So today I was thinking about friendships. I read through, “A friend loves at all times . . . .” (Proverbs 17:17). As many of you know, I grew up without a mother (she died when I was very young). Dad did a good enough job as a single father, and I had various women in and out of my life growing up, but none with a really significant, lasting impact. As a child, I had no friends that carried through to adulthood (at least, no closeness to them still). I was a pretty crappy friend myself (which I’ll highlight again later) and thought we should always play what I wanted to play (very self-serving). I sometimes see that in young children today and I just sigh, because I know that to have a friend, you have to be a friend. Sure, it’s a cliché, but it is a good one! I never bought into the truth of it until adulthood.

Then, when I was working as a house keeper pursuing my Bachelor’s degree, I developed a great (and I mean phenomenal!) relationship with an older woman. I was 24 at the time, she was 72. Gerry taught me more about my friendships with women, just through actions, than I’d known before, and I carry those points with me today. I thought I would share.

1) Don’t get stuck in a friendship rut – be flexible. I love having friends who are Moms, because they understand the scheduled chaos motherhood inherently brings about. Mom-friends seem to come in and out of my life, often because of moving, or work changes. When I want to get out of the house, it’s more likely I can hang with the Moms (their kids in tow in addition to my own) because my single or child-free girlfriends may not want a get-together where I’ve got to stop the conversation to pull out a breast and nurse a child. On the rare night I can pop up to my neighbor’s house for a glass of wine, child-free, we both love it all the more. What happens more often is she comes down here for a cup of coffee on the weekends. We have to be open to being flexible with our friendship needs and adjusting to those over our life course. With the social networking that is out there, I can keep up on my friendships with women across the country (planning trips that *someday* will come to fruition). At one point Gerry was the most influential woman in my life, and now we catch up once or twice a year over the phone. I miss her. I know if I need her still, I just need to pick up the phone. Sometimes my friendship needs change, and that’s okay.

2) Digging in the dirt is always better with a friend beside you. When I was working “for” Gerry (she was my employer, but there was never that awkward authority issue), we spent hours and hours tending her flower gardens (and there were acres of them). Gerry’s idea of planting was to just fling the seeds out in haphazard abandon (she approached a lot of things this way) and let them root where they will. Great for a beautiful garden, but certainly took a lot of work combating the weeds (especially to a person who doesn’t know the difference between a wildflower and a weed). Fortunately, Gerry often weeded with me, and we had some of our best talks laboring on our hands and knees in the garden. I hate gardening (to this day), but having a friend beside you makes every onerous task more enjoyable.

This week I’ve got a “new” friend coming over, and we’re going to can together. I’m excited about this, because I’ve wanted to be friends with her for a while. (Surely you know how that works – there’s a really cool woman you see around, you think her life story would be interesting if only you knew the details, you like how she parents and actually enjoy her child(ren), and she seems like a good wife – all earmarks that tell me this person would be someone I’d enjoy spending time with). Now, I should clarify that my excitement comes from anticipated enjoyment of time with HER, not time canning (I hate canning). The canning will pass so readily, though, I’m sure.

3) Give as good as you expect in return. This was probably my biggest stumbling block in childhood. I wasn’t willing to give anything. I was one of those bratty kids who wanted to play what I wanted to play, or I’d say, “Fine, then I’m not going to play with you.” Frankly, I have no idea how that developed. I could argue I just didn’t have a lot of modeling of what good friendships looked like. I could argue I didn’t have anyone saying, “Hey! Don’t be a brat! Take turns playing what others want to play.” (Something admittedly I’ve told my own kids when I see them being unkind with friends). I could even question at what point that stopped, and not be completely sure. Just speculating, I would argue it happened when I found Jesus. That also sounds cliché, but it was probably the first time I developed a network of women who I could talk to about anything, and who shared their counsel and life wisdom with me (thank you, Titus 2). I trusted them. During my divorce, I leaned on them. They were there. I’ve learned from Gerry and other women along the way that I have to give of my time if I expect women to give back to me when I need a friendship refill. I also have to be honest if I expect honesty, be willing to listen to them if I expect them to listen to me, be willing to go to their house if I expect them to come to mine.

4) Food always makes people feel valued. Gerry fed everyone. She had friends over all the time for lunches, dinners, birthday parties, bridal showers, Bible studies, or just afternoon tea. She made casseroles for funerals, for sickness, for weddings, for housewarmings, for new babies – she was always delivering food somewhere. At the time, I thought she just really liked to cook. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that there’s some element of feeding people that says, “I value you. I want to lighten your load. I want to give you something from my heart, crafted by my hands, developed through my time.” It’s probably from Gerry that I’ve developed this particular component of my own character (and what many would perceive to be my special little gift from God). No, it’s not a gift of being a good cook (I still burn plenty, and many of my more creative efforts are met with dubious skepticism around the table), but a gift of service. I’ve found that service is invaluable to friendships. Cooking may not be your gift, or your means to serve, but every friendship benefits from a well-timed casserole (anecdotally speaking).

5) Embrace the differences, and learn from them. This last one is probably my favorite, and a caveat that ties in (there’s always a caveat). I am a Jesus-loving girl, but I’m not the variety that feels all my friends need to be Jesus-loving girls. In fact, I really adore having friends who aren’t. I’ve got friends who are Jewish, Universalist, Wiccan, where’s-the-order-of-things agnostic, and even one who’s an Atheist (at least, only one I know of who is an Atheist).

I’ve got friends of all races, ethnicities, social classes, and orientations (I’m white, middle-class, and straight, not that it should matter). I learn SO MUCH from my friends who are “not like me.” When I was growing up, in my whiter-than-white school district of affluent yuppies, I had no clue or appreciation of the beauty in the differences of mankind.

Being exposed to different opinions really helps shape my own ideological positions. I’ve got a few friends who are feminists, and while I tend to favor Marxism over feminism, I am constantly learning more about the societal subjugation of women. I can still love the capitalists (like my sister). I’ve got a few friends who are gay, and while I do the whole Jesus thing, I support gay rights because I want my friends to have the same happiness and life opportunities that I have (plus, I honestly think Jesus would have been like, “Let it go, people . . . just love one another”). I’ve got friends who distinctly oppose gay rights, but I still consider them my friends, even though we differ in our positions. I’ve got ultra-conservative friends and ultra-liberal friends (one in search of something further left than liberal to describe herself), and even though I’m a moderate, I love them and feel loved by them still. I’ve got Republican friends and Democrat friends. Something I learned from Gerry was to accept people as they are – if they have a character I enjoy, I can embrace them as my friend.

There’s one caveat to this, and it’s just something that I’ve developed that “feels right” to me – I don’t have a lot of male friends. When I was growing up I did . . . tons, in fact. I remember in high school saying, “I just don’t like girls. I’m much more comfortable with boys.” I hear that now from young girls and shake my head a bit, because it often means we’re insecure with ourselves as women, and quite possibly have some Daddy issues to work through. But that’s beside the point.

I’ve got three friends from grad school who are men, and we keep in touch, and I love them dearly. I’ve got one neighbor friend who’s male and we email quite a bit, but he was friends with my husband long before he was friends with me. I’ve got a couple of facebook friends who are men (but they’re generally dads of my girlfriends or husbands of my girlfriends). However – I don’t spend time alone in their company. I don’t go “do” things or “hang out” with my male friends. My husband has never addressed it, and may well not give a fig if I did, but as a married woman, I’m very careful about my male friendships. When I consider how I’d feel about my husband having female friends, I get a little twinge of discomfort in my tummy. It’s not jealousy or insecurity really, because I know my man is faithful. It’s not that I buy into the societal double-standard of rules for men versus rules for women. It’s just my own issue. Inasmuch as I try to be the friend I want to have, I try to be the spouse I want to have. Fortunately, since my husband is my very best friend, I’m not missing the male perspective on anything. 😉

I hope I can teach my children how to be a good friend – I hope I can model that in my actions. I hope they have lifelong friends like I didn’t, even though they’ve faced challenges of moving a lot in their childhood and have only sunk down some roots these last few years. I hope they know that their siblings can be wonderful friends, but other women can be as close as sisters, given some time and energy. It took me long enough in my life to get to this point, but I’m glad I finally got here!

On Husbands and Puppies

Sometimes we have those weekends that just knock us off our feet, throw off the order and harmony we think (unrealistically) we’ve created, and cause us to re-evaluate what’s going on in life. I had a bit of an epiphany this morning that I can attribute solely to some words from Lisa TerKeurst’s “Am I Messing Up My Kids,” study I’ve been working on, and thought this would be blog-worthy.

Now, initially, I have to state up front I don’t like to write things about my husband that could be misconstrued (negatively). When I reflect on the circumstances of the last few days (within the context of Lisa T.’s smackdown upside my head), I realize this won’t – it will reflect negatively on me, but I think part of the purpose of the blog (for me) is self-analysis, self-declaration, and then ultimately, catharsis. I’ll do the caveat — if you could be reading this and think negatively or positively of my husband, choose the positive. I’m the screwball in this circumstance.

It goes like this – my beloved husband showed up three days ago with two puppies (about 8 weeks old, I imagine). It was a complete shocker. We’d discussed a couple of months ago about getting a pup, because I (and the kids) had fallen in love with a pup at an animal swap (a Great Pyrenees, which I still hope to own some day because I want to snuggle in their fluffy white coat). Husband vetoed the pup, and namely for valid reasons (we didn’t know the home it came from, the lineage, the breed characteristics, it’s family interactions, etc). So I set aside my heart for a puppy, assuming the time would come along when we would get one. Little did I know my husband had not stopped the puppy-contemplations, and when he was out with the kids, and his father offered him two of these pups, he didn’t think there would be any harm in bringing them home. He knew I wanted pups, so viola, issue resolved.

Bo, the new Catahoula pup      Jack

Bo & Jack, the new Catahoula pups

My reaction was less than stellar. I bawled, I ranted, I lost my temper, I vowed I wouldn’t be able to love these pups because I didn’t really want two, I didn’t really want this breed, I didn’t really want the kids to get to pick them out when I had no say. I bawled some more. Mind you – I kept insisting it wasn’t really about the pups (it was about the way they were brought home with no discussion with me). My husband *gasp* pointed out that I tend to be on the controlling side (he said it among other things, and he said it differently than that). However, that was the gyst.

Now, I want to point out that I am a type-A woman, I love a schedule as much as I love my clean teeth, and I thrive in an orderly world. I think I have deluded myself a bit into this false sense that just because I discuss everything with my husband (household stuff, family stuff) because I feel that’s what a wife should do that I wasn’t “controlling.” I’m bringing the issues to my husband, right? That’s submission, right? Just because I get all bent out of shape when he doesn’t run things by me (in the same manner) doesn’t make me controlling, does it? Well, maybe. A bit. I’m sure if my sisters or close friends are reading this now, they’re snickering at my deliberate naiveté.

In addition to the Lisa T. study I’ve been reading, “For Better or Best” by Gary Smalley. I really don’t like it (which, from past experience, often means I need to keep reading it). It rankles every time I read it because I (inwardly, maybe subconsciously) scoff at the women who need to be told to do more for their man (I do it all!) and for the husbands who disregard their wives (mine never does!).

I do consider myself a good wife, but there’s certainly room for improvement. I really don’t do *everything* I could be doing for my husband. More importantly, I am often heavy-hearted because I want more communication, more involvement, more appreciation (all things Smalley denotes are not really hard-wired into the male communication sense, but rather, need to be developed and encouraged). I also have a really fabulous husband – he treats me exceptionally well. He’s home every night when he isn’t working a job somewhere (away from his family, because he feels the burden to provide). He is incredibly involved with his children (noteworthy because it’s a rarity in our culture). He would never cheat on me, never beat me, doesn’t smoke, drink, or have any desire to run around blowing money. He can fix anything at all that needs fixing, and will do so whenever I request it. He never grumbles about his responsibilities, is almost always good-spirited, and will work like no other. I’m a very blessed wife. So what’s the issue?

This is where the smackdown came in. Lisa T. wrote, “When you aren’t depending upon your husband to fill you up, then he can make mistakes and you are still okay. He can say the wrong thing, and you can forgive him quickly. He can struggle and question his direction, and you don’t fall into despair. He can be your partner and your friend because he does not have to be your savior.

Sweet cracker sandwich. That might be an issue for Lisa (this Lisa) right there, folks. I married such a wonderful man I really have a problem when I think he’s made a mistake (and he did apologize for bringing the pups home without discussing it – he just genuinely thought I’d be glad to have pups). Did I mention it’s been 3 days that I’ve been grumbly and surly? Forgive him quickly? I need some of that, please! I do depend on him to fill me up. I do want affirmations for a clean house and a hot meal (and to be honest, he provides those fairly often, just not regularly). I do want more from him than I should be wanting, because while he’s a mighty good man (who’s with me on the throwback to Salt n Pepa?), he’s still just a man.

I have to add – I did bring this whole matter to God again and again and again over the past few days. I did the whole, “Help me to let this issue go, Lord. Help to either change his heart or change my heart.” Now, you all know that really I wanted HIS heart changed (take the pups back to your dad’s) and not my heart changed (I only asked that because I knew I should). What’s God do? He changed my heart to be accepting of the situation (although last night when hubby and I finally “resolved” the issue, I probably would have argued more ‘resigned’ to the situation). I think God really has a great sense of humor. I can just envision him (knowing where my heart really was when I mumbled that bit about changing my heart) grinning. Then he gives me this great concept to reflect on for my personal growth. Gah . . . I hate personal growth, but it sure makes sense, doesn’t it?

So, the lesson for the week, peeps, is that Lisa (this Lisa) needs to work on having realistic expectations for her husband, and seek out more fulfilment from God. Right. Putting that at the top of my to-do list for the week.


Ruthie isn't sure what to think of the puppy lovin'.

Ruthie isn’t sure what to think of the puppy lovin’.

How God helps me to not be Lady Tremaine

About three weeks ago, I started early rising so I could devote some time to ME, to my personal development. I think it started out more as a need for physical development (exercise) and mental development (free time to read books by authors I love who motivate me to improve myself). However, I thought, “Surely I should start my mornings by reading my Bible?” and so, because I felt dutiful, that’s exactly what I did.

Interestingly enough, I pulled out the Becky Tirabassi “Daily Bible” I got at a Women of Faith conference about a dozen years ago. I was attending a fabulous church (First Christian Church in Hutchinson, KS), where I attended the bulk of my daughters’ “early years.” I had wonderful lady friends, participated intensely (leading Sunday school classes, volunteering in the nursery, studying with the older women) and felt incredibly fed. As I first sat down with that “Daily Bible” (which, I confess, I haven’t opened it at least 8 years), I vividly remember when Becky Tirabassi was leading a conference session, she asked us if we could commit to reading in God’s word for 10 minutes a day, every day, for the rest of our lives. Like all the other women, I raised my hand. Sure! I’m on fire for Jesus! I think many of us rushed out to buy the “Daily Bible”, which breaks down for each day’s reading (with a daily Calendar listing) some Old Testament, some New Testament, some Psalms and some Proverbs. It even came with a “Prayer Partner” book (you could buy refillable pages) where you could journal your responses to each section, fill out your praises and your requests – so incredibly organized! This would make it EASY for me to get into the Word. Fast forward 15 years . . . .

I’ve found that I look forward to pulling out that “Daily Bible” each morning. I don’t use the “Prayer Partner” journal. I’m actually just writing in my lined notebook (which has cartoon pictures of pirates all over it) that I grabbed from my children’s notebook stash when I started on my Fat Journey (weight loss path I’ve been on several months). It’s the one notebook I always have handy, so I thought – hey, I can read my praises and requests throughout the day as I’m recording my food consumed and exercise for the day. Well, it’s as organized as I’m going to get now, anyway. But I digress . . . .

I have essentially abandoned my quest for physical and mental development, and am just adoring this solo time each morning to get up and read in His Word. I lay in bed this morning thinking how I really didn’t want to get up early, because we had some wonderful friends over last evening and admittedly, I stayed up past my bedtime. However, as I lay there (5:30, and I ordinarily get up at 5) I thought, “If I don’t get up now, I’m not going to have any time to read my Bible and work on my Bible study without children clamoring for my attention!” I jumped up out of bed, rushed through my ablutions, got my coffee and got to the table with my study goodies in record time. How fantastic is it that I am so enjoying working on my spiritual development I greet it eagerly each morning? I think it’s fantastic. I’m pretty sure God thinks it’s fantastic, too. I can just envision Him thinking, “HEY! Look at that McGuire girl! She’s getting up early AGAIN to spend some time with me. I think I’m going to bless her day with peace and serenity!” *Two caveats – yes, I always think God envisions me as a girl. Am I just trying to maintain my youthfulness, perhaps unrealistically? Eh, maybe. Am I really expecting my day to be rainbows and unicorns (thanks for that phrase, sister)? Eh, maybe not. But I like to think it pleases Him, and if it pleases me simultaneously, win-win!

Now, another phrase that may have stood out there is about my “clamoring children.” Bad mom? No, I don’t think so. The Bible study I’m working on now is “Am I Messing Up My Kids” by Lisa Terkheurst. I confess – I miss my Bible studies with my girlfriends to no end! We used to meet every other week, and it was a sensational group of ladies (you know who you are, Christy, Angie, Lisa, Barb, Donna) and I felt really fed then, too. However, everyone’s just too busy now. I get that – I really do, so no judgment here.

But I am enjoying the online Proverbs 31 Women’s Ministry Bible studies because, well, hey – I’m still getting in the Word! It’s kind of like a Hershey Bar. I love a Hershey Bar. Preferably a king-sized Hershey Bar with almonds. When I have one, I’m happy. When I have to share it with someone (like those clamoring kids) and I only get a piece for myself, I’m still happy. A more apt example might be when I get a sugar-free carob nutrient dense protein bar that no one else really wants a piece of (I’m still on the Fat Journey, remember), I’m still happy. So, an online study where I am not with my besties but still digging into a topic (like motherhood!) still provides the chocolate – I mean, the Bible time.

The examples Lisa T. uses in the book “Am I Messing Up My Kids” are just hilarious, and I can relate to so many of them! It really makes me pause throughout my day to question how I’m responding to my children, and I think that’s healthy. Right now, my step-children are staying with us for the summer (a longer period of visitation than we get through the school year) and I am really needing to focus on my relationships with them, in particular. This is how they see me, and how I see myself:

CinderellaMom                         MotherTheresa

I don’t think I’m a bad mom (or a bad step-mom). I do treat them the same as I treat my other children, it’s just that it’s so different from how their mother treats them. (And as a good sociologist, I would argue perception is key). I think I just get tired of all that needs to be done every day (paid work, house work, chores, meals, laundry, helping hubby, homeschooling, etc). I also get exhausted from the responsibilities of raising up three distinctly separate “batches” of children (his, mine, and ours) and trying to ensure they are all physically/mentally/spiritually healthy. I’m sure many would argue that there shouldn’t be any differences between the “batches” of children. Ideologically, I hear ya. But my oldest girls were essentially raised when I was a single parent, my step-children are inevitably going to have some issues to work through from both Dad and Mom’s remarriage (and, Dad remarried first) and my youngest two just have me scrambling to ensure we’re eating vegetables (this battle AGAIN?) and have clean cloth diapers on (because it’s good for their tushies)! I am especially working on God “filling my gaps” today (my many, many gaps).

So, it’s a lovely Wednesday. I think tomorrow I’ll jump out of bed again for my clamor-free quiet time. I’m excited to read about Solomon building the temple (I think we’re finally past the list of who begat who), and Paul writing to the Romans (very chastising) and see what fresh humor and insight Lisa T. can provide about her experiences as a mother (it IS good to see other moms have ‘those’ moments). It’s nice to start the day fed.