Friday, January 29, 2016

Tuesday nights

Years ago, I remember hearing a speaker tell me that it would be in my thirties when I would make my real, true friends. Apparently this is the ripest age for developing deep relationships for females. The speaker was one I greatly admired. She was breathtakingly stunning. Though she had recently given birth to an infant, her fourth, one could never tell this by her figure. She wore sleek black dress pants and a silky white blouse, accented by a few stylish ruffles. Her hair was long and beautiful, loose ringlets framing her face. She was gorgeous, fit, a pastor's wife, a successful counselor and exceedingly wise. She was practically everything I aspired to be. Of course she would be able to make life long friends. 

I was in my twenties and lonely, a new mom, completely bewildered by this life I now led that seemed to revolve around a little creature who refused to sleep. After a season of soul-searching, my husband had been accepted into graduate school in pursuit of a Master's degree and his classes commenced not three weeks after we became parents. In the hours that he wasn't attending classes and writing papers, he worked full-time, long 12 hour nursing shifts at a nearby hospital. My life had changed drastically, seemingly overnight. I'd transitioned from working out of the house full-time to being at home alone most of the time with an infant. I was the first in my group of friends to have a baby and all my gal-pals were still plenty occupied at their paid jobs. Needless to say, it was a lonely time for me.

True to my personality, I didn't sit idle. I was quick to sign up for the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group at my church, in hopes of making new connections with people who were in the same phase of life as me. I was on maternity leave but honestly never planned to return to my job (though financial need would later prove otherwise). Money was very tight and there were no margins. Every penny was accounted for and necessary to pay our bills. I recall crying to Graham about how much I wanted to join MOPS but wondered where would the additional $90 for registration fees would come from. He shrugged it off and told me we'd make it work. The fine print for the MOPS ad in the church bulletin even read "Scholarships available as needed" but of course I was far too prideful to ask for help so we squeaked out some extra cash somewhere and made due.

I was assigned to a table of about 8 women. I approached them guarded, intimidated and totally and completely insecure. I put up a pretty solid I'm-cool-I've-got-this front, fearful I'd be "found out" as the dazed and confused new mama who didn't have her crap together that I was. Everyone else seemed so collected. So put together. They all had big houses, like real, grown-up-type Seattle houses. Like cost-at-least-half-a million-bucks-type houses (which could buy you a whole heck of a lot given that it was the year was 2009, and housing prices had plummeted a few years earlier). We, on the other hand, were trapped in a small condo we'd purchased "as an investment" to live in "for just 1-2 years." Our purchase was completed a matter of months before the market crashed. And so in Kirkland we lived and in Kirkland we would remain stuck for the 5 years that followed.

It was a rough time. Comparison and jealousy plagued me and I built up walls to protect myself. Everyone else seemed to have "already arrived" and I can say with full certainty that these feelings inhibited my ability to dive in and foster relationships with my fellow MOPS attendees. There was one girl, however, that I did connect with that first year. She was super down to earth and, like me, she had a newborn infant, only days different apart in age from mine. In the delirium of our sleep deprivation, we bonded. Somehow (to this day I'm still not quite sure what we portrayed other than crazed looks of new motherhood), the leaders at our table saw something in the two of us. And come spring, they asked us to lead a table together the following MOPS year. We agreed and in retrospect, it was by far my best MOPS table yet. We rocked it that year, even if we were essentially the blind leading the blind!

Fast forward a couple years and I found myself co-coordinating the entire MOPS program. How the heck that happened remains a mystery to me and I can only give credit to God for the comical ways in which He works. I remember so well when I was first approached to take on the coordinator role. I was about 15 weeks into my second pregnancy, and rightfully so, a bit concerned about the level of time commitment involved. I questioned the then-coordinator "Is MOPS coordinator a big role?" To the day I can't read that query without laughing out loud. (In case you're wondering, yes MOPS coordinator is a BIG role). But it was also one of the best things I ever did. And let me tell you why.

Did you see the picture at the top of this post? These ladies are MY people (or "Mah girls" as we have affectionately begun referring to ourselves). And I have MOPS to thank for each and every one of them. All of them have been (or currently are) on the MOPS steering team (there's a slight chance I heavy-handedly coerced a few of them into joining....) We didn't all serve at the same time but we served. After serving for three years as co-coordinator, I knew it was time for me to step down from my involvement in MOPS. It may sound crazy but one of the reasons I was "this" close to serving on steering for a 4th year was because I knew I would miss our monthly meetings tremendously. We attended to business during the meetings, sure, but there was also a huge focus on fostering relationships and prayer. There were 17 of us moms serving together on steering at one point and these moms were real and unafraid. At least one of us would be brought to tears every single meeting.

It was during these 3 years that friendships began to change for me. I saw other women airing their dirty laundry, breaking down and crying, telling things like they really were. It was so surprising to me to realize that as they let their rough edges show, we were actually drawn closer to them, not pushed further away. I'd been craving depth and acceptance and I was suddenly acutely aware that all of the things I'd been laboriously trying to hide in order to be liked were in fact the very things keeping me at an arms length. Counter-intuitively, sharing my struggles and challenges and shortcomings in the safe community of these women turned out to be one of the most healing experiences for me. Comparison was left by the wayside. Jealousy suddenly no longer had a hold. Funny how that works.

I knew I needed to keep myself surrounded by women who would continue to grow and challenge me. My friend Amy and I chatted and both felt led to keep investing in relationships. God laid some names of ladies on our hearts and we got in touch with each one. Our proposal was simple: would this group of girls be interested in meeting with us on an ongoing basis? The structure and timing of our gatherings would be flexible but we were clear that the regularity of our meetings and a willingness to be vulnerable were crucial components. Each lady we asked said yes and before we knew it, Tuesday night "Girls Night" was born.

Our husbands quickly learned that Tuesday nights were not to be messed with. It was apparent, even to them, how important these times were to our livelihoods, how we began thriving as our friendships deepened. Sometimes we jokingly refer to our Tuesday nights as "support group" and other times, when I felt the need to be extra spiritual, I would call it "Bible Study." ;) In reality, Tuesday nights were a safe place to air our messes, bounce off ideas, check in with one another, dream big dreams, rally around one another in the hard stuff, drink wine and eat dessert and also just have a good laugh.

A few months back, I had a flashback to that MOPS talk where the speaker said I would make some of my best, life-long friends in my 30s. I really didn't believe her at the time, but it suddenly dawned on me: SHE WAS RIGHT!!! Never in a million years did I think this would actually happen to me but I'm in my 30s now and certainly have the closest relationships I've ever had, some in Tuesday Night Girls Group, and some from elsewhere. I don't know what it is about women in their 30s and why it's at this age that we finally really dive in. Maybe it's just that it takes us this long to let go of all our crap. To quit being jealous and to finally just start celebrating one another in our differences. We spend the first two and a half decades of our life comparing and tearing each other apart and frankly, it's a WHOLE LOT BETTER on the other side when we learn to encourage and walk alongside each other. Maybe this is what that speaker was referring to. I just wasn't ready to hear it yet.

"Mah Girls" and I have been meeting together regularly every other Tuesday night for over a year and a half. We have walked through a lot together, certainly some of the most trying seasons of my life and I think the girls would say some of the most trying of theirs as well. But over the past 6 weeks, big changes have happened in our little group and I'm feeling totally disoriented in the wake. Not one but TWO ladies have moved out of the area. Talk about a giant blow! I'm SO excited for them and all the wonderful things in store for their families but I will miss both of them deeply. Each of them have had a great impact on me and I cherish their friendships.

Lindsey moved just before Christmas but I've managed to see her twice since, which has helped soften the blow some. I've honestly been in denial about it all until this past Tuesday night when the reality hit me like a load of bricks. We were to be gathering in just an hour's time to say our final goodbyes to Kara as she and her family of four packed up their belongings and boarded a plane to Singapore for who knows how long. I'd tried to go about my day as normal but evidently I lose all capacity for control come the hours of 6:30 PM and beyond. Graham was upstairs putting the kids to bed and I was on dinner clean up duty. I had finished putting away the leftovers and loading the dishwasher and moved on to mopping the floors when the floodgates sprung open. Tears streamed down my face. No, I'm pretty sure streamed might be the understatement of the year. Correction: tears poured down my cheeks, hitting the tile floor in a rhythmic pattern with each stroke of the mop. Maybe this is where the phrase "mopping up my tears" came from?, I wondered. I apparently was not the first person in history to grow overcome with emotion in the midst of cleaning the floor. Through bleary eyes, I finished the floors and ran upstairs to attempt amends with my make up before heading out to our Tuesday gathering.

The whole night, I was touch and go. The girls would say something to trigger and again my eyes would well up with tears. By the end of the evening, I was a lost cause. Somehow, through the tears, I managed to give Kara one final goodbye hug before I booked it to the car. Then came the REAL crying. I thought I'd been crying earlier at home but as it turns out, that was nothing. Here, in the safety of my car, I began ugly-crying. And I ugly-cried the entire 25 minute drive home, across the floating 520 bridge and up 405. I was still sobbing when I pulled the Honda into the garage and closed the door behind me.

My husband was awake and waiting for me upon my arrival home. I'd called him briefly en route so he was prepared for the worst. The long silences coming from my end of the line marked by my quavering voice when I finally was able to speak blew my cover, I'm sure. When I walked into the bedroom, he stretched out his arms, welcoming me into his warm embrace. I sobbed into his chest for a good five minutes, before I began to bare my soul.

These friendships I'd developed were a long time coming. I'd prayed for relationships like these for a very long time and I'd secretly hoped they would never ever change. But, though I may be kicking and screaming, life was happening. And more life is going to happen, this I know. Others close to me have pending move dates looming. I hate it. I hate the changes. You see, there is something unmistakably powerful when you are known, and cared for and accepted for absolutely who you are by someone. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I'm surrounded by women who have done and continue to do this for me. They aren't here to compete and one up. They are here to encourage and point out all the very good things around me worth celebrating. They are here to bring each other dinners, pray for one another, take each other's kids and paint each other's walls. I love how these people check on me. I love how they ask the hard questions and how they cheer me on when the going gets rough. How they have big events of mine saved on their calendars so they are ready to send me well-wishes. Loosening the reigns and letting any of them leave the safety net of close proximity is incredibly hard stuff. So for the rest of you who are still nearby, please stay! My heart just can't handle more change. You people have taught me about true friendship and I am forever grateful.

Love all you ladies in my life!

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posted by kelsie