Read an Excerpt
FRIENDSHIP for GROWN-UPSWhat I Missed and Learned Along the Way
By Lisa Whelchel
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Lisa Whelchel Cauble
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI Need Friends
A few years ago, I was asked to film The Facts of Life reunion movie and was thrilled. I still love all my friends from the show and am often asked about them.
In fact, one of the first questions I am always asked when someone recognizes me is, "Do you still keep in touch with the girls from the show?"
The answer is, "Yes, we do. But we don't see each other often." The situation is probably the same as with your girlfriends from high school and college. You are so close and you think you'll never grow apart, but life marches on and you find yourself heading down diverging paths. Whenever you get back together, though, things seem just like old times.
That's the best way to describe my relationship with the girls on the show, and that is exactly how it felt on the first day of rehearsal for the television reunion movie. The only difference was, instead of us being four girls over in the corner giggling between filming takes, we were grown women giggling in the corner.
One other thing hadn't changed. Have you ever noticed how junior high girls sometimes bond with each other by talking about another girl behind her back? It isn't that they don't like the other girl. Sometimes it's simply that they are bonding with this particular friend at the moment.
Have you also ever noticed that, even after we grow up, we sometimes still act like little girls, especially when we get together with friends? Well, this is what happened on the very first day of rehearsal for the telepic. All of us girls fell right back into sophomoric behavior by forming little cliques and talking about whoever wasn't in the room at the time.
For instance, Kim Fields (who played Tootie) and I would huddle in the corner and I might say, "Oh my goodness, can you believe Mindy did _________" (fill in the blank). Later, I'd be with Mindy (Cohn, who played Natalie) and say, "Well, I don't want to judge, but I heard that Kim ..." But I didn't stop there. Oh no, I had to take it one step further.
When I got back to the hotel room that night, I called Nancy McKeon (who played Jo) back home in California. Nancy was filming a television series and wasn't able to be in the reunion movie. When she answered the phone, I blurted, "We miss you terribly. Blair is only half the fun without Jo!" Then I jumped right in, "You are not going to believe Kim did this and Mindy said that and on and on." By the end of the conversation, we had had a positive bonding experience by talking negatively about the other girls.
I went to bed that evening but woke up in the night and couldn't get back to sleep. Out of the quiet, I heard the Lord whisper to my heart: You know, Lisa, you don't know why Kim does what you were gossiping about, and you don't have a clue about what Mindy is going through. But I know. And I would appreciate it if you wouldn't talk about my little girls that way.
I felt terrible. I love Kim, Mindy, and Nancy very much. I didn't mean anything bad by the things we were talking about. The truth is that all the talk I was making about them really was more about me-I was feeling extremely insecure that first day of rehearsal. It had been fifteen years since I had done any acting, and I felt so out of shape.
"I feel like a baseball player must feel after not playing in years," I had told my husband that night. "The timing of my swing is off, my throwing arm is weak. I'm striking out and overthrowing first base. I wonder if I still have what it takes?"
Because so much of my identity has been intertwined with performance, I was scared-and out of that fear I was attacking others. I wasn't being a safe person.
Thankfully, in the dark of the night, God brought my issue to light where healing could happen. As I realized my wrongs, I determined to set things right. The first thing I did was call Nancy and confess that I shouldn't have talked about our friends behind their backs. I even apologized for saying some things about her. Thankfully, she wasn't at home, so I only had to leave a message on her voice mail.
For the rest of the month of filming, I was careful to speak only positive things. If someone came up to me and started talking about someone else, I would say, "You know, I've noticed that she does that, but have you seen how much she's grown in other areas?" Or someone might start a conversation with me like, "I can't believe so-and-so would do such-and-such," to which I would reply, "I can't believe it either. I find myself doing the same thing sometimes. I wonder if we'll ever grow up!"
An interesting thing happened. I was soon perceived as a safe person. Over the weeks the cast and crew drew close to me, and we had wonderful conversations and times of bonding. At the end of the month, on the last day of filming, so many people came up to me and said: "Lisa, when you arrive on the set, it is like a rainbow appears." "You just don't carry any baggage with you to work, do you?" "I've been watching you this month. You're different."
Yes, there is a time and place for healing words. What I didn't know until this experience was that sometimes more healing is available to others by the things we don't say than by the things we do say. People are hungry for safe havens. Places where they can be themselves-without judgment, fear of exposure, or betrayal. People hunger for spaces of grace, understanding, acceptance. Safe people know what God was trying to tell me in the middle of the night. Despite what we think we see on the outside, everyone is hurting on the inside. If we have allowed God to come inside our hurting places to bring love and healing, then even if we haven't walked in their shoes to know what they're going through, we can know what it feels like to be hurt and healed.
I wish I could report that I continued to steadily grow in the area of friendships after this lesson, but unfortunately, that isn't the case. My history with friendships has been sputtering, at best. I left home when I was twelve to move to Hollywood and was working in television during most of my school-age years when we typically learn the ins and outs of friendship. And my experiences before that weren't all that positive.
I was painfully shy, which is the reason I got into acting in the first place. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Clark, was worried because I rarely went out on the playground at recess. I preferred to sit on the sidelines and read a book or, better yet, stay in the room and help her.
During a parent-teacher meeting, she shared her concerns with my mother, who then signed me up for a drama class to help me overcome my shyness. It worked as long as I was performing on stage, but I was still a scared little mouse one-on-one.
My best friend from third grade on was a preacher's kid named Paul. He grew up to be the valedictorian of the senior class and now lives in Greenwich Village as an opera singer. I was considered a Jesus Freak who wore a huge wooden cross necklace and carried my Bible to school to have Bible study with Paul at lunch. We were quite a pair. As you can imagine, we weren't part of the popular crowd.
Oh, I had friends on my softball team and in my Girl Scout troop, but I always felt like an outsider. It wasn't just my imagination. I did march to the beat of a different drummer-which has the same effect on "mean girls" as the scent of blood has on sharks. I remember changing classes one day in sixth grade. Just the weekend before, I had won a citywide talent show as a ventriloquist, and my picture was in the local paper. A handful of girls brought the newspaper to school and cornered me in the hall. They surrounded me, and at first, I thought they were sincerely proud of me.
I was wrong. With smiles on their faces, the girls held the paper in front of my nose and tore it down the middle.
Perhaps it was a mercy that I didn't have a traditional junior high or high school experience.
But I missed that whole time period when it's relatively safe to learn from your mistakes; navigating the world of close friendships for the first time in my forties has been awkward, to say the least.
On the upside, I am older and wiser now, enough to observe myself go through it while at the same time experiencing it. That means I can learn from my friendship foibles and faux pas and then write about them and, perhaps, spare you from some of the embarrassments and disappointments I've experienced.
While I'll elaborate more on all the gory details later on in this book, suffice it to say here that a few years ago I suffered a breakdown of sorts and went to a counselor for help. The treatment and cure surprised me, and I think it will surprise you too. Pure and simple, the medicine I needed was friends. That's right: friendship.
Who knew? Certainly not me. I had barely been seeing a therapist for a month when she remarked, "Lisa, you have the most elaborate defense mechanisms I've ever encountered. Your mind has created backup protections for just about any direction I attempt to reach your heart."
Thankfully, she wasn't daunted. She had a solution and a goal. "Your head has figured out a way to tell your heart that it isn't really feeling what it is feeling," she explained. "There will come a day when your heart will rebel and come screaming to the surface and tell your head to stop telling it what to think and how to feel." She discerned that there were some significant repressed memories and that my subconscious fortress would never give up its secrets until it had some outside support systems in place.
She suggested that we shelve for a season some of the issues that were presenting themselves and concentrate on creating a superstructure of supportive friends. She was all for digging at the roots, but her theory was that once I felt safe enough, many of the answers would offer themselves as I was ready.
So we spent the next few months talking about friendships, specifically, grown-up, female friendships. Yes, we certainly delved into the world of friendships with family members, but that is another story, not included in this book. So, if you notice a few missing lead characters like my husband, mother, father, brothers, and children, you're not imagining the gap. These relationships are left out on purpose. Friendships within family are a beautiful gift, but they involve nuances that would distract from my recent journey, which has been more specifically of the girlfriend kind.
Mostly, my counselor and I explored why it was difficult for me to allow friends to get close to me. We talked about how to identify safe people and how to implement boundaries. Through authentic conversation with my professional friend, I was learning how to be more honest and vulnerable and, thus, make a two-way connection possible.
We started by taking a good long look at my oldest friendships. They definitely reflected my head and heart split. But I learned never to underestimate the power of tears, need, brokenness, desire, grace, and love. I gingerly practiced vulnerability with my old friends and then tiptoed into opening myself up to the possibility of new friends.
Growing in Friendship
Within the context of relationships, I began to experience deep healing and to grow healthier, and that is what this book is really about. It is not a "how-to" book on making friends and creating lasting relationships. That is a worthy book, but I'm not qualified to write that one. Instead, I will simply share my story and hope that you will find yourself drawn in to join me on this journey. Where are we headed? I don't know exactly; I'm not there yet.
I am still in the beginning stages of learning how to connect at an intimate level. On a good day, I would say that I'm in the middle of the messy, mysterious part of a journey into friendship. That's okay. I have a sneaking suspicion that the mess and the mystery are essential to friendship for grown-ups-that friendship this side of heaven may not get any cleaner or clearer.
At one time or another, and all at the same time, friendship feels scary, hopeful, overwhelming, life-giving, aching, enriching, stretching, and oxymoronically like a deeply satisfying hunger. Relationships can cause us to feel off balance and out of control, which makes it so much easier to give up our clutching for self-sufficiency and to grasp onto the Lord in utter dependence.
So this isn't a book full of answers as much as it is replete with my questions. And yet ...
There's one answer I don't question: God is much more able to lead you on your personal journey of friendship than I am. You are uniquely you. He knows exactly who you are and what you need and who can best meet your needs. Your process won't look exactly like mine any more than we both have the same basic features but probably look very different. Three things I do know probably for sure: God will lead you very personally and gently, the path won't be anything like you expect, and the walking out of his plan will take longer than anticipated.
And I am here to say it is worth it. For me, the last few years of learning about grown-up friendship have been difficult and painful, but I have so much growth to show for them. My heart has been broken, but that was a severe mercy. Without the brokenness, I couldn't have known my need. Without realizing my need, I wouldn't have risked reaching out to others. Without entering into relationship with others, I would have missed authentic connection. With the vulnerability that comes with honest connection, I learned the importance of identifying safe people. Finding safe people cushioned me with love and courage to face conflict for the things that matter rather than choosing peace at any price. Learning conflict resolution skills made way for intimacy, and intimate friendship created an atmosphere of grace.
Grace, of course, ushered in self-acceptance. Embracing myself helped me believe and receive God's love. Resting in his delight changed me forever.
For years, I tried to get to an understanding of God's grace and love all by myself. But God had a different plan. He created us for relationship-not only with himself but also with others. If God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit need each other, then where in the world did I get the impression that he was impressed with my Lone Ranger exploits?
The truth is I need friends.
There, I said it. That was hard. I don't like needing anything because to need feels dangerous and is dangerous. But the reward is nothing less than the possibility of intimacy with God, yourself, and others. In my opinion, that is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth.
Chapter TwoThe Facts of My Life
Once upon a time ... and so begins my storybook childhood. I am the firstborn child of two parents who loved me. At the age of four, I became a big sister to an adorable baby brother. Along the way, we always had at least one beloved family dog.
As with all storybook tales, there was a mix of good and bad, dark and light, happy and sad. But until fairly recently, I could only allow myself to see the positive, look on the bright side, the glass is half-full perspective. I admit I've been a die-hard Pollyanna.
Well, I can't say the irrepressible optimist in me has died, but she's certainly facing some health challenges. Looking at the darker chapters of my childhood story has been a reluctant journey for me. I've been afraid of the dark, and I didn't dare go there alone. Thankfully, God sent wonderful friends to hold my hand and gently guide me along the way.
For instance, not long ago I was having tea with my friend Marilyn Meberg (who also happens to be a therapist). We were talking about my very public struggle with weight when I was on The Facts of Life. I got to the part in the story where I share how, during seasons two and three, my character, Blair, started gaining a lot of weight. (I'm going to blame Blair for packing on the extra pounds, so I don't have to take any personal responsibility for it.) As you can imagine, the producers weren't very happy. After all, they had cast me to play a character who looked a certain way (beautiful and thin), and I was quickly outgrowing that role (and my Eastland Academy uniform).
Excerpted from FRIENDSHIP for GROWN-UPS by Lisa Whelchel Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Whelchel Cauble. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.