A Dash of Color at my Table

My friend, Julie, came over yesterday. She brought some daffodils from her garden. I put them in the vase on my table with the white daisies and baby’s breath I bought a few days ago to make my table cheery. My friend and I had a wonderful conversation over coffee. I’ve known her for over 20 years. We had a lot to talk about!

I passed my dining room table this morning and thought how the yellow flowers Julie brought added color to my own flowers. It occurred to me that this is what friends do in our lives. They add color. We bring white to the table, they bring yellow or red or orange or pink.

We bring one idea to the table, they bring their ideas and challenge thinking or expand it.  That’s why having good friends and making time for them in our lives is so important. Left in isolation, we get narrow and stale. Our own thinking (which at times can be faulty) never gets challenged, and after a while, the cognitive dissonance becomes too great when hearing another’s viewpoint, and it is discarded automatically.  Pride takes over and blindness sets in.  It’s the price of isolating yourself, and the end isn’t pretty.

Nothing is so wonderful as to have a one on one conversation beyond the superficial. Crowded social settings and women’s groups are exhausting to me, and not just because hearing for me can be difficult. Having just one friend to sit and chat with is as good as it gets.  Another friend stopped by  last week that I hadn’t seen in three years. We sat and  talked for two and a half hours and realized we had forgotten to eat the lunch I had prepared!

Friends add the color we need in our lives. Out my kitchen window, I can see my own colorful flowers coming up. Friends, like flowers, need tending to. When we nurture our friendships, they grow even more beautiful.

“A friend loves at all times..”  ~ Proverbs 17:17


Friends and Neighbors Are Good for Your Health

I came across an interesting article from Canada about the health-enhancing benefits of having good friends and social interaction.

“Those surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends who regularly gather to eat—and, crucially, gossip—live an average of 15 years longer than loners.  Quality face-to-face contact is essential for a social species, writes psychologist Susan Pinker, citing research that shows it fortifies immune systems, calibrates hormones and increases chances of surviving heart attacks, strokes, AIDS and cancer. 

“People with the most integrated social lives—overlapping relationships among friends, family, sports and other recreational or religious pursuits—have the best prognoses,” with the most life-threatening diseases.

It’s true even with dementia: A 2004 Swedish study found its lowest prevalence among those with the most extensive social networks.” (See full article here.)

amySadly, as the article points out, knowing and interacting with those closest to us is fading due to many factors in our society. The good news is that we can do something about that. It’s never too late to get to know your neighbors and carve out time for friends. I don’t enjoy large groups of people, but love to have coffee with friends one on one. These are the best kind of social networks, the ones where there are real faces across the table. I’m spending time that way more and more these days, and I love it! The side benefit is that it really is good for my health. (That’s me and Amy Spreeman of Stand Up for the Truth Radio, a recent coffee partner.)

True Friends

I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to the subject of friendship. We use the term friends in a general way, but not all “friends” are friends.

Frank Viola has written a couple of interesting posts on the subject. He lists five characteristics of true friends.

Five Characteristics of a Close (True) Friend

A close friend rejoices in your joys and sorrows over your pains. A true friend is not just sympathetic, they are empathetic. They share your feelings, weeping with you when you weep and rejoicing with you when you rejoice.

A close friend won’t defriend you if you disagree. Friendships are tested when there is a disagreement. But true friends don’t cut you off because of it. They may tell you what they think you need to hear and vice versa. But they will do it in such a way where you can receive it. The reason is because you know they love you unconditionally more than they love their views.

A close friend stays in regular contact with you. There are people who I’m friends with who contact me from time to time and vice versa. But a close friend this doth not make. Close friends communicate fairly regularly.

A close friend is someone whom you trust implicitly. They have earned your trust. Consequently, you don’t doubt that they have your back. And you don’t fear that they will stab you in the back. You trust them enough to confide in them about highly private and confidential matters. Close friendship brings with it disclosure (John 15:15).

A close friend will stand by you, defend you, even take a bullet for you when you’re under attack. To my mind, this is perhaps the highest measure of friendship or one of the rock-bottom “tests.” The posture of a true friend is, “If you hurt my friend, you’ve hurt me.” It is never, “Well, that person never did anything to hurt me, so it’s not my issue.” This attitude is what separates goats from black sheep. True friends stand with and stand up for each other.

~ Frank Viola

True friends are a rare thing. I once heard the line, “friends who cease to be, never were.” I agree with that.

I like the quote Viola uses at the beginning of his post.

“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”

~ George Eliot

Feeling safe with someone about sums it up. Here are a few more quotes on friendship.

“A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. – George Washington

I always felt that the great high privilege, relief and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing. – Katherine Mansfield

I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world. – Thomas Edison

The world is a lonely place without friends. You don’t need a roomful. All you need is that one person you can talk with who understands and who genuinely wishes the best for you. Real friends are priceless. Protect your friendships, because they need nurturing. They are a rare gift we should never take for granted.

Letters: The ‘Write’ Stuff

I used to have ‘pen pals’ in various parts of the world. There were two girls in Malaysia, one in Greece and one in the UK who still sends me Christmas cards 30 years later. She now lives in Spain.

There was something exciting about seeing those thin blue airmail letters with foreign stamps. It was doubly exciting if it was a bigger envelope with photos inside. The handwritten letters, as distinctive and unique as each of the girls sending them, were treasured. I kept almost all of them for years until they were too numerous, and I still have many of the photos in my cedar chest.

Real letters are a rarity these days. (This article from last week documents the decline in letter writing.) I rarely use my handwriting at all so that when I do need to write in a card, it feels awkward and doesn’t look very smooth anymore. Electronic communication rules the world, and the situation is unlikely to be reversed.

That’s a sad thing, actually. Email is so quick and easy, and that’s just the problem. It cheapens communication. After running a popular news and comment blog for years on religious issues, I would often get emails like this from someone unhappy with an opinion.

u have no idea what yer talking about get a life get a clue am sick of !@#$%’s like u moron

This sort of message would invariably be sent from an email address at something.edu—college students showing off their fine grasp of the English language, among other things.

Back before email and the Internet, I would occasionally get a handwritten or typed letter from someone who disagreed with my perspective on the radio program. Writing a letter required some thought and effort and thus reduced the amount of illiterate and abusive ranting I received (and prevented heated responses from me, I might add.)

It’s the thought and effort required in a handwritten note or letter that make them almost a gift now. I love seeing handwriting on an envelope from the mailbox. Somebody took the time to sit down and write a few lines, get a stamp and mail it. You can save something like that for the rest of your life. Try doing that with an email. I feel sorry for archivists today who no longer have letters to work with. What a charming sight it will be some day for Americans trailing through museums looking at photocopies of emails encased in glass, written by famous leaders, filled with rich expressions like LOL, ROTFL, or TTYL.

I frequently see questions from mothers on home school forums about whether it’s worth the trouble to teach handwriting anymore. My view on that is that, no, it doesn’t matter anymore if you’ve made peace with a world where the only thing your child can do is type or text symbols or print. I haven’t made peace with that yet, and Emily will learn cursive handwriting when the time comes, even if I’m the only mom still teaching it. Call me a troglodyte.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

Peggy Noonan, one of my all time favorite columnists/writers, wrote a piece before New Year’s Eve about the song Auld Lang Syne and what it meant to various people she interviewed. She mentioned that for many people the song is a reflection on the people who have come in and out of our lives and appreciation for what they have meant.

On New Year’s Eve, I was at an orchestra concert where they ended with that song, and I thought also about the words of that song, the years that have gone by and all the people I have known who are no longer in my life.

Two days ago, my dad gave me some wedding photos I hadn’t seen before. Tom and I looked startlingly young  in the photos (there’s a surprise!) But what I noticed the most were the guests. There was my Matron of Honor who passed away just a few months ago after a years’ long battle with melanoma. It brought tears to my eyes to see Kristine and to remember the role she and her husband played in my eventually marrying Tom. She’s in heaven now.

There was my friend Lynn in the wedding photos, a vibrant woman who called after the afternoon local radio program I did then. I can still hear her voice if I close my eyes and think back.

“Hi Ingrid, this is Lynn. My husband is ________ with the Milwaukee Brewers management, and I do a Bible study with players’ wives. I’d like to meet you. Can we have lunch?”

I was very lonely at that time in my life, and I felt shy meeting someone new. She laughed out loud when she saw me.

“You’re my daughter’s age!” she cried. She had pictured that I was much older for some reason hearing me on radio.

I still have one of her plates I never got to return to her before she moved out of state. She had sent cake home on it from the wedding shower she held for me in her lovely home. I can’t return her plate now. She was killed in a car accident three years ago.

There was Tom’s Dad in the photos, now also gone from us. Several others in the photos have moved away literally or figuratively since that day. Those pictures reminded me of just how swiftly life marches on. People you take for granted in your life are suddenly not there. Sometimes, though, it’s a sort of subtle drifting away with friends. You lose touch. Their lives or your life changes, and those ties that bind loosen and fall away.

The words of Auld Lang Syne by poet Robert Burns are these:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

The words ‘auld lang syne’ mean “old long since” or loosely, “days gone by.”

I feel wistful sometimes about people who are no longer in our lives. Social media has surprisingly brought a few back my way after many years. Hearing from high school friends after 26 years is always fun and slightly shocking. (Could it have been that long?!) But many disappear never to be seen or heard from again. God brings us into others’ lives for a reason, sometimes a mysterious one. Relationships that have staying power and that stand the test of time are very precious. They’re precious because they are rare.

Many things can be the glue that holds a friendship together over time. It’s different for everyone, I think. Respect, deep understanding, a mutual Christian love and concern for the other, forgiveness, always thinking the best of each other–those things are the building blocks of women’s friendships that go the distance. But in some cases, it’s something intangible, a sort of chemistry that just works.

Couples friendships are tricky. You have to have a situation where both couples are mutually happy with spending time together. I mentioned Kristine, my Matron of Honor at my wedding. She and her husband, Stan, were a frequent encouragement to Tom and me many times as we went through all the ups and downs of a growing family, two adoptions, and many other life changes. They were delightful to go out with. Many times we would sit at a restaurant for a couple of hours, just talking and often laughing our sides off. The heaviness we often felt during difficult times would palpably lift in that atmosphere of friendship.

We’re into 2011, and I want to say that I’m newly aware that friends are important. I don’t always have the time and energy I need to spend the time I’d like with women friends. But I treasure those who are in my life, and if they read this, I want them to know how dear they are. I have made some great Christian acquaintances through this blog also. Many times the feedback I get is encouraging and helpful. Other women are going through similar things. God is working in all of our lives, and we can all urge each other on in the Christian life so serve the Lord with all our hearts.

The song asks, should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? The answer is a resounding “no!”

At the Gingerbread House

newbaby 008 I got to meet Christina, a Hope Blog reader, at a charming little coffee shop located in an 1885 farm house in Muskego. I also got to meet Christina’s darling little girl, Naomi. Naomi and Emmy are four weeks apart, and although Em started to get cranky a few minutes after we arrived, she settled down shortly thereafter, and we two moms got to talk. Little Naomi slept like a champ most of the time, but I did get to see a lovely smile from her before we left!

I enjoyed our coffee meeting greatly, because as I listened to Christina and heard her heart for her children and Christ-honoring child rearing, I found myself encouraged somehow. So much has gone wrong in our culture and the church. There are so many train wrecks among families and couples today as the American dream has turned into a nightmare. To hear of a young couple like Andy and Christina, two who are committed to the Lord and to raising up a godly family, was a real joy to my heart.

For any Milwaukee area readers, you have to visit the Gingerbread House in Muskego. They have a boutique upstairs that I didn’t get to visit, but their coffee was fabulous and the cozy, antique environment was so pleasant. The baking going on filled the room with that wonderful, yeasty aroma that only bakeries have. My only regret yesterday was that I got so distracted talking with Christina, I didn’t even offer to get some of those goodies for our table! Ah well, that makes a good excuse to go back some time. As a matter of fact, I am asking Tom to take me there next week some morning. He’s on vacation (a definite to-do list ‘staycation’) next week. Hopefully, we’ll get to try out those pastries.

(I’m sorry the photo is so dark, but the lighting wasn’t conducive to a brighter shot.)