Stories of Friendship: The blessing I didn’t expect

Another Friday means another story of friendship, although I’m thinking this will be my last one for a while. Not because I’m out of friends to tell you about but because my blogging time might be less in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading along with these, and if you still want to join in, I’ll be happy to post one of your stories on an upcoming Friday. E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Phil and I hadn’t lived here long when I first met Carol. We were still settling in to our new residency in Pennsylvania, to Phil’s role as a seminary student, to my role as a stay-at-home mom when we attended some event at the seminary. I can’t tell you what it was or why we dragged our little family (we had a baby, for crying out loud) to this thing, but I clearly remember sitting at a table with Les and Carol, a pastoral couple in our denomination. (Side note: their last name is Cool, and they are so much cooler than even their name would suggest.)

I remember that I’d just picked up a little writing work for the seminary thanks to a connection with the school’s president, and I was totally proud of myself for still being able to write while taking care of a baby.

We sat at the table with Les and Carol, and they asked us good questions about who we were. I remember declaring myself a writer, and when Les informed me that Carol, too, was a writer, I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I had met few writers outside of the newspapers I worked for in Illinois, so I was a bit stunned to meet one at the same table and within our church’s denomination.

Like all my best friendships, I can’t explain what happened after that. I started attending a writers’ group in the area, which Carol was also a part of, and gradually we would make an effort to meet at Panera (or wherever, but mostly at Panera). We would talk writing and church and books and life.

When I gave my first ever workshop talk at this writers group, I asked Carol, a fabulous speaker, to critique me and give me pointers because I knew I could trust her assessment and take her advice. She has encouraged me as a writer, as a Christian, as a woman with a heart for ministry.

What is so unexpected about this friendship is that, by age, Carol could be my mother. I’ve not had a problem over the years making friends of all ages, but it still surprises me sometimes to find such a good friend of another generation. (That’s a challenge to me, too, to make friends of a younger age.)

When our marriage was on the brink and we were trying to sort out the next steps, Carol and Les talked us through our options, prayed with and for us, and encouraged us to keep on the course God had set for us, even if it was different. Anything I’ve ever told Carol has been met with compassion and understanding. Never judgment or condescension.

She’s the closest thing I have to a mentor, though we’ve never labeled our relationship that way.

When our family was struggling to make ends meet, Carol took me shopping at Costco to buy fruit, and they helped fill our freezer with meat. The year we couldn’t go home for Christmas, they opened their home to us for dinner and games.

She is a passionate advocate for justice who challenges me to make better decisions about where and how I give money and time. (She talks about that on her blog, how ordinary people can make a difference in the world.)

Ultimately, Carol is one of those people I can’t imagine my life without. Had we never moved to Pennsylvania, we never would have met, and my life would be missing something.

(Plus she’s a redhead, which helps me understand our daughter better!)

Stories of Friendship: The kindred spirit

Fridays are for friendship here, specifically stories of friendship, as a way to celebrate the special people in our lives. You can catch up on past posts by clicking on the “friendship” category at the bottom of this post. And if you have a story you’d like to share, send a paragraph or two to lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com and tell us about your friend!

I remember the first time I met Alison, maybe because I was doing my best to not retreat into my introvert shell and actually make a friend at writers group. There I was, sitting in the middle of a row, minding my own business because I hate small talk and there are only so many times you can ask, “So, what do you write?” in one morning. And she walked in, coffee in hand, and asked if the seat near me was taken. Then she moved to take her coat off and I offered to hold her coffee while she did that because folding chairs are notoriously unreliable at holding hot coffee and hot coffee is a precious commodity on a cold Saturday morning.

Coffee was the door to conversation. I know this now because we’re both introverts. When I think about our friendship, it’s definitely a God-thing that we ever got to know each other in the first place. So, we did the chit-chat thing, discovered we both had young children and–surprise of surprises!–both had been journalists in another life. In my mind, we were already the best of friends. She didn’t run screaming from the room when I asked if I could find her on Facebook since writers group was only once a month and we lived about an hour apart.

All of this I remember clearly. How our friendship actually developed after that escapes me. We would see each other occasionally at those writers group meetings and at the larger gathering one-day conference, and eventually we found each other on Facebook, so I suppose there was some kind of natural progression of getting to know each other.

But it really wasn’t until our family moved to Lancaster last year that I truly discovered that Alison and I are kindred spirits. (I have several people I would put in this category, but it still surprises me when I find someone who fits.)

Here’s why I consider Alison among that group: She’s a writer, so she automatically gets all the craziness in my head. And she’s good at it, even though she doubts. (Um, that is SO familiar! And by the way, you should read her blog.) She is passionate about important things like orphans and adoption and justice, and she’s so passionate that she doesn’t just talk a good game, she does stuff about it and feels like it’s never enough. You want to know her heart? Just talk to her about Rwanda. You’ll see it.

She is married to a silly husband, something I thought was my curse blessing alone. (I desperately want our husbands to be friends, but they’ve only met once and I don’t want to seem pushy.)

Alison appreciates a good hot drink, and now that we both have some kid-free time during the week, we’re able to meet for hot drinks all by ourselves with no responsibilities for a few hours.

She is encouraging, intelligent and authentic. I am so comfortable with Alison that I would tell her just about anything. When we’ve had a coffee/Panera date, I walk away refreshed. Neither of us is perfect or living our lives exactly the way we want. We both struggle with some things that leave us frustrated. But our time together is one of the highlights of us moving to Lancaster.

Sadly, we do not have a picture together either, something I’m finding I must remedy with lots of friends. (I mean, it’s not like there’s a camera on my phone or anything and I don’t go anywhere without it.)

Not all friends have to be kindred spirits, but I think it’s good to have at least one. Do you have a friend like this?

Stories of Friendship: The ties you forget are there

This week’s Stories of Friendship post is a bit different than previous weeks. And a day later than normal. To see previous posts, check out last week’s, which contains links to all the posts in this series. If you’re interested in sharing a post about a friend who is important to you, send me a message.

This week, instead of focusing on one friend who has had an impact on me, I want to tell you what I learned about friendship this week.

On Monday, I received word from a friend and former co-worker that a colleague of ours had a severe reaction to something that caused her to stop breathing and be hospitalized. Her condition was serious and over the next several days, we exchanged dozens of messages with updates on her condition. During those days, I was also in contact with many of my former work colleagues, letting them know her status.

It’s been more than seven years since I worked at that company, and many of the people I keep up with marginally on Facebook. I haven’t seen most of them in seven years.

But instantly, we were a team again. Praying. Exchanging information. Connected even though we are literally scattered across the country, from California to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin to Texas. All of us were joined in mutual concern for our friend and colleague.

Though we’re not connected by a common workplace anymore, those years we spent working together solidified our bond. I mean, when you spend 8-10 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, in good times and bad, with co-workers, they really become more like family. And for me, a 20-something trying to find her way in the world, those co-workers were some of my first adult friends. And I’m sorry that tragedy has brought us back in touch with each other, but it reminded me that friendship comes in a variety of forms and just because bonds are stretched doesn’t mean they are broken.

So, today, as we continue talking about friendship, I ask you to pray for our friend, Marla. She is bold and outspoken, funny in all the best ways (I still smile thinking about things she said all those years ago), a fighter and survivor with a smile that fills a room. She is playful and unpredictable. There were times she scared me a little as I walked by her desk because she is fiercely loyal to her people and her beliefs and you don’t want to cross her.

Even if she was none of those things, I’d still ask for your prayers for her. We are waiting and watching and hoping for her recovery from this reaction.

Thank you for your prayers.

Stories of Friendship: The one who encouraged me

On Fridays, I’ve been telling you stories of meaningful friendships. You can read past posts about the friend who got me through hard times, the friend who takes me as I am, and the friends who’ve been on a journey with us across states. And you can read this guest post about a friend who was right next door. Maybe you have a story to tell too? Send it to me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com, along with a picture, if you have one, and I’ll post it here on an upcoming Friday.

tbt Lisa & Nikki

This is my favorite picture of Nikki and me, taken years ago when we were counselors for a week at Rock River Bible Camp. I love it because it is SO not our personalities. At least, not obviously. We’re the quiet introvert types. I mean, when this picture was taken, Nikki was a librarian and I was a journalist. Writer. Librarian. Not exactly the roles that bring to mind fun-loving party types.

But to me, this photo describes our relationship.

Nikki and I became friends at a time when we both needed a friend. We were post-college, career women in our 20s without boyfriends or husbands or children like so many of the people we knew. We’d both gone away to college and returned to our hometown area, attended the same church and were trying to figure out what exactly God had in store for people like us. (That’s what I was trying to figure out anyway.)

We started hanging out with other people our age at the church, half of whom Nikki was related to. I was sort of an outsider having not grown up in that church, but they all accepted me, Nikki included, and somewhere along the hanging out, she and I got to be really good friends.

After my second roommate moved out, she and I started talking about the possibility of living together. I remember this conversation because the conditions were not ideal. At the time, I lived in the smaller half of a house in town and she lived with her parents. To make this roommate thing worked, we decided we’d need to move to the larger half of the house and Nikki would need a raise of a certain amount at work. Both seemed a bit impossible on our meager salaries, but God surprised us both and made it happen.

Living with Nikki (I can’t remember now if it was years or just a year–I’m old and my memory isn’t what it used to be) was one of the best times of my life. Sure, we had bumps along the way. I was a bit immature and didn’t know that friends could disagree and still be friends. We didn’t always agree on things, but I mostly remember it as a time of deep friendship. And I think where individually we might not have been brave enough to do certain things, together, we spurred one another on.

Nikki traveled to Ohio with me for a friend’s wedding, and we stopped to visit an island along the way. We made our half-house a welcome place for people to gather and weekly hosted our friends for food and hanging out and looooong nights of Trivial Pursuit. We watched Anne of Green Gables and Pride & Prejudice and swooned over these love stories.

And as our own love stories began, we confided in each other our deepest feelings. I remember the day she told me about her growing feelings for the man she would marry. And the day I confessed that I was falling for Phil. We encouraged each other in those relationships. It was her idea that I dress as Phil one year for Halloween. (Sorry, I’m not sure where those pictures are!) She gave me this plaque as a reminder of our friendship. I still display it prominently next to a poem she wrote me about our friendship. best friends

Our lives have us in two different states right now, but she is one of the friends I most want to spend time with when we’re in the same state, even when it’s almost impossible to make it happen. Not long ago, I purposed to meet her for lunch and hang out for an afternoon so she could know the state of things in our marriage. It was the kind of conversation I wanted to have in person. And though I was afraid our friendship had changed because we’d been apart and things had changed so much for me, I was grateful to discover that things had changed for both of us, but our friendship remained. (I am now plotting a double date night for us when we’re home next. This is your fair warning.)

Not all friendships stand the tests of time and distance, but I’m grateful this one has.

Nikki is still an encouragement to me, and I’m blessed to call her “friend.”

Stories of Friendship: The ones who know our then and now

The past few Fridays have been devoted to Stories of Friendship as I aim to honor meaningful relationships in my life. You can read past stories here and here, as well as a guest post on the subject here. If you have a friend you’d like to honor with a story of friendship, e-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Last weekend our family took two days and headed west to Pittsburgh to hang out with some dear friends whose home is often a resting place for us as we travel from our home back to Illinois to visit family. Rarely do we get the chance to hang out for an extended time and always when we do, we find ourselves lingering and leaving later than we expected.

So today’s story of friendship is dedicated to this couple: Josh and Rachel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is them more than a decade ago, when the story of our friendship began. Before Phil and I were an “us,” Josh and Rachel were friends of ours. I met them at a weekend retreat for college-ish age students. It was a terrifying experience for me walking into it because all of these people had grown up with each other and I was an outsider. I’m an introvert anyway, so being an outsider compounds the problem. I could have slipped through unnoticed but Josh is one of the first people I remember taking the time to talk to me.

I remember sitting on a couch, fading into the background, and him jumping over the back of it and nearly knocking my head with his feet. Then it became a running joke, how Josh almost killed me at my first retreat. And Rachel, a talented musician and singer, welcomed my feeble attempts at guitar and singing after I’d barely learned how to play.

This couple has always been an encouragement to us. They have ties and roots in Illinois. They understand where we come from. They love Chicago as much as we do and Rock River Bible Camp holds a special place in their hearts as it does ours.

About the time we moved to east-central Pennsylvania, they moved to western Pennsylvania, and it’s been a blessing to have friends who know our experiences in the past and the present. Friends we can pick up with immediately and don’t have to explain our messy past lives to. Not much anyway.

We raid each other’s fridges when we’re staying. I dig through Rachel’s cupboards looking for coffee because I know she’ll have some. We look out for each other’s kids. We talk about life and books and ministry and artistic callings and balancing all of the things we love. Rachel’s dad officiated the marriage of Phil and me, so that’s practically family right there. And when we visited their current church on Sunday, people asked if we were Josh’s family. I wanted to say, “Yes! He’s our brother!” because some relationships feel like that.

Our friendship spans more than 10 years. That picture up there was then.

This is our now.

pa kidsSo much has changed in our years as friends. Multiple moves. Lots of kids. (I remember when all these kiddos were born and now they run and jump and talk and laugh and fight and wrestle and hug!) And our friendship has rolled with the changes.

We had a chance this weekend to take a group picture of the four of us while eating breakfast out (Josh arranged for a sitter to watch our crew of munchkins so the grown-ups could enjoy breakfast! Do you see why we’re friends?!) and I totally forgot! So, the picture of the kids will have to suffice.

I’m giving myself a few tears just thinking about these precious friends and how much they add to our lives.

It is rare to have a friend couple that has lived in the same two states as we have and had many of the same hopes, dreams and desires.

Our couches and guest rooms are always open to each other.

So are our lives.

I wish everyone could have a Josh and Rachel in their lives.

(Maybe you do! If so, tell me about them!)

 

Stories of Friendship: The one who takes me as I am

A few weeks ago, we started talking about friendship here, and today’s post is another installment. Do you have a story of friendship you’d like to share? Send me a few paragraphs and a photo to lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll post it on a Friday. Check out the previous posts in the series about my friend Dawn and about Lisa Betz’s friend Carol.

Our husbands were friends first, a side effect of seminary classes, but they bonded like brothers even to the point that people would ask if they were brothers. At the time, they both sported longish hair and beards and had similar builds. I knew of Beth but had not met her until their family temporarily moved in down the street from us. It was another of those relationships where we were online friends before we met in person but clicked the more time we spent together.

From the start, Beth made me comfortable with who I am. She is an authentic person who does not pretend to have it all together or claim to be better than anyone else. She puts me at ease. With her, I can spout all my frustrations, laugh at things I think I shouldn’t find funny, share dreams and fears and struggles. I remember the day I told her about our marriage struggles. How we hit rock bottom and were clawing our way back up. She cried with me and asked probing questions (the good kind). But the thing I remember most is how she spoke hope to me. She believed this would not be the end for us. And she continues to see beyond circumstances to what could be.friends at the beach

Beth is fun and genuine and despite what she might think, one of the most beautiful people I know. She has a heart that beats wild for Jesus and His people. She is a fighter for what’s right and just. She loves coffee and her husband and her kids and when I have been with her, I am refreshed.

This summer, our families vacationed together at the beach–a move that could have ruined all the friendships. But, thanks be to God, we are better friends for having done it.

Hers is one of many treasured friendships I have, and I can hardly believe we’ve only been friends for a couple of years.

(And I hope we are still friends after I post this picture of us at the beach. We were kid-free that day and loving it!)

If I had a sister, I would want her to be like Beth.

Do you have a friend like that? Share your story with us!

Stories of Friendship: The one next door {guest post by Lisa Betz}

Last week, I told you a story of friendship and asked for you to share yours with me. Lisa Betz answered that call with a story of her own. Read on to find out about a special friend in her life. Then head over to Lisa’s blog and read her humorous insights about life.

I was understandably nervous about going off to college, especially since college would be over 1,500 miles away from home. I wasn’t expecting to know anyone, but it turns out there WAS one other entering freshman I knew—a girl from my old hometown who, like me, had moved away during high school. She and I just happened to be assigned to the same hall. (Isn’t God great?)

Having an old friend at the other end of the hall helped me get through those first tough weeks, but she and I were not quite on the same wavelength. I wanted someone who was a kindred spirit, and I found her living next door. By the end of the first month we had become friends. By the end of that first semester we were definitely sidekicks. (Some people confused our names, although we did not look much alike.) Russ and Steve 001

We spent the remaining three years rooming together. We hung out, we shared life (the ups and the downs), we encouraged each other’s faith, and when the stress of studying got out of hand, we baked stuff. Those four years held some of the best memories of my life.

When college was over we parted ways and now Carol lives over 2,000 miles away. We don’t see each other often, but when we do manage to get together, our friendship is right where we left it. Despite our many differences, we are still kindred spirits. And still great friends.

Got a story of friendship to share? E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll share it here on Fridays. Send a picture, too, if you have one!

Stories of Friendship: The one who got me through the hard times

I had lunch with my friend Dawn yesterday, and while lunching with a friend is not necessarily the kind of earth-shaking action one writes about, our time of catching up got me thinking about friendship.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Maybe because friends haven’t always come easy to me and now I’m beyond grateful for the people in my life I call friends. I’ve written before about a few of those friends. But I want to tell you more. And I want you to tell me your stories of friendship. (See the end of this post for details about how you can do that.) Because I don’t know about you, but I often take my friends for granted. I don’t always say how much they mean to me, and with most of those friends, I don’t have to say it. We just know it. Still, I’m a fan of telling the people you care about that you care about them.

I’m aiming to leave no words unsaid.

So, back to my friend Dawn. (I’d show you a picture of us together but I don’t think we have one. That might be a thing I need to change. Pictures of me with the people I care about.)

Just before my son was born, I tried to start a moms group in the little town we lived in because I was desperate for friends. We’d lived there for two years and I didn’t really have anyone to talk to or hang out with. Part of this was my own introversion. Part of it was being the stay-at-home mother to a little one in a community where most moms worked. The moms group never really took off, but I had posted a sign for it at the seminary where my husband was taking classes and kind of forgot about it.

Months later, after Corban came into our lives, I got an e-mail from Dawn. She’d seen my flyer. They’d just moved to the area. Her husband had just started seminary. And she wanted to know more about the group. We corresponded by e-mail a few times because the group was no more and I was still adjusting to having two kids in the house. I looked forward to her e-mails. I liked her immediately, and we lived in the same town but it took us a few weeks to arrange a meeting. I was nervous about meeting her in person because what if I didn’t like her anymore? (It’s a good thing I never tried online dating. I have this fear about anyone I know mostly from the Internet whom I have the chance to meet in person. Pretty good track record so far!)

We met briefly and it was a little awkward because I’m much more comfortable with written words than spoken ones. But then we kept getting together. We had kids that were similarly aged, and we both needed another adult to keep us sane through the days of seminary classes and financial insecurities and parenting troubles.

I had considered the moms group a failed attempt at ministry, but when I look back on it, I sense it was divinely inspired so that I could know Dawn. Our friendship began about six months before my husband confessed his infidelity, and I truly don’t know what we would have done without Dawn and her family. Emotional support. Babysitting while we went to counseling. Honest sharing. They were lifelines for us.

There are days I consider our time in Pennsylvania and what our lives would be like if we’d never moved here, and I can’t measure how different my life would be without some of the friends I might never have met.

Dawn is one of those friends I feel like knows me well enough that our friendship could be twice as old as it is. We’ve laughed together, gone out to movies and dinner. She took me to get my first pedicure. We’ve traded babysitting. We’ve shared our resources. We’ve walked through hard times. I smile when I think of Dawn because she is extroverted where I am introverted but she has shown me what it is to break the rules, to passionately defend your beliefs, to stand up for the poor and needy, to fight for justice.

She makes me brave.

My life is better because Dawn and I are friends. That’s the best kind of friend, right?

So, tell me about your friends. I have more stories to share about other friends, and I will do that occasionally, here. But I’d like to share this space with you. Send me a paragraph or two about a friend you can’t imagine not having in your life, or a friend who has been with you through thick and thin, or a friend you didn’t expect to have. If you have a photo, I’ll post it, too. E-mail me at lmbartelt {at} gmail {dot} com. Let’s celebrate friends together!

A book for foodies: Review of All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant

Once a faithful fan of Food Network shows, I’m in a bit of a drought. I got a little burnt out on the drama. Or maybe I just needed a break. Lucky for me, though, there are novels that take the idea of cooking competitions and give you a backstage look at the people participating.

All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes is one such book. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

The book’s author, Betsy St. Amant, is a woman I’ve heard a lot about from other authors of her genre, and her writing is just as fun and witty and romantic as the hype. All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes is a sweet (ha ha!) story of two friends, Kat Varland and Lucas Brennan, who have so much more between them than friendship but who are afraid to risk losing what they have for finding something more.

Kat dreams of opening her own bakery. Meanwhile, she’s stuck working at her aunt’s bakery making the same cupcakes day after day: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. Kat likes to experiment with flavors, and it seems her baking is riskier than her life. Her best friend Lucas is the high school football coach and a willing participant in Kat’s baking escapades. Because he believes in her abilities, Lucas signs Kat up for a spot on a cupcake competition reality show. When she wins a spot on the show, Kat convinces Lucas to come with her to Los Angeles. And the baking isn’t the only thing that heats up.

As their feelings for each other deepen and blossom, each of them must decide what it is they really want from life, and they’re each faced with a decision about their dreams.

I loved this story. Maybe because I like to cook and bake with my husband. Maybe because we were friends before we were more. Maybe because it was just a good story about love and sacrifice and dreams.

I’m adding Betsy St. Amant to my list of must-read authors. And I’ve got another foodie favorite novel to add to my growing list.

Here’s more about the author: BStAmant-257

Betsy St. Amant lives in Louisiana with her young daughter and has a heart for sharing the amazing news of God’s grace through her novels. A freelance journalist, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. When she’s not reading, writing, or singing along to a Disney soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching on the craft of writing.

Find out more about Betsy at http://www.betsystamant.com/

And here’s how she’s celebrating the release of her book!

Don’t miss Betsy St. Amant’s latest fiction release, All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes. A “sweet” tale of two best friends and the choices they make between dreams and a possible “sure thing,” St. Amant’s novel is sure to satisfy your romantic-fiction craving.

cupcakes-400-click

Betsy is celebrating with a fun Kindle giveaway and a Love & Cupcakes Facebook party!
One winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle
  • All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 18th. Winner will be announced at the Love & Cupcakes” Author Chat Party on 9/18. Betsy will be hosting a “sweet” book chat, giving away prizes, and answering questions from readers. She will also share an exclusive sneak peek at her next book project!

 
So grab your copy of All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes and join Betsy on the evening of September 18th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 18th!

 

The surprising word that sums up our vacation

I remember the year everything about vacation changed.

It was sometime in those middle school years, I think, and my parents took us on a trip to Florida they or someone in our family had won through some kind of promotion. And of course, there was a catch. The kind where you go on the trip in exchange for sitting through an hour-long promotion from an agency that sells condos. (We did this on our honeymoon to score some gas cards and a restaurant gift card. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done, but it also wasn’t pleasant.) My parents sat and listened to the man and his sales pitch while my brother and I did whatever we could to entertain ourselves. I remember they told my parents afterward how well-behaved we were. Maybe that was part of the pitch.

Our family walked away from the meeting that day the proud new owners of a time-share condo in Daytona Beach. I secretly thought my parents might be crazy, but I was a kid, so what did I know?

From then on, our vacation destination was set: Daytona Beach, Florida. Or, if it wasn’t too much trouble, somewhere else we could exchange our week. One year, it was Arizona. (The aforementioned honeymoon was in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is thanks to that time share week, so I guess I better not complain!)

The beach. Most summers we drove for two days to spend time at the beach.

And what I remember most about those summers is ridiculously painful sunburn (the fate of the fair-skinned) and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy about my body (the fate of the non-bikini-clad, at least that’s what I thought then). I was never a partier, so a week at the beach was not the raucous good time I’m sure some of my peers might have envisioned. In truth, I was happy to sit on the balcony of the condo (in the shade) and read book after book after book. But that was how I would have spent my summer no matter where I was. The view was just a little better in Florida.

Two years ago, our little family of four got to go to Daytona together with my parents, and that trip redeemed most of my so-so memories of Florida vacations.

But I still had my reservations about the beach. We are reluctant acquaintances.

Months ago, our friends posed the question: What would we think about taking a vacation to the beach with their family?

We’ve lived in Pennsylvania for six years and the “shore” has been on our list of things we wanted to do, just to experience what so many of our friends and acquaintances know and love. But we didn’t know where to begin or if we could go for the day, and frankly, we’ve never had the money or time to do it. Our friends go to Cape May, New Jersey, and they stay in the same house each time, and we’ve heard wonderful things about that area. So, this seemed the perfect opportunity.

Still, I was hesitant.

I’m not really a beach person, I told my friend, who is the complete opposite. She could live on the beach and be happy the rest of her days (and I love her for that). But we kept talking about it and because we love this family so much and their kids and our kids are friends, we agreed to look into and consider the costs and availability.

Long story, shorter, we booked a week in a house in Cape May, New Jersey, and last week embarked on our first-ever vacation with another family to the beach.

In the week leading up to vacation, I was super stressed out. Our kids had been back from Illinois only a few days before our beach week was to begin, and I hate packing. Plus, our travel was going to be split up. The moms and kids were going on Saturday and the dads would follow on Sunday. So, I had to segregate the packed belongings into Saturday and Sunday piles. It was overwhelming. 20140719_103529

By the time I got in my friend’s van on Saturday, I was ready for some R&R. Except that we had five kids between the two of us and more than three hours of driving ahead of us. R&R was maybe a far-fetched dream.

Traffic snarled and crawled as we drew closer to the beach. The miles ticked down on the GPS and time seemed to stand still. Then finally–FINALLY–we were at the house and out of the car and unpacking our meager belongings (the second wave of provisions would arrive Sunday night with the men). And we could hardly wait another minute to see the ocean. So, we piled back into the van and drove out to the park where the lighthouse stands. We raced over the dunes, spread our arms wide and exhaled.

IMG_20140719_175613With a breezy welcome, the ocean crashed its greeting onto the shore. We cast off our shoes and let the sand fill the gaps between our toes. The ocean teased us with its gentle lapping, and we let the cool waters wash our feet. It was a foretaste of the week to come, just enough to remind us that we had made it. We walked the shore, the kids running off their dormant energy, collecting shells, until our feet couldn’t take any more. We bid the ocean “good night” then searched for a pizza place to satisfy our hunger.

We woke the next day with plans to hit the beach for real and after a Herculean effort to wrangle five kids into swimwear and pack a lunch, we made it to the beach and the children frolicked while we soaked up sun and let the rhythmic ocean waves soothe our weary souls. (But lest I forget, the wind was fierce that day and the sand was stinging us. We may look relaxed in our pictures but we were fighting for our happy place.)

It is not easy getting to the beach, but once you’re there, it’s worth it. Each day we were at the beach, I felt like time stood still.

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After dinner, we walked the promenade and stumbled upon a wedding taking place on the beach. As my friend, Beth, so eloquently observed:

We (2 exhausted mammas and 5 full of energy children) walk the mile or so to the end of the promenade-where ocean meets rocky shore-where a wedding party forms. Bridesmaids clothed in teal, hairspryed hair withstanding wind. Groom wringing his hands. A bridal white horse drawn carriage rolls to a halt. The girl children-busily imagining their weddings 20 years the making-“Ohhhh and Ahhh” as they see her, the Princess bride. As we all are taken by the magic of the moment-of the majestic ocean and mystery of love-the horse, adorned with braided hair and roses, urninates while all five of our kiddos loudly observe, “Ewww He’s peeing.”

Our men arrived later that night to find their wives barely hanging onto sanity. They’d never been more heroic in our eyes.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

The week was full of surprises. Perhaps the most surprising was this: I actually had a good time. And by that I mean I would do it all again tomorrow. All the packing, all the driving, all the washing sand out of everything, all the protecting our lunches from seagulls, all the sunscreen, all the lotion, all the walking and sweating and cooking and cleaning.

It’s not that I expected to have a horrible time. I knew it would be fun because our friends are fun and seeing new places is fun and being together as a family is fun. I just didn’t expect to have so much fun I’m actually missing it today. Me? Missing the beach? Who’d have thought?

I had hoped to write a post listing all my favorite things about our trip or recounting all the best moments, but the truth is, I can’t choose favorite moments because there are too many. Each day was special for lots of reasons and to single out a best moment is too hard. (Plus, I don’t want you to hate me for having a fabulous beach vacation. Trust me, it’s a rarity for our family. We do not live glamorous lives all the time. Case in point, this blog post.)

So, how would I sum up our vacation? You’ve read this far, so I owe you a word, and that word is the word that I’ve been meditating on all year long.

Enjoy.

From the splashing in the water to the digging our toes in the sand to the climbing the lighthouse steps to the date night with tasty seafood to the shared meals around the kitchen table to the late-night talks to the overall ambiance of this historical seaside resort, I enjoyed our vacation. (And if you need to know why it’s so hard for me to enjoy life, read this post.)

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So, here’s my question for you: When’s the last time you were surprised by how much you enjoyed something? Care to share your story? Leave a comment so we can enjoy together.