On moving, friendship, and the things that matter most

Ever since we left DC, I have had almost zero desire to write. I’ve barely journaled, much less blogged (which is problematic since I am an expected contributor for whitneyandjosh.com). And I didn’t cry until Thursday night, but once it started, I sobbed for a good fifteen minutes or longer.

Several thoughts hit me all at once this weekend, when I least expected them.

First, I miss hugging people. I miss being hugged. I realized that there are very few people here that I could legitimately throw myself across a room in a dramatic fashion to embrace. If you know me well, you know that every friend is greeted with a huge hug, whether it’s been a year or an hour since I’ve seen them last. There’s something quite priceless in a hug that I don’t think I have recognized, or truly valued in quite some time.

The second thought that immediately followed did so in the form of a question: “Why do I not hug people here?” The third thought was, “I really, really miss my friends.” And then I began to think about what makes people special to me and why I value friendships as much as I do.

I have been frustrated with myself lately. I’ve been frustrated that I have yet to find close, best friends. And I’ve struggled to figure out why that is the case. It finally dawned on me. A friendship is made of a million little moments, shared experiences, successes, and failures. I’m sure that I knew this before, but in the span of the past five to seven years, I’ve built strong, solid friendships. The kind of friendships that do not just happen and definitely do not happen in three short weeks.

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This one’s for the girls

This entry is about my girls. It’s for my girls. I call them “my girls” because I think they’re mine, but God always reminds me that really they’re His. This entry is about Stephanie, Ceci, Margot, Janelle, Talli, Janelle T., Karen, Megan, and Becca, and it’s about all the other girls that I’ve ever had the privilege and blessing to have in my small group.

Just like the girls are HIS girls, this vision I have for college ministry and for the Gathering, and for my life… it’s HIS vision. He’s the one who fulfills His own purposes and I am shocked and awed, amazed and astounded that He uses me and that I get to be a part of what He’s doing in my generation. Leading and loving in this ministry is never a burden or a sacrifice. It’s a joy. I feel incredibly blessed just to be used by God and to watch the Holy Spirit work in the lives of the people around me.

Tonight we celebrated community. We took the time to talk about and embrace what God’s done in our lives this last semester and year. We talked about our growth and the fruit we see in each others lives. We talked about how to run from sin and stay pure when we’re away from community while home for the summer. We talked about what the Church should really look like and what Christian community means to our lives. We took time out of our busy lives and away from the demands of finals to meet for three and  a half hours. I know… crazy, right? I didn’t plan on spending that much time there, but God definitely had different plans for us tonight. If I could put our meeting into words, if I were to use just a single word, all I can say is that it was beautiful.

Tonight we did what we call “affirmations.” Basically, we went around the room and talked about (and to) each girl – told what they have meant to us and to our community, how they have grown, and the character attributes that we see in them that make them the women God has called them to be. We laugh and we cry and we have to really be careful about giving each person time to talk because I think we all could have gone on and on for hours longer about each girl, if we had the time. Our group doubled in size this semester but never lost the vulnerability and transparency that we developed at the beginning of the year and I’m so very grateful.

So this is for the girls:

Girls, what a year! We walked through all sorts of difficult trials together. We walked through breakups, talked through theological differences, sent friends abroad, weathered economic hardship, prayed and interceded for salvations, and delved straight into talking about tough topics like brokenness and healing, marriage and relationships, sex and sin. Thank you for that. I can’t even begin to tell you what you have meant to me. You have grown SO much. And I’ve enjoyed walking with you each step of the way.

Christ, and what He  does in our lives, makes us beautiful and makes our time together extraordinary. It’s not every day that you put seven girls in a tiny room and watch as they affirm one another in Christ. It’s almost as though tonight we could watch the growth take place in front of our eyes as we strengthened and sharpened one another. The last meeting of the group is always a little bittersweet for me because I’m sad that you’re heading home or abroad for the summer, but oh so sweet, because I get to hear you talk about all of the revelation that’s come to your hearts, all that you’ve learned, all of the places where you have grown spiritually and emotionally, and how your need for community and mentorship was met by our group. And in that moment, I get to watch all of my dreams come true. For my life and for yours.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for truly loving one another and abstaining from all drama. And thank you for all of the many ways you have loved and supported me this year. Finish finals well, and remember this – community is at the heart of the Church and it’s vital to our relationships with Christ. Take this community we’ve built and recreate it where you are this summer. Embrace and search the Word. Make knowing Christ your pursuit and make Him your heart’s first affection. And run from sin – flee from whatever is evil and remember that compromise is made an inch at a time until you’re a mile from the truth.

This community isn’t dissolving. It’s merely moving. It remains and is here for you always. Like I said tonight, I pray you will all still be friends as you walk through the next seasons of life – graduation and entering the workforce, relationships and marriage, and mortgages and children… lean on and continue to learn from each other. Hold each other accountable. This community is an investment from which you will reap massive dividends.

I love you,

Whitney

I remember when

So, my little sister is getting married in June. She’s not so little anymore… I’m thrilled that she’s found someone who her heart loves and who loves her immensely in return. Dustin’s an incredible guy (and a very lucky one).

I got a notice about her bridal shower yesterday and ever since I’ve been flooded with memories of growing up with Courtlandt. She’s always been my very best friend and my partner in crime. I brought the crime, the mischief, and the ideas, and she was always my partner, regardless of our mission. She always believed in me and trusted me, even if I was leading an escapade out through our two story window. There is no more faithful friend or follower.

My very first memory of her, I think, is not of meeting her at the hospital, or of bringing her home, though I do remember being thrilled to have been given a sister. My first clear memory is of Court when she was about six or seven months old. She fit perfectly in my hot pink retro flower baby carriage. I remember pushing her around our living room and I remember being so proud that she was my sister. She wore a jumper and a big floppy straw hat and I thought she was the cutest thing ever.

And there are thousands of memories, thousands of moments just like that. I remember talking her into so much. And I remember taking her punishment as well as my own on so many occasions because I “was the one who talked her into” whatever mischief she had been part of. She was always content to be with me and to do whatever I was doing. There are memories of countless tea parties; dance parties with our Minnie Mouse dolls; dressing up in pearls, heels, and veils; rollerblading on the front porch; blackberry picking; learning to ride our bikes without training wheels on that horrid gravel driveway; horseback riding; long days at our desks in the school room; escaping through our bedroom window when Mom thought we were napping; picnics in the woods; and of lots of time in trees in the back yard. We cut holes in our frilly socks to make dresses for our barbies, dreamed up a million scenarios to pretend we were part of, made a home of the little house in the backyard, stood on stools to learn to cook, and we wore matching clothes for so long that I think it amounts to almost half of our lives thus far.

There were times that we argued, I’m sure, but I don’t remember them. And I think we both remember the two single times that she got into trouble that didn’t involve me. I hate to out her publicly, but I think she lied only twice as a child and was caught both times. Once she thought it would be really fun to pull all of the cotton swabs off of the Q-tips but wouldn’t admit to Dad that she had done it (I think she blamed Taylor), and the other time she ate peppermints without permission. I know… truly evil, right? I used to think she was perfect in every way, and then she confirmed it when she surpassed my graduating GPA with her perfect score of 4.0. She’s literally a genius.

I could never capture completely all that Courtney has meant to me. She’s loved me through life’s rough times, rejoiced with me in my successes, and prayed like crazy every time I’ve ever needed prayer. We attended Lee College together and studied abroad in England together in 2005. We followed that trip to England with another trip to England, France, and Italy following my college graduation and I know we’ll never forget our three weeks alone together in Europe. These are the memories that make a lifetime. Sisterhood is definitely one of the most precious things we’ve ever been given. All of these memories make up a woven existence, a shared life, that can’t be broken even by distance and infrequent phone calls.

Now I get to serve as her maid of honor and I’m thrilled to watch her enter this new stage of her life and experience the incredible gift of marriage. I have to admit that it’s strange to think that she’ll enter a stage of life ahead of me but I’m so excited to have the opportunity to watch her grow and learn from her experiences. One day we’ll switch places and I’ll have her standing with me as I become one with someone as well and I can’t even begin to express the joy that knowledge brings to my heart.

My mom was always right. My sister is the best friend I’ll ever have.

The Value of Friendship

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” C.S. Lewis

I don’t often disagee with C.S. Lewis. I have loved his works since I was really young – beginning with The Chronicles of Narnia at a very young age and slowly absorbing and reabsorbing other works of his like The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, etc. His ideas, illustrations, and imagination have definitely affected the way I view God, Christianity, and love.

However, today I definitely take issue with the quote above. Technically, he is correct. But realistically, not so much. Never do I feel more loved than when a friend, knowing so much about me, my life, and needs, steps in to offer to sacrifice on my behalf. Today I was reminded of the absolutely priceless value of a friend who loves you and of the real need of human beings to have such relationships. There’s really nothing else quite like it in life. The love of family, while also priceless and completely irreplaceable, is quite distinct from the love of a friend. There is no blood tie there, no obligation, no pressure… just love.

I totally agree with Lewis on this point: “Love is not an affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

Today’s been a really incredible day. I’m learning to rest and I’m also being reminded of all of the incredible people that God has placed in my life to love me, support me, and teach me. I am more than blessed.

Expectations

Today was a really rough day. Seems like a lot of life situations all came together and broke me not once, but multiple times throughout the day. I tend to store up stress, anxiety, concern, hurt, and pain all together until I just can’t hold any more… and then it all comes pouring out, accompanied by tears, as a few not-so-fortunate individuals found this evening. It’s not that I don’t pray about things – most days this summer I’ve felt almost like I pray without ceasing about some situation or another – I think I’m finding instead that it’s my perspective that predisposes me to this type of response.

Tonight’s Gathering service was like finding water after a long time in the desert. And I know that sounds dramatic, and very well might be, but it definitely helped to put today, and in fact, my entire summer into perspective.

John talked about expectations and how our expectations affect the outcomes of our lives. His message was mostly geared toward those who underestimate God and His love and what kind of expectations we should really have when it comes to our relationship with Him. And that aspect of it was great, but it opened up my eyes to a lot of the real sources of the discomfort, pain, and even anger that I’ve encountered and walked through over the past several months.

The real source is me. It’s all about my expectations. The expectations I place on other individuals and their ability to perform and to love me well, the expectations I place on myself to always do what should be done and in the manner it should be done in (to achieve perfection or as near to it as is humanly possible), and the expectations I’ve placed on God – asking and expecting Him to fit into the box I’ve created for Him without even knowing I’ve done so.

expectations placed on others

Somewhere in the midst of all the craziness I’ve forgotten an important lesson that God began teaching me last fall regarding expectations and loving people.  The two don’t go together. God’s showing me again what it means to love completely – as He loves. And that means loving with no expectations, no demands, no agenda, etc. I am to love people for who they are and for what they will be, not for who I expect them to be.

This was my conclusion last fall: if I have any agenda, any requirements, or any expectations, I merely barter my affection. For my love to be complete, I have to love without conditions.

This is my conclusion this fall/end of summer: there’s also a real difference between expectations and anticipation. And it’s okay to be disappointed when things fall through, when people let me down, and when situations beyond anyone’s control just simply don’t happen as planned. And I shouldn’t be upset with myself for anticipating. Anticipation, after all, is a very nice thing when its dream is fulfilled.

expectations placed on myself

I’m a perfectionist extraordinaire. I absolutely can’t stand it when I don’t perform to the best of my ability, or when I make stupid mistakes, or find that my laziness or lack of wisdom has created a large problem that I must face.

Days like today are actually such a blessing, because I am forced to remember how truly human I am and that there’s absolutely nothing in my life that I can handle on my own – I am forever going to need Christ and His mercy, love, and grace. The truth is that I’m not really capable of living up to anyone’s expectations – even my own – without a solid relationship with Christ and the companionship and help of the Holy Spirit. His wisdom is absolutely essential to my life and I need to be so much more sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

expectations placed on God

This one’s a bit more difficult and spans my entire lifetime. John (McGowan, not the apostle) is completely correct in his statement that the expectations we place on God really do determine what our experience with Him is like. And I think that if our perception of Him is distorted that our expectations will be as well. The difference between how we should see God and how we should see people is that we absolutely must see them for what they are. God is God… He is I AM and can be no other. All throughout His Word, He invites our expectations:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” Eph. 3:20-21

I think the difficulty here lies in determining which expectations are Biblically-sound and which are the result of misunderstandings of Scripture, false teaching, and our desire that God conform to our image of Him, rather than allowing ourselves to be molded and shaped into the likeness of Christ. And that is a much longer post for a later date…

all of that to say that I need to change. I need to be more like Christ. I need to stop expecting people to behave in certain ways and simply appreciate them; I need to take a step back from all of the things I’m doing and with some sort of objectivity determine if the expectations I’ve placed on myself are realistic, and even more importantly, evaluate their worth in the kingdom of heaven… and lastly, I need to continue to take a closer look at Scripture and continue to deeply pursue the truth of who God is and what that means in terms of what I expect Him to do in my life.