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* * *
Six A.M. Two women in windsuits are out for their morning walk. As they walk, they talk about their important friendships: husbands, kids, coworkers. They occasionally touch each other's shoulders, stop, face each other, and laugh. A sun-dried seventy-something man, wearing a neon orange ski hat, walks by, smiles, and says, "You two look like you're doing ballet together." And so they are. As friends, they are dancing in synchrony: listening, encouraging, challenging each other.
from In the Company of Friends
NORM AND NORMA
* * *
Dr. Bettie B. Youngs
From Values From the Heartland
I will help you," the little boy said, reaching for Norma's tiny hand and placing it in his own. "And I won't let anyone laugh at you no more." We watched, awed by his skills of compassion—uncommon, we thought, for one as young as us.
It was the first day of kindergarten. Too shy to ask the teacher to use the bathroom and too timid to use it without first getting permission, five-year-old Norma sat at her small desk crying because she had wet herself.
It wasn't long before all the other students heard her soft whimpers and began staring in her direction. Some students laughed because they thought her predicament funny; others giggled, nodoubt out of relief that it had happened to her and not to them. But one brave little boy did not laugh. Instead, Norm got up from his desk, walked over to his classmate and looking at her, said softly, "I will help you." We were all sitting and he was standing, so his presence seemed almost majestic. "And I won't let them make fun of you," he said reassuringly.
My tiny classmate looked up at Norm and smiled with admiration. His act of kindness had buffered her duress; she no longer felt afraid and alone. She had found a new friend.
Still holding her small hand, the little hero turned, surveyed his classmates and asked kindly, "How would you feel if it happened to you?" The wise teacher at the head of the classroom observed quietly, but said nothing.
We children sat motionless, stilled partly by the enormous strain and anxiety caused by the drama in this moment, but also because we had just witnessed an act of heroism we had not been able to summon in ourselves. It was a lesson in how precious goodness can be.
Then the little boy added, "Let's not laugh at her anymore, okay?" Intuitively, we knew we were in the presence of courage.
And by his actions, we were persuaded to develop some of our own.
Editor's note: Norma never forgot Norman, nor he her. Their friendship is now celebrating its thirty-sixth year.
* * *
Be slow in choosing a friend,
Slower in changing.
MAY BASKET OF FLOWERS— AND FORGIVENESS
* * *
from Decision magazine
Hey, do you know what? Today is May Day!" my sister announced. "Do you remember the May Day baskets we used to make with colored paper and paste?"
Childhood memories and warm feelings engulfed me as I recalled that my sisters and I would run around our neighborhood delivering the not-so-perfect baskets brimming with spring flowers. We would place the handmade treasures on a doorstep, knock on the door, then scurry away as fast as our legs could carry us. It was delightful to peer around a bush and watch our friends open their doors and pick up the colorful gift, wondering who had left it out for them.
I distinctly remember the May Day of the year that I was in fifth grade. That year I was faced with a challenge involving one of my dearest friends. She lived right across the road from our family, and we had walked together to school nearly every day since first grade.
Pam was a year older than I, however, and her interests were starting to change from the interests that we had had together. A new family had recently moved into our small town, and Pam was spending more and more time at their house. I felt hurt and left out.
When my mother asked me if I was going to take a May Day basket to Pam's house, I responded angrily, "Absolutely not!" My mom stopped what she was doing, knelt down and held me in her arms. She told me not to worry, that I would have many other friends throughout my lifetime.
"But Pam was my very best friend ever," I cried.
Mom smoothed back my hair, wiped away my tears and told me that circumstances change and people change. She explained that one of the greatest things friends can do is to give each other a chance to grow, to change and to develop into all God wants them to be. And sometimes, she said, that would mean that friends would choose to spend time with other people.
She went on to say that I needed to forgive Pam for hurting me—and that I could act out that forgiveness by giving her a May Day basket.
It was a hard decision, but I decided to give her a basket. I made an extra-special basket of flowers with lots of yellow because that was Pam's favorite color. I asked my two sisters to help me deliver my basket of forgiveness. As we watched from our hiding place, Pam scooped up the flowers, pressed her face into them and said loudly enough for us to hear, "Thank you, Susie! I hoped you wouldn't forget me!"
That day, I made a decision that changed my life: I decided to hold my friends tightly in my heart, but loosely in my expectations of them, allowing them space to grow and to change—with or without me.
* * *
* * *
Nancy Sullivan Geng
from Guideposts Magazine
I pulled the pink envelope from our mailbox just as my daughter was coming home from school. It looked like a birthday party invitation. "SARAH" was carefully printed in bold, black letters. When Sarah stepped off the bus I tucked the envelope into her hand. "It's ... it's ... for me," she stuttered, delighted.
In the unseasonably warm February sun we sat down on the front porch. As I helped her open the envelope, I wondered who had sent it. Maybe Emily or perhaps Michael, pals from her special-education class.
"It's ... it's ... from Maranda." Sarah said, pointing to the front cover of the card. There, framed with hearts, was a photo of a girl I had never seen before. She had beautiful long hair, a dimpled grin and warm smiling eyes. "Maranda is 8 years old," the caption read. "Come and celebrate on Valentine's Day."
Glancing at the picture, I felt uneasy. Clearly, Maranda was not handicapped. Sarah, on the other hand, had Down's syndrome and was developmentally delayed in all areas. At age nine she still functioned on a preschool level. Her disability was obvious, marked with thick-lensed glasses, a hearing aid and stuttering.
A happy child, she had many friends who used wheelchairs and braces and walkers. But this was the first time she had been invited to the home of a nondisabled child. "How did you meet Maranda?" I asked.
"At ... at ... school. We eat lunch together every ... every day."
Even though Sarah was in special education she socialized with other second graders during gym, lunch and homeroom. I had always hoped she would make friends outside her program. Why, then, did I feel apprehensive?
Because I'm her mother, I thought. I loved Sarah. I wanted and prayed that she would have the best. I also knew a friendship with Sarah called for extra sensitivity, tolerance and understanding. Was the child in the photo capable of that?
Valentine's Day came. Sarah dressed in her favorite pink lace dress and white patent leather shoes. As we drove to Maranda's party she sat next to me in the front seat, clutching the Barbie doll she had wrapped with Winnie-the-Pooh paper and masking tape. "I ... I'm so excited," she said.
I smiled, but deep inside I felt hesitant. There would be other children at the party. Would they tease Sarah? Would Maranda be embarrassed in front of her other friends? Please, Lord, I prayed, don't let Sarah get hurt.
I pulled into the driveway of a house decorated with silver heartshaped balloons. Waiting at the front door was a little girl in a red sweater trimmed with ribboned hearts. It was Maranda. "Sarah's here!" she called. Racing to our car, she welcomed my daughter with a wraparound hug. Soon seven giggling girls followed Maranda's lead, welcoming Sarah with smiles.
"Bye, Mom," Sarah said, waving as she and the others ran laughing into the house. Maranda's mother, Mary, greeted me at my rolled-down car window.
"Thanks for bringing Sarah," she said. Mary went on to explain that her daughter was an only child and that Maranda and Sarah had become special friends at school. "Maranda talks about her all the time," she said.
I drove away, amazed. Still, I couldn't get over my uneasiness. Could this friendship ever be equal? Maranda would need to learn the language of Sarah's speech. She would need patience when Sarah struggled with certain tasks. That was a lot to ask of an eight year old.
As the months passed, I watched the girls' friendship grow. They spent many hours together in our home. Fixing dinner in the kitchen, I heard giggles fill the family room as they twirled around an old recliner or watched The Lion King. Other times they dressed up in my old hats and outdated blouses, pretending to be famous singers.
One afternoon in late autumn, I watched the two of them sitting next to each other at our kitchen table. Sarah held a pencil; Maranda had a tablet of paper.
Maranda called out each letter as she guided Sarah's hand: "S-A-R-A-H." Though some of the letters had been printed backwards or upside down, Maranda praised Sarah's effort. "Great job," she said, applauding.
At Christmastime the girls exchanged gifts. Sarah gave Maranda a photograph of herself, a framed first-communion picture. "You look beautiful," Maranda said as she admired Sarah's white ruffled dress and long lace veil. In return, Maranda gave Sarah a gray-flannel elephant trimmed with an "I love you" tag. It quickly became Sarah's favorite stuffed animal, and she slept with it every night.
A few weeks into the new school year Sarah came home from school looking downcast. "M-Maranda is ... is sick," she said. I thought maybe she had caught the bug circulating at school. Minutes later, however, Sarah's special-education teacher called. Maranda was in the hospital. She had sustained a seizure at school and had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgeons had performed a risky operation, which had left Maranda paralyzed on one side with impaired speech and vision. The biopsy results weren't back yet.
"Can we visit her?" I asked. I knew Sarah would want to see her friend.
"Maranda is very despondent and not up to seeing anybody," the teacher told me. "Her parents are requesting cards rather than visitors."
"We'll keep her in our prayers," I promised.
That night Sarah knelt beside her bed, clutching her stuffed elephant. "Please ma ... ma ... make Maranda better," she prayed. Night after night she implored God to heal her friend. Then one night in early February, Sarah stopped abruptly in the middle of her prayer. She nudged me.
"Let's ma ... ma ... make a valentine for Ma ...... Maranda."
The next day we sat together at the kitchen table as I helped Sarah write Maranda's name on a large sheet of pink-and-white construction paper. She decorated each letter with stickers and glittery Magic Markers. She drew a large heart around the name, then glued candy hearts with phrases like "friends forever" and "be mine." In similar fashion she added four more pages. Just before we slid the card into a large envelope, Sarah asked, "How ... how ... how do I spell love?" I called out the letters as she painstakingly printed "LOVE," the letters crooked and out of place, followed by her name.
Two weeks passed. We heard that Maranda had additional surgery. On Valentine's Day I got a phone call from her mother. "Maranda's home," she said, "and wants to see Sarah."
"Home?" I asked with surprise.
"Maranda's tumor was benign. We're hoping for a full recovery."
As we discussed Maranda's prognosis, she relayed how thankful she was for Sarah and her card. "Maranda was very depressed. She had stacks of letters, cards and gifts but wouldn't open any of them. Then one morning Sarah's homemade card arrived. We opened it and Maranda burst into a huge smile. She hugged it and wouldn't put it down," Mary's voice was choked with emotion. "It was an answer to prayer."
I realized then that Sarah and Maranda were the truest of friends. Their bond was defined not by intellect or health or handicap, but by love, unconditionally given and received. They had overcome disability with laughter and support. Their friendship had always been equal.
Today both girls are doing well. Maranda is almost 12 and Sarah is going on 13. With the help of intensive therapy Maranda's neurological functions returned to normal, and Sarah's speech has improved immensely. She can even read some. Though we've moved to a different neighborhood, the girls still keep in touch. Recently Maranda came to a sleepover.
As the girls sat at our kitchen table, they talked about Maranda's newly pierced ears and Sarah's "secret" boyfriend from her special-ed class. Then in the middle of their conversation, Sarah opened a kitchen drawer and pulled out a tablet and pencil.
"S-A-R-A-H," Maranda called out, just like old times. As Sarah printed her name without any help, Maranda looked on and clapped. "Great job, Sarah!" she said. I took a peek at my daughter's masterpiece. Her name had been written perfectly.
* * *
FRIENDS NEVER FORGET
I think of my women friends as a raft we make with our arms. We are out there in the middle of some great scary body of water, forearm to forearm, hand to elbow, holding tight. Sometimes I am part of the raft, joining up with others to provide safe harbor; other times I need to climb aboard myself, until the storms subside and I can see my way clear to swim to shore. The raft drifts apart when it's not needed, but never disbands, never forgets.
* * *
from The Christian Reader
Upon arriving in our new home in Kentucky, my seven-year-old son Jason decided to explore the neighborhood. He was back within the hour proclaiming that he had made some new friends.
"Good. Are they boys or girls?" I asked.
"One is a boy and one is a girl," he replied.
"That's great," I said. "How old are they?"
"Mom," my son replied, almost shocked. "That would be very rude to ask."
I was puzzled at his response. About an hour later, he was back.
"Mom!" my son shouted through the screen door. "I found out how old my new friends are. The girl is 65 and the boy is 70."
* * *
|One Glass of Milk||15|
|Don't Let It End this Way||17|
|A Little Cup of Water||24|
|Keep Me Faithful||33|
|On a Stretch of California Freeway||34|
|More than a Hero||37|
|The Power of Touch||41|
|Tea Cups and Curls||49|
|The Red Carpet||54|
|Tea Set Treasures||58|
|Everything in God's Good Time||72|
|Just for Today||75|
|Christmas is for Love||77|
|A Dance Lesson in the Kitchen||79|
|Snowballs and Lilacs||85|
|It Will Change Your Life||88|
|My Plastic Pearls||95|
|Heaven's Very Special Child||96|
|Danger: My Mother||98|
|My Mother Played the Piano||104|
|A Breath of Time||107|
|Too Many Ripples||108|
|How Does She do That?||110|
|Only Mom Will do||113|
|Cece and Agnes||117|
|Valentines in a Shoe Box||119|
|When the Quilt Show Came Home||122|
|My Forever Friend||124|
|Turning the Page||127|
|When Two Smiles Meet||130|
|Friendship from the Heart||134|
|Mint for Good||138|
|Two Scoops of Ice Cream||145|
|With Songs of Rejoicing||152|
|Then There was Hope||156|
|Best Present of All||160|
|Love Made Visible||162|
|The Perfect Dogwood||165|
|A Day Hemmed in Love||170|
|An Old-Fashioned Love Story||181|
|Berry Mauve or Muted Wine?||183|
|Ben and Virginia||187|
|Love in a Locket||191|
|With this Ring||194|
|Mom's Last Laugh||196|
|Grace's Amazing Valentine||199|
|My Husband, My Love||201|
|The Treasured Ring||205|
|Do You Want Me?||206|
|My Most Unforgettable Fare||211|
|Thank You, Fozzy!||214|
|Yuk it Up!||220|
|For his Eyes Only||223|
|Finding My Way Home||226|
|A Perfect Rose||229|
|In a Hurry||230|
|The Gray Slipper||235|
|The Most Valuable Player||237|
|Keepsakes of the Heart||243|
|High Button Shoes||245|
|The Christmas Room||248|
|An Old Leather School Bag||252|
|The Bridal Bouquet||258|
|Teacups of Love||261|
|A Desk for My Daughter||264|
|The Summer of the Golden Eggs||269|
|Hands of Love||273|
|Streams in the Desert||275|
|The Price of a Miracle||277|
|The Breath of God||279|
|My First Christmas in Heaven||284|
|Mom's Old Bible||286|
|The Twenty-Third Psalm for Women||288|
|May I have this Dance?||289|
|Blossoms of Kindness||292|
|Snowflakes from Heaven||294|
|The Christmas I Remember Most||297|
|The Greatest Question||299|
|Because I Care||304|