Greater love has no one…than he lay down His life for a friend.

We sit across from one another in a cramped booth.   She talks, I lean in.  There is urgency in casual lunch meetings of this nature.  And we both know that all too soon, time will snatch away these precious moments.   And the body language says it all.  Urgent!!  This is important!!  Don’t interrupt.   That is, I want to hear her.  So, I lean closer.    And I sense the ticking of the clock, I feel the need to say much in this very little time and space that we have been allotted.  I feel the urgency.  To preserve the moment, to freeze frame.   For it is fast slipping away, and time is of the essence.  Both distance and time have separated this friendship for far too long.  And it is well-past time to re- unite with a dear friend.  To reclaim territory lost and discover new found horizons.

Such is the beauty of the life-long friend.  It is hard to put into words the easy comfort found in reconnecting with a friend who knows your past.  The present does not seem so relevant in these kinds of friendships.  It’s all about the painted portrait of the past.  When friendship is rediscovered after a period of dormancy, it is all the more precious.  When it is lost after years of connection, it is that much more painful.

When friendship is this way, it can seem so very easy.  For there is little to maintain in sporadic meetings of this nature.  One picks up where one left off, with few rules attached to the maintenance of the under-workings in the relationship.  And one can be fooled into thinking friendship is easy.  Fool-proof.

Or is it?  Friendship can be so very difficult.  And keeping certain friendships, maintaining them.  Painfully hard.  Sometimes it all seems such desperate hard work.  So much can be misunderstood when two people are involved.  So often words said in haste.  So quickly can a mood shift.  So sadly can it all unravel.  Such difficult, tedious, taxing work to keep it all together!  To keep the friendship going.

And tonight, I grieve the loss of certain friendships, even while I celebrate the re-kindling of old friendships recently discovered.  For friendship is powerful.  It can make or break.  It has the power to lift and lower.  Friends are movers and shakers.  And we need people, but oh!  how hard it can be by times to keep everything from unraveling.

Granted, we are a relational people, we depend on one another.  We need each other.  And we need friends.  But when that need for companionship, for company is unrealized, it hurts.  It hurts to lose out on friendship.  Because we need our friends.   And we care.  Care is what defines a casual connection from a close personal one: the amount to which we care.

When one finds the treasure of a friend willing to stand by through thick and thin.  Through the best of the best and the worst of the worst, they have found something of priceless worth.  For a friend loves at all times.  Even when they disagree.  Even when the issues seem insurmountable.  Even when the choices made are fundamentally different.  Friends stand by each other.   Friends don’t give up.

Thank God for friends who stick.

I have That Friend.  And today when I hit rock bottom.  Again.  He listened.  And stuck through the hard stuff.  And heard me say the things that are sometimes hard to hear.  And he didn’t walk away, or tell me that it was silly.  Crazy.  Pointless.  That I was off on another one of my famous tirades.   Nah.  Instead, he listened.  And patiently.

And it made me realize that the friendships which survive the fire are the ones worth keeping.  Worth throwing down the gauntlet for.  These kinds of friendships: wherein you know one another’s secrets and you keep them.  Wherein you listen to each other’s heart and you hold it carefully, protecting it from harm.  Wherein you treasure it.  Those friendships are worth fighting for.

Those friendships.   Those friends.   The kind of friend whom has watched you blossom from girl to woman.  That friend is worth investing in.  That friend who sees you at your very worst, and still looks deep into places riddled with complicated concerns, seeing the best you have to show for yourself.  He’s worth standing by.  Don’t take him for granted.  Don’t take her for granted.

That kind of friendship is rare.  It needs to be protected.

And as I sat in the sun today on the veranda, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders.  Ready to push him away.  Again.  Because it was all too complicated to explain.  Too frustrating to try to unravel the world’s problems on an Easter Sunday afternoon.  He sat there unflappable, right in front of me.  Blocking my sun.  Unwilling to move until I had my say.  And then, stayed on to hear it all.  Until all was said and we finally sat in comfortable silence.

And I realized.  While I grieve other friendships that have come and gone, the hurt of loss and the pain of separation, I am so very grateful for his friendship.  That has stayed the course.  That has been unwavering.  Faithful.  So reflective of my Father’s loving friendship.   That it moves me to quiet contemplation.

And I am convinced that the rare life-long friendship found in marriage is a hidden treasure when it is discovered.  It is the pull that brought the woman to the man.  And it can be re-discovered.  It can be rekindled.

If two people only strive to make it happen.

Joy is Precious…

I have corralled my screaming child in the church bathroom.  We are finishing up a weekend of family camp, and not only is camp done, but so am I.  And then some.  I now prepare for inevitable misery that is the stage we call “packing up and heading for home.”  Everyone loves to see a party end. And so it is, I must also round up the clan, gather up all their dirty odds and ends and then clean my otherwise unrecognizable children’s dirt-encrusted bodies before we start the unravelling of the rest of the afternoon.

Let the good times roll.

So here we are, at the sink, screaming and cleansing.  A purification ritual of sorts.  The immediate purpose of our visit to the restroom is to clean sticky little hands and feet.  The greater purpose for me is to stall for time, cleaning feet here rather than trying to round them all up at home where the mood will be even more dismal.  Littlest One screams another ear-piercing trill that echoes thunder through my head.  I don’t realize this yet, but this screaming will continue long and hard as we prepare to drive for home, and will relentless follow me into the van and on down the road as I drive to our house in Mill River East.  More tears, more pleas.  I think an extra-strength Tylenol is in my not-so-distant future.

I ask my child where her shoes are.  Of course, she does not know.

The screaming abates for a moment as I try to figure out what could possibly be so wrong that she must need lose her right lung and both my ears for it. She spits out her answer, the rage evident in every word.  She is upset because…wait for it, she wants a balloon tree.  A bunch of balloons on a stick, people.  I scrub the brown bottoms of little feet while I try to talk some reason into her.  To no avail.  Thankfully, my friend comes to the rescue with the diversion of a funny story, and thereafter produces one small smile and in due time, the missing shoes.  The lost are found, thankfully.  But there is still the minor issue of the balloon tree.

I leave the bathroom, still screaming child in tow, and I meet up with a second friend.  She is talking to another, but as soon as I approach, she stops chatting and turns to me.  And this is what she says:

“These times are precious.  Some day you will look back on this and you will remember that this was a precious moment.”

I am still inwardly fuming from the exchange in the bathroom, the struggle and the meltdown.  I am in no mood or state of mind to concur that yes indeed, this is pretty precious.  Exasperating? Yes.  Infuriating? Sure.  Precious?  I think not.

But I cannot help but consider these sentiments given to me in a gesture of goodwill.  It was meant for good, and that is how I will take it.  But I will agree to disagree.

As the afternoon rolls on, and the predicted unravelling of emotions, patience and kindnesses indeed occurs, I am reminded again of her warning to me.  To consider even this to be precious.  Even this?  This undoing of my mind even as I listen to the four in the backseat of our van laying into one another?  Even this?  The teasing of one at the expense of another?  That too?  The whining?  The crying?  The boredom?  The general malaise?

But yes, even this.  For there must be some good found in even the worst of moments.  After all, it can be the best of times while also being the worst of times.  And I am determined to not let it unravel me any further.

What is precious?  That which is rare and lovely and sought after.  I do not see these frequent blow-outs as coming anything close to rare.  Nor is a meltdown even half-ways lovely.  And I am certainly not seeking ardently for an afternoon spent in misery.  But precious can also mean fleeting.  And this is true.  These moments of childhood, these rites of passage are momentary.  They are fleeting, and in and of themselves, they are strangely precious in their own little ways.

I hold Little One close tonight, drawing her into a mother’s breast, snuggled under arms of love.  Arms that cradle and hold, soothe and protect.  And she leans in to me as I read a bedtime story.  And I know the wild preciousness of it all.

Joy in the middle…

Do something with your days of which you can be proud.  Even today.  Start right now.  For it is never too late to begin making moments count.   Make your one life meaningful, and make it worth the breath it took to get you through the day.  Do something worthwhile.  Do this for yourself.  Do this for the greater good of others.  And in doing something worthwhile, it will leave you unafraid.  Unashamed.  When people ask questions about who and what you are, about the meaning for living your life, you won’t be afraid to answer.  You won’t be afraid you haven’t got an answer.  And even more importantly, do something of which you can be proud for it is your own legacy you are building.  Care enough to have high standards for yourself.  Care enough to believe in yourself.  Care enough to want to make a difference for others.  Care enough.  Because at the end of the day, no one else can do the living and the caring in your life but you.  It’s all on your shoulders.

No pressure.

We had dessert (strawberry shortcake with whipped cream) with a gentleman this evening that has parked his camper three down from ours.  A charming seventy-nine year old widower, he was full of stories of the people in his life up until the point that I asked him about his career in the military.  “I don’t talk about those days,” he said. “I didn’t do anything I was proud of.”

Hmmm…that stopped me in my tracks.  I haven’t met too many military chaps who can’t weave a yarn or two about life ‘way back when’.  And certainly, most are proud of their accomplishments.  It got me thinking about my own life.  What am I proud of?  Or rather, not so proud of?

There are a lot of moments in my life that I am not proud of.  Many more than should be.  I am careless with my words, thoughtless with actions and uncontrolled in my emotions, by times.  To be fair, I am working on these shortcomings, but change does not come easy.   As a mother, I have often felt that I am a poor example of a mother.  I do not live up to the stereotypes that are imbedded in my head.  I am not a comfortable fit for the role of mothering as I perceive that role in my head.  And so, I see the worst in myself.   I am not naturally patient, I don’t particularly enjoy spending large chunks of time with young children, I find being silly a drain on my energy and I have a very short temper.  In short, I am certainly not the ideal.  In talking with my sister the other day, I expressed this very thought, and she assured me that there were as many different ways of being a mother as there are mothers themselves.

So, I guess I might be doing okay.  The jury’s still out on that one.

To say I am not proud of my life as a whole would be a misrepresentation.  More accurately, I feel  I haven’t done anything of great worth.  I read the eloquent words of others who write nobly of being parents to children with life-threatening illness, or words they penned of their own struggles and how they deal with long-term illness.  Others write of their love of being mothers and ream off endless treatises on how to be better mothers than they already appear to be.  If I could be but a particle of those highly touted examples found in these essays, I would have it all under control.

Still others write inspirational words to uplift and motivate devoted readers who follow their writing regardless of their philosophical differences or placements in life.  It must be something to write words that carry that kind of weight.

Inspiring.  Makes me want to try to write like that.

The words these writers I so admire weave into thoughtful prose and heart-wrenching  essays are often difficult, awe-inspiring and challenging for the reader to read.  But their words are read because they are worthwhile.  They are important words.  They lift the reader to another place, a higher place than they were before they read, so as to help them to understand.  Their’s are words of which one could be proud, for they speak of lives lived well in spite of circumstance, material possessions or choice in the matter.

When I read their words, I often shamefully think, “What do I have to be proud of?  Why bother writing such useless, boring essays on my uninteresting life?”  I am like this gentleman whom has intrigued me by  refusing to share stories of his life: he and I- we have done nothing that we’re truly proud of.

Or haven’t we?  Is not all the schema of life important?  For there needs be some of us whom act as scene extras or there would not be a realistic element to the film.  There needs be an audience or there would not be reason for the entertainment.  There needs be average, every-day people for we are the gauge by which the extraordinary measure their worth.  There needs be the mundane or there would never be a moment of normalcy to this world.  There must be a level by which we measure what is both extraordinarily wonderful and unbelievably horrible in this world.  And that is us. The middle men and women.  The people who are living out their lives ‘outside the fishbowl’.  We live without scrutiny.

But this I know: all of life matters.  Especially the lives of those in the middle.  But still.  Knowing is not always enough.  There is inside some of us a deep desire to matter to more than just a few.  We want our lives to COUNT in a larger way.   And count they will when we first strive to matter to the ones that matter most to us.  We must focus on that circle that forms our intimate bonds of friendship and other relationships.  And at the end of the day, it is once again perspective that brings my heart and thoughts towards home.  For home is where the heart is.  And the heart if the wellspring of life.

This I also know for sure.  I matter; even from my place here in the middle ground.  I matter to God, to my family and to my friends.  And you matter for all the same reasons.

And that is something we can both be proud of.