Heart Friend

imageI talked to my heart friend today. That’s what she is to me. I hope I’ve been one to her. But time is cruel and changes things, and I fear I’ve lapsed in love – which is always more verb than noun.

I’ve known her almost as long as I’ve lived in this town, and we’ve literally walked through the stages of motherhood together. But the kids are growing up….at different schools….separate activities….scheduling is difficult. It’s been said, “Don’t let your kids be your excuse.” “Yes, yes.” I say, my voice trailing off….

So I call her today, to discuss an event – an increasingly rare overlap in plans, and I remember I’m the one who’s usually rushing. And I stop.

“Did I interrupt you?” I ask. “Is this a good time?”

“It’s fine.”

We are going on a trip tonight. I’m staring at dishes in the sink. There’s a suitcase waiting upstairs. But the Lord has his hand on me, so I stand still. And suddenly, it starts coming out..

“Did I tell you??” I say…

“No,” she says.

And I spend an hour telling her what I should have…months ago.

And we’re talking in big circles, about us and others…people we know, who are moving in different directions – some geographically away, to start new lives elsewhere. We both know from personal experience, how very hard that is….to make close friends. To find people you trust. People you really love. And I find myself telling her the deeper truth – the one I really want her to know:

“I’d do anything for you.”

My heart is always for our friendship. I’m not sure she knows. But as I was reminded earlier this week, “Friendships must be forged.” With open hearts and hands.

Lord, please bless all our friendships. Show us how to enrich them. Forgive us our wrongs and oversights. Strengthen our bonds. Let what was forged once, be forged again – anew.

 

Three Italian Women

We’re standing in the church sanctuary, a place of holy refuge, and I know she feels safe. She’s facing a very tough day. She’s been carrying heavy burdens for several people, trying to help where and however she can, and I can see the weight of many hard weeks bearing down on her.  She’s got herself together – she’s beautiful and graceful, keeping up with self-care, but none of us can do the impossible. We can’t bring people back from the dead, or stop the march of a loved one’s disease right there in its tracks with one desperate, pleading prayer.  Her eyes fill up and flood over and I don’t have words so I do what friends do then.  I hug her.  And I don’t let go until she lets go first.

Later in the day I remember three women I haven’t thought of in many years.  I dig up their picture:

3_ItalianWomen_Jan1993
Three friends. Rome. January, 1993.

Arms linked together, they were a bit of an obstacle walking down the Roman street at dusk on that cold, January day.  I followed them for a little before snapping this photo.  They were in no hurry, and didn’t sway from between these yellow lines.  People went around them.  I was wishing I  spoke Italian so that I could catch snippets of their conversation, though I’m fairly sure the bulk of it was the same as that of women’s talk everywhere – mostly family, the work of homemaking, marriage, schedules, maybe some chit-chat about clothing, books, and other entertainment thrown in for fun.

But I took the picture because I was most captivated by the fact that they were linked.  They were unified. They were together. They were walking through life, sharing the journey, and their joined arms confirmed to one another not just an intellectual support system, but a true physical presence.  My arm in yours says, “You are really not alone.”  Touch comforts when words can’t.

Valentine’s Day is coming up.  Who else needs a hug?  Maybe even a walking hug  – where we join arms and travel some of this life together, sharing what we can, and letting the silent strength of one another’s arms be the reassurance we need when words fail us?

A friend loves at all times, 

And a brother is born for adversity. 

– Proverbs 17:17

 

Valentines for Everyone!

image

They burst into the kitchen, their young faces flush with excitement. “We have a GREAT idea!” they said.  “We’re going to make Valentines for everyone in the neighborhood!”

“Um, ok.”  I said, incredulous. “That’s a….good idea..??”

With amazed and delighted disbelief I watched my daughter and her friend follow through on this loving, joyful impulse.  In the unusually warm weather, they spent all of Sunday afternoon sitting on our front porch making Valentines for neighbors, most of whom they don’t know, taking breaks now and then to run off with exuberance for “deliveries.”  If the recipient was a friend, he or she received the card face-to-face.  If not, the Valentines were left in the house mailbox, one from each girl, sweetly signed with only their first names. In a span of 4 hours, the girls industriously covered our little section of the world, 4 tiny streets, with love.

We were all conceived by the One who loves like this – with abandon. But somewhere along the way, we usually acquire a harder-hearted response – the one that I showed yesterday – to love, freely given. Lord, open my eyes today.  Help me to see all the ways you love me.  Help me share your everlasting love with the world.

Many waters cannot quench love,

Nor will rivers overflow it;

If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,

It would be utterly despised.

–  Song of Solomon 8:7

 

Sleeping Trees

 

image

The sun rises in our capital city today, but things are different.

Yesterday, a fire in a very large waterfront home tragically took the lives of 4 children (cousins from 2 different families) and 2 adults, their grandparents.  I heard about it midday, when a beloved friend called – very, very upset.  Her kids were friends with those kids, and she would have to deliver unthinkable news…

I don’t know the families, had never met the children or their grandparents, but….well, I guess when you have kids, this kind of news is just especially gut wrenching.  So awful. Devastating. How would I as a parent, feel?  Instinctively, I hold my breath just imagining the sudden free-fall into darkness.  I reel like this every time a story hits, literally, “so close to home.”

I look at the barren trees this morning and in my mind hear my youngest son’s words: “The trees are sleeping.”  That’s what he said, back in the fall, when the preschool class was learning about seasons, and I immediately fell in love with the analogy – perfect for a 4-year old and 42-year old alike.

A cold, dreary winter combined with sad news can make people huddle and hide, withdrawing from the light. Right now, we can’t see it for all the bleak grayness of the world, but something new and beautiful will be visible in time.  I have faith.  I believe. I will hold a candle for those who can’t right now.  I believe – in Him.

And Jesus said,

“I am come a light into the world,

that whosoever believeth on me

should not abide in darkness.”

– John 12:46

************

Only believe, only believe;

All things are possible, only believe.

Fear not, little flock, whatever your lot,

He enters all rooms, the doors being shut;

He never forsakes, He never is gone,

So count on His presence in darkness and dawn.

“Only Believe,” Paul Rader

(From The Bible Promise Book for Women, Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2014, p.13)

Day 31 – A New Beginning

Well, I’ve finally hit my initial goal of 31 days of blogging!  (And I will stop numbering my posts now.) I didn’t complete all 31 posts in 1 month, but I did manage to do it in 2.  Given that I’ve never done this sort of writing before, I feel that’s not half bad. “Started a blog” could be checked off my bucket list, if I had one.  “Make a bucket list” should be the next thing I do!

I’ve found that so far, blogging has definitely been a worthwhile journey.  Thank you – each one of you – for reading.  I know your time is valuable and I’m honored that you spare a bit of it to read my two cents.

Thank you, also, to everyone who has encouraged me with your compliments, ‘likes,’ and ‘shares.’  There’s simply no way I can fully convey just how much your appreciation means to me.  I am very blessed to enjoy the writing process, but gifted so much more by friends cheering me on. Thank you. Thank you.

So – today’s post is about a new beginning.  Why? Well, because it’s the first day of Advent.

My family and I had a great Thanksgiving.  We are also looking forward to Christmas. We were talking about getting our tree today, but for some reason, and I couldn’t put my finger on why, planning to do this seemed a little rushed to me. And then, as we settled into the pew at Mass this morning, I realized I was feeling sluggish.  It was not the tryptophan from turkey leftovers.  No, I just felt caught in a sort of no-man’s land….I was mentally done with the Thanksgiving holiday but not yet ready to start preparing for Christmas.

Then I grabbed the Missal. In the Catholic Church, this book contains all of the scripture readings selected for the church worldwide for the entire year. Churches replace their Missals annually, and the church year begins with Advent. So basically, I thought, maybe today I start again.

I pondered this more as I heard the first reading, from the Book of Isaiah 63 and 64, and especially the last lines, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

I am a work in His hands. And He is patient with me.  Since Advent is about waiting for His coming at Christmas, the Lord is not caught up in the hustle and bustle of the so-called “holiday season” that has become so commercialized in our predominantly secular society.  No, He has no part in that. So, I participated in Communion with Him and gave Him myself as I was, and He came and made today about accepting the process of preparation for things to come.  He made it about taking the necessary time to do that.  Nice and easy.  Peacefully and slowly.  Not on the world’s time.

Instead of rushing to pull out the decorative embellishments that say to the world “we’re celebrating,” I removed clutter and cleaned to make room for what’s to come.  I’ll do more tomorrow, but I feel better already.

 

image

 

Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza

Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com

If you’re from Philadelphia you have your favorite place to go for a cheesesteak (which you probably just call a ‘steak’), and you know whether that’s a ‘whiz’ place or not; you also have a favorite place for hoagies; and you have a favorite place for pizza. These places may or may not be one and the same. Philadelphians are VERY particular about these foods, and VERY loyal to their neighborhoods. There is no “best place to get a cheesesteak” in the city. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t lived there.

I went to high school in the western Philly suburbs, in a town called Broomall to be precise, and my family’s one-and-only for all three of these staple weekend foods was Thunderbird. If we weren’t squeezing into one of the tiny booths in this very basic building, we were having Thunderbird delivered – and I knew all the delivery guys.  Each one was either a friend, or a friend of a friend. To a kid who grew up moving around a lot, and then having moved to Broomall in 10th grade, it was exciting to open my front door and know the person carrying my dinner. I think that’s what made me smile so much when I saw the Facebook post. That and the memories of celebrations that involved Thunderbird food – lighthearted moments – like eating the 6-foot long hoagie with my cheerleading squad over my dining room table after we won the regional championships.

High school is a difficult time for many people and for lots of different reasons. I was no exception. My parents had divorced and remarried, and although I think I held it together on the surface, I was churning inside – learning to navigate relationships and deal with pain that would take years of searching and prayer to heal from and understand. But it wasn’t all bad – not nearly so.  I was blessed with very good friends, and was accepted in the community enough to feel some sense of ownership in it.  I was very proud of the service my dad gave to our country as a military officer, but it meant that until that point I had never lived in one place longer than a couple years, so I had never been “from” anywhere.  Feeling linked to the town through the high school and friends who worked at Thunderbird made it feel more like a permanent home.

I’ve heard it said that, more and more, people feel worse about themselves after they look at Facebook. So, reflecting on my own happy reaction to this post about my favorite pizza joint, I offer this: I can use Facebook as a spiritual barometer. It can tell me how the weather is in my soul. If I look at a post and feel uneasy, jealous, resentful, angry, haughty, proud, or greedy, I know that there’s trouble brewing with me.  If, on the other hand, I read posts and feel genuinely joyful for others’ success and loving toward them, and my demeanor remains happy, peaceful, tolerant, kind, gentle, good, and rooted in faith and self-control, I’m on the right track and will not leave Facebook feeling worse than when I got on it. And given how far I’ve come in the nearly 25 years since high school, that’s certainly where I want to be today.

 

Me in my "Thunderbird" (i.e. high school) years.
Me in my “Thunderbird” (i.e. high school) years.

Day 7 – How to Spend a Day

Practically speaking, I spend less time on Wednesdays puttering around town transporting kids from one activity to another than any other day of the week, but that just means I spend more time dreaming up an extended list of ‘to-dos’ I can check off at home. And today, I created that agenda in a frenzy as I wolfed down my lunch.

My 3 kids were finally all at school (the youngest being only in afternoon preschool 3X a week). Like always, I had a fairly long list that I knew I could not possibly accomplish in one day, but I was willing to bend over backward trying. And then, thank goodness, I remembered – the most important factor in me having a good day is to put my tasks in order. Not in the order I would choose, but in the order God would choose. How should I do that? Only one way. Ask Him.

I hadn’t devoted time to God first thing in the morning, so I was off on the wrong foot already. But I’ve learned that I can restart my day anytime, and He’ll help.

I pulled out my Bible.

“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
— Matthew 10:39

I turned my heart to The Lord and thanked Him for providing this verse to me as part of my Bible study, and for doing so on this particular day.  And then, I asked Him to prioritize my day.  Because the real question is: Which of my activities are for His sake? Shouldn’t they all serve Him in some way? With His guidance,

Here’s what got done today:
– Extended Bible study and quality prayer time with my Lord
– Snack and giggle time with my kids after school
– Short impromptu piano concert from my daughter
– School paperwork so the kids can go on field trips
– Phone conversation with my dad
– Dinner made and served
– Attended a Boy Scout Court of Honor with my oldest son and saw him receive 3 merit badges
– Time catching up with my husband

Here’s what didn’t get done:
– Bathrooms not scrubbed
– Kitchen floor not scrubbed
– 2 Loads of laundry
– Phone calls re: health insurance questions
– Junk mail and paperwork sorted, filed, and/or shredded
– Some other stuff that I guess really wasn’t important after all….at least, not today

Glancing over the lists above, I shouldn’t be surprised. Whenever I ask Him, God always shows me that nothing material compares to the importance of nurturing relationships with the people God loves. And He loves ALL the people.

Even bathrooms must be scrubbed as an outgrowth of loving service to others. Perhaps He’ll call me to do that tomorrow.

Day 6 – God Winks at Sam’s Club

It almost goes without saying that when you lose someone, you are more sympathetic to other people’s losses as well. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have your eyes open to actually see the needs of others. At least, I wouldn’t think so – and not while shopping at Sam’s Club of all places. There, I’m usually “in the zone” – just trying to get in and get out in as little time as possible. But, if you ask God to use you, I think sometimes he does.

Today I saw a familiar-looking face in frozen foods. Two aisles later I remembered, ‘He lost his wife a couple years ago….kids took karate with my oldest son.’ In produce, I saw him again, and as we both arrived at the bananas and picked up handfuls, he smiled and said, “I have six kids. These won’t last 15 minutes.” “I know,” I said, “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but….” and I made the connections for him. I gave him the only gift I could in that moment – a chance to talk to someone he started to recall the more we chatted. And when he said, “I get by each day with God’s grace,” and I said, “Yes, that’s right,” his eyes just lit up with light. He knew then that I was sincere, and I could tell he appreciated my concern all the more. I told him twice I would pray for him and his kids, and how blessed am I to be able to do that for one of my brothers?

I checked out with my haul of stuff, packed my trunk, and hopped behind the wheel to get home before lunch. But before I reversed out of my space, a white Suburban backed into a spot slightly to the right and ahead of me. The driver got out, his back to me.  He had thick white hair and was wearing a baseball cap. On the back of his truck were two bumper stickers, both with the name of a woman – one with her birth and death dates, the other for a road race organized in her honor. It was a familiar name. I googled her. Ah yes – I remembered this local story from two years ago. She was 31, had gone to the same elementary school as my kids, then the affiliated high school, was a celebrated high school and collegiate athlete, married, and then passed away due to childbirth complications after delivering healthy twins. Hmmm…Wasn’t this…. interesting? To have noticed these stickers on a truck that wasn’t directly in front of me.  Then for “some reason” I felt curious enough to look her up, only to find she went to my kids’ school and died in a similar way as my stepsister, who passed just a couple weeks ago?  What to do next?

I prayed on it, took a deep breath, and then…I wrote the driver a note. Basically, it said, ‘Dear Driver – I don’t know who you are, but from those stickers I know she was precious to you, and I am short of words to fully express my deepest sympathy for your loss. My kids are at her same school, and I just lost my stepsister to post-childbirth complications. It seems that these things can’t happen in modern times, but they do. I will be praying for her family, and for you.”

Today, I am grateful for having been given grace enough to notice people and things that on most days I probably would have missed. May these families feel a small dose of comfort and peace for having been ‘seen’ today.