“A Big Heart Is Both a Clumsy and Delicate Thing”: Building Friendship and Community


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.

Two girls smiling together

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,
Hesitate less,
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.

Follow through.

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.

friends at nutcracker friend with my daughter

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.

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Tara is a mom to two kiddos, ages 5 and 9, and has been married to her best friend for twelve years. Raised in the Air Force, she’s from everywhere and nowhere. If asked today, she claims the Midwest, having lived in Illinois for eight years during graduate school and the birth of her first child. Five years ago, Tara and her husband took a trip to Portland and instantly fell in love. As they drove to the Oregon coast in the rain and saw the bright green moss and towering trees, it felt as if they were transported to another world. In that moment, Tara knew it was the place to raise their kids. They packed their belongings and made the cross-country move while Tara was eight months pregnant with their second. Tara homeschools her older kiddo, hosts a monthly mom’s book club, works as a freelance proofreader and a part-time bookseller, and co-leads her daughters’ Girl Scout troop. As an introvert, Tara is the first to admit she’s horrible at small talk, but if asked about the deep stuff, she’s all in. She’s a serious plant enthusiast, and she recently found that exercising and playing piano calm her soul.