The post today is from Brenda Yoder, a friend I met this past summer at the Speak Up Conference. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Brenda, and every time I read her writings, I learn so much.
Brenda lives life on a farm in Northern Indiana with her husband and four children, ages ranging from elementary to college. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and BA in Secondary Education. After being a stay-at-home-mom and a high school teacher, she currently is a part-time elementary school counselor, behavioral service provider, and has a small private counseling practice. Her greatest passion is encouraging others and ministering God’s word to the hurting and the lost. She does this through writing and speaking about Life Beyond the Picket Fence, authentically sharing life and God’s Word of restoration and hope after her image of the “picket-fence life” was shattered. She is a contributing writer for The Purpose magazine, The Hometown Treasure, She Stands and Circle of Friends online magazines, and is a speaker for Stonecroft Ministries. She loves joining women in their walk with the Living Lord.
Friendships and community have taken on different meanings as I’ve journeyed through life. I live in the same community I was raised in, where everyone knows your name.
There’s safety and familiarity in knowing everyone around you, resting in the fact that your community is part of who you are. Sometimes, though, it’s a double-edged sword. Often people know about you but don’t truly know you. But there’s still security in others knowing where you’ve been and who you belong to.
As a child and teen, the friends in my neighborhood made up my world. We were an eclectic bunch, much like the Breakfast Club of Smalltown USA in the 1980’s. We didn’t all agree on morality, religion, or politics, but even today we respect and love each other in our own way. There is strength in growing up being respected for who you are.
As a young parent, my friendships revolved around a community of other stay-at-home moms. We raised our kids together, shopped together, spent hours at McDonald Playlands together, went to bible studies, made homemade applesauce, and were exhausted together. Different paths in life have brought many of us to different churches, schools, jobs, and stages with our own families as we have entered the parenting stage of family life. But when tragedy or celebration strikes, each one of us picks up the phone, drives a child to practice, or sits and cries with each other if needed. A sisterhood of sorts woven together by snotty noses, sports jerseys, and caps and gowns.
Now, at forty-something, my friendships and communities have become as diversified as I have. Workplace, graduate school, ministry, and internet have expanded communities and deepened friendships I would’ve never dreamed of when I was desperately phoning a friend to meet so I could get out of the house with toddler and baby. Times of hurt and pain have brought people into my life I probably would have never known before. As life experiences grow, God is gracious in bringing more people into our lives at just the right time. He is good that way.
Through various experiences, the understanding and value I’ve placed on friendships has changed. I’ve learned that people are not a substitute for our relationship with God and His Word. I’ve also learned friendships rooted in God and scripture are healing, a live-giving balm in times of vulnerability, need, and hurt. I’ve learned walking hard places without community brings despair and that every human should have safe places of friendship in the most difficult times. I’ve learned building healthy boundaries with others is better than putting up walls or not have any boundaries at all. I’ve learned friendships have different purposes and each one is essential in its own way. I’ve experienced moments where I’ve seen God in unanticipated ways with people I would have never expected. Community and friendship is as complex as it is simple.
I’ve learned that women need other women, yet we are afraid of each other. We long for acceptance, yet we are frightened to accept ourselves and others. We fear rejection, yet we reject. We hunger for unconditional love but are hesitant to show it. Every once in a while, we find a friend or community where we aren’t rejected and we receive acceptance and unfailing love. When this happens, we gain confidence in giving these same gifts to others. When we offer these gifts, the depth of God’s grace and mercy is life-giving to those who are hungry just like us.
I’ve come to the conclusion that words are the simplest, yet most powerful gift to extend God’s grace through friendship and community. As women, our internal dialog is filled with doubt, fear, and shame. But when another woman looks us in the eyes and gives encouragement and truth of what they see in us, new life, confidence and hope springs up. Affirmation of who we are from our own gender is grace in the simplest form. I love being in community with other women who are not ashamed to say to each other, “You are loved, you have purpose and value just the way you are.” Each of us longs for this in our heart of hearts. We know God feels this way about us. But when we hear it from another woman? That’s Jesus with skin on.
The power of God in friendship and community is found in women willing to give live-giving words of Jesus to those needing strength. I’m increasingly grateful for the community of women who continually gives encouragement to me when I need it most. When we are weak, He, through others, makes us strong (2 Co. 12:9).
Who can you give life to today, pouring out His strength through friendship and community?