The Gift of Deep Friendship

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I’m back from the fourth reunion of childhood girlfriends since 2010. We were born in the same year; three resided in the same neighborhood; our parents were friends; we were raised in the same faith; we know each other’s siblings. We’ve been friends since kindergarten.

Along with all these similarities are differences. Geographic, to be sure. The closest link between any two of us is over 800 miles. We differ in economics, vocations, passions, politics, tastes, theology, and in all the other ways people change.

The thing is that we six were not bff’s growing up. I think the phrase friendship by proximity describes some of our early years. Sometimes we hung out together because that’s who was available. Now that our friendship has come of age, we are repeating stories! (We = me, sigh…)

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This treasure, these friendships, are more precious to us than diamonds. Other than checking our phones and taking calls from husbands and children, our time is unplugged. We don’t watch movies; we don’t go shopping (except for groceries). It is time to attend, to be present, to listen, to share, to truly know each other. We laugh and guffaw, we cry (even the non-criers among us), we eat, we swim, we sing.

We established a protocol at our first reunion that we always follow. We could (and do) have a fabulous time cooking communally, grabbing a cuppa, letting the conversation meander like a river. But eventually we have a formal time of focus. One friend shares her heart: what’s good, what’s hard, what’s changed, what’s real. This is a time of transparency and trust. We take notes, ask questions. It can also be a time of discovery, when the perception of girlfriends translates truth we didn’t before see. Then we pray, asking God to help, to intervene, to strengthen, to bless our friend. Then we sing the songs we grew up singing that are imprinted on our souls. Rinse and repeat.

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These friendships are for each of us a bonus. We all have sisters — not just sisters, but close sisters with whom we regularly share our lives and hearts.

Two stories. Meeting in the airport has always been an exciting moment. We’re giddy and goofy and garrulous. This year, however, Ruth’s father died the Monday before our gathering. She drove to Virginia on Tuesday, buried him on Thursday, and flew out to Phoenix on Saturday. My plane arrived five minutes before hers. I parked myself in front of the gate to welcome her. Sitting at the back of the plane, she was one of the last passengers to deplane. Seeing each other we burst into sobs, running into a hug. It was a spectacle, but we didn’t care. All our griefs to share.

Eileen’s plane came in later than the others. Nancy’s sister Kathy picked her up from the airport. Eileen didn’t want to inconvenience her. Are you kidding? Kathy replied. When we were first married, we flew to Chicago, but couldn’t rent a car because I was under 25. We called my mom in Phoenix and asked her what to do. She told us to call your (Eileen’s) dad. We called him, he dropped everything and drove to O’Hare to pay for our rental. I am only too happy to give you a ride. More tears, and the gift of an previously unknown story about her dad.

One evening the Gibson sisters joined us for an old-fashioned hymn sing. I guess reading the lyrics on your phone wasn’t old-fashioned! Those girls (ahem, women) can SING!! Lots of nostalgia and gorgeous harmonies and rejoicing in a heritage of music.

After four girlfriend gatherings, I remain astonished at the profound transforming power of this deep friendship. It has all the hallmarks of grace: unexpected, unearned, unsought, undeserved.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

Our 2010 Reunion
Anticipating 2010 Reunion

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Back Home Again

DSC_2117 October was a friendship-saturated month.

DSC_2151When I had an empty day in a city far from home, I contacted Faith,
an online friend. We picked up as if we had known
each other forever, drinking pots of tea and talking nonstop.

DSC_2213A week of solitude meant garden clean-up, reading, walking,
and a trip to the wildlife refuge to feast on the Harvest Moon.

DSC_2268My husband and I had a few days in the middle
where our schedules synced. The joy of reuniting, ah!

DSC_2281I met two year old Max and his mom on a flight to Minneapolis.
When he got antsy, I snapped a photo and let him see.
Take another, he urged. He drew in my journal with many colors;
years from now his drawing will remind me of our brief friendship.

DSC_2287A fire is a great conversation accessory. On my cousin’s
back deck we not only caught up on our 17 years apart,
but I—thanks to her transparency—got a tutorial
on life as a new widow.

DSC_2299We gloried in fall colors.

DSC_2347Our dads were brothers. We talked through our
family history, all those quirks we recognize.

DSC_2371And we laughed.

October 2014Then to Chicago for my annual visit.
I enjoy studying each my sister Dorothy’s dozen grandchildren:
their gifts, what motivates and aggravates them,
their unique personalities.

DSC_2525My sister Margaret soldiers through many infirmities.
Cancer and a stroke have attacked but can’t quench her spirit.
Through the pain I never hear her complain.

DSC_2625Several other friends blessed me with time and attention,
a precious gift. Our friendships span the years.
Stories jogged memories.

DSC_2423Tender mercies, all.

Reading Lucy Maud, Part 2

DSC_5238 (We do not lack for red-headed beauties in these parts.)

This was my summer of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I want to share thoughts and a few choice quotes from each of the Anne books in this post..

Anne of Green Gables The themes of imagination, wonder, friendship, drama and belonging come together in the person of Anne Shirley. Anne has eyes to see and the heart to be stopped by the beauty around her. All that exuberance is counter balanced by the clear-eyed, practical Marilla Cuthbert. And who doesn’t love Matthew Cuthbert, the buyer of puffed sleeves?

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. it would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”

All things great are wound up with all things little.

Anne of Avonlea Anne begins teaching at the Avonlea school. Can you imagine our schools today hiring sixteen-year-olds to teach? The cranky neighbor, Mr. Harrison, plays the curmudgeon, adding spice to the story. Marilla adopts the Keith twins, Davy and Dora, but their characters didn’t capture my interest.

I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.

Anne of the Island Anne leaves PEI for Redmond College in Nova Scotia. Anne is coming of age; she is going away, Diana is staying—their friendship will change. The book is framed by Anne and Gilbert’s relationship: from comfortable comrades at the beginning through the awkwardness of rejected romance eventually to true love.

Humor is the spiciest condiment in the feast of existence. Laugh at your mistakes but learn from them, joke over your troubles but gather strength from them, make a jest of your difficulties but overcome them.

There is so much in the world for us all if we only have eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves—so much in men and women, so much in art and literature, so much everywhere in which to delight, and for which to be thankful.

Anne of Windy Poplars Anne is teacher/principal at a school in Summerside, back on PEI. Every Anne book needs a crank: Katherine Brooke fills the role, a woman who made being disagreeable into a fine art. Katherine is transformed by Anne’s patient and pursuing friendship.

Anne had a horror of being petty.

Even the commonplaces had been made lovely. Every bit of wire fencing was a wonder of crystal lace.

Anne’s House of Dreams The book begins with Gilbert and Anne’s wedding, a small quiet event in the apple orchard at Green Gables. They move to Glen St. Mary where Gilbert begins medical practice and Anne gets involved in the stories of the people around her. Instead of a crank, one of the main characters, Leslie Moore, is tragic. And Miss Cornelia Bryant, who has strong opinions about Methodists and Presbyterians, provides comic relief. The spinster maid, Susan Baker—one of my favorites—is introduced.

They had a sort of talent for happiness, them two.

I LIKE to be alone now and then, just to think over things and TASTE them. But I love friendship—and nice, jolly little times with people.

Anne of Ingleside Five Blythe children have joined Gilbert, Anne and the maid, Susan, at Ingleside. It is their stories we read: Jem disappears, Di learns about false friends, sensitive Walter has a long dark night; Nan cheats God.  Grouchy Aunt Mary Maria Blythe plays the part of the crank. She so resembled one of my long-departed relatives that I snorted a few times in sympathy with Anne.

Susan’s mince pies are poems, just as her apple pies are lyrics.

Only sneaks, Jem had said once, tried to get out of bargains.

Rainbow Valley This book is dear to my heart. The Reverend John Knox Meredith, the new minister, is a widower with four children. The Meredith kids get all the good stories in this book. I bonded with Rainbow Valley, of course, because my mom died when I—the youngest of seven—was ten and my dad was the same kind of absent minded minister as the Rev..

Every LMM book needs a cranky reprobate: enter Norman Douglas. Spunky Faith Meredith challenges old Norman Douglas and the sparks fly. it’s a jolly good time.

Where can folks get better acquainted than over a meal table?

The more we love the richer life is—even if it is only some little furry or feathery pet.

Rilla of InglesideLucy Maud’s final Anne book comes up to the level of Anne of Green Gables, and may even surpass it. Bertha Marilla, aka Rilla, aka Rilla-my-Rilla, is one of Montgomery’s most well-rounded, multidimensional characters. Like the Dowager in Downton Abbey, Susan Baker—the maid who is a part of the family—has the best quotes.

So much that is satisfying can be found in this book: the growth of Rilla; her fostering of the infant Jims, a war-baby; the understanding and affection between Rilla and her brother Walter; the long vigil of Dog Monday waiting for his master to return.

Rilla, published in 1921, offers a clear view of life in Canada during the war. This title belongs on more WWI lists.

When we have to do a thing, Mr. Dr. dear, we can do it.

I am not, proceeded Susan firmly, going to lament or whine or question the wisdom of the Almighty any more as I have been doing lately. Whining and shirking and blaming Providence do not get us anywhere. We have just got to grapple with whatever we have to do whether it is weeding the onion patch or running the Government. I shall grapple.

Reading Lucy Maud, Part 1

On Online Friendships

 

 The first blog I ever read  back in 2004 was Quiet Life.
Donna’s writing was a joy and encouragement.
She’s been called a “spirit-gardener.”

It turns out, Donna was born September 27th.
I was born in the same year on September 28th.
We grew up two towns away from each other.
We are both part of a family of seven kids.
We both lost parents at a young age.

I read Quiet Life daily for several months.
One day, I was compelled to respond to something she wrote.
It was SO scary.
Me? Comment on someone’s blog?
And she didn’t know me?
What would she think????

Donna has the gift of the right word for the right time.
Time and time again.

Donna has another gift, she does.
She is a friendship broker.
Her comment section (QLCS for short) has
introduced me to several friends who are dear to my heart.
I’ve met two in real life. 
There are more on my list to meet.

Donna gives her readers something else:
she shares her family.
We all, in some way, believe Katie is our daughter too.
We love Donna’s kids.
Donna has five sisters; we know them by name,
and consider ourselves honorary Glyman girls.

I’m always learning from Donna’s example:
Keep it short.
Ask questions.
Find appropriate quotes.
Be interested in others.
Take photos.

So on this trip to Chicago, a pocket of time opened up,
time enough for a short visit at a halfway point.
We met at Chipotle’s and talked.
And talked.  And talked.
It was sweet.

Ah, Donna.
Love you.  Mean it!

~  happy sigh ~

Sniffing Boats, Singing Seals and Fat Banks of Fog

“When there’s enough that is the same
and enough that is different in such a relationship,
there is a fruitful middle ground to be explored.”

~ Luci Shaw, writing about her friendship with Madeleine L’Engle in Books & Culture. When I read those words, I immediately thought of travel.  We have humanity in common with all the people of the earth: we all experience loss, love, boredom, fear and wonder.  But each region has a unique culture and in exploring both the likenesses and dissimilarities we find things of delight and things of disgust.  The thrill of recognition – oh, she’s just like me! – and the fascination of otherness – um, why is that important to you? – are part of building any relationship.

William Zinsser calls the memoir “one of nonfiction’s most appealing forms.”  Amen and amen.  Insert travel in front of memoir and I’ll be swaying and singing my praises.  Travel memoirs float my boat. I love exploring Afghanistan, Russia, Japan, Mississippi, Patagonia, Provence, Tuscany, China etc. from the eyes of an observant outsider.

Some Lovely Islands by Mr. Leslie Thomas is now one of my favorite travel memoirs.  I will scour the bookstores of Great Britain for copies of this book. Thomas out-Rick-Steves Rick Steves as a “temporary local.”  He is not as philosophical as John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley, but his writing sparkles like a sun-drenched sea.  I filled nine pages of my journal with quotes from this author.

Thomas decided to visit 10 very different islands off of Ireland and Great Britain in one year.  Some were uninhabited, some had monasteries, a few had long-established communities, and most had a lighthouse.  It was great to read a chapter, surf the web and see the visuals; some of the people he mentioned in this 1967 book are now selling photographs on the web.  Viva le Google!

It is the writing that pinches, tickles, grabs and holds you.   He sees the elements of nature as living things; they are alive when you read his descriptions.

The mountains and sky fell upon each other
like black wrestlers locked in a hold;
and there was I staggering over mooring ropes and anchors.

…the saddest sight. 
A whole village, a whole life,
a whole story in doleful ruin.
The houses back up the hill,
roofless, windowless, doorless,
like a congregation of senile people
without teeth or eyes.

Fat banks of fog…with a certain politeness
stopped short and stood around
just outside the harbour.

The boat sniffed around the rocks
and panted into the landlocked pool
like a dog pleased to have rediscovered
a familiar rabbit hole.

Fads and fashions,
pavement and politics,
are miles away and of no matter.
The singing of the seals is real.

Recipe for Friendship

We read two questions and answers from The Larger Catechism (a Presbyterian church document) every morning.   It struck me that  these speak clearly about the duties and sins of friendships.  See what you think.

Q. 131.  What are the duties of equals?

A.  The duties of equals are:
          to regard the dignity and worth of each other,
          in giving honor to go one before another,
          and to rejoice in each other’s gifts and advancement as their own.

Q. 132.  What are the sins of equals?

A.  The sins of equals are, besides the neglect of the duties required,
          the undervaluing of worth,
          envying the gifts,
          grieving at the advancement or prosperity one of another,
          and usurping pre-eminence one over another.

I need constant reminders to remove the sweater of selfishness when I am with friends.  I need to learn these phrases until they become instinctive.

You go first.”
“Tell me more.”
“What do you think?”
“I admire that about you.”

Friends for the Journey

Friends always have a lingering, lasting effect on us.  Their kindnesses remain with us long after they have departed.  Their example inspires us.  Their words continue to impact our thinking. They intrude upon our daily concourse with a gentle but certain regularity. Remembrance has thus always been an essential element of the friendships of great men and women, a kind of eternal trophy of a gracious endearment.  
~ George and Karen Grant in Best Friends


We have lost a friend this week in the passing of Madeleine L’Engle.  She was eloquent.  Provocative. Challenging.  Perceptive.  We will remember her.  Her words will continue to impact our thinking.  I’m often uncomfortable with her theology, but I press on because she got the essence of life right and she could express it with magnificent grace.  When something reminds me of Madeleine, I call it L’English.  It’s one of the most delightful words in my personal lexicon.  

One of my favorite L’Engle books is her collaboration with Luci Shaw on Friends for the Journey.  In this book they explore together the topography of friendship. 

“Our contact was never superficial;
it started out, as it has continued,
with God talk and book talk,
the elements of the kind of friendship
we both find most satisfying.” 

You may or may not be familiar with Luci Shaw.  I’ve had a fondness for Luci Shaw since my childhood, because she was one of my dad’s favorite poets.  He stopped me one day to listen to one of her poems from her first collection, Listen to the Green.

The book is a quilt of many colors, shapes and textures of mystic, sweet communion.  Some chapters are written by Madeleine, some by Luci.  Interspersed throughout the book are poems of both writers.  A few chapters are transcripts of conversations between Madeleine and Luci.  It is such a gift to get a glimpse of the inner workings of their friendship.  I’ve read several books of this sort, but this is by far the richest, fullest expression of friendship that I’ve read.   Friends for the Journey is a book to take down on a regular basis, a book to share with the friends in your life, a book that will nourish your soul.

“One of the most important things about friendship
is that we allow the friends of our heart to see us,
not as we would like to be
(none of us is what we’d like to be),
but as we really are,
with our weaknesses, flaws, and faults.”
~ Madeleine L’Engle

In the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer these words are said: “Remember thy servant, O Lord, according to the favor which thou bearest upon thy people, and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, he may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service.”


I believe that.  Our identity, our self, our soul, goes on growing to a deeper fullness in love of God, leading us toward the kind of maturity God planned for us in the first place. For now, that is all I need to know.”
         
           ~ Madeleine L’Engle  11-29-1918 – 9-6-2007