Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

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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Phil and I have been married seven years today. The passing of a year whether an anniversary, birthday or the annual turning of the calendar makes me reflective. I had intended to write a post today about marriage and the “secret” to having a happy one (with the caveat, of course, that we have no idea because ours has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster).

But after a month of relationship sermons at our church and a discussion yesterday on singleness, I have other thoughts requiring a voice. I am fired up about single people, and if that’s you, I have a message for you. If it’s not you, I have a message for you, too. Because whether single or married, we have done singleness a disservice.

First, some background.

I had one boyfriend in college before a stretch of several years of singleness until I met my husband. Well, before I knew he would be my husband, anyway. From the time I was 19 until he and I started dating seven years later, I enjoyed a period of singleness. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way at the time. My 20s were filled with times of longing for relationship, especially when my best friends got married and started having children. I attended more weddings in that period of my life than I have since and my question was always, “When will it be my turn?” Even when my turn came, it didn’t come fast enough. We dated for a year, got engaged and then waited two years to get married because Phil was in the Army Reserve and was expecting to be deployed to Iraq for a year. We didn’t want to start our married life apart so we waited.

I’ve written before about marriage, how it wasn’t what I expected nor did it fulfill my every longing, so I won’t repeat those messages here.

What I haven’t written about is singleness. I don’t have a lot of single friends anymore, not because I don’t want them but because I’ve needed married people and families in my life. But after hearing some words from singles yesterday at church and after thinking about my own years of singleness, I have to say this first: on behalf of married people everywhere, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that we haven’t celebrated you for you.

I’m sorry that we assume you’d like to watch our kids while we go out for dinner or that you wouldn’t want to hang out with us and be a “third wheel.”

I’m sorry we make marriage look like the ultimate fulfillment of everything everywhere.

I’m sorry we hear “single” and assume you’re lonely.

I’m sorry we don’t throw you showers for moving into your first apartment or take you out for dinner when you get a new job.

I’m sorry we talk about you like you’re some kind of freak of nature because you aren’t married.

I’m sorry we make you feel like time is running out if you don’t get married soon.

I realize those are generalizations and we don’t all do that all the time, but if I’m honest with myself, these kinds of things have come out of my mouth even when I remember how much I cringed at hearing them when I was single.

The truth is this: single is not the same as alone. When I was a single 20-something, I had an awesome group of single friends I could hang out with just about any time of the week. We took road trips. We stayed up late watching movie marathons. We did life together. We celebrated birthdays, took care of each other and helped with life transitions. We were single, but we were not alone. I think of monks who live their lives as single people but in community with other monks. Single people, you do not have to be alone in this season and you don’t have to treat every other single person like a potential date or mate. Community, I believe, is one key to fulfillment in singleness.

Singleness is also not a life sentence. Can we quit using words like “spinster” and “old maid” or condemning people to a life as “the crazy cat lady” if they don’t get married. (Nothing wrong with cats, but do we even think about how demeaning that sounds?) And why do all of those words seem to apply to women? What’s the word for a man who never marries? (Maybe I don’t want to know.) Singleness is usually a season.

But it’s also not a death sentence. I fear we do not tell good stories about the amazing things single people are doing in this world. I met a man this weekend who has never fathered a child but has adopted more than 40 kids off the street. Tell me his life as a single person doesn’t have meaning.

There are other stories like his. Kisses from Katie tells one. Sarah Thebarge’s The Invisible Girls tells another. Maybe you can think of others.

Hear me out single people: You do not have to put your life on hold because you are not married. You have gifts and passions and desires, and quite often you have something us married people lack–energy and time! Do the things you were put on this earth to do, whether you’re married or not. I guarantee you’ll find fulfillment. <Click to tweet that.>

Because the truth about marriage is that you can still feel alone, you can still wish your life was different, you can still wonder if you’ll ever do anything with meaning.

Married people, can we encourage our single friends to follow their God-given passions? Can we talk about the realities of marriage so it’s not all “happily ever after”? Can we celebrate singleness as a gift?

And can we stop assuming something’s wrong with a person if they’re not in a relationship? Sometimes I think that says more about us than it does about them.

Most days I’m glad I’m married, but I also wish I’d done more with my single years. I refuse to live with regrets so I won’t waste a lot of time wishing for those years back. My hope, though, is whatever season you find yourself in, for however long, that you live it like it will last forever (it probably won’t) and don’t wait for “someday” before you live fully.

Jesus has promised us a full and abundant life no matter our marital state. It’s time we live those lives to their fullest potential and encourage others along the way.

Single people, we’re rooting for you. And we love you for you. And we promise to stop asking you stupid questions about your love life.

I’d love it if we could share some stories of single people doing amazing work for God and for good in this world.

Are you one of those people? Tell us your story. Do you know someone like that? Tell us about them!

I would love to feature these kinds of stories on the blog. Contact me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com if you have a story to share.

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Once upon a time, I was part of a fun little group called an encouragement team. It was a college thing and I’d just begun to love Jesus and I needed to receive the encouragement as much as I needed to give it. We wrote notes on fun paper with stickers and prayed for people and did generally uplifting things for others. It was awesome.

And for some reason, after college, I stopped doing that.

Have you ever noticed how lacking the world is in encouragers? We have cynics and critics and discouragers aplenty, but where are the encouragers? <Click to tweet that>

I will confess that I have dropped the ball, mainly because I have felt so discouraged myself and it’s hard to encourage when your own tank is empty.

Still, it’s part of how God made me. I love receiving encouragement and I love giving it and sometimes I fail at both. Lately, though, it’s resurfacing. And I’m excited.

Maybe you’ve seen me posting this week about (in)courage, an online community of women supporting and encouraging one another. One way is through community groups. (They start Monday! Have you found one yet? Details here.) The groups are designed to connect women with similar interests or in similar stages of life through social media to offer support and encouragement to each other.encouragement

This session, I’m leading one, and I couldn’t be more excited because encouraging is fun! Especially when you get hooked up with some cool products, like these  notecards from Dayspring. (You might be an encourager if you geek out over stationery and stickers.)

The ladies at (in)courage say encouragement is a superpower, and I would have to agree. But it isn’t the kind of superpower bestowed on only a select few (though it does seem to come naturally to some people more than others); it’s the kind of superpower we all can flex, and the more we use it, the stronger it gets.

If encouraging others intimidates or overwhelms you, can I offer some tips? Here are five steps to become an encourager, even if you don’t think of yourself as one:

  1. Assume everyone needs encouragement. I’ve had some experiences lately where I’ve given encouragement to people I thought had no need of it, but I wanted them to know how much I appreciated them. Turns out, even people who seem like they’re confident and living out God’s calling need encouragement too! Everyone needs encouragement in some way or another. If you know even one person, you know someone who needs encouragement.
  2. Notice people. I know, it sounds a little creepy, but it’s basically how I spend my life. I’m watching people all the time, and people will tell you a lot without ever saying a word. Chances are if you start looking around, you’ll find someone who needs encouragement. Maybe it’s the person standing alone in a room full of people. Maybe it’s a child who acts tough but is really sad on the inside. Sometimes the people who need encouragement are the ones we can easily overlook. Start looking.
  3. Do one easy thing now. Texts and Facebook messages are easy for me. I can send off an encouragement text or Facebook post in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, that’s all the time I have. Sometimes, it’s what I can do immediately. But I find that when I sense a need for encouragement, acting sooner rather than later is important. Because I get busy and forget. And then the easy thing becomes harder and harder.
  4. Do one hard thing later. Writing letters and notes to people is harder because it takes more time and costs a stamp and then I have to walk it out to the mailbox and plan ahead if it’s for a birthday (I’m terrible at this). Talking to people in person–even harder. But I don’t have the address for everyone in the world, nor do I always know the name of the person I’m encouraging (although I’m trying more and more to learn names, especially of those people who serve others in some way). So, maybe I write a note once a week to someone just because (we all love mail, right?). Or maybe I get over my introverted nature and tell the woman cleaning the play area at Chick-fil-a that I appreciate her work. Or maybe I do like my friend Carol and hand out restaurant gift cards to the garbage collectors at Christmas because Lord knows that is a job we underappreciate but couldn’t live without.
  5. Equip yourself. I’m much more likely to encourage if I feel prepared. I have an awesome stash of cards and postcards right now, and I can’t wait to send them! But you don’t have to be equipped with stuff.  Equip yourself with words. Practice saying “thank you” or “I appreciate you” or “Gosh, this job might seem lame but you are doing good work!” Pack a little extra tip money the next time you go out to eat. Listen to other people encourage each other and learn from them. It’s not hard, but it does take work sometimes.

Repeat the steps as necessary. I’m rediscovering that the more I encourage the more I want to encourage. And each little step in the direction of encouragement makes my burdens feel a little lighter.

Tell me, what are you experiences with encouragement? Do you dread it? Love it? Never thought about it? When do you feel most encouraged?

I’m linking up with (in)courage today to talk about The Power of Encouragement. Have a blog? Join us with your thoughts. And link up here.

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“Me too.”

Those two words have become the most important words I can hear from someone or say to someone. Because we all think we’re the only ones, right?

The only ones

  • whose marriages struggle.
  • who wonder if it’s okay to not love every second of motherhood.
  • who wonder if it’s okay to feel called to be a mom.
  • who’ve been hurt by the church.
  • who love the church.
  • who believe (fill in the blank) is the best way to live.

The truth is that we’re never alone in whatever ways we struggle. Others have been there. Others are going through it. Others have overcome it.

The hard part is finding the “others.”

Because I don’t know about you but when I look around at the people in my life, I’m certain everyone else has it all together. I’m sure no one else struggles the same way I do. And I’m terrified, sometimes, to ask if that’s true because I’m afraid that it will be.

So, how do we combat this walking around feeling like we’re alone syndrome?

Well, sometimes we have to go first. We have to be the ones to say: “This is how I struggle.” We have to risk vulnerability (and consequently being hurt) and trust that no one will run away screaming because we are freakishly abnormal.

This is hard. And the times I’ve done it have felt like walking naked into a room full of fully clothed people. But sometimes, not always, when that happens, other people start to take that risk too and we find out we’re not alone.

But what if you just can’t do that? What if you’re too alone or too isolated or too hurt to let real-life people in?

Well, that’s where a group called (in)courage can help. Today, registration opens for the next session of (in)courage community groups–small groups of women meeting, sharing, encouraging and connecting through social media. There are groups for various interests and seasons of life. Interested? Check it out here.


I’ve been part of a group for two sessions now, and I can’t remember how I found it, but I’m so glad I did. I joined at a time when our lives were upside-down and backwards and I needed to know that there were other people out there whose plans for life and ministry were upturned. I’ve been encouraged and prayed for by women I’ve never met in person who live hundreds of miles away, and yet I consider them friends.

That is the strength of these groups.

This session, I’ll be co-leading the group and participating in some blog link-ups on the topics of encouragement and friendship. Would you consider joining one? Read through the information about how the groups work, look at all the options and then give it a try! I don’t believe these groups are meant to replace face-to-face friendships, but sometimes the people who might understand us best aren’t accessible in real life.

The first session begins in a week, and registration closes in two weeks.

You’re not alone. And you don’t have to walk alone. Community can be just a few clicks away.

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For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be popular. Well-liked. As early as kindergarten I was bowing to peer pressure, succumbing to borderline bullying in a desperate attempt to win approval and friendship.

The truth about chasing approval is that you can never get enough and the stakes always get higher. <Tweet that.>

I taunted a boy because my best friend told me to. I agreed to terrible dares in truth or dare because even then I knew that some people couldn’t be trusted with the truths I held inside. I was a great pretender, afraid to ask for explanation when I didn’t understand a word or phrase. I was ashamed to admit I still believed in Santa Claus when my friends’ belief had been spoiled by older siblings.

I learned the art of adapting to my environment. Afraid that everything I did was the wrong way to do things, I watched how my friends brushed their teeth at sleepovers, and ate their breakfasts. I laughed at jokes I didn’t understand and faked enjoyment of things I didn’t enjoy.

I wanted to be liked, accepted, approved. But I didn’t have a clue who I was or what that really meant.

Want to know a secret? Even the popular kids felt this way. Maybe they just knew how to hide it better.

In upper elementary school, I made a new friend. She was new to the school, shy to the point of crying, and brilliant. She’s one of the smartest people I know, and she carved a path through life that few would follow. She was not popular, nor was I, and we became fast friends. She was a faithful friend to me, far more than I’m sure I deserved.

Because even in friendships I was fickle. And if a group I wanted to fit in with was poking fun at someone I considered a friend, I would agree with their remarks. Or say nothing in my friend’s defense. Both are equal betrayals of friendship.

I wanted to be liked by everyone at the same time.

Want to know another secret? This is an impossible goal. To try to fit in with one group meant that I compromised another group. I could not have it both ways.

One day in junior high, I was given an offer. It was almost one that I couldn’t refuse.

I was waiting for my friend at our spot at the cafeteria table where we ate lunch every day. I don’t remember why she wasn’t there yet. Maybe she was buying hot lunch. I hated sitting alone–sometimes I still do–but it never lasted too long and a junior high cafeteria has plenty of opportunity for observation. From our spot in the cafeteria, I secretly pined for the cool table. That’s what we called it. It was loud with laughter and contained every person I thought I wanted to be my friend.

I wasn’t confident or secure enough to just sit down with them. If anyone had ever done that I would have considered them like a god. But this particular day, a girl from the cool table sat down next to me and asked me THE question. Did I want to come sit with them?

My dream was coming true! I was on the verge of saying yes when I caught sight of my friend making her way through the cafeteria. I asked if I could bring her, too. The girl hesitated. The offer was only for me.

Torn between my need to be included and loyalty to my friend, I made some lame excuse about why I needed to stay with her. It wasn’t anything like brave or loyal. It was weak and apologetic.

But I consider that moment a turning point in my life, as silly as it may seem. On that day, I chose to stay on the outside. Sometimes I wonder how terribly different my life would have been had I said yes. I would have lost one friend for sure. Even now, I wonder if the invitation was sincere or if I would have been the token butt of every joke. Undoubtedly, I would have compromised what I knew to be right.

May I confess something to you? Sometimes I’m jealous of my daughter.

She’s 6, wrapping up her first year of school, and currently has three bestest bestest friends. Twice last week she got off the bus wearing one of those crazy antennae headbands that two separate boy kindergartners who ride her bus had given her. Her current seatmate is a sixth-grade boy she can’t stop talking about. Her book buddy is a fifth-grader and to hear her talk, they’re tight.

Even before she went to school, she could make a friend on any given playground in a matter of seconds. Maybe it’s the nature of childhood, but I don’t remember it being that way. She’s confident, sometimes to a fault, outgoing and caring. She loves, loves, loves people. An extrovert if there ever was one. I hate to label her as such so early in her life, but we’re so completely opposite that I have no other explanation.

My hope, my prayer, is that she will always have friends without compromising who she is. It takes everything in me to not say a word when she walks out of the house dressed in 10 different colors and 3 different patterns. I remember the teasing for the clothes I wore, wounds that still sting occasionally when I shop. I know that teasing is probably inevitable but I don’t want to be the one to tell her she must conform in order to be liked. <Tweet that.>

There’s a chance she’ll be popular because of her nature, and IHAVENOIDEAWHATTODOWITHTHAT.

More importantly, I’m not really sure why it matters so much.

Can you handle another confession? I’m an adult and I still want to be liked. I still draw circles around groups of people I think are cool or popular and wonder what it would take to be inside the circle instead of standing outside it.

The tug is still there, to become someone else, to say and do the right things, to feel like I belong. Even in church I feel it. My husband and I have no roots here and though we’ve been in Pennsylvania for five and a half years, friendships take time. And though we each have a greater awareness of who we are and who God is, it is still difficult to let other people see those vulnerable places.

But here’s what I’ve learned since that day I declined the offer to sit with the popular kids: There is no inside. Not really. We’re all on the outside, even if we don’t know it yet.

I’ve made beautiful friendships with people I used to consider unworthy of my attention because I wanted attention myself. And because of that desire to feel included, to belong, to be accepted, I find myself drawn to the outsiders, even when I don’t plan it that way. There is still a real and raging need for acceptance. I’m still jealous when I think I’m being left out of something. I still hang back, waiting for an invitation to be included. I still convince myself I’m not cool enough or don’t dress the right way.

So, I remind myself that Jesus loves outsiders. The people He was most drawn to were on the outside of society for reasons of religion, morality or gender, among others. Jesus compromised nothing about who He is, and a week before His death, he was the most popular man in His day. That, alone, should prove how fickle popularity is–one day a king, a few days later a criminal.

The kingdom of God is built on the idea that we are all outside of it until Jesus brings us into it, and we, in turn, bring others. It is the epitome of belonging and acceptance. We are all on the outside, or we once were, and we are not called to create more circles but to ever expand the circle. To invite others to the table. To slide over and make room. To say, “Come, you’re welcome here.”

And I’ve found the best cure for outside-itis is to do just that. When I feel most excluded, I look for someone to include. When I envy relationships, I reach out to make new ones and cultivate the ones I already have. When I’m waiting for someone to notice me, I take notice of someone who’s not being noticed.

I’d love to tell you that I’m quick to do this and that I do it well every time, but it’s a lie. My first thought is rarely to do the hard thing of initiating conversation with a fellow outsider; I’d much prefer an insider come to me.

But I’m trying. And learning. And remembering.

What about you? Do you ever feel like an outsider?

What makes you feel like you belong?

How do you handle the need for acceptance?

And how do you reach out to others on the outside?


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