Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

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!)


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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.


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!


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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.


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.


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.)


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.

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The past year has given me more opportunity to consider what I need in my life to thrive. For so long, it was just about survival and getting through the day; anything more seemed like a luxury or too far out of reach.

As our family has moved into our first full summer in our new community, I’ve had time to think about, and experience, those elements I need to be the best me.

Have you ever thought about that?

If not, I totally understand that sometimes there isn’t time or energy to do more than survive. But if you can, try to think about the things that give you life and make you a better person no matter what else you’re doing.

Here are five (and a half) things I’ve discovered I need to thrive:

1. Access to nature. I grew up in a house that was nothing special structurally but it had a creek in the backyard with a towering weeping willow tree and a screened in back porch and some days I loved nothing more than to cross the creek and curl up underneath the willow tree and listen to the creek gurgle. My hometown had a river flowing through it and parks aplenty and even when I was working a full-time job, I still sought out nature to center me and give me space to breathe. Some days, it’s harder to find, but the colors and sounds and fragrance of the natural world refresh my soul. I’ve yet to find a favorite spot in our new community, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. windchime

1.5 In the same way nature refreshes me, so does beauty. I used to spurn beautiful things as unnecessary. I’m a practical, task-oriented girl who likes things to have purpose and meaning. Until recently, I didn’t know the purpose of surrounding yourself with beauty, and maybe I still can’t explain it but finding the beauty in our ordinary days feels like a quiet revolution. A protest against the ugly and the evil and the mundane. It’s one of the reasons I drive the back roads whenever I can, to discover what’s just off the path everyone else is treading. My in-laws bought me this wind chime for my birthday, and I wish I could describe the calming effect its song has on me. Is it functional? Not in the way I would normally think, but its sound is a song I have to tune my ear to hear above the noise of the everyday.

2. Planned solitude. Last week I had most of a day to myself. I drove back roads with the windows down, went to a library, chatted with a friend, spent a little time writing. The day was mostly quiet and uneventful but it was exactly what I needed in the midst of my busy-with-kids life. Sometimes it feels selfish to get away from it all and be alone, but it restored something inside of me and equipped to face the rest of the days ahead. I’m not sure yet how often I need this, but I need it more often than I’ve had it.

3. Participation in creative work. I do love to write and that is creative but occasionally I need to color a page with my kids or paint a piece of furniture or dabble in an artistic project that I normally wouldn’t. (I’m contemplating a couple while the kids are away next week.) I haven’t played my guitar in almost a year. That’s too long. I can appreciate beauty, but sometimes I need to be part of its creation.

4. Friends. I’m an introvert, and yes, I enjoy solitude, but if the last year has taught me anything it’s how much I need friends. For years, I was lacking, surviving on a few really great friendships. And then the floodgates opened and I have friends in abundance, which is often overwhelming because I like to invest in people but only have so much to give. I’ve had the opportunity over the past months to deepen a writing friendship that transcends our mutual talent, and when I think about the last year and all the people who have loved us despite knowing our history and not having any blood relation to us, I almost cry. I’ve taken friendships for granted in the past, and I will still cultivate them poorly, but oh, how I need friends.

5. Books. (And time to read them.) My love for books is  becoming almost legendary on Facebook. It’s almost as well-known as my love for coffee. But I’m sure I could survive and even thrive in this life without coffee. I could not without books. On a deserted island, I think I’d rather have books than food. We fill our house with books and when books arrive in the mail I am giddy for days. And when I read a book that wows me, I almost walk around dazed until its effect wears off. (And sometimes the effect doesn’t wear off.)

I could keep going, I think, but these are the basics. If I have these five (and a half) things in my life, I will be more of who I am meant to be.

What about you? What gives you life and keeps you going and makes you more of your truer self?

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