Tuesday, July 8, 2014

That One Time My Friend Went AWOL



Maybe you’ve had a friend who disappeared. A slow fade right before your eyes. She used to like shopping and talking on the phone, random texting conversations and bizarre, awkward humor. She laughed (and talked) too much and too loud, told dramatic stories, and frequently asked for help with wardrobe malfunctions. She had big dreams, a soft heart, and liked to discuss all the things all the time.

 Then she embarked on a journey of hard things. Not impossibly hard. Not unheard of hard. And not completely unexpectedly hard. But hard none the less. And you said you wanted to help out with the hard things, in any way you could. And she smiled relieved. You did what you could. Gave some time, some money, some food, some prayers, some books, some motivation, and some advice. You cheered her when she ran strong, and grimaced when you saw her trip and start limping again. “You’ll get used to it soon” you said, and you willed her muscles to grow and her endurance to build. The days kept tallying. You had had your own stuff to do, sometimes hard as well. You didn’t always know what to expect. The friendship wasn’t easy like Sunday morning anymore. (Can all the churchgoing mothers of young children stop and have a moment of silence for that phrase?) Anyway, It was more of a Monday morning feel. Then you realized she was going out of view. Did she take a hard fall? Sit down for a breather? Try a new course? For whatever reason, her presence was no longer on your side of the track. Maybe you’ve had a friend like that. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re the missing friend. 

I know the girl who went off the radar. I don’t know exactly why, what changed, or what will bring her back. Partly by initiative, partly by life’s mysterious unfolding, hard things happened in her division. 

Many people do many different hard things. Sometimes by choice. Sometimes by calling. Sometimes by design only the Creator knows. People approach the hard things differently, weirdly at times. Sometimes as grounds for bragging rights: “I broke my femur 3 times.” “I birthed 7 babies without a drop of pain meds.” “I worked 80 hours on 6 hours of sleep.” “I survived 3 divorces.” “I punched cancer in the face.” “I left home at 18 and never looked back.” “I killed a snake with my bare hands. And then I ate it.”  Some people thrive on a challenge, rising to meet any obstacle with fight and gusto. Some people master the craft of mask- making, and avert their eyes from any pain the hard things bring, putting on their happy face like nothing ever happened. The girl I know doesn’t get tough and roar and flex her biceps at hard things. I see her bite her lip, then her hands get clammy and her heart pounds. She doesn’t want an easy, squishy life. In fact she craves to be a warrior woman and do hard and mighty and world-changing things. To have a fierce face and a stomach of steel.  But then she gets a taste of hard things, shivers, and wishes she’d ordered up a big slice of the American Dream instead. 

  Some people break under the weight of hard things, and then all the ugly (that exists in all flesh) pours out and addiction or mental illness or suicide happens. Why some people get easy things and some get hard things, and why we even have a grading scale for hard anyways, and why a thing breaks one person but makes another stronger, and which is most authentic, the strength or the weakness, could all be mused over for hours. I like to tell the girl I know when she’s hating on herself for her weakness, and acting like self-loathing will somehow punish herself back into obedience, that maybe the breaking isn’t always the worst case scenario or a sign of failure like we’ve been told, but rather part of the purpose in the hard things even being allowed past God’s hands and into our lives in the first place. It’s quite a stretch for the independent, American made mind, but maybe not such a stretch from the Upside-down Kingdom where strength is made perfect in weakness and the Excellency of God’s power is displayed in jars of clay? 

But as I said about the girl, her division got pretty shook up.  She had children with deep needs and no quick fixes, a marriage that was worn thin, depression and physical ailments that seemed to have a mind of their own, and never-ending needs to be met that filled all the moments and brought volume to every corner of silence. And she lost herself.  Oh A few traces remained; she still laughed when her best people cracked some wit, and occasionally busted out some timely sarcasm herself. She still daydreamed of traveling the world and owning a maximum number of pets. But her social, relational self vanished. 

All the good energy, compassion, patience, and personality ran dry. And while such character fatigue had effect on all relationships, her friendships became the most tattered. When a person can’t quite remember who they are, or what they like, or how to formulate coherent sentences, being friendly becomes a problem. 

She started choosing to fly solo or stay home, though she wasn’t a natural born loner.  Being in a group left her all self-conscious and edgy. Her parenting regime looked different than the rest of her graceful mommy friends.  Different because of the needs of her daughters, but many days dysfunctional was a more accurate familial description, and she wondered if it showed. Always an advocate for authentic, real life exposure, she tried to answer questions and converse honestly.  But when she opened her mouth, an avalanche ensued and she wished she could be a commercial for a newfangled mouth guard that protected not only teeth but also electrocuted vocal chords after maximum number of words per minute was reached. At least getting paid for such embarrassment would ease the pain a little.

She found her life stuck in a frightful catch-22. When the texts or calls that she received were centered on earnest questions of her current emotional well-being, she couldn’t blame them. After all, depression could make her a guessing game even to herself so it could not be expected that her people would always keep up. She might very well be found in the trenches with one child’s challenging behavior, still in bed from a late night waiting up on farmer man, or overwhelmed and stuck inside her own head. Still the inquiries on her mental health, valid as they were, left her feeling like the old gray mare that ain’t what she used to be.

 She began to feel less and less like a desired companion for life’s enjoyment, and more like a charity case that must be tended to. When she would invite friends into her mess, whether literally into the laundry strewn house with a crying child or two and sink full of dirty dishes, or by a conversation stating that she was having a rotten day, she’d often end up uncomfortably confused. She may have needed help. Or companionship. But she didn’t need fixed (trust me, if it could be humanly done, she would’ve had herself in tip top shape 28 “new daily routine” plans,  4 self-help books, and 3 easy steps ago). Sometimes, though she knew the intent was good, coming in and doing her housework or sending texts filled with verses or clich├ęs left her feeling more wounded than soothed. The verses, though true, were on the wall. And in her Bibles. And journal. And notecards. If you had a story to tell of how a verse came alive and helped you know Jesus better and be more activated to love, she’d eagerly listen. But sometimes when it was just the words alone, she felt like they were talking at her.

Showing herself friendly is harder than ever now too. There’s little she can offer. Her children, because of both their and her limitations, demand most all of her. She cannot easily cook a surprise dinner, help with a project, or go on a big Ikea expenditure. And sometimes even an outing to the park seems hardly worth the effort. To only receive and never give is less blessing and more weight.

Really, her state can be summed up like a listless, teething infant. Who doesn’t want to be held but you dare not lay her down. Who’s tired but can’t sleep. Everything hurts but she doesn’t know where. By all means please help, but don’t try to fix her.  And for crying out loud, just lighten up and have fun with her already! 

So this is the conundrum of the girl I know. It’s a puzzling story, really. Not like the stories I’d prefer to tell. Ones with a clear purpose. That enlighten, educate, encourage, or at least produce laughter. But hers doesn’t have a happy ending, wrapped up with a neat, spiritually applicable bow. It’s an ongoing tale of struggle. Of disappointments and hurt feelings. Of saddness over letting down and being let down. Of seeking to release the hurt, offering forgiveness, and desperately hoping for grace and forgiveness to be held out to her. She’s grasping for acceptance of her current reality. One of sheer exhaustion and heartache over what used to be and what she wishes could be and what just isn’t right now. That even with sincere efforts there is still a lack of breathing life and energy back into one another.  

 She’s owning her AWOL status and giving her story a little more freedom, in hopes of receiving understanding as she reins her friendship involvement back even further. Perhaps she’ll get her wits about her shortly and be on track with a fresh outpouring of love and inspiration, ready to run hard again. But for today, she’s only focusing on the next right thing, on the smallest scale. 

Do you have a story like hers? Has life brought you hard things that caused you to lose yourself and/or your friends in the mean time? I invite you to share your story; the lessons, hurts, hopes, and insights you gained from your journey. It’s healing when we set our stories free, and so encouraging when we can learn from others and find comfort that we aren’t alone.