A Word on Friendship

Woman holiday journey travel relaxation

A couple of summers ago, Andy and I drove from Atlanta to Ocean City, New Jersey where my family vacations every year. It was a long drive but a good one where we spent significant amounts of time talking and attempting to keep a 6 month old entertained in her car seat (please be impressed that we succeeded).

At some point on the return trip home I got antsy and began to search my phone for those lists of questions to ask your spouse when you’re out on a date. I found a list of good ones pretty readily and asked Andy to answer them as he drove. Often, while he was formulating his response to one question or another I would also be thinking about how I might answer the question myself. It ended up encouraging some great conversation and got us through some long stretches on the way back to Atlanta.

I really don’t remember much of what we talked about. I know there were a lot of questions like: If you could do a career change, what would you do? There’s one question I do remember asking though that I will not soon forget. The question was:

“Why are your closest friends, your closest friends?” 

This struck me immediately for two reasons.

  1. I knew my answer almost as soon as I finished asking the question.
  2. The answer made me realize I was missing something. And missing it deeply.

I knew just as soon as I asked the question aloud that my closest friends are my closest friends because I have spent the most time with them. As Andy gave his thoughts on the subject of friendship I considered Kristin and Heather and Suzy and Marie and I realized that I had known each of these girls for at least a decade if not since the moment I was born! These four are and continue to be the ones I call when I want someone who gets it or who will get it just as soon as I get the issue out into open air.

In the moment that I named this. Named these friends and what their consistency meant to me I realized, all of a sudden, that I was missing it. Missing them of course, though I keep in touch with each of these four as regularly as one can once you move to a different state. Even more than connection with these specific individuals though I think I realized I was missing the point.

I started to sense in that moment what friendship expert Shasta Nelson revealed on a podcast interview with author Jen Hatmaker just a couple of months ago. She stated on the show that in her research she and other social scientists have come to realize that the way we American’s prioritize our lives has become cause for an epidemic of loneliness.  American’s are so focused on achievement that relationships and community have taken a back seat. I can think of dozens of times when I’ve ignored an opportunity for connection in the name of my to-do list. It took a road trip 10 hours south of my hometown to realize that perhaps in some bigger realm I’ve been missing the point.

I’m hesitant here as I continue to write. It would be all too easy for me to say here “pack up your stuff, find where the majority of your best friends and closest family members are and go live out the rest of your lives in communal bliss.” Despite the fact that every ounce of me wants to write this, I think that’s just swinging the pendulum in a completely different direction. We’ve all read about cultures or met people who made family or relationships the ultimate purpose of their lives. It can be disastrous as people cut each others heads off in the name of an illusive familial bliss. People are just as messy as the work we put our hands to.

So what do we do?

Here’s a few thoughts that are grounding me these days:

  1. Seek first the kingdom of God.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says, essentially: “I know you need the fruit of your labors (clothing, food, shelter). Any good father knows this about his kids. So bank on the fact that you’re my kid. Trust me and then do this: seek first the kingdom of God.” I’ve dabbled a bit in books on Kingdom theology, and let me tell you…it.is.a.cluster. I haven’t quite wrapped my mind completely around what Jesus (or what all the interpretation of Jesus) is trying to say. I believe that’s because the kingdom of God is mysterious. Like the nature of love, it’s too wonderful to be defined. I do sense a certain theme though that repeats itself throughout the scriptures and in the winsome people in my life. That theme looks a lot like the powerful and rich being brought low so they can see the poor and oppressed brought up and out of the valleys.

Think of Moses brought out of an Egyptian Palace descending to the bottom of the pyramids to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. Think of David brought up and out of a sheep’s pen to slay a giant. Think of Jesus, a King, born low as a baby, descending from high on his throne and ascending to a cross. Dying…and then waking back up. The mountains are made low and the valleys are raised up in the kingdom of God. 

Before any of us read this and simplistically say “OK, I’ll pull out my wallet and write a check to XYZ Charity,”  we may just be missing the point here too. Hear Jesus say in other gospel pages “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is not giving an economic argument when he talks about the kingdom, though it certainly doesn’t exclude the economy. He’s saying blessed are the people who sense when they are brought low. Blessed therefore am I when I realize in my spirit that I am poor in friendship. Blessed am I because I get to run to the King and ask him to show me out of his riches what friendship looks like in my current poverty. 

2. Listen to God-given wisdom in any God-given season.

There’s a moment in that friendship podcast when Nelson says there are often two voices in her head competing for air time. The voice of her ego and the voice of wisdom. I loved this. Ego being: a person’s sense of self esteem or self importance.

In America in 2017, listening to my ego would look a lot like ignoring the still small voice that says again and again these days: “Relationships are important. Stick with this theme right now. Even when you’re tempted to work on your day off. Even as your introvert identity clamors for attention. Even when you want to run and hide.” Solomon, who asked for nothing more from God than wisdom, says it best when he says:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven

Solomon knew what most Americans do not. There is a season for putting our all into our achievements. Undoubtedly. Solomon also knew that when the work was done it was time to call up his friends, set a fire in the fire pit and tell some stories in the cool autumn breeze. America has enjoyed great prosperity after much hard labor. We just haven’t figured out how to share it with those we love.

I’ve asked God to show me practically what friendship in 2017 America looks like. Here’s what he’s said so far:

“Just Connect.”

Connect locally. Connect on the phone. Connect in person. Connect by taking the trip. Connect by invitations to visit. Connect by being vulnerable. Connect by holding his hand. Connect by giving the gift. Connect by turning off the TV. Connect by taking the job. Connect by letting the next job go. Connect at the dinner table. Connect by reading the bible together. Connect by reading Moby Dick together. Connect by praying. Connect by getting on the floor with her and the blocks. Connect. Connect. Connect. Connect.

Does this post resonate with you? If so, would you share it either on your social media page or with friends who might be encouraged by it? I cannot tell you how often in the last 18 months I’ve heard in some way or another that people are lonely. Some doctors have named it the health crisis of our time. Seriously. One doctor said if faced with a patient who was morbidly obese and lonely he’d prescribe friendships as his first line of defense! I am convinced we have the tools at our disposal to be a great nation full of inspiring communities. We’re just letting our egos run the show right now. Here’s hoping we can get quiet enough to listen to the river of wisdom running below the surface. If we rise above the clamor I’m certain we can hear it roar. 

Much love, Courtney.





Mary Oliver is My Spirit Animal


Hi Friends. I have been contemplative lately and when I get that way, at times, I like to read poetry. In the past year or so I have discovered both Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry and I just love so much of their poetry. I thought I’d share one of my Oliver favorites with you all. I have this saved on my phone for times like these because it reminds me that I’m not the only one who believes not only that “people do what they want” but that this whole world is one big question mark handed back to us that says: “What is it that you want?” So much so that Jesus asks it of us all the time in the gospels. I think it is THE question of life because it gets at the desires of our hearts. More on that some time. For now, I’ll let Miss Oliver encourage us:


Morning Poem
by: Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it
the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.


Bring Me Your Bird Cage

birdcageSo we are called to be culture makers. Not sit back and endlessly critique. Not enter in and self righteously condemn. Nor are we called to gluttonously consume culture in its various forms either.We are to enter in and make spaces for gospel goodness to shine bright. But how?

It doesn’t take very long for me to read a blog post about a call to create culture before I start to feel my inner self get antsy and nervous. I know how this has played out in the past. I’ve felt the world on my shoulders and have moved in as its personal lever only to feel it crash down on me in frenetic glory when I take the one role I was never designed to take. The role of world changer, dear readers, is not my role.

Say it with me. This is important.

The role of world changer is not my role.

I’ve been camped out in John chapter 8 for a few weeks. Its the chapter when Jesus is confronted by both a woman caught in adultery and her accusers. The Pharisees desperately want their way of life, their rule keeping, validated. At this point they will throw anyone under the bus in hot pursuit.

So they cast a woman at Jesus’ feet and say, essentially, “You be the judge. You say you are God and you know the laws of God better than we do. So you tell us what to do with this woman who deserves judgement and a penalty.” (Never mind that there was clearly a man involved in this woman’s sin and yet no one is calling HIM to account. Pharisee Identity Awareness Week rule number one: if they’re not forthcoming with the WHOLE truth than their probably just trying to maintain a cherished identity and are best left to a corner petting their favorite teddy bear named “Pride.” The bottom will fall out for them at some point, I guarantee it. We’ll be ready to welcome them back to the table then.)

So what happens next? Jesus responds with a clearly articulated treatise on Mosaic law…

Ha! No, actually, that’s not how it goes.

Jesus bends over and starts drawing in the sand.


I love this because he’s giving the people in his midst a chance to get tired of themselves. He’s letting the Pharisees continue their finger wagging and he’s letting this woman continue in her despair and he is waiting for the moment when they all run out of breath. Finally, after we’re all wondering if he’s gone crazy on us, he holds up a verbal mirror to the woman’s accusers and says “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The older ones leave first, having lived long enough to know that they fall short of perfection. Then the younger ones follow suit if only because their mentors led the way. Soon its Jesus and the accused staring at whatever picture Jesus drew on the ground while he was waiting for everyone to just “Give up on it, already.”

I kind of wonder here what he drew for her. Maybe it was an Israeli emoticon. You know, the smiley face of his day. Maybe. I like to think Jesus had a sense of humor. But this was a weighty moment for this woman so likely not. The guy was as pastoral as it gets. I’m betting it was more like the image of a bird, standing at the open door to her cage, ready to take flight.

Most of us know how the story ends. He asks the woman who has condemned her and looking around she says, “Not a soul.”

Though lets be honest, there’s still one hold out. The clamor has died down and the urgency has given way to exhaustion and everyone has left the stage. Except Jesus. He’s still there in all his authority and has any number of options at his disposal. No ones looking after all. He could lay a final coat of shame on nice and thick and leave her wondering for the rest of her days why she was so stupid to have walked the road she walked. But he doesn’t.

He lets the bird fly free.

“Go now, and leave your life of sin.” He says. To put it another way…“Leave your life of missing ME in your midst.”

Readers: If this isn’t culture making, I don’t know what is.

At this stage in the game of life, the year 2017, we are not so different from the clamor of the temple courts where Jesus is making space, holding up mirrors and drawing pictures of birds getting ready to take flight. We are all vacillating between our sky high soap boxes or iron clad bird cages and wondering how we’re ever going to walk again with the wind at our backs.

The answer lies in culture making. The answer lies in making space. We hold up mirrors to the overconfident and kindly point out the logs protruding out of their eyeballs and then we invite them to join their other four fingers to the one that’s pointing at the ashamed woman on the ground and ask her, together, if she needs help standing up.

Why? Because we are all going to need help standing one day. You will. I will. Don’t let American independence fool you. It is a joke. Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s a lie. American independence is a lie that is propping far too many people up and I, for one, would like it to fall down in droves. It appears it already is.

This doesn’t negate the fact that our lack of independence can be scary, though I would argue, it doesn’t have to be. We can trust in the great “space maker.” He’s pushing back the crowds that roar to life this peculiarly jarring type of shame – a shame birthed from loneliness and fear – and says something pretty clear following his interaction with the woman. He says it both to her and to all of us who will stick around long enough to listen:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

To that I say: “Thank God.” Because the world needs a little more light. My soul needs a little more light. And I think yours might need it too. Lets keep making space for ourselves and for our neighbors. Pretty soon, I’m betting we’ll feel the wind at our backs. And with enough wind, everyone knows it won’t be long before we’re able to fly.







How to Change a Culture


So, I have a confession to make. I have a terrible time reading fiction. Its just awful. Not the fiction. Me. I just can’t seem to do it. I have recently published a few articles in an online magazine and was asked to submit a couple of sentences for my bio. I am embarrassed to admit this but at the time I was asked I had just checked out two novels from our local library where I had forced myself to avoid any stack but the adult fiction section. So when I wrote my bio, in an effort to will myself into fiction glory I wrote that “I love an engaging novel.” GASP! Lies. This is all lies! Alas, I have renewed these books so many times that even the library basically said through their online portal the other day: “Give it up already. Other people will actually enjoy this one. We need it back.”

I’m still not willing to give up on the genre. I’m counting it a win that I got through half of this recent one. I’m also proud to say that there are a few outliers like Go Set a Watchman and The Signature of all Things that I actually enjoyed (Although, can anybody forgive Atticus Finch?! Ugh, NO, WE CANNOT. I am full of despair.) But clearly, I digress. In the end I’m a memoir/spiritual non fiction gal at heart. A spiritual memoir makes my heart go positively pitter patter.

All this to say that recently while successfully avoiding the mystery that I had promised myself to read cover to cover I ran to the library again to pick up a book I had encountered titled: Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. The book is written to a Christian audience and is a treatise on our call to create culture. The book was kind of “heady” and so unless you’re game for a more textbook like read you may find it more laborious then you’re up for. Even for all my interest in these things I was tempted to put it down in parts until I came across an illustration the author used that I cannot get out of my head.

Crouch talked about life in his family and the culture he and his wife are creating in their home. On Tuesdays, its Crouch family chili night. Andy grabs beef and onions, tomatoes and peppers. After some fine chopping, dicing and sauteing its not long before the smells of chili envelop their house and dinner is served. The only problem with chili night at the Crouch home, he shares, is that he has a couple of picky eaters at his table. One child doesn’t like green peppers. Another hates onions. Yet its a cultural value at the Crouch house that you eat whats put in front of you. There will be no alternative meals made on the side for a picky child in this family. (Or in the Beck family for that matter. Eliana, my sweet. You will politely take note of this.)

The author made an interesting point though. What if one day, 10 years from now at the age of 15 or 16, one of the kids comes home and says he’s had enough of Tuesday chili night. Sure, he could devise a lengthy treatise on the health benefits of chicken nuggets and suggest the family change course on Tuesday nights. Mr. and Mrs. Crouch love chili though and the comfort that those smells and tastes bring to them on a given Tuesday night might not easily sway them. After the treatise fails, Crouch Jr. could continue to complain each Tuesday night and hope that enough whining will cause a change in their Tuesday night dinner plans. This won’t work either though because Andy and his wife are also committed to raising respectful children. Its likely that this method will end up with a hungry Crouch child in a bedroom with the door shut while the parents eat their food in peace.

You know what would probably work though? What if Crouch the younger, now old enough to drive and hold a knife without killing himself asked his dad for the car keys one night. Baby Crouch heads to Kroger and maybe he picks up chicken and breadcrumbs. He grabs some pasta and tomato sauce and whips up a glorious Chicken Parm Casserole that he found courtesy of Yummly or some other recipe website. The author drives home the point here. After a long day of work, if his teenage son uses his energy to actively turn Chili night into Crouch family Chicken Parm night, he’s betting it might actually have some sticking power. After all, what father isn’t going to take his son up on a rare opportunity to kick his feet up and rest after a long day at work while his son makes dinner. Sure, this isn’t going to change chili night the world over. There are some families that will still eat chili on Tuesdays. But for the Crouch family, Chicken Parm night might start to take root and actual change in one particular culture – the Crouch family Culture – could start to change.

I hate to make a dent in book sales but for those of you who don’t want to read the book in its entirety, here’s the main point: You don’t change a culture by endlessly critiquing or condemning it. You change a culture by rolling up your sleeves and making it. 

Its a subtle truth right? If we really sit down and think about it, this makes total sense. Who hasn’t been told that if you don’t like the way somethings going, you do it yourself. But in a social media age I fear its become all too easy to sit back and yell about “culture” going to hell in a hand basket (never mind that the word “culture” here as we use it is really rather ambiguous. What does “the culture” even really mean?) without realizing that we can all have a hand in making it different than it is. And, might I add, without realizing that by sitting back and yelling on social media we’re making a culture that says we should all sit back and yell on social media as opposed to doing something more helpful. Like making a Chicken Parm casserole for dinner for family and friends.

So what do we do now?

I’m not sure.

But as I’m writing this I have this stupid grin on my face because I know down to my toes that this is how you create change. So I think there may be more posts about this topic in the future. This topic of culture making, to be precise. Stay tuned! I’ll be back with more. Right now I gotta figure out how you actually make Chicken Parm Casserole. That sounds delicious!