Fostering Connection (and free conversation cards)

Fostering Connection (and free conversation cards) We were made for connection, and if we're not enjoying it now, one day we will if we don't lose heart.

I cried while giving a devotional talk to my church's mom's group. That's not unheard of. I usually share personal or vulnerable things, so emotions being attached is normal. This particular time two years ago, however, was a little different.

I didn't cry because of what I shared; I cried because as I stood in front of that group of women telling about a challenging thing we were going through, I realized that was the first time I had talked about it with any friends at all.

I felt so deeply alone in that moment realizing I had been carrying this thing myself. I was sharing a story publicly that I had yet to connect and share privately.

I believe our stories matter and I believe in the power of us telling and receiving those stories. But there's generally stages to that sharing. It starts close to ourselves, perhaps in prayer or as we process with pen and paper or to a spouse. Then it's shared in other safe places like with a counselor and a close friend or two. It could also be shared in a small group, among friends or in some type of support group.

As all of those things happen, we bring our stories together and we relate with each other. We're no longer alone with this story, we're surrounded with support and the deep healing work of connection.

We shortchange ourselves of that meaningful necessary connection when we don't share our stories in smaller, more personal ways. When we jump straight to sharing our experiences publicly in a blog post, on Facebook, or for a devotional, or if we don't share them at all, we're still as alone with it as we were before.

We are made for connection. And struggling in friendships doesn't exclude us from that connection.

The many words I've written and spoken have rarely been about friendship, because I struggle with it. I often feel like I don't belong, or wonder like Mindy Kaling's so-relate-able book title, Is everyone hanging out without me? When I go through a challenging season, I disappear from my friends not reaching out or making an effort. The term "ghosting" was made up for people like me.

Those struggles with friendship don't exclude me from connection. When asked in high school if I'd rather 10 acquaintances or 1 close friend, I always chose the 1 close friend. I want meaningful connection, and I don't get that in easy breezy conversations with people I hardly know. But I've learned I can experience connection with people I hardly know when we show up ready for connection.

How meaningful connections happen, and 80 conversation starters to inspire meaningful connections.

Connection Happens When…

Following is a little more about those meaningful connections and what makes them happen. Then, grab these conversation cards to inspire meaningful connection with your friends, during a girls night, or for some other small group gathering.

1. Connection happens when we offer connection first.
He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38 
The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself. Proverbs 11:25
If we want to be encouraged and supported, we have to encourage and support. If we want to be invited, we need to invite. If we want to be asked how we're doing by someone who means it and wants our genuine answer, then we need to genuinely ask and await the answer from others. We need to do to others what we wish was done to us. Blessed is she who makes the first move.

2. Connection happens when we tell our stories and let others tell theirs.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Our stories matter. They're ultimately retellings of the story of salvation. By telling our stories, we’re claiming our need for and acceptance of salvation and inviting others to identify Christ in their stories, too. It’s never too late to let Jesus take over the writing of our story and even to help us reconcile or make sense of our past. Our complete-ish stories shared (with a friend, in a group, as a testimony, in an article) let others know they’re not alone, they tell about Jesus and offer an invitation to come-and-see, and they offer hope in the hurt. We don’t just experience for ourselves, we experience for a collective gain.

3. Connection happens when we love like Jesus loves, in person with our whole self.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
Jesus could have loved us from afar--and he did/does. But He also came to live on this earth, to interact and talk and heal and connect. When Jesus tells us to love like Him, I believe that's what He means. Love in person with our whole self. Be present to those around us. In real life. And if we're going to use technology, may it still be personal. May we still use uplifting words in personal messages to connect in genuine ways.

4. Connection happens when we are in Christ.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. ...Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1, 7
Just as the motions of love without love is nothing, so are our acts of connecting without Christ equally lacking. When we connect in Christ first, our connections with others bring new meaning and a deeper hope that transcends this moment.

5. Connection happens when we give of ourselves in the way we know how or were created.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
We each have our own gifts and personalities and strengths. Our connections are more meaningful when we start there. I write handwritten cards to my friends, not because I think everyone should do that, but because that's one way I can share my gifts and my self with those I care about. Some people are good at phone calls or hosting or starting conversations or bringing by pizza during a difficult season. Do what you know how to do, what you were created to do.

6. Connection happens when we relate / empathize, and journey with others.
To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Romans 12:15-16
We generally aren't meant to have the answers for other people's struggles. Usually we aren't even meant to have opinions about their experiences. Even a counselor won't often have input on what you should do; that's not our role for our fellow people. We are to show up with our own joys and struggles, and in that sharing of those human experiences we are equals in our need for Jesus and His grace and His salvation. We are in this life together, not any one person besides Christ ahead of us.

To be present in someone else's struggle and know they're present in ours--that is the depth of friendship and that is the depth we can also be present to each other's successes and joys.

7. Connection happens when we don’t give up.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9 
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to weep, And a time to laugh; ... A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; .. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11
Just because we don’t have connection now, doesn’t mean we never will. We are assured God makes everything beautiful in its time, including our lives and including our relationships. When we feel discouraged by our present, we can be assured that we are created with the hope of eternity deeply rooted in our hearts. When right now isn't good, we can be sure that it's not the end because God's good always gets the last word.

I'm preaching all of this to myself. I've stayed on the sidelines, I've thrown the pity parties. I've had serious FOMO confirmed by social media posts telling me everything I've missed out on. But it doesn't have to be that way. I can extend invitations and believe I'm worth hanging out with. I can make an effort, even if I'm the one that made an effort last time (I'm usually not). I will show up for my people and it will be worth it.

Don't let the opportunity to connect pass you by. Reach out to encourage and support those around you (even if they're not yet "friends"). Ask how someone is doing and make sure they know you want the real answer. Entrust those close to you with your story. Show up in person with your own personality and strengths. Empathize instead of carrying the burden to rescue.

If you'd like some conversation cards to use in your conversations with your friends, for a girls night, or in a small group you're a part of, you can download my 8 conversation cards >> here. They cover 80 statements that you can use to share pieces of your own story, or turn them into questions to ask others pieces of their story.

And don't give up. We were made for connection, and if we're not enjoying it now, one day we will if we don't lose heart.

also see:

Finding the Joy in Missing Out

Replacing FOMO with JOMO: There is joy in missing out on what's best for everyone else's life so that you can live what's best for your life. Live it in love with joy.

My FOMO (fear of missing out) is actually a confirmation of having missed out every time I get online. I'm reminded of what others are doing that I'm not; local gatherings I wasn't invited to; and life milestones that I haven't met or may never meet, but my peers have.

I've actually missed out on a lot in life. Some even big things that I still think about years after the fact. Like not going to one of my BFF's weddings over a decade ago. Or not graduating high school. I've also missed out on building a career and buying a home (at least for now).

Missing out is a fact of life, and fearing it is just causing me to miss out on what I have here and now. We have every right and even the power to replace our fear and disappointment with joy, contentment, and gratitude.

Everything I have "missed out on" represents some other opportunity or life experience I got to be a part of.

I didn't make it to my friend's wedding because I was about to have a baby and didn't want to risk travelling out of state. I didn't graduate high school because it seemed pointless after the life experience I gained living overseas the nine months before. I set aside my career and our hopes of buying a home so that I could be the daily caregiver for our kids while they were young.

It all depends on our focus--am I too busy pouting about what I've missed to see the joy of what I have?

Because I have a lot, and not appreciating it in some ways is equal to not having it. Giving into the fear or disappointment over comparisons keeps me from even recognizing what's right in front of me. It may not be a lot compared to others, but since it's all I've got, it's everything to me.

Following are a few things I'm learning about replacing fear with joy:

1. There is no fear in love.
"Perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) Fear when talked about in the FOMO context is often said in more of a joking way, but I believe it's fear nonetheless. It has no place in my life or in my faith. Jesus' perfect love casts out fear, where it is replaced with peace and joy and goodness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

2. We get to choose abundant life.
Jesus said that "the thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy." Doesn't that sound like what happens when we let social media, comparisons, or other distractions or addictions suck the life out of us? Trivializing it just gives it more power. But Jesus came that we "may have life, and have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) I believe it's possible. When we take back what's being taken from us by being present and attentive and thankful. Living this one life we have with abundance.

3. Fullness of joy is in love.
After Jesus talked about the vine and branches, he summarized by saying, "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love." And we abide in His love by following his commandments to love (see #4 below). When we do this--when we abide in Jesus by loving--His joy remains in us in full. (John 15:9-11) Fullness of joy is in the fullness of our love.

4. Love as Jesus loved--in person.
Jesus' commandment is that we "love one another" as He has loved us (John 15:12). He could love us from afar--and He did/does. But He came to this world to love us in person, then gave us the Holy Spirit so that we can continue to be loved in person. Isn't that the best way to love? In person? Giving of our self? If you take away all the extras of life, what's left, the actual substance of life is love--being loved and loving others. We don't do that by being consumed and distracted and handing our lives away. We do that by being present and attentive to those around us.

Whether our fear keeps us chasing what isn't meant for us, or if it's just the emotional pit that lingers when we see our "dull" lives in contrast to "everyone else's"--the power to change that is not in doing more. It's in simply being.

Be present in this moment, in all of its unglamorous glory and know that this is life. This breathing. These people. This home. These choices that you've made and the ones still ahead. The way you spend your time and the moments that make up your life.

There is joy in it, joy in missing out on what's best for everyone else's life so that you can live what's best for your life.

Live it in love with joy.


also see:
new? start here...
getting through season transitions
how to get the most out of today
email signup

*Credit to my sister-in-law Michaela who first introduced me to the idea of JOMO (joy of missing out) years ago.

For Those of Us Who Adjust Slowly to Change

For those of us who adjust slowly to change, we will re-find our footing here in this new season. Eventually. In our own time. And that's okay.

I spent the morning reading in a hammock, peeking up at the palm trees above me to lock them in memory. I had tagged along with my husband to his work conference in Florida, and we were going to be flying back home to the midwest that afternoon.

He spent his days in meetings, while I spent mine soaking up sunshine and rain and all the green. And getting to choose how I spent my time without interruption (stuff I didn't know to dream of before I had kids).

Each day I walked from the little resort's lobby with blended coffee in hand. That first day, I stopped just past the little wooden bridge in front of the wall of greenery that surrounded the pool area and impulsively smiled. My heart felt so full that it threatened to release in the form of tears.

I can't explain it, and I don't think we have to explain what makes us feel alive, but green plants and sunshine in that moment made me feel so happy I could cry. Like I'd returned home--the place I was always meant to be.

To mix it up, I left the serenity under the hammock and relocated to read by the pool. Again, spending as much time reading as mentally scanning the abundance of luscious green plants into my memory bank.

Longer reading breaks were for floating in the cool water to get relief from the heat of the morning sun. Just me and a couple elderly women relaxing at the edge of the calm end of the pool. The hammock and the pool and the palm trees--it's the stuff vacation dreams are made of.

Within a couple hours we were already packed up and on our way to the airport. A storm rolled in, delaying our flight, followed by another hour-plus delay while we sat on the plane. With each minute that passed, that morning's relaxation drifted further and further away.

By that same night, I went to sleep exhausted in my own bed in Nebraska. It was like the morning was a distant dream I wouldn't have believed was real if I hadn't taken pictures of it and spent so much time taking it in to try not to forget.

This is the disoriented space I often find myself during seasons of transition... like waiting in the airport for our direct flight from relaxed summer days full of sun and green, straight to the uber structured days of the school year followed closely by a long season of cold.

There's definitely good to each season that comes around. It often just takes me a moment, or a few, to re-find my footing there. To become reoriented to finding joy in this simple present, not the one from before that I yearn for.

If you, like me, adjust slowly and sometimes reluctantly to change... there is space for us to transition at our own pace. We don't have to rush from season to season as quickly as we perceive others doing so.

We don't have to be ready for the school year when the supplies come out in July, or ready for fall when the Halloween costumes start being displayed on the same day we posted the kids' back-to-school pictures. Or ready for summer when the swimsuits show up while there's still snow on the ground. I happen to love summer, so that one is just a cruel tease.

We can rush into the next season if we choose to, but we don't have to. We can take it at our pace, fast or slow, readily or reluctantly.

Following is what helps me get through a season transition when I'm reluctant to accept what's next:

1. Look around and find something to be grateful for here.
My go-to is my people. Even if they sometimes stress me out, they are still the part of life I'm most thankful. I also experience a reflexive deep sense of gratitude when I am in places I love (nature or my simple living room), or when I spend time doing things I love (flipping through magazines for inspiration or writing).

2. Remember, or create, something to look forward to.
There is usually something coming up that makes the next season feel worth diving into. Whether it's pleasantries of the season (summer is my jam, but I do love a cozy sweater and hot drink in the cooler months); an event or gathering; or some new role or opportunity (like my return to blogging now that my youngest is at preschool). If I have nothing to look forward to, that usually means it's time for me to plan something like inviting friends over or finding local events to attend.

3. Give self grace to not live in this in-between with as much ease as desired.
The first few days of any transition feels deeply uncomfortable to me. Even if it's a transition I've been through before or have looked forward to. The first days of school, the first days of summer, even the first days of switching up something in our home. Instead of being frustrated by that, I'm learning to expect it and let it happen, knowing the feelings often calm within a day or two.

Those of us who are reluctant to change will adjust to this new season.

Eventually. In our own time.

And that's okay.


also see:
new? start here...
lessons on slow
self-care over the long haul
email signup