the last baby

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One of my dearest friends from college is due to have her fourth baby in a few weeks.  We were hoping to have a chance to throw a little baby shower for her, but, well, with nine kids between the three of us, it was hard to work it out logistically.  The best thing of all is just gathering for a mini getaway/catch-up since it is so much harder to keep in touch over the distance these days.  So, the three of us (my two best girlfriends and I) met up this past weekend late Sunday evening.  We drove to Max Patch, which is a good midway meeting point for us, hiked up to the grassy bald in the dark, carrying a cold dinner to share and a camp stove so we could brew some coffee.  We bundled in our sleeping bags and talked under the stars cupping steaming mugs.  By nearly midnight, we packed up and headed back to our homes, crawling back into bed at nearly 2 am.  But these gatherings are the best.  They are life-giving, better than a full night’s sleep.  Worth 3 hrs of driving (roundtrip).  This is the last baby my friend will have, these are the last days her tummy will be swollen like a full moon, and it felt right to commemorate this somehow.  In the past months I’ve slowly knitted her baby a little wooly sleep sack, in neutral colors with wooden buttons, as well as a little newborn “pilot cap.”  Both patterns were an absolute delight to knit and I’m so excited to snuggle this last little man-cub in his woolens.  I remember when this friend of mine had her first baby, and how strange to think we are all nearing the end of our child-birthing years.  Truly, they are hard years, but somehow the most glorious, too.

Hanging on

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Last week around this time I was scurrying to pack up for a quick little two day-ish visit to one my long-time best college girlfriend’s house in Tennessee.  To my shame, I haven’t made the trek to visit her in probably 3 or so years, though she has graciously come to visit me or meet up somewhere multiple times since then.  The busyness of these days, the super tight budget that makes a few hours drive a costly luxury–these are the things that have kept me away.  Then one day you realize you hardly talk anymore, and it’s okay because you know you have a long stretch of history to draw from and that you will pick up again where you left off.  Even still, life is whirring by, some of our children are school-aged, and the easy on-a-whim hang outs are becoming harder.  I think as I’ve gotten into these years of parenting a handful of little ones I’ve come to realize how difficult it seems to be to make new friends.  I’m not giving up on it, but the challenge has certainly made me treasure my old friendships more and long to do a better job keeping up with them.  I’m sure it’s the introvert in me, but I’d rather have a few friendships that go deep than to have my arms stretched full wide with a bunch of shallow ones.  Anyway, these days are often lonely and can leave you bewildered wondering who are the friends who are really in the trenches with you?  Who you can call or text and ask for prayer in a moment of weakness, desperation, darkness, or celebration?  Who are the friends who will stand by you when you are at your worst and gently call you back to the truth?  Who are the ones who will be brave and faithful enough to speak words that feel a whole lot like wounds that later prove to be kisses?  These are the friends I want to hold on to.  The ones I want to make space in the budget for.  These are the ones I hope to be roomies with again one day, when we are old widows clinging to rickety walkers, after we’ve buried husbands and kissed great-grandchildren’s newborn skin.  These years with young ones will stretch our friendships to the max, but I hope we can always pick up again and find our way back to each other.  It was a true gift to spend this time with my sweet friend and her three girls.  What a profound wonder to see our little ones all playing together, to share hearts late into the night as we barely hold our eyes open.  She sent me off on Thursday with a travel mug full of fresh hot coffee, and in every way I felt full.  Hang on to your friends, girls.  It’s so worthwhile.

On Friendship

We think that making friends is a childhood difficulty, something that kids struggle with when they enter elementary school.  Something they struggle with as they continue to grow up surrounded by peers, people of the same age but not necessarily the same makeup and design, personality and passion.

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The reality is, making friends continues to be a challenge in each season of life.  We enter life transitions and suddenly our circles of peers change, often leaving old friendships feeling unfitting, awkward, stiff.  You head off to college and suddenly all of your high school friendships waver.  You are the first of your friends to get married and soon find your single girlfriends distancing themselves from you.  You have your first baby, caught up in all the dizzying sleepless nights, feeding difficulties, and the steep learning curve of a newborn, and find that suddenly you just need to talk to another mom who “gets it.”  Your friendships seem to curve around other women who are in the same season or can at least speak to it.

I’ve found that many friendships, maybe most friendships, seem to come and go, appropriate and fitting for a season before phasing out.  Most seem to drift quietly into disuse due to busyness + change.  A few end abruptly with bright red aching wounds in their wake.  Who of us as women (because I’m quite sure I have no idea how this whole realm works for men) doesn’t ache for something lasting?  Something that endures the changes?  Something that grows, evolves, adapts?  A friend who you can count on in a moment’s notice?  A friend who’s seen you weather many storms and happy seasons, a friendship that has years of history?  A friend that is safe.

Let’s face it: our husbands can be our best friends in many ways, but we still need our girlfriends.  There’s just something different about that bond, something deeply healing to have camaraderie with some girls.

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I’ve had some really wonderful girl friends over the years, but two will always stand out above the rest.  We have shared 11 years together, seeing one another through all manner of life changes, from changing our majors in college, to marriage, moves across country and back, many job changes for our husbands, community changes, family changes, spiritual growth, and the addition of nine babies between the three of us.  We have had seasons where we’ve lived close to one another and life has afforded us more time to be together.  We’ve had seasons where we don’t talk for months due to the busyness of raising young families.  But always, this commitment to one another, this love for one another undergirds.  We try to gather at the very least once a year and have a “girl’s weekend.”  My husband laughs because we typically don’t plan much during these weekends, apart from where we are gathering, which nursing babes need to tag along, and our menu.  The agenda is talking, catching up, pouring out hearts.  And sleeping, too, but we usually stay up way too late for that.

I read Melanie Shankle’s Nobody’s Cuter Than You and thought of my girls, Katie + Mary.  Shankle shares about her friendships over the years, the friends that came + went.  The way friendships worked at different seasons, the lessons learned.  Her memoir on friendship culminates in her finding “Gulley,” her friend of twenty-five years, sharing their story and the way their friendship has become one of the greatest gifts and joys of her life.  It is everything a good memoir should be: engrossing, real, relatable, humorous, truth-telling, enriching, inspiring.   I rarely laugh out loud reading a book, but this one had me in literal tears a few times.  I finished it and immediately wanted to share it with all my favorite people, especially Katie + Mary.  I also wanted to read everything else she has written.  It causes you to reflect on your own friendships and to return to that old childhood longing again, the one that we think we outgrew when we became “Adults Who Don’t Have Time And Are Too Grown Up To Maintain Relationships.”

The world of women + female friendships can be hard, scary, ugly, and painful.  There’s a reason I think we look around and don’t see many older women who have flourishing and enduring female friends.  Women can be cruel, harsh, jealous, and unforgiving.  Women can cut us to the quick with deadly words coated in saccharine sweetness.  Women can go after our husbands.  Women can spread our trusted secrets and betray us.  Our hearts can only take so much of a beating before we barricade them and swear off any intruders and pretend we’re just fine that way.  Shankle’s book made me want to be brave and fight for this precious part of life, these girl friendships.  To fight to have them, to fight to be a good friend, to fight to protect my friendships, to fight to value the ladies who share their lives with me and give time to me.  And it helped me remember again how important a thing a good friend is as we journey through life.  Life is hard.  Dang hard.  We can maybe be brave and tough and try to stick it out without needing a single soul, but I think should we choose such a path, our hearts may feel “safe” but we will be unspeakably lonely.

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Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!  All opinions expressed are my own.