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How to Build (and Keep) Community - Especially For Women

** These 10 principles about how to build and keep community are things I learned from watching my mom and her friends interact. As you strive to make new friends and grow in your connection with others, I hope they help you, too. **

Date:   7/17/2018 9:49:09 AM   ( 28 mon ) ... viewed 392 times

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10 Things I Learned from My Mother on How to Build (and Keep) Community

Lauren Sanchez
My mother has always had a strong group of friends. She calls them her “sisters.” They do a lot of things together. They go to church together, some of them work together, they go to Starbucks and watch movies together, even serve together. At my wedding, they were the ones tearing up the dance floor to “We Are Family.”
I have always admired this group and they are truly like family to me. I have always felt a comfort in having them in my life. Now that I am at the end of my twenties, closing a chapter, I am looking for my own group of friends. Thanks to my mom, I have a great example to follow.
Here are 10 Things I Learned from My Mother on How to Build (and Keep) Community.

1. Be Intentional.
This is probably one of the most significant lessons I have learned. It’s the first one for that reason. Friendships don’t just happen when you’re an adult as they did in grade school.
(I’d secretly hoped they did.) You have to be intentional when making and keeping new friends.
I can be naturally shy with new people and am not much of a “small talk” person. I want to dive right into what I’m thinking about, whatever that deep, philosophical thought might be. I have learned to put that aside as I’m meeting new people, to listen more than I talk and to ask questions. This builds a relationship, one block at a time.
Watching my mom and her friends, I know that she keeps relationships with intentionality. She calls or texts them to see how they are doing. She likes and comments on their Facebook photos. She goes out to meals with them. And, when she hasn’t seen one of them in awhile, she makes plans and goes out of her way to remind that person that she misses and loves them.

2. Serve Each Other.
My mom is a servant--through and through. I remember being a kid, staying very late at the church because my mom was cleaning up after an event. I asked her why we had to stay. She said it was because she knew no one else was going to do it. My mom has always modeled servanthood and it’s a great lesson when it comes to friendship.
My mom’s friends are also servants. In trying to figure out the logistics of my wedding, her friends stepped up in a big way. They volunteered to serve the cookies and apple cider as well as greet guests at the wedding. One of them even volunteered to be my day-of coordinator! They are all a great example of loving each other through serving.
Jesus showed us how to serve one another in love. At the Last Supper, in John 13:1-17, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, saying, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus set the example. My mom and her friends simply followed.

3. Provide for Each Other.
If you ever go out to dinner with my family, be forewarned: my mom will fight you for the bill. She has been known to be very sneaky in her tactics and family and friends have caught on. Her most formidable opponent is her best friend, who has been known to hide cash under Mom’s car visor (or give it to her kids) just to try and pay her back.
Why does my mom make such a big deal about paying for others’ or her own meal? For one, she doesn’t want to take advantage of anyone or cause them to have to pay for something they cannot afford at the moment. My mom knows her friends well. She knows what’s going on in their lives. But also, she esteems quality time more important that the cost of a meal. So, if she can afford to pay for a friend or family member’s meal, along with her own, she may do it, just to enjoy making a memory with them.
When a friend cannot hang out, and the only reason why is due to money, offer to pay, if you can afford it. I know there are times when we are all strapped for cash and this isn’t possible. Instead, you could offer to cook a meal for them or do something fun that doesn’t cost any money. The point is to spend time together and build on your friendship.

4. Consider Their Family Your Family.
Now, I wouldn’t suggest this if you are just beginning a friendship, but there’s a principle in there for new friendships, too. You can be interested in learning more about a person’s family life when you are getting to know them. Ask questions. Find out about their spouse, kids, dogs--people love talking about their dogs. The more you get to know them, they’ll open up to you about their life and their family.
My mom is close to her friends and knows their families. I grew up with many of her friends’ kids, who are now adults, like me. Guess what? My mom is a part of their lives, too. She’s been to their weddings, thrown bridal showers, watched their children. Her friends’ family is her family. My mom has also been there for her friends as they have gone through struggles. Some have lost family members, have had job trouble, or are caring for ailing relatives. My mom has been there for her friends in each situation.
As we become closer to friends, when things happen in their lives, we hurt because they hurt. When we take the time to listen and grow closer, we can show love to them and be the kind of light that Christ talked about in Matthew 5:14.
When we get older and start having our own families, we can feel so isolated, like our family is an island with no one else in sight. Creating lasting friendships like these makes us feel that we are not alone in this.

5. Open up to Each Other.

I think all of the women reading this who are emotional, like me, though yes! This is the section I’ve been waiting for!
We can’t get anywhere in a friendship unless we open up and tell others how we are feeling. That could mean talking about how our day is going. That could mean being honest about a problem. That could also mean sharing, in confidence, what might be going on at home. Being open allows others to see the real us. Yes, this is scary, sometimes, and what we have to share may seem uncomfortable, but it can also cause us to breathe a huge sigh of relief, not having to pretend anymore.
My mom is the most compassionate, patient, and understanding person I know. She listens intently and tries to empathize with others. She doesn’t make snap judgments and always tries to help. Her friends lean on her in times of crisis and, in turn, they have been there for her when she has needed it. Though there have been things shared that have caused unpleasant feelings at times, the “sisters” have gotten through it, because in the end, they believe they are family.
A word of caution about opening up to others: with new friendships, be careful what you share. I have made the mistake many times by sharing my deepest darkest secrets, only to have that person not be in my life a few months later. I did not truly know the person to whom I was opening up. That is why it is important to build that foundation, asking questions and really getting to know someone before opening up, to create that “safe place.” For the deeper stuff, I would suggest talking to a counselor. They are always a great listening ear!

6. Go Out of Your Way.

When one of my mom’s friends moved out of the country, she no longer saw her friend as frequently. She didn’t forget about her. Though she often communicated with her on Facebook and through phone calls or text, Mom decided that she would rather spend time with her friend in person. So, she drove out to the country and spent the whole day with her friend, hiking, and getting a whole tour of the garden on her property. She had an amazing day.
Now, to me, driving an hour or more to see someone isn’t very convenient. I don’t even like driving a half-hour to see friends on the other side of town. My mom went out of her way, making plans to go see her friend, even if it might take some time out of her busy schedule. That’s the kind of friendship Jesus exemplified.
In Luke 19, Jesus was passing through Jericho and spotted a man named Zacchaeus in a sycamore-fig tree, who was trying to see him. Rather than ignoring him and keep going on his way, Jesus stopped and said,
“ Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Jesus went out of his way to spend time with Zacchaeus and when we model this kind of friendship, that going-out-of-the-way means something to our friends. It lets them know that they are loved and valued. It tells them that they are worth the effort, that you want to see them. Even in a new friendship, going out of your way goes a long way.

7. Include Others.

One time, I crashed a “sisters” Christmas gift exchange. I was at Starbucks, getting ready to go home when it came one of my mom’s friends. She asked if I knew that she was meeting my mom, along with two other friends. I did not. When all of the women arrived, they invited me to stay and hang out. Now, they could have easily not invited me to their “sisters” event, but to them, I was family, another one of “the girls,” so they included me.
I have always been a proponent of including others. I was taught, from a young age, that, because of Christ, we are to love everyone. That framed my whole mindset towards interacting with people. So, it does not surprise me that my mom models this with her friends. Since I moved out of my family’s house several years ago, I cannot tell you how many new people come up in conversation when my mom is talking about her friends. Do I have to ask her Who is that? or When did you guys start hanging out?
Because God “so loved the world,” we are to love others. It is important that we do not get so closed off that we ignore the people he puts into our lives. It is also important that our friend groups do not become so “cliquey” that we leave others out. Look for opportunities to include new people in your daily activities. Maybe it’s grabbing a coffee together, inviting them to lunch with you and your friends, or even just stopping by for a quick conversation. The more we include others, the more friendships we will build.

8. Share Each Other’s Interests.
Everyone has different interests. We are all different people with different personalities and are drawn to different things. Sometimes, our families draw us to different things. Your kids will draw you to different things. Experiencing things that other people enjoy make us more well-rounded as individuals and increase our connection with others.
My mom and her friends share each others’ interests. They know it’s important to support each other and do so with their presence. Rece
9. Serve Together.
One of the best ways to grow as friends is by serving together. In serving, you learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how you can complement one another. It is an opportunity to grow your relationship as you support each other in order to achieve a common goal. Whether new friends or old friends, you can always learn more about a person by serving alongside them.
My whole life, my mom has been serving alongside her friends. I literally grew up serving at a retreat for youth and adults with special needs. Every year, my mom and her friends plan crafts and Bible story activities for these campers and reconvene to teach them on the retreat. Are there hiccups along the way? Sure. There have been times where they have had to make up new plans on the fly because a craft didn’t work or they didn’t plan enough to do. In the end, it all works out, and they have a great time, ready to gear up for the next year.
1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.”
Ntly, a friend of my mom’s asked her to participate in a race. Now, my mom isn’t really a runner, but the idea of a Bubble Run and spending quality time with her friend interested her. So, she agreed to power walk the race with her friend. She chose to get out of her comfort zone and try something new. In the end, the two friends had a great time, eager to participate again.
When we share our friends’ interests, we give them a boost of confidence. Our support strengthens them when they need it. We grow closer to our friends when we share these experiences together. When making new friends, supporting their interests lets us learn more about a person. You can see what someone is good at and what they are passionate about when you share their interests.

10. Keep God First.
If I asked my mom was would be the most important principle for building and keeping community, she would probably say this: keep God first. Just like in marriage, keeping God first in friendships is essential. When we put God first in our friendships, there is something holding us together that lasts, unlike common interests.
When my mom met her friends, it was at different points in her life. Some, she met in college, others at work, and some of them, she met at church. Even though they don’t all see each other every day (or week), they still care about each other and pray for each other. One of the most amazing aspects of my mom’s friend group is that they take prayer requests seriously. If one of them has a need, the “sisters” stop whatever they are doing and lift them up in prayer. I can attest to this, because I have seen their Facebook threads and text chains. They believe that God is the foundation of any relationship and that he holds them together, but more than that, that he is the most important thing.
Putting God first when making new friends is talking about God working in your life, being present, asking the other person questions to get to know them. Sharing positive, encouraging words and scripture, when appropriate, are examples of putting God first. You can even invite that person to church or a small group, including them.
One of the most simple, easily forgotten ways to put God first in your friendships is asking someone if you can pray for them. You can do this at all stages of friendship. It lets others know you care, that you see them, and that you love them.
These 10 principles about how to build and keep community are things I learned from watching my mom and her friends interact. As you strive to make new friends and grow in your connection with others, I hope they help you, too.

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