giving and mutual. Healthy girlfriending relationships are SUCH a blessing and bring so much joy to life. But girl, they are developed over time and grown in to! We don't start friendships one day and wake up the next with deep and healthy friendships. But with patience, they come!

(Family can be the greatest source of joy in relationship!)

First, before we delve into some of the patterns I have seen in my healthy relationships, stop and take a second to think about some of your healthy girlfriending relationships. What are some of the things that tell you its a healthy relationship? How does it differ from others? Message me and tell me what some of your markers are. ALSO, please stay tuned through the end of the post. If you read these signs of a healthy relationship and your heart starts to get ansty because you don't think your friendships are healthy after all, don't get panicked! There is encouragement for you at the end.

Let's go!

(Life Group! This was in the first trimester...ya know the 'filling out' stage with no clear bump to show for it. Ha! But this has been one source of great girlfriending - filled with delightful variety!)

Indicators that your girlfriending is healthy:

1. After you spend time together, talk on the phone, text, email...You feel good. Sounds simple, right?! But, once you've walked through a number of relationships you find that it simply is not the case in every girlfriend relationship. But, if you can walk away feeling encouraged, with a lifted heart and perspective, that's the golden ticket. The opposite would be to walk away from time together feeling heavy from gossip, worry, criticism, or let's be honest - just plain old stupid conversation. I kid you not, the stupid talk can really get to you after a while. Of course you should have fun and have silly conversation! But if there's not more to it than that, at some point, girlfriending exhaustion sets in.

2. The real you comes out when you're with her. Now here's the deal about the real me: different elements of the real me come out with different girlfriends. Different ones pull out different sides of me. Which I LOVE! It's also another reason why I really think having just one close girlfriend is only a fraction of what God intended you to have through girlfriending relationships. If you repeatedly come away from time with a friend feeling like you just weren't yourself, something's up. Frankly, something's up with the dynamic of the friendship OR something's up with you. At the end of the day, it's no one else's responsibility but mine to make sure that I'm being the true me. Sometimes the true me works within the context of girfriending relationship and sometimes it does not. That's OKAY! But the girlfriends we should focus on giving our time and energy to are the one's that pull truth out of us. The ones that you find yourself saying how you really feel to. The ones that somehow, through the course of conversation, bring you to a point of revelation. The ones that you feel comfortable letting your true sense of humor out with :). The ones that you would have an honest-to-goodness dance party with!

3. The relationship can survive conflict. It IS going to happen. It may not be early in the relationship (actually, let's HOPE it's not!), but at some point probably years in, it will happen. Someone will hurt someone. Whether intentionally or not, we are talking about two human beings here. In fact, I think that conflict can be a sign of health instead of dysfunction. It can be healthy in the sense that it shows you are close enough to each other, honest enough with one another, guards let down enough with one another that you are vulnerable to each other. That's good! If I never had conflict in any girlfriending relationship over the course of years, I could safely assume that I had a wall up around my heart to protect myself. I can do relationship like that, but I'm simply not going to experience the depth of what God has for me within friendship. A sign of a healthy girlfriending relationship is to experience conflict, work through it, and get to the other side with friendship in tact. Yes my friend, we know we've arrived when we can go both down and up together. (Note: A relationship should not be marked by drama or continuous conflict. Drama is different than isolated moments of conflict.)

4. Your relationship is fun when it's just you and her and it's fun when new people are added to the mix. Let's make this one short and sweet: Only having fun when it's just you and her, or the three of you, is the stuff of middle schoolers. It's not a sign of maturity or health. Instead, the goal should be to cherish the time you have alone and to open your heart to others when you are with them. That means that you have the capacity to enjoy a very special dynamic together but to not flaunt that dynamic if the face of others when it's more than the two of you hanging out. One of the things I was instantly in love with about Zion was that the fact that I could take him with me to a social gathering of my friends and he handled himself with grace and confidence. I didn't have to babysit him! He wasn't glued to my side the entire evening! He was able to see others of value in the gathering and enjoy them on his own. Dang, that's what I call sexy! LOL! The same basic principle applies to girlfriending. Healthy girlfriends can put their big girl panties on and have fun with others!

5. The relationship makes you want more of God. It's not to say that you talk about God non-stop. It's not that every time together is a Bible study. But it IS to say that I generally walk away with a stirred hunger for God, for truth, for more of Him. It is to say that I can be transparent about my weakness and my strength in Him. It is to say that I know she's wanting Him and let's face it, hunger is contagious. AND - it is to say that she supports and wants health and growth for all of my other relationships. Which certainly includes the most important relationship with God but also extends to my husband, my children, my parents, my other friends...etc. The fruit of our girlfriending relationship is that I feel spurred on by her in other relationships. I feel encouraged to do the right thing. I feel strengthened to step up to the plate. I feel hungry to press in. Health in this relationship should spur on health in other relationships.

(One lifer girlfriend and one who became a lifer the second my brother started dating her and then married her!)

WHEW GIRLS! Another bit of this series down! I find myself encouraged and challenged by my own words, LOL! There is not one of us who doesn't need to grow in healthy girlfriending - including myself.

So, let me take a brief moment to address your heart should you feel discouraged at this point. Don't give up! Don't go out and cut off friendships! Don't feel down if you don't see these signs of health in your girlfriending! Instead - start praying. Ask God to show you the steps you can take to breed more health in your relationships. I always always always find that it's usually my place to take the first step. If I read this list and was discouraged, I hope that I'd have the strength to say, 'Okay, how can I help my friends to feel light hearted? How can I create an atmosphere of working through conflict? How can I encourage us to be okay spending time with others? ect...' But more than anything dear reader, talk to God about it. The Holy Spirit is our helper. He is our counselor. He will show you steps to take. There is only one friendship in my life that I am no longer engaged with at any level. One out of many. The answer is not to dump everyone...just pray.

I pray that you do feel encouraged! After writing, I am SO THANKFUL for the friendships God has put in my life. I want to keep growing. I want to get better at loving. And it thrills my heart to know that that is what HE wants for me too.

Thank you for reading. And seriously, I'd really love to hear what some of your indicators of healthy girlfriending are. What have you seen as a pattern? Hit up me, chica!

Happy weekending and much love,