Today was the 60th birthday of a friend of mine. We have a complicated friendship. I haven’t wished her happy birthday in a few years because she has her settings on Facebook so I can’t directly comment on her page (but other people can). That bothers me. It bothers me, because I don’t think I’ve ever given her reason to not trust me – except I left the church she was co-pastoring with her husband.
I didn’t leave because of them. But I did leave because of them. It’s complicated. There were a lot of hurtful things that went down over the decade-plus that I served under their pastorship, and not all of it was their fault. And some of it was. Eventually, I left because my husband left, and in his wake, I was left a “single-but-married-woman” attending church and there’s really a strange disconnect in the evangelical world for women like myself. My friend didn’t do much to help my situation.
Her husband certainly never called my husband to inquire as to why he left and if there was anything he could do to remedy the situation. But neither did any other Elder (and peer) in the church (save two). The modus operandi was to corner me at church and ask how my husband was doing and offer some sort of platitude. It got so bad that I typed up our phone number and waited for the next person to ask. I planned on handing the phone number to the inquiring church member and say, “you call him and ask him. I can’t speak for him.”
No one asked after I went to all that work.
My husband and I were very active in church service, and I continued on after he left, but I began to limit my attendance in order to also be a wife. An opportunity came up at the church and I – being a long time church member who had memorized most of the sermons – decided I could take advantage of that opportunity. I approached the person in charge (someone who had been at the church for considerably less time than I had). I was told that I *had* to attend *every* service – every time the church was open! – in order to be in this ministry. I stood there, rather dumbfounded, soaking in this information. I’d been to *every* service for over a decade and now they wanted *more* out of me? I’d been a teacher, a leader, an organizer, sat on councils, and headed up several annual events without a single hitch. Ever.
I turned around and walked out the door. I was hurt, angry, and disappointed. I felt pushed out. Your husband doesn’t go to church here anymore, so you are not valuable to our ministry.
Every stupid thing this friend had ever said to me surfaced. She was pretty, loved make-up, had her hair professionally done, and was endowed with a full figure. I am plain. I hate make-up, refuse to let anyone touch my hair that I don’t absolutely trust, and am flat-chested. I am the antithesis of a poster girl for anything except Ban the Bra (because you can’t tell if I have a bra on or not).
I allowed this friend to perform “make-overs” on me. One such make-over culminated in having 8 inches of my hair cut off. I nearly ended up in divorce court. I went from waist-length, beautiful, flowing hair to trendy just-below-the-shoulders cut. It was like asking my husband to shave his mustache. I will regret that make-over for the rest of my life. It led to bad perms and bad hair styles and – let’s just not go there. Now that I am older and my hair is thinner and I can’t grow it back out, I regret that haircut.
Then there was the time I needed to have something affirmed: I was asked by my father to take on my 10 year old niece to raise. She was an orphan and Dad believed she was being unduly influenced by her step-grandmother. This friend pulled me aside and said, “You do not have to do this. You do not owe your <deceased> sister.”
Wow. I was stunned. That was the last advice I needed. The last advice I expected. It was wrong on so many levels, the first of which: it did not confirm God’s word to my heart. I decided to follow my heart, and I have never regretted that. I just wish this friend had asked God to speak through her before she blurted something out that would forever mar our friendship. My niece was the best decision I ever made that went against the “counsel” of church elders.
I unfairly compare my friend with my first pastor’s wife, Betty Oglesbee. Betty saw through me. Betty saw into me. Betty spoke after she heard from God. Betty never spoke a word to me that was not delivered in careful deliberation. Betty loved me unconditionally – nothing related to church attendance or great spirituality. Betty was my unconditional mentor for as many years as I had her advice (1987 was the last year I had guidance from Betty, but I still think: “what would Betty say?”
I tell you all this (and there is so much more) because this friend turned 60 today. Her church and her children posted videos of her. I love her children – they were in my Sunday School classes. I was faced with my feelings for her: those of love and those of hurt. Which do you go with? I’ll never fully reconcile my walk in Christ with her ministry. I recognize that. God led us down very different paths. She could have been more encouraging in my chosen path, but I can see that my path so diverged from hers that it would be hard for her to relate to.
Still – she has been a good friend. She’s a TV icon. She’s written books. Her children converse with me. I don’t actually hate or even dislike her. I’m just hurt by different things that happened under her ministry. And I truly want to bless her on her birthday. I want to let all of that go. I want this to be her best-ever birthday. She deserves that much. She’s been through hurts I can only imagine, and her hurts have caused her to strike out at people like myself. She doesn’t trust people who claim to be friends.
It’s complicated. I love her. I want her to have a happy birthday. But…