Cultivating Friendships

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Friendships are like gardens. When we first plant our flowers or vegetables, we spend time preparing the soil, digging, and watering. But then, summer comes, we are busy with other things, and it’s all too easy to neglect our flowers until they droop and, sometimes, die.

Just as we need to continue to weed and water and fertilize our gardens, it is also necessary to spend time and energy on our friendships lest they fade away from neglect.

In these days of “crazy busy”, it can be hard to find time for friendships. By the time we finish work, paid or volunteer, take care of our homes and families, and fulfill our responsibilities, it is difficult to get out of the house one more time to see a friend. However, while all of those things are important, so are our friendships.

It was easier when my children were young and I was home with them. We had play dates, and the mothers chatted. We hauled the kids to the YMCA for pool time or ping pong or racquetball games, and the mothers exercised together. There were multiple activities at which the parents grew to know one another for a season or for several years, depending on the activity.

Now that my children are grown and gone and I’m working outside the home, finding time for friends is much more difficult. Making new friends is even harder.

One of my personal goals for 2018 was to make time for friendships, old and new. I am doing this in a variety of ways: walking about once a week with my closest friend, having coffee or lunch with at least one friend a month, and occasionally watching someone’s baby with a mutual friend so we can both get baby cuddle time and have time to talk, too.

Another way I found time to cultivate relationships was to throw a spring tea this past March. A dear friend and I worked together on it, which gave us time together, and then on a Saturday, we had a small group of women come share tea and delicious food with us for the afternoon. We scattered groups of chairs in several rooms so everyone had an opportunity to sit down with someone they hadn’t seen for a while. My friend and I had the joy of talking with our dear friends and giving them an afternoon of beauty, tea, and conversation.

Not only did I have the opportunity to cultivate my friendships, I helped others to cultivate theirs as well and created memories to add to our histories together. It was well worth the time and energy.

All of us can find a couple of hours a month to spend with a friend. Do things together that you have to do anyway like exercise or grocery shop. Grab a quick cup of coffee on your way home from work one night a month. Join a book club or Bible study that meets regularly so you see the same faces repeatedly and have the time to get to know them. Spend the time with a friend in real life that you would have spent on social media.

As Laura Vanderkam says in her book 168 Hours, there are 168 hours in a week and not all of them are spent sleeping and working. Dedicate a certain amount of time to your friends and you will find that the time and energy spent is multiplied in pleasure.

How do you make time for friendships? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to have more ideas to reach my goal for 2018 and add to my treasury of friends.

 

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Friends, Mentors, and Guides

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Child_Reading_(Enfant_lisant)_-_BF51_-_Barnes_Foundation When I think back on my growing-up years, my most cherished memories are of the books that filled my life.  I began to read in kindergarten and after I learned, it was a rare occasion I wasn’t reading a book.  Curled up in a chair, lying flat on my bed, perched on a tree branch, riding in the car, at my desk in school—every location was the perfect place to read a book. I raced through The Black Stallion books, inherited from my father, and spent countless hours poring over the volumes of Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairy tales that had belonged to my mother. Christmas and birthday gifts always included beautiful hardcover books such as The Little Princess, Alice in WonderlandThe Wind in the Willows, and other classics. With my allowance, I bought myself the Nancy Drew mysteries that my library didn’t own and filled in the gaps in my collection of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books.

Each trip to the library resulted in a new stack of books to savor, the highlight of my week. Books by Beverly Cleary, sequels to Little Women, and The Scarlet Pimpernel were titles I borrowed over the years. Staying home sick in bed meant time to reread my favorite Narnia book. If I had to miss church, my parents would bring home Bible story books from the church library to keep me occupied for the afternoon.

Every time we moved, one of the first things I did was to set up the bookcase that my great-grandfather had built in my new bedroom. Made of dark, heavy wood and held together only by slots and pegs, the bookcase contained all of my treasured volumes and remained the focal point of my room.

However, it wasn’t merely the books that charmed me or the stories they contained. The truths they contained, the characters that became my friends, and the worlds to which they introduced me that were the real treasures.

My imagination grew as I traveled to fabulous places. I went to Wonderland with Alice and met the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Red Queen. Dorothy’s adventures in Oz drew me to a place where monkeys flew, lions talked, and terrifying tornadoes became vehicles to other worlds. I grew to love the English countryside of Mary Lennox and Rat, Mole, and Toad. The American woods and prairies, as described by Laura Ingalls Wilder, became my playground too, in my mind, while I longed to go to Narnia with Lucy and Edmund, Susan and Peter to meet Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, and the Beavers.

Also, the heroines inspired me with their character and strength . When I was feeling put upon by having to do chores around the house and yard, I would imagine myself a princess like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess.  Instead of complaining about shoveling the walk, I would do it cheerfully as I thought Sara would do.  Rather than whine about a dinner I didn’t like, I would remind myself that at least I had good food to eat. When I was embarrassed by a pair of shoes I had to wear one year, I remembered Sara’s clothes being old and shabby.  Seeing how difficult it was for Sara, without parents to love her, I learned to better appreciate my own happy childhood.

After reading Anne of Green Gables in fifth grade, I not only found a heroine to emulate but also identified with her imagination and fanciful ways. I loved to read and put myself in the place of the heroine although I fortunately never sank in a leaky boat. I, too, spent hours wandering through the woods and fields near my home, and named my favorite haunts. Violet Valley, a small depression carpeted with violets each spring, was my favorite place. I would sink down among the flowers and pick handfuls of the purple and white blooms for my mother every year.  When I read the chapter Where the Violets Grow in By the Shores of Silver Lake, I was not only reading the words, but I knew exactly what it was like to sink down into a mass of violets.

Reading opened the world to me. I learned how to be more compassionate to those in need, to understand people from different places and cultures than mine. I was inspired to make jam, bake bread, and keep a house from some books. Other books prodded me to study hard and succeed at school. Still others pushed me to continue with my writing. I learned what qualities make a good friend and wife and mother.  Poetry opened my life to a richness of emotion and put words to things in my heart that I didn’t know could be described in words.

Spending so many hours reading during my childhood and adolescence was not only helpful in my growth academically and intellectually. I grew as a human being as I encountered the experiences and relationships of fictional characters. Books have been my friends, my mentors, and my guides.  The person I am today is due to the books and stories I have absorbed and delighted in throughout my life.

Favorite Authors: Madeleine L’Engle

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Last week I finished A Circle of Quiet, the first in the Crosswicks books, by Madeleine L’Engle. It has been on my “to be read” list for years. However, I had never found the right time or been in the right mood for it until now. What a lovely book! L’Engle talks about the writing life, family, community, God, and many other things. It’s a memoir of sorts but so much more. Listening to her voice, I heard echoes of ideas I have pondered, events I have meditated upon, and values I also hold dear. It gave me hope that my writing is not in vain and that I must continue to pursue it as long as I am called to put words on paper.

This is not the first time that L’Engle has written something that filtered into my mind as sunlight filters through the branches of a stand of trees. In my early teens, I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time. The protagonist, Meg, was so like me—nerdy, misunderstood, thoughtful, awkward. I had braces but no glasses at that point in my life. Instead, I had wild, curly hair in a time when everyone had straight hair, “feathered back”.  My nose was stuck in a book every possible moment, I spent hours writing in journals, and I was still fond of my dolls, although I’d never dream of letting anyone at school find out.

I loved Meg and her search for her father, the quirky Mrs. Whatsit and the adventure. When Meg found a friend in Calvin, who seemed out of her reach, I realized that I might not always be weird and misunderstood. Her little brother Charles Wallace, her mother’s lab at the house, and making spaghetti sauce while doing research charmed me.

The sequel, A Wind in the Door, was another favorite. Looking back, I suspect it had something to do with my love of biology in high school and choice of a major in biochemistry. I spent many hours in the library after finishing A Wind in the Door, reading about mitochondria and wishing that farandolae existed so I could discover them.

Both of the books helped form my thinking as a teenager. I learned that being odd was okay, that big thoughts were allowable, and that someday my outer and inner lives would reach an equilibrium of some sort.

I read many of L’Engle’s adult fiction years later including one of my favorite books, A Small Rain, and its sequel, A Severed Wasp. As I read these two books I realized how L’Engle incorporated her belief about God throughout her books, which caused me to view her writing in a new light.

Five years ago, I first picked up one of her nonfiction books, The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth. I marked so many of the thoughts, it’s almost a solid underline. I did the same with Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art a couple years later.

I plan to read the rest of the Crosswicks quartet soon and someday finish the Austin books (I’ve only read the first). I know that Madeleine L’Engle’s books have much more to say to me as a writer, as a human being, and as a Christian. It is a delight to know there are so many of her works I have yet to read for the first time. I look forward to learning much from them as well as enjoying her prose and sampling her poetry.

Remembering Mother

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Each year on November 22*, I remember my mother. The world remembers John F. Kennedy on that day, the anniversary of his assassination, and the Christian world remembers C. S. Lewis, who also died that day. However, while I do remember both of these men, the one I most think about and grieve is my dear mother.

It’s been twelve years since she went to be with the Lord. They say that grief eventually subsides and, in one sense, that is true. I don’t actively grieve every minute of every day as I did that first year after she died. I don’t go to pick up the phone to tell her something and start to cry as I remember she’s gone.

However, it’s not true that you “get over it.” Grief of a great loss never truly goes away. It hovers in the background, waiting to pounce on you when you least expect it. Days like the anniversary of her death or her birthday or, for some odd reason, on my birthday bring her to mind. Milestones in my children’s lives, finding a recipe card in her handwriting, reading old letters or looking through photo albums, finding a purse in her favorite shade of aqua or receiving a gift from an old friend of something my mother made many years ago have also triggered memories. Any and all of these things cause me to tear up and remember the gift that my mother was, not just to me, but to so many other people.

My mother was born a month after the U.S. entered World War II. Her father was unable to fight due to health issues so while they didn’t have a lot of money, she grew up in a household with both her parents and was a much-loved only child. She learned her love of beauty from both of her parents, her ability to create art and garden from her father, her cooking and housekeeping and music from her mother. Her father’s sister was the one who introduced her to the love of books and good writing, which influenced my mother for the rest of her life.

My parents met while Mother was still in college, studying English, and they married before she graduated. She didn’t let a lack of a college degree get in the way of her learning though. She went on to teach herself a multitude of things, such as cut-glass work and quilting. She never passed up an opportunity to learn from someone else.

When I was a child, we lived next door to an Indian family, and my mother received recipes and help from our neighbor to learn Indian cooking. I still have the recipes and still remember the assortment of colorful lentils and flavored curries that Mother made. When my brother married an Italian girl, Mother went to the local community college and took Italian so that she could communicate with her in-laws, whose English was fragmented, at best.

Mother was always doing something. Like Martha from the Bible, she was busy with many things. She often said that while my father was working hard at work during the day, she should be working hard at home.

A few things I remember her doing: dipping pine cones in wax in the autumn for the fireplace each winter, standing over the kitchen sink soldering pieces of glass together, sewing something on her Singer sewing machine, and gardening. She had a large vegetable garden when I was young and after she gave up the large garden, she always had a small plot for herbs for cooking. And her cooking! She was a gourmet cook. Countless meals and gifts came out of her kitchen. I know she touched the lives of hundreds of people through her cooking alone.

She spent her odd moments of leisure doing needlework and taught me how to do embroidery, needlepoint, and counted cross-stitch. She sewed many of my clothes, my dolls’ clothes, and many of her own garments as well.

One of our most cherished memories was of the time we were walking through our favorite department store. One of the saleswomen in the suit department admired the suit I was wearing and asked me if I had bought it at their store. When I told the woman that my mother had made it, she was astonished and said that the suit was as beautifully made as any the store carried. What a triumph of Mother’s skill!

Mother was a letter writer. Before I was even in school, I called our typewriter a “type-a-letter” because that’s what my mother used it for. When my brother and I went away to school, we could count on at least one letter a week. She sent some emails but even when she used a computer in later years, she often printed the letter out and sent it in an envelope along with articles and other little things she had clipped and saved. I have years of letters in her beautiful handwriting that I treasure for the glimpses into her life, for the wisdom of her advice, and for the love that poured out to me in her words.

Mother believed in the idea of anything worth doing is worth doing well. Her gifts were wrapped as if they were done by an expert. Her home was always warm and inviting. The backside of her needlework creations was almost as beautiful as the front. Every garment she made had finished seams, so you never had to worry about loose threads, and I don’t remember ever losing a button off one of the blouses she made me. When she started quilting later in life, every quilt was beautiful—all her points came together in the piecing and the quilting was always perfect.

Every year, she made dozens and dozens and dozens of homemade Christmas cookies. Some were for the Christmas brunch she held for many years, some were to give as gifts, and some were for her family. Each cookie was beautiful. Se would spend hours on finishing touches to make them more than just something to pop into your mouth.

Best of all, my mother loved people and would go out of her way to befriend them and care for them. She spent her time, listening, advising, and serving her friends and acquaintances. After she died, many people told me how much Mother had meant to them. I only knew a fraction of them because her circle of friends was so wide.

How does one get over the loss of your mother? I remember my pastor once commenting that losing your mother is one of the greatest losses. He said that on his birthday, his mother would buy him a shirt and after she died, he missed those shirts. Your mother is the one who has known you from the beginning. Very few, if any, people will know and love you the way your mother does.

A good mother knows her children—their likes and dislikes, their weaknesses and strengths. A godly mother instills the truth of the gospel in her children from the time they are very small, she prays with and for them, and she teaches them the ways of God in her words and deeds. A loving mother spends time with her children and does many things for them. She encourages them when they are struggling, advises them when they are confused or lost, and is their greatest cheerleader.

Years ago, my mother and I read a book that said that our fellow Christians are our “balcony people.” The author was talking about Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The author pointed out that the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 are the saints who have run the race before us and who are now standing in the balcony of heaven, cheering us on as we run the race of the Christian life.

Mother said that she would always be my balcony person, that she would always be cheering me on, no matter what. She knew me better than anyone else in the world and was my friend and advisor and support until the day of her death. And, I suspect, that she is still cheering me on from heaven.

When I lost my mother, it left a hole in my heart that will never quite be filled on this earth. But I can cherish the memories of her, share the good things she shared with me, advise my friends and family with the wisdom with which she advised me, and tell the world about what a good mother can be by telling the world who my mother was.

Go give your mother a hug. She is your first and best friend in the world and no one can ever replace her.

*Although I wrote this post on the anniversary of my mother’s home-going, it seems appropriate to post it on her birthday.