Category Archives: Women’s Issues

Community: The Force of Friendships

Friend quoteI’ve spent a lot of time recently pondering the idea of community. Because I left mine behind in the recent move to Tennessee, the concept has moved the to forefront of my mind. Shauna Niequist first introduced me to the idea in her book Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way. She defines it in this way:

 When you walk with someone, listen to their story, carry their burden, play with their kids, that’s community. When you pray for them in the middle of the night because their face popped into your mind, when you find yourself learning from them and inviting them more and more often in the family places in your life, that’s community, and whenever you find it, it’s always a gift.

Community happens slowly and often by accident. Oh sure, it can be purposely created, but for a semi-introvert like me, community is formed in the midst of life – sometimes in the most painful parts. Either way, those friendships forged out of pain or through simply sharing life are the ones that last for years.

Case in point, my friend Meredith (names changed to protect the innocent) came into my life just as Keith and I were embarking on our marital adventure. Bringing her into my community was one of those happy accidents. In fact, when I asked her to sit by me during a high school football game (our husbands were coaches), I had no idea the role she would play in my life. For hours that night, the two of us sat and laughed hysterically, the kind of laughter that cements a friendship connection. Now, twenty years later, she is my secret keeper, my sounding board, my safe place. It’s very rare to have someone in your life where you can say aloud the awful, ugly things we women often think. She and I have listened to one another’s stories, played with one another’s children, and carried one another’s burdens for a long, long time. What a happy providential moment of sharing a bleacher for a few hours that turned into a life-long friendship!

While one friendship was forged in joy, there have been several constructed in the midst of heartbreak and suffering. I met Sally (name changed again) at church, we sang on the worship ensemble together. We laughed together and often chatted about creative teaching ideas. (We were both educators.) Not long after we met, she faced a critical turning point in her life. Her marriage had been falling apart for a long time, but as the dutiful Christian wife, she was doing her best to hold it together. There are many ugly details to her painful disintegration of marriage, but there’s no need to share them. The only important thing to know is that during that tumultuous time, God melded our hearts together. While professional marital advice isn’t my forte, I did have a listening ear and praying voice. She spent many nights around our family’s dinner table, finding respite in the community that God was forming between us. There were days she would call in utter anguish, and I had no words to relieve it. I listened. I prayed. And for a while that’s what we did. Eventually, God healed wounds and helped her move on. Our friendship still stands. Although the tears are much less frequent, her face is still the one that pops into my mind in the middle of the night, so I pray for her and her new little family. I won’t lie and say that those initial days of friendship were fun. They were hard and heavy to carry, but those were the moments that sealed our friendship – that made us a part of one another’s community. I wouldn’t trade the pain for anything if it meant she never became a part of my life.

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Moving away from interacting weekly with my community has been painful and lonely for me, sometimes excruciatingly so. When we are torn from our community, we feel its impact more deeply and value community so much more clearly. I remember the power and comfort of those friendships even though they are hundreds of miles away. It’s not like I can go out and recreate those friendships, those bonds, over a single cup of coffee at Starbucks. Those relationships take months – and years – to develop. On the other hand, it is the hope of recreating another community like those I’ve left behind that keeps me going. That keeps me looking around every corner for a new friend, one who will chose to weave her way into the fabric of my life.

How has community formed in your life?

Feast Manifesto

FeastwithURLI can’t imagine life without a table between us. The table is the life raft, the center point, the home base of who we are together. –Shauna Niequist from Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table

 Of all the lessons I learned while living in Latin America, the most precious might be the concept of the “table as a life raft.” The modern American family has left the dinner table in search of more convenient ways of feeding their bodies. In doing so, they have also forfeited the opportunity to feed their souls. Instead of home-cooked meals, parents rush through the nearest drive thru. The family dinner table has morphed instead into a homework battlefield. Truthfully, most days it sits lonely and abandoned or piled high with laundry and old mail.

As a working mother, I cannot recall many evening meals shared around the table at home. I can remember plenty eaten in the car on the way to some appointment, or gobbled at a sit-down restaurant only because we needed to waste time before heading to our next “event.” Most of all, I remember, that very little of those meals were nourishing – to our bodies or our souls.

Before Ecuador forced me into a life of simplicity, I thought sharing family meals around our table at home were impossible. During those days, the thought of cooking made me feel like I needed a nap. Life was too busy for me to cook; my schedule too demanding for me to take that detour.

Since returning to the states, our family’s life has returned to a modified state of busyness. Armed with the benefits of the simple life, I have forcefully decided on some quality table time. I value the moments shared with my family in the comfort of our home, especially the ones shared around a home-cooked meal.

Because I feel that family meals can be the life-blood of healthy families, I decided to share my tips of making these soul-nourishing moments a possibility. With the working parent in mind, I have taken favorite recipes and broken them down into parts so dinner preparation is a snap.

The goal is simple: start cooking dinner one night a week. That means for one night you and your family will sit around the table, look at one another, talk, share, discuss, and even debate vehemently (if your kids are like mine.)

I can see many readers at this moment rolling their eyes and doing so for two reasons. One they feel like meals at home aren’t really that life-changing (mainly because they’ve experienced a few unpleasant ones) and two, they feel the guilt rising up about having to DO one more thing.

Let me be the first to say, I get it. I have the privilege of being able to see this “family meal” from both sides. I remember feeling the pressure and exhaustion of working full-time outside the home as well as full-time inside the home. It is exhausting. In addition, I too have cooked dinner and sat down to listen to constant bickering and complaining around the table.

Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The cause of most of man’s unhappiness is sacrificing what he wants most for what he wants now.” Basically, this is what the choice to share meals with family is about. In our busy, chaotic, over-scheduled world, what we want right now is food and we want it quick. It’s an afterthought in our day. We slide through the drive-thru for convenience. On the other hand, what we want most is intimacy with our kids and our spouse. We want to know them, to create memories with them, to love them until they have no doubts of our love. However, due to our crazy lives that we allow to control us – instead of the other way around –we are sacrificing the very things we want.

If you think about it, committing to sharing a family dinner at home one day a week is a small commitment. So basically I think the question before us today is: Am I sacrificing what I want most simply because my life’s now dictates my every decision?

The days we have with our kids are numbered. No one knows this better than a mom who is staring down her firstborn’s senior year (that’d be me!). He won’t be at my table much longer. I must take my now and turn it into what I want most: a life raft that my family will return to when the souls and bodies need nourishing.

** CHECK BACK THIS WEEKEND FOR FIRST RECIPE POST:

SICILIAN MEAT ROLL AND ITALIAN STIR FRY