Saturday, March 15, 2008
Butterflies beautifully exemplify this verse! Spring is a great time to witness the miracle of a lowly caterpillar becoming a magnificent butterfly through metamorphosis.
You've probably heard the comparison made of our new life in Christ to the emergence of a butterfly from the cocoon, but did you know this other interesting fact about butterflies and their transformation?
When the butterfly is ready to emerge, it may take several hours and a great struggle to break free from its protective barrier. So why not help the butterfly and cut off part of its cocoon?
If you do, the creature will have a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. It will never be able to fly. The struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening forces fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings to make them ready for flight.
Our struggles in this life serve a purpose too. If we breezed through life without any difficulties, we would not emerge as complete, strong and ready to fly.
"Let us also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5: 3-5 (NIV)
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It's a perfect day.
Beautiful weather, an outdoor table at a cafe, and three old friends to chat with - it doesn't get much better than that. The only catch is it took us two months to get here. All three of my friends, confidants since childhood, have schedules that would need to be read by an auctioneer: husbands, houses, kids, work, grocery shopping, errands, not to mention school, sports and nighttime feedings for the children... you name it, they do it. Add to that the fact that one is a new mother with a part time job, another is a military wife who recently sent her husband off to a tour of duty, and another has four kids and a brother who is also leaving for military service, and you've got a virtual circus. This is fitting, since pinning them down for an outing is akin to juggling on a unicycle. It can be done, but it takes skill and practice... and a little supernatural intervention.
And though we've made it through the first twenty or so years of friendship, I can't help but wonder how we're ever going to manage the coming decades. With all of us in our early thirties, we've got lives that are kicking into full swing, making it much more difficult to spend hours talking on the phone or shopping for the perfect pair of pumps.
But despite the uncertainty of the future, our discussion at the cafe makes it clear that we all have a sense that we'll be growing old together. My friend Melanie has already warned me that I am not permitted to let her spend her latter years sitting around making ugly crafts, and when I reiterate my promise to her at the cafe, Amy adds her own instructions to never let her dye her hair blue. We may be seeing each other for the first time in weeks, but we're already planning ahead to our days in the retirement home. After all, we've relied on our friendships for so much of our past, it's natural to feel them necessary to our future.
It's amazing, really, to consider how we got here - four different people with different lives and interests who grew and changed over the years but never left behind the naturalness of our friendship. When I pose the question of what we think brought us together, Melissa notes that she and I came together through no coincidence. "I felt like it was the Lord that drew us together. I think it shows that the relationships that stick show a little bit about who you are. It shows a little bit about your character." And while it definitely didn't hurt to have a love for stickers in common as Melanie reminds us, we all feel with certainty that the Lord brought us together - and kept us together - quite purposefully.
Through our friendship we have a built-in support system of confidants, prayer partners, spiritual accountants, and stellar shopping buddies. Toss in that extra set of consciences and you've got a perfect mix. "[Our friendship] held me accountable," says Melanie of our adolescent years. "Maybe not verbally, but just kind of knowing that other people are watching you." It is a gift to have people in our lives who have witnessed our more turbulent years of trial and error and actually still like us, and it is a gift to still have them on our side.
True to the tide of life, we've experienced lulls over the years, but we always manage to reconnect with little difficulty. And what a necessity it is in these hectic times to be able to come together at a cafe, spend a few moments catching up, and fill the next three hours laughing and annoying our waitress by monopolizing her table. Those are times for lightening our loads, commiserating and sharing secrets. And though Melissa reminds me that my Richard Simmons hairstyle - a tragic misuse of perm rods in junior high - will never be a safe secret, we all trust that the important stuff will remain sacred between us. That's what years of trusting the same people can do for you.
So, how do we navigate the chaotic changes of life without letting our friendship tumble to the sidelines? I went to the experts for those answers; to those who have gone before us and nurtured old friendships through the busiest years of their lives. Here are a few of their time-tested recipes for success.
Keep Age In Perspective
Some people say they look in the mirror and expect to see the twenty-five-year-old they feel like they are inside while others internalize every wrinkle and age spot. "I really think that's a choice," says 81-year-old Rosemary, a longtime friend of my family. "You get physical things wrong with you. In your mind, you don't have to get old."
Stay In Touch
My Aunt Jan, who talked to me on her sixtieth birthday, recalls a friend of hers saying we should "send a card for no reason at all... when their name is on your heart." We've all known the thrill of finding familiar handwriting in our mailbox on a particularly stressful day. Those are things we treasure, and most of us have a hatbox full of letters to prove it.
Telegraph, Telephone, Tell A Friend
Communication isn't limited to jotting down notes or clicking the send button on our e-mail. It can be a support system during trying times. When my uncle had his kidney transplant, it was my aunt's friends who spread the word for prayer and showed up at the hospital for support. "This is what true friends do," she says. "They came to be with me and share in the joy."
Open Those Ears And Open Those Hearts
There is nothing so comforting as knowing that someone else truly cares about your life."One of the best things that helps build a friendship is to listen," says Rosemary. "People love that. That goes a long way with long friendships."
Rely On A Firm Foundation
That which the Lord brings together, let no man put asunder. It's as true in friendships as it is in marriage, but anything that isn't founded on the Lord can be pulled apart. "Putting God at the center is the main thing," says Rosemary. "We don't really have much of a relationship unless He's in it."
As I savor these words of wisdom, I fast forward in my mind to a seventy-eight-year-old me, gray hair tousled by the breeze at an outdoor cafe, sitting with my girlfriends and annoying yet another waitress by taking up her table for three hours. It warms my heart to think of all the new memories we'll make over the coming years to share over our hot chocolate on that day, and I thank God for the blessing of it. We won't be making ugly crafts or getting our hair dyed blue, but we'll be keeping our hearts young, listening to each other's stories, promising to keep in touch, and whispering silent prayers for one another.
And we'll leave a little extra tip for the waitress.
Jennifer Erin Valent is a freelance writer and author of a soon to be published novel "Fireflies in December." She lives in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
Although we've never had company live with us for an extended period of time, we have had our fair share of overnight guests. Todd's parents have always lived nearly three hours from us and have come to stay several times a year. We have missionary friends and college buddies who also spend the night with us. And then there are our kids' friends! Each month of the year finds us hosting an assortment of sleepy-eyed teenage girls or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed boys up at the crack of dawn ready to go pester squirrels with their BB guns. Yep, hospitality means sometimes guests spend the night. Here are some Do's and Don'ts to remember when hosting overnight callers:
- Decide where they will keep their things, even if there isn't space in the room where they will sleep. Show them the spot and make sure others respect their personal space and property.
- Have a pleasant place for them to lay their head for the night. It doesn't have to be a real guest bedroom. At our old house, company slept on a hand-me-down pull-out sofa we had in our unfinished basement. We purchased a new slipcover for it and made sure it was outfitted with warm, flannel sheets as the room was sometimes chilly. We found a dresser at a yard sale that they could use to put their things in. We painted the walls white to lighten the room and would set out a bouquet of fresh flowers or leave chocolates on their pillows like a real inn would
- Stock their room with needed items. A lamp for evening reading, a mirror for getting ready, and a working alarm clock are the basics.
- Show them the bathroom. Have a space cleared on the counter or in a cabinet for them to place their toiletries. Roll a few wash cloths and tie with a ribbon. Place them on top of the bath towel they will use. Fill a small basket with other items they might possibly need: soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, lotion, etc. Look for these items in special scents and trial sizes. Or if a hotel says you can take them, then by all means, bring them home!
- Let them know the laundry facilities are available to them. Check each day to see if they need anything washed and dried or ironed.
- Have a pitcher of water and glasses in their room. Have the refrigerator well stocked with juices, spritzers, or teas for them to enjoy if they are thirsty.
- Consider placing a basket of fruit or shortbread cookies and chocolates in their room. Tailor it to their liking. Include anything that says, "Welcome! We were thinking of you!"
- If a coffee lover will be staying with you and you don't drink coffee, consider purchasing a small coffeemaker that they can use in their room.
- Let them know your schedule and be aware of theirs. Discuss breakfast the night before.
- Let them know when supper will be served and make sure it works in their schedule.
- Before they come, discuss dietary restrictions.
- Pet- and child-proof your guest's room. They will appreciate the protection it will provide their belongings. Also, before arrival, find out if your guests have pet allergies. Rid your place of pet hair and try to keep your animal away from them as much as you can.
- Let them know if there are any quirks to how things work at your house. Does the hot water take a while to run? Does the front door lock need a little push to the right in order to open?
- If you can't always be home when they will be returning, give them a spare house key.
- Treat them like both guests and part of the family. People feel uneasy if you seem to be begrudgingly putting life on hold just to entertain them. As a rule, go about your daily routine, but make them a part of it.
Karen Ehman is a member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries speaking team and a columnist for the Hearts at Home monthly magazine. She has her own weekly radio spot on the WCIC family of radio stations in central Illinois entitled "The Keep It Simple Woman." Karen is the author of four women's books including "A Life That Says Welcome: Simple Ways to Open Your Heart and Home to Others" and "The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized." She is a graduate of Spring Arbor University with a B.A. in Social Science and has been married for over 20 years to her best friend Todd. She is the mother of three children: Mackenzie 16, Mitchell 12 and Spencer 9.
Proverbs 31 is pleased to offer Karen Ehman's book "The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized"