Thursday, September 19, 2013

What He teaches me through her friendship

I love the way the Lord takes the hard things in our lives and never wastes them. Sometimes (probably more often than not) what seems like barely-redeemed-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth might have actually been planned out before the creation of the world for - wait for it - your good and God's glory. I don't pretend to know how God works, or what He plans vs. what He allows (and everything that is wrapped up in that whole discussion), but I do know that He is sovereign, and He is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. What matters to us? It matters to Him. He loves us SO MUCH. I have never been more convinced of this truth than I am now.

It's no secret that my bestie, Kacey, jumped the Wheaton ship for a two year stint in London at the beginning of the summer. I haven't been able to blog about it much because it's... well... complicated. I could hardly send her off with a proper goodbye (resorting instead to hurried "see you soon"s and willing the tears to dry up). She has yet to receive my going-away present because I still can't put it together. I have been excited with and for her while also feeling very selfish and dreading her absence in my life.

And it's been a jumble of emotions and experiences since the day they packed up and moved out of their house just 4 blocks from mine. Putting words to it has been hard but it's time that I tried because what I've learned about her, myself, our friendship, and most of all my Lord has been nothing but beautiful and glorious and so faith building. I want to capture a few things I've realized and learned so far.

1. To pray for nearly a decade for a close friend to walk with, and then finally be given that good and perfect gift from the Lord is to experience a little bit of heaven on earth. We long (esp as women) to be deeply known, cared for, and loved for who we truly are. For the three(ish?) years that Kacey and I have walked in close friendship together here in Wheaton, I have grown in my confidence, faith, trust and love for others - mostly though, my love for God. We are such different personalities with different gifts and talents and strengths, and the Lord knew we could really benefit from one another and that I would be sharpened by a friendship with her. She's the one who wasn't bothered by my kids' fits, really poor displays of behavior, sassiness (even when it was directed at her children), and general chaos. She's the one who always stepped into the messy, confused places I'd find myself and offer her presence, her coffee (and sometimes wine), her unconditional love and acceptance. She's the one who told me I could do it, and she's the one who did it next to me when I wasn't sure I could do it on my own. She prayed me through heartache and listened to me when I rambled and stumbled to find clarity. We read books together. We led small group together. We did a lot of processing-life out loud, asking each other good questions, challenging perspectives, and just knew intuitively when we needed to speak an encouraging word. She is one of those people in my life that can speak truth into my life or a situation I find myself in, no matter how tough it is to receive.

2. To be separated geographically from a friend this close is really hard. We went from nearly daily interactions to living on separate continents. From spending time multiple times per week or at least talking or texting every day, to sporadic long distance phone calls and the occasional choppy facetime chat. We write our thoughts to each other, but I am desperately missing those face to face chats that explain all that is happening underneath the words in a single expression, or how you're able to read how someone is really doing or processing a situation by watching them try to verbalize it? There's just something in all those non-verbals that is very important in a close relationship that we lose between London and Wheaton. It breaks my heart. I don't know the nuances of my dear friend's experiences, emotions, and thoughts, even when she tries to explain them - things I knew so well.

3. The Lord has always been in the details of their move to London... way back from the very beginning when it was brought up as a distant possibility, to the day they were house hunting and happened upon the flat they would end up calling home, to the timing of their eventual move across the ocean. No detail was overlooked by our loving Father and He attended to every one of their needs in really amazing ways. He weaved together the timing of their move in a way that was perfect, although along the way it seemed to drag on forever. He placed them in a home that fit the needs they had as a whole family. He planted seeds in their minds about the kind of education they envisioned for their girls, then brought that unforeseen opportunity to light once they had moved. AND SO MUCH MORE. He has been so faithful and so clear in His provision for them, that I could not bear witness to it and have it produce anything other than deep faith in a God I already loved and trusted.

4. The Lord had a plan for ME wrapped up in His plan for Kacey and her family moving to London. I didn't expect this at all. (I can be pretty dense.) I sort of thought I would suffer the consequences of losing my friend and just deal with it or manage the sadness. What I didn't realize was that before this friendship was ever given to me, the plan for it was written out by a loving God who sees to ALL of our needs, works in all of our lives, and weaves all things together by His grace and in His time. What seemed like an event for Kacey was the beginning of a huge spiritual learning curve for me, in so many ways. I have learned what it means to be a true friend spiritually - when she is hurting, struggling, discouraged, confused or having a hard day, our distance and time difference pretty much keeps me from doing the instinctive things I used to do as a friend. Bring her a sweet treat, offer a meal, have them over, drop over to offer comfort or just to listen, leave a note in her mailbox, etc. Basically, love her in a hands-on, very present way. Instead, the most important thing I can do for my friend who is thousands of miles away and 6 hours ahead of me is to PRAY. I get on my knees for her so much more now than I ever did (and that's not to say I didn't pray for her when she was here - I did!). It's just that when it's the only thing that is meaningful that you can do? You realize after doing it so repetitively out of a desperate need to care for a friend that it is THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR FRIEND. And the best thing I can do for myself. Thank you, Jesus, for showing me this. My faithful prayer over her life and spirit is more important and loving than any trinket I could leave on her doorstep, more lasting than a sweet treat that shows her I see her and I care, and even though those things are good and communicate love, they are not the things that last or move God's hand or knit our spirits and hearts together spiritually. As a result, our friendship does not ultimately suffer because of this separation and distance. It is knitting us closer together in Christ, and that is a beautiful surprise. Especially since half the time she doesn't know I'm doing anything at all.

5. Our distance has caused me to reevaluate my life - priorities, the way we spend time, relationships, patterns... I wasn't looking to replace my friendship with Kacey once she moved, or the time we used to spend together. I wanted to sit in the empty places and let it speak to me, let God move in a little closer as I felt the heartache of this (in-a-way) loss. Show me things I wasn't able to see while she was here, or close. And I'm so thankful that He gave me the strength to face the deep ache. I have found a sweetness in my intimacy with Him that honestly could have only come at this point in time, in this way. It's hard to put this into words, but it was a great tenderness on God's behalf towards me. He has been a constant companion in the times I have desperately needed my soul sister and not had her by my side. He has been so real and faithful to me, as He always has been and always will be, and it has opened my eyes to the ways that the blessing of close friendship can sometimes compromise that intimacy with our Savior (when it's easy to run to her instead of wait on and seek Him). I feel that I just have a greater awareness of how jealous God is of our hearts, and although friendship is a gift, it's never meant to take the place of our intimate relationship with Christ. And so, in the absence of my dearest friend's physical presence in my life, God has stepped in and reminded me that He really is everything to me. My relationships will be healthier and benefit so much more from this appropriate balance I am learning. Jesus is all. Jesus has the firstfruits of my time, energy, attention and heart. And other relationships are better and ultimately stronger because of that, but they come after. I can't wait for Kacey to move back and to continue on in friendship out of this new growth I've experienced. I will be a much better friend!

So Kacey, because I know you will read this...

I love you. I'm so thankful for you. I miss you and I'm praying over you today. Thank you for all you've been for me, for what you've taught me, for the ways you're still teaching me what it means to love God, be a friend, and be the best version of myself. You are such a gift in my life! Hurry home.

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