10 Ways to Nurture Healthy Friendships

by Elizabeth

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About a year ago I led a discussion on female friendships with a group of teen girls. In preparation for that class, I asked some ladies whose friendship I highly value for their wisdom on cultivating and nurturing healthy, God-honoring friendships.

What they said was so rich — and is still so rich — that I wanted to share it with you (with their permission of course). I hope you will read through their words and then at the end share your own wisdom and experiences.

 

“Tenderness is the first thing I think of. It stuns me every time. I think time is a huge piece of the friendship process. It takes time and shared experiences — some of which you can create and some that just happen to you mutually as you go through things together. Good communication is super important, just like in marriage. Good listening skills.

There are rhythms to friendship too, and knowing that and not freaking out about it is important if you are in a long-term friendship. Sometimes the friendship is wide, sometimes it is deep, depending on what’s happening to the people involved.”

–from Teresa, my dear friend of 12 years (8 together and 5 apart). She’s the one who wrote this popular article about our friendship after I moved across the ocean.

 

“The main thing I can think of with girls is that it’s just as important to be equally yoked in your closest friendships as it is in a marriage relationship, and that we get in trouble when we start comparing ourselves to someone else (in a discontented way).”

–from Sarah, my dear friend since university days (15 years and counting).

 

“Female friendships are vital in my life because we are designed to be a part of community. Some characteristics that I think are important with girlfriends are honesty — if something is bothering you or you feel like God is calling you to talk about something with your girlfriend it’s crucial to listen and be honest with friends instead of letting a conflict or problem come between you. Also vulnerability, so your friends can see ‘the real you.’

With vulnerability comes accountability, and this is my absolute favorite part of friendships because it’s truly a beautiful depiction of the church when friends see our weaknesses and can still love us but encourage and help us change! Pitfalls in friendships from my life are when I compare myself to friends or begin to judge other girlfriends when this happens I am not able to have a true godly friendship that is honoring to the Lord.”

–from Chelsea, a former youth group member who’s been a dear friend for 10 years now

 

So to recap, some of the most important qualities in our friendships are:

  1. Tenderness
  2. Spending time together
  3. Maintaining honesty in our communication
  4. Listening well
  5. Vulnerability – letting people see the “real you”
  6. Accepting accountability for our shortcomings
  7. Accepting the various rhythms in our lives
  8. Being “equally yoked” – cultivating close friendships with other believers
  9. Avoiding comparison and jealousy
  10. Staying humble and avoiding judgment

 

What about you? How have you experienced female friendships, either in positive or negative ways? What are the things you’ve learned along the way? Anything to add to our list?

 

Bonus: Books

Melanie Shankle wrote my absolute favorite book on friendship: Nobody’s Cuter Than You. I laughed so hard, and then I cried so hard. I loved it so much I bought a copy for all the ladies on my team. You can watch the book trailer here.

Christine Hoover wrote my absolute favorite modern book on grace from a female author: From Good to Grace (Did you catch how I left space for my favorite modern book on grace from a male author — Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God?). Anyway, Christine is coming out with a new book called Messy Beautiful Friendship. I haven’t read it yet, but I know it’ll be good, and she’s been publishing a series of blog posts highlighting some of the book’s content that you might want to check out.

When your husband calls you “a shell of a woman” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today.

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For months this spring I felt like a shell of a woman. I was empty and didn’t have anything to give. Oh, I was still doing all the “right” things. I was still getting up most mornings attempting to connect with God, and I was still relatively consistent with my commitment to exercise.  But I felt dead inside and couldn’t figure out why.

My husband noticed. Where before him once stood life and life abundant, he now saw a shell of a woman. He even suggested another round of counseling. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it or even what it was. I was unhappy in life and unmotivated in work. Was it depression? Burnout? What???

I felt especially dead at church. That was a strange feeling, because corporate worship has always quenched my thirst and nourished my soul and made my spirit come alive. But I just buried that newly incongruous feeling and ignored it. I tuned it out and refused to listen to it. I ran to the nearest screen and numbed out on TV and Facebook and solitaire games instead.

Finish reading here.

This is what I know about spiritual formation (so far)

by Elizabeth

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An Anglican priest ruined it for me. He ruined the phrase “enter the presence of God.”

I was at a Lenten prayer service last year when he said, “Let us become present to the Lord, for He is always present to us.” I knew what he was saying was true, for I’d learned it in other areas of my life (Psalm 139 anyone?). So what he said was more a vocabulary lesson than a course correction.

God is always present and available to us, and I can no longer say with integrity that we “enter the Lord’s presence” during a worship service. In fact, now when I hear that phrase from others, I start to tune out. What I can say with integrity is that we can choose to become present to the Lord.

So with that in mind, here’s everything I know about becoming present to the Lord. In other words, here’s everything I know about spiritual formation (so far).

 

1. Regular, private devotional times with God.

I’ve talked about this a lot before and how it’s changed my life, so I won’t rehash it here. I’ll just summarize my low-pressure method for cultivating intimacy with God:

  • Don’t feel guilty for short times with God
  • Don’t feel guilty if you can’t keep up with a fast-paced Bible-reading plan
  • Don’t feel guilty for deviating from your plans
  • Don’t feel guilty about skipping times.

 

2. Meeting with other believers for corporate worship.

The Church has been key to my spiritual growth. I go into a worship service expecting God to speak to me through songs, sermons, and prayers. And He does.

I’d like to quote Misty Edwards here on the mystery of corporate worship: “Musical worship involves a physical voice, physical sound waves that actually move through the air and strike your ear, go into your mind, into your emotions and spirit.” She also noted that “Musical worship is how the Body becomes One.”

I cannot downplay the importance of the Church in my spiritual life; neither can I downplay the importance of my private devotional life. I need both.

 

3. Small group Bible studies and other intimate forms of community.

I’ve talked about this before, but for years in the States I was part of a small ladies’ Bible study. I learned so much about life and faith from those (mostly older) women. They empathized with my struggles and prayed me through some of my darkest days. Most of what I know about Grace, I learned with them.

These days my teammates function as my small group. We share sorrows and joys together and pray for and support each other. I’m so thankful for people who listen to, accept, pray for, and advise the “real me.”

 

4. Getting counseling.

Sometimes personal devotionals, corporate worship, and talking with trusted people are enough to work through my issues; sometimes they are not. I’ve had several key breakthroughs in my life because of counselors (both licensed professional counselors and pastoral counselors), and I cannot overstate the importance of sometimes getting outside help. I would not be where I am today in my relationship with God and my relationship with others without the help and intervention of those counselors.

 

Well there you have it, everything I know about spiritual formation (so far). What would you add to my list?

Creating with the Creator {how to start writing with God}

Recently someone asked me how I got started with writing and if I could give any advice on how to begin. Here is the bulk of what I wrote in reply, cleaned up a bit for the blog. ~Elizabeth

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I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability. But you should know I don’t make money from writing; it’s all ministry. I don’t know if that affects anything for you.

To answer how I got started in writing: it was an “accident,” almost like a cosmic joke. Seriously though, I never thought of myself as a writer. But when we started the missionary journey, I started writing some in our newsletters. Then when we actually made the move, I would just record funny or crazy culture shock stories, anything that was going on.

By the end of the first year in country I realized not only did writing do something for my soul, I was seeming to connect with people through it. I began to take it seriously and tried to set aside a bit of time each day to do it. Then in that second year I was asked to write an article for our organization’s annual magazine.

At the beginning of our third year in Cambodia Jonathan and I were invited to write for A Life Overseas. Then a year later I was invited to write for Velvet Ashes. So it all just kind of snowballed from the initial recording of daily life here. I do still find it life-giving, especially when I write for my own blog, as there is less internal pressure to “get it right” or to be inspiring. But I also see writing as a ministry of encouragement.

That’s the formal part of my adult writing story, but I can pick out the threads of this tapestry many years into the past. I remember as a young child wanting to be a fiction writer when I grew up. In high school I wanted to be a Christian singer/songwriter, and I tried my hand at writing lyrics. But I don’t think they were any good! At university I served in youth ministry, and for one teen girls’ class I wrote plays about the women we were studying in the Bible. I had so much fun with that, and so did the girls. It’s a pity I lost them!

I never would have considered myself a writer, though I remember emailing silly stories about young motherhood to my best friend when I was a young mom and still lived in the States, and she once told me I was so good at that and how she wished I could use that skill someday. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it must have been more than a bit prophetic. So I think the writing has always been there inside me in some capacity.

Which brings me to something important: if you are a writer, because that’s who you are and who God made you to be, you will always be a writer. The size of your audience doesn’t affect your identity as a writer. I think that’s massively important, and I borrowed that bit of wisdom from International House of Prayer musician Misty Edwards. So much of what she says about prophetic singing and worship leading applies to writing too, and I’ll type my notes from her onething 2015 breakout session at the end of this note.

For me writing is vocational – “an expression of worship,” just as you said. And I personally try to write out of the healed places in my life, not my current, gaping woundedness. I have definitely gone through un-free seasons, seasons where I was bound by fear of others’ opinions of me, seasons where I really had to seek God about my social anxiety and my need to please others. For the most part now I do feel free of that crippling fear, and it is a wonderful feeling. But of course I long for all of us to be free of competition and comparison, of envy and jealousy and insecurity.

So advice on getting started? Write. Just write. Write what’s on your heart and do NOT think about the audience. The audience comes later. The art comes first. Don’t think about who’s going to read it, don’t think about whether it’s any good. As you practice, you’ll get a feel for which types of writing you enjoy and which types you might be better at than others. You’ll find your distinctive voice.

Later on, make sure you’ve got a good grammar handbook (The Elements of Style is a good one), and make sure your style is following the rules where necessary, only “breaking” the rules on purpose, and also easy for a reader to follow. I am very picky about grammar, spelling, and punctuation (which is how I got the role of editor at A Life Overseas, which I love, but also another accidental job). And the rules of writing are important. Those things kind of reside in my gut now, because I wrote a lot of essays and reports in both high school and college. They are not automatically gut-level, but they can be trained into us.

The other part of style, the overall content and flow, is probably also trainable, but I find it to be gut level too. I like pretty words, and I like pretty paragraphs. I do think there are guidelines for developing those things, but I tend to function by gut anymore, so I might not have great advice on that. I know you can take workshops for that kind of thing in some places. The best advice I have is to read quality writing and literature, and you’ll start to get a feel for good structure and flow.

Then how to go public with it? That I have even less advice on! My writing journey was all accidental. Jonathan bought our blog domain six years ago only as a way to disseminate our newsletters. We never meant for it to take on a life of its own like this. But that meant that from the very beginning I had a place to write, with a few prayer supporters to read it. It grew organically, I guess. And then writing on other bigger blogs helps expand your personal reach and it all becomes one big muddled mess that I can’t tease the particulars out of!

So should you get a blog domain? I don’t know! People nowadays also use Facebook as blogging. You know, the long statuses where people don’t have to leave the Facebook app. Anne Lamott is famous for those. (She’s got some salty language, but her book on writing, Bird by Bird, is an absolutely essential manual.) So you could dip your feet in the waters by sharing your writing, the writing you feel really confident about, in a Facebook status. You might even say you’re just starting out and wanting to share things.

Or you can submit various pieces to various collective blogs (those are usually non-paying) or print magazines or newspapers (which sometimes pay — my best friend is a writer who does that sometimes, but I don’t really know anything about that personally).

Don’t ever forget that some things are just between you and God, and that’s still writing. I’ve got lots and lots of words that never see the light of day. They are just for me and God in the secret place.

In the same vein, just because something is uber-personal and you think it’s just for you and God, don’t assume it’ll never see the light of day. A lot of writers say some of their most impactful work is stuff they thought was just for themselves. I remember a story like that about Twila Paris and “The Warrior is a Child.” I wrote a poem on grief that I thought would never be public either. Jonathan has published things like that too. So keep writing privately no matter what, and you never know what might be of the greatest use to someone later on!

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The following Misty Edwards quotes were recorded as quickly as I could write them down, so they may not perfectly represent her teaching or her message. If so, the mistake is all mine — but even so, I received so much encouragement from her talk and am grateful to have heard her speak.

“God could speak Himself audibly. But He chooses to speak through us. He chooses to use our voices and He chooses to break in to our world with words.”

“The main way He speaks to us is language. Mental images, pictures, words, imagination, that’s how God speaks.”

“We must be familiar with the language of scripture.”

“If you are an artist, because that’s what God made you to be and that’s who you are, it doesn’t matter who is watching, you are still an artist.”

“When you’re doing what you’re called to do, you feel alive and connected to God.”

“Don’t worry about the source of your inspiration if it’s grounded in Scripture.”

“Sing like yourself. It’s easier on your voice. Don’t damage it by singing like others! And breathe from deep within your belly, not your head.”

“This is all something we practice.”

“Don’t be afraid to collaborate.”

“Create. Don’t copy-cat.”

“The quality of our art is important.”

“What to do when you mess up? Because you will mess up. Find safe people, to get some perspective, to get out of your head. Laugh at the little mistakes. When you don’t, you put yourself in a prison. Don’t quit. And remember that God is not displeased.”

“Major on the majors, minor on the minors, don’t argue about small details, don’t lose friendships over arguments.”

Authenticity is Not New

by Elizabeth

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These days people toss around the words “authentic” and “vulnerable” as if they were brand new ideas. As if no one had ever experienced them before. As if they weren’t already there for the taking.

These statements sound strange to me when all along, I’ve been quietly receiving the benefits of authentic community and vulnerable relationships – and in the Church no less, a place people often complain they can’t find any community. And to further confound stereotypes, I’ve found this type of friendship even as a ministry wife.

I don’t think we need special buzzwords to validate our experiences. I’ve been inviting people into my home and into my heart for nigh unto 16 years. I’ve been developing real, honest, gritty relationships as long as I’ve been of age — as did my husband’s parents before me. And that was back in the 80’s and 90’s, before people began being vulnerable and authentic with each other (or at least before the words were trendy).

They invited people into their messy home to talk about their messy pasts and their messy relationships and their messy eating disorders. No one needed to validate them. No one needed to approve them. No one needed to give them permission. They simply lived, and they simply did fellowship the way believers have been doing it for thousands of years: open, honest, and real. In community. Before community was “buzzing.”

God designed us to have these kinds of relationships, and His people have been tasting of them for thousands of years. We need only look to Ruth & Naomi or David & Jonathan to realize this.

So when you develop relationships that are authentic and vulnerable, don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re doing something new or novel. Rather, tell yourself that you’re doing something holy and good, something God created you to do, and something that brings Him pleasure.

May you remember that you stand on holy ground when you partake of the ancient practice of community. May you honor the memory of friends who have walked with you into authenticity and vulnerability in the past. May you lift your hands to heaven in thanksgiving for the friends who are currently walking with you through the storms of life. And if through some tragedy you have never had your own safe and secure people, may the wind of the Holy Spirit blow some your way.

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And because I’ve been feeling extra sentimental lately, here’s one of my favorite songs on fellowship, from the dark ages of the 1990’s and sung by the group Acappella.

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Other posts in the Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Dear American Church

I am a Worshipper

3 Things I Know About Creativity

by Elizabeth

I never thought I’d be a writer. I certainly never thought I’d be an editor. Yet here I am, as both a writer and an editor, loving both.

I love writing. I love typing out words and twirling them around on the screen. I love figuring out what my story means. I love speaking from the heart and being understood by others. I love the feeling of connectedness when others relate to my experiences. I love realizing that my words may have helped someone somewhere along the line.

And I love editing (or as I like to call it, collaboration). I love empowering people to tell their own stories. I love the privilege of peering into people’s souls and of being able to say, “I see you.” I love finding the gold and precious stones in their words and chipping away at the rough edges until the work shines just so, until we’re ready to present it to the world. And then, after we’ve finished working together, I love the thrill of watching a fellow writer be understood and accepted by their readers.

As I’ve practiced the art of writing over the last four years and, more recently, entered into the world of editing this year, I’ve come to realize three essential ingredients to creativity. There are perhaps more. I only know creativity has these three needs:

  • To live life. If I want to write, I have to go outside my door. I have to live life and collect some experiences. I can’t write about something I haven’t lived, and I can’t just stare at a screen all day. It’s not good for my neck and back muscles (or homeschooling, for that matter). I have to let my mind wander and my soul breathe. Usually it’s when I am having the most difficulty at a project that I most need to get up, shut the laptop, and do something else. A new arrangement of words and ideas generally comes while I clean the kitchen or take a shower.
  • To be alone. Art is created in solitude. I need time for both contemplation and the actual creating. If I want to write, I need quiet. Not silence – a life with four kids in Phnom Penh is never going to achieve that. But I need to get away by myself to write, even if it’s just another room (which is what it usually is). And I need to get away to talk to God. For me, writing only flows when I’m in communion with my own Creator and my soul is at peace. And I need time alone for that, too.
  • To be in community. Art may be created in solitude, but it’s refined in community. When we share our intimate thoughts and vulnerable moments with others, we need both encouragement and constructive feedback. We need feedback so we can tell our stories more clearly and more fully. More resonantly. And we need trusted people to take in our work and to affirm us. Community gives us the confidence that what we have to offer the world is good and valuable, and that in and of itself is good and valuable — and that is what I love about editing.

“Creativity does not truly come from the popularized image of the tormented artist, struggling with the muse. True creativity is born in community as men and women of God listen to each other and to Him: as we seek to understand each other’s woundedness and strengths.” –Michael Card

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What about all you other creators out there? Does your creativity need other ingredients?

The Church: Hungry for Community

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by Elizabeth

Last week I posted this on my Facebook wall:

This morning at church we sang “We welcome You with praise” (from Chris Tomlin’s song “Here For You”). Sometimes it’s easy to welcome Him with praise. Other times, not so much.

I remember in early 2006 when we learned that Jonathan’s dad had brain cancer. A dear friend dropped everything to come sit with me. I couldn’t pray; she prayed for me. She told God that we bring a sacrifice of praise to Him, for today, it is exactly that, a SACRIFICE. She welcomed God with praise when I couldn’t do it myself.

I love the story in Exodus where Moses holds up his staff, and the Israelites gain the advantage over the Amalekites. Soon Moses’ arms are so tired he can’t hold them up, and Aaron and Hur find a stone for him to sit on. Then they stand on either side of him, holding up his hands. And his hands hold steady.

I remember when Jonathan’s mom was dying of cancer. It was Jonathan’s turn to lead singing, and his mom was in the congregation. As he was leading “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” he got to a point where he couldn’t continue. An elder took over the song leading, and two men came and stood on either side of him and literally held his arms up as we sang.

May we be people who band together, holding each other’s arms up in the battle. May we be people who join with the tired, the weary, and the hurting, and welcome God with praise even when some in our midst cannot.

He is still with us.

The next day I wondered why I’d felt so compelled to share that. Then I realized that it was because I was writing about the Church, and I love the Church. In fact, I get irrationally happy talking about the Church. I’m captivated by God’s great idea. His magnificent idea.

I didn’t expect my Facebook post to resonate with so many people, but it did. That tells me that we are hungry for the kind of community God designed, even as we sustain damage from His people through unhealthy or abusive church environments.

A couple years ago I wrote about all the reasons I love the Church. But it felt incomplete. There’s so much more to say, so much more to flesh out. My thoughts on the Church have been percolating for a while now. So this is my launching point for a series on the Church. It won’t be in any particular order or on any particular schedule. I’ll add to the series whenever I get the chance, and I’ll unashamedly share how I feel about Christ’s Bride, the Church.

*photo credit

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Other posts in the Church series:

“Me too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Dear American Church

I am a Worshipper

Authenticity is Not New