To Love the Shape of Your Life


tennessee lanscape

photo credit

Connecting the dots on the time-line of my life between my birth and this very moment, I could make you a multi-dimentional map. I could code it and show you a topography reminiscent of Tennessee: a long state, fertile bottom land, rich hills, the white water, mountains, deep V riverbeds, and the low, connecting black caves. Hear bass, blues, and banjo. My dimensions, the borderlines, the aquifers beneath, and the soundtrack, those were set in advance. Even in my youth, snorting powder off a stranger’s bathroom sink through a rolled-up dollar bill, I knew even then that God was about shaping me. I knew He would eventually make me His friend.

My younger years were full of parties, going from arm to arm in love, holding to skin, all the friends, as best I could, but these last few years, I’ve touched only the skin of my babies and my husband, and even then, I can seem so far away: other side of the river. I’ve turned inside myself, sorting within, the Spirit with me in stop and go. Hospitals, the grief of losing family members, and shifting in and out of community can let you know quickly where your identity stands, and I’ve learned the hard way that my identity has rested too much on the companionship of others. As I have lost my ground in processing things like adoption and the slow healing of my son, I have watched my friends struggle more and more to know me.

This isn’t to say that it’s all been negative, because it sure hasn’t. I am no less in transformation now than ever before. Through this season I am learning a good bit about my giftings and how to obey as a steward of the mystery. I’ve always had the heart of a teacher, and if I’m learning something and digesting at all, then I’m also simultaneously working it out with other people. I’m a go-to-tell-it-on-the-mountain sort of gal. If I find myself in the sun and look back at the valley below, if I’m breathing, I’m also saying, “let me tell you what I just learned.” During this time, I have had seasons of great boldness. I have been surrounded by ears and a cloud of witnesses in mountaintop experiences. But we can’t all stay there, can we?

Life looses its shape when you plant yourself on one dot on the time-line. You have to keep journeying and sometimes right into despair, which is actually the only place to find divine comfort, even when your mind seems to be slipping, even when you think you’re losing yourself altogether. In trying to keep my head above water, I have tip-toed around becoming one of those needy friends who has a hard time seeing above the minutia of my own circumstance. I have tended toward self-preservation and hiding, and I have felt that I have had little to offer. The heightened awkwardness of conversation has held me captive in the middle of the night, stuck in angst and worry. I look back on episodes of conversation and see someone I don’t recognize.  I’d like a redo on some scenes.

Normal is relative, but it’s coming back to me in spurts. It’s not the Valley of the Shadow anymore, and I have a few friends who walk with me, and I can tell you that they aren’t ever waiting for the normal to come back. They’re looking at the landscape and calling the beauty. They love my whole life and me in the stage that I’m in. The ones who wait with you through the awkward and the unknowing are a handful at best.

The ones who won’t give up and let you off into the silence and who won’t overly kiss you or hold back the trusted wounds are truest rarities. Those are the ones who look like Jesus. 

Let us be friends who stand on mountains and friends who crawl in caves. Let us smack each other in the metaphorical face when it’s time to move on, and let your identity be in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the only one we can trust with the landscape of our lives. He always loves you before you love him back. He knows more than you do about caves. He stood on the mountain first, and he’ll be making all our ground level very soon, old and young, rich and poor, crazy house and think tank.

“Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain” (Isaiah 40:4).

Kingdom Comes, my friends. Be real.

So tell me now about the friendships in your lives. Also what kind of friend are you? I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately as we pray for community.

amberhaines
About me

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

14372420_1819673958299290_8839449370201576264_o
What’s Up: New Year and a New Plan
January 13, 2017
Laughter-is-a-rare-exchange-an-element-in-friendship-that-lightens-my-load.-652x489
When You’re Not the Fixer
October 24, 2015
Wild in the Hollow
Making Room
July 02, 2015
unnamed-3
Rosie the Prophetess
March 06, 2014
IMG_3480-600x450
Sue, Esther, and Abigail
February 17, 2014
MakeCommunity21-1000x665
On Making Community: Part 2
October 01, 2012
MakeCommunity2-1000x665
On Making Community: Part 1
September 28, 2012
IMG_1664-1024x764
Made for the Party
September 19, 2012
scaled_large.php_
No Goodbye
February 15, 2012

33 Comments

Robert Prince
Reply January 16, 2014

When it comes to friendships, I don't have the friendships that I want. I want deep, interconnected lives, that actually support each other, contact each other and love each other at all times, day or night.

My wife and I have been trying for years to set our lives up to be able to live, work and worship all in the same area, in order to set our lives up for great, deep relationships. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place almost a year ago, with my career change, but the deep relationships have yet to form. We do have some good friends, but they're still semi-formal.

We try to be good friends by leaving open invitations, sharing our lives, and our past openly and honestly, but the reciprocation is not there very often. Part of the issue is that we live in DFW, which has to be one of the fastest-paced areas in the country. That said, we do still keep on looking for others, and inviting them in. That's all we can do, the rest is up to them.

    Amber
    Reply January 16, 2014

    I think you nailed it. I keep wondering if it's the pace of our culture that keeps us so cut off. We just don't have the time, you know?

      Robert Prince
      Reply January 16, 2014

      I certainly do know what you mean, the pace of most people's lives is faster than their driving.

      The last month or so, I've been pondering what it looks like to really participate in life, not just drive by in a speeding car. What started this off was a talk I listened to from Frederick Buechner titled "How various forms of art and religion say pay attention." In it, he talks about Recognizing the Beautiful, and we cannot seem to do that most of the time just because the speed with which we pursue life. A post of mine from a couple weeks ago is on that whole subject.

      The problem, for most people, is that they haven't been intentional about creating margin in their lives. It's so easy to get caught up in the "productivity = successful" mentality even for those of us who are intentional with our time.

      Thanks for the honesty and authenticity! If you're interested the my name will link to that post specifically.

Barbara Isaac
Reply January 16, 2014

Real friends are a jewel indeed; those who know you almost like your husband does, and love anyway. It takes lots of courage to be transparent... and maybe these relationships are very very rare. My responsibility is to be real, or I prefer TRANSPARENT, so that people find out that my life is not perfect, not rosy. I am just walking with my King, day in and day out.

Joy
Reply January 16, 2014

It feels like I'm slowly moving to the other side of three years of intense neediness...loss of job, serious medical issues...i can relate to so much of what you are saying here. (And of course, how could I not love the Tennessee metaphor? i'm surprised at how much I miss her already.) I just...wow...yes. I don't know if it's the first born in me (though I am highly introverted) but I'm definitely one to be saying just as you do "let me tell you what I just learned"- I think in some way just to teach it back to myself, make sure I got it. I felt the same way with what little community I had around me at the time. I really had a hard time speaking up for fear of intense-if-y-ing them off. The friends I kept from that time were there from the beginning, all the way through, and they kept showing up even when I wasn't sure I wanted them to, when I was so exhausted and tapped out and just completely out of gas. They never said much, just filled up the tank in a "I noticed you ran out of gas" way so to speak. If there's anything I've learned from them and myself and those three hard years (and do you have any idea of the fear I have of putting it past tense?)- I want to be the type of friend that enters in and dwells in place but never, at the same time, gets in the way or drains. More listening, less words, less fix-it offers. I want to be a good arm-lifter (ala aaron and moses)- I can't fight your fight for you but dag nab it, I sure as heck can help you keep your arms up. There's a fine line, come to think of it, in community- knowing when someone's arms are falling and getting there in time to lift them back up- and pushing someone into a fight they aren't ready for or even want. Musing out loud here but I hope I'm making sense. My brain's all foggy today.

    Amber
    Reply January 16, 2014

    Yep, Joy, you're in my head. I'm already an intense lady, so I give props to anybody who handles me in the first place, much more when I'm not feeling myself.

Rachel Franklin
Reply January 16, 2014

I love the way you say it, Amber. Gosh, and this: "I have tended toward self-preservation and hiding, and I have felt that I have had little to offer. The heightened awkwardness of conversation has held me captive in the middle of the night, stuck in angst and worry." Through my own illnesses, I can do these like it's my job. Thank you for posting your view from your landscape here. It was good for me to read it.

Jamie
Reply January 16, 2014

I could have written this or something very similar. Thank you for your honesty.

Mark Allman
Reply January 16, 2014

In terms of friendship I think we should be ready to step in a gap at a moments notice when we see a friend needs something; to stay in touch when not is easier, to offer nothing but presence at times when words would be hollow, to act without being called, to follow up when time has past but pain has not, to not let differences matter between us, to notice when they are not present, to check on them when something seems amiss, to love them with actions and not just words, to stab them in the front(Oscar Wilde) and not the back, to walk beside when walking is damn hard for them and to suffer when they suffer, to laugh when they laugh, to cry when they cry, to ache when they ache, to smile when they smile and to rejoice when they rejoice.

    Amber
    Reply January 16, 2014

    Oh Mark! That Oscar Wilde thing about stab them in the front. Yes. I have even longed to be stabbed in the front instead of left behind, and what's worse is that I know I've left many behind. This is such a great description of friendship. Thanks for coming here.

      Mark Allman
      Reply January 17, 2014

      I followed you over here from Abby Norman's blog which I have been reading a long time.

Fiona
Reply January 16, 2014

Sometimes it is all we can do just to survive and to be able to proclaim at the end of every hard and long day that God is good, all the time.

Yours words are so wise and full. So beautiful.

Leslie Lee
Reply January 16, 2014

You're words. They are so, so powerful.
And, I'd like a redo on some scenes lately, too.

TiffHaas
Reply January 16, 2014

Yes, we've prayed and felt that deep meaningful sense of community eludes us too. Though our family is very active and plugged into two great small-group based churches (one meets the needs for our daughter, while the other for our boys); we've been a part of several community groups that have just dissolved; we're surrounded by people and have a ton of surface friendships; in ministry, serving, and trying to be "others centered" much of our time....we've struggled to find the friendships that fill our hearts with connection satisfaction. We've longed for a group of friends/peers in our season of life that were "doing life with....," raising children with, who know and love our kids genuinely, who will speak truth and encouragement to us, point us to Christ in the midst of real life, and sometimes just want to go out and have fun together....friends that we can be that to. The kind of Friends that actually feel more like family. My parents had these kind of friendships when I was a kid. We've had countless conversations on this topic as well as tears....but can't figure out why life in the middle of the Christian community still feels alone and lacks deep consistent ongoing connection. I appreciate your transparency, writing, and perspective Amber. I think it's comforting to know that we're/I'm not alone in the struggle. ;-/

blanca
Reply January 16, 2014

Back in my college days I attended a women's conference and the one thing that stuck out to me the most was one speaker telling us that, "if we don't already have a friend who asks hard questions, pray for one." Thankfully, I did have such a friend, and to this day that same friend doesn't shy away from hard questions. But the best part is that when my answers to those questions reveal my absolute ugliness and brokenness and sinfulness...she has shown me love and grace and forgiveness that just oozes Jesus in ways that make my eyes open wide and my heart freeze up in awe.

What's more is that she is just one of several... 4 of my closest friends from college are still deep, dear friends. We're so doggone different - personalities, life stages, eating habits, you name it - that I sometimes feel like we're in a movie. But we know we can be 100% honest with one another and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, and come out of it loving each other even more than before. Despite our decade of friendship having stretched us across different states and continents, we still make one another a priority. I know they're rare and they're special, and I am oh so thankful for them.

I'm not nearly as good a friend as they are, but I try hard to love them well and be Jesus to them the way they are to me. I long to be a better listener and to not let fear and selfishness keep me from loving boldly...

Kelly @ Love Well
Reply January 16, 2014

That Proverb about a friend sticking closer than a brother has become flesh and blood to me. The holy known. It is a precious thing to carry each other's hearts and war next to and for.

jessica s
Reply January 17, 2014

I don't know quite how to type this but your honesty today put shape to something I read last night. My older sister was sorting through her things and found a handout from a workshop she did in college which contains an explanation of some six steps of spiritual growth , though the evangelical church often only recognizes the first three. there's a place between the third stage and the fourth stage which they call "the wall". they describe it as a mode of "questioning, exploring, falling apart, doubting, dancing around the real issues, sinking in uncertainty, and indulging in self-centeredness. We often look hopeless to those around us. This newfound (and often suprising) uncertainty is usually precipitated by a crisis." "Our sense of God is shaken and we can find no new direction, only more questions." and your post today sounded a lot like this to me: "The end of stage 4 involves an experience of 'the Wall' - 'a face-to-face experience with God and wit hour own will.' It is impossible to go over, around, or under the Wall. One can only go through it."

i have found a community of friends recently where I am free to ask hard questions, painful questions, and they will not give me pat answers, they will share in my silences. And I hope that I am learning to do the same.

Angela
Reply January 17, 2014

"The ones who won’t give up and let you off into the silence and who won’t overly kiss you or hold back the trusted wounds are truest rarities. Those are the ones who look like Jesus." Your words are beautiful, Amber and they resonate with me, as the mother of a child with special needs. I enormously appreciate the few friends who've walked close, as we've learned to live a "new normal." Thanks for your honesty.

Karen
Reply January 17, 2014

Yes, I have so needed a redo many times. My intensity often scares people. I find myself thinking, " don't talk about anything serious, don't ask hard questions" just so people can handle me. I am thankful for the ones that stick. That is not an easy undertaking. They are rare and hard to come by. I love deep friendships, they make me stretch and grow and are God's grace and mercy to us. Feeling deeply is hard, but it also reminds me I'm very alive and I want to live and love deeply with the time we have, knowing that my treasure does not rest in friends loving me but in Christ who loves me even in the awkward silence and neediness when I have nothing to offer.
Thank you for your honest words.

Cindy B.
Reply January 17, 2014

Your words...once again moved me to near weeping. It's never in the quiet or solitary of my living room, either...today was at my husband's office, waiting to have lunch, with the rest of the world around me...it's was a little more private than the waiting room of the doctor's office, or the lunch room at work. The tears, however, spoke of the love I've found in the community of 4 amazing women who walked me through divorce, pain, and single momness...all with open arms and no judgement. All who simply remain my "hens," 5 women of different ages, backgrounds, seasons, beliefs...save one: love. I am so blessed. In these women, I can be the friend Jesus created me to be...thank you for being so real for us, too. Indeed, Kingdom Comes.

Diana Trautwein
Reply January 17, 2014

Smack me in the metaphorical face, huh? Yeah, that might be just the ticket some days. Friendship is hard to come by for me. I'm more closely connected to my online prayer group of 13 women than I am almost anywhere except for my kids and grandkids. And my husband, who is my best friend and has been since I was about 18 years old. I left some really good friends when we moved north for me to take the pastoral position I just retired from. It's tough making friends when you're the pastor, but several folks have blessed me with presence when I needed it and I have tried to be there for them as well. It's a tough gig, being my friend.

Kristen@Chasing Blue Skies
Reply January 18, 2014

Oh Amber ~ I couldn't love this more. It's so right on.

I pray I'm a good friend, at least I try to be. I don't do friendship perfectly, and I still have more to learn on that subject. For sure. But part of me comes alive when I hear others share their real, and I'm not at all scared to crawl into caves or celebrate other people's mountaintops.

Love you, Amber. And thank you for your stunning perspective here.

Suzie
Reply January 19, 2014

I love this post Amber. I have learned over the last few years how to be a needy friend. I've never been comfortable being on the needing end but I've learned how when we receive we are becoming more equipped to give. Now that I'm finding my footing again, I'm learning how to "be" in friendship and be in the landscape regardless of what he terrain may be like. The thing about terrain is you can't so anything to change it. Only the passing of a season from one to the next or a shake up or something that occurs naturally will change it. So I'm learning to enjoy not being in control, teaching and telling without bearing the responsibility of fixing and solving. Those outcomes only belong to Jesus. Blessings to you my friend.

Robin
Reply January 20, 2014

Sometimes when I read your words, it's a love letter to me.

Like today.

xo

Samantha
Reply January 20, 2014

Love this line : "Life looses its shape when you plant yourself on one dot on the time-line." I tend to so often see myself and my life as what it is right now, as opposed to who I am due to the sum of where I have been and what God has done in me.

Community was so easy in college – I was plugged into a great group of friends, and it was such a unique season of life in which we really could be a sort of second family to each other. A few years out and married, community seems to be a foreign concept we can't figure out. I typically tell myself it is due to the "dot" of where we are now – raising support to work with a ministry while my husband also works 40+ hours/week in a corporate job to help ends meet until we are sustainable with support, and the majority of our time with other people is spent having the same conversations about life and ministry. Encouraging conversations, but not necessarily life-sharing. I tell myself I am too needy for community, that I am a burden to my friends, and that I don't have anything to offer during this season.

But your last point about identity is so good, and something I need to process more as I wrestle with the concept of community.

Thanks for writing.

Keri
Reply January 21, 2014

Amber! You put into words what I've been grasping at for weeks now and gave me the courage to finally write about it. I hope you don't mind but I quoted you! Thanks for being real. Love to you and yours! Keri
http://brokengirl.org/2014/01/21/the-beautiful-struggle/

CC
Reply January 22, 2014

That sounds like a similar place for me. That is all I can say. Only... not everyone has the benefit of friends who stay near in all season and all times. That has been the hardest part for me. NOT having that. From anyone, but my husband and kids. I am grateful that you have had that. It means so much. May our Lord continue to encourage you and strengthen you on this journey. Thank you for sharing a bit more of your testimony. It blessed my heart to hear how He has affected your life and watched over you and touched your heart and life. :-)

Valorie MacDonald
Reply January 23, 2014

Oh, this resonated with me on so very many levels!
From the way your vulnerability jolted awake, yet again, the intercessor.and.youth.lover within me,
to lines like this, which I have lived poignantly, painfully:
...shifting in and out of community can let you know quickly where your identity stands, and I’ve learned the hard way that my identity has rested too much on the companionship of others.

I think I shall have to digest a bit further and return later!!!

Sue Addington
Reply January 18, 2014

A resounding Yes to what you have written. Speaking from my extra years and miles, friends and community change richly through the seasons - as you know yourself more just like you have written but also as life itself keeps changing. Your yearning is good. It is needed. Those kindred souls arise in the most surprising places.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *