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Cultivating (the friends in) your own backyard

S ay what you will about Facebook, it does serve at least one purpose really well: it affords us the ability to keep up with worldwide friends like we’ve never before. And lately, I’ve been keenly aware just how spread out my dearest friends are.

This spring trip of ours, traveling all over the country (just a few months before we travel around the world), has landed us in the kitchens of some of our absolute favorite people. Over cups of coffee or bottles of beer, we’ve kicked back on couches watching our kids play, hearts brimming to overflow with affection for these kindred spirits.

But… these friends are spread out all over.

Kyle and I have joked how easy it is to wish we were always somewhere else, assuming there is the place where we’ll find true community, true camaraderie, true roots. With all our driving, it’s easy to feel left out, to forget that Chad and Myquillyn (North Carolina) don’t exactly hang out all the time with Ted and Annie (New York), just because they’re all on the east coast.

It’s easy to forget that the grass is greener where you water it.

Our lesson this spring has been this: creating community, digging deep into people’s lives and finding real kindred spirits, doesn’t just happen. It’s hard work wherever you live, and it takes active cultivation, fertilization, and pruning. It takes being a friend.

No matter where we live, we all have to work at friendships. And in my late thirties, I think I’m finally understanding that.

This is why as much as I thrive on change, relish in travel, and passionately love exploring other cultures, I’m eager to get home to our small town in central Oregon. Because I want to get back and cultivate those friendships. I want to water my grass. To use an overused cliche, I want to bloom where I’m planted.

couch talking

There are great people in my town, I’ve learned, and I want to invest deeper in those friendships I’ve enjoyed the past few years. I’m finally starting to find peace with where I am, no matter how long we live there.

(Maybe I’m finally becoming more of a grownup.)

Last year, a few of us sipped coffee at a favorite downtown coffee shop for our town’s (in)RL. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I wasn’t jumping up and down to go, because formalized, “official” gatherings aren’t really my cup of tea. But guess what? I actually really enjoyed it. And I’m going to go again this year. (And I’m speaking, too.)

Because there’s something special about getting to know the people in real-live 3-D right around you, and not just the friends on Facebook you already know oh-so well. There’s something right and true and amen about rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of friendship.

There's something right and true and amen about rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of friendship. -Tsh Oxenreider

(in)RL is April 25-26 this year, and it’s absolutely, completely free. You should go, too (register here). Created by (in)courage, a community site where I’m a contributor and have grown to love like my own, is a home for any woman who wants to be known. And there’s something pretty cool about a website helping you make friends in your own backyard.

So yeah… let’s all be grownups and cultivate real friendships, shall we? Let’s admit that it’s hard, but also admit that the hard work is worth it.

Because in all my travels, I’ve come to learn that home tends to be the place where there are people I love.

All photos by Dawn Camp

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  1. Melissa Camara Wilkins

    Don’t you wish you could just relocate everyone you love to one perfect place… with lots of coffee shops and a really good but reasonably priced dessert bar… ? 😉

    I think you’re so right, friendship right where we are is important and really does take work. I used to think it wouldn’t be so hard, WHEN. When life settled down, when the kids were older, when our routine was different, when we lived here and not there– but nope. It’s always work, and here-and-now is as good a place as any to get started.

  2. Grace

    “Over cups of coffee or bottles of beer, we’ve kicked back on couches…” Ah, there’s something so satisfying about alliteration! Sorry, that wasn’t your point at all. 😉

    But I certainly resonate with this desire to be where you are. To have those warm, casual yet meaningful interactions we can have online translate into real life right where we are. For me, it’s often logistics more than anything. Hard to have a quick visit when transit takes time, kids are interrupting… It takes much more of a committment from me. Maybe that’s the key, though.

  3. Kim

    Oh this is So SO SOOOOOOOO what I need to hear right now! I love this post!! Thank you!

  4. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    So true! Having moved many, many times, I am convinced that a.) we all need true community b.) it’s worth the effort and c.) I will probably always have times of being tired of making the effort. 🙂 But, it helps me to remember the fruit of past efforts–dear friends all over the place.
    I’ve never done (in)RL before, but you made me want to check it out! 🙂

  5. Traci

    As a person who has friends all over the country too and can’t seem to stop moving around, yes! It isn’t easy to develop strong friendships where you are, but it’s important. Be a friend to have one. And friendships make life a lot more joyful. Near and far.

  6. Cate

    This really hit home, Tsh. I was at a conference over the weekend for global families and right in the middle of one of the keynotes I was struck with this very peaceful understanding that it doesn’t matter where I live. I can be, and I want to be, happy wherever I am.

    Ever since my first stint abroad as a teenager I’ve struggled with feeling unsettled, always wanting to be elsewhere, and lately I’ve been completely freaking out over the fact that I’ve now lived in my adopted state in my home country for 9.5 years.

    For me, I think it’s always been FOMO (fear of missing out) – there are so many places to travel, to live, and if I’m at home, I’m missing out! But I see it differently, now. Like you, I’m really working on blooming where I’m planted. I appreciate all of the international travel I get to do these days but I also appreciate the life and home I’ve created with my husband and community.

    You live near where I grew up (Eugene). Oregon is a beautiful state and I love seeing the pics of you and your family “blooming” in my lovely home state! 🙂

  7. Pam

    As a well sesasoned military brat who decided to keep up the nomadic lifestyle for many year, friendships are super tough for me. I am quite accustomed to enteratining myself with good books and quiet walks and yet put me in a crowd and I am an automatic social butterfly. But regular gatherings and consisitency are strangers to me, except for of course Facebook. Yikes. I need to get a life. haha


  8. Megan

    My husband and I were JUST talking about this yesterday; creating that community/friendships in your neighbourhood takes work. We’re planning on putting more effort into building these relationships over the next year. Thank you for the post.

  9. Kristin S

    I love Jen’s face in that picture up there.

  10. Brad Voigt

    The grass is greener where you water it.

    Simple. True. Outstanding.

    Thanks for the good word.

  11. Lindsay

    I would love to say I agree. I would love to say it works. Everywhere. But sometimes you land somewhere where you just do not fit in. I have lived in the Rockies and the Northeast, and made friends in a number of cities. Friends I treasure. But then I moved back home to Florida and realized that there is no substitute for the friends who have known you since kindergarten. And family. Cousins. Aunts. Uncles. I was so much happier back home than I had been in years.

    Then 2 1/2 years ago, my husband got a job offer we could not refuse, and we moved to Austin. In this city of 20-somethings who love to drink and party and stay out late, this beach-walking, introverted (not shy…different thing), extended-family loving NOT20-something, bar-adverse, non-Christian mom of a teen doesn’t fit in.

    I have tried. Oh, boy have I tried. I am a member of several groups, have volunteered for the Texas Conference for Women, worked on Austin events, gone to festivals and hikes and such. I started a blog to give me a reason to go out and see things, try places. But I remain unconnected completely. I have no friends in the state of Texas. And it becomes harder each day.

    Without my friends back home and our conversations online and by phone, I would not be able to survive at all. Perhaps the advice to try and make deep friends where you are works for many. Maybe even most. But when someone lands in the completely wrong soil, even the most sincere tending won’t make a tree of friendship grow. And that reality needs to be acknowledged, too.

  12. Kristen Strong

    A thousand amens to this, friend. Cultivating friendships do take work, but as you wisely point out, it is worth it.

    I’m always at home at your place here, Tsh, and I’m thankful you show us how to be at home with our people around us. Love you.

  13. Cynthia

    This is something I’m struggling with right now and have struggled with for the last few years. I moved a year and half ago and I miss my friends. I actually moved closer to one of my best friends but yet we seem to be more distant now than ever. We haven’t seen or talked to one another in over a year.

    I also am now finding it so much harder to make and keep friends. I have friends who are either single or have friends who have kids and I don’t seem to fit in sometimes. I don’t always want to talk at the dinner table about their children’s bathroom habits or I don’t want to hear about the clubbing and the binge drinking. My boyfriend is also an introvert and would rather be in the comfort of our home than out mingling and visiting with friends. And I’m a little bit of both. But as I get older I find that I want and need a few good friends where I can shop with, laugh with, cry with, listen to or simply just be with.

    Thank you for the recent posts on friendships. I needed a reminder that I need to make an effort too and so if I have to drive over an hour to see a girl friend than so be it. If my commute is extended an hour because I am going to stop and have a cup of coffee or dinner with a friend well then that’s fine too. I need to be more proactive and work at it.

  14. Mel@857notebook

    This has been one of the hardest things for me. I want community so badly, to feel connected. I haven’t had any luck. Everyone is wrapped up in their own world amongst babies and friends they’ve had since high school. It’s hard to find real live 3D people who are interested in friendship. It’s even harder because I’m an introvert! I will keep on keepin’ on though.

    Tsh, I see another book in your future: Get Social: A Guide for the Introverted

    Oh, how I need that!

  15. Alia Joy

    I love this. It’s hard for sure. I almost always want to bail at the last minute on gathering with friends. Even ones I genuinely enjoy. It takes work to clear a calendar and make time. It takes major effort to drag myself out of my introversion. But I always enjoy it when it’s all said and done. I think I was 33 when I realized that my two best friends were my sisters-in-law who have known me for 15+ years and who I couldn’t get away from even if I wanted to. We grew together because there was a commitment as family that we’d stick it out no matter what. I think cultivating friendships works that same way. You just commit to making it happen and put in the work and hope for the best. P.S. glad you’re back on the proper coast 🙂

  16. Becky

    This is so incredibly hard for me. Like others have said, it’s hard when quiet time is what recharges me. I have many acquaintances here through church, my husband’s work and the like, but I have no real friends. It’s depressing and very discouraging. We’ve been here for 6 years. We talk of moving because we really have no ties here. My husband’s family is scattered, mine is all back in the northeast and while Texas has been good to us, it’s just not home. If it just affected me and my husband, we’d be ok. This “no close friends” trend has existed most of our military life off and on. But now my kids are affected. I’m trying hard to set up play dates etc and I pray that those moment will lead to friends for me too but it just hasn’t clicked. I’ll keep at it but I fear that I’m just not able to cultivate a close friendship at this stage in my life. My mom was able when she was an empty nester. Maybe I will too.

    • Lindsay

      Becky, Texas seems to be hard when it comes to making friends. What part of the state are you in?

  17. Carol

    I, too, sometimes find that it is hard to cultivate friendships. I notice that most have been because of my children over the Mommy years and I expect that to continue until my son is up and on his own.
    Sometimes I am a bit jealous of those who can manage friends in large or small groups and still manage their families. I often feel too pressed for time. I do not want to give up family for friends.
    My interests must be mostly individual pursuits, perhaps. I can’t talk and quilt at the same time, I guess. I don’t like to talk and paint. Those are more solitary hobbies. I do not like to be sweating and huffing and puffing with others around.
    I do want to connect with others who ”do what I do” though. I need to find a way. Admit it is hard, but I am going to put a little more time into the attempt this year. ;D

  18. Carol

    oh, and My Mom went to the Encinitas location for the Reader Meet up and book signing. They said that they had no idea that an author was coming. I am sincerely hoping that she ran into employees who were new or well, missing important info. 😀

    Please let me know if I have missed a location or time change. 😀

  19. Jackie

    Oh my goodness, cultivating close friendship where you are planted IS really hard! I’m commited to it through, even though some days it’s scary and terrifying… Thanks so much for sharing!

  20. Rachel

    Love this post. I am searching for friends. I don’t have many around my area…like, only 2 to be exact. I am wondering, though, do you “have to” be a Christian to attend these meetups? I am a pagan and very open minded, no qualms about befriending Christian women. But I also don’t know if I would fit in, per se, if there is a lot of Christianity-center talk, if that makes sense. I just wouldn’t really have anything to add.

  21. Emily

    What a great reminder and thanks for acknowledging that community does take work no matter where we are! May I add, no matter how long we have been in a place as well. I needed this, because, living overseas, the hard part for me and my family/kids lately has been people coming and going – we ourselves haven’t actually moved for a while, we’ve stayed put, but it’s been hard to see precious friends come and go, sometimes within a year or less, and sometimes within a few years – it makes it really tempting to just not engage, or only engage when we know someone is going to stay for at least a few years. But of course we all know that is not what we are called to do. It doesn’t make it any easier though, particularly as my kids get older and goodbyes get more and more intense…..

  22. Cybele @ BlahBlah

    A wonderful post. I have lived in lots of different cities around the world at lots of different times in my life. Sometimes, I’ve clicked with others straightaway and other times it’s taken a long time and times where I never really felt got there.

    You’re so right that it takes work and shifting our mindset, because with 20/20 hindsight I can see the times when it didn’t happen were mostly about me or perhaps I had few bad experiences early on put me off and I gave up instead of pushing through. Some places are harder, but persistance can really pay off x

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