About a year ago, long before Ryann disappeared from my life, someone else left, too. Someone who was one of my first blog friends. Someone who came into my life during the darkest time I've ever had. Someone who I considered one of my dearest friends, despite the fact that we'd only met in person once. Someone who told me many times that I supported her just like she supported me, that our relationship was beautifully symbiotic. The story of who it is and why she left isn't even worth repeating, most because if I do, I might start crying all over again.
For a while, I didn't even know why she left. It was just dead silence, exactly as Ryann has done. Until she emailed me on Monday. In the midst of her detailed message (she was never one for writing short emails), she mentioned that the only reason she broke the silence now was because she knew that "the only thing worse than a no is the unknown." And she was right; anything she said or could say in that email was not nearly as painful as the total silence.
But honestly, I had forgotten about her and her leaving a while ago. So getting her email and all of that wasn't so painful by itself as it was the matter that it stirred up a lot of other feelings. About Ryann. About all the times in my past I've heard pretty much exactly what she said from people who decided they couldn't be friends with me anymore or that I wasn't worth their time. About how my family has so often told me that if I just weren't so intense, I wouldn't chase people away. About how maybe if I just weren't so screwed up people wouldn't leave. So for a few hours, I was caught up in all of those emotions and scary thoughts. Things I've thought before, that I'll be wrong about other people in my life and that the ones I trust most now will decide to leave, too. Even that several of them have told me (some multiple times) that that's never going to happen and that I don't need to worry about it.
So I called Clayton (big shocker) because I just needed to hear someone tell me that there's nothing wrong with me, and hear again that he's in this for good and I don't have to worry about "chasing him away". And that's exactly what he did, but it didn't take long after our conversation started before the tears came on anyway. Partially from the fear and other negative stuff in my head and partially because I was just so grateful that he was so loyal to me and our friendship.
When I talked to him about how it felt to hear the same things from so many different people over the years about the reasons why they left, he explained things through an analogy, which is what the weird title of this post comes from. It was a couple days ago, so I can't remember word for word what he said, but this is pretty much it.
"When I was younger, I was really into gardening...I promise I'm going somewhere with this...Anyway, when I gardened, I had this big tomato plant. And when I would go out to the tomato plant, I would see that some of the tomatoes had these black spots on them. I did everything right to take care of them, but some of them still went bad. I got so frustrated because I couldn't figure out why these tomatoes got these black spots. Until later, I learned that some of the tomatoes went bad all on their own to make room for the other tomatoes to thrive and get bigger and be better. They self-pruned. I know this sucks. I know it hurts to have these people leave. But consider it pruning to get the bad ones out of the way for the friends who will stick by you no matter what. They're just getting out of the way for the good friendships to thrive."
That actually made sense. To others, it might seem like a really bizarre choice for an analogy, but I knew exactly what he was saying. I still have good tomatoes. In fact, I have some awesome, super healthy and vibrantly red tomatoes. Yes, it's frustrating to lose some tomatoes I worked to take care of, but if they have to die for the other ones to be better and healthier, then I am still very, very lucky. I just need to focus on the tomatoes that I still have the opportunity and ability to take care of, because if the other ones are going to self-prune, there's nothing I can do to stop them.
I'm not a mind reader. If people like Ryann and this person are going to disappear on me when they never gave me any sign of something being wrong, then that's on them. Those are the choices they made, and it says nothing about me and who I am and a lot about them and who they are as people and as friends.
Clayton and Austin are the two people that first come to my mind when those fears about people leaving set in. So naturally, when I told them this when explaining what had happened, they both had something to say that was so utterly...them.
Clayton: "The way I see it, real friends walk in when everyone else is walking out. As I've told you before, you don't have to worry about me leaving. Honey, I'm not going anywhere. You're amazing, and if these people can't see that, then screw 'em. Let them leave. I'm not going to walk out."
Austin: "Well here's the thing about me: That's never going to happen. You're stuck with me. I told you this was a calling from God for me to be your friend, and until He tells me that calling has been fulfilled, I'm not going anywhere. And I pray every single day that He never tells me that."
These two, they are my favorite tomatoes. (I told that to Clayton in text Tuesday and on FaceTime Wednesday...apparently this is an analogy that is going to stick.) They understand Christ-like love better than just about anyone I've ever met. I hope one day the fears I have get out of my head, because it's stupid for me to question these two guys who have proven themselves faithful to me and our friendships from pretty much the day we met. (They helped take care of me during seizures in Reformation when I didn't even know their names.) I can tell, though that slowly I'm getting it, because these fears are popping up less and less. I am so, so grateful that I have friends, others included but especially these two, who understand my insecurities and where they come from and accept me wholeheartedly, baggage and all.
Clayton and Austin and their unconditional love for me is such a sweet picture of Jesus in my life. I love how God can make Himself and His grace known through the love of a friend.
Goodness gracious, I am so very lucky. And have more love in my life now than I ever knew was possible before I found it.