“Are You My Friend?”

marymarthaDo you ever look around and wonder who your friends are? I sometimes do. I’m naturally introverted, and yet the combined effects of several relocations, caring for two special-needs kids (and now my mother), and endless work-related social media interactions (I’m an editor) have depleted my little black book on those rare occasions when I’m craving a girls’ night out.

Yesterday I was discussing this with an author friend who happens to fall in the category of both professional and personal connection. She has met my extended family, and made rosaries for my kids. I’ve slept at her house, and call her whenever I’m in her area to get together.

Apparently this sense of rootlessness is something that many women experience. She also made me sit up and take notice when she identified what is often the source of the problem. “There are persons, and there are personas,” she reminded me. “When you are a writer, you cultivate a persona that you let out into the world … but it’s not the same as the real you, known to your real friends.”

The moment she said this, a light bulb went on. Do editors have personas, too? Of course! So … how do I set aside the persona and let the “real me” out to play, to establish real friendships?

Interestingly, my friend’s first suggestion was … silence. Spending time together in silence, “until the uncomfortable silences become comfortable.” Of course, this isn’t something that can happen on Facebook, or in any other social media venue. It takes physical presence. It means stepping away from the computer and inviting others into the messiness of ordinary life.

This is risky, of course. I’ve had women — from church, for example — who have reached out and made an effort to connect with my daughter and me. It always surprises me a bit, to experience such kindness, knowing that I’m not really in a position to reciprocate meaningfully. What is more, the way my life is set up right now, it seems almost impossible to set up regular get-togethers. And yet, this is exactly the kind of effort true intimacy in friendship requires.

The topic of friendship is very much on trend these days. Emily Jaminet and Michele Fahnle’s The Friendship Project is being discussed in book clubs and parish women’s groups across the country. Elizabeth Foss published True Friend, a four-week devotional to help kick-start friendship in your own life.

And yet all these wonderful books won’t do a bit of good unless I’m willing to venture into that scary territory of vulnerability and initiate contact. Invite someone over (or invite myself over) for a cup of tea. Strike up a conversation with someone at a bookstore who is carrying a book I’ve recently read. Even (*gasp*) take that water aerobics class for us grannies-in-training and chat up the friendly looking lady on the kickboard next to me.

Because every decades-old friendship begins with the touch of a real, live person.

 

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31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 30: Zebra Girl!

az_zebrasWhen I think of zebras, I immediately think “black-and-white.” Black-and-white thinking can be extremely stress-inducing. (Unless we’re talking about cookies, fresh from the Reading Terminal Market or Zabars Bakery. Those are stress-lifting, served with a proper cup of tea to cut the sweetness.)

But on zebras, those black-and-white stripes serve a purpose that is most fully realized when the zebras stick together. While no two sets of stripes are exactly alike (stripes on zebras are a bit like fingerprints on humans), when a herd of zebras stand close together, their stripes camouflage the individuals, making it harder for predators to attack.

What’s more, when predators do attack, the injured zebra is surrounded by the others, who band together to drive off the predator. For that reason, zebras do not sleep away from the herd; they depend on the safety of the group.

Are we really so different? When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” he was pointing to the simple truth that one of the ways we reflect his image and likeness is that we are intrinsically social, designed to be in community with others. For women, it’s especially important to find the society of other women.

We are Zebra Girls: Individually, our stripes make us beautiful … yet we are strongest with the support of those whose stripes are like our own.

Recently I received a note from an old friend, whose absence from my life has been particularly difficult this past year. I had tried to reach out, tried to reconnect, but something had come between us. In time, I realized I needed to let go — I had to focus my energies on more immediate needs. But seeing her familiar handwriting in the mail, the pang hit again, and I realized just how much I had missed her.

Not every friendship is meant to last a lifetime. Some friends pass through our lives like gentle breezes, momentary gifts from the hand of God to fill a pressing need. What my friend taught me, though, is that even lifelong friendships have chapters. Sometimes the zebra steps away — or gets separated — from the herd. But our strength is in our stripes. And our stripes work best when we travel together.

Who do you need to call this week, Zebra Girl?

Photo Credit: “One Kind” webpage on the Zebra

“Karma” for Catholics?

what dreams may comeToday on Facebook I vented a teeny bit — as obliquely as possible — about  someone who has been an unspeakable thorn in my side.

“What is the Catholic equivalent of karma?” I asked, tongue in cheek. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to ask, “… the English equivalent of schadenfreude,” but then my grasp of German is another sore subject.

In reality, I realize there is no such thing as karma. Divine intervention, absolutely. Natural consequences, sure. Grace beyond imagining, no question. The whole Julian of Norwich school of “And all will be well, and all will be well, and all will be most well.”

Sometimes, though, taking the high road requires superhuman virtue; staying on that road requires an actual infusion of grace. For example, several months  ago someone I thought of as a friend inexplicably betrayed me. We happen to run in similar social circles, and so putting her entirely out of mind (which is typically how I handle this kind of thing) wasn’t an option. My attempt to reconcile (by letter) was ignored. She went her way, I went mine, and each time her name came up, my stomach would tighten.

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It doesn’t always feel good, at least not right away. Sometimes it can feel like the other person “wins” unjustly. It can be hard to let go, yet the person who said, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” did have a point.

And so, I did the only thing I knew how to do: Took the high road, in baby steps. Unclenched my grasp, finger by finger, and tried to move on. “Bless her, Lord. Or at least, make me willing to bless her. Or at least, make me willing to be willing to forgive.”

Do I wish the whole thing would come to light, once and for all? There was a time when I did. But today a wise person reminded me: We can’t really know the full implications of our actions (or anyone else’s) in this life, and we won’t fully “get it” until we get to see the whole story from God’s point of view. Like in the movie What Dreams May Come (one of my favorite films), even the worst moments of our lives can turn out to be … something beautiful.

The things that are most painful, here and now, will likely look very different in heavenly light. And that is the ultimate grace, knowing that each day is one step closer to home … and lasting peace.

Bless them, God. Bless them all.

 

 

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 13: Help Someone

quilting-beeWhen your “to do” list spills onto a second or even a third page, the last thing you want is to add to it. So why on earth is today’s tip about going out of your way to take a line item off someone else’s list?

Hear me out on this one.

Isolation breeds stress. So does self-centeredness. It’s unnatural — we were created to be social (yes, even the introverts). In the pioneer days, women gathered to make quilts and can crops and do all sorts of back-breaking and eye-straining chores (have you ever tried to hand-stitch a quilt?) . . . not because they were incapable of doing a good job on their own, but because it presented an opportunity to get out and connect with other women.

We could learn a lot from our pioneer sisters. If we wait until we have spare time to connect, we miss out on a great gift. Authentic friendship shows itself not at the tea parties, but when it’s time to move or paint a room or check for lice (especially when your own head starts to itch …).

How’s that for a theme party, the next time there’s an outbreak in your child’s class: tapas and tea tree oil?

So … how to find those moments to connect? It starts by listening. The next time you’re sitting on a park bench, at a book club or church meeting, or waiting to pick your child up from CCD, listen for those cues.

  • “You’re painting your daughter’s room this weekend? I always have a tough time getting the lines straight … Why don’t we let our kids play for an hour or two this weekend, and I can help you paint the walls while you teach me a few tricks about doing the corners?”
  • “Are you having a First Communion get together, too? You make such great cakes. Would you be willing to show me how you decorate, if I bake cakes for both of us?”
  • And yes, “Great. Another ‘lice outbreak’ email to parents today. My kid hates these combing sessions … How about we get them together to watch a video, while we check them? I’ll bring the wine.”

Sure, it’s a little more effort . . . but, who knows? Maybe you’ll make a friend, and learn something in the process.

Photo credit: “Quilting Bee” by Lynde Mott at LDS Art.

 

Weekend Ponderings: Caution! Do you know where your friends are?

kitchen-madonnaThree of my favorite Catholic women writers just posted about the lunch they had together they other day. Oooh, I WISH I could have joined them!  Writing can be such a solitary, sedentary sport, with most of the communication going one way (out!). It can be tempting to lean on our virtual connections, and neglect the real-time ones. And yet, there is nothing quite like a REAL cup of tea (or a Cosmopolitan, as Kitchen Madonna and I are doing here), sitting across the table from a good friend. Getting to see her eyes twinkle, hear her warm laughter, crunch the cookies, feel the warmth trickle down the back of your throat. Yum.

Those personal connections soften the hard times, and sweeten the good ones. But they do require a bit of effort. Tonight for the first time in . . . well, forever . . . I’m going out with my girlfriend Katy to a benefit for Safe House. It’s being held at St. Andrew Parish in Saline (7-9 p.m., if you’re interested), and it will probably just involve sipping tea and buying a new set of sheets. But with a good friend . . . sounds like heaven!

Like all God’s gifts, friendship requires a certain amount of investment to function properly. I recently sent out invitations to a half dozen church friends — we used to run the mother’s program at church together, but have since moved on to other things. I’ve missed these women, and figured it was time to do something about it!  A little chicken salad and iced tea, maybe a pavlova for dessert. Time to catch up!

We’re all busy. We all have a million things on our to-do lists. But a year from now, how many of those things are going to matter? Only the relationships we build with one another. I was reminded of the importance of keeping proper perspective again today from the first reading, from Acts 5, which is about the Pharisee Gamiliel, one of the greatest Jewish teachers of all time (and some say a secret follower of Christ). In discussing what to do with St. Peter and the apostles (who had recently gotten on the last nerve of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court), Gamaliel makes an astute observation about human endeavors of all kinds.

“…So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.
For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

So the question I put to you today …  How many of the activities on your list are “of human origin,” and how many are of lasting significance? Are you maintaining the gifts God has given you — including the gifts of friendship? When was the last time you hugged a kid . . . or a friend?

Wee Cook Wednesday: Rose Sunday Tea Cake

In just a few  more days — right after Thanksgiving — we will be entering the season of Advent. These four weeks before Christmas are about more than buying presents and baking cookies … They are about getting our hearts soft and warm with thanksgiving, ready to receive the Newborn King!

Every year on the third Sunday of Advent, I host a special tea party at my house for a group of truly extraordinary friends. We met when we were all still single … a dozen years later, three of us are married, and three have become adoptive parents. One hosts an exchange student every year.

Each of us makes a signature dish. Mine is a rich chocolate pound cake I make just once a year, especially for the tea (unless my husband is able to wheedle it out of me for his birthday). This year the cake is going to be a show stopper! Over the summer I was at a craft fair, and found these beautiful hand-painted cake plates. Here’s a picture of the one I got!

Rose Sunday Tea Cake

1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, softened
3 C sugar
5 eggs, separated
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1-1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or sugar) a 10 inch tube pan.  Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Beating well on medium speed, add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients. Pour extracts into milk. Add flour and milk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour, mixing just until blended after each addition.

In a clean glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold carefully, just until no white streaks remain, into the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove from pan, and let cool comploetely on a wire rack. Serve with chocolate sauce.

Devastating Fudge Sauce

2/3 C cocoa
2 C sugar
1/4 C Karo syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 C butter

Bring cocoa, sugar, syrup, and milk to a boil. Add remaining ingredients, and boil 5 minutes longer. Serve hot.

Adventures with Friends

Sarah at “Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering” has done her usual outstanding job with this week’s “Catholic Carnival.” Be sure to check it out!

When Sarah missed her friend Lauren’s birthday, we decided to take the girls to Sarah’s favorite lunch place … “Sweet Aftons” Tea Room in Plymouth, Michigan.

Sarah has caught my “tea bug.” About once a week we’ll have a special time with my best tea pot and pretty china cups … and c a k e. Cake is not optional, where tea is concerned.

When I arrived at the school to pick up the girls and head for the tea room, another friend was standing there looking sad. So in the end, it was the four of us: Arianna, and Lauren, and Sarah and me. All off for tea.

Then, there was one more wrinkle: It seems that Sweet Afton’s is closed on Mondays. So we headed for my next favorite place, Cafe Marie’s. The teapots were of stonewear instead of china, with mugs instead of delicate tea cups for the apple juice. But it was fun!

Watching Sarah with her friends, I was struck by how much more … active … she is than her little friends. While they sat quietly in their seats and ate French fries, or carried on conversations about earth worms and fairy princesses (with equal seriousness), Sarah was hopping up and down, turning her fuzzy purple hat (her favorite) around and around and inside out. She is a wash of kinetic energy … screeching and singing and blasting her flute. Twirling and spinning and twinkling like an imp. Oh, how I love that little girl.

I’m sure the mothers of those other little girls are proud of them. They can read whole books, and sit quietly for more than two minutes at a time. They put on one outfit and it stays on their bodies all day. My daughter doesn’t do any of these things … at least not yet.

But I wouldn’t trade her for a library of books. Her brother, either.

In a few weeks, I’m going on my own adventure with a friend and her children. Sarah and I are driving to Atlanta, then back through South and North Carolina before winding our way home. Both of us are a bit nervous about how the rhythms or our respective families are going to affect each other … and ultimately our friendship.

Yesterday’s outing reminds me that adventures with friends can be a great way to rediscover ourselves.