Books · Friendship · Rooted in Christ

Book Review: Messy Beautiful Friendship

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Almost eight years ago, my husband, myself, and our baby girl were planning an international move… 45 mins from home! As we prepared for my permanent resident interview, including a short, and very sweet, trip to Montreal, Quebec to become a legal immigrant, I began praying for the friendships I would make in our new hometown. Though I was excited and eager for yet another adventure that God was calling us to, I was sad to be separated from dear, life-giving friendships that had been established and nurtured through regular three-hour-long coffee dates every other week. It was so hard to leave these friendships that began during my single years, supported me in early marriage, walking through the grief of miscarriage, and rejoicing with me in the joys of life with a long-awaited newborn. Even though I was moving a mere 45 mins away, I couldn’t bear not to have these ladies by my side, or just down the road! But that separation of a border and another country made it seem that much further away! Thankfully, those friends came and visited once or twice a month and I was able to go and visit as often as I could as well. We found a favorite coffee place in my new hometown, a new favorite walking path along the bay and, thankfully, we were able to keep up our friendships in this new season of life, stateside!

As time went on though, and as we got more settled in our town and in a new church, I knew I had to start making deep friendships there too. So I started to pray for an “American Lisa” and an “American Karen”. That God would bless me with deep friendships in our new town that were as deep and life-giving as those I had in Canada. And, through time, playdates, and mutual initiation, those friendships did come and continue to this day as well. We know that when we do get together and see each other again, we will be able to step into that closeness and like-minded friendship and conversation again. I know that these women are my sisters in Christ, they rejoice when I rejoice and mourn when I mourn. And I do the same for them. We are each other’s cheerleaders and prayer warriors and will be throughout the span of our lifetime. I’m thankful for these friendships. They are lifelines that point me to Christ and I need them.

I’ve written before about how I’ve needed to hold my friendships with open hands as God has called me to a nomadic life of serving Him in various locations. Perhaps this is why I’ve put much thought and prayer into my friendships over the years, as I know that I need community wherever God calls me, and now us, as a family. We have at least one more move before we settle down for hopefully what will be the place where we settle and put down roots for the foreseeable future, perhaps ten, twenty years or so. I’m starting to pray again for those friendships, the women who will be in my circle, serving with me, praying with me, and loving our community together for Christ.

Perhaps it is quite timely then, that God led me to read Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. As I flip through the book, it is looking rather yellow! I have marked it up quite thoroughly with my yellow highlighter. Reading so many thoughts and ideas that have echoed my own through the years was like finding a kindred friend who knew exactly what I was thinking!

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Something awakens in us when we find someone who can relate to a shared value, struggle, or lesson learned. That is what I found when reading Messy Beautiful Friendship. The book is laid out in short, concise chapters, much like a devotional book, focusing on specific themes. Each of the five sections leads the reader through a pilgrimage of facing the very real challenges of friendship while leading the reader on to a gospel-centered perspective on friendship that reflects how we are to live in community as Christians.

Far from a worldly, static perspective on friendship, Christine offers water for the parched soul that is longing for friendship that goes beyond mere surface talk, common interests, and vacationing together.

“… the goal of friendship is to secure ourselves to the sure, steadfast anchor of Christ and, while holding to that anchor, give and receive the gift of friendship as we have opportunity. The goal is to enjoy God together with others and, as we move through life, to sharpen and allow ourselves to be sharpened by friends. We imitate Jesus with one another, willing to face the stark realities and consequences of sin, all the while persevering in our efforts to offer love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, comfort, and care to one another. In doing so, we display to one another and the world how God loves and, through this, bring him glory. This is our destination, the point on the map we move toward: bringing God glory.” pg.39

Interspersed along the way are quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together. I love it when authors find an old, Christian classic like this and weave the wisdom of those from another time and place into a message that is meant for our generation today. It not only reinforces what God was doing in a community from a culture and political climate of years gone by, but also shows that what God was doing then, is what He is continuing to do today, bringing the redemptive power of His Son to a hurting, broken world, a world that He will one day make new. We need the messages that are written for today as well as those words, sometimes ancient words, that connect us to times past.

Throughout the book, Christine unravels many of the reasons our friendships get so messy. It is that unspoken wish-dream of friendship that hinders so many of our relationships and prevents us from embracing the people who are right in front of us. Our idealistic expectations for community get shattered every time we put that wish-dream on its pedestal. She delves further into why its so important to enter into that messiness to find the beauty of friendship on the other side of our “ashes of insecurity”.

“In our envy of other women and who they are and what they have, we have chosen not to celebrate them or allow them to get close. In our childishness, we’ve been inconsiderate in thinking that friendship is for us and about us and should be what we want. We’ve been inwardly critical, and outwardly too, though we might not have dared to address the person directly. We’ve been judgmental and partial and argumentative and a million other things that sting and divide. These are ashes of our own making.” pg. 59

A wake up call like a back draft from an inferno rushes through my heart as I read those words and remember the times I’ve silently held back my offer of rejoicing with another in her joys, as well as the pain I have felt in my own heart when others have not rejoiced with me in my blessings. We all struggle in this way. Our insecurity breathes its venom from silent smiles when we choose the ways of the world, instead of following the Lord in his outpouring of a life of sacrificial love, obedience, and service. Our eyes need to be ever on our Lord, drawing strength from the Holy Spirit to actively listen, celebrate, and rejoice with others. Slowly, our insecurities fade away like the deadness of winter being engulfed in the new life of spring foliage. Our friendships become fruitful and life-giving to others and we find the safety of a community that lives and breathes the gospel of grace.

“But we are people of life! We can use our words to bring dead things to life, mirroring the resurrection of Christ and our own.” pg. 133

As I mentioned, my book is filled with yellow highlighting. I could write many reflections, perhaps on each chapter, as I have read this book. I will leave you with one more quote from Christine as she challenges us to enter into the hard conversations and the messiness, while seeking God’s glory and our joy in the beauty of friendship.

“We are to observe our friends. What are her gifts? What stories has God written in her life that could become an impactful ministry to others? What lies and patterns of behavior are hindering her relationship with God? What does it seem God is trying to do in her life? As we observe, we use our words to confirm her gifts, exhort her to ministry, encourage her growth, and excite her as to what God is doing in her life. Our honey-words have the power to stir up love and good works in the lives of our friends.” pg. 132

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As part of Christine’s launch team for this book, I invite you to visit her book launch page, order the book before its release date next week for a sweet deal, and get those preorder goodies before they’re gone!

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You can purchase her book on Amazon!

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Books · Friendship · Rooted in Christ

Messy Beautiful Friendship – There You Are!

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It was midnight when we rolled into the driveway of a city hotel under the cover of pitch darkness and a brooding storm that had escorted us into our new state, half way across the country. For months as we were planning to move, I couldn’t envision this new place and so in my mind, the state of Missouri was completely dark. And when we arrived to our hotel where we’d be living for a week as our new apartment was being prepared, I opened the handle of the driver’s side door into blackness which was lightened only by the hotel’s inner brightness and some funky pop music to usher me out of my stressed out, post traumatic state of having driven for about 15 hours straight, the last few hours having been pummeled by a thunder and lightning storm. Darkness. What I had envisioned about this state was still true in my perception. Our family was alone, isolated, with no friends or family, and without a clue as to what we would wake up to in the morning.

The morning did come. We awoke to blue, sunny skies overlooking a city, although all I could see from our hotel room was trees for miles. Trees! Now I knew two things about Missouri… storms and trees! The light was beginning to dawn on the beauty of the new land we had come to and our perception of this amazing state was getting into focus.

As we bravely left our hotel room to visit the campus, we were met by strangers who would become dear friends and neighbors. We were met by introductions, small talk, and “what’s your phone number? I’ll give you a call and we’ll get together!” More light was coming into view and our vision of what our home could be for the next three years started to become clearer. In fact, there was one woman on campus, Liz, who had been silently preparing for my arrival for several months and when we finally met in person, she was like a magnet that drew me in and connected me with other women, giving me much to look forward to in friendships here and what God might do in the life of our family here.

That’s what I call a friendship magnet. Like Christine Hoover says in her latest book, Messy Beautiful Friendship,

The truth of the matter is that we all have the ability to be friend-magnets when we enter a room with the words, intentions, and body language of seeing others–There you are!–rather than saying Here I am! Everyone look at me! Everyone listen to me! or the opposite, false humility response, I hope no one notices me. I will feel too self-conscious. We esteem others as more important than ourselves. We keep an eye out for the one standing on the fringe of the circle. We move toward the outside and pull those we find there into the mix. And let’s face it: Don’t we all feel like we live on the fringes in some capacity? Haven’t we all felt like an outsider at some point? We all know the relief of someone pulling us from the outside to the inside. We’ll be their friends for life.

In fact, I’m pretty sure my dear friend did say those exact words several times, “There you are!” She was so outward-focused and so eager to serve and connect me to the community that she invited me and our four kids out to the zoo with her and her kids while still living at the hotel that first week! We weren’t even in our new place yet. After that, she sent her older sons to collapse all our moving boxes that were strewn about on our patio. She sent food, invited us for dinner, play dates, and since then, many more coffee dates!

Christine writes,

Keep an eye out for the marginalized, the fringe, the new, the lonely, the quiet and unsure ones. Your influence pointed in the direction of an outsider can have great impact. It doesn’t take much—a word of welcome, an invitation to a playdate, a thoughtful encouragement about a job well-done, or remembering her name—and a whole new world opens up for the one who needs a world, any world, to open up.

I’m so thankful for this friend who reached out to me during a time of great need, even before I stepped onto the campus of our new home away from home. It meant the world to me! With the stability of a growing friendship with her, I was then able to, slowly, reach out to other women here and begin to offer the same kind of friendship I had received from her, to them.

Blessings on your journey of friendship,
Jen

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I am a part of Christine Hoover’s launch team for her new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship. One of my favorite things to do is to share great Christian resources with other women, as well as promote or share the creative work of other women as they use their divinely designed gifts to serve God and the Church. It is an honor to pair these two loves into helping promote her new book which will be released on April 18th. Below, you will find one of these excerpts. Enjoy, and be blessed in the gift of friendship!

 

 

How to Be a Friend Magnet

Perhaps you’re one of those people with friends coming out the wazoo. I am friends with people like you. You are likable, fun, considerate, helpful, and all-around good human beings. You are awesome. I flock to you.

These friends of mine, upon hearing that I was writing a book on friendship, asked me to tackle these questions: How does one foster intimate, true friendships and remain hospitable without becoming cliquish? Is it even healthy to cut off the number of friendships you have?

The friends that I mention are women using their influence to serve others, honor others, seek out the best interest of others, and love others in a way that brings glory to the Lord. For those who are jealous of the friend-magnets in your midst, to be fair, I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as it seems. I believe these women are a real-life chicken/egg scenario: do people come toward friend-magnets simply because of who they are, or do these friend-magnets consistently go toward others ready to bless and honor? I see my friend-magnet friends working hard at friendship and being extremely others-centered. They are genuinely interested in others, honor others, and listen to others. My friend-magnet friends all have wildly different personalities, so it’s not that they have a charisma necessarily, although I think they are delightful people. They are simply people who consistently go toward others, no matter who they are, and seek to make other women feel comfortable.

If you are a person who attracts friends easily, please know that you’ve been given a gift from the Lord. You’ve been granted a magnetism and a way of making people feel loved. Thank Him for this gift, but please also recognize that this gift is not about you. The gift you’ve been given is the gift of influence, and it’s important to consider how you will use it.

If you are a woman who attracts friends easily, my encouragement to you is to use your influence to serve the outsiders. Keep an eye out for the marginalized, the fringe, the new, the lonely, the quiet and unsure ones. Your influence pointed in the direction of an outsider can have great impact. It doesn’t take much—a word of welcome, an invitation to a playdate, a thoughtful encouragement about a job well-done, or remembering her name—and a whole new world opens up for the one who needs a world, any world, to open up.

The truth of the matter is that we all have the ability to be friend-magnets when we enter a room with the words, intentions, and body language of seeing others–There you are!–rather than saying Here I am! Everyone look at me! Everyone listen to me! or the opposite, false humility response, I hope no one notices me. I will feel too self-conscious. We esteem others as more important than ourselves. We keep an eye out for the one standing on the fringe of the circle. We move toward the outside and pull those we find there into the mix. And let’s face it: Don’t we all feel like we live on the fringes in some capacity? Haven’t we all felt like an outsider at some point? We all know the relief of someone pulling us from the outside to the inside. We’ll be their friends for life.

An honoring person who looks for the outsider soon becomes a safe person for many, many women. In other words, her opportunities for friendship are abundant and overflowing. This is why my people-magnet friends are asking, “How does one foster intimate, true friendships and remain hospitable without becoming cliquish?” and “Is it even healthy to cut off the number of friendships you have?” Because a person who honors others will eventually have to navigate these things.

And I say, in response, that part of honoring others is connecting others. There is a special kind of joy in connecting two women we think will hit off or who share a story, interest, or life circumstance in common. We don’t have to be everyone’s bestie, and just because we’ve included someone doesn’t mean we have to become their intimate friend. We can help foster community among women by being a bridge between them.

So, for my darling friends who are worried about having too many BFFs to handle, this is what I would say: honor all and be deep friends with some. Be friendly and hospitable to all and give intimate attention to a few. Welcome all. Keep an eye out for all. Love all. You don’t have to be close friends with everyone, but you can certainly use your God-given influence to bless others and connect women with one another. Be a friend magnet and you’ll attract joy too.

This post is an excerpt from Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships, which explores the joys and complexities of friendship among Christian women. Find out more about Christine at www.gracecoversme.com.

To preorder Christine’s new book, click here! As well, watch this wonderful interview with Ruth Chou Simons of Gracelaced.com. In it, Christine and Ruth talk about overcoming hurts in friendship. This 30 minute video is packed full of godly, Biblical wisdom and truth.

Friendship · Rooted in Christ

Friendship – Reaching Out with Hands Held Open

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Almost two years ago, we packed up our home and moved our family across the country to attend seminary. We said goodbye to dear family and friends. Many of those friendships having just been made three years previous. Having moved many times in my life, I have known this pattern, this rhythm of reaching out and letting go; the ebb and flow of changing relationships and life stages. With a mix of embracing the next thing that God had for us to do, with a sense of adventure for what lay ahead, and with the knowledge that my heart would grieve again as we said good bye to everything and everyone familiar, the Lord had taught me how to sustain and maintain long distance friendships while starting new friendships in a new location. It was challenging to walk through the emotional work of discerning where each new and old friendship fit into my heart and life.

As a married couple and as a family, we have lived in four different cities in the past 10 years. Each location being substantially far from the last one. I have invested much emotional energy into developing new friendships and have learned several things that have aided me in maintaining my treasured and valued old friendships, while taking the risk, time and energy of investing in the much needed new ones as well. Years of prayer have been put into the health and strength of friendships.

Prayer
Whenever we have anticipated moving, I have prayed in advance that God would bring into my life a few really good friends. He always does! I pray for Him to direct my path to kindred hearts and allow the friendships to develop in God’s time. Praying and then trusting God to provide is an active discipline of faith. Sometimes the friendships have come quite quickly. At other times, I have had to wait a couple years before I saw the fruit of my prayers as I’ve actively reached out in my pursuit of community. In one season of life, the loneliness was almost too much to bear as the pursuit of friendship took much longer than anticipated. It was at that point that God provided a lovely and unexpected friendship with a much older sister in Christ. Though she was thirty years older than me, the depth of friendship I experienced with her was honest and real.  At times, through tears, I would share with her my friendship struggles, and my heart was ministered to in the counsel and empathy I received from her. Never think that your friendships have to be only with peers who are the same age. Some of my deepest friendships have been with ladies who are either much younger or much older than I. We are sisters in Christ and we can learn from one another.

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Know Who You Are
To enjoy the fruit of deep friendships, you must put in the work to cultivate those relationships. Its a journey of intentionally seeking to know someone else, as well as becoming known. That journey begins with knowing yourself first. Realizing my personality type has given me an understanding of how I work in friendships, what I need, and my limitations in friendship.

I am an introvert, meaning I recharge when I have alone time, to pray, read, write, decorate our home, play music, sew, bake, dream and rest. This is how I create a calm in my soul and how I refuel for the times when I do go out and fellowship with others. I plan playdates a week in advance so that I can structure my day or week to allow for a renewal of energy.

As an introvert, I have to say no to many other opportunities so that I can stay healthy for my family. As well, I struggle with anxiety. As an introvert, this makes me even more introverted at times. Thankfully, those who know me well understand this about me and support me in the boundaries I need to stay healthy.

When a friend takes an interest in my family, writing, music, or my work as a birth doula, I feel that I have truly found someone who cares for me as a person and the way God has designed me. We feel loved by those who seek to know us. Knowing who you are, your limits and boundaries and what you can give to a relationship is key.

Maintain Old Friendships
Old friendships are a treasure and have a history with one another that spans years, and even continues to grow in new ways over the years if they are maintained in even just a little way, every once in a while. These friendships become the thread that tie our stories together from one chapter to the next.

Every once in a while, I send a long email to a friend, or a hand-written postcard and occasionally we have a video call. It is so good to catch up personally with each other, knowing that each of us has taken the time to reach out, spend time thinking about what is going on in the other’s life, and sending words of encouragement. Personal letters are a wonderful way to maintain the treasures of old friendships. I want to write more hand-written letters as well. In an age of much online communication, hand-written paper letters become a treasured keepsake or memento, tucked away in a box or basket for years to come.

It takes intentional work to keep in contact with those back “home” whether friends or family. Two of our dear friends have now moved to Asia, several are in the Northwest and still more in Canada. How can you keep in touch and maintain that closeness with people you hold so dear with the hindrances of distance and time? It can still be achieved. Though we are thousands of miles apart and though its not quite the same as living in proximity to each other, we feel strengthened by friendships that have stood the test of time. And when we finally do see each other, we can simply pick up from that last communication and continue the conversation.

Build New Friendships
Each place we have lived in the last 10 years has accommodated starting new friendships at different speeds! Having just one baby and then two, allowed me to have a couple playdates a week. Our weekly schedule included Bible study nights, women’s ministry, family nights, and hosting people for dinner. But having a couple mornings where I could connect with another mom either one on one or at our church playgroup helped fill me up with meaningful conversation and like-minded friends. Our third child was 3 weeks old when we moved to a new city far away. I was busier, adjusting to a new environment, preparing to homeschool, unpacking moving boxes, getting to know new grocery stores and amenities in our city, and focused on the busy schedule of caring for my two toddlers and a newborn. Investing in new friendships took a lot longer, but eventually, the friendships did come!

A year ago, we moved clear across the country to attend seminary. Because of our living situation, several friendships took off at lightning speed and a sense of belonging came much more easily. Perhaps because many of us live in or near the same building and daily borrow recipe ingredients, babysit each other’s children and hang out at the communal playground! We needed quick and deep friendships knowing that we would only be here for three years. But friendships still take time and with four little ones in our family now, my time is more limited, especially since my husband is taking classes full time and working several part time jobs. My limitations are at the greatest they’ve ever been so I am thankful for the playdates I do have, the coffee dates that get jotted on the calendar 1-2 weeks in advance and the little snapshots of conversation I have at the playground with other moms or the 8am morning knocks on my door requesting coffee! These are my seminary sisters and this unique season of life is one I will cherish forever.

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Serving Others
When moving to a new city or pursuing new friendships, it is easy to get consumed with my own needs for friendship and to put self at the center of relationships. When I’m tempted to do this, the Lord reminds me to put Him first, to love Him and love others. In elementary school, there came a time when I was struggling with loneliness. I confided in my mother that I didn’t feel like I had many friends in my class. One of the greatest pieces of advice she gave me regarding friendship was to go and look for the people who had no friends, those who were lonely too, or new to the school and befriend them! So from that point on, that’s what I did. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a way to serve Christ and serve them. God brought increased joy to me in this new mindset and I was able to live with hands held open regarding friendships, whether they continued on or faded with time.

The biggest thing for me to remember is to entrust my friendships and need for community to God. He knows we need community and supportive relationships. He is our Good Shepherd and our Provider. Life lived in community as the people of God, reaching out together to a world in need of His love is even more important to Him than it is to us.

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As we have just over a year left at seminary, our hearts and minds are looking towards the next giant step of faith we must take. All the decisions and work that needs to be done before that are like stepping stones. I am already praying for the friendships  we will have in our new location, new ministry, and new city. At the end of our seminary journey, we will know many more like-minded friends who will be dispersed to different corners of the country and the world. We will, again, walk through the emotional work of discerning where each new and old friendship will fit into our hearts and lives.

Friendship is a gift but it is also an endeavor requiring much effort, grace, and service. In Christian friendship we find that it is not so much about fulfilling our own needs to be known, but to serve others in knowing them, a laying down of our lives for our friends. In laying down our lives for another in humility and service, it is there that we model the friendship of Jesus. In Him, we find the strength to bravely reach out with hands held open.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

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{Words and photography by Jennifer D Harris, copyright 2017}