Covenant Relationships- A Word from Ann Voskamp

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

I had an entirely different post scheduled for today….

One about being present and listening to a heart rather than a word.  It was a good post (no worries, look for it next Friday!) But then I read my friend Holley’s blog and it was just so perfect.  It so fit my word for the year and so fit how I am seeking to live my life this year (and for many to come), I just had to share it with you….

We can all find ourselves pulled into negative conversations from everything from the weather to politics to what great aunt so-and-so did last week. The start of a new year always feels like the blank page of a new journal so guarding our words and helping others around us do the same is perhaps more important now than ever.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen. – Eph. 4:29

So if you find yourself in the middle of gossip or a gripe fest, what can you do?

Here’s my go-to list of three kinds of questions to ask to help the conversation get back on track…will you jump over with me to Holley’s to read the rest?  There’s a free printable download of the graphic above in it for ya :)…

And a little song to drive it all home… 

Words by Hawk Nelson

Covenant Relationships- Grapes of Friendship

It starts simply.

Friendship, that is. I think folks try to make this complicated.  It’s not.

It’s sometimes scary.

It’s sometimes intimidating.

It’s sometimes really uncomfortable.

But it’s not complicated.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Forming a connection is as easy as eating one grape. I get this analogy from my chiropractor who introduced me to this concept several years ago as a way to describe the sure-fire, change-your-life strategy to change your life…gradual, step-wise change.

Yep, I said GRADUAL….which most generally translates to “takes time.”

So it goes like this- add one grape to your daily diet today, each day thereafter add another grape. (The diet advice is free 🙂 )

Today eat your cheeseburger and fries, but eat a grape first.  Tomorrow, eat two before your cheeseburger and fries; the next day three, and then four..until eventually you don’t have room or the desire to eat the greasy stuff anymore.  

Developing connection, a crucial step in the process of building covenant relationship, is like eating one grape.  Today a connection starts by a simple, “Me, too.” The hard part is speaking up- putting yourself out there and LITTLE BY LITTLE opening up to another human being.  Start with the ‘small talk’ and work your way into deep conversations.  It takes time to build deeply connected relationships, but they are so worth it.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ “

– C.S. Lewis

Guest Post: Start Your Own Friendship Brunch

My friend, Mary DeMuth, over at Live Uncaged, writes about…well, she writes about just about anything.  I follow her blog on a regular basis because she always has something great to say about words-smithing, about what it means to be a ‘successful’ writer, mother, woman of God and friend.  A few days ago, she shared this post with her readers about her annual friendship brunch.  If you have read my book, you know that I am a big fan of eating….and also breaking bread with friends.  🙂 When I read about this tradition of hers, I felt compelled to share it with you guys. Enjoy!

I don’t remember when I first started this, but I believe I lived in Seattle, which means my friendship brunch started in the roaring Nineties. A friend of mine had created her own yearly brunch with friends, and I had the privilege of being a part. When life moved on, I decided to follow her inspiration.

So every year around Christmas time, I invite friends to a brunch. This year was my biggest yet, with 14 guests. I had to add a table onto my table to make everyone fit. But it was worth it.

Why? Because there are just so few moments we take these days to celebrate friendship, to ask good questions, and to share our hearts. I started by telling everyone how I knew each person. (I was the common denominator of all the women, so it was fun to share how I met each one.) It was interesting to see how the stories interconnected. Some of us went to the same church. Some of us met when my husband was in seminary. Several of the friends had actually visited us when we lived in France. All of the women have prayed for our family in different, cool ways.

The next question I asked was, “From what you’ve gone through this last year, what one thing do you want to do differently next year? In other words, what did you learn and what do you want to put into practice?”

Mine? I’ve seen how this year has…why don’t you jump on over to to read the rest….I know you’ll enjoy it!

Open Like a Lake….for when emotions are really raw

Glassy lake

so much hurt and preservation
like a tendril round my soul
so much painful information
no clear way on how to hold it

when everything in me is tightening
curling in around this ache
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake
wide open like a lake

– Sara Groves, Like a Lake

The cursor blinks tauntingly at me and I sit here watching it and waiting.  I’ve tried to avoid writing today, but Simon says that “writers write” and “starving artists starve themselves mostly of self-belief and inspiration” so I sit obediently, with fingers poised over keyboard and wait for thoughts.

My head is full, and my heart brims over with a little bit of sadness and a little bit of malaise, and this is, most naturally, the time when words and tears spill out on the pages before me, but not today.  Today I want to stick my head in the sand and stay disconnected from this sadness in me and I know that opening the floodgates for words, opens the floodgates for emotion too.

A song plays in my head- one I heard this morning on my way to work that sounded pretty but didn’t tug on my heart because it was just words then and not real life. Then news comes of a life lost far too soon and the heart within me that is a mother and a older sister broke in two for the mother and sister who lost her, and suddenly just words turns to heart-aching truth and I am thankful that someone has the gift of making these truths into beautiful music. In the midst of the ache, a friend reaches across a thousand miles with a post about God and goodness and like the spot on my windshield where rock beat glass- it is the second hit that cracks the whole.

I tried earlier to write a post about speakers, but it didn’t come and I sat and stared and watched the cursor blink.  Then I tried to finish a post on secrets, but even those words wouldn’t come with any sort of rhyme or reason.

So instead I just sit and write. I am writing exactly what is happening as I am writing and I wonder if this might not be the first moment I have been truly present all this day.  But presence hurts today, so I stay quiet and keep my head down and hide in the back corner of the office hoping that no one will notice and come looking for me, because what I need most right now is just time.

So I apologize if the resources post is not up today, and quite honestly it may not be up tomorrow because tonight I will spend hugging babies and husband and truly relishing the people I love in my life.

So here is the resource for you today….and the tip on relationships for you the rest of the week:

Photo by Melton Microfilms

Photo by Melton Microfilms

Love.  Love deeply and strongly, and…please, please, please- SPEAK IT.  Say it out loud. Hug it out long.   Don’t wait, say it today, say it tomorrow and say it a lot. Leave no love unsaid- not in your marriage, or with your family, or with your friends, or with the lady who sits at the end of the pew and raises her hands when she sings worship, or with the man on the street corner who holds the sign that reads, “single dad just trying to make it work. Please help.”

And remember:

when everything in me is tightening
curling in around this ache
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake
wide open like a lake- Sara Groves, Like a Lake

Covenant Relationships- To Be Real

I sat across from him at the table and fidgeted a bit.  He smiled with his disarmingly sheepish grin.  He had asked me to be real with him….to take off the diplomat words, kid gloves and vagaries and point the sword of my thoughts and words directly at him.

I squirmed with the weight of it.  Real words are heavy boots that kick down doors and open us up to vulnerability.  He was my friend and deserved the real, vulnerable, open me.  He deserved to hear that I thought his plan was self-absorbed and full of fear.  He deserved to hear that he had become my brother and I would be sad if he stayed on his current path.  He deserved these words…real ones….but didn’t get them….

Because I was afraid of being real.

He walked away from me that day not knowing – my real thoughts, my real feelings, or, frankly, my real advice- and I have regretted it ever since.

If we are to open ourselves up to covenant relationships, we have to learn to be real.

We all know this, right? We hear words like authenticity and integrity all the time.  But, to live these out takes guts. Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
How right is she?  It’s not easy to check our need for validation at the door of our relationships and be open and honest.  But it is the first skill that needs honing in the quest for covenant relationships.  We need to know how to Be Real.

But how do I do that?  How do I let go of the need to be “just right” and know that who I am right now is “enough?”

It starts simply, with the acceptance of your true identity.

“…you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.” – Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

When we begin to accept ourselves, our stories, our wounds and brokenness as part of the Beloved child of God each of us is, the courage to be real is cultivated…and the result is absolutely beautiful.

Stay Connected,

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

– Brene Brown


Beautiful Connections

“Beautiful, Beautiful,

Oh I am lost for more to say.”

-Kari Jobe, Beautiful

Getting out of bed this morning was really hard.  Sure, there was the standard post-holiday-Monday blues, but something more. A heaviness followed me into my day today.  Dreams of “other shoes dropping” and such haunted my Sunday night slumber- nightmares that riled up all manner of fear and vulnerability and left a pall over the sunny morning.

Thirteen years ago, I fell down and broke my crown….no, I mean literally bonked my noggin hard.  Hard enough to cause a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Hard enough to forget who I was. Hard enough to forget how to speak.  It was a terrifying and lonely year stuck inside my own head, unable to communicate…having to relearn the names of numbers and letters and objects and people that I loved. It was the hardest and darkest time I have ever had to live through.

And I don’t EVER want to go back there…..not ever.

Last night, I dreamed I did.  Last night was the stuff of my worst nightmares, and when I woke this morning, I carried that sadness and fear with me into my day.  I didn’t talk about it though (can anyone say vulnerable?), I was afraid my mascara might run. I just slapped some pretty pink lipstick on it and kept on keeping on.

I am not really sure why these memories are flaring up now.  Why these demons laid to rest over long fought months are rearing ugly heads today.

I think it may have something to do with the Alzheimer’s class I am teaching at Home Instead Senior Care.  I use my experiences to help our Caregivers understand what our clients are going through. Maybe staying in that space is dredging up baggage I thought long put away.But I do know that God opened a safe space for me to talk through the fear tonight after class in the most beautiful, unexpected way.

I love how he creates connections for us.  Beautiful connections…I love how each person is such a beautiful gift to the world with a story to unwrap and unfold.  As the students were leaving class tonight, one lingered. We began to talk and share…we found connection and interest, and before long were talking about my TBI and my rehab and then….out of nowhere….my fear. And then she shared her story and her fear, and together, well I felt, not so alone in it.  It was a beautiful moment of connection…one of many I have enjoyed through the teaching of this class.

As I drove home, I picked up a cd in the dark and popped it in the player…The first song, “Beautiful” by Kari Jobe. As I sang along, I felt the fear in me melt away.The sadness pushed back to dark corners by the force of the notes pushed out of my lungs as I laid my burdens down. And my heart felt light and free again.

Thank you, Jesus, for beautiful connections, for divine appointments, and even, Lord for the hard memories that help me encourage empathy in others.  Thank you for people who create safe places just with their presence and for music that allows our prayers to leave our hearts without having to fully grasp what is needed.   


“Here before your altar, I am letting go of all I’ve held.

Of every motive, every burden, everything that’s of myself.”

Covenant Relationships: The Series

This blog is the first in a yearlong series exploring the idea of Covenant Relationships. I’d love, ultimately for this to be an ongoing conversation about love, friendship and deeper relationship with God, so would you comment below with your thoughts? Or better yet, consider guest posting on a topic you think might fit?  Send me an email at

If I were to sum up in a word what Strings Attached Ministries is all about it would be relationship.  With others, with God, with ourselves- our heart here at SAM is to help Christians people find and build deeper, meaningful relationships in their lives.  This year, I’d like to take some time to be intentional in having a conversation about what practices and disciplines living the connected life requires and what roadblocks stand in our way.

I stumbled across this idea mid-sentence as I was speaking at #Small Town 2012 earlier this month.  As I was wrestling with the insurmountable task of speaking about developing covenant relationships online in ten minutes or less, I made the comment that I “could write an yearlong blog series on this topic and not even scratch the surface.” Hmmmmm…

So here we are, a few weeks later, doing just that.  So this year, let’s have a cup of tea and chat about relationship….and how to make it richer. I thought we would start off by defining what I call covenant relationships.

The word covenant is defined by Webster’s dictionary as:

“Covenant: a usually formal, solemn and binding agreement between two or more parties.”

So in this sense a covenant relationship is a relationship with commitments and obligations.  It is solemn and binding, it has consequences…it is a “strings attached” relationship.  It is the type of relationship God models for us in His relationship with us. It is the type of relationship we were created for.

Most often, when I speak about covenant relationships, people very naturally think of marriage, but I believe God created us for covenant relationships with our family and friends as well.

Over the next year, on Fridays, we will take an in-depth look at what I believe the hallmarks of a covenant relationship are, what practices we need to put in place to learn to develop these in our own relationships and how to overcome the roadblocks that stand in our way.

One last thing (and a confession), it took me three edits to finally commit to writing on this topic once a week on a specific day.  Those of you who have followed my blog long know that I am not always consistent with my writing.  I am making a commitment to you to try harder in this area.  Will you help me?   I could sure use your prayer, your encouragement and, perhaps even your words.