Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Friend, Michelle

I met Michelle last October. She was sitting with some mutual friends at a table during a retreat, and I was invited to join the group. I sat down next to her and listened as she shared her struggles and heartaches. I was surprised at her open honesty, and deeply appreciated it. We wept together. We laughed together. We prayed together. She was so sincere and kind, how could I not immediately like her?

A few months later, my husband left to provide help in Haiti after the earthquake – and gave me 2 days notice that he would be going. He gave me no return date…just that he’d be back when his task was accomplished there. I was 32 weeks pregnant with our unexpected third child. I also had a 2 year old and 4 year old. We had our house on the market, so everything had to be kept constantly clean. I was overwhelmed.

Michelle, who had only spoken with me on 2 occasions, was one of the first people to contact me, and offer encouragement and support. After reading an update my husband had posted online, she sent me a message. The subject read: “How is today?”

That simple question impressed me. It was inquisitive, but not invasive. It was gentle, sympathetic and understanding. It may have been an intentional choice of words, or maybe just what she happened to write, but it was exactly what someone needed to ask me. Her message went on and then ended with:

“I love you and would love to do anything to help you right now. Can I cook you a meal? Look after your kids? Offer some fellowship, my home is always open and never clean! What day would work best???
Love, Michelle”

“I love you”? Did she just say that? She barely knows me. She would make us dinner? She would watch my children? I had an open invitation to her home? Again, she caught me off guard with her openness…and impressed me.

I wept. [I’m a crier anyway, but remember, I was also pregnant.] Suddenly I was reminded that everything would be ok. Even this woman I barely knew was willing to extend herself to help and encourage me.

Michelle was willing to love me, willing to say it and willing to back it up with actions. You cannot ask for a better friend than that.

She set a time for us to have lunch at her home. We visited over a most spectacular spinach salad [although she claimed it was no big thing, I thought it was amazing] and then coffee and cookies, while our children played together in the next room. We all had a wonderful time. And as we left she extended the invitation for us to visit again whenever we wanted…then she paused.

“Actually, I don’t think you will invite yourself over, I will call you again sometime soon,” she said with a smile.

And she did. In fact, her and her husband [who had never even met me!] invited us to stay with them while my husband was away. Amazing.

We did not stay there, after all. But I know it was a sincere invitation. The woman has a gift of hospitality - that is for sure! And her husband is equally hospitable and has enough confidence in her judgment to agree to invite an unknown pregnant woman and her two preschoolers to stay with them indefinitely. I decided at that point that these people were either weird or wonderful. [I’ve since determined they are wonderful.]

My husband returned home after 3 weeks, which felt much longer than it actually was. He is gone occasionally with his job, but this absence was for sure the most difficult for our family. I was so glad to have him back home.

My newfound friend invited us all over to dinner to meet her husband and her 2 other children who had been in school when we last visited her for lunch. He made dinner: turkey burger sliders with mango salsa and an incredible chili. Dessert was “pudding”, which was really like a bread pudding served in a rich sauce. YUM!

The conversation was diverse. We talked about ourselves a bit to get to know one another; then about my husband’s trip, about our children, our pasts and our faith. As we were gathering dishes from dinner [although she would not allow me to actually clean up the dishes], Michelle asked if anyone was planning a baby shower for me. No one else had asked about it, or mentioned it. I said “no” and explained that this was my third baby and I mostly had everything I truly needed so a shower really wasn’t necessary. Then she asked if she could throw a shower for me.

Oh. My. Gosh. Remember, this is the 4th time I’ve visited with her and the first time our families have met. She has extended her friendship, opened her home, fed us and was now offering to plan a party for me! As I pondered her kind gesture later that evening, I recalled her words in that first message she sent me: “I love you.”

I realized when Michelle uses the word “love”, it’s a verb. She was choosing to love me. She had determined to be a friend to me, before she ever had a chance to know me. Every single time Michelle recognized a need in my life, she did whatever she could to meet it. She has gone out of her way to love me.

I am so thankful for her. It’s not because of what she’s done for me, although I sincerely appreciate those things. I am thankful for a friend who loves me…is willing to say it…and is willing to back it up with action, regardless of who I am. This is how God loves us.

“This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

His love for us is not dependant on us. He loved us. Before we ever love Him, He loves us [1John 4:19]…and not only did He declare His love for us, but backed it up with the most sincere proof of love anyone could offer, as He took our place in death and gave His life to save us.

Michelle’s kind extension of friendship and love has been a living analogy of this to me. I’m so blessed by her and I’m challenged by her example. She makes me want to grow up and be just like her. ;) I want to follow her lead, as she is led by the love of the Lord.

My baby arrived 3 weeks early, just days before my shower was scheduled to take place. Michelle and another dear friend re-planned the party and today, my daughter LilyMae and I were showered not only with gifts, but with lots of love from some of the dearest women I know.

I truly love each person who came, but thinking of Michelle, I actually feel, well…I’m searching for the right word: ashamed? unworthy? dishonest? ...inadequate, maybe?... as I say the word because, what have I truly done to love them? Do I just feel affection for them, or can I back it up with proof through my actions? I need to learn to be more intentional and practical about loving people. I need to love like Jesus, and like Michelle.

And as I sit here thinking about all these things, I cannot help but smile and feel an overwhelming gratitude in my heart for the love that I have been shown, and for such amazing friends whose lives are beautiful examples of the incredible love that God has given to us.

With that wonderful knowledge I think I will retire for the evening.


I love you. [Or, at least I’m learning how to.] :)

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