Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Hug a Girl

The first time I grabbed Robert and hugged him we were in our old kitchen and it felt super awkward. He clearly didn't know how to react and I wasn't even sure why I did it, except that I was mysteriously starting to love him like one of my own, and that's just how we roll. We hug our kids.

Not long after, I told him I loved him and he got a little twitchy. "Thanks but I never say that to anyone. Ever." Fine by me. But it wouldn't be the last time I said it or the last time he just smiled in return.

A couple years later, we talk through the staticky jail video phone. Sometimes we all look gray. Sometimes green. Sometimes we can't see anything at all and he defaults to banging the receiver against the cinder-block wall. (Wonder why those phones don't work?)

I search his eyes every time for what's there. Is he okay? Is he in good spirits? Discouraged? Tired? Is he getting enough to eat? Reading his Bible? Keeping his temper in check? Does he miss his boys? His girl? Does he miss us? Give me a smile, Robert. I need to see those teeth. We're right here. We're out here loving you every day, praying for you, every day, thinking about you all the time. We're waiting. Not ever leaving. God's got a plan. Please believe. Please believe. I'm scared for you, too. I'll be back soon. I love you I love you I love you and the screen goes black.

He says it back now, all the time. He writes it in on yellow legal paper alongside kid-drawn hearts and loopy smiley faces.

It took going to hell, but he let us love him and he let himself love us.

I wonder sometimes if we would have ever gotten to this place without all the mess and the heartache and the jail. 

I've never hugged my friend Becky. We've talked, laughed, we've texted 'til our fingers bled. We've argued. We've cried. We've raised our voices at each other.

We haven't hugged once.

When I'm feeling extra brave and the moment is prime, I might squeeze her arm, just below her elbow. Like trust, hugs have to be earned sometimes.

I'm fighting to figure out how to show this girl that I'm staying. I drive and pay and do what I can to shine up her self-image.

Then days like today happen. I get short with her and tell her she's wrong. I condemn her for cussing the lady out. It never helps, Becky. You're burning bridges. I sigh, feeling well within my right.

Hours later I realize that I would have done the same thing if I were her. If what I knew was what she knows, I'd have cussed her out, too.

I say I don't judge, then go ahead and do it anyway, only I don't call it judging. I call it a "reality check" or "the truth". Something smart and middle-class.

Over and over again I realize that while we're essentially the same, our life experiences are very different.  Over and over again I'm faced with the opportunity to see how far I haven't come.

I wave a white flag in 189 characters. I'm sorry.

She doesn't text back. She makes me wait when it gets like this and I can't say I blame her.

This is the shove and drag. This is real life, the fragile roots of tenuous friendship. This is the learning of love; the inching closer to that elusive hug.


  1. This made me think of Hillsong's "From the Inside Out"....

    A thousand times I've failed
    Still your mercy remains
    And should I stumble again
    Still I'm caught in your grace.....

    Praying for you and Becky right now. May she KNOW you are 'real' and flawed and saved by HIS grace!

  2. Who needs the or Becky?.....let Becky know its you...she will surprise you I promise. X

    1. Hmmm...I'm not sure if either of us "needs" the hug. That's just how "we" show love, right? What I want is for her to be able to accept love from me, you, anyone, in that way. And yeah, she'd probably surprise me... by punching me in the nose. ;)

  3. Your laid-out honesty constantly causes me to re-think my own actions and thoughts every day.

    My goal this last couple of years has been to 'work on' my tendency to judge.....and I'm so pleased that it really is getting much better. I find that it's not even all that difficult anymore. It comes more naturally to show compassion and to believe that there's often a 'story' that I don't know.

    I'm convinced that finding your blog last year is one of the reasons for the shift in my heart. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this. It made me all goose-bumpy in my chair. :)

  4. "I say I don't judge, then go ahead and do it anyway sometimes, only I don't call it judging. I call it a "reality check" or "the truth". Something smart and middle-class. " Wow that hit me between the eyes, sin polished up is still ugly sin. I need to work on my knee jerk reaction of judging, is actually has been a prayer of mine. "Help me see them like you do Jesus."

  5. It's ok to correct Becky, if she's never seen the correct way to handle things, how will she know? I can say this because I was a Becky and someone took the time to love me and teach me. "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed." Proverbs 27:5 We need a light, not someone to be like us is what we've always seen. Show us something different. Show us what Jesus would do...

    1. Yes! Totally agree. The problem wasn't with correcting, it was with the way I went about it and my attitude behind it.

    2. I want to respond to your blog today by replying under this message.....I have learned waaaay too many times, that is always comes back to the "way I went about it and my attitude behind it." I have to check myself daily on this one, keep up the lovin' and huggin'. You reap what you sow, keep on planting the seeds :-) I luv you!

  6. i have so many of these lessons from years of ministry with teens and college love them so much it hurts, so when they are CLEARLY in the wrong, you go about telling them...

    i can't tell you how many times I've felt justified for "telling them the truth" and "teaching them the right way to handle situations." Except my heart was totally judging them and trying to control their journeys with the Lord. Thankfully, the Lord is faithful to rebuke me in these times...over and over again, he teaches me to love how he loves...

    i get you...and the struggle....SO HARD to love his teach his way....

    praying for you in the trenches.

  7. But you're there. Which is way more than most of us can say. You are lucky to have each other.

    Blessings to you.

  8. I usually read blogs while I drink coffee in the mornings (which gives me about 20 minutes), but lately it's been hard reading yours and then bouncing on to "how to upholster an ugly chair". Your words need time to simmer. And that's a good thing. We're working as missionaries in an inner city and I get it. This loving others isn't as easy as it use to be. And it costs more time and energy. But what God does in return? Wow.

  9. Isn't it weird when you're supposed to be the teacher but you end up learning so much? Hang in there, girl.

  10. Oh my goodness this is so hard! I am cheering you on!

  11. Guess she's knows you are human too. You need this, even though it hurts, makes you NEED to be you, to not hold back, to make mistakes. It will cement your bond.

  12. You leave me speechless, open, thinking about motive, expectation, want, and need.
    There is this theory about reading. Reader Response Theory. Basically, the only correct interpretation of a text is our own. No one can tell us how it should be or what the author meant, because we as the reader bring our own baggage to the reading. Our view of the reading is colored by all that we have experienced and endured. So, it is in life. We have our own sense of it and what is right and just and polite and proper and rude and mean etc.. But we can not tell others how it should be or what they should do. (But wait, isn't that what I am doing right now..?) We can not tell others what they can or can not do. Should or should not do. Because they have their version of it which we cannot even imagine. So, where does that leave us? Here, in this place of grace and truly, power. We are able to breathe in that space and buy some time between our thoughts and our actions. We, can be present and we can be loving.
    Your posts speak to my soul. Thank you for sharing your path with the rest of us in such an honest way. Warts and all. It does us all good. Well, at least me.

  13. I have a Becky for a friend too. She started coming over to hang out with me when she was just 12, when we were still just watching her older brother and sisters life unravel and hers was still shreds of innocent. I tried to save her, wanted to lift her out of that spiral down coming on but I couldn't. She would come stay with us angry as hell at how hard life is how uphill the climb is for her and those she loves. We tried oh how we tried to snatch her out and offer a better life but she stayed. Now with 2 babies of her own and the hill isnt getting any more easy to summit than before - babies daddy deported(for good reasons), anger to last for miles (plenty to self-sabotage)... the answers don't come easy and its just heartbreaking to see. I love her achingly but it's never enough. Other than us, the church has been a whole lot of ungrace to her and her siblings. Anyway, thank you for talking about these precious ones that get so forgotten. In our case, at least so far, the farmhouse in the country can be a refuge from the storm for a little while anyway. At least I know there are others who will keep loving anyway, keep going into the broken places. You encourage, inspire and challenge us fpfg. Thank you

  14. 1st of all, yay for Robert's breakthrough! And I know it's not the same as with Becky, but I get into trouble with my husband all the time for doing this when he gets upset with people. I feel like I'm calming him down, but he thinks I'm taking the other person's side. Maybe he feels a little judged by me...I've never thought of it that way.

    She'll be back around. And you'll be there with a good arm squeeze. Bless you, FPFG.

  15. Every time I read you blog it's like reading my own heart poured out in written form. Sometimes it is so hard to get through to them how much you love them. How many times they are on your mind and how much you pray for them.

    Praying for you and your big kids. Keep loving them...even when it's hard. Like you said, God's got a plan.

  16. you made my eyes tear the trick or treaters are going to wonder what's up with the crying "witch".

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