Tag Archives: friends

Odd mom out

This week I read an article by actress Mayim Bialik about her reasons for not allowing her sons to have smart phones. Actually the article was more about some interesting research by Devorah Heitner, PhD on the child and adolescent perspective of the world, as seen through the lens of technology and social media.

First, let me say this post is not about smart phones or debating how much exposure children should have to technology. Really, there are enough people out there on their soapboxes about that. In my house, at this time, we choose not to let our kids have access to social media or own smart phones because it’s what we think is best for our children. All the other parents in the world must decide what’s right for their children. And that’s all I will say on that topic.

But back to Mayim’s article and Heitner’s research. One of the things that hit me hard in the article was understanding how our children process perceived (or legitimate) exclusion, and how magnified that can be when documented in real-time on social media. Mayim wrote: “[Heitner] gives the example of your 10-year-old watching a slumber party they were excluded from play out on social media. That made me cringe. It gave the 10-year-old inside of me the chills. I would be absolutely devastated to grow up now. I was left out of so much and it was painful enough to imagine the girls I wanted to have accept me spending time without me. To watch it online would be that much more mortifying and so incredibly painful.”

In that moment I, too could remember how it felt for my 10 year old, 13 year old, 18 year old self to feel left-out. How I processed those feelings and their impact to my self-esteem and psyche at that tender age. To think about growing up in this very different, very exposed world? It makes me just want to hug my kids, tuck them under my mama-bird wing and keep them safe and protected forever! That’s right kids, pack your stuff! We’re moving off-the-grid to middle-of-nowhere USA, where I will home school you until you’re 25 and then select a nice husband or wife for you, and you can build a lovely cabin for yourselves right in the back yard!

OK, maybe not.

Of course, I realize sheltering them completely is not feasible or even really healthy. They do need to learn how to stumble and fall, or else they won’t know how to pick themselves up. But then, I remember how much it hurts.

 

One of the great things about getting older is an increased awareness and comfort level with who I am as a person. Which, for the most part, means less concern about how other people perceive me. But somewhere, deep-down inside my almost-40-year-old self is still a 13 year old girl who just wants to be liked and included. And sometimes…sometimes she surfaces.

Like when there is that group of moms that always sits together at the middle school basketball games and never asks you to join them, even though your daughters are best friends. Or there is that woman from the office who walks past you and says hello to your cubicle-mate every day, but never, ever says hello to you. Or those two mutual friends who are always planning girl’s night but never invite you. Or the photos all over Facebook of the party you weren’t invited to, but half your friend-list was. Yeah, those are the moments that 13 year old girl who just wants to belong and be liked comes out and asks: “what’s wrong with me? Why don’t they like me?”

And I admit, even now, sometimes it just plain sucks to feel like the odd-mom out.

Of course I recover much faster these days. I do a better job of reminding myself that exclusion is not always intentional or personal. I can do that, now. I’m almost 40 and I like this version of me. I know who I am and what I have to offer. And I know I have some pretty darn-friggin-fantastic friends who love me.

But my girls? My son? At 10 and 13? I don’t think they’re there yet. So I may continue to protect them just a tad bit longer. I may choose to limit their exposure to social media. I most definitely will continue to tell them Whose they are, and how they have been made in His image. I will do my best to build-up their self-esteem and confidence while I still have some influence. Because one day, no amount of mama-bird protection will keep them from feeling excluded or left-out.

However, if they already know who they are and are happy with that person; if they believe wholeheartedly that their value comes from their Creator and not from their number of “likes”, then maybe it won’t take them almost 40 years to learn they are not the odd-one out.

Luke 12-7

 

 

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Finding your tribe – 5 unconventional tips for forming meaningful, lasting friendships

I recall walking into the kitchen and seeing the giant pot simmering on the stove as the hearty aroma filled the house.

“Whatcha making?” I asked my step-mom.

“It’s chicken soup. My friend Sue is having surgery tomorrow and I wanted to bring her some soup,” she replied.

This was a common occurrence in our house. Whether it was making soup, dog-sitting, sharing lawnmowers, an evening out, or simply talking on the phone, I watched how these relationships developed and evolved over the years and realized what my step-mom had was more than just friendships. While I didn’t have any sort of label for it then, I saw this closely-knit group of people made up of neighbors, colleagues, sisters, and other friends support each other through raising children, changing jobs, moving homes, battling illness, surviving divorce, losing loved ones, and celebrating life’s milestones; and whatever it was called, I hoped one day I’d know it, too.

I wanted a group of friends who became an extension of my family.

Friends who frequented my kitchen often enough to help themselves.

Friends who knew my children so well they could kiss a boo-boo and scold them for climbing on the sofa in the same breath.

Friends who called when they needed help, support, or prayers. And who, in return, were there at the drop-of-a-hat when we needed the same.

I wanted a tribe of people to “do life” with.

After graduating college and getting married, I thought finding my tribe would be easy. While at college I met some of the sweetest, best friends anyone could have, and I’m so thankful these girls continue to be a big part of my life today. But after graduation we all scattered to different states and cities, and I felt lonely. I longed for friends that were closer to our new home.

My husband and I joined a church, and I found a great job. There were lots of young couples and I thought surely this was where we’d find our tribe. But somehow, it didn’t happen. People were busy. They had previous engagements with other friends. We didn’t click. We had different values. Whatever the reasons, I suddenly realized making adult friends — the kind of close, family-like friends I wanted — was not going to be as easy as I thought.

It’s been 16 years since officially entering the “adult world” and today I am blessed with the most amazing group of friends. Many of these friends I consider my family. We support each other, pray for each other, raise our kids together, and laugh together — a lot of laughter.

They are my tribe.

My tribe
Doing life with some of my tribe.

 

But it was definitely a journey to get here, one that took the better-part of a decade and is still going. I’ve learned a lot along the way. Conventional advice like “find people with similar interests” or “join a club/committee/gym/church” is definitely good advice. However, I’ve found a few bits of unconventional wisdom that have worked for me.

So for every 20-something trying to navigate the road of “friendship-after-college”; for every 30-something wondering where are all of the “couple friends” you thought you’d have by now; for every 40-something longing for a support system, here are my five (unconventional) tips for finding your tribe.

1. Seek out those who are in need of a friend.
Whether they are the new family down the block, the co-worker going through a divorce, or the newly widowed woman at church, seek out the people who need a friend. Nothing forms a bond faster than offering your friendship to someone who really needs it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t become great friends with that outgoing couple that knows everyone in town.  But, it may take longer to develop a close friendship with someone who is already nurturing a lot of relationships. Plus, when we approach friendship with the mind-set of what we can give, rather than focusing on what we will get, it usually blesses us ten-fold.

2. Invite people in to your life and home — mess and all!
It used to be that when I first befriended someone new I would put on that “new friend” veneer — you know, always with a smile on my face, agreeable demeanor, clean the house for hours before inviting them over, pretend everything my children did in front of them was precious, etc. Not only does this get exhausting, but it’s not real!

I don’t know about you, but my life is messy! There are usually dirty dishes in the sink, and dirty clothes on my children. I have bad days. I have days I don’t get out of my pajamas because I just never got around to it. And sometimes my children drive me crazy and I want to sell them to gypsies. That’s the real me. And I have found the sooner I let my guard down and let people see the authentic me — mess and all — the sooner the friendship gets real. Because most of my tribe? Their life is kinda messy, too. So we get it and we love each other not in spite of our mess, but because of it.

3. Host/join a small group Bible/book study
Here it is, plain and simple: most of the close friends my husband and I have — our tribe — we either met or got to know better through a small group study. Whether it’s a book club, Bible study, prayer group, etc, there is something powerful in coming together with other people on a regular basis to study and discuss a similar topic. The focused nature and smaller numbers usually creates meaningful conversation, which can accelerate a friendship like little else I’ve seen.

I’m partial to Bible study groups because I believe coming together under the blanket of God’s word is second-to-none. But if you are not ready for that, then seek out a book club or parenting group. Just as long as it’s relatively small in number (15 people or less), meets regularly, and has a formula for guided discussion that will get people talking and opening up.

4. Channel your inner nine-year-old
Have you ever seen an 8 or 9 year old on a playground? The moment they arrive they seek out other kids to play with. Usually it takes my kids no longer than 15 minutes to come over and introduce me to their new friend(s).

The best part is they have no criteria, check-list, or pre-conceived notions that must be met. My kids don’t approach the playground and say, “hmm, let me find other girls who look like me,” or “I only want to play with boys who like the slide the best.” And at this age they don’t suffer from the insecurities that start to inflict us right around those icky pre-teen years. I assure you it doesn’t even occur to my 9-year-olds that the other kids on the playground won’t want to play because to them everyone is a potential friend.

Wouldn’t it be great if we adults approached meeting new people in the same way? If we looked at every person we met as a potential friend, without going through some mental pre-qualification check-list? Or what if we never let apprehension or a lack of confidence convince us we’re not worthy of approaching someone else? It could be pretty darn amazing.

I can’t say that I’m very good at this myself. However, there have been a few instances that I let my guard down and embraced my inner nine-year-old-on-the-playground, and you know what? Almost every time I was rewarded.

5. Pray about it.
About four years ago I really started to feel frustrated that my husband and I just couldn’t seem to develop close friendships with any of the couples we’d met at our new church. We had joined a young couple’s Bible study and, while everyone was nice, most of them had known each other for a while and we didn’t feel like we were connecting. After some hurtful things were said we left the group and I even considered looking for a different church. But before making a decision I went to God and prayed. I asked Him to bring some godly friends into our lives and help us find where we belonged.

The next week I found out the new minister at our church had moved to our neighborhood and, along with his wife, was going to start a small group that met around the corner from us. Two weeks later we went to the first meeting. I didn’t know it at the time, but the people we met that night would quickly become part of our extended family and some of our best friends. They are the people we “do life with” and ultimately that small group evolved into a new church plant.

I prayed for friends and God brought us into a new family, one that has supported us, loved us, and worshiped with us for four years now. God’s plans are so much greater than our own and when we are willing to ask, He faithfully meets us where we are.

If you are struggling to find your tribe or make adult friends, I encourage you to try some of these ideas and see how they work for you. Most of all, take heart: deep, meaningful relationships aren’t made overnight. They take time to cultivate and develop, but God called us to be in relationship with others and He will bring the right people into your life.

I’d also love to hear what has worked for you in finding close friends as an adult. Any other (unconventional) tips you want to share?

 

 

Sometimes 470,000 words just aren’t enough

I love words. As an avid reader, I love when just the right words are put together to perfectly describe an emotion, place, or situation — putting you right in the midst. I love stretching myself as a writer to try new or unusual words to really paint a unique picture for my reader.  But more than that, I respect the power of words. Words can inspire, they can heal, they can uplift and they can make us laugh. They can also wound, harm, and break-down.

When Noah Webster compiled his first edition of the American Dictionary he listed and defined 70,000 words. Today Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged Version) has roughly 470,000 words. Wow! With that many words to choose from you’d think we would never be at a loss for what to say. However, there are moments in life that knock the wind — and words — right out of me, leaving me stunned into silence.  And it’s this loss of words, or my inability to find the right words, that causes me to lie awake at night.

Last week I witnessed two dear friends experience hurt, pain, loss and struggles that no person should ever have to face. I lost many hours of sleep worrying, praying, and crying for these friends. In my heart of hearts I wanted to find some nugget of hope or advice, some bit of comfort or healing I could offer. I prayed for God to deliver the right words to me that would give them a tiny bit of peace. But in the end their situations were just too big for my words. I felt anything I might say would be, at best, empty noise and, at worst, trite and cliche.

Not knowing what to say left me unsatisfied, so I turned to scripture for some insight. I was struck by the story of Lazarus’s death. There are a couple of very key moments in this story that helped me to see my role as friend of the grieving in a different way.

First, scripture says that Jesus loved Lazarus. He was not just an acquaintance or the brother of Mary and Martha, he was a very dear friend to Jesus (John 11: 3, 5). Second, Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to die and be raised again. In John chapter 11, verse 4 Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Later Jesus specifically tells His disciples that Lazarus has died. Yet, despite Jesus knowing how it was going to turn out, we are told that when He saw Mary and her friends weeping for Lazarus, Jesus was so moved that He, too, wept (John 11:35).

Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew the happy ending to this story. But that did not lessen the grief He felt when He saw his dear friends hurting. He did not come up to Mary and offer her words of comfort. He did not say, “time will heal your wounds” or “God has a plan, it will all be OK in the end.” No, He wept. Because sometimes the hurt is just too much and all you can do is weep.

Of course, in the end Lazarus was raised from the dead. Unfortunately, I don’t have the power to overturn my friends’ grief. But that’s not really the point. This is not about me or what I can do. It’s about God and what He will do.

Like Jesus knew about Lazarus, I know that this is not the end of the story for my friends. I believe in my heart that God will bring healing and restore happiness to their lives one day. Because “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” (Pslam 34:18). I don’t know exactly when or how it will happen, but it will happen.

Until then, I will offer my love, my arms to embrace them, my shoulders to cry on, my ears to listen. I will not worry about words or saying the “right thing” to bring comfort. Because sometimes even 470,000 words just aren’t enough. Sometimes, the most we can do is stand beside our friends and weep along side of them.

Small moments, Big impact

Have you ever looked at your life and wondered, “what is my legacy? How am I making a difference in this world?”

I think for some people it’s very clear. Pastors, missionaries, humanitarians and aid workers — these people can see how they are influencing lives and doing God’s work on a daily basis. For the rest of us, it may be hard to look at our lives and know how/if we are leaving a mark. Sometimes the way people touch our lives and impact our spiritual journey is bold and immediate, like a large rock being thrown into a pond, making a huge splash, and maybe even displacing us. But more often I think it is the small interactions, the bits of encouragement or truth that are said in passing, that end up staying with us, like quiet raindrops on the pond, slowly filling us up and over time changing our core substance.

Over the last 15 years I have been a youth group leader, confirmation teacher, Sunday school teacher, and led adult small group Bible studies. I can’t say that in any of those roles I’ve witnessed anything I said or did causing a big splash in someone’s life. But I certainly pray that my words, or perhaps even just my mere presence have contributed drops of hope, encouragement or truth that has stuck with them.

I know there are several instances of these small blessings in my life that have had a lasting impression. They were seemingly insignificant  at the time. Simple conversations or gestures that likely the givers don’t even recall. But they have had a huge impact in my life and stayed with me.

small raindrops

I’ve already written about how my dear friend Mary gave me my very first Michael W. Smith cassette tape when I was 13, which began my 25 year love affair with his music. It might sound silly, but that gift really changed my life. It came at exactly the right time to get me through an incredibly difficult period of life, but more than that, it introduced me to the world of contemporary Christian music and how good music can have a significant impact on the worship experience. I am not much of a musician — despite 7 years of piano lessons I can’t really play anything more difficult than Ode to Joy (the easy version), and the three years I played clarinet I spent as the perpetual third chair — but I know and appreciate good music. I know that it can change the entire worship experience, and can surpass language and cultural barriers to bring people together. I have experienced the Holy Spirit through song. And my most profound worship experiences have been set to music.

Today, I have the pleasure of working with the worship leader at our church to recruit and schedule musicians, evaluate potential songs, and help plan and create additional creative arts elements that go into our services. Despite my inability to sing on-key or play an instrument, I have a way to influence and support the worship experience because of my love and understanding of music, and it all started with that “Go West Young Man” cassette.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school I was eagerly planning for college. After a trip to Appalachian State to interview for some scholarships and tour the campus, I came home and excitedly relayed to some friends all the reasons college was going to be totally awesome! (said in my best 90’s voice) As I told my friend Cara, who was a year younger than I, about the campus and the facilities, she asked,”did you look at any churches while you were down there?”

“Well, no, I didn’t get a chance to do that yet.”

“Don’t you think that is important? That you find a church you can attend while you’re there?” Cara was clearly wise-beyond-her-years. While I had been so caught-up in the campus life, looking at dorm rooms, checking out the football stadium and the coffee shops, I had not once considered looking at churches or finding a Christian student-group.

After that conversation with Cara, I contacted the school about the Christian student groups and ultimately joined the Lutheran Student Association (LSA), which had a HUGE impact on my spiritual formation during those four years. I also found the local Lutheran church to be my home-away-from-home. The pastor and his wife became like family to me, and in 2000 I was married in that church.

I’m sure my friend Cara didn’t know the impact her simple question would have on me, and probably has forgotten it ever happened. But 25 years later it still remains in my thoughts.

The last story I’ll share is more recent. In my 15 year career as a marketer, I’ve had the joy to work with some fantastic managers and mentors, many of whom have become personal friends. When I first started working at my current company I had two managers, one of which was in South Africa. Soon after I started in the new role I got to travel to Johannesburg to meet her, and we spent a good bit of time getting to know one another on that first trip . Ironically, we shared bits about our personal lives that might not have come up so soon if we worked in the same office. Over dinner my second night there the topic turned to our personal beliefs and we found out we were both Christians and our faith was a big part of our lives. This bit of early knowledge, I believe, really shaped our professional relationship and personal friendship because we could be very candid and honest with one another and didn’t worry about crossing any professional boundaries.

I recall one conversation in particular, about 5 years ago, when I was considering going back to school to get my Master’s Degree. I was lamenting to her all the reasons I was afraid to make the commitment. She said to me, “Yes, but God does not want us to have a spirit of fear. We are called to trust in Him.”  Wow! Convicted, this girl right here, thank you very much!

Again, that one statement –that little raindrop — struck me to my core and has stayed with me. Whenever I start to get caught-up in the fear and worry of branching outside of my comfort zone, I remember Jo-Anne’s words and I turn to God to take away my fear and give me strength.

This past weekend at the She Speaks conference, keynote speaker Lysa TerKeurst reminded us that it is not about our words, it is about The Word.

His word.

When we speak the truth to all who come across our path, God will use it to change hearts, encourage the hurting, and create a lasting effect — whether it shows up as a big splash or a tiny drop. I try to remember this and trust God that He will use my words to encourage others and shine a light on the truth.

Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear how someone has said or done something in your life that’s had a lasting impact on your spiritual journey. Please share either through the comments section or on my Facebook page.

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” – John 7:18

There’s just something really special about Caroline

For most people, referencing home or where they “grew-up” means a house or maybe even a town or neighborhood where they lived as a child. For me, going home to where I “grew-up” means going to an unassuming, but beautiful place hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains called Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp. I was a camper there for 7 summers when I was a child. I met my dearest friend there; I met the Holy Spirit there.  I learned how to paddle a canoe, build a fire, and take a shower in under 2 minutes. And there is no place in the world that feels more like home to me. Now my children are campers at Caroline Furnace and a new generation is getting to experience a week of living in the woods, creating masterpieces out of yarn and Popsicle sticks, singing songs about yodeling ostriches and that one tin soldier riding away, and collecting slag.

The truth is I could probably write a hundred blog posts about Caroline Furnace, my summers there, and what it means to me. But today I want to share with you my most recent visit. This weekend was the annual spring work weekend at camp where volunteers are recruited to do much needed work around the camp grounds and facilities before the busy summer season. I waffled for a few weeks on whether or not we could attend because my midterm for my capstone is due tomorrow and I wasn’t sure I could really spare any time this weekend. On Wednesday I said to my husband, “do you mind if we go to Caroline Furnace on Saturday for work weekend?”  Don’t you like how I said “we”? Of course being the amazing man that he is, he didn’t hesitate at all. Even though he was never a camper there, he gets it about Caroline.

So we decided to go down for just the day. Like good little campers we filled our water bottles, put on our I-don’t-care-if-this-gets-dirty clothes and got on the road only slightly later than I intended. I knew from emails and Facebook that several old camp friends of mine would be there, including a friend whom I hadn’t actually seen since the last time we were at camp together — over 20 years ago! As I drove the familiar curves of the back-mountain road a little faster than I should have, I felt my heart quicken with excitement and couldn’t help but smile as memories came flooding back. It happens every time.

When we arrived, many people were already off doing their assigned morning tasks, since a large number of the volunteers had come up the night before. We were greeted by one of my former counselors, who is now on the camp’s Board of Directors and the driving force behind work weekend. After sharing a few hugs we were quickly sent to our assigned areas. The kids got to be on the “kid brigade”, I was put to work helping clean in the kitchen, and my husband was ushered off to help with work being done at the camp director’s house. I felt a small twinge of guilt and worry because I knew my husband wouldn’t really know anyone and it might be awkward for him. But I silently prayed he would not feel too out-of-place.

camp friends
Shannon and I, together again after 20 years. It was like no time had passed.

As I walked in the kitchen I found my friend Shannon, the one I hadn’t seen since we were kids. We immediately embraced like long-lost sisters and I felt none of the awkwardness you sometimes feel when you run into old high-school friends you haven’t seen or talked to in years. We caught up quickly, as I was aware I was there to do a job. There were a few other people I knew or recognized, and many I didn’t, but within moments we were all working side-by-side like we’d been scrubbing kitchens together our whole lives and it was the most natural thing for us to be doing at that moment. As I chatted to some of the other folks I found out some of them had been former campers, some former staff, others were parents or spouses of former campers or staffers. But everyone was there, gladly giving up their Saturday, because Caroline Furnace had touched their lives in some way.

I later found out there were over 70 people that came throughout the weekend to get dirty, sweat, and share their camp memories. Some of us knew each other before the weekend, others didn’t. But you wouldn’t know it looking from the outside in, because we all seemed like old friends in moments. We were only there for 7 hours that day, but by the end my kids were begging me for playdates and sleepovers with the new friends they’d made and worked alongside, my husband was laughing and shaking hands with several guys he had just met that morning, and I was hugging tightly onto many friends, knowing it would not be soon enough until I saw them again.

As we pulled away I told my husband how much I appreciated him coming with me and spending his Saturday working on a place that was not his childhood home (or even childhood camp). And he said “are you kidding, I loved it! I may not have gone to camp here as a kid, but our kids do, and I get why this place is so important to you. There’s just something really special about Caroline Furnace.” Yes. Yes, there is.