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Welcome Back In

I've noticed something about retail workers from Generation Z that I find charming. When you walk into a store, they say, "Welcome in!" instead of "Welcome!" At first I found this redundant. Doesn't "welcome" mean, "You can come in?" I'm not alone in finding it weird; I went down an internet rabbit hole to investigate. But I've decided that the extra emphasis takes it from a greeting like "I acknowledge you've walked through the door," to "Come in. We're glad you're here. Stay for a while." Whether this is a trend from West Coast youth (as one reddit commenter said) or the result of corporate training (said another), I'll take it. After years of social distancing, discord, fear and increasing isolation, I think we can use all the welcome we can get these days.

My book on friendship was published in 2019, about nine months before Covid hit and we all were forced into isolation to varying degrees. This was pretty lousy for me – both as an event speaker, who was really starting to chug along – and as an author who advocated for getting off social media and inviting people into your house. In 2020 I pivoted to inviting people into my back yard, where my friends and I sat 10 feet apart. (My kids, who are major rule followers, watched us from their upstairs windows and texted me if I got too close to anyone, which was annoying as crap.) It was weird for our family when we finally let people cross the threshold into our home again. Weird and wonderful. It was even stranger when we went back into large church services, to concerts, to full school classrooms, to the Orange County Fair. We found that we, as many of our friends, found that we had developed social anxiety -- not just because of the dreaded virus, but because we had forgotten how to talk to people in person, and we had found that some people had gotten a lot scarier in spaces where we used to feel safe. We had become unwelcome because of how we had navigated the last couple of years.

At to this confusion, for me, a new kind of imposter syndrome that I developed. After publishing a book about friendship, I become kind of paranoid about what kind of friend I was. I tried to practice all the tools I’d learned and written about. But the last three years have been hard on my friendships. Largely because they have been hard on my friends. Among the half-dozen women I think of as my bridesmaids, this is what has gone on:

· A pandemic

· A parent with brain cancer

· A parent with a Parkinson’s diagnosis

· A parent with dementia and heart failure

· A parent with a massive heart attack

· A friend's own brain cancer (my dear Brittany passed away in December just eight months after diagnosis)

· A friend's own diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease

· Children that have been bullied, failed classes, rebelled, were diagnosed with depression, anxiety and ADHD

· Kids who came of age during virtual school and found returning to real school highly anxiety provoking

· Children that left home for college and grad school

· A child that left home for the military and came back prematurely

· Two of our kids dated each other and then broke up

· Marital strain and extended family tensions

· Loss of friendships due to political conflicts

· Loss of church communities due to political conflicts and other "issues"

· Changes in careers

Basically, it’s been a bit of a poop show. Even the good things have been major emotional disruptions. Maybe life is always this tricky and we’re just getting older. But I think the pandemic caused collective trauma that depleted us, making life feel especially relentless. All my friends have had issues (their circumstances), that revealed their issues (their fears, controlling tendencies, woundedness and limitations). And my issues came out in full force. We needed the three main concepts in my book: authenticity, encouragement and accountability.

Authenticity allows us to reveal our true selves—both strengths and weaknesses – and be loved just as we are.

Encouragement means celebrating each other’s joys, comforting each other in sorrow, and spurring one another on to bravely be the best version of ourselves.

Accountability reminds us of who we are and what we stand for – and calls us out when we forget.

Even with all this knowledge in place, some of my closer relationships deconstructed in the last three years. In fact, some women that I named in the book and I are not currently in contact. Losing this intimacy was extremely painful for me, as a woman and a friend, and also with the added pressure of being an author and speaker on the subject of friendship. Did I fail to practice what I preach?

But then I remembered the intention I laid out in the introduction. All My Friends Have Issues was never intended as a way to keep all your current friends close to you forever and ever. From the introduction:

Beware: as you read, you may feel convicted to step out of some of your current relationships, or to shift a friend who has been on the inside circle of your life to a place a little farther from your heart. My hope, though, is that this book will help you grow in discernment, so you can determine if your friends’ issues can be covered with grace, or if you should take a step back from the relationship.

I’ve had to take a step back in a few friendships, and I say humbly that one or two people chose to take a step back from me. One of the many amazing therapist/authors I follow said recently that we will all, at some time, be the villain in someone else’s story. I hope I’m not the villain in my old friends' stories, but I understand if I am. Sincerely, those that have recently shifted out of my life aren't villains in mine – not even close. I have undiminished, precious memories of these friends, and I mourn that our paths diverged, even if I also believe it was necessary.

What hasn’t changed even remotely is my conviction that the quality of our relationships is one of the determining factors in the satisfaction we feel in our lives. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Even when it feels like the whole world is on survival mode, I have a chance to thrive because, as the Beatles once sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

My friendships could use some refreshing, and I bet yours could, too. So, over the next several weeks, I’m going to be diving into my own book and pulling out the best ideas, and looking at them with a new critical eye, post-pandemic, a few years post-publishing. This is my new, trauma-informed series on friendship!

So let's welcome people back into our homes.

Let's welcome slowing down and spending time.

Let's welcome authenticity.

Let's welcome gentleness.

Let's welcome diversity and curiosity.

Let's welcome encouragement.

Let's welcome our real emotions, yet not be mastered by them.

Let's welcome feedback.

Let's welcome discernment and sound advice.

Let's welcome being known, loved, and strengthened by one another.

I hope you will join me, and invite your friends to follow along. Welcome in.

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