Friends

 

“The only reason YOU can’t do it is because you keep TELLING yourself you can’t and, quite frankly, Tiffini, I’m about sick of it.”

 

This was the thirty second lecture given to me by a precious English teacher, upon receiving an unsatisfactory grade on a grammar worksheet.  I hate grammar.  I always have.  It makes my brain tired, kind of like numbers do. Don’t get me wrong—I can do it, and I –know—what all the rules are.  I just don’t care enough to follow them.  Back in the 11th grade, however, I didn’t try, so this author didn’t do very well when the subject was grammar.

 

But I loved Stackhouse, my English teacher.  Not in a crush sort of way, but rather in an almost paternal, fatherly kind of way.  He was special. And I adored him. So when I said, “I just can’t do grammar” and got that thirty second ear full in front of an entire class, my face turned beet red, I valiantly fought back tears—and I had an “a-ha” moment.

 

Stackhouse believed I could do better at grammar. No stinking predicate,  no run-on sentence, no  force on earth was going to keep me from proving to him that he was right. Miraculously, I instantly started making As on grammar—I mean, overnight. Handing out the next grammar test, which I’d aced, he said, “What’s gotten into you?”, and I just smiled.  Come report card time, after 6 weeks of nothing but grammar, I had an A in the class. He had a habit of calling out the students’ names who pulled an A  and when he did it, he said, “And the A that I am most proud of, out of all my classes, Tiffini.”  My world was gold.

 

All because he’d given me an “A-HA” moment,  that click of the lightbulb that made me truly believe he (a) cared and (b) believed in me more than I did myself.

 

Fast forward a few years…

 

“Thank you, honey. But I can’t do that. I want people to know me as the homeless man from Nashville. I want them to see me when they see someone on the streets.”

 

A homeless man in Murfreesboro told me that after I asked him to promise me he’d stop introducing himself to people as “the homeless man from Nashville” and tell everyone his name. No sooner had he finished his sentence than the dawn of understanding fell over me in waves, making me almost feel sick to my stomach. Without question, I suddenly knew that Joey was not really a homeless man from anywhere.  He was an angel. I knew it like I know the sky is blue.  Too shook to do more than cry, I left.  When I went back to tell him I knew what he was, he was gone (naturally). But the “AHA” moment I’d had, that second where I realized something profound and absolute without being told, changed my world. I can’t see a homeless person without thinking of Joey now, and I can’t think of Joey without thinking of God and angels.

 

 

When I was about twelve, I guess,  my father spent a week making bookshelves for me.  Upon completion, they were hung in my room.  The longer I stared at them, the more and more upset I got.  He buys me, I thought.  My AHA moment was not good.  Suddenly, I knew that every time he told he loved me, he was lying.  Every time he said I was special—he lied. He thought he could buy me fancy gifts, or make me bookshelves, and all of the gifts would then make me forget the feel of being torn, forget the mind-numbing fear of being held down and violated by someone whose strength I could not match.  I can count on one hand the number of times in my entire 30 years of life that I have been really angry. As I stared at those bookshelves, I was angry.  I ripped them off the wall, and I did it so hard that books flew everywhere, and the shelves broke.   My mother was astounded and confused and disappointed.  Calm, obedient, quiet Tiffini did this?  I had never in my whole life done anything so rebellious.  I had never in my whole life shown such open disrespect or anger toward any adult I’d ever known, much less my father. But I also not had such a clear moment of insight, of understanding that I was being lied to and bought by my father; it was a moment of clarity when I felt very unloved.

 

I was just a little girl when terrible things began happening to me.  My mind kind of fractured, and disappeared into a shell I wasn’t able to crack until I was 23 years old. But through it all, I held on to something that I thought was an absolute truth:

 

God needs me.  I am His helper.

 

The difference in this and the revelations I experienced through the bookshelves, or Joey or Stackhouse was that the belief that I was God’s chosen helper had never been an epiphany for me.  I just told myself that, and heard it so many times, that I just believed it. My mom would tell me how she’d always known, even from right when I was born, that I was “special” and that God had a unique and important purpose for me to complete. She would say that she knew it because she felt it was so. It was kind of like something you learn in school—you know that the sky is blue because it reflects the water in the ocean.  You know dinosaurs existed even though you never actually saw one, and probably won’t ever be the one to unearth a fossil. Still—you know they were here.  It’s a fact.  That’s kind of how I always viewed my relationship with God. I was special because I was needed.

 

I was needed to teach children.  I was needed to tell the children who had been hurt and who had been mistreated that they were not alone.  The Bible says that He never gives us more than we can handle; I thought that verse was directed at me, and I tried, very hard, to take a certain amount of pride from all of the things I went through. Every time I’d feel unwanted pressure force itself into my body, or every time he’d say something to me like, “you’re just going to blow away if you lose any more weight”… I’d consciously remind myself that there was a reason for it.  “You’re okay,”  I would actually whisper that aloud to myself and then tell myself to breathe every time it got difficult to get enough air in my lungs. I could relax, I couldn’t rest, because I had work to do.  I had to somehow turn all the pain and all the negativity and all the crazy thoughts into something worthwhile, into some positive.  That’s what my purpose was. That’s what God’s reason for creating me was.

 

So I trucked on, carrying the heavy load without complaint—even with a bit of pride. I was a “survivor”. I was strong. I was God’s helper.  I was a great teacher, and a great mentor for children.  I was all these things.  But not really.  Really, behind the scenes, I felt like nothing more than an employee to God.  Sure, there were moments when I knew He was listening to me.  Yes, He held my hand at night when the nightmares got bad. There were moments when I felt like we were working really closely together—kind of cohorts, talking about all these beautifully beautiful children and how we could help them.  What sort of activity, or game or event, did I need organize next?  God and I were a team. If my life got hard, it was because I needed to learn about something so that I’d be better equipped to help some kid that was going to one day in the future show up.

 

That’s what I thought.  That’s what I believed. And that’s how I lived.

 

But…

 

Our former worship leader for our church started something a few days ago in me.  He posted a FaceBook status update that read “God is here.  You can rest in Him.”  Then I went to the Sunday night service at church, where we are doing Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” course.  After worship and a sermon, we’re released into small groups.  At last week’s small group,  I said,  “God doesn’t need me.  He can help the children all by Himself. There’s nothing special about me.  I know it, and so does He.”  And then a small whisper inside me made my heart beat hard and I added very quietly, “But that’s a lie” and promptly felt tears sting my eyes.  Fast forward to today.

 

This morning, I taught two classes, and the lesson was on Job.  I had a cup in which I put several small items.  I told the kids, “Look!  Look how much cool stuff I have!”  and showed them my cup.  Then I poured it out.  As expected, the kids grabbed all my “stuff” and I said, “Oh no, look in my cup now, I have nothing.”  I asked that they put all my things back in my cup and when they did, I exclaimed, ‘Oh happy day!  I have lots of stuff!”  Then I dumped the contents out again, and they took them away.  After doing this for several minutes, I said, “Sometimes you can lose all that you have” as a way of opening up the discussion for all that Job lost.   Our memory verse was “God is always with us.”  We said it about ten times.  We talked about how God was still with Job, even when all the bad things happened to him. We remembered that Job was a good man, and that God loved him.

 

Driving home from church, Regi’s Facebook status update from awhile past ran through my head,   “God is here.  You can rest in Him.”  I had never been able to really “rest in God” because I didn’t think God wanted me to rest.  I thought I was His partner, His helper, His tool.  We were in a constant battle to combat all the evil things that happen to children.  We worked together to do this.  And suddenly…

 

AHA.

 

I’m more than a tool.  I am God’s friend.

 

True friends don’t want you to be strong all the time.  They don’t want you to work all the time, either. They want to know you.  They want to see you smile. They want to hear you laugh. They want you to succeed, and to fill your potential, but, more than that, they want you to be happy.  And real friends know that, every once in awhile, tears fall on the road to happiness. Friends want to be there for you, to hug you, to listen. I used to think that burdened them—but the truth is, it doesn’t, not if they are a real friend. To a real friend, being asked to listen is an invitation to draw deeper into someone’s life.  When someone says, “I’ve had a rough time lately,” and I stop and listen to why they’ve had a rough patch of life,  then I walk away not burdened but with a more intimate understanding of what’s it’s like to be a friend, and to have a friend.  I walk away with a relationship that has actual substance, as opposed to the mere superficial ones that keep life’s struggles out of the limelight. In my quest to be strong so that others would know they can lean on me, I’ve forgotten to bend,  denied people who might have cared the chance to develop what could have been a wonderful friendship with real meaning.  In other words, bonds are formed not only through laughter, but through tears.

 

And a real friend knows this.

 

God is a real friend.

 

My AHA moment this morning in the car was so earth shattering I almost had to pull over.  It said, ´God doesn’t need you, He wants you. To be wanted is to be loved.  To be wanted is to be valued. To be wanted is to be treasured and protected.  To be wanted is to be loved and to be loved is to gain a deep and meaningful confidence that nothing else on the planet can offer.  God’s reason for creating me wasn’t solely for me to act as a mentor and/or teacher for children who are hurting.  God’s reason for creating me was for me to love Him so that I might in turn feel the warmth and incredible tenderness from His love. It’s okay, in other words, to break down.  I don’t have to cry silent, ‘pretty’ tears—big, ugly sobs are honest and real and therefore perfectly acceptable.  God isn’t going to see me as any less valuable if I depend on Him. In my mind’s eye, I see a bright light that’s somewhat shaped like a human’s form.  Arms are stretched out wide and an amazing warmth radiates from this figure. The strength of the warmth and the tenderness that’s oozing from everywhere on this light pulls me like a magnet and I walk closer, and closer, before I start running.  When I get to Him, the huge arms envelope me, and I start to cry. A hand cups the back of my head, holding me close to Him.  All I can feel is heat and then, suddenly, I hear a strong and steady heartbeat beneath my ear. Bu-boom, bu-boom, bu-boom.

 

I was hurt, my heart says.

I am hurting. 

I am tired.

I am alone.

I am weak.

 

Bu-boom. Bu-boom.  The heart stays calm and steady and loud and sure, and the arms pull me in tighter, and I find myself hoping they never loosen.  There’s no embarrassment.  There’s no shame. Love isn’t only a word now, it’s a tangible thing I can actually feel—it’s warmth and compassion, tenderness and understanding. There’s no rush to get up.  I cry and cry and cry. I cry all the tears I have, because even the strongest of us isn’t as strong as God. and also because He wants me to release the unshed tears.  The Bible tells me so.  Finally, I hear a voice and it whispers,  It’s okay.  It’s okay,  I am here.

 

Indeed.
God is here. I can rest in Him.

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