A Best Friend

I hear the term “best friend” or BFF in conversations all the time. So what is a best friend?

A best friend:
Loves me for who I am and sometimes in spite of who I am.
Will be there to laugh and to cry.
Picks up on my moods and is honest when I’m just being a whiner.
Recognizes when I need a hug and steps up to the challenge.
Will defend me to others when necessary.
Is an encourager when I’m discouraged or frightened or hurt.
Never hesitates to tell me what I need to hear even if I don’t want to hear it.
Celebrates even the smallest victories.
Spends time with me “just because.”
Is never embarrassed to be seen with me.

This is the kind of friend I want. And, it’s the kind of friend I want to be.

A friend loves at all times. He is there to help when trouble comes. (Proverbs 17:17 NIRV)

Memories and Icy Days

Sometimes I get caught up in memories from the past. Today is one if those days. It’s a cold-day in Houston. Because we don’t drive in ice but once every 5 or 6 years, this wet winter blast closed schools and some offices. These kind of days bring so many memories and wishes and sighs.

I think back over the weather days thru the years. They were meant to keep us safe. But, we knew that they were really fun days. When we were first married, we were iced in at my parents house. My dad built a big wooden sled and pulled it behind his pickup truck. Daddy’s favorite thing was to pop the rope and dump us off the sled into the snow drifts. I can still hear Terry laughing. And there was the year I was pregnant with our son and we had ice in Houston. We lived in a 2nd story apartment. The steps were icy and I couldn’t see my feet, so Terry had to help me make it safely down. I don’t know what we did that day, I just remember the giggles while he herded me on the ice.

Today the streets are now clear and as my daughter and I drove past West Oaks Mall, visions of the past came flying out to greet me. Memories of chilly mornings sharing a Cinnabon with Terry while we waited for the stores to open. We knew the stores well and our hunt for Beanie Babies and Snow villages and other fun collectables was about to begin. We weren’t looking for much and it really wasn’t about shopping as much as it was being together and having fun. None of those stores survive in that mall today. But in my memories they linger still.

On this ice day, I will make new memories with my daughter. I will remember playing with the little dogs, giggling while scraping ice off the windshield, hunting for THE Tex-Mex restaurant and girls night at the movies. I will store these memories away until they are stirred to the surface sometime in the future.

I know I must live in the present. But reality is often softened by those sweet memories of yesterday.

Keep it in/Keep them out

“Frozen” is a popular animated movie that’s out right now. It’s popular with children and adults that see it. The movie is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the battle between good and evil, “The Snow Queen”.

In “Frozen” the older sister, Princess Elsa, has the power (or curse) to freeze anything she touches. In an effort to protect Elsa and her younger sister, Elsa’s parents lock her away from everyone. They tell her she must “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” She has a secret. She doesn’t want anyone to know about her icy touch. She hides and shuts herself off from the very people who love her. As a result she never learns to control this power, but instead it controls Princess Elsa. Through a series of events, Elsa’s icy power is revealed and she runs away. As she sings about finally being free to be herself she uses the phrase “The cold never bothered me anyway” to dismiss the loneliness of her life.

Wow. Can you relate to this story? Not with Elsa’s icy touch, but with the power of the hidden, being controlled by the very secret we keep. I can. I want to be accepted. I want to fit in with the people around me. In order to do that, I try to be perfect. I want to be an individual, but I don’t want to be too different. (Can you say oxymoron?) I don’t admit to emotions I might be feeling, hiding the less than perfect parts of my life. I go with the flow because it’s easier. And, acceptable.

What would happen if I actually said what I wanted to say? What if I was honest with myself and with those around me and didn’t hide any longer? Would my life be different? It might be. I might have to learn to live the light instead of creeping around in the shadows. I might lose the ‘friends’ who prefer the people pleaser to the real me. I might learn that I’m valuable just the way I am.

I’m not advocating losing all of the filters we use in life. I don’t need to discuss/reveal everything to everyone I meet. But, when I shape my life to suit the people around me, to avoid offending anyone, to be acceptable at any expense, that’s when I need to take a look at what’s going on inside of me. Sometimes, it’s easier to slam the door on openness than to expose the vulnerable parts we protect so jealously.

Eventually, Princess Elsa learns she can’t hide from her fears. Viewed through the lens of love her terrible secret isn’t so bad. We just have to take the chance, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Sure, there will be days, weeks and maybe months of pain and hurt. But, there will be moments of love and pure joy too. We just have to step out and take a chance.

Five minute Friday – Encouragement

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..

OK, are you ready? Please give us your best five minutes on:::

Encouragement

My son is an athlete. Actually, a very good athlete. He was recruited to play football and to wrestle after high school. I watched him mature as an athlete and was amazed at how different coaches got different results from him. One coach was sure he had to break every kid down before he could build the athlete he wanted. The other coach saw the need to encourage my son and tell him how good he was and what he was capable of accomplishing. Coach O’Connell knew that the secret of success is encouragement. And my son won lots of medals because of him.

When I was in high school, my band director treated everyone of his band students as if they were state qualifiers. He spent as much time with the clarinet player with no rythmn as he did with the State bound flute player. There were students in his program that had never heard words of encouragement from any one. Mr. Streit was an encourager. And he produced an all state band from that little Texas town.

I have tried to incorporate those ideals of encouragement as I raised my own children and as I work with children and adults in my ministry areas. It’s so important to find the parts of our lives that God wants to use. When we think we are not good enough, God reminds us that He loved us enough to send His own son for ME. I need only to look up to see the encouragement of God’s love.

Fear

When I was a child, I would watch my mother test the iron with her finger. Maybe you know the move: 1) lick your finger 2) lightly and quickly touch the ironing plate to see if its hot. One day, I decided to “test the iron.” I licked my finger and stuck it to the bottom of the iron. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t picked up on the “light and quick” touch. And the iron was HOT. I ended up with a big blister on my index finger and a fear being burned by the iron.

There are lots of things in life we avoid because of the pain they have caused us in the past. Whether it’s a burned finger, an embarrassing moment or a broken heart, painful memories stick with us and may cause us to use caution in the future. In many cases it’s good to avoid something. I certainly avoid burning myself. I learned that lesson well. But there are other things that I probably shouldn’t avoid. I learned to ride a bicycle when I was six. I fell a few times before I learned how to balance and pedal all at the same time. It was tempting to stop trying to ride my bike after my first fall. But, instead of avoiding the bicycle, I decided to avoid the falling part. However, when I tried out a skateboard and ended up with road rash from sliding across the pavement, I decided to avoid skateboards completely. My life didn’t need skateboards to be complete.

One of the my biggest fears has to do with love. Specifically in loving others. Like most of us, I’ve put my trust in the wrong person at one time or another. I’ve allowed my emotions to rule over my good sense and fallen head-over-heels “in love” with a jerk or two in my lifetime. I’ve shared too much with a “friend” and then discovered that we were really just acquaintances. I’ve pinned all my hopes on another person’s word only to see everything come crashing down around me. As a result, it’s harder for me to trust. Harder for me to love.

After my husband died, I promised myself that I would never allow anyone to get close enough to cause that kind of pain in my life ever again. We had fought for our marriage and learned the value of trust and love. Love didn’t protect me from the pain of his death. In fact, it was that very love that caused the deepest pain. When he died, a large piece of me died too. And I was determined to avoid caring about or trusting anyone else. And life was really lonely and sad.

Although I could justify my avoidance in my own mind, I knew it was not right. I kept reading the scriptures like Romans 5:8, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And John 15:13 “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Over time, I realized that I had to stop avoiding trust and love. It didn’t matter if I got hurt along the way, my example is Christ and He died because he loved me.

I may never have another chance at the kind of love/relationship I shared with Terry. Honestly, that makes me a bit sad. But, I will be forever thankful that I loved and was loved enough to break my heart so completely. Not everyone gets that chance. I will continue to look for ways to show trust and love to others around me and to honor the love the God has given to me.

Coffee for your Heart: You’re Loved

Coffee-for-Your-Heart-150
This week I’m joining Holley Gerth http://holleygerth.com/coffee-for-your-heart-love/ on her website with Coffee for Your Heart. The directions are simple: Write a blog post on the theme and link it up here at holleygerth.com on Wednesday. Or if you don’t have a blog, you can post on facebook, twitter, or simply share a comment. This Week’s writing prompt: You’re Loved.

Love. We want it. We crave it. We pursue. We dream about it. And often, we take advantage of it and even abuse it.

Those first pangs of being “in love” are so exciting. You can hardly breathe when you are separated from your beloved and it’s even harder when they are in the same room. Life seems to flit by as you soak up those “love” feelings. But, after that initial excitement, life becomes normal again and slows to a calmer pace. Now what? There are a few options. The one touted by the world around us is to move on and find those exciting “in love” feelings with another. But the best option is to work to find the deep, soul changing love about which so many songs are written.

I will never forget walking out of that hospital room after saying good-bye to my husband for the last time. I came face to face with a line of people that loved and cared for me and for my family. It was two o’clock in the morning, but the calls had gone out and they were there to offer hugs and tears and love. I was told over and over, “He loved you so much!” And in the days that followed, as grief gripped my heart and threatened to take my sanity, I would hear those words over and over “He loved you so much!” I would see demonstrations of love from so many facets of my world. In the midst of the most world shattering event of my life, I knew I was loved. I

This kind of deep love and caring doesn’t come easily. It takes effort and tears and compromise and struggles to fit together seemingly similar but still very different people. There were days it seems easier to walk away than to keep trying. But, the results are so worth the effort. After all we all want love, right?

Through the years, I’ve struggled with being loved. Is it even possible to love someone as broken as me? I did a lot of searching in a lot of different places trying to feel loved. And when I finally calmed down and was quiet enough to listen, I heard a familiar voice saying “Don’t be afraid. You are loved.” As much as I loved my husband, as much as I still love my children, my family and my friends, there is no comparison to the love that God has for me. I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God loves me enough to know everything about me. He pays attention to the smallest details of my life. He LOVES me.

In those darkest times when nothing seems right. In those moments of complete desolation and grief, read the first 18 verses of Psalm 139. Remember that you are WONDERFUL. You are LOVED.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139:1-18 NIV)

Grief Support Groups

I’m a big believer in DIY activities. I try to figure out a solution to any problem on my own. I search the internet for books to read or videos to watch, anything to help me out so I don’t have to ask for help. This usually works. So when grief became an unwanted house guest, I decided I would read all the books on the steps of grief. I figured I would get through all this “stuff” in six months tops. And then I would get on with my life.

But it didn’t work. I couldn’t “fix” my life or my kids lives. The world was caving in around me. I didn’t know how to move forward. I don’t care how many times I decided which “step” I was on in my grief, but it didn’t matter. Grief came in waves and knocked me down time and time again. I couldn’t help myself and I certainly couldn’t help my son or my daughter. A cousin that works with Houston Hospice suggested grief support. She gave me information on the Houston Hospice Wings program for my kids and for me. I signed us all up to begin just shy of the 3 month anniversary of my husband’s death. My son was relieved that he would be able to talk with others. My daughter was less enthused. I bribed her into going. And honestly, making the first step into support groups was HARD. It meant admitting that I needed help. It meant facing my grief and acknowledging the new normal in our lives. I was nervous and my stomach churned as we walked thru those doors for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t sure that I could begin to open up about my loss. And I cried. A LOT.

And I never regretted my decision to get involved in a support group. For the first time in months, I was surrounded by people who weren’t uncomfortable with tears. They didn’t try to make things better or give me canned answers about my sorrow. They listened and understood. They allowed the tears to fall and sometimes cried with me. We talked about going to the grocery store and seeing Valentine’s candy on the shelves and crying. I discovered I wasn’t the only one that kept a bottle of cologne so I wouldn’t forget. Nightmares and sleepless nights weren’t rare in this room and I was comforted to realize I wasn’t losing my mind. We discussed our grief, our anger, our loneliness, our fear of laughter and of forgetting. In this group, I could talk about the past and how I didn’t know if I wanted a future and they understood. We talked about the practical things like filling out papers, filing for SSN for our kids, the hardships of moving forward in a single world as a single parent of grieving children. We shared our feelings about cremation and burial, about spreading ashes as well as wording on headstones. We asked how long grief would last and what to expect. There were questions on wedding rings and dating and in-laws. There wasn’t a topic that was out-of-bounds.

I realized that grief support groups aren’t there for all the answers. They don’t exist to “fix” things. Grief support groups do just that: they support. It’s a chance to talk to others walking a similar path. They allow the grieving person a safe harbor to just grieve without feeling like a trespasser in the land of fun. I think the best advice I received during the 6 weeks of the Wings program was this: On those days when it seems that it takes every ounce of energy to breathe, then JUST breathe. I needed permission to let my guard down, to stop trying so hard to prove that I was okay. I needed a support group that would allow me to talk, but would also allow me to be silent.

There are a lot of ways to find support in the Houston area. The area hospice programs offer various support groups. Several churches in the area provide Griefshare groups. I will be facilitating a GriefShare group beginning January 26 at 5:00pm. We will be meeting at Westland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas. If you are interested in what Griefshare is all about, go to the website at Griefshare.org. There are lots of resources on the site. If you are in the west Houston/Katy area, you are welcome to join us on Sundays. Don’t be isolated in your grief. There are people who need to hear your story.