Today, our family will gather in California for the wedding celebration weekend of my wonderful Nathan and precious Rachael, his soon to be wife. But, though it is miles and miles from our hometown, we will not be alone. Our friends will travel the distance to be with us, because over the years, we have become family to each other and we do life together. We have had good seasons and challenging seasons in our friendships--but ours is more valuable for having weathered the storms and joys of life together.
I have had to start/initiate almost every group I have ever been in that became a blessing. When I am lonely, I think about how to start one more group--a mom's group, dinner group, book club, kid's group, dinner group, breakfast group--because I know I need friends in order to make it. (And I have started many a social group so my kids could have friends, too.)
Feasting seems to be the way most of my groups have begun! Two big bags of red potatoes, sliced, tossed in butter, herbs and cream cheese and placed in a pan with grated cheese atop, seemed like enough for 30 people! Piling into the car, bringing flowers for saying thank you, and our family was once again celebrating life with friends who had become family.
Greetings, skewers of shrimp, beef and chicken, luscious chocolate and lemon deserts, a rousing volleyball game of all ages and a moon light walk added to the fun of the evening—and the potatoes were gone in 10 minutes.
All of these made for a great summer evening party some years ago, but the treasure wasn’t in what we did or what we ate, but in the sharing of life--laughter, fun, merriment, hearts, memories, friendships and spiritual values.
Sitting in the company of friends who had cried with me at my mom’s death; prayed with me through teenage years, evacuated together during the fires, celebrated birthdays, gathered for our Christmas progressive dinner, worked side by side at countless mom’s conferences, helped one another through surgeries, car wrecks---
Investing countless hours treasuring our friendships is what made the evening a celebration. It was the love shared and the history made through months, days and years of doing life together that made our evening so deeply meaningful to us, and especially to our children.
There have been times when some of us in the group had tension--usually over tension between or amongst our kids. But we all decided a long time ago, that we were friends forever and just like marriage--no break-ups allowed. So, we have done the hard work of loving, accepting, bearing with one another. No group is perfectly suited to you. But living isolated is much worse. Friendship, like parenting and like marriage, takes lots of care, intention and long-suffering.
Our personal family history had been a lonely one. After moving 17 times, I realized that loneliness had been a plague of my heart and for our family for many years. We longed for a community and for equal soul mates that held our values, but trying to find kindred spirits who shared our lives and values seemed impossible. We had many friends who were scattered all over the United States, had never had the support systems of family, and so we found ourselves alone and empty hearted many seasons of life.
So, ten years ago, I made a plan. I prayed about those in our circles who were the closest or we seemed to have the most in common with—and began to invite them over. We cast our invitations broadly and invited many people into our home, and not everyone lasted as friends. But eventually, as we stayed generous with our hospitality and faithful to our goal of finding friends and building them intentionally, we have come out with the treasure of those who have become like family, who also had a Clarkson shaped vacuum in their hearts.
But we had to initiate and make a plan and then invest our time and serve needs of their own families to build bridges of intimacy and love.
Monthly dinners became a fixture on our calendar. Birthday lunches for the moms became an anticipated celebration. Potlucks, playing games, celebrating loud and noisy new years crafted our friendships into something more than just a passing relationship into one that felt more like family.
Loneliness is epidemic and people feel invisible all over the world, wherever I travel.
And yet, for us to build those invisible threads from our hearts to the hearts of others, we must be intentional. It requires us to reach out, to invite, to make time for sharing life and all covered with love and grace. Many friendships, though they seem unlikely, become more precious merely because of the history of years spent together.
At first, it seemed that our husbands had almost nothing in common--but just because of staying committed to getting together, now our husbands are friends and have built bridges amongst each other---and almost all of the men now do ministry with us and serve all over the US at our conferences! All because of working at being committed.
The biggest blessing of building our own inner circle is that our children have a sense of history with several other families who have become family to them.
They don’t feel alone in their lives, but supported by a circle of people who invest in them personally, but it all started with our family being willing to make a ten year goal of investing purposefully so that we would reap a harvest of love.
It all started with a phone call and an invitation, and then doing it again and again.
But today, I will be hosting a dinner for all who would come to bless my sweet ones at the rehearsal dinner. And yesterday, I brought small cakes, chocolate almonds, and scones in a cookie tin in my suitcase, along with 10 tea cups, candles and music, and had a hotel "tea time" for all the girls.
Every place is appropriate for memories shared and hearts gathered when there is a little planning and intention.
Please pray for my sweet Nathan and Rachael and their wedding, marriage and beginning of their own story to live. I thank you for investing in their lives.
Blessings of His grace to you, today