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Even when life is hectic and harried, every woman has a God-given longing for relationship, and her female friends play an important role in filling that. Oliver and Smalley help women distinguish between self-centered, insecure, childish relationships and other-centered, healthy, “grown-up” relationships. Using personal anecdotes and scriptural principles, they explain ten characteristics of a grown-up friend and offer ideas on how readers can develop these attributes in themselves. Finally, they tackle the ...
Even when life is hectic and harried, every woman has a God-given longing for relationship, and her female friends play an important role in filling that. Oliver and Smalley help women distinguish between self-centered, insecure, childish relationships and other-centered, healthy, “grown-up” relationships. Using personal anecdotes and scriptural principles, they explain ten characteristics of a grown-up friend and offer ideas on how readers can develop these attributes in themselves. Finally, they tackle the tough issues of friendships, such as how to support a friend in crisis, how to work toward forgiveness when a friend has injured you, and how to determine when it is best to let a friendship go. Tyndale House Publishers
Everything in life that truly matters can be boiled down to relationships. -Gary Smalley, The DNA of Relationships
I have two friendship bracelets. One is a treasured gift from a close friend, and I wear it almost every day.
The other is decades old but has never been worn. When I stumbled across it again in my closet a few years ago, the small gift-wrapped jewelry box in which it rests was covered with dust. Amazingly, the wrapping paper was still in perfect condition-not a tear or rip anywhere. The colors, although somewhat faded, looked beautiful-hip, even. Groovy happy faces in purple, hot pink, yellow, and green patterns covered the gift. A small card still hung from the ribbon. A lump formed in my throat as I read the words:
Happy Birthday! I hope you enjoy your gift. BFF (Best Friends Forever)!
I couldn't believe I had held on to it for more than twenty years. Instantly, painful memories flooded my mind. Jenny. I hadn't thought about her for years. The party. I had tried to block it out. But here it was ... the gift. Jenny's gift. I had forgotten that I never gave it to her.
In 1981 I was in seventh grade. My two best friends were Jenny Bower and Kelly Chavez. It's hard to describe our relationship exactly. Although the three of us were close, inevitably one of us would feel left out. We all seemed to strive to be the "queen bee"; you know, the leader of the pack-the most valued friend.
About the time I bought the bracelet, Jenny and I were going through a tough stretch. Apparently she felt that I was spending too much time with Kelly, and she felt left out. Jenny started ignoring me. Actually, she began giving me the silent treatment. Hurt, I began hanging out more with another friend named Glenda. Two opposing teams quickly formed: Jenny and Kelly on one side and Glenda and me on the other. Over the next week we gossiped about each other, ignored each other, and were just plain cruel. At the time, I had no idea why Jenny was upset with me. I figured it might be because Kelly and I had been walking to school together, most of the time without her. I tried to milk information out of Kelly-she would actually talk to me when we weren't in school-but she didn't seem to know why Jenny was upset either. And then it happened.
"Do you want to ride to the party together?" Kelly asked me over the phone.
Party? What party? I thought to myself.
"What are you talking about, Kelly?"
"You know ... Jenny's birthday party."
I'm sure she could sense something was wrong. I didn't say anything-or breathe for that matter-for several long seconds.
"Jenny's having a birthday party?" I asked.
"I think so ... yes ... well, maybe," Kelly stammered. "Hey, let me call you back. My mom needs to use the phone." And the line went dead.
I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Jenny was having a birthday party, and I wasn't invited. I was devastated. I immediately grabbed the birthday present I had wrapped for her just the day before and threw it into my closet.
The next day at school I found out that eight girls from my class had been invited to Jenny's thirteenth birthday party. And I wasn't one of them. All because Jenny and I had been in a fight-the cause of which I never discovered. I cried so hard that weekend. I felt rejected, displaced, and unloved-new feelings for me.
Ironically, a week later Jenny and I were friends again. We never talked about the birthday party or why she had been mad at me. We pretended that nothing had happened.
The present I had bought her was a bracelet. On the bracelet was a friendship charm. I'm sure I was acting passive-aggressive, but after having felt so rejected, I never gave her my gift-I didn't feel she deserved to wear a BFF (Best Friends Forever) bracelet from me.
When I discovered the box again a few years ago, I carefully unwrapped it. As I held the "antique" bracelet in my hand, a tear rolled down my cheek. The pain I felt in my heart was as intense as it had been more than twenty years ago. Girls can be so cruel-especially at thirteen.
I'm grateful to have another friendship bracelet-though it, too, remained hidden in a box for years. This one came from my sister-in-law, one of my closest friends. She'd bought it for me at one of the high points of my life. I was about to marry the love of my life, and I was also going to become family with her-my dearest girlfriend! Who would have ever thought that I would end up marrying the brother of one of my best friends?
Kari and I had been friends since our sophomore year of college, when she'd reached out to me and helped me grow in my faith. We shared many of the same interests: jogging, eating sushi, and dating the same guy (at different times, of course!). One summer, she encouraged me to work with her at a Christian sports camp. Our friendship blossomed to a new level there, and we got to know and love one another even more. Before long I got to know her family-including her brother, Greg.
When Greg and I married, I had high expectations for the friendship between Kari and me. I dreamed of the years ahead when we would build our own households and raise our children together. I was sure we'd remain friends until we were old and gray.
But one week after Greg and I returned from our honeymoon, I could tell something was wrong. Kari didn't seem excited to see me. She was pretty quiet, and for the first time in my life, I didn't have anything to say either. When we did speak, it was simple small talk-definitely not the deep, intimate communication we had once shared. Over the next few months, the unspoken tension between us grew, and I soon began to fear that all my dreams of our friendship were going to disappear.
Looking back, I can see how difficult it must have been to be in Kari's shoes. Until I married Greg, she had been the only girl in this family. Not only did Kari gain a sister, but she felt as if she'd lost her best friend and her brother all at once.
Over the next seven years, conflict, tension, and resentment became commonplace. Sadly, the real issues between Kari and me never seemed to get addressed. We tried to put Band-Aids on our friendship-which worked fine. However, I soon learned what the acronym "fine" really stands for-feelings inside not expressed! And that summed it up for both of us. Kari often felt displaced, and I was constantly confused, not knowing how to interpret what was really going on. Often, this led to the silent treatment and one of us withdrawing. Since both of us hate disharmony, though, one of us would inevitably pursue the other.
Actually, we still loved each other deeply but didn't know how to communicate it. We didn't know how to manage our own feelings or deal with the underlying issues, which left us disconnected and in disharmony. The biggest hurt, however, was not just losing our dream of being family, but ultimately losing our close, intimate friendship.
One afternoon as I was home typing a paper for my master's degree program, I heard an unexpected knock at my door. I finished typing my sentence and cautiously opened the front door to see who the surprise visitor was. Wow! It was the last person I expected.
Kari stood on the front porch with tears fl owing down her face. She looked broken. I reached out and embraced my sister the way I had wanted to for years. I had missed my friend so much and had wanted to comfort her in the midst of her pain, but I seemed to have been the one causing much of her discomfort.
I slowly guided Kari into my living room and sat her on the couch in front of the fireplace. I was both concerned and curious as to why she had come. I was uncomfortable, yet excited that she would open up to me again.
We engaged in small talk for just a minute until it seemed as if Kari was going to burst at the seams.
"I have something to say to you," Kari said through her tears.
I held my breath. In the past, conversations that began this way did not go well. However, this time something seemed different.
"I am so deeply sorry for all the pain we have experienced in our relationship over the years," Kari said, crying. "I don't want to go back and relive all the details, but I do want you to know how much I have missed my best friend over the years."
I stared in disbelief. I had so longed to hear these words from her.
"I want to give you something," Kari said as she handed me a small box.
It was beautifully wrapped in silver foil. Hanging from the gold ribbon was a card. I opened it slowly and cautiously.
Erin, You are my closest friend and now my sister. I want to give you this gift as a reminder to both of us. A reminder of the love we share and the commitment we have to one another not only as friends, but as family.
As tears streamed down both of our cheeks, I unwrapped the paper and removed a small green box. Opening the hinged lid, I pulled out a beautiful, tiny bracelet. It was sterling silver and made with a continuous string of hearts. Kari took the bracelet and placed it on my left wrist.
"Erin, this is a symbol of our friendship-a friendship that will never be broken and that will never end," she said. "You are my sister and I love you. I want this bracelet to serve as a reminder of the commitment that we share to walk through the good and bad times together. I feel stupid admitting this to you, but I bought this bracelet a long time ago and never gave it to you."
Can you imagine?
I embraced my sister-my friend-and we talked and cried for hours. It was the best talk we'd had in seven years. We both took responsibility for our actions and sought forgiveness. In the end, God performed a miracle in our relationship. He used a tiny silver bracelet to restore a friendship. Our relationship is not perfect, but it is definitely much richer. It still has both peaks and valleys, but the peaks-the good times-outweigh the challenges.
Only a short time after receiving my friendship bracelet from Kari, I was able to give back to her. Kari called, weeping, and I quickly found out that she had lost her second son to a premature birth. Together, we cried and grieved the loss of baby Roger's life. A year later, Kari rushed me to the hospital when I began spotting during my third pregnancy. She sat by my bedside as an ultrasound was performed. Kari was the first to identify that we were going to be blessed with a son.
It's amazing how our friendship has come full circle! We are raising our precious children and sharing life together-as sisters and as friends.
Today those two bracelets-the one from Kari and the one I never gave to Jenny-are much more than pieces of jewelry to me. They are symbols of a childish friendship and a grown-up friendship, and there is a big difference between the two. The first was characterized by fun times often marred by insecurity; the second by deep joy and connection forged despite honest disagreements and unintended hurt. One represents a season of great disappointment, when I often felt rejected and displaced. The other represents new beginnings and a commitment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
To this day, my heart bracelet almost never leaves my wrist. It's a constant reminder of what God has in store for us through relationships-especially female friendships.
More than anything else, my coauthor, Carrie, and I desire that this book will show you just how important our friendships with women are to God. There are many books out there about female friendships; however, this book is different because it focuses on what God has taught both of us about developing grown-up friendships, such as the one I now enjoy with my sister-in-law. He has a purpose in all of our relationships, including the difficulties we encounter, and we can turn to Him for insight into our fears and reactions in the midst of challenges. Ultimately, we hope that this book will enable you to unwrap the "true gift" that God has for each of us through our female friendships.
Why Do We Need Friends Anyway?
Ever wonder why we have such a deep desire to connect with other women? I have. In fact, I have become even more curious as I have watched my daughters experience their first ups and downs with friends. My interest was especially piqued the first time my older daughter, Taylor, was wounded by a friend.
It happened several years ago, on a sunny, warm spring day in the Ozarks. I was standing, as I did every afternoon at 3:45, in a grass-covered field on the corner of North 15th Avenue.
My son, Garrison, made excited cooing noises as he saw the big yellow school bus come to a halt. He knew his sister Taylor and her friend Shelby would be scooting off soon. The bus sputtered up to the curb, and the screeching doors flew open. As Taylor trudged off the bus, I contemplated the look I saw in her eyes. Deep in my heart I recognized it. Hadn't I seen that look somewhere before? I began to panic, thinking, Surely, it can't be-not yet! She is only seven years old.
Soon the tears were flowing freely from my blond, pigtailed daughter. I was not quite certain what to do. How in the world could I possibly help Taylor when it was difficult for me to know how to help myself when I was hurting? I grabbed Taylor and wrapped my arms around her. I got down on my knees, looked deep into her hazel eyes, and asked her to tell me what had happened.
"Shelby doesn't want to be my friend anymore!" There it was! I knew I had recognized her look. Taylor had now been initiated into the world of pain that began back in the days of Adam and Eve.
Just three short weeks earlier, Taylor had come home from school announcing the arrival of her "new best friend-Shelby." Shelby had just transferred to her school, and as Taylor had been taught to do, she quickly befriended the new student. We discovered that Shelby lived right down the street from us, so the girls became fast and furious friends, spending as much after-school playtime together as they could.
Each morning the two girls ran to the bus stop, greeting each other with an embrace. They then jumped onto the bus and squeezed close together in one of the green vinyl bus seats (the ones that make you freeze in the cold months and sweat in the heat). They discussed their wardrobe, their homework, and their latest crushes-Billy Bob, Bubba, or Jimmy Joe (remember, we lived in the Ozark Mountains!). After school, when I met the bus, they'd typically ask if they could meet at the park again in fifteen minutes.
Then came that day when Taylor slumped off the bus alone. Thinking she might have misunderstood the situation, I tried to console her. Shaking her head, Taylor handed me a note from Shelby. In short, it said:
Taylor, I don't want to be your friend anymore! You don't talk to me as much as you talk to Megan. Best friends talk to each other more, you know ... so if you want to be my friend your going to have to prove it! Shelby
So there it was. My little girl was experiencing the pain that I've felt, not only as a young girl, but as a thirtysomething-year-old woman. I wanted to assure her that this would be the last time that she would ever feel such sharp pain and rejection, but I knew that wasn't true.
Fortunately, Taylor and Shelby soon mended their relationship. My daughter's pain diminished, and she continued to desire to make and keep friends. And five years later, both Taylor and her sister, Maddy, are experiencing the highs and lows of friendship. Meanwhile, I've been exploring the roots of our need for friendship.
Created for Connection
If relationships bring such deep pain, why do we women long for them so intensely and hurt so much when they disappoint us?
Excerpted from Grown-Up Girlfriends by Erin Smalley Carrie Oliver Copyright © 2007 by Erin Smalley and Carrie Oliver. Excerpted by permission.
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