This episode is so special to me. I sit down with my 3 childhood friends, including my older sister, as we describe what it was like to bring our past selves into our present. We were close all through high school, but life took us on different paths, to different cities, and through different experiences of faith, marriage, and family life.
Over 2 decades later, we reconvened and replayed the tape of our lives—each one of us bearing witness to the other. Today, we share with you what we discovered about the power of reclaiming your past.
I pray this episode sparks your imagination and ignites your desire as you consider pulling in old and new friends as companions on your journey toward wholeness. Here's what we cover:
1. Why 4 childhood friends reconnected to each other—and our past selves
2. How diverse perspectives strengthened, not divided, our rekindled friendships
3. Confronting & overcoming regret
4. How revisiting my sister’s teen pregnancy became a catalyst for healing
5. What we'd each say to our younger selves now
Do you have questions about friendship for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
Thanks to our sponsors:
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Give online therapy a try at betterhelp.com/BESTOFYOU and get on your way to being your best self.
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Song: Pass It On by Kurt Kaiser lyrics
Related Podcast Episodes:
Episode 58: How to Find Friends Who Bring out the Best of You, Why it Matters, and How a Good Friend Can Transform Your Life
Episode 59: Finding Your People, Overcoming Past Hurt, & Deepening Friendships Through Intentional Community
Episode 60: How to Make New Friends, Overcome People Pleasing, Identify Red and Green Flags, & Extract Yourself From an Unhealthy Situation with Aundi Kolber and Dr. Monique Gadson
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook with Guests Courtney C. Williamson,
Jennie Ann Becker and Rebecca Goodman
Episode 61: Friends on Friendships
Alison: This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. It's so easy to get caught up in what everyone else needs from you and never take a moment to check in with yourself. Let alone identify what you need from yourself. I know that in my own life, having a regular time to check in with someone else. Who's going to ask me the hard questions, ask me about my week. Ask me about what I'm thinking about; what priorities, what relationships might need to be realigned to create just a little bit more space, for me, to do my own work is so important.
Therapy can give you the tools to find more balance in your life. So you can keep supporting others without leaving yourself behind. It's helpful for learning positive coping skills to check in on what's cluttering up your mind. To help you check in on the messages you're telling yourself. The things you might be subtly starting to believe about yourself or other people, that need to be realigned. It can help you take those steps to set better boundaries and to become the best version of yourself. There are just so many reasons that we can all benefit from therapy.
If you're thinking of starting therapy give BetterHelp a try. It's entirely online. It's designed to be convenient, flexible, and suited to your schedule. You fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist, and you can switch therapists at any time for no additional charge.
Find more balance with BetterHelp. Visit BetterHelp.com/bestofyou today to get 10% off your first month. That's better-h-e-l-p.com/bestofyou.[00:01:34] < Intro >
Hey everyone, I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you are here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's health.
Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast, where we are in a series all about friendship. And today is a really special episode, in part because we're celebrating a significant milestone. This past week, I found out that this podcast crossed 1 million downloads in just a little over a year. That's 60 episodes, over 1 million people have listened to The Best of You podcast.
This is a mind-blowing number to me, that so many of you each week are tuning in to listen. As we talk about how to break free from painful patterns, mend the past and become our true selves in God.
When I started this podcast, a little over a year ago, a couple of things were really important to me. Number one, first and foremost, I wanted to bring the best of psychology together with faith to talk about how we become whole people now. How we become the people that God wants us to become this side of heaven. As a clinician, and as a person of faith. I see so many important ways in which both psychology and theology can inform us, in practical ways to become more whole, and that healing starts now.
But, secondly, I wanted to bring my whole self to this podcast. I didn't want to pretend that I have it all figured out. I'm part of this journey with you. And it's really important to me, to not only bring the best of what I study, of what I research, of what I know to be good, solid science, and good, solid theology, but also to bring my whole self. Which means to bring what's good and what's also still very much in progress.
And, so, in today's episode, it felt apropos to bring on my three childhood friends, including my sister. To talk about how we've reconnected, these past few years. And how that reconnection has created such a foundation for health going forward.
And so today's episode is really about those old friendships. How you can pull in and reconnect to old friends from the past. These old friends who help you connect to your sense of self in such a unique way. These friends who can remind you of aspects of yourself you may well have lost touch with. Maybe your playfulness or your innocence. Maybe a dream that you had, or a gift, or a talent you had that somehow got buried along the way, as things got hard.
And these are the folks who've stood by as you've grown, and changed, and navigated different life stages. They might understand your past, the place from which you came. It's the place from which you came. The unique quirks or the unique values of that, that might have changed along the way.
They remind you that through all the seasons of life, you're still you. You're still that person you were before life, maybe beat, you down and got the best of you. You still have that precious younger you. That you that was full of dreams, that was full of optimism, that was full of hope, is still in you.
There's something so powerful and so grounding about coming together with a safe person. Who knew you in a different season of your life. Where you look together at the pieces. Maybe, about what's hard, about some of the things that happened, that maybe you didn't expect. That you didn't even know how to prepare yourself for, back then, but you've survived.
You've come out the other side now, and together you remind each other. That you're still the same person in so many ways. Yes, you've grown wiser through some really hard things. Yes, there's a lot to grieve together. There's a lot that we didn't know how to anticipate, but here we are now. We've made it through some things. Let's take a minute to see where we are now. To see where we've been, what we've come through, where we are now. And even more, importantly, where we still have to get, where we still want to go, and what's still possible.
These old friends can come alongside us and be such an ally, and be such a resource, such a gift. As you look at who you were in the past, what you've survived, and where you are now. And you formulate a hope that takes all of that into account. All of who you are, of what's changed, of what you've survived, of where you are now.
So that as you look forward, you are grounded in a fuller, more whole picture of all of it. Of the truth of what's been hard, of the wisdom you've now gained. You can find hope, in looking back, even over what's been hard. Not to dwell there, but to look back and scoop up the pieces and weave them together in a newer, more whole, more complete version of yourself. That is a compilation of the past, of the present, and of the hope of what is, yet, to come.
There is research that shows that very few friendships last seven years. Only 30%, in fact. But those that do last seven years, tend to have what it takes to last a lifetime. So if you've got friends out there that were dear friends of yours for seven years. Even if you've lost touch, that's a strong foundation upon which to build.
Research also shows that we can really only sustain about five intimate friends, and only about 15 trusted friends. That's not that many. Those 15 might be some of those friends with whom you've lost touch. Maybe you see them on social media. Maybe you see them at the YMCA, or at a church group, or wherever, and maybe you've grown a little distance, but the trust is there.
And research shows that it's not so much about quantity. It's not about having a massive amount of friends. It's about quality. It's about intentionality. It's about taking inventory. Who are those trusted people, whether from the past or from your current life, and how can you pull a few of them in closer. To go even deeper, and how being intentional about that is an incredibly important part of a healthy, whole life.
And, so, for today's episode, we're going to talk about these older friends. And I've invited three of my childhood friends onto the podcast. And we're going to share with you, some of what we've learned, as we become intentional about reconvening these last few years. Today's three guests are my oldest and dearest childhood friends. Courtney Cook Williamson who's also my older sister. Jennie Ann Kopser Becker, and Rebecca Kopser Goodman I still call her Becky.
The four of us grew up together, essentially, since birth. We were all born and raised in a small town in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Our parents were friends, and we went to the same Bible church, from our earliest years.
We would play for hours while our parents talked.They'd throw all four of us in the back of a Pinto station wagon, before there were seatbelt laws, as we drove to church each week. We were all in different grades, so we had different friend groups apart from each other. But we stayed close throughout high school, and had a lot of overlapping friends and things in common.
But as adults, our lives diverged quite a bit. We moved away. We left our hometown. We went to colleges on opposite ends of the country. We pursued different careers, and different paths to marriage and family. We stayed in touch a little bit, but were not nearly as involved in each other's day-to-day lives.
But during the pandemic, we reconvened, just the four of us, to check in on who we are now, as middle-aged women. We got together, for the first time, in Vermont several years ago and then in Texas this past year, each time for a long weekend. And the results of those two weekends were amazing to all of us.
So much had changed and, yet, a lot had remained the same. And that's why I invited these friends and my sister on, to share about our experience of reconnecting to each other after several decades. And how powerful that's been in our own journeys toward wholeness.
I hope this episode will spark your imagination. As you consider some of your old friends, and some of your new ones, and how they've shaped your lives. Remember, you don't need a lot of friends. But you do need a few who know you deeply and intimately, and you can start at any time. So with that in mind, I am so delighted to bring you this episode with my dearest childhood friends and my sister Courtney Cook Williamson, Becky Kopser Goodman, and Jennie Ann Kopser Becker.
I want to start, Courtney, with you because you were approaching your 50th birthday. And you said, to me, "What I want for my birthday, what I want for this milestone, is to get the four of us back together." So tell us a little bit about what was going on inside of you, that led you to reconvene this group of the four of us.
Courtney: Yes, so there was a confluence of events around my 50th, that came together. And one of them was just a realization of I'm the outlier of the faith-based community of the four of us. I'm not as active in the church, and I have, I think, probably, I'm guessing, many more secular friends. I live a more secular lifestyle. And I'm also on the outside of the Wyoming diaspora. I've lived in New York City, and Sydney, and I'm in Vermont.
And as I was looking at 50, I was missing, honestly, both the church connection or the faith-based connection and the connection to the West. You guys are all out West, and I'm not. And kind of thinking about what does it mean to look back on the first half, or the first two thirds of my life. And the people who came up in my mind; as I want to connect with, and talk to, and be with is the three of you and our friend Michael Phillips.
So Michael passed in the late '90s, and so we couldn't have him. But you guys and Michael are the people who've known me best, and known me the longest. And I just really wanted to use that birthday as an occasion to bring that back into being, to be honest.
Alison: I remember when you told me that. You'd been thinking a lot about, "Who are my people?"
"Where do I find people who get me?"
And, so, there was this backdrop of, "Oh, I want to be intentional about connecting to some of these people, from my past, that meant so much to me." That you hadn't been in as good of touch with. So I had been, to some degree, in touch, still, with Becky and Jenni Ann. Becky and I had lived in Denver. Whereas you, because you were in Vermont, for a variety of reasons, my sense is you had lost more touch. Is that accurate? And what was that about?
Courtney: Yes, absolutely. I think that, in some ways, I have just relied upon you to tell me how the Kopsers were doing. Honestly, I think, I consciously just counted on you to give me that news, and I was busy. I was working. Again, I was traveling. I was living in New York. I had gone through a divorce. I was raising my own kids. My kids are a little older than you guys' kids.
And, so, I had just, kind of, outsourced that to you, frankly. And it just stopped making sense to outsource it to you because that's not connection, that's not keeping up. And I knew both Jennie Ann and Becky to be women that I respected, and trusted, and loved. And I actually started to, honestly, long to know more about them and their lives. And, again, as I had an empty nest, I had more energy, and interest, and bandwidth to want to know what's going on with them.
Alison: So, Jennie Ann and Becky, what was it like for you when Courtney said, "Let's get the four of us back together?" We hadn't seen each other in I don't know how long, all four of us together. What was that like for you guys?
Jennie Ann: So I will just say that it was an email that Courtney wrote, an amazing email, always, and she just threw it out there to us. I think she had talked to you, Alison. But, then, she just sent an email and said, "This is what I want. This is what I am looking to get together, and are you in?" And I will say it wasn't anything that there were any hints that this would be coming. It was out of the blue, completely, out of the blue. And I was like, "Oh, my gosh, yes."
So immediately I would say that it touched into a desire that had been long just sitting there and, maybe, waiting for this very moment. Not, necessarily, one that there was an expectation that it was actually going to get to be met. But, then, when the opportunity came along, and I'm just speaking for myself, I was just like, "I can't believe that we're going to do this and, absolutely, I can't even think of anything I want more."
Alison: So how long had it been, Courtney and Jennie Ann? Because you guys were best friends all through high school. The two of you were tight. How long had it been since you'd really, meaningfully, connected as adults?
Jennie Ann: I will say that, probably, we hadn't even, yet, fully connected as adults. Because, circumstantially, our lives peeled off in just fast, and opposite, and full trajectories that there was no overlap.
Courtney: Jennie Ann and I, both, hit the rockiness of being an adult fast. When I was 19 and when Jennie Ann was 18, we didn't have a gentle glide into adulthood. We both hit adulthood fast and we started coping from our late teenage years.
And, so, yes, that's the last time that we got to be talking a lot, and playing whist on the wrestling bus, calling each other Rhoda and Juanita. And we had connected around when Jennie Ann had gotten married, and again around our friend's loss. But, really, we launched into adulthood and didn't get a chance to keep up with each other, and that was a rupture, honestly.
Jennie Ann: And I would say there was one small, little foreshadowing, Alison, at your wedding. When the four of us, kind of, minus you because you were the one getting married. But the three of us had this tiny, little overlap that really did stir the pot, for me, in terms of growing that desire, even after the decades. Thinking, "Look, this would be so amazing."
Alison: How about for you, Becky? So you and I both lived in Denver, into our adulthood. I even lived with you, in your basement, when you were pregnant with Jordan.
Becky: That was a definite time of just, like you said, reconnection, even for a bit. And you being able to come to know my oldest daughter. And then walk through some of the days with getting ready to have my second, and just having the unfiltered home life all around.
Alison: Yes, it's true. I mean, the fact that you guys let me into your home and live with you. While you were, literally, seven months pregnant with your second child, it was just amazing because I was going through my own rocky season. So my recollection for us, Becky, is after that time when we weren't in Denver, together, we wouldn't talk a lot.
But I remember, distinctly, sometimes, you and I would overlap in our hometown. And if I could get half a day with you. I remember sitting at Kendrick Park, and you and I, we had enough foundation. We could go deep and really maximize that time, and it did keep us a little bit in touch with each other's lives, even though it wasn't quantity.
Becky: I would agree, and that's when I started to just really resonate with you and with Jennie Ann, at that time. And now with all three of us, it's so much more the quality rather than the quantity. Just being able to have a little bit, and just going into deep waters, and feeling safe to do so.
Courtney: That's the through line to this whole thing of what happened for 20 years. Is, honestly, the things that did happen were deep waters, intense, that quote "unfiltered home life". We even though we hadn't seen each other, each time we could connect. Whether Alison, you guys had a little more than I did.
We were immediately back into trust, realness, authenticity, support, resilience all the real things. And I don't know about you guys, but the older I get and the longer I live, the more rare and special it is to be able to go there with someone. And that's what just kept happening, even if it was five years apart, it still happened.
Alison: What created that baseline of safety and trust? That even when we were swooping in and out, and getting glimpses. It allowed us then to prove it out after not, necessarily, seeing each other for 20 years
Jennie Ann: Well, I think that the foundational thing, two things, when you said that we were maybe more familial than anything else, I really do. When I picture you guys, I don't have you in the same pot as my next level friends. It really is foundational and it does, it feels like extended family or something. There's a very different bond there than the people that, then, came into my life later as friends, even as good a friends as they are.
And we had all of the external common experiences. Even though we had other friends, and I think weren't even so much a foursome except for our early childhood years, it was super formative. And then when we swooped back, decades later, I think, that it was largely we had been growing in wholeness, separately. And we were all primed and ready to bring who we had become into our foundational, circumstantial friendships and, then, have them go forward into the future.
Courtney: And to that I would add exactly that and the priming. And I think it's a little funny that I'm the one to say that, is that, honestly, that evangelical Christian upbringing we were raised. In that exegetical. We went to church together. We rode in the back of the Pinto to church every week. We understood, we were mentored from very young about how to be a good person. How to walk in Jesus's footsteps. All of that was just right in the mix from day one, and part of that family sense is like, who will we be? How will we grow?
How will we develop?
The other thing I don't want to miss saying is we had a just absolutely phenomenal Rocky Mountain upbringing. That it's just a beautiful setting that I find often that no one else understands what it's like to grow up in the Bighorn Mountains. So you put all that together, and then I would throw it to Becky and say, what else would you add to this extraordinary connection?
Becky: Just adding to the whole time that we got together. The invite, from Courtney, for me being the youngest, it brought me back to my young self, a little bit, too. To be excited that I got invited. There was that bit of, "Ah, I get to play with the big girls or the older girls."
And at the same time, very quickly, understood because of the email and just as we were in correspondence, like Jennie Ann mentioned and Courtney, that there's been a lot of years that have passed and a lot of growth, and good things, hard things. More complete wholeness as a person, and I felt very much a part.
So being welcomed, invited, that was something literal. But also that I felt like was meaning that we're going to be coming and didn't know what it was going to look like, but the openness was there.
Jennie Ann: I just want to add to that, that invite triggered all of those, the anticipation and the not knowing what we're getting into. We got there and, no kidding, it was 100% safe. It was 100% safe. There was grace extended for whatever was shared. And I think that everybody had grown to a place of being able to just fully hear and receive, what the others were wanting to just put on the table.
Alison: Which is extraordinary because our lives had gone in very different directions. So, for example, Jennie Ann, you had six kids, pretty quickly. That was an intense experience going into full on parenting and, Courtney, your experience was very different from that. You had your two kids very young. You had gone through a divorce. Becky, you had gone through an adoption.
In my family, my husband had been widowed. In many ways, we were each navigating very different lives. I was single for a long time. You guys all got married way before me. There was just a lot of differences.
So what was fascinating when we reconvened, from my perspective, was every single one of us, on these very different life trajectories. Including a different faith trajectory, in some ways, we were all becoming more whole, and we wouldn't have been able to know that. But we were all doing the work and that is what created the safety.
It wasn't that we got together and we're like, "Oh, our lives were exactly alike." It was this commitment to healing. This commitment to trying to grow in our own selves, in our parenting selves, in our marriages. In our understanding of other people. In our understanding of the world. In the understanding of what's true, and good, and worth pursuing. It's all of those ingredients that created the safety. Not so much that we overlapped in all the ways we'd been living our lives.
Courtney: Well, and, Alison, just to add to that. That's the truth of the friendship in that time. And, then, let's just talk about this was the year 2020, which is a polarized political time, and we're in the middle of COVID. So we had all had very disparate experiences and all came out in different places.
I'm sure we all voted differently, and I'm sure we all had different points of view on vaccine. But it didn't matter because that safety was absolutely durable. And everyone has said the word wholeness, so far, and that's it. It's, honestly, to do with doing that work toward wholeness.
I think that's the thing I want to hear more from you guys about, is what had we done that made it safe? Even though we hadn't seen each other. Even though the world was polarized. Even though we surely could have been polarized. There was a lot of reasons why we might have felt odd with each other, but we didn't. So what happened? What was new? I honestly think about this often.
Jennie Ann: Well, I think that, for me, my journey had taken me far enough to get to know my own vulnerabilities, weaknesses, shortcomings, brokenness, all the words, enough, not that that's over ever, but enough. Where I think we had all become safe people for other people who had, similarly, discovered those things about themselves.
And, then, I would say that coming to Vermont and then our second gathering. I would say that, then, this coming together, not that the wholeness progression is over, it's, of course, going to continue. But it really was something big and milestone-ish in my own wholeness journey.
Because I think that it was a little bit of a tangible representation of how God knows us intimately, and every single little detail. And it got represented in these three very different people looking at you, across the table, who heard and filled out the picture. And just being known intimately like that, was the next stage on the wholeness journey.
Alison: I like how you're saying that because we grow as individuals and in community. We're each in our own communities. But there was something about coming back to the source. The familial source and, sometimes, people don't have that in their family of origin. Sometimes people don't have that in their childhood friends.
But, for us, coming back to the source of contextualizing. So, for me, it's like, "This is how I take myself to be now. And now I'm with these people who knew me when I was five, when I was seven, when I was 12, when I was 15, and what are the congruencies? What hasn't changed? What has changed?" There's something incredibly grounding about that.
I think about in therapy; we do this work of having you imagine your five-year-old self. And having you go back in the past and think of the ways that you interpreted events. And to be able to do that, literally, with the people who shared those events and those memories. We would go back to some of these childhood memories, and I could tell we were all putting pieces together about each other. But also putting pieces together about our own lives. As we, collectively, looked at the big puzzle of our lives together, and I agree that was formative.[00:27:52] < Music >
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Courtney: To give a concrete example of a moment when we were all together, at my house in Vermont. I think it was, probably, day two and a half or maybe three, I don't know. I think it was maybe Rebecca or Alison, and we started talking about what are our family traditions.
And looking on your guys' lives, any of these intact, I don't love that phrase, but these intact families. And Becky was talking about rafting in the mountains, and these ideas, and I was listening. And on the one hand, I feel so much joy about this, and, then, on the other hand, I feel sad because I had been divorced.
And, so, honestly, one of the things I said to you guys was, "I don't have traditions. Honestly, every Christmas, I don't know what's going to happen. Maybe I'll see my kids, maybe, I won't. Maybe I'll see my kids in Thanksgiving maybe I won't."
And that was, to talk about safety, I had never actually been able to articulate or even, honestly, be aware that was something that, I don't even know if I'd use the word suffer, but I feel it. And in my ordinary life, I might not say that because you're not going to say to people, "I don't have traditions. I just chill out and hope my kids come home."
But with you guys, it was like, "Yes, actually, unlike you, I don't really have traditions because divorce changes all that." And in that moment, I had both self-knowledge and also just a sense of being seen, and that made it easier. I want to say there's, probably, I bet there's a dozen of those for each of us, in that moment. Where you get to be who you are and then also feel seen in that moment.
Alison: I love that. That rings very true for me. For me, that happened in our second gathering. So we did this first gathering and it blew all of our minds. It was intense. I think we all went home and had to sleep for the week afterward, but it was the good kind of intensity. So we thought, "We need to be doing this now regularly. We need to figure out how to stay in each other's lives because this is important."
And, so, we had a second gathering, and at this gathering, I had been invited to speak at a conference. And it was very representative of my quote-unquote, "New life" in a sense of doing some of this more public-facing speaking, some of this more public-facing writing. That can, sometimes, feel disjointed inside of me.
And, so, to immediately go from that into the safety of our foursome, where you guys knew me when I was just pounding Dr. Peppers, and Tombstone pizza, whatever. Becky and I were cruising up and down main street. That was just the joy of our lives.
I was like, "I haven't changed. Nothing has changed, and there are nobody's opinions in the world." This is going to bring tears to my eyes, "There are nobody's opinions in the world that I value more than the three of yours, and if I'm good in this group, I'm good." And that was, for me, it brought this incongruence of what it felt like some of my life now and some of my life then into that wholeness. Into that, "Oh, no, I'm the same person." And just crystallized that for me, and that was really profound for me.
Becky: When I returned home, following both weekends. I just shared with my family how I felt like it was just a retreat of sorts. And the retreat being that there was just so much good laughter, there was also sharing, and there was a lot of dancing. And it was a place I felt like I did as a child, I could just be myself. And I knew that, as a child, I could be myself around these three. And, then, it was so remarkable to be meeting up with you guys in Vermont, and later on in our next place, too.
Where I thought, "I just am not holding anything back." And that's really unique, and I knew that you guys were all a safe place, a trusted place, and continue to be. And this is the other thing that I've been thinking about is, as the youngest, I felt very protected and supported. And just in, once again, the tangible sense and stuff when you're little.
And, then, I got to thinking, "Well, I feel the same way as an adult." But I'm hoping that can get exchanged, too. That I can offer that to you guys, too. But I feel like that's still there, and that was groundwork that happened many years ago.
Alison: To me that reminds me of when Curt Thompson shared about how we take our friends with us in our neural networks. There's something physiological, and it's remarkable, to me, Becky, I feel that way about you, when I'm with you. It's interesting listening to you talk about being the youngest because, for you guys who don't know, Becky, of probably all four of us, she was this incredible college athlete, formidable force. And, yet, because you were the youngest, you're excited that you got invited. When by all empirical measures you're, probably, by far the most-
Jennie Ann: And we all looked up to Becky, actually.
Courtney: And Becky, she's a trained nurse. You're the person that dispenses wisdom and calmness. So it is true how those roles kind of change.
Alison: Yes, and I feel it with you, so you go into the little sister. But with you, Becky, I go into the "Oh, I'm okay because I have Becky." Because that's how I felt in high school. I'm like, "I've got Becky." And we did not, I want to reiterate, one of the things that's pretty cool about that foundation is we had different friend groups. You had your own best friends. I had my own best friends. But there was this feeling inside of me that, to this day, when I'm with you, I feel it is, "I've got Becky, so I'll be okay." And it's so fascinating that we take that with us. That lived experience of somebody with us.
Becky: So shared.
Courtney: Alison, I have a question, and maybe I, probably, shouldn't only address it to you, Alison, but I think of you as the expert in this. I feel like in some ways, we are lucky we have this and there's some volition around tapping back into it. But I guess my question is, how do you cultivate it if you don't have it?
Because I think that part of what we're talking about here is we all needed this connection in 2022, 2020. We felt like we needed that to get back to the grounding, the trust, the safety, the wholeness. And what does a person do if they don't just have their sister group? What is it about this that is something that we can take into our lives? Because I think we're hungry for it.
Alison: I agree. I mean, I think our situation is an extreme version of safety, where it's, literally, from the womb. I will say I've had this experience with, I have another friend since we spent more time in the Bighorn Mountains I've reconnected with, from high school. And it's a very similar oh, we've each been on a growth path and, although, we lost touch, those growth paths collide. I think any glimmer, as they say, any glimmer. If you think, I'll say to my clients, I'll be like, "When did you feel seen?"
"When did you feel loved?"
"Who was it?"
"Was it a pastor?"
"When you were 25; was it a grandparent?"
"Was it an aunt?"
"Was it someone when you moved to a town and they were just kind to you?"
Just look for that glimmer, it'll stand out to you. You feel it in your whole nervous system when there's safety, and someone has seen you. And, usually, people have some answer to that. Just someone that showed that's what we're moving toward. And if you can reconnect with that person, great. If you can't reconnect with that person, hold on to that feeling.
What did that feel like? Let's identify what does it feel like when someone is really with you? And then we're going to work toward finding people who give you that feeling. Because, the good news is, you get it, you know what it is.
And, so, now, we're going to help you find folks. And when you do find that because we just did an episode on new friends. I found it with a couple of people, very recently, where you can go deep pretty fast when you know, "Oh, that's what I want."
Jennie Ann: Well, and also, in all this, I think that you then develop the ability to give that. And, so, you do tend to find each other. People who can offer that, you, very quickly, get this very definite response from people who are also able to connect at that level. I will say the childhood piece is just like we just got a special gift. Because, truly, just having somebody who gives you the permission to show your whole self to them. And to, then, also, allow that to evolve and grow. I don't know that there's a bigger gift on this earth and that can start now, with a new friendship.
The fact that we got to do that with people who could have stayed attached to who we were. Even as amazing and beautiful as all that was. I think the biggest gift in all this, for me, was that all of you were fully on board with wanting to know who we've become,
and not keeping us in those spots as good as they were. But we've all grown and we wanted to know each other in our current state, and as we're moving forward, I think, that's the hugest gift of all this.
Courtney: That's it. That's the gift, it's to be known from that core childhood self. But we have all changed and grown and to be able to be seen. Oh, my gosh, it's so nice, you're exactly right, Jennie Ann.
Alison: And it doesn't always happen that way. We could have reconnected, I'm sure we all have stories of reconnecting to folks from our past, where there isn't that connection, paths have dispersed.
Jennie Ann: And just there's something valuable about connecting over past commonalities. But, yes, the gift of being able to get current and move forward with people.
Alison: That's a good point.
Becky: So do you think that this really could have happened separate from meeting together face to face?
Courtney: I was just going to say something similar, Becky. That there is a very real way, to me, that this feels like an IRL experience. Almost on the other side of 15 years of social media. So I'm sure I saw you guys on Facebook, and then later on Instagram or whatever, and that's fine. And it created a similar acronym of, "Oh, I'm in touch with Jennie Ann and Becky."
But, of course, I was not. And who we are on social is just not who we are. And when you say that it was in real life, we sat around, for days, being with each other and, I think, there's got to be no substitute for that. I think it's got to be crucial. Don't you guys think?
Becky: I think so.
Alison: That's a good point because I was curious how, Courtney, I forgot about social media. How were we in touch those 20 years? Because we did have updates on each other. We kind of knew details, factoids, about each other's lives.
Jennie Ann: I would even say they don't even overlap. Honestly, for me, I feel like what we got to start and now have continued since the face-to-face at Courtney's. And, so, now we are able to use Zoom and things because we went together and, literally, unstructured time. Unstructured time just being together.
Courtney: That's so important, it wasn't a wedding, but it matches the hybrid thing. I think we spend together, it was 18 months, once, and then 18 months again later. And, then, we have these scheduled Zoom meetings, and it's the combination that's made it real. I think that's got to be a huge part of this. I know it is for me.
And even pulling ourselves out of our context a little bit. I mean, one of the things I'm in awe of is both Jennie Ann and Becky, in particular, are just, literally, always on call to their amazing, brilliant, children.
And, yet, you are removed a little bit from that context, and it lets us all be together. And I would just encourage people, too, you're still moms, you're still busy people. But we did travel to be together twice, and that created a space that we needed. To just be who we really are and let down our hair, metaphorically, for sure.
Becky: Originally, when we met the first time. It was a miracle that everything was timed, and kids were taken care of, and everything worked out to get together. And, then, I believe, when we had the other opportunity. It was, "Let's do this. Let's just try one more time to see if this can work." And it did. And I think that because of the previous time, we all thought, "Okay, this is important." At least, for me, speaking for myself, I thought, "I'm going to clear things, whatever I can do to make this happen."
Jennie Ann: Yes, so I think that one of the things I was thinking about, with that, Becky, is that, okay, so for me, the initial get-together opened a whole new door. And, so, it took courage to take the risk to go try this. But then once you do, then, it's just not something that we're going to be hesitant about. It's like, "Oh, I'm going to actually prioritize this now. I already know that the connection has been made, and this is life-giving, clear the deck for this." And I didn't say any of that well, but you know what I'm trying to say, guys.
Courtney: Yes, you did say it well. But I also think that we should maybe dwell, for a moment, on the risk. Because I think we're speaking through this haze of, "Oh, my gosh, it was amazing for us." But it was scary both times. I know Jennie Ann when we met in Texas, you had some stuff going on, and you put yourself in that space.
And I know, for me, part of why it worked to have the original meeting in Vermont. Again, I describe myself as the outlier or the diaspora person. It helped that you guys came to me. That helped me as the divorced person or the person with, maybe, slightly, let's say, adjacent apostate tendencies. I think that we did all choose to be vulnerable and we met that challenge. And I don't want to underestimate that, that does take courage, and it was worth it.
Alison: What was the risk with the second weekend? In my mind, it is along the lines of, "What if that was a one off?"
"What if that was just special? Can we replicate it?" And my sense after the second weekend was we went even deeper a lot.
Courtney: Yes, by a lot.
Jennie Ann: It's like we went in another layer.
Courtney: I had less for the second. What about you guys? Jennie Ann and Becky, for you, what was the risk in the second one?
Becky: I think in the second one, I feel like I went a layer deeper. The first time that we met up, I felt really the safety and the trust. But that might have been more communicating and sharing about the years and my life, and a little bit more of ruts around me. And I think that the second time was more of it's just me, and the change, and the growth that happened with me, personally, and that was, definitely, more vulnerable place.
Alison: I agree with you, Becky, I think, we really went deeper into some of our own stuff and shared pretty vulnerably. One of the things that was remarkable about that second gathering, for me, was to really be a witness to, especially, you Courtney and Jennie Ann. Talking about that season of life when you were 19 and 20 and your awareness of what the other one was going through. Your pain that you couldn't be there for the other one. And, really, that is where your guys' paths began to diverge. Not because there was any animosity, not because there was any anger.
One of you used the word rupture, that there was just this inability. There was so much going on in each of your individual lives that didn't overlap, and also that reduced your capacity to be there for each other. And there was this moment where you both were processing, and I sensed, I'm not sure the exact words you used. But you were both circling back to that and repairing, and naming, and I don't think either of you were holding anything against the other.
But you were both naming, regret, you were naming, "This was hard." And it was powerful, in that room when you guys were circling back. And I'd love for you to talk about that, because I think for people listening this happens. We go through seasons in life where we can't be there for somebody and we lose touch. I've had this happen with numerous friends.
I remember, there was a season where I had a friend just disappear on me, for years, and it was painful. And I thought, "Well, there's nothing I..." And then we circle back later and she tells me what was going on and I'm like, "I get it." And I never held animosity at all, but, sure, it hurt. I think this happens. And, so, to watch you guys enter back into that was really beautiful to me. Can you guys talk about that a little bit?
Jennie Ann: I will say that it's one of those things in my life where I feel such a need to be able to just say the thing that I wish that I could have done differently, with different people. And, specifically, the privilege of getting to just say that to you, Courtney, and have the opportunity to express the sadness that still lingered. Even though we've both grown and moved on, and that was a real gift.
Courtney: I think that's, definitely, one of the outcomes, it's very seldom in our lives do we actually get to go back and maybe have a little bit of a do over. And I think there was a way in which, I think all four of us, because what ended up happening was this thing that, nominally, had happened both in Jennie Ann's life and my life. But Becky and Alison were also witness to it. So we ended up all, you got that four mini bystander view. That's just a blessing, and it doesn't happen very much.
Where you can actually have a cathexis around, maybe, to make it slightly less abstract. I'm, maybe, the most comfortable talking about the little, there were several different things that happened all around coming of age. But I got unexpectedly pregnant. I had an unplanned pregnancy when I was 19, I guess, and there were lots of events cascading from that.
And we all tried to help each other, and wanted to help each other, and it was quite a challenging time in the two Christian homes-
Alison: Small town.
Alison: You were offered an Ivy League college, let's say, I mean, it was a bizarre set of circumstances.
Courtney: And the thing that I know now, which I didn't know then, was I have this public event. Again coming home from Dartmouth pregnant, which is certainly quite newsworthy. But, of course, anytime something like that happens, in a small community or in a friend group, everyone else has things going on, too. And maybe they're a little more quiet, and maybe they're hidden, and maybe they've remained hidden.
And, so, what this time allowed us to do was both recast what I had gone through, honestly, much more integrated with what we were all going through. Because, of course, we were all teenagers and we were all going through a learning process around our sexual selves, and our Christian selves, and our moral selves, and our ethical selves, and our relational selves.
And when do you ever get to go back and reanalyze that stuff? It was really beautiful. And I would, again, if you don't have your Kopser girls to do that with, and your sister to do that with. I think finding someone to do that with is the essence of friendship.
It can't happen on social media. It's something that we can intentionally do with each other, and it just gave me so much peace and strength. And, then, I also just want to say, the combined wisdom from the three of you, in this event, was just so fun for me. Because now I have these powerful, midlife, women who know all kinds of things and have learned so much to draw from. And now I know that because we went through this thing where we talked about all these things we had learned. I mean, what a resource, it's game-changing for me.
Alison: Yes, I also want to add, I really do think that is what a good therapist does. A good therapist helps you. I'm thinking of folks, if you're listening to this, going, "I don't have that friend." But that's what you're doing in the therapy room. You're retelling your story with someone else. There's a withness, there's a presence. There's somebody asking you questions. Helping you see it from all these different angles. Helping you untie the knots of the narratives you've told yourself. That's what therapy does.
Friendship and therapy, they're not the same thing. They're not a substitute for each other. But there is overlap, and there's a way in which you get some of that benefit. That healing benefit with really good friends. You can go back to a really painful memory with some really safe people, and you also get some of that release, that nervous system calming. That, "Oh, my gosh, I'm known." And I'm seeing this from all these different angles.
Jennie Ann: Definitely, it's just an extra, over the top, gift that we've been given to be able to actually go through this growth together. But not recognizing that most people don't have those relationships in place in their lives, it's not something to give up on pursuing.[00:50:33] < Music >
Courtney: Another thing, Ali, that I wanted to bring out about this event that happened at our Texas meetup. Which is our second meetup, and this goes out to all the parents out there. Is that I think the precipitating conversation, I think it was even before you got there.
Jennie Ann and Becky were talking about their kids. And I was actually very interested in hearing what it's like to be raising kids. My kids are out of college now, but your kids are still in high school. And I found this to be true over and over again, that when we seek to parent our kids, we actually have to re-parent ourselves from our past.
And when we struggle with how to protect and nurture our kids, we actually have to learn new things that have to do with our own past. And anyone can take that as an opportunity, but it's delicate work. It is work that a good therapist, a good friend, you need a little help because it's complex. Because it's your kid, but it's also you, and it's the fears you have, but it's also the fears you have for your kids.
Alison: It's sacred ground. You want to proceed cautiously, especially, as you're bearing witness. We're bearing witness to each other. We're bearing witness to each other parenting. We're bearing witness to each other in some of our best and in some of our most complicated moments, and it is delicate. And that's where that safety comes in. And the thing to remember is when we're coming together, especially, that first weekend, where it's really vulnerable. Each of us is coming into it with our own stuff, from our own lives, and lots of complicated stuff.
I mean, between the four of us, we've covered the gamut of anything that could happen to a family, to a kid, to a marriage, to a person; mentally, emotionally, physically. It's probably happened. Becky, if it's okay, if you're comfortable, I just remember you were coming in with your eldest daughter, having a really serious medical concern. You came, but you were surfing that literally the whole time.
Becky: Yes, my oldest had just been recently diagnosed with what looked like Type One diabetes. So she had a blood sugar monitor on her, and she would struggle with actually low blood sugars. And, so, as we were meeting for breakfast and then proceeding to go and look in a really cool bookstore, together, and have some conversation.
The alarm on my phone that's connected to her Dexcom blood sugar monitor was going off, and I was having to have some conversations with her from clear across the country. And, man, though, did I feel, also, with you guys, just I was getting support. I was getting a couple of eyeballs looking at me and just saying, "Is everything okay?"
And, truly, it brought about, again, some stuff that probably, for me, personally, needed to be talked about. And that was with some of these new health concerns or things in our kids' lives, you can't control everything, there's just hard things.
Courtney: It was so interesting to me because on the one hand, I was watching it, and I was just like, "Women are so strong." I mean, moms can do anything. I mean, you're in Vermont, you're multitasking. We're actually having fun, we're bonding, and you're, literally, managing with your daughter her health. And then at the same time, we're all surfing that existential horror. And I use the word horror on purpose, as a mom, where you actually can't fix it, you cannot. And she's old enough that you're having to figure out, "What's my boundary?"
"What do I have to let her do versus what can I do as a mom?"
And it was just such a moment of, "Oh, my gosh, this is life. This is what it means to be a woman, and a mom, and a modern person."
Alison: I think what was striking to me is, again, this modern life of we parent so much in isolation.
Alison: Do you guys feel that? There's so much of what we're doing, and it's not that we don't have friends. But that weekend where we're really, literally, witnessing each other in the moment. Especially with you, Becky, because it was such an immediate need. There was that vulnerability of we're watching you be in the immediate need with your daughter, in that moment. And that takes a lot of safety, again. But also, I would imagine there's also a sense of not feeling alone in that.
Becky: Right. Again, it wasn't like I could pretend that everything was okay. When I'm in certain settings, I feel like I have to put myself together and act like I've got everything under control with that, and it's false. It's an illusion. So with that, with everyone, I was able to just say, "This is really hard." And it was just going to be hard, and you saw it.
Alison: And we saw it.
Becky: You saw it. I'm like, "All my cool, calm, collectiveness, you're gone." It's just my watch, my phone. So it takes another layer off.
Jennie Ann: But I think that that's one of the things about this kind of friendship. That's so valuable, is that it is a place that you can be weak and that's actually super needed. We just really need a place to be weak, and honest, and not, necessarily, agreed with. But because it's safe and we're unconditionally accepted, we can disagree, and it can be even life-giving.
I don't know, those two things; being able to be disagreed with in a safe place and then also to be fully weak. Both of those things are present in these current relationships, and a huge gift, and something a person should not rest until they find somewhere with somebody.
Becky: Well, because I believe you guys will tell me the truth.
Alison: We'll tell you the truth while loving, while exactly being there with you. While you're with the phone in the middle of the night going, "This is awful, and she's this old, and how do we figure this out together?"
Courtney: And if I could tell my 40-year-old self about this. I would say to my 40-year-old self, "When you're about to go through divorce, you need to get your friends on the phone and talk to them about it, and not be ashamed, and not try to keep off a friend. And not just be all tough and strong but go ahead and show people your weakness and your fear."
I mean, I found a couple of ways to do that during that time. But if I had had what we have now with you guys, it would have been so much better. I would have gotten, truthfully, you guys, I would have gotten support from you guys. But that was before I knew that this vulnerability and authenticity could exist. And that's my advice to anyone, especially, to I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that.
Jennie Ann: I think that it not only is something I would tell to my younger self. But it's where I communicate from when I am encouraging my kids to seek after, to embody, and look for this kind of connection and transparency. Because I've seen that it's possible. It's not just a desire that's going to remain unmet, physically, in this world. I've started pushing hard on them to hope and not give up on finding that. And to put the work in to become a safe place for other people, and look for it. Wait for it, patiently, but also really prioritize looking for that in people and in their lives.
Courtney: And I would add to that, and I want to be a little careful because I want to make sure we honor one of your children's privacy. But I have watched you, clearly, having success. Because one of your fabulously, brilliant daughters took an opportunity when you and I were with her having breakfast, recently, to ask quite interesting, and vulnerable, and really important questions for a teenage kid. And it was very clear that she knew that she had her mom.
But she also had kind of a safe friend who might have a different point of view and that they were going to be coherent. But she was going to get good information. Again, it reminds me of, oh, my gosh, it's so much better to not have to parent in isolation because this kid got two women talking to her, not just one. You got to enjoy your child being able to interact with someone else. I think she was fine, you tell me.
But it's like we're paying it forward now to our kids. And you used the word hope. I hope I get to do that with somebody, maybe with Becky's kids or Alison's kids. It was just such a neat thing to start to see us build it for the next generation.
Becky: Yes, absolutely. So it kind of compounds, is that the word? So what we've been given, we can just build on and pass.
Alison: Love multiplies. It bleeds. Compounds is a good word, and I think that's a benchmark of a really safe, healthy set of friendships. Which, again, we've always had. We all have our own independent friends. We have all of our own lives. It multiplies out into the rest of the world.
It becomes that foundation from which more goodness, more love, overflows into the rest of our relationships, into the rest of the world. That's the beauty of friendship, it multiplies out. Healthy friendships are not confining. They're not clicky. They're ones that create more goodness for others.
Becky: And I would say this has also given me, I'm much quicker to take those risks with others as well. Not with an expectation of, necessarily, making this level of foundational connection. But just as a way of operating with people.
I feel my being seen and known, by you guys, has given me courage to just be even more transparent with the people that I have different levels of friendships with. And I think it does, it keeps on spreading. And, again, it's not me, it's just being able to live more holy, which is what this friendship does. Makes me a better friend to even just the casual friendships.
Courtney: It's exponential.
Alison: It's reminding me of that old song we would sing at Camp Bethel, "It only takes a spark to get the fire going, and soon so many others will warm up in its glow."
Becky: Oh, my goodness.
Alison: Which, by the way, I learned recently that Becky did unseat you as the Scripture memory champion.
Courtney: What? Becky? No. That was my one claim to championship. What are you saying? You took my record.
Becky: I memorized some of the shortest verses ever, and I think that you probably had, like, "Jesus wept." I mean, I feel like-
Courtney: You're just being nice.
Becky: No, I really am not. I think that was my goal for one of my entire camp. I did nothing else that week but memorize Scripture verses.
Courtney: It's because you're a competitor.
Becky: Your name was renowned, Courtney, at Camp Bethel. It still is.
Courtney: And this is unfair, though, because you have trophies Sheridan High School for athletics, and then you took my Camp Bethel Scripture Memory Verse trophy. It's just unjust, I think. Honestly joking on the Scripture memory verse. I do want to also acknowledge that because I do think it's important in this great time of national divide or discord, that you guys are a little closer inside the church than I am. And it has been enormously healing to me to have.
It's not even an awkward, you just give me the light of love of Jesus Christ as a part of the way you talk to me. And we never even really even had to talk about some of the differences of faith and it's because the core ones are shared, and we actually don't have these big differences that people might think we have.
But I think the three of you have done a really beautiful job at that. And I just want to thank you for that because it makes it easier for me to go back to church when I need to or to reach out to other Christians when I need to. Because you guys have made that safe for me.
Alison: We've definitely discovered there's more commonalities than differences, and that is a little bit of a symbolic gesture for the country. If people actually got together face to face, in person, they would probably find that there are a lot more similarities than what everyone wants to say.
All right, so as we close. I want to ask this question, but we might have already covered it, and we've covered a lot, but I like the question. So what would you want your younger self to know about friendships? Let's say your 20, 25-year-old self. Courtney, you already answered it for your 40-year-old self. What would you want your younger self to know about friendships, then, that you know now?
Courtney: Oh, that you can trust it? By the time I was mid-20s, I was jaded and felt betrayed by lot of people. And you got to trust your friends, and it's okay to do it, and you'll be glad you did.
Becky: I think to my 20-year-old self, I would like to say it's so important to be yourself, and the people who are okay with who you are going to be there for you.
Jennie Ann: I'm not sure exactly how to say this. But I felt like I needed to trust myself. Figuring out exactly who I was, so I could be a good friend to others and, then, also, receive friendship. I think all those things were going on at the same time.
So, I guess, I would say get after it because it's hard and scary. It's hard, but it was hard, anyway, so hard and productive is what I would say, and that you can be purposeful. I really so appreciate, Alison, your devotion to getting tools to your listeners. Because it's not necessarily the bottom line truth piece that we're unaware of, but how to implement that into my life. And I have gained so much from listening. And, so, the tools are out there, start implementing them, and get after the growth.
Becky: Mm, that's so good.
Courtney: I'd agree. It takes tools, and it's okay to practice and try it.
Alison: I would say, for me, I haven't answered this question, but want to. I was just thinking, for me, and I've written about this. But I so took on this idea that my job was to be everybody else's best friend. Be that safe person for everybody else. And I'm noticing as I'm with you guys, there's a part of me that is wondering what it would have been like for my 25-year-old self to think, "What if you just get to be you, and get to work on yourself, and your job in life isn't to make sure everybody else is okay." Because I don't think she knew that. I think she thought that was a little bit of her role in life.
Courtney: You know, Ali, it's funny that you say this, and you can cut it out if you want. But it was really fun in Texas, and I think I speak for all of us, to get to see you looking sharp, and being really smart, and being out there in the world of your podcast, and then getting to giggle, and be with Allie. And how you and Becky always walk about three steps behind Jennie Ann and I when we go places.
I just want to endorse you being able to move between the vulnerable self and the person who is an expert, a bona fide expert, is a great example of what we're talking about. Is being able to have both, we all need to be both. We need to give and to receive.
Alison: When I'm with the four of you, I'm like, "We're all experts." I mean, it's in part because of this group that I don't ever have this fancy idea of what it means to be wise. Wisdom comes in many shapes and forms. And, yes, I'm just so grateful for you guys, and all the wisdom that you've shared, and all the goodness you're putting into the world. And thank you so much for coming on and talking with me.
Becky: Thanks, Alison, you, too.
Jennie Ann: Thank you for having us.
Courtney: Thank you, Alison.
Becky: Love you.
Courtney: We love you. I love you guys.
Jennie Ann: I love you.[00:15:13] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of The Best of You. It would mean so much if you'd take a moment to subscribe. You can go to Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts and click the Plus or Follow button. That will ensure you don't miss an episode, and it helps get the word out to others. While you're there, I'd love it if you'd leave your five-star review. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.
6th July 2023