Every time I go back to Colorado for a visit, I have a standing date with my friend Colleen Gottlob. We each commit to walking together around “our” lake in Littleton at least once, even if my visit is only for 48 hours. We call it “our” lake, because after Lucy was born, we walked either that lake, or the track right next to it nearly five times every week for almost five years up until I moved to Washington. On those walks, I got to know a lot about Colleen. At 55, she can add grandmother to her other roles of sister, wife, mother, aunt, avid runner, voracious reader, encourager, friend and fan. On my last visit, I asked her if she would be willing to share her story. She seemed surprised because she didn’t know what there was to tell. I reminded her that she is the most loyal, supportive and encouraging person I know and I would like others to get to know her as well. She agreed to let me interview her via email over a couple of week’s time, and this is what transpired.
K: Colleen, recently you told me that you just received the best compliment someone could have ever given you. Tell me what was said and why it was so important.
C: While I was working at an outdoor buying show for Boone Mountain Sports and 32nd West, I went over to say hello to a woman, Susan, whom I only know as an acquaintance. She said she had seen me walking around and been trying to figure out where she knew me from. Even though she couldn’t place where we had met, she said what she remembered about me was my kind face. I think that was a big compliment. It was not about my outfit or my fitness or my shoes. It was about me.
K: So, it seems easy for people to comment on outward appearances, but less on the character of a person. Why do you think that is?
C: Krista, this question is hard. I am going to try to think this through… it is easy to compliment people on their outfit, shoes, purse, new hair cut or color. But, to compliment them about what is on the inside, you would have to know them or have been paying attention to them. That takes some time, generally.
I love the opportunities I have had to meet people in so many situations. Some I may just get to have a conversation with only one time. You have to open yourself to the possibility of maybe getting laughed at or facing a negative reaction or even a bit of heart hurt. I think I have always been willing to risk my heart. And I have received from it. I have just a few couldn’t-ask-for-better-friends. And I am thankful for them every day.
K: I’m so glad that you mentioned the risk required in order to be known by others. How have you calculated that risk? In other words, have you chosen certain people to open up to? I am not sure I am so “open”. What makes someone safe for that risk? Or worthy of it?
C: I don’t think about the risk at all. You never know what some people are going through or their past life experiences. I try not to take things personally. So, I don’t know that I choose anyone. I think they are just where I am. If someone becomes a friend, I am thankful. If not, there will be another person sometime. The ones that become a friend are very important to me. I am very thankful for my close friends. I feel like I love them like a mother lion. I am on their side and love them no matter what.
K: Before I ask you about your mother lion prowess that I have experienced from you, I’m curious about what your risk has afforded you in relationships. You said, “I think I have always been willing to risk my heart. And I have received from it.” Can you give me some examples of what you have received?
C: Well, I received your friendship as a gift and you are one of the most important people in my life.
K: I like how your answers bring me down from the clouds and back to reality. You’re right. Our friendship was a risk that has paid off immensely. Maybe someday I will write about how our friendship came to be. I’m glad you took that risk for me.
I have often struggled with an inability to receive. I have believed that somehow, I’m not worth the attention or the money or the time and effort that others want to spend on me. Thanks for modeling what it looks like to receive goodness from others for whom you have risked your heart. Speaking of modeling…back to your mother lion prowess. I have seen this side of you in action with your kids. One thing you always did that I’ve tried to model is jumping through whatever hoops necessary to just see your girls, even if it was only for five minutes. That simple act showed me how a mother can be her kids’ biggest fan just by making time to see their faces and kiss their cheeks. Where and/or when did you learn how to do that? Who has been a model for you?
C: I think this takes a couple answers. The first one is a man I worked with when I was about 20. I worked for a veterinarian for 7 years from when I was 18-25. I did front desk, tech work and some light bookkeeping. I can’t even remember his name. It might have been Jim. He was one of the techs. Every now and then his young son would come in. I noted that he always made a big effort for his son and would really get down low to hug his child every time he saw him. He mentioned it in passing one time as he was giving his son a big hug. Jim told me his father didn’t hug him and he didn’t want to be the same with his children.
The second part of my answer is that I am not sure. I love my children. I always wanted them to feel special. Every child should feel special by their parents/grandparents. I wanted them to feel like I loved them unconditionally. I do. I am not sure I have felt that a bunch in my life from others. There are only a few that make me feel that way.
I have known some children (roughly the same age as my children) who have lived with me for a time. One of them calls me every mother’s day. I also love them a bunch. I would stick up for any of them and be on their side and hopefully they feel the lion love. There are also a few adults. When they trust that I will (hopefully) never hurt them, they fall into a lion love category for me…
Who was a role model? Possibly, the people that treated my children the same way as I tried to. My oldest daughter’s high school counselor was still calling to check in on my oldest daughter when she was 25. She was someone that I really admire. Another time, the same counselor took care of a problem for a student that was not in her half of the alphabetical part of her kids. I will always remember her for how she went above and beyond. She was also completely trustworthy. My current employers were also a wonderful example. In a time that I was separated, they (among others) took care of some financial things for me and my kids. They also took a lot of care of the many, many young people who worked for them…really cared for them, talked to them, including my youngest child…including many who still come visit them when they are in town.
K: You said that when others trust that you won’t hurt them, they fall into the lion love category. That sounds like part of your protection of them comes when they trust you. That is a brand new thought/concept for me. Can you say a little more? I’d like to understand better.
C: Let me think. I hope they know that I love them. I hope they know that I would not hurt them intentionally. I hope and pray I say the right things and help them make good decisions. I hope I help them with their self-esteem. I hope I am positive. I hope I am discerning. I feel like I am encouraging. Some of them are just in my world for a time – so, I guess it gets to be a bit of a friendship for just a little while.
K: I know our friendship seemed like it might have been for only a little while, but it still stands strong even with my move away from Colorado. So, if you had a chance to share one last piece of advice or thoughts to younger women and/or moms, what would you tell them about friendship.
C: Try to remember that nobody is perfect. We all screw up. Accept your friends despite their faults. Try to remember them, write to them, call them, send them a “thinking of you” text or card. Try to not let time go by without checking in. Pray for them. Make time for them.
K: So, what you’re saying is just…
C: Love them.
K: Again, you bring a simplicity to your encouragement – not denying that loving is challenging, but that nevertheless it can and should be given liberally and without condition. Thank you so much for extending that kind of love and friendship to me. I hope others are inspired to go forward and do the same. And blessed are the ones who get your lion love – they will have their biggest fan in you – indeed, a gift worthy of receiving.
Colleen Gottlob is a mother to two young women and grandmother to one little lady. When she is not working as a merchandise buyer, you can find her running the mountainous trails of Evergreen with her favorite four-legged companion, Tillie. Her favorite drink is iced Bhakti Chai.