My five-year-old and I went to her bestie’s house for a playdate a few weeks ago. As we gathered our things to say goodbye, her bestie waved her arms to get my attention and enthusiastically shouted, “I love you! I love you! I love you!” The next day while I was driving my kids to their activities, I thought about that moment and the many others with her like it, and I was inspired by her ability to love others without a second thought.
After having recently listened to a podcast by Gabby Bernstein in which she challenged listeners to “celebrate the practice of witnessing,” I was making an extra effort to notice and record the little wonders from the universe each day. A whispering in my gut told me that moment was sacred. It was simple and profound. And since I was building the habit of witnessing, I needed to write it down. I sat at my computer to decipher what the universe was making known to me, and words spilled onto the page:
She bounced up and down,
Waving her five-year-old hand,
To catch my attention,
And speak heart to heart.
As I grabbed coats and shoes,
To leave out the door,
She insisted my adult ears heard,
“I love you! I love you! I love you!”
With my attention now turned,
I wrapped her in a hug,
As a knowing filled my body,
And the universe whispered to my heart,
That I needed to be still and notice,
Her gift which was made of the purest love.
As I bent down to wrap her in my arms,
I insisted her child’s heart heard,
“I love you too, I love you too—can I have a hug?”
I drove home from her house,
And moved on with my day,
Until the significance of that moment
Hit me full force, making me ponder my ways.
I witnessed a child love with her whole heart,
With no guarantee of return,
And from her example, this adult heart learned,
That to love like a child is truly divine.
Universe, I will strive each day to—
Love more fully,
Give more freely,
Reach out without regret,
Forgive more often,
Follow my gut,
And expose my big heart in every way.
As a hesitant doer and chronic overthinker, loving with a big heart doesn’t come naturally. I’m more inclined to doubt my self-worth and worry how my words are perceived. However, whenever my impulse screams to stay small, I read this quote from Anne Lamott’s book, bird by bird: “A big heart is both a clumsy and delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through.” Nothing is more real, more beautiful than connecting with others on the soul level, and even though it brings a possibility of pain and rejection, it’s also the foundation — and as Brené Brown says, the only path forward — for a meaningful relationship.
Since moving to Oregon five years ago, I’ve been blessed with amazing friends who have loved me for who I am and have also had the courage to reveal their own true selves. To be surrounded by such inspiring people is a gift, one that I feel grateful for every. single. day. I believe people are put in our path for a reason, and my friends have become my people, my guides, my inspiration. They have taught me to love with my whole heart, and from their example, I’ve become a better friend and human. If you’re longing for this type of close connection, I hope this advice will be the inspiration you need.
Make it weird.
I regularly hang with three other moms who have become my go-to friends and confidants. We go out for drinks, text one another randomly, and sometimes have our kids play together. I was at work over the weekend, tired and feeling a little down, when one of these friends texted the quote, “Normalize telling your friends you love them. Tell them a lot. Make it weird.” Her text felt like a cherished hug. She didn’t have to reach out first to let us know she was thinking of us — but she did, and I love her for it. Her text was one of the many times she’s shown through her actions how to be a good friend. As I sorted books onto shelves, I chuckled and thought, “Wow, I can do that! I’m really good at making things weird already!” Her words gave me encouragement to follow my intuition, to send that text when I hesitate and give that hug when I might otherwise not. It reminded me it’s better to love hard than to not love at all. It’s okay, and even good, to make it weird.
I distinctly remember the time I scheduled my first playdate with a mom’s group when my younger was ten months old. The rain was pouring, and we were supposed to meet at a nature park nearby. A few hours before, everyone unsurprisingly canceled once they saw the weather, but I kept the playdate. As I walked to the park thinking no one would show, I saw one mom playing in the sand with her daughter, waiting for me. I don’t remember our conversation or how long we stayed, but I do remember, in that moment, I knew she was worth putting energy into. Her integrity was obvious, and through the years as our friendship has grown, I’ve known she’s a safe space. I can trust her. She follows through.
Be willing to be uncomfortable.
The first time I met my bestie was one of my most uncomfortable moments as a mom. I had agreed with a neighbor to meet her mom friends at a Pump It Up playdate, and as my older jumped and slid on the inflatables, I mostly hid my introverted self in the corner, cherishing the time alone, nursing my younger. My bestie, a friendly extrovert, came over to me and tried to initiate conversation. I can’t remember what we said, but I was absolutely, most definitely very awkward in my replies. Miraculously, however, my neighbor convinced those moms to give me a second chance. They invited me to karaoke nights, book clubs, brunches, and playdates. As we spent more time together, they enveloped me with their big hearts, showing me who I could become, loving me through some of my hardest times. Little did I know the impact that one playdate would have on my life.
A couple weeks ago I sat on a park bench at the nature park, surrounded by a few other dads, a couple of whom have become close family friends. The sun was shining and our kids were jumping on the climbing structure together; as I watched the scene unfold, feelings of wonder and awe took over. Unable to keep my emotions in, I blurted, “This is truly the ideal. I might cry.” Gratitude for our people — those showing up for recitals, inviting us to holiday celebrations, bringing food when we’re sick, and loving on my kids like their own — overcame me, and as peace spread through my bones for our wonderful friends and neighbors, I thought: this is true friendship; this is community; this is our Portland family.