An Unlikely Friendship

We met when she still wore a thin gold band on her left ring finger. I sat next to her in the only seat available at the crowded table, not realizing from that point on, my life would be better because she was in it. As we sat in the restaurant surrounded by women who already knew one another, she told me her story.

Her husband had broken the vows he’d made on their wedding day, and now she found herself in the middle of an unexpected and unwanted end to their marriage. Life as she knew it was over. She had no children, and her ex-husband now lived in another country.

I was ten years younger, happily married, and in the thick of parenting two little ones…

Join me at (in)courage today to read the rest of the story on the unfolding of an unlikely friendship.

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Why We Need Each Other on the Broken Road

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”~ Albert Camus

Winter possesses its own spare beauty. Steep slopes of fresh white. Frosted windows. Steel skies. Sharp branches. It’s lovely in its own way, but few would choose to live in a Narnia of forever-cold days. Winter draws a curtain against the cicada’s song and summer’s lush gardens until our memory of summer fades.

We forget there is bounty and more beauty to come as we experience the longest nights and the darkest days of the year. We wonder if winter will ever evolve into spring. If the earth will once again offer us bouquets of peonies and roses and sweet russian sage.

Walking a broken road in the grip of grief feels like a journey through winter, a long walk on those steep slopes under steel skies. There is beauty, but it is the kind of beauty that requires a wounded heart in order to see it clearly.

I discovered beauty while walking my own hard road, and I found it sitting around my kitchen table with the people who care for me. I saw it in the familiar faces of dear friends who surrounded me as I wrestled with grief.

I discovered that the consolation of community gives me hope on the hard road.

Friends have borne witness to my pain, and rather than shy away from it, they embraced it as their own. They offered words of affirmation and sincere prayers on my behalf, but more than that, they offered the solace of their own sadness. They carried me down the broken road when I could not stand upright on my own two feet.

Those who bore witness alongside me, offered me grace for my grief and the promise of summer for my sadness. They believe the earth will once again bear fruit, and the garden will grow full and rich in color. They believe I will once again know delight.

In the midst of winter, I found an invincible summer in the place I least expected it–in the people who gather around my table, my friends.

The One Question I Ask Again and Again

“Good writers are monotonous, like good composers. They keep trying to perfect the one problem they were born to understand.” ~Alberto Moravia

For forty years, I’ve asked the same question, “What does it mean to belong?” I’ve “lived the questions”, as Rilke so lovingly suggests, and I still feel as if I’m hovering around the answer, searching for a place to land. Belonging is more than fitting into the shape of a place, but rather feeling at home in one’s body, mind, and spirit. It is belonging to a family. To a cause. To a community. To an ideal. To an art form. It is belonging in one’s skin, and being fully at home with one’s self, and this is a journey I continue to travel. Searching, circling, seeking a way in.

One of the great joys in life is discovering by what means we find a way in to the problem we’re meant to understand. Words are my way in, the means by which I seek understanding. I tie them like small scraps of string along the path to help me journey towards the problem, but also to find my way into the answers. So often, understanding comes not only from moving forward, but from making our way back. Back into our past relationships, seasons of life, and life experiences. Back to the familiar questions knocking at the door of our heart.

Moravia’s words have proven true not only in my life as a writer, but simply as a human being. One doesn’t need to be a writer or composer to identify and seek answers to the common themes in their life. I wish someone had told me to look for the threads tying my life together–look for the themes and questions that continued to knit their way into my soul. It took me nearly seven years of writing to discover what problem I’ve been trying to understand and a lifetime before that.

I’ve asked so many questions and spilled so much ink while asking myself what it means to belong, and yet I feel so far from perfecting an answer. I feel comforted by the fact that I’m not the only one who continues circling around the same idea–all of the great artists do. And the not-so-great artists. And the rest of us ordinary people too.

Every day I step out into the questions in faith, I grow closer. I tie my scraps of string, moving forward and back and forward once again. It’s a journey with paths that diverge and cross and lead to places of loss and also wonder. What a miracle it is to step into the mystery with my words as a guide, making peace with the fact that I may never find the answers, but perhaps the  answers will find me.

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What is the one problem/theme/idea you find yourself returning to again and again? What helps you understand?

What the Garden Teaches Us About Slow Growth

***I spent some time in the blog archives recently and discovered this post on growth and hope and belonging. I thought it was worth revisiting this spring as I wait for my garden and a few quiet corners of my life to bloom.

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We have a ridiculous number of flower beds around our house, which is wonderful when someone else is doing the work of maintaining them, but disheartening when I have to do it myself. I want the results of regular planting, watering, and weeding without all of the hard work. My husband and I have spent hours planning, dreaming, sketching, and wandering around green houses. Sometimes we stalk other people’s gardens, and come home to tell one another about our latest drive by viewing. But, when it comes to getting my hands dirty, to digging deep, pruning, and standing in the hot sun with a hose, I bail out. Give me all the flowers! Give me none of the work.

This past autumn, our third in this home, I slipped on my blue gardening gloves, grabbed a spade, and dug over a hundred holes in the cool earth. I placed a single bulb in each hole, planning carefully for waves of pink and purple in one corner of a bed, yellow and white in another. Cupped all winter by the frozen earth, I imagined a riot of color in the spring, when the garden shakes off its slumber and wakes up.

This is my year of restoration, and I want the garden to represent what could be when empty places are no longer left blank, when they are filled with the promise of life and fragrance and color. Driving around town, I see daffodils everywhere. Tulips bend in the breeze. Sweet grape hyacinths gossip in clusters beneath towering trees. And my garden is quiet. The bulbs are slow to grow this first year of their birth. They are just pushing through the soil, while my friends boast fists full of bright yellow heads cut from gardens of their own.

My husband says the first year is always the slowest and hardest–the bulbs are just learning how to grow here. Each year will be easier. They will expand and root themselves into the places we planted them. Reclaiming and restoring the garden takes longer than I expected. As spring arrives and then summer approaches, we will have to make choices about what stays and what goes. What is restored to life and health after a long winter, what needs pruning back, what needs moving.

I’ve come to expect this now, and as I enter the spring of this year, the year resting on my cornerstone word of “Restore“, I’m beginning to see the results of the effort I’ve planted along the way. Small growth, little buds of dark green, not baskets full of blooms yet. But something is stirring. There is growth, but it comes at a cost. It’s hard work, the hardest I’ve ever known, to pull up the things that no longer serve me, to release the past, the dead and rootless, and to water, water, water the life growing beneath the surface. The first year is the slowest and the hardest. I’m still learning how to grow here.

If you find yourself in a similar season of incremental growth, take heart. Life stirs beneath the surface. Water where you’re rooted. Plant new life, prune back the old. You are a garden, bursting with the potential for life.

When Small Talk Isn’t So Small After All

The vets staying at the Veterans Hospital in town hang out at the local strip mall. We see them every time we stop for milk and a five dollar bunch of flowers. Often, there will be one or two vets smoking on the corner, leaning heavy into a cane or crutch. They call to one another across donuts and coffee, or chat in the aisles of the Rite Aid. Sometimes their wounds are obvious–lost limbs, disfigurement, a limp. And other times, it’s the faraway stare, the nervous glance over their shoulder, the war-weary eyes that hint at invisible damage.

I pulled into the parking lot last week, and an older veteran stood on the corner of the Stop and Shop and followed my car with his eyes. I got out, grabbed my bags from the trunk, and he continued to stare. His face told a thousand stories, and his leg, permanently damaged in one skirmish or another, told a story too. I tried to look away.

Minutes earlier, I’d huffed my way out of the house after hours of household chores, while my husband lay prone on the sofa with a cold drink and an ipad in his hand. My annoyance led me to speed my way to the store, slam the car door, and attempt to sneak by the man without so much as a nod hello.

He called out to me, “Hey there! I used to drive a car just like yours. Do you love it? Is it a stick shift?” For a split second I wondered if I could walk by and pretend not to hear him. His left leg held all of his weight, and my polite, fake, smile held mine. I turned to face him.

We chatted cars for a minute, and while I considered how much time this conversation would cost me, he considered sharing a piece of his history. His story tumbled out. He spoke of the years he was stationed in Germany, the multiple languages he speaks, and his love for European travel. He told me of a car just like mine that saved his life in a head on collision with two other vehicles on a German highway. He told me a story of near misses, something akin to salvation.

After we chatted for a while, and I turned to enter the supermarket, he called out a blessing on me and then again on my family. I mumbled a brief thank you, and I walked away thinking I should say something to bless him too, but the words buried themselves in my own discomfort. The conversation was as awkward as you imagine it to be between a war vet and a harried housewife, but I walked away feeling as if I was richer for this chance meeting with a stranger. Near misses can cause one’s fake smile to transform into a real one, and one’s harried heart to enlarge in size.

I am so quick to dismiss the gift of a timely conversation. I almost missed out on a opportunity to see God in the face of another human being that day. I almost rejected the gift of a blessing from a stranger. When the man reached out in conversation, I wondered what he wanted or needed from me, not realizing I was the one with the greater need. I needed to stop tending my small wounds, exit my own story, and receive the gift of another’s.