A Story of Friendship

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The original small group couples (plus the first couple of babies) in 2009

This story began eight years ago.

In 2008 Jon and I embarked on our first Grand Adventure as 20-something newlyweds. We decided to pack up our house, our cars, my classroom, and our dog and move 1,000 miles away so Jon could attend a top-ranked grad school. It was a huge decision that would impact every area of our lives (and our pocketbooks), so we were nervous.

There were a lot of “what if’s”: What if school didn’t work out? What if I couldn’t find a job to support us during those years? What would it be like living in a place so different and so far away from the only place we’d ever lived? What if we missed our family too much? What if we didn’t meet any friends?

Through all of the what if’s, however, we had confidence because we knew that this was where God wanted us to be. So, we moved forward in faith, trusting that it would all work out.

Shortly after arriving at our new home in Palo Alto, California we got connected to a great local church that some of our friends were attending. We decided to join a small group Bible study that met once a week in a couple’s home. After all, we still didn’t know many people, and maybe this would be a good chance to meet some new friends.

Little did we know then, but that one decision to join a small group would impact our lives forever.

On the first night of our small group I tried on about 15 different outfits. I wanted to look cool without looking like I’d tried too hard so I could make a good first impression. I was incredibly nervous–as I always am when meeting new people for the first time (I try to play it off in public, but I am 100% an introvert and social gatherings often set me in a panic)–but I was also excited to hopefully meet some people our age.

When we walked in the front door of the Barley’s tiny top-floor apartment on that first night we were greeted with hugs and huge smiles, and I knew we were in the right place.  These people were genuine, and I couldn’t wait to get to know them more.

Over the next two years the couples in that group would become like family to us. We found commonality in our faith, our careers, our joys, and support when all of our husbands worked too hard. We went through a lot together in those two years, and the years that have followed. Three of us became pregnant with our first child at the same time. More than one of us miscarried. One of us adopted. One of us nearly died. And, eventually, most of us moved away.

Over the years we kept in touch and followed one another’s adventures. When our family embarked on our next Grand Adventure to Ireland, our small group friends journeyed along with us in prayer (and in faithful reading of my blog!). And when our third Grand Adventure moved us back to California, some of them were still there to greet us and welcome us “home”.

Our lives are so very different now than they were when we first met eight years ago, but this is the kind of friendship that spans time and distance and life change. In the two years since we’ve been back in California I have met up every couple of months with the ladies from that original small group (I refer to these gals as my “comfy friends” because I can wear my comfy sweats and messy hair around them, and they’ll do the same for me). It has been such a source of contentment and  joy to have my comfy friends back in my life again!

A few weeks ago we managed to hold a reunion with the 4 families from that original small group that are still living in the Bay Area. It was absolutely incredible to see the husbands and wives and children and careers and homes that we had prayed for all those years ago–here, in the flesh.

And, while it was amazing to have all of us together under one roof again, it was short lived. Because next week? Next week we send another family off on another Grand Adventure. But that’s not the end of this story.

You see, this family of dear friends is not just moving anywhere. They’re moving to Ireland, the same far-away country that we recently moved from. Actually, they’re moving to Cork–the same city where we lived two years ago. More specifically, their house is in Rochestown–the same neighborohood where we once lived. In fact, they will be living just a few doors down from our former home, and walking the same streets where we once walked.

The irony of us moving back to California to such wonderful friends, only to have them move halfway around the world to the same neighborhood that we recently moved away from, is fascinating. I am so excited for them and the adventure that is unfolding for their family. Excited for what awaits them, but also excited because our story will continue through them.

I love it when God surprises me like that. He wrote this whole story before time began, and when the pieces come together He must smile knowingly because He planned it that way from the very beginning. It’s not luck or coincidence that I have these friends in my life or that our paths have crossed over time and space. It’s providence. It’s God’s provision for our present and His protection for our future. I can trust God’s providence because He already wrote the ending of our story. And it’s GOOD.

So, as new plot twists and characters enter this story, I will be ready. Ready to embrace the journey and the story as it continues to be written in our lives. Ready to trust and follow the Author. And, most of all, I will be ready to be amazed.

Because amazing is what He does best.

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Our small group reunion, July 2016

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The God-Claw

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My boys have been obsessed with the movie Toy Story for the better part of three years now. And when I say obsessed, what I really mean is that their very hearts beat to the rhythm of Buzz Lightyear’s lasers and Woody’s lasso throws. They eat, sleep, and breathe the mantra that toys are a kid’s best friend. They dress up in Toy Story costumes and go about daily life as if they actually are the movie characters they idolize and adore. They have memorized every line of every Toy Story movie (including the lesser known spinoffs such as Toy Story of Terrors and Toy Story That Time Forgot).

All this to say, I have seen a lot of Toy Story. A LOT.

For those of you who may be *ahem* less familiar with the movie, you should know that a critical point in the first Toy Story movie centers around a toy claw. Andy (the boy who loves his toys with all his heart, soul, and strength) goes to Pizza Planet (Pixar Chuck E. Cheese’s) where there is an arcade claw machine full of little squeaky green alien toys (Which, by the way, Disney does not manufacture for consumer consumption. They have about 50 different versions of alien toys available through various retailers, but none are the exact size, squishy-ness, and squeaky-ness as the aliens in the movie. I know, because we have bought and tested all 50 alien toy products that are currently available. But I digress…).

At one point in the movie, Buzz Lightyear (the hero toy) gets trapped inside the alien claw machine. In his moment of greatest need, the aliens speak to him. They explain how The Claw is their master, The Claw chooses who will stay and who will go. In short, The Claw is boss over their life.

So a few weeks ago when a friend of mine compared her life to that of an arcade claw machine, I immediately thought of the aliens in Toy Story. I thought of The Claw that is master, that chooses who will stay and who will go. Only in my life, the claw is not a mechanical metal pincer that drops from the sky–it is God. The God-Claw. God is my master, and He chooses who will stay and who will go. The metaphor made perfect sense, and it’s stuck with me.

There have been so many times in my life where I look back and can see how “The God-Claw” has swooped in and moved me to the exact time, place, and position I needed to be in. Like when He put me in this little Bible study in college, and that’s where I met my husband. Or when we got married THE DAY AFTER WE GRADUATED COLLEGE–without a job or a home or a savings account–and we returned from our honeymoon to a job offer and the most perfect student teaching placement I could have ever dreamed of, in the same city as the new job. Or when He carried us a thousand miles away from home to a graduate school we were not qualified to attend and could not afford–but then we got there, and every missing piece of the puzzle came together at the exact right time. Or when He transplanted us halfway around the world to experience life and a culture that would shape our lives and our family forever.

And here we are now–living, working, serving in the place where The God-Claw has deposited us for the time being. I never know how long I will be in a particular place or doing a certain work, and that’s fine. Because I am not the Master. He is.

As long as He is the Master–which, by the way, is forever–I will be His little alien, doing the best that I can where He has placed me, and being willing to go when He calls me. Whether it’s a new job, a new skill, a new parenting method (or two or three…I’m finding that each child may, in fact, require totally different sets of parenting methods), a new surrender (We’ve recently hired a house cleaner because I’ve recognized that I simply can’t do it all. I have to surrender my pride in thinking that I can do everything and be everything. That was a humbling realization.).

Whatever it is, I need to be willing to go where He’s calling. And if He’s not moving me? Then I need to stay. To stay on and continue in the work He has already called me to, and do that work the best way I possibly can.

So that is my hope–that I would be attuned to the movements of “the claw” and that I would be willing to allow it to move me. That I would fully trust God, my master, and hand over the reigns: contentedly, willingly, faithfully, obediently.