Friendtorship (friend + mentor + ship)
I used to say, “I don’t like women” with a smirk. Usually, it was met with a puzzled look, since, I, myself, am a woman. What I meant was that I didn’t trust women. For the bulk of my younger adulthood, I rarely pursued female friendships. If anything was labeled as a women’s event, organization or group, however informal, my knee-jerk response was, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ I always felt more comfortable in co-ed social settings. Now, I haven’t yet explored all the events and relationships that led to this reaction, as I’m sure there are plenty, but I can name a few. I was bullied as a child, starting in the sixth grade and it continued into high school, and then uncomfortably/unexpectedly occurred again in graduate school. One thing is for sure—I’m different. And this Enneagram 4 will tell you that I have been acutely aware of this my entire life. I was a quirky kid, no doubt. Pretty geeky, was interested in things no one my age cared for, like Broadway musicals, poetry and independent films. Heck, I don’t think many adults care for those things either, but that’s not the point. I had and still have what I consider to be a different sense of humor. I am hopelessly dry and sarcastic. And as a kid, that was pretty unexpected among my similar-age peers and I can still remember the bewildered expressions on their faces. In the end, I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be popular. Who didn’t? I longed to have a core group of friends who I could say was where I belonged. My own real-life Babysitter’s Club-type squad, if you will, in which I would undoubtedly be Claudia Kishimoto…duh. *
I was betrayed by someone I considered to be one of my closest friends in high school. Everything I shared with her was not kept in confidence and when I was in a vulnerable position in my college years, all of that information was used against me in a the most hurtful of ways. The competition and cattiness of a graduate program in a female-dominated profession didn’t help. I made a conscious decision to lay low and consequently, was considered a bit of lone wolf. I generally refused to engage in the competition and comparison game. Nearing graduation, word got around that I was offered two different jobs by two prominent hospitals in the area. It didn’t take long before the shock from others in my cohort who saw me as a dark horse ended up airing their candid thoughts about what they assumed was my actual potential. I wasn’t entirely surprised, but still hurt. Being the topic of gossip never feels good.
In my middle and late twenties, I began a journey of mentorship. I respected the women who mentored me professionally and grew strong bonds with them. I later responded to an opportunity through the women’s ministry at the church I attended to be matched with a mentor. I was intimidated and hesitant yet felt a tug inside that it was quite possibly what I never knew I needed and wanted. It has been 13 years and I still meet with my mentor, Peggy. We began our mentoring relationship right at the time I learned I was pregnant with my first child. That child turns 13 in mere days from the time of this writing. Peggy has been a friend, sister and spiritual mother all rolled into one. She prays for me daily—as in, every day! I send her texts with updates of what we’ve been praying together about. She has shared with me, too, some of the hardest parts of her life, too. We hold each other in spaces of safety, pain and celebration.
After giving birth to my first child, I was dismayed by the amount of shame I received from my fellow mom friends who felt that I was not being the best wife and mother by choosing to continue working, albeit part-time. I grew tired of having to defend the fact that I worked and (gasp) put my child in daycare. I was also frustrated by being left out of certain events and play dates because they were held in the morning hours on weekdays…almost impossible for any working mother to attend. It always seemed like an afterthought to the leadership when I brought it to their attention. I had a growing resentment towards these group. I resisted invitations to anything sponsored by the women’s ministry. Older women wagged fingers at me, telling me what a joy and privilege it was for them to stay-at-home to raise their children “the Lord’s way.” I was over it. I didn’t need anyone judging me and making me feel bad about the choices my family was making. We all need to figure out and make our own best for ourselves and our kids. There is no one recipe for success.
I can tell you that for the past 10 years, God has slowly and gently stripped away those negative feelings I’ve had towards women. Three years ago, I met a female pastor who helped me see that there were women who wanted to know me and love me, warts and all. I served alongside her and some good friends who I treasure to this day. Many miles and busy lifestyles keep us physically apart (not to mention, COVID), but technology and snail mail keep us close at heart.
Would you believe that this global pandemic in 2020 has brought to me some of the best women in my life? The goodness of God and the resourcefulness of my church is to be credited with the formation of two groups where I have met some incredible women, who, like me, have pain and quirky humor and I love them to pieces. Another thing that I hadn’t anticipated was the fact that I have now moved into the mentor position, and not just the mentee. I listened to a sermon a few months ago about encouraging us to seek a sage in our life, with the goal of becoming a sage to someone else in the future. I foolishly assumed my time to become any sort of sage was decades away. God’s sense of humor is pretty rich, too, because I now have a handful of women who I am in constant contact with who affectionately call me “Mama Bear,” and appreciate my “seasoned wisdom.” Ha! Well, I’ll take it and joyfully step into that role. Rawr!
Past hurt doesn’t have to scar you. We were made to connect with each other. Yes, we may get hurt along the way, because people are not perfect. One sage in my life aptly said to me once, “People are…peopley.” Isn’t that the truth? Anyway, I really believe we were made to be together. To see glimpses of God in each others’ eyes. Toss in an armful of grace and step in. You will probably find someone you really need and someone who really needs you.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Ecc. 4:9,10 (ESV)
*Example of my weird humor :)