Thoughts on Building Friendships

C.S. Lewis famously said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .””

 

But, I’d like to argue with Mr. Lewis a little bit, friendship may be born when one person says to another “What! You too?” But it will quickly die if it isn’t followed by an invitation and a “Yes”.

 

“Will you help me with this project?” “Yes.”

“Would you like to come over for dinner this week?” “Yes.”

“Will you go to this event with me?” “Yes.”

“Would you like to go to coffee tomorrow?” “Yes.”

 

These are the statements that really make a friendship. Because in order for a friendship to be developed and to grow you must have more than just shared interests and common ground (as Lewis supposes), you must have time. Lots and lots of time together. In fact I would argue that spending lots of time together can often cause friendship to spring up even where there isn’t a lot of common ground, or shared interests.

 

I have been thinking about the importance of time to relationship for a long time now and as we begin to settle into our life in a new city I find myself again contemplating the question, “How do you make friends? What does it take for two people to become close?” I agree with Lewis that shared interest is a good starting place, but I truly think it takes more than that.

 

We have had seasons of our lives where we have met people who we had shared interests with, people we got along well with and wanted to get to know more, and haven’t. I blame the lack of development in those friendships entirely on time. These were people we would see maybe once every six weeks, or less. Or they were people we would only see in passing at church. That isn’t enough time for a true friendship to form.

 

For me our time in Seattle was filled with many of these types of relationships. And it’s no wonder that I felt isolated there.

 

We have also had seasons when we have seen the same people multiple times a week. Prague was like that for us.

 

I often compare my friendships in Prague with my friendships in Seattle. Perhaps it is an unfair comparison, but I make it none the less, because I think it’s in comparing these two very different experiences of making friends that I can hopefully learn how to make friends in the future – something I’m very interested in, but not terribly good at.

 

I often comment about how quickly friendships were started in Prague – it didn’t take long to find a “What! You too?” moment with a group of expats. The type of person who would pick up and move overseas often already is a bit of a kindred spirit for me just for the very fact that they would do that. When you live in a foreign country and meet someone else who knows your home town, or grew up watching the same movie as you, or understands your struggles with the foreign culture, well, “What! You too?” moments are quick to come by.

 

It was easier to find common ground in Prague, but it was not all that difficult to find common ground in Seattle. The big difference was really time. In Prague we often saw our friends multiple times a week. We would see them at church. We would have them over for dinner. We would go grocery shopping together. We would have community group together. We would go to their house for lunch. We would go antiquing together. And that all in one week! Perhaps that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but there were weeks like that. And even on a quieter week it was not uncommon for us to see the same couple two or three times a week at various events or gatherings.

 

In Seattle that was never the case. The only people we saw even one day a week  (apart from Bryan’s family who we saw multiple times a week) were the people in our small group. Often in Seattle I would talk with someone and we would say, “We should get together sometime”, but these statements were always vague, and rarely a direct invitation. This meant that friendships did start there, but they developed at snail speed. That doesn’t exactly help a relationship develop. In fact it can come pretty close to killing it.

 

I’m starting to think that time might be even more important for the development of a deep and lasting friendship than shared ground.

 

But, time is a rare commodity in modern America. Especially for mothers.

 

Our time is already portioned out to our children and our husbands. What is left might be divided between our extended family (if they are in the area), already established friendships, church, work, and other responsibilities. Somehow this seems to be at it’s worst in our thirties, doesn’t it? Woman I know in my age group (myself included) have more responsibilities than they can safely juggle and on top of it all we often try (and rightfully so) to pursue some sort of fulfilling work, or personal goals for ourselves. All of this can be good, but it leaves little time for establishing and growing new friendships.

 

One of the things that made it so easy to make friends with other expats in Prague and spend large quantities of time together was that most of us didn’t have extended family in the area and we didn’t have already established friendships. Sure some of us still had husbands and kids competing for our time, but we didn’t have quite as many people competing for it.

 

Here, I find it harder. I may meet a woman here and share a “What? You too!” moment with her, but it is likely that she already has lots of friendships that fulfill her need for community in the area. It is likely that she already has a schedule that is full of things pushing and pulling for her attention and time. It is not likely that we will be spending large amounts of time together every single week.

 

And so friendships grow slowly. What may start with a shared moment of connection, might sit dormant for weeks or even months, before another shared moment occurs. Instead of multiple conversations happening in a weeks span, connections come one at a time, spread out over the course of a year. I am starting to think that in order to develop friendships as a mom in her thirties here in my own country I have to plan on it taking years before I have spent enough time with someone for my natural awkwardness to not feel so awkward anymore. Years before I am comfortable enough with someone to call them up in tears over some little inconsequential drama, or allow the goofy mischievous side of me to come out, or ask them for a favor without a tinge of guilt.

 

Perhaps it is just easiest to continue on with the friendships that are already established? Those that have already had time put into them. But, although I love those friendships and want to hold on tightly to them, I am also eager to build new friendships. How much would I miss out on if I don’t? What new points of view would I loose? What new experiences would I miss? What aspects of community would I lack?

 

If time is what it takes to develop relationships than I want to be a person who gives people my time. I don’t want my time to be eaten up by the mundane little details of life. I don’t want it to be eaten up even by appointments and errands. I want it to be spent in relationship. I want it to be spent in community.

 

So, if I call you up and invite you to come to the pediatrician with me or go grocery shopping with me, you now know why! Ha! Seriously, though I want to have good friendships and I want to be a good friend to others. And I believe that time is one of the (if not the most) important elements to developing friendships. So, I’m gonna put in the time. I’m not going to say “let’s get together sometime”. I’m going to invite you over and I’m going to say “yes” when you invite me. Because community is worth it. Friendship is worth it. And our time is too short and fleeting to spend it out of relationship with other people.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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The Only Goal Worth Setting

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….”

Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces

 

New Year’s should be one of my favorite holidays. It is a holiday marked by both looking back and looking forward. Drenched in the art of reflection, we begin to paint a picture of the coming year we dream will be ours.

 

Reflection is my bread. And dreaming about the future, my butter. These things sustain me. Reflection with a side of dreaming is the meal I run to at days end. New Years should be an invitation to the richest of these meals. Ripe with a whole years worth to look back on and a whole years worth to look forward to I should be full.

 

But, the truth is, this holiday tires me. My dreams for a clean slate and a year completely new have gone unmet too many times. But, unlike those who have tired of setting goals for weight loss because of their own repeated failures to live up to them, I suffer from a different sort of disillusionment with the holiday. The disillusionment of realism.

 

I am all too familiar with the reality that this day is not any different from the day before it. I am all too familiar with the unpredictability of life and the ways in which all of our dreams and goals can be derailed by a simple phone call from the doctor or a boss calling you into their office.

 

Last year was the first year that this sort of realism had really taken hold of my New Year’s spirit and I wrote about how I was approaching the year with an open-handed sort of curiosity. Thinking back, re-reading that post, I remember I was disinterested in my soul. Detached from the changing of the number on the calendar. Disengaged from the idea that I could enact change upon my life. I chose a posture of open-handed curiosity, but deep down my heart felt helpless.

 

This year perhaps I am more honest with my helplessness in some areas and more convinced that I am not helpless in all areas.

 

It is true that I cannot change the tides. There is much that will come in 2014 that I cannot stop, and there is plenty that I cannot will into happening as well. There is so much in the world, and in the year to come, that is out of my control. We humans are so frail. But, I have learned something this year, and have come to believe it more than ever because I have seen it in action… We are truly powerful beyond measure.

 

We cannot control the tides, but we can enact so much good on the world. We are frail and our lives are but dust, but we can take those lives and we can build something with them that will never fade. We are powerful to the measure with which we can give and receive love. It is the most powerful change we can ever enact on the world.

 

I cannot control the tide. I cannot will Bryan’s cancer to go away. I can stand strong against the winds. I can hope and pray and trust.That will not guarantee that Bryan’s cancer will go away this year and never ever come back. But, I am not helpless.

 

There is much that I can do in the world. There is much that I can do and dream THIS YEAR. My actions cannot change all things, but they can change many things. I know because the actions of others have changed things for me. Because the love that has been poured out on me has carried me when I thought I would sink. And that has made all the difference in the world.

 

This year as I begin a new year. I am not filled with goals and specific plans for the year – I know how easily those things can be blown away by even the gentlest of winds. My hands are open, but they are not empty. They are full of dreams. Dreams of love. My goals for this year are goals to enact the only kind of change that really matters – the change that comes from sharing love with another.

 

This year I will not set goals that are unattainable and will quickly be shoved aside. I will not dream dreams of a perfect, stress-free, and happy year. But, I will act on that gentle prompting to send a letter to the friend who’s mother is sick. I will say a prayer for the stranger who rocks her foster baby to sleep in the ICU tonight. I will surprise my mom with flowers and take my husband out for a dinner date. I will laugh until I pee with my son and dance until my legs hurt with my daughter. I will invite that new couple from church over for dinner and buy the book that my friend just published to support her. I will cook my family dinner.

 

I will love.

 

And in loving I will hope. Hope for the only kind of change that can really last – the kind of change brought about by love.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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A Tattoo And a Philosophy

We have been thinking about getting tattoos.

I always felt like a tattoo needed to be not only symbolic, but also sort of commemeratory and up until now I never felt like I had just the right thing that I wanted to symbolze and memorialize on my body for the rest of my life.

This past year however, has brought us the most challenging and life effecting thing we have ever faced – Bryan’s cancer diagnosis. A tattoo suddenly seems very fitting and appropriate. This year has changed us and I want a symbol of that.

When we got married we got wedding rings to tell the world about how we had changed. When we had a kid, well, we got a kid to show that change (not to mention stretch marks, puffy eye circles from lack of sleep, a whole slue of accessories and toys, and now a minivan). Bryan’s cancer diagnosis has been as life changing as those events for me and it seems fitting to have something to symbolize our feelings about it and what we are learning through it.

We have been talking about a lot of different ideas, and I have of course been searching pinterest for inspiration. But, of the things that we’ve talked about there’s one that I keep coming back to, one that sticks in my head and just seems to fit.

a simple symbol…the ampersand…

&

It’s a beautiful literary device that I have always been drawn to, but recently even more so.

I read something this week claiming that the essence of theological language is in the prepositions – in, of, with, to…and. I think that you could say that the heart of life is found in the prepositions – those things which place us in relation to something else.

When we live in the AND we live firmly in the life of abundance. AND is a word of abundance and continuation. & is a symbol of that abundance and continuation. A symbol that says that the sentence, the thought, the idea, the essence isn’t over; it continues. Not only does it continue but something is added to it, it increases, it expands, it extends.

AND is also a word of connection. & is a symbol of connection. It connects two (or more) things and tells us that these things are related, are connected, and belong together.

You & me

Bryan & Bethany

Us & our children

& our family, & our friends, & our community, & our God.

This year, this season, this experience & many more to come.

AND also acknowledges that we are more than we appear, we are one thing AND another. We are made of dust AND the breath of GOD. I am a wife & a mother. A daughter & a friend. A writer & a terrible speller. A creative & the doer of the laundry day after day after day. I am what I was in the past & what I am now & what I will be in the future – I am made up of glimpses of all of these things.

Together, Bryan & I are cancer fighters, waging a war against his melanoma AND we are so much more than that too.

We fight cancer AND we live our lives. Bryan recently pointed out this verse in Ecclessiastes to me and it has quickly become a bit of a theme for us:

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

When living in the AND we keep living our lives. We keep planting AND reaping. We keep moving forward AND pressing on.

& symbolizes all that to me.

It tells me that this isn’t the end of the story, this isn’t an OR, a period, or a exclamation point, this is an AND. The life God offers us, the abundant life of Christ is an AND. It’s an invitation into a relationship, us & God, that leads to a new connection between us & the world, AND gives us an eternal continuity of abundance that starts today.

The more I processed the idea of an ampersand tattoo over the past few weeks the more I liked it. I thought it was fairly original and unique and captured so much of what I want to remember and be about.

But, then today I decided to look for some more specific inspiration on Pinterest and searched for “ampersand tattoos”. I was kind of surprised by how many I found. I guess it’s not as unique an idea as I thought it was. One pinner made a comment about it being way hipster to get an ampersand tattoo. Suddenly it seemed slightly less appealing for a moment. But, as I looked at more and more ampersand tattoos I also found that I still really liked them, part of me didn’t want to still like it because it did seem so common, but I did.

And as I’ve thought about it more I think the fact that lots of others have “&” tattoos almost adds to the idea…

Us & so many others.

We are unique AND we are common.

We will sit with it for a little while, sit with our & to see if it is really what we want to symbolize this season, to see if it’s really something we want permanently on our bodies, but as of right now I’m liking it.

Us & the abundant life of our God

Us & whatever comes

AND…

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

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A More Positive Story

Its nothing new to hear that the stories we tell ourselves matter, but I have only recently begun to see how much they matter.

Lately, I’ve started playing with my stories, changing my internal dialogues, and the result has been remarkable… Even life changing.

But, there’s a trick.

You see I’ve tried this before and it didn’t work. I’ve always known that my internal dialog, the stories I tell myself (particularly those about myself and my life) tend towards the negative. And at times I’ve tried to change them, without much success. So, I’ve always dismissed the idea when I’ve heard it in the past.

But, it turns out I had just made a fundamental story telling mistake when I tried to change my internal dialog. I had tried to jump to where I wanted to be at the end of the story and forgotten that all story is about process. Story is all about what happens BETWEEN point A and point B. It’s the process that makes point B believable.

In the past when I tried to change my internal dialog I had tried to go from thinking point A straight to thinking point B, and it didn’t work. Point A and point B ended up both struggling for dominance of my mind and heart. I cannot will a more positive story into being when my deep conscious still believes my negative story.

A few weeks ago something happened that opened my eyes to this problem and how to solve it. I signed up for these daily parenting emails that a friend recommended and one of them said this:

“When some aspect of your life feels like a grind, you can transform it into a groove by changing the stories you tell about it.
But this only works if you *believe* your groovy new stories, so it’s best to change them *gradually*. For example, if you realize you’re running a story like…

“I always get into power struggles with my child.”

…it’s not believable to change it immediately to…

“Our relationship is perfectly harmonious.”

A more believable new story would be…

“We used to fight a lot, but I finally surrendered to Love — I decided that I’d rather feel good than be ‘right’ — and now, every day, little by little, I discover new ways to create harmony.”

Ok. I sort of laughed at this at first. But, little by little it got me thinking and in particular it got me thinking about my internal dialog related to Bryan’s melanoma diagnosis. I realized that my internal dialog about Bryan’s melanoma went something like this:

“Bryan has melanoma. There aren’t good options for treatment that we are comfortable with. Eventually this thing will probably get the best of him and I need to prepare myself for that.”

I knew this was a negative story. I knew I needed to change it. And throughout the past year I’ve struggled to think positively about the situation. I’ve struggled to change the story by telling myself,

“Bryan’s fine. Melanoma isn’t gonna get the best of him. He’s gonna grow old with me. He’s fine.”

But, it never really worked. I struggled. Wrestling, over and over again, trying to will myself into positive thinking, but not really believing the positive story I was trying to tell myself. And then I read this email and realized my mistake.

You can’t jump straight from a negative story to a positive one. You can’t jump straight from point A to point B. You need to show the process, show the change. The human heart loves a good story and in order for the human heart to believe a change in the story you need to show the process of change.

So, this is the new story I started to tell myself,

“Bryan had melanoma. But, he is fighting it. The things we are doing can help. Right now he feels good and we are doing what we can to keep him feeling that way.”

This story might not seem as positive as the middle story, but the result of it was so much more positive for me. I didn’t have to struggle to believe it. It is truthful and authentic and yet it is also positive and full of hope. It takes me from point A and moves me closer to point B.

When I shared this with Bryan he shared another story with me. My husband is not really the intuitive, touchy-feely, overly spiritual type, but he shared with me a moment in all this where he felt like he heard from God and it changed his internal dialog. He heard this simple story, “This will get the best of me… But prayer can change that.”

The thought “this will get the best of me” was his point A, but the follow up thought “prayer can change that” is the story that moves him from point A to point B.

Changing my internal dialogs into stories that include movement has been perhaps one of the biggest epiphanies I’ve ever had. It has radically reshaped my attitude and feelings about Bryan’s melanoma diagnosis.

My negative dialog promoted fear. It encouraged me to pull away, to protect myself. My attempts at creating a positive dialog just created something I didn’t, no, couldn’t, fully believe and that lack of belief created internal conflict and that conflict created deep seated guilt.

But, when I changed my dialog to a story, and more specifically to a story that showed gradual positive movement, everything changed. My new internal dialog doesn’t promote fear, it keeps me grounded in the present. It promotes positive habits in me, like encouraging Bryan to keep up the healthy things he’s been doing. It also takes my focus from an individual one (“I need to be prepared”) to a collective, actively communal one (“We need to do what we can to keep him feeling well”).

And when I combine my new story with Bryan’s story the result is incredible hope. My old story killed hope. My new story feeds it. That’s the kind of story I want. That’s the kind of internal dialogue I want to practice.

What do you think? What negative stories are bouncing around your head and heart? Could telling yourself a gradual story of change move your internal dialogue to a more positive one? I’m fascinated by this thought right now and would love to hear what others think and how you’d apply all this.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

 

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One Constant

I have always been future oriented. I tend to be a bit of a dreamer. I think about the future…my future…a lot.

But ever since we got Bryan’s melanoma diagnosis, well, I feel like I don’t know how to dream anymore.

We have had seasons in the past where our future felt uncertain and unclear, but, for me, even during those unstable times, when the future was uncertain, there was a constant. There was one thing I knew I could count on and it made thinking about even the uncertain futures enjoyable.

That constant was Bryan.

Even when I had no idea what tomorrow would bring I knew he would be with me. I could face any uncertain future, because I would face it with Bryan. We could even talk about difficult futures freely and without fear because we knew we’d face whatever came together. We could dream about crazy schemes openly because we knew that if they ever came to be we would build that future together.

But when Bryan was diagnosed with melanoma all of the potential futures that stretched out before me shook and broke.

The truth is those futures still lay before me as potential paths, but now there were also a whole new set of potential futures. And for the first time Bryan wasn’t a constant in all of my potential futures. There were potential futures in front of me in which I was alone. The thought was completely overwhelming for me.

When your future has some variables and some constants it’s fun to dream, to move around the variables and play with desire to discover just the right potential future to pursue. But, when there are no constants, when all of your future is shifting variables, well, it’s just not as fun.

But, truth be told my future has always been only shifting variables. I thought Bryan was a guaranteed constant in my future, but that was just a delusion. Bryan’s melanoma diagnosis didn’t really change my potential futures, it just burst my delusion. I never had a guarantee that the people I love would be a part of all of my potential futures. Honestly, none of us have that guarantee.

There is only one constant when it comes to my future, and the futures of all men and women, and that is the One living God, who walks with us into all potential outcomes, into all dreams and nightmares, and each of our coming days.

I have a difficult time dreaming now. The future looks too completely uncertain, too unpredictable, too difficult. And most of the time I just can’t go there.

But, perhaps it’s not up to me to dream my future into being. Perhaps all I can do, all I’m suppose to do, is just live into each day I’ve been given, accept it as a gift with the knowledge of the uncertainty of tomorrow and do the best with that one day that I can possible do.

Perhaps all I can really do is lean into the one True constant. And pray that the Spirit of the ever constant God would walk near me into all my future days.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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