How to Make Space at the Table

In our twenties, my husband and I thought nothing of using garden furniture for indoor dining. The wrought iron chair with the crooked seat cushion scraped against the pine floor as my neighbor pulled it up beside the table and sat down. Theresa eased her pregnant body into the world’s most uncomfortable chair with a sigh, while I puttered in the kitchen, preparing our make-shift meal. My daughter kept Theresa company from her high chair, kicking her feet in staccato against the foot rest, which Theresa politely ignored…

To read the rest of the story, join me in the kitchen at Grace Table.

Friendship in the Internet Age

Three times, I attempted to visit the Tenement Museum in New York City with a friend before we succeeded. Twice we drove in, sat in traffic for a few hours, then navigated around construction zones, only to find lot after city parking lot full. The third time, we rode the train to Penn Station, then wrangled our way downtown amidst the crush of Christmas crowds. We layered ourselves in denim and cotton, wore our heaviest coats, and exhaled great puffs of breath like smoke into frigid air. We arrived early and killed time over croissants in a coffee shop with bare bulbs, brick walls, and coffered ceilings.

I realized on our third (successful!) attempt at making it to our destination, that the journey together was more important than setting foot in the museum. Uninterrupted travel time, a few consolation lunches, and time together over steaming mugs of tea gave my friend and I the chance to peel back the polite layers. We experienced frustration and disappointment. We talked about the struggles of marriage and raising kids and how to sustain our art. And we survived my attempts at navigation in the concrete jungle of NYC. This particular map-reading disability has strained my marriage on more than one occasion. A friendship that survives my neuroses, complaints, and inability to understand simple directions is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow–a mythical treasure.

After warming our bodies with pots of tea, and our souls with talk of city life, we wandered over to the Tenement Museum. We settled on the Shop Tour, and the guide walked us through a shop front in one of the original tenement buildings, formerly inhabited by various immigrant groups new to New York City. We stepped back in time from the bright cold of Orchard Street into a dim room with a dark wood bar, barrels and taps, and brass instruments hanging behind them. Tables and chairs sat scattered about the room, and adjacent to the pub, was a tiny kitchen with a pot-bellied fire and bratwurst dangling from thin white string strung across the ceiling.

While the store front evolved over the years taking on many different faces, the original shop was a community pub run by a newly wed couple who arrived in New York as children from Germany. As we listened to the docent tell their story, it became clear that the pub served as a hub for the entire neighborhood. It was a gathering place for families, neighbors, and co-workers to share a drink, eat a hot meal, enjoy music from the homeland, and strengthen into a community. I imagine friendships were forged over a pint of lager, business deals confirmed over handshakes, and love blossomed over bratwurst.

We’ve come so far from these tight-knit communities, and we’re poorer for it. There are no family pubs, no community hubs in my corner of suburbia. My friend and I live 45 minutes apart from one another, and it takes highway upon highway to see each other in the flesh. It takes every bit of intentionality and planning we can muster to spend half a day visiting our nearest big city.

The Shop Tour reminded me how much we need each other, what community can and should be, and what community looks like today. Today, it looks like fruitless driving adventures and museum visits and coffee shop chatter. On the return train, we bumped into my friend’s real-life neighbor. We chatted on the ride home, and she asked how my friend and I met. We looked at each other for a split second, and then I laughed when she said, “We met on twitter!” How very 21st century.

The tour stirred up a sense of misplaced nostalgia in me for the past (if only we had a corner pub, a Luke’s Diner, a Central Perk, a Community Congregation), but it also encouraged me to appreciate the ways we go about community and friendship today, and examine how I can do it better. More than that, it helped me appreciate the gift of finding a friend who will  plan multiple days out together with varying degrees of success. Who puts up with my particular brand of crazy. Who tells me the truth about herself and doesn’t look away from the truth she sees darting behind shadows inside of me. We met online, and she’s become one of my most faithful and dearest.

Something in me still longs for the promise of days when creating community and cultivating friendships meant spending an evening cozied up with a glass of wine, or an afternoon unfolding over cups of fragrant tea with endless refills. I can keep searching for these opportunities to take part in what once was, but I must also embrace what is. What is friendship today? How can I create physical space for it in a life often conducted online? I’m carrying these questions with me into the new year, and I hope the new year will unveil a few answers.

The Significance of a Sister Circle

*Subscribers: I apologize for the glitch this morning with the emails. This version has the links to the post:) Thanks for trusting me with your inbox, and thanks for reading!

After the family funeral, one of the older women approached me in the buffet line between scooping spoons of mac and cheese and chicken piccata onto my plate. Another peppered my daughter with questions through the stall door of the church’s ladies room. A third struck up a conversation with my son while waiting to greet the family after the memorial service. They spoke as if they knew the intimate details of our lives, asking questions only a magician, or someone in the family’s inner circle, could pluck out of blue sky and thin air.

When my son turned to me with wide eyes and a questioning look during the granny brigade’s interrogation, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He had finally come face to face with a lifetime member of his grandmother’s infamous Sister Circle…

To read the rest of the post on lifelong friendship, join me at More To Be.

Better Together: On Self-Reliance and Asking for Help

Pansies

“When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” Exodus 17:12

I’m a sucker for online personality quizzes. I took one recently with less than flattering results. According to the test, I’m anti-social, which is a code word extroverts like to use for the rest of us. However, I scored high on the self-reliance portion of the quiz, and after patting myself on the back, I realized that this quality sounds great on paper, but is a double-edged sword when it comes to belonging and building community.

I’m not one to crowd source, ask for help, or solicit a bunch of people for their opinions. I ask God and I ask my husband. Later, I might tell my friends and family about it. Self-reliance has the faint whiff of toddlerhood clinging to it. As my daughter used to say when she was three, “No, mommy. I do it!” My life has been a series of “I do it” moments stacked one on top of the other, building a wall between me and the loving people who surround me in community.

In general, I’m not a fan of most ideas that don’t originate with me. Does this sound horrible? It is. My husband brought home a flat of yellow and purple pansies to plant in the garden, greeting our guests on Easter, and I was annoyed with him because I didn’t think of it myself. I would have chosen lavender and white. How. Dare. He.

He ignored my protests and with great generosity of spirit asked me where to place them in the mulched beds. When he finished planting, our garden looked as if Spring slept there overnight and she woke up fresh-faced the next morning. I swallowed the bitter pill of remorse that weekend, but my husband offered me kindness. He covered up my reaction with a shower of petals.

Recently, a project I’ve been dreaming up and laboring over and crafting for a year, was soundly rejected in its current form. I was crushed. Confused. Disappointed. But, uncharacteristically, rather than curl in on myself, and hide behind the wall my self-reliance built, I reached out to a fellow writing friend. Then another.  I shared my frustration with my mother, my mother-in-law, and an entire group of writing pals online. Then I went on a walk with one of my best girlfriends. I wore sunglasses to conceal my red eyes, but I couldn’t conceal my heart from her. And I am better for it.

When I reached out to the people in my life, they reached back and extended a hand of friendship to me. They commiserated. They laughed. They got angry. They sent emails and vox messages and took notes and wrote blog posts inspired by my experience. More than that, they prayed for me. Their wit and wisdom literally changed the course of my project and my response to it. My community of friends and fellow misfits and prayer warriors and artists held up my hands like Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses in the desert.

Self-reliance is a fantastic quality, but it can isolate us from one another. It denies our family and friends the opportunity to speak into our lives, sharing their hard-won wisdom bought by experience. It holds them at arms length rather than allowing them to hold us up. Self-reliance can keep us from the depth and richness of a sisterhood built on sharing our ideas, our joy, and our pain.

It was a revelation to discover how many Aarons and Hurs I have in my life. The garden of my life is rich with sisters–a vibrant bed full of petaled pansies. I am surrounded by color and life and beauty, and for too long, I have denied myself the pleasure of reveling in it.

….

Do you have a community of women who support and rally around you? If so, thank them today and return the favor. If not, how can you begin building belonging among the women in your life?

Losing a Friend and Finding Her Again

DSC_4654 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

We were inseparable from the beginning. We slept at each other’s houses and traded our deepest, darkest, thirteen-year-old secrets. We baked cookies and hid from her brothers and whispered late into the night when the house fell asleep. From the attic we watched movies I wasn’t allowed to watch at home. Her mom cooked me countless dinners, and her house unlocked a sense of freedom in me that needed turning. She taught me real friendship is having the courage to show up, but I’m not sure I ever really learned the lesson.

We remained best friends for most of our childhood, and it crushed me when her family left the country to become missionaries during our freshman year of high school. My living, breathing best friend became a flat scrawl of cursive on a piece of notebook paper. We grew apart as distant relationships often do, but I hold most of the blame. I stopped writing, my gaze focused solely on my own high school survival, and I stopped wondering if she would ever move back.

We’re Facebook friends now. The kind who gather news of each others lives through the occasional update. From a distance, I watched her circle the globe and serve Jesus and raise her daughter to speak fluent Spanish. I don’t know her anymore, not really. I don’t take out the memories and hold them to the light, I don’t wear them out with the handling, or polish them until they shine. They sit in cobwebs in the deepest recesses of my mind.

….

She sent me a message recently. Honest. Vulnerable. Can we have the courage to show up in each other’s lives somehow, across the decades and across state lines? I sat on her message for 24 hours–fear kept me from responding. Like a potter with clay, the intervening years took the raw material of thirteen-year old girls and shaped us into forty-year old women. Between us, we’ve lived in five different countries and married our high school sweethearts and had wildly different life experiences. I’m not sure she will like this re-shaped version of me. She liked who I used to be, but I don’t know if she will like who I am now.

I don’t know how this story will end, but I want to remain open to possibilities. The potter will continue to shape me into a new creation, day by day, decision by decision. Perhaps having the courage to show up is all it takes to start, and time will take care of the rest.