Friday, January 1, 2016

some kind of grace

On my last night of visiting family for the holidays, I watched The Sandlot with my sister, niece and nephew. Andrew, my nephew and the baseball enthusiast of the group, was particularly excited.

“I used to watch this all the time with my best friend Heather,” I told him. “She thought one of the boys was cute.” He asked me which one, and I pointed him out.

Then I texted Heather: “We’re watching the sandlot :)”

She texted back: “you’re killing me Smalls!”

When we got to the part where the boys make s’mores together, I whispered the lines to myself just ahead of the actors saying them and wondered how many times Heather and I had re-wound that part and repeated the lines when we made the snack ourselves.

*   *   *

Heather is my best friend, and has been since her family moved two doors away from my family’s house thirty years ago. When we met, we were at the age when girls begin their friendships in earnest, and found in each other that mix of differences and similarities that makes a friend stick. We always laughed at the same random things, and it always felt as if we were speaking the same language, even when we felt like we weren’t making sense. It still feels that way.

Some kind of grace held us over the years. Our lives have taken us in seemingly opposite directions: her, to one year of college, then working and ministry and marriage at 23 and kids soon after and staying home with them while doing more ministry and now Ohio with a husband and family of six. Me, to college, then Los Angeles and full time work and different kinds of ministry and living as a single person, a family of one.

Just the other day, when we both stayed at our parents’ houses over the holidays, I rang her doorbell as I have thousands of times before. She opened the door and we hugged.

*   *   *

We drove to a diner we ate at during high school. As we drove, she told me about her aunt’s sheep farm in Maine. I interrupted her to ask if she’d seen Far From the Madding Crowd.

“I just got chills,” she said, then told me how she’d just finished reading the book and had reserved the movie at the library. We talked about Bathsheba and Gabriel (oh Gabriel…) and farm life and the dialect used in the book. "You have to read the book," she said, and I promised I would.

*   *   *

A few years ago, during a particularly dark season of my life, I had a dream. In it, I was pregnant. I came to the moment of labor, but when the baby was born, it was no longer living. In my dream, it wasn’t until the baby was born that I’d realized I’d never felt the baby move. And yet, I hadn’t thought to see a doctor. I cried for my lost baby, and for my own neglect.

A few weeks after, still in the thick of that darkness and wondering in secret at the meaning of my dream, Heather and I talked on the phone. Connecting outside of short emails and texts was rare for us. Time zones and work schedule (mine) and family life (hers) made it difficult. But this time felt urgent. We both had things to tell each other that only live voices could convey.

"I need you to pray for me," I told her. 

“I had a dream about you,” she told me.

She explained that in it, I was in labor, and she was a mid-wife, and I gave birth to a healthy baby. I told her about the dead baby in my dream, and about my dark season. We agreed we should pray. Afterwards, I felt the darkness around me had lifted every so slightly. I thought about the connection between us and how many ways we had helped each other birth things throughout our friendship.

*   *   *

Over breakfast at the diner, Heather told me about her husband’s new position as pastor of a long-established church. They had moved to the rural community four years ago to plant a church. The group they gathered had remained small, and yet God was touching lives, they believed. So they kept meeting and kept allowing a deep love for their community to grow in their hearts until one day it was apparent that it was time to move on. Her story wasn’t one of disappointment or confusion at the loss of the thing they thought they were to birth. She was amazed at the way things had unfolded quite apart from their own intentions.

Heather writes, too, when she has time. Her ideas come out in a stream of beautiful and rare images. I told her to keep writing about these ideas. We talked about how to give her experience a shape through story.

And we kept talking, about things like desire and connection and raising kids and how our parents are doing. Hours later, after returning to her parents' home to spend time with her family, I hugged them all goodbye. And just like so many times before, I left her house and let the screen door snap behind me as I went.

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