Ladies’ Thursday: Friendships Between the Genders

11 Oct

Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves:  be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

The world has changed a lot in the course of my 54 years.

I was born just before the height of the sexual revolution.  When I was young, I became aware that many of my grandmother’s generation had been pregnant when they got married but they:  a) kept it quiet (it’s amazing how many people knew though, and passed the information along to my generation) and b) always got married to make their mistake “right.”

The sexual revolution (which came after the pill was invented when I was two years old) eventually set all of those former ways on their ear.

But the sexual revolution also “sexualized” many relationships that previously would be seen as innocent.  It gave people the tendency to assume that a relationship is sexual unless proven otherwise.  The precious old-fashioned concept of friendship which has been around since Bible days became the idea of “friends with benefits” that rules today.   

Remember that.  It has become the human race’s default setting to assume sex is taking place in almost any relationship where two people spend significant amounts of time together.  This is now the case even with two same sex people.  When I was a young naval officer, it was usual for two men or two women to buy a house together for the investment value (as junior officers, they needed to pool their money to afford a house, but they also knew that renting an apartment was throwing money away). 

Now, with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” many single officers don’t buy a house with a same sex roommate because it will be assumed that they are a couple.  For two gals who are hoping to get boyfriends at their new duty station, being known as lesbians can be a showstopper!

So, turning to relationships with the opposite gender . . . let’s project that out.

Our society is crazy about sex and about putting a sexual narrative underneath every relationship, no matter how innocent.  So we need to be forewarned and forearmed with that fact or we will get ourselves into trouble by simply being naïve.

The above verse is very appropriate here.  We must be wise as serpents but gentle as doves.  People love to gossip and they find gossip about sex to be the most titillating of all.  They don’t really need to have any facts in order to accuse us of sinful behavior.  If we are not careful, we play right into their need to be entertained.

And, as Christians, Christ’s name can be slandered in these situations.

I have many male friends, both at work and in my church and Bible study circles.  I want to address, specifically, the friendship between a man and a woman who are married to two other people. 

When I was a young woman, those friendships didn’t happen very much outside of a group setting in which couples got together for fellowship.  That was, and remains, a safe place to have friends of both genders.

However, as I have gotten older, the advent of cell phones, texting, Facebook, and private messages on Facebook have brought about situations where conversations do take place one-on-one, sometimes in person, sometimes on-line.  Sometimes it is just a case of you and that other person having an interest that your spouses do not share.   

Let’s just say it.  It is okay to not share every interest with your spouse.  There is no spouse on this planet who shares every possible interest with his or her husband or wife.  It can’t be done.  If it happened, that couple would have found paradise on earth and wouldn’t even need to look forward to heaven. 

Only Jesus fulfills every desire of our hearts.

In humans, we will find that our spouse meets many, but not all, of our needs.  Friends will fill in the gaps.  Sometimes those friends will be of the opposite gender.   (Disclaimer:  To repeat, Jesus is ultimately the One who meets all of our needs.  He uses people to do that.  Just want to make sure I am not misunderstood as overly exalting any human being, including a spouse. Also, not everything we perceive as a need is a need. But God graciously provides for us all good things to enjoy).

So how do we safeguard our marriages so that they are not threatened by our friendships with the opposite gender?

I have a few specific ideas that have worked for me and have, most of all, minimized the opportunity for others to gossip about my friendships:

1) No being behind closed doors with someone of the opposite gender who is not my husband.  In fact, I travel a lot with my workmates and one time we were in Los Angeles on a very cold week.  One coworker, who loves to build fires in hotel rooms with fireplaces, bought three of those preformed logs, one for his own hearth and two for those of us who were sharing a car with him.  When we got back to the hotel, knowing that I didn’t know how to build the fire in my room, he went in and did it for me, while I kept the door open and stood halfway out on the sidewalk.  I reassured him that that had nothing to do with him, but everything to do with not wanting to attract gossip.

2) Making sure my husband knows about my friendships.  I believe this may have been what doomed the political campaign of Herman Cain.  Remember?  He had exchanged about 100 texts with a woman and given her money when she was down-and-out.  Because his wife knew nothing about this when questioned, everyone assumed that he was having sex with this other woman. 

My take on that was that he was perhaps just unwise.  He was on the road, campaigning.  He probably got out of touch with his wife for a few days.  It is not, in itself, a sin to exchange texts with people of the opposite gender.  You would find those on my phone. With some good friends, you would easily find 100 of them, over the course of time.  The difference is that my husband knows about them.

I have also given money to a younger male friend whose house was flooded out as a hurricane came through Virginia Beach.  The floor needed emergency repairs.  I think his wife was still out of town when I gave him the money but, again, my husband knew about it.  Hard for people to make an accusation there.     

3) Try to make it a foursome whenever possible.  If you and your opposite gender friend have esoteric interests in common (for me, read:  theology), the eyes of your spouse and your friend’s spouse may glaze over sometimes in the conversation, but make the effort anyway.  Find out what interests the friend’s spouse and talk about that, too.

I always remember that it is my husband’s strong interest in and talent for finance that gave me the mental space even to be able to study theology in the first place. If he had not been a good earner from the git-go, I would have had to work a lot more hours outside of the home over the years and would not have been able to homeschool (where my son learned to share my love for reading by reading good books with me) and attend seminary.

4) I highly recommend that opposite sex friendships not involve any touching at all. The way God has created us, our feelings tend to follow touch. Probably enough said about that. Be wise.

5) Stay above it when petty things intrude into your friendship, just as you would in same sex friendships. People may talk at some point. Prove them wrong. Be willing to listen to the folks who teach that opposite sex friendships are an impossibility after marriage. You don’t have to agree with them to listen. And you may learn something new that will help make your friendships safer.

6) As in all parts of life as a Christian, exceptions will occur where we just plain need to be Spirit-led. If I could write an exhaustive list of rules for opposite gender relationships, it would tend to make us think we could successfully do them without God in the picture!

An example of this from my travel with my job was I once found myself in a Burger King, sitting with a coworker and counseling him about an abortion that took place when he was young. If we had been home, I would never have gone alone with him to get lunch and, in fact, I don’t usually do that on the road either. I had thought several of us were going and then it turned out there were only two of us. I didn’t have my own rental car, so I went. But notice, we were in a public place, not behind closed doors. I don’t intend to ever make an exception of that!

Also, notice that there were not any Christian men readily available to counsel him. I think that would have been the ideal. But if someone needs Christian counsel and I can’t find a man to do it, by God’s grace I am going to do the best I can do.

We are all different. In my case, I have always had many male friends. I remember being 13 and feeling terribly awkward, thinking I had nothing to say to a boy who was trying to talk to me. Then I turned 14, a switch seemed to be thrown, and I have not shut up since in friendships with guys.

There were several men I dated, off and on, in college, remaining friends with them while dating others. The only way to do this is, of course, to maintain chaste relationships in the dating years. Once more than a casual kiss becomes part of the dating relationship, it opens up the possibility of jealousy when someone is back and forth between several relationships. We are created to desire exclusivity in the physical realm. That is why is it best to leave the physical part largely for marriage.

Just as I found myself able to maintain several chaste relationships with male friends in college, there is nothing stopping me from having chaste relationships with male friends now (and my husband from having chaste relationships with female friends). A desire to please God in every sphere of life and a core belief that we are to express ourselves physically in only one relationship, marriage, will help these friendships stay on course.

6) Realize that, if you are Christians, God fits friends together in a unique way.  Since no husband and wife share every interest in common, you will share some interests with your friend that his spouse does not.  Keep the perspective that you are one unique voice in his life that God has brought into place (as he is in yours).  We are all members of one another and need each other.  Don’t think of yourself as too important nor as too unimportant in that friend’s life.  You are one piece of the puzzle that enables him to be the person he is.  And he is the same for you.

As I write this, I am looking at two postcards recently sent to me by a friend who is an airline pilot.  He and I were in a Navy squadron together back in the mid-1980’s.  We were both single then.  He is still single, but is in a committed relationship with a friend of mine.  I introduced them almost ten years ago. 

When we were single, I traveled overseas with his flight crew.  We also got together as a twosome after hours a few times while we were home in Jacksonville (he was and remains an incredible cook!).  And we talked and talked during those times.  No romantic attachment, just deep friendship and good discussion (well, actually I am going to “out” myself here and tell him, if he is reading this, that I did have quite a crush on him in the early days.  Never let him know that because I didn’t want to take the chance of ruining a good friendship.  And I turned out to be right, as we have remained solid friends for thirty years). 

The thing that jumps out at me is the fact that there were certain things that we talked about back then that he still brings up every once in a while, on a postcard or when he sends me a foreign newspaper because it reminds him of something we once did together or talked about.  That is an amazing thing.  He remembers our discussions of Russian Orthodox icons and still sends me things to remind me after thirty years.  His partner understands that we share that interest and rejoices that he has someone to talk to about it.  It is really a beautiful thing to look back on, as we have grown thirty years into the future. 

Opposite gender friendships can be rewarding, if approached with the proper perspective.  I am not an expert on them, but just share what I have found in life so far.  I covet input by other people in the comments section down below.   

Except When it is Murder . . .

5 Jan

I wrote this for our church blog this week.

Tabernacle for Today

quiet-winter-night-winter-wallpapersPsalm 23:4-6, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

I recently had to confront my own faithless heart when reading the above verses right after finding out that a lifelong friend and her daughter were murdered in their beds by her husband, who then turned the gun on himself.

These situations don’t resolve neatly into any theological system known to man, as there are too many unknowns for us to pass judgment. And . . . even if we could do…

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Never Forget . . .

22 Dec

Excuse me for hijacking a love song to speak of a platonic friendship but I can’t stop hearing that refrain, round and round in my head, “How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.”

It has been just over 24 hours since we learned that lifelong friends of ours died in a murder-suicide last week. Three people, father, mother, and adult child. The mother, Elena, was the best boss I ever had. One of the best friends, too.

What made Elena so special? She was a great listener. When you asked her counsel on something it was always sound but she mostly just listened until asked (what a great quality–I wish I had half as much of it as she did). She was unflappable. Calm, measured, reasonable. I can’t recall her *ever being upset with me, either as her subordinate at work nor as her friend. She just always had a smile.

When I first met Elena, her daughter had just been born. They knew at birth something was different about Carmina because her head was very large. The chromosomal abnormalities had yet to be worked out, but they knew. And I grieved with Elena the loss of hope that her daughter would be normal.

I was still single at the time, engaged to Noel, so this was a huge thing to me. Yet even in the midst of working through her grief, Elena got on with things at work and always had that beautiful smile.

Elena threw my bridal shower in Germany. She also had the most terrific farewell party for me ever after three years, at a wonderful Yugoslavian restaurant our families had discovered during our time in the Stuttgart area.

But before she did that, she enabled my farewell to take place by an act of servant-leadership that still astounds me to this day. We had been working up to the first Gulf War for months when my rotation date came into view, 15 January 1991. My husband, who is British, had his exit visa from Germany to the U.S. and had to get to the U.S. before February or else he would have to reapply for the visa. We received word that my relief, who was in Hawaii, had two months of classes to take before arriving in Stuttgart. She would be there in March.
As we went to a four section 24/7 watch, I realized I was going to have to stay in Stuttgart and send Noel to the States by himself where he would arrive in Norfolk with no house, no car, no job, no friends, and no driver’s license. As this reality dawned on me, I heard Elena saying to me, “No, that is not going to happen. I am going to put myself on the watchbill in your place. I can carry the pager one night out of four. Hopefully I won’t get called in too much. And I can do my day job as the chief of collections, too.”

I told her at the time and many times over the years that she proved to be the best friend forever with that unselfish act that allowed me to accompany my new husband to his new country! We literally landed on U.S. soil within hours of the bombing campaign beginning in Iraq to recapture the land of Kuwait. Things could have gone so much differently for me, for us.

When Elena returned to the States with her family, we stayed in touch, from one end of Virginia to the other. Our photo albums contain pictures from over the years–on the roof of the Norfolk Naval Base supply building for her husband Doug’s change of command. Me, at our house with Carmina on my lap. In the parking lot of a nearby hotel when they came down with Carmina for the Special Olympics. At the Pungo Strawberry Festival outside of Virginia Beach.

We visited them in Northern Virginia and worshipped with Elena at her lovely Catholic church. A lifelong Catholic believer, she spoke to me of her faith many times. Although we are Baptist, Elena and I seemed to share a simple faith that Jesus died to take our sins and to restore us to God when we trusted Him as our Saviour.

When they moved to the West Coast to be near Doug’s family, we didn’t see each other as much. Elena was to have stayed with us on a trip to a conference in Williamsburg, but she didn’t arrive as early as planned, so we had to settle for a lovely dinner with her at the Trellis up there.

The last time we spoke, I called Elena when the bomb went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, knowing Doug was running the marathon. Elena assured me he was safe . . .

We emailed or Facebooked after that, until yesterday and the dreadful news.

I can’t wrap my mind around a world without Elena in it. I am 57 and have known her since I was 30, almost half my life.

Elena, I miss you. I keep reaching for the phone to call you and ask for your counsel over what has happened. I will never forget you!

Your Brights Don’t Work Against Impenetrable Fog

12 Dec

I wrote this for our church website last December . . .

Tabernacle for Today

imagesTonight is Christmas Eve.  I awoke today having a pity party because I have to work and … my office is an hour from our home.  On top of that, the weather prediction for today is a 100% chance of heavy rain.  I have commuted back and forth to this job in heavy rain.  It is never anything less than a white-knuckle drive, as I travel almost 40 miles, about 30 of them via an Interstate that includes a tunnel accessed by two bridges on one side and one bridge on the other.  Traffic is usually heavy, populated randomly by examples of people who don’t know how to drive in that.

Checking the weather on my way out of the house and praying, I noted that though it had rained most of the night, the rain was not falling at that hour and probably would not recommence during my commute. …

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We are all Charlie Brown . . .

16 Nov

I love this piece by Leonard Pitts.

If there is a person in this world who has never felt the sudden blush of shame that is so common to Charlie Brown, I have never met that person!

In fact, I believe the statisticians who say that most of us go through adulthood feeling like we are the *only person faking our skills and expertise in a world where everyone else is a skilled, legitimate adult.

Read that again.  We *all feel this way.  And we all hide that feeling for fear that others will find out what a total poseur we are!!!

I am convinced that the most savage attacks on others come *after someone is pushed into a corner and publicly shamed.  That should not be so, but it is.  Those who are bullied come out of the corner fighting.  And often they fight the most powerless person they see, as that person is easy to overcome.

As a milder person, I can bear testimony to that.  On the road, I tend to be the one pushed around by other drivers (I drive fast, but not aggressively, so I seem to be read as the lesser threat in almost every scenario.  I am *constantly tailgated in the right lane!).

So it was that I picked myself up from a Charlie Brown day today and lifted my head for another day.

I wasn’t sure at the time what had happened, but a miscommunication put me in a classroom full of millennial students who had been told they were working on their briefs.  *I had been told I was teaching them.

Imagine starting class with some general comments to which the students responded, then interacting with someone in the front row to give an example of class material and finding that no one else in the place was paying attention!  They were either talking to someone else or huddled over their computers working.

After trying to soldier through for several minutes, including asking for attention, I quietly left class and found their advisor.  It was then I found out about the miscommunication.

It had been surreal.  As though I were invisible.  As though I were being pranked.  As though I were Charlie Brown.

But the upshot is that it doesn’t kill us to be Charlie Brown every once in a while!!!

Now where is that football???

Queen Bee Chick Flicks

14 Nov

I resonated with this post.  No, I don’t have a daughter, but I *was a daughter.  And I was never part of anyone’s clique.  Still have never been.

I am *mostly okay with that now.  I have friendships one-on-one and find them to be richer that way.  But I still occasionally wonder what it might be like to always do vacations with the same set of couples or girls’ weekends with a group who all got to know each other in Bible study and stayed in touch after they had moved on . . .

Fact is, I can be curious as to why I am so eminently forgettable that I *don’t get calls from people who have spent nearly 20 years in Bible study with me or who have served with me several years on the same fundraiser committee for cancer research.  But, as I have said, I have rich friendships with those who do stick with me (a few all the way from childhood), so I try to let the rest go.

Sometimes I am tempted to attribute the shape of my life to the fact that our only child/son has high functioning autism.  I think both parents have vestiges of it.  I would be considered “shadowed” in autism lingo.

Yet I have talked to enough women, and have read accounts from others, that I realize that probably more than 50% of women resonate with my story, at least the majority of their lives.  There is no end to the long line of women who feel that they have spent their lives on the outside looking in.  It is a rather common configuration and has many members with whom I should be proud to relate.

That said, I do love a good “chick flick” with an ensemble cast of richly textured women.  Sometimes they inspire each other; other times they drag each other into banality and prejudice.  Both types of movies are fascinating.

Lately, I have been focusing (again) on Julia Roberts, one of my favorites.

I saw her in Mystic Pizza, where she, her sister, and their best friend find love and laughter while waitressing at a pizza restaurant in Mystic, Connecticut.  I also saw Mona Lisa Smile, in which she plays a Wellesley art professor who invades a very stereotyped, prejudiced world in the 1950’s and finds true friendship with some of her students and lifelong superficiality in others (or in their mothers!).

Then I watched The Help, about a group of suburban socialites in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s, and mostly about their black maids.  What an amazing movie.  History rolls on by and only one of these wealthy, privileged women realizes that there is a story to be heard from the maids.  This rare young lady gathers notes on that story and tells it in book form. Meanwhile, the others drive on past the roadblock set up when Medgar Evers is murdered, never realizing that the event was not just “oh, some Negro got himself killed.”

A couple of people in the film learn and grow but most do not.  They remain prejudiced and banal to the bitter end.

The lessons are many from films such as these and from the stories most women have of either being invited into a clique as it forms or of being left on the outside looking in, time after time, as they move on to new places in their life’s story.

Most of us find our peace and our balance somewhere along the way, but we always wonder what it is like for those who make the cut and have those lifelong friendships with the same group, or with more than one group along the way.

Sometimes those groups seem banal, with the members even seeming to be intentionally mean to outsiders; but often they seem deep and textured.  And sometimes we just don’t know what they are like, as we are not there and can only suppose what is said between friends . . .

Nothing Redemptive About “August: Osage County” and “Like Water for Chocolate”

7 Nov

I am a big fan of redemptive themes in movies and literature, even those that are not overtly Christian.

I even secretly believe that God Himself might make these films and books somehow fit for the eternal state, so we can enjoy their uplifting spirit forever.  After all, all truth is God’s truth, right?

That said, I have been watching movies lately with strong female ensembles.  There are several worthy of their own blog post.

And then there are these two dogs.  I was completely prepared to like them both.  “August:  Osage County” because it features Meryl Streep *and Julia Roberts, not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch.  “Like Water for Chocolate” because it is set in Mexico, land where I first traveled as a Spanish major in college.

But, no, both feature families with sisters and daughters and intrigue and secrets and secret sins.  Both feature families that literally implode due to the evil within them.  The only personages worthy of any respect in either one turn out to be the hired help.

There is not one redemptive moment in “August:  Osage County,” despite the fact that it contains no sex or violence.  It *does show the banality of evil, as the viewer spends two hours wondering why a movie was made that only involves family members spouting cruelty, filth, and profanity at each other.

“Like Water for Chocolate” is much the same, only it involves Mexican syncratic religion, a combination of Catholicism and paganism, with the evil mother haunting her daughter after her ignominious death.

Just wanted to review these two dogs to save anyone else the necessity of watching them all the way through, thinking there will be a point to them in the end.  There is not.

We are Called to Walk with Him . . .

31 Oct

I wrote this for our church blog this week.

Tabernacle for Today

imagesIt happened again today. Another shooting during a road rage incident.  But this one, in New Mexico, resulted in the loss of a little four year old girl’s life.  Little Illiana “Lilly” Garcia was a beautiful soul, according to all who knew her.  She died in her car seat in the presence of her dad and her brother.

So how do we live in a Judges 21:25 world where “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”? How do we live in that world while our hearts are in a Revelation 22:20 world, saying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”?

Let’s take a little quiz. Let’s say we are with Mr. Garcia, Lilly’s father, right now.  What do we say to him?:

  1. “You were doing great, man, avoiding an event totally caused by the other party, until you flipped him off and mouthed some choice words to him…

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