Stories of Friendship: The one who taught me to be an adult

On Fridays, I’m resurrecting my series from the fall, Stories of Friendship. You can read them under the “friendship” category on the righthand side. If you’ve got one to share, e-mail a short post and a picture to lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

I can’t believe I did a series on friendship and haven’t yet introduced you to my friend Amanda.

Here we are on college graduation day. Isn't she lovely?

Here we are on college graduation day. Isn’t she lovely?

Amanda is the friend who taught me, showed me really, what it meant to be a grown-up.

Our friendship began freshman year of college through a friend of a friend, I think. (Isn’t it funny how I can’t always remember how the best of friendships begin? Maybe that’s how it is.) Amanda was bold and outspoken, friendly and sure of herself. That’s how I saw her anyway. And even at 18, she’d been a grown-up a long time already, helping out in her single-parent household.

I could always count on Amanda to tell it like it was, even if the truth hurt. She was the first person to tell me something along the lines of “let go and let God” when life was overwhelming and I didn’t think I could handle it. She was and is full of wisdom. She is funny, sarcastic and I’m smiling just thinking about her smile because it is so contagious.

As seniors, we lived together in an apartment, one of the more interesting buildings on campus. It was old and brick and I think there were only two apartments, maybe three in our building. Our kitchen window looked across to the apartment in the building next door where some other friends lived and we often danced and made faces across the way through our windows.

It was in this apartment that I learned what it meant to be a grown-up. When you live in the dorms you don’t have to cook for yourself or wash dishes. You have to do laundry, but you don’t have to keep a lot of space clean. I have hated housework long before I knew what it was, and I was not always held accountable in my house for helping out with things like dishes or cleaning the bathroom. (I struggle with these chores to this day.) But Amanda was different in that she helped take care of her household.

I remember one time when we lived in the dorms and a student said something about “that lady who cleans the bathrooms,” referring to the dorm’s cleaning lady, and Amanda lit into her because at her house, she was the lady who cleaned the bathroom. She had taken the time to get the cleaning lady’s name and get to know her. To Amanda, the woman wasn’t just a servant to us spoiled college students. She saw her as a person and identified with her.

Similarly, she often had to have a chat with me about the dishes. She was more likely to do them than I was and that became a problem when she was the one always doing the dishes. I knew almost nothing about cooking and she taught me some things. I think she was the first person to teach me about no-bake cookies.

I have fond memories of our year of living together. Like many of my college friendships, over the years the bond has been stretched. Amanda is another person I haven’t seen since my wedding, I think. I didn’t make it to hers because I was grossly pregnant with our son and travel was not a good idea.

Earlier this year, I needed to call her for some advice on planning a catering-style menu, and the first words out of her mouth when she picked up the phone made me chuckle and assured me that my friend Amanda was just like I remember her. (Not to say that she hasn’t changed because I think everyone changes with time.) It was a business-like call but it was so good to talk to her and receive encouragement for a hard task, and it made me want to find a way to see her, too. She lives closer to my hometown now than she ever did when I lived there and I still haven’t made it to her area of the state to see her!

When I think of strong women, I think of Amanda. She is the kind of fun and sassy friend with a depth of wisdom that everyone needs in their life. It’s a rare combination but one I treasure.

And did I mention that she’s super creative and began exploring creative writing at the same time I did? She is high on my list of people who will be first readers of my novel because I trust her opinion and know she’ll give it to me straight.

I’m happy to say that being roommates didn’t ruin our friendship. I think it strengthened it.

Stories of Friendship: The one who’s been through it all

Last fall I started a Friday series about friendship. I’m resurrecting it for a few weeks to tell you about a few more friends I appreciate. If you’ve got a story of friendship you’d like to tell, I’m happy to post it! E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com. You can find all the Stories of Friendship under the “friendship” category on the right sidebar.

We met in junior high, though I can’t tell you the circumstances for certain. Maybe we had a class together, I don’t know. What I do know is that we bonded over some typical junior high drama–a boy and a breakup. We became friends even though I was envious of everything about her. She was outgoing and a little bit flirty, confident and beautiful. In junior high, those things stand out, especially to someone who feels none of those things. For many years, I felt like I lived in her shadow, but I was mostly okay with that.

Katrina

I dug this photo out of an old album. But this is how I see Katrina in my mind.

Being friends with Katrina was a gift from an early age. That our friendship survived the junior high and teenage years is practically a miracle, hormones and drama and all of that.

Partway through our high school years, I think we were juniors, she moved to another town, graduating from a different high school. We kept in touch by letter (yes, old school because the Internet was still brand-new and hardly anyone used it), telephone, even the occasional visit. I clearly remember the day we were talking about our college plans and discovered that one college was on both of our lists.

We visited together one weekend, riding to southern Indiana in a van driven by an admissions counselor with a handful of other prospective students. We had different experiences that weekend but both of us eventually decided to become Aces at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Going to college 7 hours from home was a frightening and thrilling prospect for me, the girl who almost never left home, and it was made less scary by knowing that I’d know at least one person on campus.

I believe it was Katrina who advised that we should not be roommates, and I  see now the wisdom in this. It would have ruined our friendship, for sure.

Maybe even more surprising than our friendship surviving the teenage years is that it survived the college years. Our years at UE were filled with major life stuff as we broke out of our previously set molds. I can’t speak for her entirely but I know I made decisions I regret during that time. Still, I always had a friend in Katrina.

But she was also the reason I made the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Katrina grew up in a church family. They were involved and she was always going to these lock-ins and retreats. I didn’t know much about this part of her life but I knew that it sounded kind of fun. When we got to college, I took a few baby steps toward faith. Katrina, at the invitation of her roommate, took a bigger leap and became involved in a Christian group of students on campus. I was not so brave or bold initially. But I trusted Katrina so I watched and waited.

And when drama caught up with me at college and I felt my world spinning, I stuck out my hand for balance and found Katrina and a new group of friends who were super weird about their beliefs but also super nice. They included me in their group, and even though I continued to struggle with envy of Katrina (a result of my deep insecurities), I was glad to belong. That  belonging led to a decision to follow Jesus and to be sure that I would not turn back, I asked Katrina to help me take the next steps that were harder than the first ones.

Partway through our college years, we had the chance to study in England for a semester. I use the word “study” loosely because we were 20-year-olds in England for an entire semester. We sat in classes and we had assignments and did homework but we also traveled a lot and tried new things. Having Katrina in England at the same time was another blessing even though we had our moments. I remember how much she and a few others friends hated Paris because it was so French. I think I was the only one of the group who had taken French in high school and had dreamed about Paris for years. I drove them nuts with my constant declarations: “Look! There’s the Eiffel Tower.” (FYI, you can see the Eiffel Tower from pretty much everywhere in Paris.)

After college, our paths took different turns again but our friendship was constant. We got real-life grown-up jobs. We kept in touch. We both found the men we would marry pretty much right under our noses. We had kids. We moved. We had crises of health and marriage and family.

Our communication is not constant and we haven’t seen each other in person in probably six years or more, but Katrina is the friend who has  been there through it all and is the person in my life who knows me the best. That’s weird to say about someone who isn’t your spouse, but she knows the childhood me and still loves me.

We chatted by phone recently, the first time in maybe a year. And it was like no time had passed even though she had another child in her house and so much had passed for both of us.

I recently learned something new about Katrina. When you’ve known a person for 25 years, you think maybe there’s nothing more to learn. Good thing I’m wrong about that. She posted on Facebook about her Myers-Briggs personality type (Google it if you don’t know what I mean) and I learned that my confident, beautiful, outgoing friend is an introvert. An introvert! I couldn’t believe it because I’m an introvert and I spent too many years believing there was something wrong with me and that everyone else was better than me and there was no possible way I could ever be like Katrina. (Not the right goal, just in case you’re wondering.)

So, it’s true. You can learn something new about someone you’ve known for two-thirds of your life. There was a time when Katrina and I were planning some 40th birthday madness in a few years, but I’m not sure I can wait that long. Though she is one of the few people I will willingly and gladly answer the phone for, I miss her and need to hug her neck and play with her kids. (Plus our sons–my only, her older one–need to meet. They sound like kindred spirits who will destroy something in the name of fun.)

She is my best friend. And maybe the first person outside of my family to tell me “I love you” and mean it.

Do you have a best friend? Or a friend you’ve known for decades? What’s your relationship like? And have you told them how much they  mean to you?

The one who makes room

One of my best memories of high school (and there are few) is the lunch table where my friends and I gathered daily to share a meal. We always chose a circular table, rather than the long, rectangular ones. Maybe it felt more intimate or inclusive. I don’t know why, really, but I remember the tradition of finding a circle table and pulling up chairs and squeezing in around it.

The table was meant to seat six, maybe eight, but as the year went on, we found ourselves making room for one more person, and one more. There were days that 10 or more teenagers squeezed around this table, elbows bumping, food overlapping, personal space non-existent.

And it wasn’t that any of us was popular or well-known or even particularly well-liked. No, we were more like a band of misfits. We worked on the school newspaper, played in the band, got good grades. You know who we were. We were not flamboyant or funny. In a crowd, we’d usually blend in.

But at lunch, we came together as a group.

And we made room.

Paweł Wojciechowski | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Paweł Wojciechowski | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Read the rest over at Putting on the New, where I blog on the 12th of each month.

When you have a birthday

I woke up on the first day of my 37th year full before the day began.

This is not the norm for me.  On my birthday or any other day.

The weather promised to be perfect–sunny, 80 degrees, not too humid.

And the day was pregnant with promise.

Birthdays are, for me, a love-hate affair. I enjoy the celebration. I love cake and ice cream. But in recent years, my birthdays have been anti-climatic, to say the least. While my husband was in seminary, he almost always had finals the week of my birthday and May 4 would become like any other day. I got used to lowering (or abandoning) my expectations for the day. I’m not big on surprises, but a part of me has always wanted to feel special on my birthday.

That’s normal, right?

So, on Sunday night, knowing that Monday was packed full of meetings and a birthday celebration was going to be hard to squeeze in, I did something I rarely do.

I asked for what I wanted.

“It doesn’t matter what we do,” I said, as we finished up dinner. “But tomorrow, I’d like to do something special for my birthday.”

Rather than feel selfish or needy by that declaration, I felt grown-up and free.

Maybe that’s why Monday dawned with such hope. I was grateful before the day began for this life I’ve been gifted, with all its messes and miracles.

What happened throughout the day was icing on the proverbial cake. (There was actual cake, too.)

As my husband got up to make my coffee and breakfast for me and the kids, I read tweets from my brother, and opened an e-mail with a generous gift inside from him and his wife. Breakfast is my favorite meal, so it’s always a gift to have someone else make it. (And for it to not be cereal or toast. Egg sandwiches, in case you were curious.)

Phil and our son left to head to the grocery store to plan a special dinner, and the Facebook greetings rolled in from across the country and across the years of my life. I said, in reflecting on the day, that a Facebook birthday is like “This is your life.” College friends. Hometown friends. Online friends I’ve never met in person.

Some made the tears come, like this one from a pastor friend in Illinois:

Today, look back in awe at how God has shaped and led you; then look forward in anticipation of all that God will do to complete the beautiful work of art that is you. Experience God’s blessing on your birthday!

Look back. Look forward. Both together, not either or. A day before, I read this quote from Madeleine L’Engle, and it is fitting for birthdays:

madeleine quote

I have wanted to lose some of the ages I’ve been, but in my 37th year, I am increasingly grateful for the ways those years have shaped me.

When the guys returned, I headed out to my counseling appointment. Going to counseling on my birthday might not seem like a treat, but it’s becoming a valued part of my life and routine.

“Don’t cry too much on your birthday,” my husband said as I left because I have left a lot of tears in my counselor’s office. I did cry, but they were mostly happy tears because maybe for the first time in my life I love who I am and who I am becoming and I feel loved. By others. By God. By me.

I spent the afternoon with my son. We volunteered at the school library, which we hadn’t done for a couple of weeks. We enjoyed the outside weather. The porch is my favorite place in the spring/summer/fall. I read. I tended my small collection of plants, including a hanging basket of flowers that arrived while I was gone. A sweet couple from church dropped them off just to say “thanks.” I continued to read the messages of well wishes. I talked to my grandparents. I picked up my daughter from the bus.

And I watched my husband prepare a birthday feast for dinner. He grilled some of my favorites: bell peppers, shrimp, steak. Paired with rice it was a satisfying and special meal, topped off with a moose tracks ice cream cake. The day would have been perfect without it, but I’m glad I said something the day before.

We headed off to church for meetings my husband and I lead, once again grateful that we are part of a community of faith that recognizes and values our gifts and lets us use them.

We fell into bed exhausted and my heart was fuller than it had been when I woke up. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my birthday than being with people I love, doing ordinary things, celebrating life and health. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness.

This morning it was a little harder to get out of bed, but more birthday wishes trickled in, including a video from our 3-year-old nephew. In the middle of singing “Happy birthday,” he asked his mom if they could come to our house and share cake. We are too many miles apart for that, but the sentiment warms my heart.

We still have cake, and a birthday date night scheduled for Friday, but for all intents and purposes, the celebration is over.

The gratitude continues, though, and my hope for the year to come is to find these ordinary graces in my life no matter the day.

I am 37, and it is good to be alive.

A book that bares its soul and offers connection: Review of Scary Close by Donald Miller

For all the controversy he generates, I need the reminder that Donald Miller is just a guy trying to make sense of his world and himself through his faith, experiences and relationships.

scary closeOne thing I admire about him as a writer is his willingness to share his failings as well as his strengths, to acknowledge the controversies but not necessarily apologize for his words. It’s been a long time since I read one of his books but his latest, Scary Close, to me, felt like an honest, heartfelt baring of the soul. The Donald Milller I thought I knew from previous work is not the same writer of this book. That’s encouraging.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

A writer like Miller might be tempted to withdraw and stop telling stories. But Miller opens up, however reluctantly, and talks about how relationships changed him. Healthy ones and unhealthy ones.

He writes much about his relationship with his now-wife Betsy and what he’s learned and is still learning about intimacy. I like to think I’m pretty good at going deep in relationships but Miller’s words challenge me to discover the real me behind the mask I wear.

Scary Close is written memoir-style but the truths Miller shares, what he’s learning about intimacy, are lessons for all of us to consider.

I’m glad my husband read this book before I did so that now we can talk through some of the things we read. Miller’s words make me want to improve my relationships across the board and offer the kind of vulnerability he’s received. (After reading Bob Goff’s generous and gracious foreward, I was so moved by his use of the word “love” that I told a friend I loved her. I don’t usually do this for people who aren’t family.)

Though Miller addresses topics like dating, marriage and parenting, his words apply to relationships as a whole. I love the hope he offers for those of us who have gotten the intimacy thing wrong.

Miller offers grace and encouragement for the journey.

Why we’re better together

15 people. Teen-aged to middle aged. Families. Couples. Solo travelers. This is the demographic that makes up our team heading to Kenya this summer.

It’s been a long time since I was a member of a team taking a trip, longer still since I was part of a group traveling internationally. Most of my recent travel has been as a couple or a family, with Phil doing much of the planning (or us collaborating) and the decisions and finances ours alone.

On those distant-memory trips, I was a college student, serving at a children’s home in Oklahoma or in a community hit by hurricane in North Carolina. I was traveling with other college students in Europe, some trips pre-planned, others a little more spontaneous.

Once, I ventured off on my own to walk through the museum at Wimbledon, where the tennis tournament is played. I was slightly obsessed with Pete Sampras at the time and needed to see the actual place, as long as I was close. I remember boarding the train and leaving my friends on the platform in London. I shed a couple of tears because I wasn’t the sort of person who was confident about traveling on her own. But I recovered and set off on a memorable adventure. Relief filled me when I was reunited with my friends. (There was another time when I rode the train by myself from Grantham, England to Edinbourgh, Scotland to meet my friends who had set out a day ahead of me. Together, we then traveled to the Isle of Skye. But I’ll stop now with the memories before I become homesick for a home that’s not a home.)

Solo travel is not my preferred way because I don’t always trust myself with the details. Also, there’s no one else to lean on if things should go wrong. But teamwork takes some getting used to if it’s been a while, and for a recovering control freak (that’s me!), teamwork takes patience and trust, things of which I am often in short supply.

Let me tell you about my recent teamwork experiences, though. They are making me believe, again, that solo travel is not my preferred way through life, either. That life is better together, even when it’s hard.

Zack Minor | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Zack Minor | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Our Kenya team recently organized and planned and pulled off a silent auction and luncheon as our second fund-raising event. I confess that when it comes to fund-raising, my efforts are dismal. I don’t like to sell things and since we live in an area that’s not our home, we can’t even beg our families to support us, at least not when we’re selling things. In our efforts to raise money through local events, I have felt like our contribution has been minimal. I beat myself up about whether we’re doing enough to help. Many of our friends are part of the church and would already support the team. And our families are supporting us in other ways (namely, watching our kids while we’re gone, for which we’re hugely thankful).

It is easy for me to feel like I’m not giving enough because my standards for myself are so high. Combined with insecurity and a desire to please people, I constantly feel like I’m not pulling my weight. And not just with this team, but with any team I’m on. My value is linked to my perspective of how I’m contributing, and in my eyes I’m always coming up short.

Maybe everyone else feels that way, too, I don’t know. What I do know is that my view changes when I consider all the different and necessary ways each member of the team contributes.

Prior to the auction, several of us were collecting donations. Some did shopping for food and other supplies. Others worked on publicity for the event. There were people prepping food in the days leading up to the event. And on the day of, there were people setting up the auction items, baking the potatoes, preparing the toppings. There were people serving food and organizing the auction and cleaning up trays and washing dishes. At times that day I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but at the end of the day, when nearly all the auction items had been claimed, I was satisfied.

Because it was truly a team effort. Sure, I didn’t have anyone there who was bidding on items, but I had people who had contributed items. And the items I had collected for the event were bid on by someone I didn’t know. And maybe I couldn’t help set up but I washed dishes (along with a dynamite team of teenagers who dried dishes and who make me think the teenage years, when they come, are going to be just fine).

The mark of a good team is having a variety of skills and abilities present and everyone using those skills and abilities to help the team’s cause. My job as a member of any team is not to do all the work but to do the work I’m able to do and to let other people do the work they’re able to do. I hope that doesn’t sound like a cop-out, but in recognizing my tendency to control, I’ve learned that it’s okay to not do it all, even if I think I could do it better. (I can’t.) wpid-img_3661.jpg

That same weekend my friend Alison and I taught a writing workshop on blogging at a one-day conference our writers’ group puts on. A few days before, Alison was sick with some kind of super-illness and there was a chance she wasn’t going to be feeling well enough to lead it with me. We’d designed the workshop to suit our styles and expertise: I talked about some of the philosophies and principles of blogging while Alison focused more on the technical side of things. It’s a great workshop (if I’m allowed to say so) that balances a lot of information, and the thought of teaching the whole thing myself terrified me because I don’t understand the technical side of blogging the way Alison does.

Fortunately, she was well enough that day to teach, and the workshop was better for it. We each did our part and did it well. We make a great team.

And it’s the same in my marriage, when I let it be. Phil and I are a team. We’re working together toward the same goal. We each have qualities that contribute positively toward our marriage and what needs to be accomplished. One example: yesterday while I was out of the house, he organized the dirty dishes for me, sorting them so like items were with like items (and yes, we have enough dirty dishes in our house that they need to be sorted so they don’t overtake our entire kitchen). I don’t understand why it’s easier for me to wash dishes when they’re sorted, but it is, and he knew that and it helped me get a better handle on the cleaning.

On the days when I think I’d be better off going it alone, whatever the circumstance, I think about the value of team work. About inviting other people into my life. How much better it is to work alongside people and share the burdens.

We’re better together, you and I. I hope you know that, too.

What is your reaction to team work?

Are you open to sharing the load or are you more of a control freak?

How do you invite other people into your daily life?

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!)