There was another tall girl at my church, a number of years older than I, who somehow sidestepped the awkward knees and mouth full of metal and went right from being a cute little girl to being a beautiful young woman. She was confidant, funny, and wonderfully authentic. I remember once as I stood outside on a summer day talking to two of my friends, she entered our circle to say hello. She was in college by then and definitely the coolest person I have ever encountered. One of my friends was chewing gum and began to nervously fiddle with it, stretching it slightly between her teeth and her fingers as she spoke. The cool, older girl stuck a piece of gum in her own mouth and with a big smile and teasing sparkle in her eye continued the conversation while stretching the gum as far as she possibly could from her mouth- two feet or so. The three of us girls giggled breathlessly at her antics and I recounted the story to my parents with great pride as we drove home in our van.
As I entered high school that super cool girl- Dieuwke (pronounced Duke-ah) began to intentionally mentor me. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. She took me and a couple of my friends out for breakfast before school every few weeks where we talked mostly about faith and boys and our future. She gathered us up a few Sunday evenings one summer to talk plainly about romance and sex and all the complicated emotions and decisions that go with them. She helped us make hard decisions.
I admired Dieuwke not because I thought she always gave the best advice or the right answers but because she was so real. She has this wonderful way of sharing ideals and showing us high standards on one hand but being totally honest about her flaws and failures on the other. She talked a lot about Jesus and being a Christian and yet she never once tried to paint herself as perfect; she never really even set herself up as an example for us. She just pointed to Christ. At the time I was somewhat mystified by how she could aspire to be like the great and perfect Jesus and yet be unashamed about sharing her regular flaw-filled life. Now, however, I know what she was demonstrating:
She knew something I had yet to learn: that, yes, the Bible paints us a picture of ideal life where we are all filled with humility and none of us have one night stands or hold grudges against our friends, but more than that, it is a story about forgiveness and how God loves us even though we're awful and unloveable a lot of the time. She knew that she didn't have to "measure up" in order to be a "good Christian." Rather, she knew one of the hardest things to understand about the Christian faith: that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. She was boasting about her weakness, her inability, and her failure so that the power of Christ would rest on her.
And rest, it did.
I used to worry (and often still do) about letting my weakness show because I didn't want to be labeled a hypocrite. Actually though, what Dieuwke showed me was that as a Christian what my weakness really shows is how much I need Christ.
Today I live one border and 6 hours away from Dieuwke but I often wish the distance was shorter because as she has married and expanded her family with three little girls, she retains her authentic and joyful appeal. She hosts a (mostly) weekly get together with other women in her life (and their children) which she has affectionately named "Mommy Madness." A few summers ago I had the opportunity to see Mommy Madness in person and it was everything you hope authentic community will be. Dieuwke doesn't clean the house for it, she doesn't put herself together any more or less than she would on any other day, and she always has diet coke to share in the fridge. If you want a snack while you're there, you bring it with. And the ladies who are skilled in the kitchen usually do.
What I saw when I visited was people doing life together. Highs and lows. Joys and challenges. Laughter and tears. Celebrating newborn babies and holding tightly to the hand of a struggling new mom.
You wouldn't think anything miraculous would happen when a group of people come as they are and share life as it is, but it does. Somehow in the middle of that community those moms escape the smallness of their playrooms and the claustrophobia of their cars, crowded with carseats, finding new life in the space of each other's open arms. They find themselves laughing about a goldfish cracker found trapped between their boobs- something that alone, might have made them feel like they were loosing themselves to mommyhood. They find new grace for their children's antics as they hear those comforting words, "We struggle with that too." They feel burdens lifted from their shoulders as they offer to help each other out with childcare or a frozen meal or an invitation to dinner with the whole family in a few days.
Life is really, really hard when we're alone.
Life is really, really good when we're together.
I'm still learning how to be that genuine with my friends. Even how to be that honest, here. But I'm inspired to go deeper, to love harder, to show my true self more often, and to welcome others to truly show themselves to me because as I remember these women with their arms open to one another, I can't help but picture Jesus and his arms stretched the widest, on a cross, for us.