Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Roses Among Thorns

When I was younger, in my early early twenties, I lived on a missionary base, surrounded by friends. Among those friends were several women who were like big sisters to me-- and a few have remained incredibly close friends, though we rarely see each other. Friends like that... time and distance do nothing to dilute the intensity of friendships formed at such critical times. For me, a brand new believer, I needed those mentors-- they taught me about character, about what it meant to be a good roommate/housemate, about Jesus, about friendship, and about myself.

You know how people ask you, usually at the beginning of a retreat or a class in school or when applying for a grant or scholarship, to recall some life changing event or defining moment? That's such an impossible task. I mean, who remembers those things really? Well, I guess a death in the family or hideous car crash or a bad breakup might make the list... Anyway, for me, I was reminded the other day of twin moments that were especially poignant to me, though I rarely remember them.

I was hanging out with two of my older friends-- I was 23 while they were probably ancient; 32 or something. I don't remember anything about the conversation except that both of them were leaning toward me, across Jill's twin bed, telling me that I was a "prize" (one of them was English-- no one says sweet things like an English girl, I'm convinced). That I was a fragrant flower. That it was impossible for me to see myself-- to really see what they saw, but that I should take their words for it.

The other moment was similar and around the same time-- my friend Kelly Delridge looked at me with that intense face of hers and said, "Sam. You are a rose among thorns."

Do I write this as a commentary on my exceptional coolness and, um, flowery-ness? Am I referring to the fact that I was a thing of rare and exceptional beauty among the thorns who were my peers? No. I write from the vantage point of a 36 (ow, she said it) year old woman who spends lots and lots of time with women who were my age at this critical time and I see what Jackie, Jill and Kelly saw: a girl who just doesn't know.

Several weeks ago, I had a similar moment with two recent high school graduates. Unlike the me I was at their age, they are showstopping, drop-dead gorgeous and not a bit odd looking. They are smart, funny, loaded with common sense and creativity, and they love God with everything within them.

And neither of them has ever had a date.

And they want to know why. They want to know what's wrong with them, for goodness sake. What signals are they inadvertantly throwing off? What anti-guy forcefield surrounds them like crop circles in a field? Are they ugly? Do they smell? (Duckie: "Do I offend?")

There are so many reasons you and I might offer to them as possibilities: Boys are stupid. Boys are blind. Boys are afraid of beautiful (did I mention that they are drop dead gorgeous? The both of them) girls. Boys are afraid that these girls will say uh, no way if they attempt to ask them out. Whatever. It's a mystery.

The girls have done what so many of us who were completely petrified of dating did: make friends with the enemy. Be friends with loads of guys-- this way, if there was actually anyone who might want to attempt to storm the castle, he wouldn't be able to actually get through the screen of clueless guys at your table. These girls know how to be friends with guys. They know how to seem incredibly interested without being remotely romantic (no matter what battle is going on in their hearts), morphing into the most beautiful sounding boards these boys could ever find. Why don't they get asked out? I don't know.

But what I do know is this: I don't want them to change, ever. I don't want them to listen to advise that tells them that they haven't put themselves out there enough, that they have created the appearance of not being interested (oh, I could go places with this line), that they should consider pursuing.... That they should...change.

Change happens soon enough. We'll all change. But wait...for now, just wait...

I told them, at this reception a couple of weeks ago, what I had been told lo, all those years ago: "You guys are roses. Beautiful roses among thorns." Do I think that their friends are thorns? Of course not-- their friends are lovely. But these beautiful girls (did I mention that they were beautiful? Really, I am not exaggerating) are roses. Caught in a place where there is this voice telling them that the fact that they are 17 or 18 and have never been kissed means that they are doomed to lives of the quiet anguish of the unkissed, undated.

But what makes up our worth? What makes up our sense of beauty? I suppose it is often inevitably the response we get from the opposite sex, but what if there were a source of meaning much deeper? What if there were a Person whose love and affection for us so exceeded the boundaries of what an awkward 17 year old boy could express, if we would only lean close? What are we allowing our beautiful girls to believe about themselves if we encourage them to change themselves just to score a date to the prom?

I mean, unless they are verbally abusing and physically harrassing the boys. They should definitely put a stop to that.

That day down at Meadow House in Salem, Kelly looked at me and said, "Sam, you are a rose among thorns," my life and the way I saw myself changed as drastically as if a tectonic plate had moved. I was way down the street from myself suddenly. But the move was deep-- didn't show up for years. I must have been in love with someone...that must be why Kelly said that. Jackie and Jill, too.

The friendships that girls who do not date tend to develop with boys in high school are some of the most profoundly important and educational friendships ever. The things I learned from the boys I cocooned my life with taught me things that have positively affected the way I relate to my husband and to the many amazing boys I have come to know as a youth leader and teacher. I think that my personality was also very much influenced by the pragmatic, literal, free-thinking and visionary personalities of my guy friends: I could be me with them and none of them were thinking that I was a snob because of the purse I carried or criticized my less-than-name-brand shoes. We weren't in competition. Girls who are strictly friends with boys tend to serve as their cheerleaders, often, and they receive a certain type of adoration from the boys they cheer on. It's [often] not sexual and there is [little] no pressure and girls learn something about relating to men in a world where there are few complications or consequences in that regard (well, unless the inevitable crush develops-- but this just proves that we're human, right? and these crushes ALWAYS develop-- watch any John Hughes film. Except that in his films, those gorgeous tales of 80's youth, it always works out for Molly and Mary. Not so in real life). While it's also incredibly important to collect fabulous girlfriends, those girls who can manage friendships with boys are in a great position.

My girls are going to be great girlfriends. That's the other thing girls who are friends with guys learn: we hear all about the girlfriends. We study how things work.

And these two-- they are blissfully free of some of the burdens that other girls have to carry. And it's hard to point that out when so many young girls are learning their lessons the harder way: through experience. The price is often a sense of security-- at least those girls who have dated KNOW that they are "date-able" :). What the girls don't know is that, most likely, there are some boys wasting away with love for them and they missed them at every party, every walk to the cafeteria, every day in English class...

Anyway, I have a thousand thoughts on this. All coming back to a sense of self-worth, self-knowledge, being true to oneself. Understanding that who you date (or don't date) does not define your worth. And that just because you didn't have one date in high school does not meant that you are destined to die without ever having one. Not at all.

But that's not the short answer that my two young friends were looking for when they approached me with their complaint. Their beautiful, fresh, unbroken faces were laughing as they demanded, "What's WRONG with us??" and then they had to rush off to do something with a big group of friends...

They don't know that they will be just fine. But we do, right?

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