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Friendship Among Women

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When my husband and I were newlyweds, we moved to Portland, Oregon. Those first few weeks in Portland were unsettling — we slept on a stranger’s hardwood floor, caring for her ailing kitten, while adjusting to college. Oregon (not “Or-e-gone” as I quickly learned) was both magnificent and disorienting. As dazzled as I was by Mount Hood, by the craggy coast and the mossy forests, all this beauty reminded the Midwestern me that I was far from home.

But my geographical confusion was nothing compared to my internal disorientation in a new city with a new husband and no friends of my own. Because I’d been rooted in one town for all my life, I’d never realized what an effort it could be to make friends — and to keep them.

Strange as it sounds, the quest for a friend was a little bit like dating: lots of false — if hopeful — starts, and many near misses. I had one friend who was a consistent no-show, another with whom I had unspoken miscommunications, and others that I enjoyed but didn’t understand, or visa-versa. The more desperately I tried to make friends, the lonelier I became.

A year into the Portland experience, my husband met a woman named Amber on our college campus. They struck up a conversation, and afterward John urged me to call her. I was uneasy about the idea of calling a stranger, but he pestered me until I finally gave in. That first night on the phone I sensed a sameness in her. Just as I recognized my husband the first time I met John, in Amber I recognized a friend.

C.S. Lewis says that we know we’ve made a friend when we can say to the other, “What, you too?” Amber and I were bound together by a string of coincidences — large and small. We had both attended two colleges, each transferring after one year. When I introduced her to my cockatiel Elijah, and she said, “When I was a kid I had a cockatiel named Elijah as well.”

Ten years — and three cross-country moves later — she is still my closest friend. Thanks to our cell phones, we chat almost daily, sometimes more. When I feel weak, I call her for courage. She helps me toward that place where I can laugh about my life and struggles. I’m not very strong in myself, but I become stronger through friends like Amber.

Here are a few ideas I’ve learned since my days in Portland about making (and keeping) friends:

Be Flexible

Years ago a pastor offered this advice. He said, “Expect nothing from other people.” At the time, I thought this was a strange idea. I figured that if you expected nothing, you would get what you expected. Over the years, I’ve come to see that while I do need to set reasonable goals for myself, I do well to keep my expectations for others modest. If we can break free from high expectations for others, than we are more likely to be able to accept — and enjoy — them as they are.

Perhaps the quickest way to kill a new friendship is to expect — or demand — too much. I tend to retreat from people who expect things from me that I can’t give. These days, with two small children to care for, I can barely finish a thought, let alone have a decent phone conversation. Amber has patiently stuck it out despite my tendency to drop the phone on a whim, along with some ongoing technical problems, which I like to refer to as our “phone curse.” She describes this phenomenon on her blog, under the post What to do on a Rainy Day. She writes, “Call Jenny. A brief conversation ensues, followed by a sudden cry, a crash, and dead line. Further calls get only the sound of a fax connection.”

If you can lower your expectations, not only are you likely to reduce your own frustration, but you might be able to better see the other person’s gifts. Sometimes our own expectations blind us to the grace before us. We become so fixated on what we want — or what we imagine we need — that we miss the gift that is being offered.

Years ago, Amber and I were at a Chinese restaurant, and she cracked open a fortune cookie to reveal this ticklish proverb: “Alas, the onion you are eating may be someone else’s water lily.” An unopened water lily does resemble an onion, bitter and unappealing.

But often things are more than they appear at first glance — and it is often this way with relationships. If you can take a step back and allow a friendship to unfold on its own terms, you’re more likely to glimpse the water lily. Preconceived ideas of how things should or must be leave us grasping after onions.

Rejoice in the Other

It becomes more possible to weather another person’s shortcomings when you’re able to see their strengths. I can tell that a friendship is growing when I begin to genuinely enjoy another person’s gifts — not feel threatened or envious of them, but rejoice in them as if they were my own.

I’ve never understood why some people provoke envy, while others — even extremely talented people — don’t. It might have something to do with transparency. The more deeply we know another person’s secret hopes and anguishes — and the more we can identify with their struggles — the less inclined we are to envy them, the more eager we are to see them succeed.

Be Transparent

I love that REM song, “Night Swimming.” Although the song is suggestive of skinny-dipping, I’ve always sensed that “Night Swimming” is a metaphor for much more. The song is about friendship, about the innocence of making oneself vulnerable. One line captures something essential: “You, I thought I knew you, you I can not judge.”

As I get closer to people I’m less inclined to jump to simple conclusions about their life and struggles (or how I might fix them). As the “armchair adviser” in me recedes, compassion, sadness and hope grow. As one of my mentors told me, “When you really get to know another person, sometimes all you’ll want to do is weep.”

Transparency fosters this continual revelation. And the more open another person is with me, the more clearly I see the truth of Plato’s saying, “Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is waging a terrible internal battle.”

The Ever New

Friendship is not static. It grows as we do — each leg of the journey reveals a fresh landscape, transforming our inner geography as well. The twists of the journey keep friendship fresh, even as the years wear on.

Christopher Bamford, editor-in-chief of Steiner Books, expressed this eloquently when he wrote, “When we speak, even when it is the intimate expression of a deep, personal experience, we are a single voice. We have forgiven each other a thousand times. We have let go of so much that could divide us that we have let go of ourselves. Our relationship seems to exist in and out of the unknown, the ever new.”

Our deepest friendships offer a sense of continual discovery, but they can also provide a sense of consistency during years of change. When I am around Amber — who knows my history, foibles and failings and loves me anyway — I am more whole.

This wholeness is fertile soil. We often don’t see or appreciate that soil, but so many seeds sprout here. According to a saying from the Talmud, “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it, whispering, ‘grow, grow.'”

And this is what friends do best — they see us, fragile as we are, and whisper “grow, grow” as we push our way up through the soil.

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Jenny Schroedel is the author of Naming the Child: Hope-Filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death. She's a freelance writer living in Holualoa, Hawaii. She tends to take raw, aching experiences from her own life and try to find something that might be hopeful or helpful in them for herself and for others. Writing is exhilarating and exhausting in turns, and bring perspective to her primary job as the mother of Anna and Natalie and wife to John, an Eastern Orthodox mission priest. Visit her blog at http://jenschroedel.com.

3 Comments
  • Jenny – I loved this! Since getting married I have struggled to maintain friendships and feel like I’m making all my friends. It’s okay, but I didn’t realize how HARD it would be. Thanks for sharing.

  • This is a great article and so true! I think it can get harder between women after the college years, when life, family, career start really pressing in on you. But these relationships are still so important and needed!

  • Estela

    I loved this. Thank you for sharing.

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Friendship Among Women

by Jenny Schroedel time to read: 5 min
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