The Pursuit of Friendship

Cultivating friendship takes work. Amen.

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For two years now, we’ve called a new town “home.” The start of that season was rocky in terms of developing relationships with other women – especially coming from such a devoted, small group of friends two hours away.

But slowly, I started saying “yes” more than “no” to a new community, letting them into my stories and dreams and insecurities. And honestly, the lines around our friendships are more blurred than ever, crossing boundaries of work and church and people who we just can’t stand not to be around.

I wrote a piece for Deeply Rooted Magazine about this process, which you can read here.

Here’s an excerpt:

Self-protection and self-monitoring can be comfortable patterns that seem like wisdom, when turning inward can actually perpetuate the selfishness of insecurity—which is exactly why this passage in James intrigues me:

“But the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17–18, NLT, emphasis mine).

Wisdom of the Lord means being willing to yield to others. I don’t think James means becoming passive doormats, but rather making ourselves available to be influenced by others, serving them and being transformed by God in the process. Living here for two years, I can name a small handful of women I trust, who affirm my identity in Christ and challenge my fleshly version of wisdom. But I still need to peel back the layers of self-protection and rely on his Spirit within me to resist any lingering fear or apprehension—for the sake of authentic friendship, his glory, and my good.

Maybe you can relate? For me, this is ongoing – one big, unfolding lesson of vulnerability and joy. Again, you can find the whole blog post here.

To The Sea

I went to the beach last week. And when I took one of my morning walks, I remembered I wrote something two winters ago and never shared it. The words of this piece (edited slightly for length) came even before I posted this quote from one of my favorite authors.

The ocean will always stir things up in me, as it may do for you. I hope you have places where this resonates.

My family traveled to the Gulf Coast nearly every summer as I grew up. We always drove the 12 hours by van, complete with a car-top carrier and sometimes an extra vehicle. I remember mere minutes into the trip, we’d scratch off the lottery tickets my dad would buy for all of us, the shrieks of success over $2.00 victories that we probably forgot to cash in when we returned home.

By the end of the drive, the van smelled a bizarre smell I can only describe as peanut M&M’s and Lifesaver gummy rings and the occasional whiff of worn socks. Stepping out into the salty air to catch the view of the sea upon arrival was a welcomed relief.

This pattern is familiar. The smell, too, is familiar. But I never get used to the moment when my toes hit the sand, steps slowing on the walk to the ocean. I immediately wonder how many grains I’m crossing over and how deeply underground the crabs live and how in the world did we get beaches?

The ocean turns me into a curious student, eager to learn and re-learn what it means to be made small.

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Encountering smallness, I’m confronted with the reality that the world is more complex than the one orbiting around my day-to-day. It’s greater than my morning coffee and evening wine, my most fantastical wishes and dysfunctional relationships and bouts of insecurity.

This smallness is no new thing. Escaping ourselves to recognize the universe was created by a God who loves it is as old as time, and we know the world doesn’t revolve around us, obviously. But I seem to need the reminder now and then.

The ocean, for one, gives me that reminder. I stand in the place where my feet slowly submerge into the sand’s density and study the waves – the foamy, bubbling pool left over from the crest that never really seems to recede. More water slinks back under it and comes up over it, but it never leaves. Those waves are constant, reliable and exist entirely without my help.

There is nothing I can do to help the waves keep coming throughout the day; there is nothing I can do to settle them down when my little nephews want to feel a bit safer in the vastness.

In that lack of control, I am made small.

I remember during one trip laying on a towel as the sun was sinking, my head tilted back to get this wacky, front row seat of the horizon. I wondered how many miles out I was viewing. How long a drive? Looking left and right, I was convinced I was witnessing the literal downslope of the earth, its curvature settling on either side.

But I know I cannot see the actual ends of the earth, because I am too small. And yet, here I am, this little creature surviving – daydreaming and reading books and eating pretzel twists – existing in a world that completely does not depend on me to keep things running smoothly.

We tend to overestimate our control, don’t we?

We reject smallness. We rely on ourselves to be independent and powerful and in control because to forfeit those things is to become vulnerable, to need other people, to need a God that holds all things in His hands and at the same time confess that we don’t understand how all those things fit together.

What I’m coming to understand is that the more opportunities I take to be small, to crouch in humility and recover my wonder and admit, “I can’t do this on my own,” the more clearly I see God show up in my little orbit.

As often as I can, I’ll return to the sea, palms up to receive her gifts. I’ll release control and delight in the spaces of freedom, the burden to orchestrate it all, lifted.

I’ll Leave the Porch Light On

To the person who enters our home:

I’ll leave the porch light on, so you can be sure you’re at the right place. Feel free to knock and come right in, or maybe don’t worry about knocking at all. But if you don’t, announce yourself so we don’t get spooked. Preferably in a funny accent.

You can leave your shoes at the door, or keep them on. Nothing here is too pristine for dirt, but some people have a thing about others seeing their socks. Hopefully you don’t mind our dog shoving her face in between your legs. We think it’s darn adorable and never discouraged it, so that’s our fault, I suppose.

I’ll try to have some music on and drink options ready. And we’d truly be happy to give you something other than water. We may or may not have time to lint roll the couch, so do expect a trace (or so) of dog hair…part of the glories of pet ownership. Push aside the pillows or prop one behind your back. Put your feet on the coffee table or tuck them under you. You are welcome here.

Our dining chairs are super creaky, so you may immediately feel the need to sit very still; this is unnecessary. We’ll all be there together, creating a big creak-fest, so don’t let that bother you.

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Let us tell you that we love hosting stuff. Football games and weeknight dinners and weekend breakfasts. We think these things keep families together and friendships constant. So in this, we have a few goals.

1. We’ll try to be as accessible as possible. We’ll try to remain open enough to not have to schedule out dinner two weeks in advance. We’ll agree to be spontaneous with evening plans to make this relationship thrive, even if it means running to the grocery store for more chicken at the last minute. If it’s 8pm and you need dessert and company, say so. If you need a change of scenery on a Thursday and our house is your only hope without going to Target and spending money (been there), tell us. We can’t guarantee that our floors will be glossy, the counters cleared off and laundry won’t be in progress, but we’ll try our hardest to be available.

This is a good practice for me, too, you know. I’m working on being less rigid and more flexible, so you nearly surprising me will be an exercise in rejecting balled up fists for a more serene, joyful and open frame of mind. It’s a win-win.

2. We’ll ease into the mess. We’ll chat you up about all the snow we’ve had, new babies in the family and how work is going. But then we’ll tell you how it’s challenging for us to be on opposite schedules, or no schedule at all. We’ll bring up homesickness and hope and church, and that’s our invitation to you to let us in on your life. We’ll feed you and laugh with you, but we really want to know you. So we’ll ask you questions and sometimes backtrack to rephrase our words and ask a better one. We’ll hope you’re not too uncomfortable and wishing you picked up a pizza for dinner by yourself instead.

We won’t be the perfect hosts. I may be distracted trying to time the meal so the potatoes come out of the oven as the meat’s resting. Thomas might talk your ear off about dog training or the code book of Indiana law. We might have an ant problem. But we hope you can look past these things and come over anyway.

We want you in our home. We love each other, sure, but we also love having different voices in the conversation; different stories and quirks and laughs. Taking into consideration humans’ innate desire to connect, we need you in our home.

I’ll burn the candles, then make make sure the porch light’s still on when you leave.

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For My Family

Today I’m reminded of gratitude. Particularly for my family.

My little family – just my husband and my dog – and our favorite moments together on the couch or taking walks. It’s simple, and it’s sweet.

But I’m also so grateful for my big family.

The last year has been one of dramatic learning. Both closeness and distance. Dependence and trailblazing and so many dinners around those tables. Some for which we were invited. And some we invited ourselves.

I’m thankful that I actually want to be around them.

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I am filled with their jokes and laughter and their problem-solving of everyone’s issues, whether it’s welcomed or not. I’m thankful for a 6-year-old who sometimes calls me “Honey” and a 3-year-old that still lays his head on my shoulder, if he’s tired enough.

Siblings both 15 minutes and 5 states away. Parents who never let me pay for a meal, but instead say “Next time.” In-laws who don’t fit the stereotypes of in-laws.

In this life, it’s easy to point out dysfunction and what is not working. It takes a little more consciousness to notice the things that seem to be just as God intended.

That doesn’t mean it’s free of mess. We’re a bit untidy. Sometimes untactful. Sometimes irritated. But I think that’s how I like it – because we let our walls down enough to let everyone experience our true selves. For better, and for worse.

So today, for my family near and far, for those I’ll see today and others I won’t, thank you. Thank you for loving me and pushing me and seeing me.

And to my niece literally due any day now, feel free to arrive today. We won’t mind the inconvenience.

To Find Your People

I don’t remember where exactly I heard it, or when, but I’ve heard before that our two deepest desires are to be fully known and fully loved.

Maybe it was Donald Miller quoting Viktor Frankl, but I’m not sure.

Fully known. Fully loved.

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What comes to mind are all the reasons for us to stay un-known. It’s safer that way, on many levels. It doesn’t require any vulnerability. Any bending.

The world teaches us to be strong. To fake it until you achieve some arbitrary status or position.

It preaches kindness. And generosity. Honesty, maybe. But sensitivity and grace and a sincere openness with our lives? Not often.

I’m reading an e-book right now, and the author writes about how we get used to NOT listening to ourselves (and, therefore, not letting others know the “real” us). She uses the example of someone going into work upset about something – stewing and contemplating and anxious – and the minute someone asks how she’s doing, she replies, “Oh, great, how are you?”

It’s really easy to bury ourselves.

All this to say, I am so thankful I’ve found people to help me unbury myself, allowing me to be known, and loved.

It’s clear to me (looking back) that some of my closest friendships resulted from a life shift of sorts. Going to college, taking on a long-distance relationship, getting married, and the like. In all of these stages, I desperately wanted to find “my people,” whether it was an outright hunt or more subtle effort.

Sometimes it didn’t come naturally. At the start of college, I was on a serious friend hunt. I laugh with my fiery, red-haired friend that I saw her the first night of bible study and thought, “Wow, she looks so unique. I wonder if we could be friends.”

So painfully unnatural. But we sought each other out, and it worked. She, along with a few other friends, can make me be so honest it feels like I’m naked in the coffee shop.

And other times we find our people in a gradual way, with dynamics changing as slowly as the tides. Some coming, some going. In our houses with brownies, at the park, standing up with them at weddings and sitting in church pews weeks before we even realize they’ve been there all that time.

Sometimes it’s a friendship rediscovered, reinvigorated with new experiences and close calls shared.

For all the reasons why I’ve been able to find my people – who currently span from Arizona to France to five minutes from my house – I am so so grateful.

So maybe that’s what this post is about… an ode to friends. To my friends (and family) who allow me to listen to myself – who encourage it, even – so I can make a little more room for them to know me, too.

For You Traditionalists

My family held one of its most diligently-adhered-to traditions this weekend.

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We make homemade applesauce one evening every fall.

It’s really quite an operation, and we have a system after all these years. You wash the apples in the sink (usually a job for the kids) and send them to be quartered, where they’re then dropped into a crazy-hot pot on the stove. Once they’re soft, they go to the crank, and while someone pushes the apples down, the junk (skin, seeds, etc.) comes out one side and sauce comes out the other. Then we load up the bowls with sugar and a whole lot of cinnamon, put them in containers, label them “Metheny Applesauce 2013” and freeze them to give away. The whole batch lasts throughout the year.

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It’s one of my favorite traditions, as it ushers in the fall season, gives us time to talk and laugh, and everyone has a role. Even if it’s just entertaining the little ones (or our new, beautiful, adopted puppy, Delilah. She’s a doll. You’ll definitely see more of her soon).

In every tradition, there is stability. There is the knowing that you’ll do it again and again and continue to remember that funny time last year when you made applesauce, watched “A Christmas Story” seven times through on TV or traveled across states to see friends for a week. Whatever your tradition is.

These are good things. They help shape who we are and what we value. We just can’t get stuck in them.

Isn’t it easy to be attached to these experiences? To esteem them so much as to disregard all else? Isn’t that why when Christmas falls on a Sunday, attendance is often low?

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I’m learning that the ability to flex, to move, to do something different is just as important as the ability to stay right where we are. It can challenge us to not get stuck in our ways. For the stubborn, like me, this is healthy practice.

I know this isn’t always fun. As people change, traditions sometimes change with them, and the process can be disheartening. But it doesn’t have to be the end. So much more can define us than our traditions.

So while you have them, enjoy them. Create them. Make more. But perhaps try not to get stuck.

A Shoe and a Lung

I owe this post to my good friend Elizabeth, who has been married for just over a year now. Thanks, girl.

On a weeknight this past spring, I sat down on an over-sat-on couch with some lovely ladies from my college bible study. Reaping all the marriage advice and wisdom I could, I asked Elizabeth how things were going in her own marriage, and how her relationship with her hubby had changed. This is my best memory of the response she gave:

“Well, when we were dating, Tony was kind of like a shoe. I could kick him off whenever I wanted to. But now, he’s kind of like a lung; he’s just a part of me. And I don’t really want to get rid of him.”

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Though I doubt she realized it, this comment stuck.

Last week was the first time that I stayed at our house alone overnight. Thomas left earlier that morning to visit some friends up school, and being by myself was definitely different. Though I spent some of the evening with my parents, I watched the skies darken behind windows by myself, and I felt something was missing. I’ve gotten used to someone occupying the living room desk and leaving a stray coffee mug on the table. It was the first time I got a taste of what the whole shoe vs. lung thing meant.

Absolutely, we still need our space. That’s for certain. But I’m learning what it looks like to function as a unit and make him a lung.

Any more quirky marriage metaphors out there?

Say Maybe to the Dress

My mother’s wedding dress has been neatly folded and securely taped in a gold box for nearly 33 years. That is, until tonight…

My curiosity for this piece of 1979  has kicked up in the last year or so, as I imagine what kind of dress I will wear on my wedding day. Mom assumed neither daughter of hers would care to see it, but we decided to crack open the time capsule this evening and give this baby another wear. As my dad exclaimed, “We can have our own ‘Say Yes to the Dress!'”

Notice the wing-like sleeves. We decided to tuck them under to see what it would look like without sleeves. As it turns out, both Mom and Dad like it better sleeveless! Mom was also surprised at how well the dress fit, so it was really fun to see her reaction. We also joked how conservative she was with that ultra high neckline.

Such a neat moment to have with them. It also makes me excited for the dress hunt to come later this spring. But if that doesn’t produce any winners…

This beauty will be waiting.

Imaginations

We all know that kids have imaginations. I don’t just mean the make-believe friends (such as Beatrice and Ollie…don’t judge me), but the ability to play and make silly voices. This afternoon I watched my nephews Aiden and Owen for a while and it was just Aid and I playing with cars (with faces) on the floor. I started talking for them, and he looked at me with bright eyes, surprised, like he thought it was kind of silly. He almost seemed bashful at first when he talked for the cars. Truthfully, if any other adult had been there, I would have been a little more reserved, but I was playing with a three year old. I could do anything and he’d think it was cool. So then he began taking the cars to Grammy’s house to play ping pong and get in the hot pool (the hot tub, duh). His cars visited fruit stands to eat strawberries and peanut butter gummies (his idea, not mine). It was just fun to see him play.

I was also inspired by his innocent honesty. In playing hide and seek, he was nestled in a corner of his room behind a train table. Leaving the room and acting totally unaware, I heard a little cough and said, “What was that?” Aiden immediately stood up and said, “That was me. That was my cough.” So sweet.

And then there’s this little guy, who is more than enough to make your heart sing.

Did I mention that I love being an aunt?

The couple who cooks together…

I just returned to school from a beyond-lovely Thanksgiving break. It was so nice to be with the people who mean the most to me and eat way too much home-cooked food by mothers who dash around like little food fairies in the kitchen. But as it turned out, I spent some time cooking as well. NOT  like a little food fairy. And here’s where the story begins.

Thomas likes waffles. I like to make him waffles. So at one in the afternoon, he came over to the house and after putting the first  cup of batter in the iron, I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Something was wrong, so I opened the iron and there was a white, still-mushy waffle. The 20 year old iron didn’t get  hot enough, so in dismay, I had a giant bowl of waffle batter and no where to put it. Thom was still set on breakfast food, so he recommended french toast instead (saying if I mixed it up, he’d make it). I had all the ingredients together except the six eggs. Upon looking in the fridge, I found two. That called for a Dollar General run, then we were finally able to make us some toast!

What was so fun was I had never seen my guy cook like that. He was flipping that toast like nobody’s business and was really enjoying himself, as you can see.

We then decided to keep going and make pancakes with the leftover waffle batter.   AND we heated up some bacon and brought out nuts, cool whip and powdered sugar. By 2:30 we were done. What started as a disappointed Mal over a broken waffle iron turned into a beautiful, sugary feast with my man that we both were proud of.

He’s so go with the flow. I admire him.