Today I am writing from the beach, and Shannon is not with us. She is just starting a new season of life and could not break away for a vacation this summer, although I think she really could have used one. I booked a beach house with a bed for her, and there sits the bed, reproachfully empty, in Laura's room.
We have a pink house this year. I've always wanted to stay in a pink house. Not only is it pink, it even has a hammock on the porch.
The porch faces west, so it is a nice, shady place to sit in the morning and write, as I am doing now, although we should have gone to church. For an introvert like me, going to church in the south, with a bunch of strangers, and having to meet them and talk to them... well, that's just not "vacation." I don't want a vacation from the Lord, or His word. But sometimes I just like to indulge my hermit tendencies and hole up away from the world, and I am doing that today. I'm sitting on the porch, listening to bugs chirp and air-conditioners hum while Jon swings lazily in the hammock. I am afraid that Jon has pink eye, which I suppose is another reason to stay out of the public.
I wanted to write to my girls about relationships today. Not romantic relationships, specifically, but just relationships. So here goes...
To my daughters:
Relationships are important, probably much more important than I have been able to communicate to you over our lives together. In my last post in this series, I mentioned that some of the things I wanted to write to you had to do with hard lessons I have learned through making mistakes. Introvert that I am, I have never demonstrated to you the importance of reaching out and nurturing relationships.
I suppose it was in the seventies when they used to say, "Everybody needs somebody." It sounds "seventies" to me, anyway. Maybe there was even a song with those words in it. But it's true. Everybody does need somebody.
You need real relationships, give and take relationships. I have taught you to be fiercely independent, to cynically examine popular trends and make your own decisions based on logic, not popular opinion. I've told you the story about how once, in middle school, a friend of mine told me, "Ruthie, you need to stop getting all A's. Boys won't like you if you always get straight A's." And how I said nothing, but in my mind I thought, "Pish. If a boy won't like me if I have straight A's, then I don't think he's worth having anyway." I made the decision then and there to pursue academics over relationships, which was a good decision, the right decision, but it needs to be qualified... I was not willing to sacrifice my academics for the sake of attracting a boy, but that doesn't mean that academics should always trump love. And they definitely should not trump friendship.
In the midst of pursuing success, remember that if you get to the end and you have the stellar record, the great job, and all the awards and accolades, if you don't have anyone to share them with, life will be empty indeed.
So cultivate relationships.
Learn people's names and make a point of smiling at them and greeting them by name, even if they don't seem friendly. (I know you do this with people you like.)
When you are with people you like, ask them questions about their lives. The next time you see them, pick up where you left off... "How is your mother doing?" or "Did that interview work out for you?" or "How was your trip?" Demonstrate that you are interested in them and that you care about them. Everyone appreciates this.
When Shannon was in soccer, she once had a coach who trained the team members to concentrate on getting "touches," meaning that it was significant each time an individual made contact with the ball, whether or not she actually scored. In building relationships, concentrate on "touches." Each time you smile at someone, greet someone, ask after someone's issues, each one of these counts as a touch. Try to get in as many as possible each day.
Think about people at the end of the day. Think through the people you have contacted ("touched") and pray for them. Ask God to show you if there is anything He wants you to do for any of them. Be willing to make a phone call, write a note, or make or buy a small gift. Or He may give you an entirely unique and creative idea. Work with the Lord and be proactive about reaching out to people, not because I did, but because I should have, and my life would have been so much richer if I had.
Learn to be a giver, and I don't mean giving away all your stuff, and your cookies besides, although that may be something God would lead you to do. What I really mean is: learn to give of yourself, your time, your attention, your prayers. Train yourself to be generous and trust God to take care of the things you need when you spend yourself on others.
You do not need to do this for the whole world. Start out with a broad base, but over time, God will probably draw your mind and circumstances to 3-5 special friends. Do not form a clique, but do treasure and nurture your relationships with these people. God has created us to live in community. That's why He designed the church. Churches don't always fulfill the purpose God created for them, but that doesn't discount His purpose.
Jesus said, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." If you wish someone would be there for you, try being there for her (or him). Remember that self-focus can easily become a matter of selfishness, and pray each morning and evening that the Lord will open your eyes to the people around you and make you sensitive to what you can do for them.
There's an old adage that joy comes from putting Jesus first (J), others second (O), and yourself last (Y). I never taught you that, and I never demonstrated it very well at all. I spent a great deal of my life feeling overwhelmed and wishing that someone would miraculously appear to help me. I couldn't fathom how I could possibly help anyone else from where I was. I pray that your lives will be so much richer than that, so much more fulfilled and less isolated. I pray that you will nurture friendships and enjoy the blessing of fellowship and community that come when we get our eyes off ourselves.
Pray for me, too, that I will also do better in this area in the future. Shanny-woo, Lulubelle, I love you so much.
Click here for the next post in this series.