Thursday, October 22, 2015

“…a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” ~ Proverbs 27:9b

I love celebrating my birthday. My parents have always made it a big deal reminding me that this was the day God chose for me to be born and that makes it very special. One of our family traditions is getting to choose what we want for breakfast, lunch and dinner on our birthday. We always make a big deal and I really do love that.

I usually have a birthday party with friends and family and over the years I've had some amazing ones. The year we bought our house was also my 30th birthday, so we had a combination housewarming birthday party with a Greek theme - Mamma Mia! It's my big, fat, Greek 30th Birthday/Housewarming. The next year I decided to do a 1960's Mad Men themed cocktail party which included 1960's era party food, a dress code and we ended up taking hundreds of photos - it was an amazing evening!

For the next two years, I was obsessed with French food. My sister created, cooked and served an elaborate French feast which included appetizers (basil palmiers, gougeres & an onion tart), French onion soup, Chateaubriand for dinner, an amazing cheese course and two desserts - crème brulee and chocolate soufflé. The following year was planned by a friend who chose the wonderful French restaurant Le Rendez-Vous.

The last two years, I decided to have a gathering of friends for potluck-style parties with the theme of appetizers in 2013 and comfort food in 2014. But both years I baked my own birthday cake - Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Strawberry Nutella cake - OMGoodness it is delicious!!!

This year for my birthday, I decided to try something I'd been wanting to do for a few years. I am naturally a very introverted person and while I do love big celebrations for my birthday I also struggle with all the attention and the need to divide my time between all my friends. I'm used to spending time with my friends in small groups or individually and it's so difficult when they're all in the same place because I can never spend as much time as I'd like with anyone. I decided to invite my friends to make plans in small groups or individually with me over the course of my birthday month - that way we'd end up with quality and quantity of time together and I wouldn't feel so overwhelmed.

Over the course of August, I was so blessed to celebrate in different and wonderful ways with some of my friends. It was such a blessing to me to have real quality time with each person or small group and it allowed our conversations to go deeper and our friendships to grow. Plus it was a lot of fun - going to the movies, painting at Color Me Mine, dinner at a favorite restaurant, and a tea party at a fun teashop! What meant the most to me was seeing my friends excited about planning a special time with me, and then celebrating together both my birthday and the gift of friendship.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known…” ~ Brene Brown

I struggled at first about celebrating my birthday this way, because it felt selfish in some ways, although I recognize that it isn't selfish to let people I love know how I feel and what would make me happy. And part of me was worried that no one would make any plans...though quickly I saw many friends excited to plan a special get together with me. Yes, there were some who didn't make plans and in some cases that really hurt my feelings. It was a little scary to be vulnerable and realize that some people might not understand and might be upset about doing something different. But part of the journey I've been on is about taking risks, and being vulnerable and opening up about how I feel and what I want and what makes me happy...or sad or hurt. This was an opportunity to be real and honest and although I was a little worried, I'm glad I did it. Because ultimately, I felt so seen and known and loved by the ones who took the time to celebrate with me and it ended up being a wonderful birthday month.

“True friendship is a sacred, important thing, and it happens when we drop down into that deeper level of who we are, when we cross over into the broken, fragile parts of ourselves. We have to give something up in order to get friendship like that. We have to give up our need to be perceived as perfect. We have to give up our ability to control what people think of us. We have to overcome the fear that when they see the depths of who we are, they’ll leave. But what we give up is nothing in comparison to what this kind of friendship gives to us. Friendship is about risk. Love is about risk. If we can control it and manage it and manufacture it, then it’s something else, but if it’s really love, really friendship, it’s a little scary around the edges.” ~ Shauna Niequist

Two of the gifts I received for my birthday really blessed me and in both cases made me feel seen and known and loved...which of course made me cry. The first was a letter written by a close friend who took the time to tell me what she loved about me and our friendship. Her insights were things I did know about myself, but had never put together in those ways and had never had anyone tell me how much they liked those qualities. "I know, in spite of all these wonderful traits that you sometimes think you lack confidence. But confidence in yourself - not the loud, bravado kind of confidence, but the certainty that how you feel is valid and that what you believe about the world is true - that's the kind of confidence I know you have. I know because I can feel it when I'm with you. It spreads to the people around you and makes them feel surer of themselves without you needing to say a word. It's a rare kind of magic." It made my heart feel so happy and full and understood - she really "got" me - quirks and all and wanted me to know it. I will cherish that letter and her friendship forever.

The other gift was a jar of Kind Notes - little tiny cards in envelopes with encouraging and kind quotes. This was sent by some dear friends from college and when I received it I felt so overwhelmed and loved and understood. One of the things I do (I think it's a spiritual gift of mine) is to send cards to friends and family - birthday cards, anniversary cards, get well cards, thinking of you or praying for you cards, etc. What I felt when I received this gift was that these friends had seen and known this gift of mine (sending cards) and having been recipients of it many times over the years, took the time to reciprocate in a way that they knew meant something to me. It felt deeply personal and heartfelt and it blessed me in ways that I find difficult to express completely. Most of all, I felt known and understood and loved and appreciated. It was a gift I will treasure forever.

“A person can grow to his or her fullest capacity only in mutually caring relationships with others.” ~ Mister Rogers

I feel truly blessed to be surrounded with so many friends who love me. It is a privilege to know and love them and I do my best to make time to grow and deepen these relationships. For some who live far away, this means being intentional about making time to call and catch up. It includes sending cards or letters, communicating through Facebook or email or texting. And when time and finances allow, it will include making a visit. This doesn't happen as often as I'd like, but it's definitely something I try to make happen. For those friends who live nearby, this means making plans for coffee or lunch or dinner. It can include calls, definitely texting, and keeping up to date in Facebook. With some friends we've established a pattern of monthly dinners or lunches. With other friends it's more random but ends up being at least monthly if not more often. My husband and I frequently like to have friends over for meals and we often discuss who we haven't seen in awhile and then make plans to get together with them. Being in community with others is very important to us, to me. I look forward to time spent with my friends and family and cherish the moments we spend together.

“Community is beautiful, and every one of us needs it. Without community we’ll sink. And the only way to have true community is to be transparent. To share the stuff you think about at night as you go to bed. To ask the hard questions. To encourage, listen, pray for, and speak truth to.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn & Alyssa Joy Bethke

It's amazing how God brings certain people into our lives. Something I've discovered in the past few years, is how certain friendships in my life have deepened over the course of this journey I'm on. Friends who I might not have expected have stepped into my life and encouraged me, supported me and helped me grow. Some of these friends have been really vulnerable and real, and their transparency has helped me to feel brave enough to be vulnerable and real in return. When someone is willing to be really real - the good stuff, the bad stuff, the hard stuff, the really really bad and hard stuff, the sad stuff, and even the amazing wonderful stuff - and when you are willing to brave and take the risk to be vulnerable too, God draws your hearts closer in ways you never imagined was possible. It makes those friendships become like family...and I am so thankful for and amazed by those friends.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

“Such is the gift of true community – a wee tribe of people who will cheer for us, not necessarily because we’re good, but because they claim us as theirs.” ~ Lisa Harper

God created us to be in community. To have our tribe of people around us who help to teach and encourage, to convict and support, and to love us. The community can be found in our families, in our churches, in our friendships and even in people we may not be able to meet - like my spiritual mentor, Henri Nouwen. These people help us to not feel alone. They help us feel known and understood. They help us to grow and deepen our relationship with God. We can learn from each other and teach one another. What a beautiful thing community is and what a wonderful gift from our heavenly Father.

“Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways…Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is.”
~ Shauna Niequist

I'm grateful for the ways God uses me to encourage my friends and family with the truth of His Word. When I send a card to someone, I always include quotes and verses - sometimes just one, but usually a lot. As I'm choosing them, I think about that person and the reasons I'm sending them a card. I think about our friendship and why I love them, I think about how to pray for them, and I think about what might best encourage and support them and show my love and care for them, but more importantly, God's love for them. I know that He leads me in my choices and it encourages me to be able to be a blessing and encouragement to that person on God's behalf. This is why I know it's a spiritual gift, because every time I send a card, I know I'm being the person God created me to be and sending love and truth to someone who He has placed on my heart and using the words He wants me to use. It's a gift and a responsibility that I don't take lightly because it's one of the ways I can shine my light for Him to the world.

“…glad they had each other during this time and could be anchored together in the safe harbor of a steady friendship and an abiding hope in God’s faithfulness.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” ~ Philippians 1:3

Friendship is a blessing and something I am thankful for every day. The beauty of the friends and family that God has brought into my life is something to treasure. The ways I have felt supported, encouraged, and loved by those friends is so important to me and has helped me to feel seen and known and loved. The ability to be a friend to others and to help them feel heard and seen and known and loved is such a gift. I'm so grateful for those who have been open and vulnerable with me, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to be real and honest in return. Each friendship has the ability to teach me things about how to relate to others, how to grow and change, and how to share God's love with the people in our lives. There is a South African word "Ubuntu" which means "I am because we are" and it really fits this idea of the importance of friendship and community. We are affected by the people around us and we become more of who we are because of who they are and the relationships between us. This also relates to our relationship with God - we become more like Him the longer we are in relationship with Him. What a blessing!

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the gifts of community and friendship. Thank You for the very special people You bring into our lives and the ways those relationships show us how deeply we are loved, especially by You. Thank You for the opportunity to show love to others. Thank You for the gift of encouragement and thank You for using me to encourage others. Help me to always reflect Your love and concern for others. Thank You for the ways You are helping me to be vulnerable, and help me to continue to do so even when it's scary. Thank You for the people who love me and see me and know me...and thank You for always seeing me, knowing me intimately and always loving me no matter what. I love you too. Amen.

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