Better Together: On Self-Reliance and Asking for Help

Pansies

“When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” Exodus 17:12

I’m a sucker for online personality quizzes. I took one recently with less than flattering results. According to the test, I’m anti-social, which is a code word extroverts like to use for the rest of us. However, I scored high on the self-reliance portion of the quiz, and after patting myself on the back, I realized that this quality sounds great on paper, but is a double-edged sword when it comes to belonging and building community.

I’m not one to crowd source, ask for help, or solicit a bunch of people for their opinions. I ask God and I ask my husband. Later, I might tell my friends and family about it. Self-reliance has the faint whiff of toddlerhood clinging to it. As my daughter used to say when she was three, “No, mommy. I do it!” My life has been a series of “I do it” moments stacked one on top of the other, building a wall between me and the loving people who surround me in community.

In general, I’m not a fan of most ideas that don’t originate with me. Does this sound horrible? It is. My husband brought home a flat of yellow and purple pansies to plant in the garden, greeting our guests on Easter, and I was annoyed with him because I didn’t think of it myself. I would have chosen lavender and white. How. Dare. He.

He ignored my protests and with great generosity of spirit asked me where to place them in the mulched beds. When he finished planting, our garden looked as if Spring slept there overnight and she woke up fresh-faced the next morning. I swallowed the bitter pill of remorse that weekend, but my husband offered me kindness. He covered up my reaction with a shower of petals.

Recently, a project I’ve been dreaming up and laboring over and crafting for a year, was soundly rejected in its current form. I was crushed. Confused. Disappointed. But, uncharacteristically, rather than curl in on myself, and hide behind the wall my self-reliance built, I reached out to a fellow writing friend. Then another.  I shared my frustration with my mother, my mother-in-law, and an entire group of writing pals online. Then I went on a walk with one of my best girlfriends. I wore sunglasses to conceal my red eyes, but I couldn’t conceal my heart from her. And I am better for it.

When I reached out to the people in my life, they reached back and extended a hand of friendship to me. They commiserated. They laughed. They got angry. They sent emails and vox messages and took notes and wrote blog posts inspired by my experience. More than that, they prayed for me. Their wit and wisdom literally changed the course of my project and my response to it. My community of friends and fellow misfits and prayer warriors and artists held up my hands like Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses in the desert.

Self-reliance is a fantastic quality, but it can isolate us from one another. It denies our family and friends the opportunity to speak into our lives, sharing their hard-won wisdom bought by experience. It holds them at arms length rather than allowing them to hold us up. Self-reliance can keep us from the depth and richness of a sisterhood built on sharing our ideas, our joy, and our pain.

It was a revelation to discover how many Aarons and Hurs I have in my life. The garden of my life is rich with sisters–a vibrant bed full of petaled pansies. I am surrounded by color and life and beauty, and for too long, I have denied myself the pleasure of reveling in it.

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Do you have a community of women who support and rally around you? If so, thank them today and return the favor. If not, how can you begin building belonging among the women in your life?

Losing a Friend and Finding Her Again

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We were inseparable from the beginning. We slept at each other’s houses and traded our deepest, darkest, thirteen-year-old secrets. We baked cookies and hid from her brothers and whispered late into the night when the house fell asleep. From the attic we watched movies I wasn’t allowed to watch at home. Her mom cooked me countless dinners, and her house unlocked a sense of freedom in me that needed turning. She taught me real friendship is having the courage to show up, but I’m not sure I ever really learned the lesson.

We remained best friends for most of our childhood, and it crushed me when her family left the country to become missionaries during our freshman year of high school. My living, breathing best friend became a flat scrawl of cursive on a piece of notebook paper. We grew apart as distant relationships often do, but I hold most of the blame. I stopped writing, my gaze focused solely on my own high school survival, and I stopped wondering if she would ever move back.

We’re Facebook friends now. The kind who gather news of each others lives through the occasional update. From a distance, I watched her circle the globe and serve Jesus and raise her daughter to speak fluent Spanish. I don’t know her anymore, not really. I don’t take out the memories and hold them to the light, I don’t wear them out with the handling, or polish them until they shine. They sit in cobwebs in the deepest recesses of my mind.

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She sent me a message recently. Honest. Vulnerable. Can we have the courage to show up in each other’s lives somehow, across the decades and across state lines? I sat on her message for 24 hours–fear kept me from responding. Like a potter with clay, the intervening years took the raw material of thirteen-year old girls and shaped us into forty-year old women. Between us, we’ve lived in five different countries and married our high school sweethearts and had wildly different life experiences. I’m not sure she will like this re-shaped version of me. She liked who I used to be, but I don’t know if she will like who I am now.

I don’t know how this story will end, but I want to remain open to possibilities. The potter will continue to shape me into a new creation, day by day, decision by decision. Perhaps having the courage to show up is all it takes to start, and time will take care of the rest.

Friendship: What I Learned by Racing Side by Side

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My husband wrangled me, our teenage daughter, and our three best friends to participate in some sort of mud-filled obstacle course this upcoming weekend. You know how I love to spend the Saturday after the first full week of summer? Running a 5K through barbed wire and fire pits. Only not. It’s a bit redundant, n’est ce pas?

It just so happens that one of our running buddies this weekend, also ran alongside me for my first marathon. I’ve thought a lot about my marathon experience over the years. The pain and triumph of that day wrote its way permanently into my muscle memory, but the memory of my friend pounding the pavement next to me, refusing to let me quit, burns like a lamp–illuminating every step from start to finish.

When I rewind the tape, I don’t see the mile markers as they pass, I see the glow of my friend running beside me. He taught me what it means to support and lift up a friend when that friend feels like the road ahead is too hard to travel, when the end disappears from sight, and the obstacles to reach it feel so overwhelming, it just might kill body or spirit.

We all have a race to run, whether it be in our marriage, parenting, career, or our own spiritual development. I feel so blessed to have friends who train hard and keep their promises and offer me all the support I need to run my own race well. I want to emulate the kind of friendship that loves others well, that sets them up to run their race with confidence. Here’s what I learned along the way:

Run in front, alongside, and behind

My friend promised not to leave me. He stayed within sight for every high point and the inevitable lows when I felt certain I couldn’t go on. I still see the flash of white from his race shirt out of the corner of my eye when he edged forward to make way for us through a sea of runners, or dropped behind to fill our cups with water. I knew when we crested the toughest hill, he would be running right alongside of me, pushing hard, working through the pain.

I want to be the kind of friend who will run alongside you even when it’s painful, even when it costs me something, even when the experience hurts.

Offer practical help

Before we started, he double checked my gear and talked through what to expect on the course ahead. He stopped at every water break and made sure I had a cup of water for hydration. He made sure I saw the spectators handing out the free oranges and bananas. I returned the favor by hoarding my fuel gels, while my friend nearly passed out from a lack of food. Those bananas were a lifesaver. Literally.

Sometimes being a good friend, actually means offering one another a cup of cold water or a helping hand. I learned my lesson when I realized I might find myself having to explain to my friend’s wife why he never made it to the finish line. Food, water, expectations–let’s recognize where our people need help and offer it, even when we have needs too.

Tell them what they need and provide it

My friend told me when we should stop to use the port-o-potties. He made us take a break to stretch. He forced water on me even when I didn’t want it. He gave me advice for running the steepest hill, and he ran beside me the entire way, until we stood looking down from its great height.

We don’t always know what we need when facing a new or challenging situation. Sometimes, we’re just trying to survive, and a friend can see past our discomfort, helping us shift from a position of surviving to thriving. If you find yourself supporting a friend in their own life race, don’t simply tell them what they need, open up your hands and offer it.

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Do you have a friend running the race of life with you? How can you be that friend to someone else?

Stay tuned for photos from the race this weekend on instagram.

Metamorphosis

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Two enormous oak trees stood tall on either side of the pavement right where the sidewalk forked. They grew towards one another forming a canopy, under which ran the path to our front door. As children, we sat beneath the great oaks in the fall, scooping acorns from the surrounding dirt.

In the summer, nests of caterpillars took up residence in their branches. We found them inching their way down tree trunks and scattered throughout the summer grasses. We used to collect as many caterpillars as we could in an afternoon, and then in the evening, we set them free. I always hoped one day I’d walk up the path and find all my former captives missing, and a flutter of butterflies taking their place.

We never saw them become butterflies, but I knew each caterpillar possessed the potential to become newly winged, a flicker of color in the summer light. When we learned of the stages of metamorphosis in school, I wished for the same kind of transformation–an unfolding of my potential where everything shut up tight in my bones would re-make itself into wings and I would learn to fly.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched a friend transform into the truest version of herself. I sat with her recently among a group of her closest friends, and she came to life in their circle. She laughed and told stories, and with each one I saw how perfectly she belongs in her new skin. She grew wings over the last few years, and they caught my eye as they flickered in the fading spring light.

I know her well enough to know her metamorphosis was not all beauty and delight. It came at a cost. It came from a place where she found herself bound so tight, she must either wither or break free. She chose to break free, and it brings me such joy to watch her live into her potential, to watch her becoming.

Metamorphosis takes time and patience. We must commit to the hard work of becoming, and some days this feels impossible and others it feels downright scary. Learning how to belong in our new skin requires truth telling. It requires us to yield to the Holy Spirit, to release our grip on the old, and embrace the new. It means leaning into the things that speak to us of our soul’s home, as we shed the old skin that keep us bound.

As I watch my friend learning how to spread her wings, I think of all her hard work–her shedding of the old, constricting skin. I think of oak trees and captives set free. I think of potential. I think of belonging inside my own skin, and I know both you and I can grow wings too. You and I will fly.

Friendship: An Unfolding

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She fixed her soft eyes on me across the café table. “Tell me about your kids,” she said. All she had to do was ask the question, and my maternal floodgates opened, spilling deep and wide. So few people ask the question, and then give one the time and space to answer. She teared up a little when she told me what a gift her grown children gave her when they all came back. It’s the coming back all mamas hope for, the one that makes a friend out of the funny little people we send out into the world with our beating hearts and best advice shoved down deep into their knapsack.

She asked me other questions too, so many thoughtful, curious, gentle inquiries that I felt myself unfolding like a cat when it finds a patch of sunshine. She said a mutual friend told her that our hearts might beat for the same loves and causes, and one Earl Grey Tea Latte later, I knew our friend was right.

Had this friend not connected us, I’m not sure we would’ve known to seek one another out. Our lives bump up against one another along the very edges, but we don’t often find room for a true connection. I wonder about all the other women whose friendship I miss out on when I pass them in the hallways at church, in the aisles of the grocery store, or in the cars zipping down our neighborhood streets. What kindred spirits will I never know?

I’ve found that for me, friendship is very much tied to proximity. Sure, the best friendships can transcend it, but seeing one another on a regular basis matters. I want to bump into you at the post office, or meet you regularly at the café. I want to see what your house looks like on a regular Tuesday morning, what you throw into your cart when you shop at Target, or the way your braid swishes back and forth when you run. I want to see the details of your life. I want to watch you unfold.

I don’t always want the bump in the hallway, the quick “How’re you doing?” and the 30 second big picture answer. I think we buy into a lie when we believe this is true friendship–that a double tap on instagram equals intimacy, or a like on Facebook equals true interest.

Friendship takes time, and we offer each other so little of it. It takes breathing room. It takes asking the right questions and waiting while a friend unfolds in a patch of sunlight with her answers. I don’t know about you, but I have precious few friendships like this. The amount of time and investment needed for a relationship to grow makes me feel defeated before I get started.

I want better for us as women, don’t you? I want the soft eyes and the gentle questions to become more of a rule in my relationships rather than the exception. I know this will always begin with me.

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Do you struggle to cultivate female friendships? If not, what’s your secret? If you do struggle, what do you find the hardest?