Nothing is more comforting that the gift of friendship when the storms of life rage. The concept of a "storm sister" is immediately clear to women, and the response is either the joy of experiencing that kind of relationship or the longing to experience it. Publishing veteran Afton Rorvik paints a beautiful picture of the characteristics of a friendship that is there in all seasons of life, including storms. Through poignant personal stories and the stories of others, Afton covers topics as diverse as resisting the urge to "fix" a friend's problem, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and the fine art of listening well.
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Friends Through All Seasons
By Afton Rorvik
Worthy Media, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Afton B. Rorvik
All rights reserved.
Ingredients for Everyday Friendship
Friendship. Not a word I really understood or experienced until my teen years.
Growing up on two acres in rural Colorado, I spent my free time wandering through the tall grass on our property or lying on my back in a hammock in the summer and devouring books. Sometimes I tried to speak "sheep" to our ever-tolerant neighbors to the east. I even serenaded them on occasion with my clarinet.
My father, a modern-day Thoreau and also an alcoholic, chose isolation over community living. His choices, by default, became my choices. On the bus ride home every day from elementary school, I would look at the neighborhoods we passed—houses close together without barbed-wire fences to separate them. What would it feel like, I wondered, to live so close to people?
And then I became a teenager and entered junior high. Girls started going shopping together. They invited me—quiet, shy, sheep-talking me! I scrambled to learn how to make friends. What should I say? What should I wear? What mattered to them? What mattered to me?
Friendship 101 ... and Faith
As I jumped into Friendship 101, I also jumped into Faith 101.
In my early teens I made a decision to give all of myself to God and try to live for Him. So, for me, the discovery of friendship and faith became intertwined. As I began testing the friendship waters, I also began studying the Bible with other girls and an adult leader from our youth group. Once a week, every week, we met together.
A girl in the lunch line might have made fun of me that morning for my rather pointy ears; my father might have erupted in a rage at a song I started singing that afternoon; my mouth might ache from my recently tightened braces. But on this night, with these people, I could forget the hard parts of life. I could enjoy connection—belonging.
These people expected me. Every week after our lesson from the Bible, we would spend some time praying. I sat and listened to our leader and these other girls talk to God as if He knew them and cared about the details of their lives. Could God care about me—quiet, shy, sheep-loving me?!
I wanted to know more about this God.
Because getting out of a warm bed in the morning challenged me, I set my clock radio to the local hog reports every morning at 6:30. Nothing like hearing a voice spew out the prices of hogs to motivate me to jump out of bed!
And perhaps because my mother loved the Psalms and talked about them, I began to read them for myself in those early morning hours. Again, I discovered honest conversation with God. David talked to God about his enemies, his fears, his failures, his future.... I found myself borrowing David's words and using them to talk to God about my own enemies, fears, failures, future....
But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me (Psalm 3:3–5, KJV).
In those early mornings, I forged a relationship with God—a friendship.
Much to my surprise, my friendship with God gave me courage to connect to other people. As I began to understand His great love for me, I grew in my courage and confidence to face the confusing, crowded worlds of junior high and high school.
I knew that no matter what happened during the day—whether I said the wrong thing, or didn't say anything when I so desperately wanted to, or if I wore something horribly out-of-fashion that drew attention to my homemade clothes—God cared.
As I continued to study the Bible with girls my age, we talked over how to live out what we studied. What does it mean to "love one another" as mentioned in 1 John 3:11? What does "bearing one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2) look like in real life? When Romans 12:15 calls us to "weep with those who weep," how do we sincerely accomplish that?
In college I continued to connect with women who asked these same kinds of questions. Living together in close quarters brought to life all of our quirky habits—singing in the shower at 5 a.m., writing papers in the closet late at night while eating crackers—but because of our shared faith and commitment to connectedness as ordained by God, we stuck with each other. We made time for meals together; we stayed up late and made popcorn and talked. We challenged each other to know God and ourselves better.
I did not know then that these habits of connectedness would mean that these women—all of them—would remain my close friends many decades later. We continue to make time for each other, now in regular emails. We continue to challenge each other to think about God and ourselves. We continue to go the extra mile for each other and our families. We travel to each other's homes.
Storm Sisters all.
We did not set out to become Storm Sisters; we set out to live as God called us to live: connected.
Every Week ...
Just as I met with a group of girls every week in junior high and on into high school, I now meet with my husband every week.
Over the past twenty-seven years, my husband and I have come to use the term beste venn for each other. In Norwegian it means "best friend." Although the phrase rolls off our lips these days, the making of this friendship took, and still takes, great intent.
And lunch every Friday.
We created "Friday Lunch" eighteen years ago, the year our youngest child went to first grade. Since that day we have fought fiercely to keep this weekly date by saying no to other lunch invitations, rescheduling meetings.... Our friends, children, employers, and neighbors know, "Don't mess with Friday Lunch!"
Even on the days when we feel out of sorts with each other for one reason or another, we keep our Friday lunch. And we continually save coupons for local restaurants.
The keeping of this date reminds us both that we belong to each other. That someone cares. It seems that God continually reinforces to me that lesson He began to teach me in junior high.
As John and I have grown in our love for God and for each other, we have also intentionally tried to build other friendships. He has a shortlist of men he regularly calls and emails and goes to see. I have a similar shortlist of women I see consistently and others I email with every week. I have to keep the list short. As my children tell me, I'm not good at multi-tasking. I just can't juggle 374 friends. Not in a way that makes them feel I truly care.
Time. Intention. Care.
All prompted by the example of the great love God has lavished on us: "No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us" (1 John 4:12, NLT).
I now live in an "I'll-keep-your-dog-while-you're-out-of-town" sort of neighborhood. Much of that happened because the extroverts in our midst love to get together. But some of it happened because of something a small group of us—women—did together for almost seven years.
Every other Thursday, we met together. And then some years it became every other Tuesday or the first Monday of the month.
We spent time talking about our latest house projects, who was moving in or out, the upcoming fun fair at the local elementary school.... We drank decaf together, some flavored, some straight black.
And we studied the Bible.
Some of us had grown up reading the Bible; some of us had just discovered it; some of us had never read it. We jumped into reading and talking about the Gospel of Mark.
As the weeks went on, we worked hard to listen to each other, encouraging exploration and questions. Who were these Pharisees? Why did they have such a strong negative opinion of Jesus? Why did Jesus teach with parables? Really? Couldn't He just have told it like it was? What did Jesus mean when He said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark 10:14, NIV)?
After we studied Mark, we moved on to other books in the Bible. We talked, we laughed, we learned to pray for each other. And we became friends.
Although we don't officially meet these days, some of us still gather our families together for shared dinners. For six years running, four or five of these women with their husbands arrange childcare and take vacation days to spend a long weekend together in Door County.
I now live in a neighborhood without barbed-wire fences or sheep, and I live within the community of believers, the church. I'm not budging. I need only open my front door and walk steps to the door of a Storm Sister. Every day I thank God for that gift.
No more conversations with sheep. I will reach for people, God's creation. As you begin this book, I pray that you, too, will make a decision to reach for people—for friendship. May you come to know, as I have, this rich, blessed gift from God.CHAPTER 2
When the Storms Come
Michelle and I have called each other "friend" for decades. At this age, we're not counting exactly how many decades. We met our freshman year of college and then shared our first apartment together after college. She introduced me to gourmet coffee, and I introduced her to Shakespeare. We made runs for deep-dish pizza together. I still have the dress I wore in Michelle's wedding. My daughter latched onto it as a child and dubbed it her favorite princess dress-up dress—one she wouldn't share. I have apologized many times to Michelle for the pink, puffy-sleeved dress she had to wear in my wedding.
In 2005, long after those college days and our weddings, storms invaded Michelle's life, followed shortly by storms in my own life. Not just heavy spring cloudbursts but hurricane-strength storms that took our breath away and made us both want to run for cover.
Our phone conversations and coffee runs no longer focused on kids and swimming lessons, household projects, or upcoming vacations. Instead we discussed such topics as chemotherapy and a rare neurological disease with a hard-to-pronounce German name. The pain felt so real and so deep.
At some point one of us stumbled upon a verse in a little-known book of the Old Testament:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD'S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:19–23, NIV).
This became our shared mantra: "Because of the LORD'S great love, we are not consumed." Sometimes we simply ended a phone conversation or quick cup of coffee with, "We are not consumed."
Bracing for the Incoming Storm
Just after Thanksgiving dinner 2005, my phone rang. On the other end my youngest brother, Joe, explained, "Mom came to see us for Thanksgiving and just doesn't seem right. She has trouble seeing, and her balance is off. She doesn't remember some things. We have taken her to the hospital. We don't know what is wrong."
I gasped. I had just seen my mother a month before. She seemed as independent and strong as always. Had she experienced a stroke?
After many more tests and the careful consultation of a well-regarded neurologist, the results pointed to a rare neurological disease: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). This rare, degenerative, invariably fatal brain disorder affects about one in one million people per year worldwide, usually appears in later life, and runs a rapid course. Those cold, hard facts from The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke gave me a sick sense of foreboding. What lay ahead? Could I handle it?
As I prepared to go see my brother and sort through with him what we should do next for our mother, I told a few close friends and asked them to pray. One friend of many years, Karyn, responded simply by emailing me these words from Psalm 121 (NASB):
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth ...
He who keeps you will not slumber ...
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand ...
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
Karyn relied on timeless, true words, words that never fail—God's words. And I would need them too.
Hanging on to Storm-Strong Words
When I arrived in Albany, Mom did not want to discuss her diagnosis. She wanted to go home. I quickly discovered that if she overheard me talking about her on the phone, she would become angry. When I managed a quick phone call to my husband, I could not let my anxiety and fear for my mom spill out, even as sobs filled my heart. And, unless I ducked out of the apartment in freezing-winter weather, I could not verbally explain to our two children (12 and 16) that their Nana was dying.
Joe and I began to make plans for getting Mom home and then finding good care for her. But we had to do it largely without talking out loud. We developed a system of emailing each other across his living room. How life-giving those words became as they reminded me that I did not face this mighty storm alone.
During those silent days, many other family members and friends emailed and voiced their support. One of these friends, Mary, wrote:
I know you're missing your family back here now, but John declares they're doing okay. Don't forget this wonderful passage from Isaiah 43:1–3 (NIV):
But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
You're passing through deep waters, but you're never alone.
Longing to Run Away
One afternoon, Joe stepped out to run a few errands and catch his breath. By now he had stopped attending his graduate courses in architecture. His patient, thoughtful wife who worked with brain-injured patients had left for work many hours ago. Mom and I were alone in the apartment.
While I responded to emails, Mom crossed the room and stood next to me.
"Did you tell people about my CJD?"
I nodded. "I did. I'm sorry. I feel sad about all of this. I needed to tell people and have them pray for me. I need help with this."
"Well, I can't help you," she stated loudly. "Call John! Call John! I can't help you!"
By now my sobs came full-force. That made Mom even more angry. I escaped to a room in the apartment and locked the door, listening to Mom's continued shouting, and dialed my husband. I whispered into the cell phone what had just happened.
I told him that I really wanted just to get on an airplane and go home.
Later that night, my cell phone rang. I ran to a quiet corner of the apartment and answered it. My mother-in-law's kind voice said, "John called us and told us that things are hard for you out there. I know you can't talk much. Just know that Poppo (my father-in-law) and I love you and that you are doing the right thing. You are where you need to be."
Those words settled into my heart and gave me courage and perspective. Later that night, these words from the Psalms also gave me courage and perspective: "The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? ... Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident" (Psalm 27:1–2, NIV).
Choosing to Stay
The next morning, I rolled up my sleeves, prayed for strength, and resolved to stay. As Mom began to anticipate going home, she talked often of her "700 friends." She confidently explained that these friends, most of them women, would surround her and help her. I grinned and nodded my head, thinking that Mom certainly exaggerated in both the number of friends she had and also in her adamant conviction of their eagerness to help her.
And then I began to get emails from some of these "700 friends," some of whom I knew, but many I did not know.
Excerpted from Storm Sisters by Afton Rorvik. Copyright © 2014 Afton B. Rorvik. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 — Ingredients for Everyday Friendship,
Chapter 2 — When the Storms Come,
Chapter 3 — Asking for Help,
Chapter 4 — Resisting the Urge to Fix,
Chapter 5 — Weeping with Those Who Weep,
Chapter 6 — Helping in Tangible Ways,
Chapter 7 — Respecting Limits,
Chapter 8 — Offering and Accepting Wise Counsel,
Chapter 9 — Sharing Important Events,
Chapter 10 — Making Time to Listen,
Chapter 11 — Reaching across Generations,
Chapter 12 — Rejoicing with Those Who Rejoice,
Chapter 13 — Making Room for Growth,
Chapter 14 — Focusing on What We Cannot See,
Study Guide — Your Journey to Storm Sisterhood,
Suggested Books for Storm Sisters,