Puffed Sleeves and Kindred Spirits

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Proverbs 27:9

I discovered Anne Shirley of Green Gables in my late teens, first in the movies, and later in the books.  Prince Edward Island, puffed sleeves and raspberry cordial were part of my lexicon, along with the hidden desire to rename the Sheboygan Falls lagoon, “The Lake of Shining Waters”.  This quirky, adventurous, red-headed orphan, who romanticizes the trials in her life, desperately wants to fit in somewhere and longs for a bosom friend.  She finds this friend in a neighbor, Diana Barry, who Anne declares is her “kindred spirit.”

I think Anne’s plight resonates with so many of us because we all have a longing to feel connected with others, to have that “kindred spirit”.  This kindred spirit will not only know that we have a deep love for the color yellow, books and good coffee, but will also know that you don’t like fishing, are nervous around dogs, and have terrible handwriting.  More than that, this friend will know your heart, and despite the times you make mistakes or fall short, he or she will love, support and encourage you.

Deana, Michele and I celebrating Tanner and Elizabeth’s wedding together.

Recently, my husband shared some thoughts from a podcast about friendship that he had been listening to.  The speaker in the podcast shared that the typical lifespan of a friendship may only be three to five years.  She went on to say that a lifetime friendship that has spanned decades is a rarity and a special blessing.  This concept of transitory friendships has little to do with our shallowness as human beings, but rather with the seasons of our lives.  For example, while I was in college, I made some good friends.  These friends were the ones with whom I shared meals, inside jokes and college stresses for four years.  After college, we continued our friendships for a little while, but as our lives changed and went in different directions, the friendships faded.  Although I can keep up with their major life moments on social media, I would say these friendships have moved more into the category of acquaintances now.  Despite the shift, I am forever grateful for that season of friendship during college; they blessed my life, enriched me as a person, and left a mark that changed me.

In addition to my seasonal friendships, I have been blessed to have not just one, not two, but three friends who have reached lifetime status!  Two of the friendships have lasted for over 30 years and the third has spanned more than twenty-five years.  Despite not always living in the same place, we have shared major milestones together: college graduations, marriages, baby arrivals, home education, parenting journeys, children transitioning into adulthood, children getting married, and one of us becoming a grandmother.  Along with the milestones, we have shared some major losses: job transitions, moving, deaths of parents, health crises and marriage challenges.  No matter the milestones or losses, these friendships have remained a constant in my life that has provided me with balance, a listening ear, years of inside jokes, and decades of photos together, including some unfortunate fashion choices!

Bonnie and I in Aurora, Illinois,

In today’s vernacular, some would call these three ladies “my squad”.  But I don’t want to reduce them to just a trendy hashtag because they are so much more than that.  They are not only my bosom friends and kindred spirits, but friends who have proven themselves to be some of my greatest treasures.  Upon reflection, I have learned some truths about friendship from these relationships.

Bonnie and I with our husbands in Colorado about 17 years ago.
  1. First, lifetime friendships must be based on some fundamental principles not just a shared set of interests.  All these friendships have been based on our personal relationships with God.  It has kept our friendships centered by a set of common beliefs that shape and mold us.  It helps us to reach beyond our own personal capacity to give, but in a supernatural way, to pray and serve one another.  At different points in our lives, these ladies and I have prayed together at an altar.
  2. Second, lifetime friendships need to be intentionally cultivated and maintained.  In the beginning, as in all relationships, we had some growing pains.  I know you may find it hard to believe (wink, wink), but I have not always been a good friend.  At times, I could be self-righteous and judgmental.  Yet, I have learned to ask for forgiveness, and I have worked to grow and change.  Offenses will come, even with the most wonderful friends.  Yet, I have learned to look at the hearts of my friends and be open to repairing the friendship.  Weeds will sprout up, but they do not have to choke the friendship. Once a friendship is established, I must maintain it by putting forth some effort.  Right now, only one of these friends lives within forty minutes of me, but for almost seven years, I was at least eight hundred miles away from each of them.  Despite the distance and the busyness of each other’s’ lives, we kept in regular contact.  We made a point of connecting, not just through texting, but through phone calls, letters, cards, and visits.  Social media was also a tool I used to keep updated on their lives.
  3. Third, real friends help sanctify you.  All these women have helped me to become the women that I am today.  They have done this by not only sharing a common history, but also by not being afraid to speak truth into my life, each in her own unique voice.  Sometimes, God has used them to speak in gently, sometimes more directly, to point out a flaw in my thinking or character, and other times by just being an example of a Godly woman handling difficult situations in her own life.  From these women, I have learned to set healthy boundaries, to be more graceful, gentle, consistent, principled, and loving.
Michele, Deana ad I at my wedding twsenty-four years ago!

There are certain scents that instantly bring a feeling of pleasure to my life: the smell of coffee in the morning, chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, and the smell of wood burning in a fireplace.  Solomon recognized the pleasure of scent when he wrote in Proverb 27:9, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.”  Etsy creators and Hobby Lobby designers have summed up this proverb with these simple words, “Sweet friendships refresh the soul and awaken our hearts with joy.”  I am forever grateful for the lasting fragrance these three women have imprinted in my mind.  As surely as the smell of chocolate chip cookies tingles my taste buds, the friendships of these women refresh my soul and awaken my heart with joy!

Airplane Quilts and New Life

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” Romans 12:15

A few weeks ago, I threw my son’s airplane quilt into the garbage.  It signified the end of an era: the quilt was battered and frayed, worn out after covering my son for eight years while he slept.  I vividly remember searching eBay for the perfect quilt for Ethan, saving my pennies for just the right purchase.  Then, this quilt appeared in my feed, stitched airplanes framed in denim blue, exactly what I envisioned.  I placed my bid and waited not so patiently for me to win my purchase.  When the quilt arrived, Ethan picked out his favorite plane, then I placed the quilt on his bed for the next eight years.  As Ethan grew, I packed away the quilt, secretly hoping to repurpose it someday for his son!

That someday has arrived!  My first grandchild was born on July 16 at 5:00AM.  “Joel Daniel Collins has arrived!!!” was the text my son sent me early that morning.  My bleary-eyed husband beamed at the first pictures just as much as he had when he held his own children for the first time.  Soon, more pictures followed with more details.  Calls and texts were sent, and congratulations were given.  A week later, my husband and I traveled to meet this little man who had preoccupied our minds for the last eight months.  As we held him in our arms, we knew that our lives had been forever changed, just as they had when we held his daddy for the first time!

In anticipation of Joel’s arrival, his doting Aunt Maggie helped repurpose the soon to be discarded quilt.  She cut out one of the treasured stitched airplanes and framed it with the words, “Fly high little guy!”  This beautiful gift will hang in his room, along with the airplane shelf my husband has been building.  He also has great aunts on his mother’s side who have lovingly crocheted blankets for him, along with a crib that his dad and Rachel’s father carefully put together.  His drawers are filled with gifts of clothes, towels, and books from the shower that Rachel’s mom planned despite all the COVID-19 restrictions.  Rachel had carefully planned every detail of the nursery while anxiously anticipating his arrival.

This has been a stressful year for all of us across the world, with an illness we had never heard of, the increasing restrictions, learning how to function while social distancing, wearing masks, toilet paper shortages and social unrest.  Many of us have known people who have been sick with the virus, and some have lost loved ones.  Some of us have faced job challenges or have experienced severe deficits in our bank accounts.  Some have experienced major losses: weddings canceled, vacations put on hold, virtual graduations celebrated, or favorite summer traditions postponed.

Yet, one thing that has not been postponed is new life.  Joel made his way into this crazy world despite a pandemic, social unrest, and restrictions.  His first cry announced to his parents that he was here and that he needed them to care for him, providing him with shelter, food, and love!  Our “new normal” will just be normal for him.  He came with no expectations of what his world should look like.  He just came!

The day of Joel’s arrival, I sent out a picture to some of my dearest friends and family who rejoiced with me as I became a Mimi for the first time.  After gushing over the pictures, one of these dear friends, later sent me a message asking me to pray for her husband, who had been rushed to the hospital with severe back pain.  We both had been up all night, but for different reasons.  I was texting with my son’s mother-in-law, eagerly waiting for updates on Rachel and the baby.  My friend had been up all-night praying for her husband, waiting for updates from the hospital while consoling her young son who was worried about his dad.  Yet, despite her tiredness and concern, she still found time to congratulate me.

This friend is a beautiful example of how we should be treating one another, not just in a pandemic, but in every situation.  In Romans 12:15, Paul cautions believers, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”  It is easy to get caught up in our own situations, whether they be moments to celebrate or moments to mourn.  We can become self-involved, focused on our own emotions, forgetting that someone around us might being experiencing the complete opposite.  I admit I have enjoyed some aspects of the pandemic.  My husband now works from home, eliminating his long commute, allowing me more time with him.  Yet, some of my friends have husbands who have been laid off, struggling to meet their monthly bills.  I must be careful that rejoicing over my blessings does not diminish my ability to weep with my friends in their struggles.

I think Paul’s advice reminds us that in any given moment, our friends are going through a wide variety of situations, and that we as loved ones, need to be mindful of others.  I have had a few friends go through infertility problems.  Despite trying to get pregnant for a few years, one of those friends made a conscious decision to support me in my pregnancy by being a major player in throwing my baby shower.  She chose to rejoice with me despite her own fertility struggles.  I have seen other friends who have also struggled with infertility choose not to attend someone else’s baby shower because it was too painful for them.  It would be easy to judge between those ladies and say that the one who took part in the shower was a “stronger Christian.”

But Paul does not say to us that we should only rejoice with those that deserve rejoicing, or only weep with those that deserve to be wept with.  He just says to respond with the same emotion that the person is displaying now.  Yes, it was selfless of my friend to throw me a shower, and yes it was selfless of my friend to congratulate with me on the arrival of Joel.  I am so thankful that both friends were able to rejoice with me in the moments.  But I can still weep for another friend who does not feel emotionally strong enough to celebrate a birth and weep for a friend’s whose husband is suffering severe back pain.

I do not know what the rest of 2020 holds for us.  I do not know if restrictions are going to increase or decrease.  But I do know, despite circumstances, that something wonderful can still be birthed in a moment of chaos.  “Joel Daniel Collins has arrived!!!” was a reminder to our family that, despite all the losses in 2020, there is new life!  And with this new life comes the promise of God’s faithfulness!