The Company I Keep



Before we moved to North Dakota, it was not uncommon for us to have a living room full of people on more than one evening a week. My spiritual gifting rested entirely in the realm of hospitality, and I was all too eager to commit to that role. We had dinners, we had game nights, we had Bible studies, and we had combinations of all of the above.

We also had a core group of friends we did most all of these activities with. A group of us from high school were quite close, and I was usually calling them to get something organized, whether I hosted it or not. I just loved being around people, and I especially loved being around *my* people.

After we moved here, I struggled mightily in building and maintaining relationships. I had never been surrounded by so many seemingly friendly people, yet simultaneously feeling so incredibly lonely. I was going back to Wyoming at every opportunity, simply to fulfill the need to be connected.

It took years – years – for us to find, connect, and stay engaged with friends.

As life went on, change came with it. Some of those people aren’t our friends anymore – for varying reasons. They moved away or perhaps we grew apart. Some of our friends we just plain never see anymore, thanks to getting sucked into our own worlds of busy.

I wouldn’t claim hospitality as my spiritual gifting anymore. There are but a few annual events I like to keep in my back pocket claiming hostess rights to. Otherwise, we’re kind of on the fly, and mostly wanting time to ourselves once the precious littles are tucked away in bed. Most days, I spend so much energy thinking, creating, and being responsible, I just want my evenings to be my chance to check out.

Relationships take work. And sometimes I’m all worked out.

But this is an incredible injustice.

I do love being around people, and I do love the genuine relationships we’ve formed with dear friends of ours. A lot of our friends in this day and age are fellow loss parents. They get my kind of crazy. Several of our friends are mentors. People who exercise and pursue the discipline and character we want to emulate – so we make it a point to spend time with them. Other friends we simply enjoy spending time with.

Yet, we’re so wrapped up in having to take time for ourselves, take time for our kids, take time for our work, take time for our creativity, and whatever else requires our time, we let our relationships wait on the sidelines for their chance to rotate in and make a play in our lives.

I used to be a tremendous planner, as well. Everyone knew well in advance when we were getting together, to do what, and where. These days I tend to favor spontaneity. I claim it’s spontaneity, when really it’s closer to a lack of preparation or planning. Either way, spontaneity isn’t an attribute most people appreciate in this season of life. Most of the time I don’t even bother extending a last-minute invitation.

And it’s a doggone shame.

I wrote recently about our ambushing skills and how we were going to get back in the game of ambushing people. Then we started asking permission to ambush people and it was always the wrong time or they had other stuff going on. We stopped ambushing. And our little flame of spontaneous acts of friendship dwindled out.

Now we’re in the throes of summer vacation. My company consists of an incredibly talkative six year old, and an incredibly physical two year old. They’re very spontaneous. They’re also very demanding. And sometimes mama just wants a chance to hang out with grownups without having to put the toys away, or fold the laundry, or make sure everyone’s attention is diverted upwards, away from the dirty kitchen floor. Sometimes I just want to have a living room full of people who want to share laughs or tears or both, over a board game or two. Sometimes I just want core group of people to whom I can say, “Hey – here’s what I’m dealing with.” and *poof* they show up. Sometimes I want to make sure people know I’m that person for them.

And sometimes I just want a nap.

This has no poignant life lesson. I have no way to eloquently conclude this. This is truly a mind mumble. Sometimes I miss the old days and the old ways. It seems like I had it all figured out back then. I knew how to do life. Now I’m just grasping at moments that can carry me through to the next place I’ll reside for awhile.

Maybe one day I’ll find my groove again. For now, though, the company I keep is the company who needs me most. Little Miss, Little Man, and Hunk-Husband. And when it comes down to it, I’m pretty great at keeping my living room full with them.

“Don’t Judge Me…”


I was on my third day of being sick. She wanted to bring me coffee anyway.

I’m not one to turn down a piping hot beverage someone else volunteers to bring my way. It’s just not in my nature. So I let her come.

Even though I didn’t feel up to it, I showered. Brushed my teeth. Put on my nicest (coincidentally my newest) pair of sweatpants. I even dabbed on some eyeliner in an attempt to look more like a real person. She came over, we sat and chatted, and she treated me to a piping hot cup of vanilla latte. Not even a small. She got me a medium.

This is friendship, folks.

And as good of friends we are, when she went to throw her used kleenex away, I wouldn’t let her.

I didn’t want her to go into the laundry room where the trash can is, because it was a little smelly in there. Ew. She offered up an alternative and said, “Okay, bathroom trash then.”

My eyes got wide. I laughed that “oh-no” nervous laugh. As she walked down the hallway to throw away her tissue and headed to open the bathroom door I uttered, “Don’t judge me….”

I’d been sick for three days. I’m not sure what I thought she’d expect. Sparkling floors? No signs of laundry? No trace of anyone actually living here, let alone living here while being sick, or being under 2 years old, or sleeping here after a long day of work, or living out the imaginative stories that have to wait until after your day of Kindergarten to come to life?

“Don’t judge me….”

Even as I said the words, I cringed. On the inside. I didn’t want her to see me cringe. Because….well because I didn’t want her judge me for judging my own words.



Here I have a friend, trying to be a friend, and I’m immediately putting myself on the defensive, not trusting her friendship. I’m in SWEATPANTS and had to force myself to brush my teeth, and I let her come over. But I’m worried what she’ll think about our bathroom because I haven’t been able to clean it to white-glove standard?

She wasn’t judging me. Nor would she.

My friends say it to me, though. Often. Because they didn’t feel like getting dressed. Or cleaning. Or cooking. Or leaving the house. Or eating a real dinner before devouring dessert. “Don’t judge me…”

We need to stop saying this. Seriously, we need to.

If you come to my home and I’m sick, or in sweatpants, or haven’t brushed my teeth, I’m going to assume you still love me. I’m going to assume you’re not my friend because of my wardrobe (because, heaven help you, you would be the first) or because of my level of cleanliness or because of how often I run the battery low on my rechargeable toothbrush. I’m going to believe you love me. As a friend. A real deal, true blue friend.

And if I go to your house and you forgot to flush the toilet, or you haven’t taken the garbage out in a while, or your socks don’t match or it’s the third time I’ve seen you in that shirt – this week – I’m not going to judge you. I’m going to your house because I love you. As a friend. In a nonjudgmental way.

You would think if I had my wits about enough to realize this friend knew I was sick, brought me a coffee of my favorite variety in a size that completely spoils me, and stuck around without wearing a mask or being afraid to be a part of my life that day, I would be pretty clear on the fact she wasn’t wearing a black robe of authority under her gavel-hiding sweatshirt.

Chances are, if you’re judging me, you have no desire to come over to see me on a good day. Let alone when I’m a bit down in the mouth.

So don’t judge me for saying this, but let’s stop saying “don’t judge me” for things that don’t even qualify as a trivial offense. My house is littered with toys and laundry and the trash bag is stinky. Big deal. I wear sweatpants every day sometimes. Big deal. I left evidence in the bathroom of the kids being bathed the night before. Big deal.

So, to my coffee-bearing-errand-running dear friend, I’m sorry I ever uttered those words. I’m not sure why I said them, since I’m entirely confident judging me would have been the last thing you’d do as a result of trying to throw a kleenex away.

I don’t have hard-hearted friends who want to boost their own egos by coming over to observe my shortcomings. I don’t have to qualify someone wanting to throw their kleenex away with a dissertation on why my home is in disarray and perhaps if they come back when I’ve had a chance to catch up on life and homemaking, they can use the trashcan of their choice. I don’t have to worry I’m going to be judged for something not at all judge-worthy.

Let’s stop turning the trivial into critical. Live life, especially with those who can do life with you in all kinds of stages and phases, and whatever happens…is going to be awesome.

I was sick for three days, and my home fell apart but you know what? I got to nap. And write. And wear sweatpants.

And nobody judged me for any of it.

The Art of Ambushing

The Lord said, “and she shall be hospitable” and it was so. Even before I married Brent, I constantly had people stopping over at my apartment to visit. I always had food, always had a clean abode, and I was pretty easy on the eyes. So yes, there were male friends who were “in the neighborhood” – – and hungry. Okay, they came for the food. Let’s just be real. This girl knew how to dress up some Hamburger Helper back in the day.

After Brent and I were married, though, people still would just show up if they were in town. I never minded. In fact, it was one of my favorite things that would happen to us, and it was most certainly one of my favorite things to do to others. Just drop in on people.

The Art Of Ambushing

I call it “ambushing”. You show up, unannounced, no plans made. If you’re NEARBY you DROP BY. That’s the only rule. Sometimes we knew we’d be nearby someone later on, and we’d make a little plan ahead and show up at their door with dinner. Ambushing someone by bringing food is Ambush Level: Expert.

In Wyoming, it’s a little trickier to do because some “neighbors” are literal miles apart. But even country-dwellers need to be ambushed now and then.

I remember one time I was driving from Powell to Cody (a distance of approximately 24 miles according to Google Maps) after class one afternoon. I had this stirring in my spirit that I needed to ambush my best friend, Tiff. I felt like the Lord was telling me to see her.

As I have a horrible habit of doing when the Lord tells me to do something, I argued with Him. “But God, um… she’s like several miles out of the way in the middle of nowhere. So…. that’s a great idea, but I’m just going to keep driving… on the highway… because it’s paved…. and go home.”

But the feeling became stronger. Even so, instead of submitting to the Lord, I started bargaining with him. I said to God, “If she calls me before I get to the turn [to head to her house] I’ll go and see her.” I knew I was golden because it was not her favorite thing to talk on the phone. Granted, this was before the days of texting, but I still had a cell phone, dinosaur of a machine as it was back then. I knew she wouldn’t call. I knew I could go home.

The second I reached the outermost edge of the road to turn to her house, my cell phone rang. And it was Tiff. I pulled over and answered the phone by saying, “I’m supposed to come see you.” Bewildered, she replied with momentary silence before saying “…..okay…..” and I said, “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” And I showed up. Granted, I didn’t exactly ambush her because she had a few minutes warning I was showing up, but even God is in favor of the friend-ambush. And He’ll make it happen if you don’t.

Since moving to North Dakota, we haven’t done it much. First, it took us a long time to find real friends in the sea of friendly people. We had Brent’s friends who we love dearly, but we couldn’t exactly bother them all the time. Once we found new friends after moving here, we didn’t want to scare them away by just showing up at their home randomly. The thing about midwesterners is they’re pretty protective of their personal space. And when I say personal space, I mean a good 250 ft. radius. “North Dakota Nice” translates to, “I’ll support you with a smile, but just stay over there…”

Now that we’ve got some lovely soul-level relationships with so many dear people here, though, it clearly should be easier for us to ambush people. So why haven’t we done it?

What’s the deal with planning anyway? Aren’t we planning our lives away? Appointments. Errands. Meetings. Activities. Here. There. All the everywheres.

No. My life lately has been nothing but scheduled. These hours I do these things, those hours I do those things, then I fall into bed exhausted and completely depleted. No. I don’t want that.

So today! We had a unique opportunity to ambush someone. After we showed up a whopping THREE WEEKS EARLY to volunteer for an event, we found ourselves in the neighborhood of a couple of friends. We wound up at the front door of some dear friends from church. The lights were on, the window was open, but no one was answering the door. Did I give up? No way.

I walked to the back yard and wouldn’t you know it – there they were, playing and enjoying the fall weather. I poked my head over the fence and before I could even say, “Can we stay?” I was waved on in and told, “Come on in! I’m so excited you guys are here!”

Successful ambush.

We joined them in their living room, we had some fantastic conversation, we let the kids run around together, we had dinner (and dessert!) and it was an incredibly enjoyable evening.

We didn’t plan it. We didn’t schedule it on our calendars. We didn’t really give it a chance to not work. We just ambushed them.

And people, I think ambushing is a fantastic way to foster relationships. When you love and are loved enough to accept one another in whatever kind of state you’re in, that’s authentic relationship. It doesn’t matter if the house is clean, if you have no idea what you’re having for dinner, or if you’ve put makeup on. Just love people in the middle of the life and mess they’re in. Also, and maybe more importantly, allow yourself to be loved on impulse. Allow the ambush.

Just don’t come to see us three weeks from today, because we’ll be volunteering at some event….that we thought was….today….

The Letter That Changed My Life

The Letter That Changed My Life

I spent the first 12 years of my life as a valley girl. I lived only a few blocks from the beach in central California. I had naturally bronze skin, naturally bleach-blonde hair, and – like – totally talked – like – I was – like – a valley girl. Watching home videos is painful for me.

The summer before I turned 13, we moved from our home on in Grover Beach (though it was Grover City when I lived there. Random fact.) to a tiny apartment in Powell, Wyoming.

It was the worst summer of my life.

It hailed. I had never seen hail before. And it would hail while the sun was still shining. It was the craziest weather I ever witnessed. I made two friends. My sister and I shared a room with bunk beds, and I grew pretty sick of hanging out with her. Both parents were gone to work every day. And when they were home, they argued. That summer was tough on everybody.

I missed my own room, I missed the beach, and I missed my friends. Especially my best friend.

Thankfully, we kept in touch through letters and phone calls. “Rose” as I’ll call her, was my saving grace. When I knew it was her on the other end of the line, nothing else mattered. She got me. She’d always get me.

Until the day she wouldn’t.

I’ll never forget getting her letter. I tore it open to read the latest goings on. What I read instead was a break up letter.

I never got a definitive answer as to why, but I distinctly remember the phrase, “I will always look back on our friendship with nostalgia.” Just like that, for the cost of a 29 cent postage stamp, my best friend became “someone I used to know.” The longest relationship I ever had was nothing more than memory. A vapor. Poof.

I was devastated. Crushed. Rose, my best friend, had now become a painful thorn in my memory bank. Not only was I struggling to make new friends, but my old ones didn’t want anything to do with me. For 13 year old Val, that was brutal. I’ve never liked the word “nostalgia”.

Thrust into the pits of loneliness, I had to make my new friendships really count, and I had to find more friends. Eighth grade was tough. I hated being the new kid in town. With gigantic glasses and an even bigger fro, it wasn’t easy.

I built a wall few people found their way over. Born a social butterfly, I suddenly tried to make a bigger, stronger, impenetrable cocoon.

In one of my most vulnerable, confidence-lacking moments, I gained a new best friend: Tiff (or Tigger, as I affectionately called her). She even had (has) huge hair like me.

Not only did I have a new best friend, but I began to develop several meaningful and long-lasting relationships. My 20 year reunion (in three years….is that right? It can’t have been that long…) will be full of hugs and high fives from some of the dearest people on the planet.

Tiff & Val

I tend to be a hoarder of relationships – I don’t want to let any of them go. Even if I have to keep them at the furthest arm’s-length distance possible, I can’t ever quite cut ties. I never understood how people could be so comfortable parting ways with other people. “Rose” was the first of many painful breakups for me. After Rose left my life, and after others bypassed the door that continued to my future, it stung.

As intense a sting any of them may have been, the pain hasn’t lasted forever.

I came into better relationships. I found my husband after my heart had been trampled on by a few former suitors. Tiff and I have a friendship that spans over 20 years, and 700 miles. I’m a lousy friend, but she loves me anyway.

Here in North Dakota, it took a long (l-o-n-g) time to connect with anyone on a real meaningful level. Now, especially after everything we’ve been through, I know we are genuinely loved and supported no matter what. At any given time, I could call a long list of people and know these midwesterners would give me everything they had to make sure I was taken care of.

I have the best people.

I’m glad Rose was brave enough to let me go. Maybe she looks back on our elementary friendship with nostalgia, or maybe she never thinks about me another day in her life. More importantly, I’m glad for the deep, nurturing relationships I have today.

Whatever you’re up against in relationships – know it’s a struggle for everyone. Life changes. People change. Some of us are revolving doors, and some of us use revolving doors. It’s not necessarily right or wrong. It’s life. Be encouraged.

But just know if any of you break up with me, I’ll have to blog about you.