Friendship…and valentines

Since I’ve been sick the past few days, I’ve had quite a bit of time to think about the here & now of my life, particularly with regard to my relationships. In the past year, coinciding with the struggles we’ve faced and widening path of life we found ourselves on, I have been blessed with so many new faces. It has been such a surprise blessing!

This past Friday was the first Valentine’s Day I had faced without being committed to an earthly man in my life, for more than half my life! (Yes, I am 39 years old, and I began my “adult” relationships at the age of 19!) Since Richard’s passing, I have said to myself, “yeah, that day may be ‘different’ (i.e his birthday, our wedding anniversary, holidays), but they can’t be THAT MUCH harder than others. They’re all tough!” I’m such the stubborn girl, I surprise myself sometimes. Then, I thought, “ok Laura, just get through this tough stretch of his birthday, anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years…then, no hard days for awhile, have a little break.” What a DORK I am! There will always, always be moments (whether specific days or just mere minutes) that will be difficult, unfamiliar  times for adjustment. While I’ve learned the gift of grace for myself in the daily 24 hours immediately ahead, one day at a time, I have also learned, for the most part, I have some very sad moments of loneliness, loss, grief and just plain “what just happened??” typically leading up to those days our world says are important. This time, it was Valentine’s Day. And this one was a little more challenging because I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t able to be the Laura who loves celebrations, creates care packages, spends hours on end coming up with the perfect valentine for my loved ones. (Nothing stinks more than being a “synergist” personality who LOVES life’s celebrations and being too sick to enjoy the day by showing affection and joy to all the people you love!)

But God met me where I was. HE provided for me. HE put some of the most amazing people in my life, at just the perfect time. As Valentine’s Eve came, I felt a little lost, a bit confused on what the day would look like, what I should do, what does this new day look like to me? And then, the first bit of peace came…in the form of a card from one of our kids, Richard’s amazingly sensitive daughter, Morgan. Upon opening and reading it, I was…speechless, I cried (of course I cried), and I wanted SO BADLY to hug her & say “You are WONDERFUL! How the heck did I get so “lucky” to meet your Dad and you?” I held the card for awhile, kept reading the words she perfectly wrote for me, and put the card right next to my bed so it was the first thing I saw when I woke the next morning. And in that simple card of love and support, a reminder of God’s love for me, I was able to face Valentine’s Day with a little less unknown, a little less worry about what it was “supposed to be”.

The next morning, I asked God to just be with me through the day, to remind me of all the deep love I have had in my life, from my parents to our friends, and everyone in between. I had a bit of energy mixed with just enough of that celebration girl, and I was able to make a short trip to the grocery store for a few things specific to the kiddos in my life. (While I know it didn’t, the store seemed to have grown in area overnight as I made a very slow trek through it’s aisles, leaning on the cart, energy waning. Felt like three hours had passed, but was only 45 minutes in reality!) Because of this great surrogate big brother I have (Kent), and his well-founded protective instinct over me, I succumbed to the limit of just shopping for the kids and not extended family and friends this time. (Kent is a force to be reckoned with, in case you don’t know him – highly persuasive, occasionally coercive, kinda guy who has taken on the duties Richard entrusted him with, namely our family!)

I came home, made some gifts of love for my sunshines, and sat down. (insert that doom music here – “dum, dum, dummmmm..”) I was reading sweet text messages from family and friends, encouraging me through the day. And then it happened…I started reading texts I had saved from Richard.

“What? Why in the world would you do that, Laura? On Valentine’s Day…are you nuts?” (reserve commentary)

I don’t know why I did it? Maybe it was because I needed to feel him. Perhaps it was I longed to hear him say “I love you, Laura.” Or maybe it was just because I needed to grieve the loss I was trying to avoid? For whatever the reason, I did it, I read the text messages. And I lost it somewhere between March 23rd’s text “…I love you too. Have fun, hug my boy for me, and hurry home…” and March 29th’s “I feel good. Not 100%, but better each day. I love you wife.” And I didn’t stop reading, I couldn’t even as I sobbed through more tears than I had shed in awhile…April 20th’s “I am doing fine, stop worrying about me. Enjoy your day with Logan, he misses you.” And then, one of the best I had ever read when I expressed sadness I was feeling about our marriage being attacked by the devil, he said …”I’m taken. And I love her very much. And she loves me…” 

I hurt. My chest heaved with sadness, each time I took a breath. My ability to stop the tears from falling ceased. I couldn’t move, all I could do was cry out to God. “God, I don’t understand…I don’t know why I had to lose him? I finally felt loved like I always wanted…the kids had a beautiful, amazing, strong in his weakness, father…why did he have to leave, God? Why so soon? I just don’t understand. I know You have us, I know You love us. And I know You will see us through everything, but I just don’t understand. And I miss him so badly right now, please God, help me..”

And just like that, I’m not exaggerating when I say within 3 minutes, I felt peace. I was calm. Crying slowly stopped, I could breathe again. I KNOW God was with me, right here, on this couch, right in the middle of all the ugly sobbing, He came. He didn’t “answer me”, He didn’t say “this is why it happened, Laura…” But I felt Christ here with me, crying alongside me for how badly I hurt, and then, His peace. I can try to explain it, but I have learned, that kind of peace can only be understood firsthand. Once you feel His Presence, you know what I’m talking about. How He provides the “peace that surpasses all understanding”. And then, I reached out to my close group of friends, fellow believers in Christ, who I know were waiting for the texts about my heartache that day. The friends who expressed such love through messages, flower deliveries, chicken soup & Reese’s cups front porch packages. One who had found a Valentine’s card I had given Richard a few years back, in paperwork he had kept, and made sure I had it that day. The friends who, in all they do for and with me, to keep my spirits up (and stress down), let me be myself. Let me just BE. Let me cry when I need too, sit quietly when I should, and rest when I fight it. The friends who came to the hospital, who carried me to their homes when I needed to simply sit on their couch because I was in shock, who themselves cry for all Richard endured, all he shared, and the loss our family has felt.

And they didn’t send “oh, cheer up, it’ll be okay” texts in response. They sent reminders of God’s love for us. They replied with “I love you so much” and “I’m so sorry” messages. They let me feel my sorrow, reminded me that it’s ok for me to feel confused and not understand everything and then, they let me be. They knew, as did I, that I would be okay. And the day turned out to be beautiful, in spite of the loss in my heart. I sat at our table covered in gifts of love as my sons, and one amazing girlfriend, helped prepare a Valentine’s dinner for me that had more love poured into it than any I could have paid for in some fancy restaurant. (Great job, Cody, Logan and Emily ~ Thank you for the precious memories more than anything.)

This morning, our lead Pastor at New Community Church, Rob Tucker, spoke on friendship. Seemingly ironic because with being out of office for a few days, I had actually forgotten what he was preaching on. (For those of you who don’t know my regular way of doing things, this is characteristically NOT me. I take great responsibility in knowing, and supporting, the many details of our church on an everyday basis, including the days I’m supposed to be “off”. So this was a new thing for me!)

Before I went to church (I was sick, couldn’t help lead worship today which was tough but there’s another lesson in that somewhere…), I had an odd thing happen. I saw a Facebook post from someone in our past who was a source of great strife for Richard and I, someone who really challenged my response to them. And it brought up those yucky past feelings, it brought up feelings of betrayal, some anger, and sadness. Not that those challenges had occurred, those we had made peace with. But anger that ANY of our marriage, any of our days that were so measured, had been spent in that trial.

And then I thought – WHAT ARE YOU DOING, Laura? (I actually said it aloud, good thing I wasn’t in church yet!) Why are you reliving things from the past that will do nothing but cause you pain, hardship and frustration now? You have enough you are trying to do, things you have to do, without making things harder on yourself! You dork, MOVE ON! 

And with that, I calmly sat down & shared the following in a Facebook post: Some things, and people, are simply better left in a previous season of life. There’s really no need to stay so connected to everyone who has crossed your path. Some “relationships” are best left to wither, there may be too much pain, regret, hurt and heaviness to allow you to make the best out of your present, and future, life. This one truth has taken me a L-O-N-G time, make that a lifetime, to learn and accept. While I can encourage others to see how some associations are toxic, it has always been a personal struggle for me. (Blame it on the synergist in me.) So today, I am reminding not only you, but me, that it is ok to let go. It is well with my soul. 🙂

As I typed that, my mind thought of many people I had known, called “friend” or even “family” who I no longer had in my everyday life. The people who wouldn’t be one of those who let me just BE. The folks who remained complacent, blindly unaware of their own personal struggles and pitfalls, who had no desire to truly change them, just mask their challenges in darkness with constant activity, flirtations, distractions this world provides in order to fill the void. And I KNEW I had finally grown. Don’t get me wrong, this is no “holier than thou” moment, I have a lifetime more to learn (and plenty God needs to prune!), but I had learned this…it is okay to not work so hard at relationships that really don’t make you a better person, it is okay to let go after all.

Fast forward to about 11:25 this morning, and Pastor Rob speaks on friendship described in the Bible, the book of Proverbs in particular. As he read scripture, and helped us see parallels in our lives, I thought of the “friends” I have now, and those I had grown apart from. The friendships my children have, and have had. The friendships I want them to have in their lives, the ones I always wanted – but could never describe – in my life.  As Rob Tucker talked about the influence, impact, integrity, and integration of our friendships, I thought…”hmm, how did he have time to write a sermon about my little old Facebook status I posted a few hours ago?” And then, the words came from a survey Rob quoted that hit me between my eyes (and ribs!), “A friend is one that comes when everyone else goes.”

…and there it was, from someone I think Rob said is in England? (Sorry Rob, I tried to focus but was awestruck)

What truth flowed from those words. What amazing, simple yet profound, meaning rang through my mind. While I somehow managed to continue taking my sermon notes, and resonate with each application for friendship given, my mind was in flashback mode. Flashbacks from friendships God had been forming for me prior to a devastating cancer diagnosis, particularly my life coach and sister-in-Christ, Chris, sharpening my faith at so many levels I never knew I’d need so soon. Flashbacks of friends who came when we needed them – with meals for our family, encouraging notes of faith and God’s continued love for us, strong hugs allowing me to cry until I was restored, and songs of worship and praise for our Heavenly Father to remind me of how deeply I had come to know, love and rely on Jesus Christ through my life.

I have often called people “friends” because I just love people. At times, admittedly, at a detriment to myself, and some loved ones. And with the love, support, compassion and unbelievable outpouring of so many, how could I not consider my life to be blessed with so many “friends”? Today, and over the past few days, I accept I have friends, in fact, a lot of people I refer to as “friends”. (Yes, Facebook has developed a few more “friends” than before, but Facebook has also connected me with people I never thought I’d know – Sarah, Tammy, and scores of people I met following a local women’s event for which I’m hugely thankful!) I know that it is good for me to have friends, but I also know that it is good for me to be wise in how I approach my relationships. Jesus had twelve he spent a lot of time with, pouring so much of Himself into them. Jesus also shared what He knew about our Father with masses of people (and here we think 2014 social media is amazing!) But Jesus also spent time one-on-one with people, He invested in people, He was a Friend to people. That is the kind of friend I want to be. One who shares the amazing grace I know from God with many, one who will pour into those I routinely have contact with, one who will stop and show the love of Christ with someone, right there in the middle of a parking lot, or a crowded room, or the aisles of Walmart. “One who comes when everyone else goes”.

I am grateful for each “friend” I have, whether I see you everyday, every year or in a Facebook post. I am thankful for how you help enrich my path, and grow my faith. And I look forward to modeling more of my life after the truest best friend I have ever known, Jesus Christ.

If you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to listen to “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns. While I wish I was able to sing it today, amongst my family-in-Christ, following another perfect-timed sermon (I’m convinced some of our pastors call God directly through a tin can & string)…I’m honored to lead you in singing it right here, from my couch, to wherever it is you are.

Jesus, Friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away. We cut down people in Your Name, but the sword was never ours’ to swing. Jesus, Friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see…the world is on their way to You, but they’re tripping over me. Always looking around, but never looking up, I’m so double-minded. A plank-eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided…Oh Jesus, Friend of Sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers. Let our hearts be, lead by mercy, help us reach with open hearts and open doors, oh Jesus, Friend of Sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours’. Jesus, Friend of Sinners, the One whose writing in the sand, made the righteous turn away, and the stones fall from their hands. Help us to remember, we are all the least of these, let the memory of Your mercy, bring Your people to their knees. Nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against when we judge the wounded. What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines, and loved like You did? Oh Jesus, Friend of Sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers. Let our hearts be, led by mercy, help us reach with open hearts and open doors. Oh Jesus, Friend of Sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours’. You love every lost cause, You reach for the outcast. For the leper, and the lame, they’re the reason that you came. But I was that lost cause, and I was the outcast, when you died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at your feet. Cause you are good, you are good, and your love endures forever. Jesus, Friend of sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers. Let our hearts be, led by mercy, help us reach with open hearts and open doors. Oh Jesus, Friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours’. And I was the lost cause, and I was the outcast…You died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet. 

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