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.

How to Make Space at the Table

In our twenties, my husband and I thought nothing of using garden furniture for indoor dining. The wrought iron chair with the crooked seat cushion scraped against the pine floor as my neighbor pulled it up beside the table and sat down. Theresa eased her pregnant body into the world’s most uncomfortable chair with a sigh, while I puttered in the kitchen, preparing our make-shift meal. My daughter kept Theresa company from her high chair, kicking her feet in staccato against the foot rest, which Theresa politely ignored…

To read the rest of the story, join me in the kitchen at Grace Table.

Friendship in the Internet Age

Three times, I attempted to visit the Tenement Museum in New York City with a friend before we succeeded. Twice we drove in, sat in traffic for a few hours, then navigated around construction zones, only to find lot after city parking lot full. The third time, we rode the train to Penn Station, then wrangled our way downtown amidst the crush of Christmas crowds. We layered ourselves in denim and cotton, wore our heaviest coats, and exhaled great puffs of breath like smoke into frigid air. We arrived early and killed time over croissants in a coffee shop with bare bulbs, brick walls, and coffered ceilings.

I realized on our third (successful!) attempt at making it to our destination, that the journey together was more important than setting foot in the museum. Uninterrupted travel time, a few consolation lunches, and time together over steaming mugs of tea gave my friend and I the chance to peel back the polite layers. We experienced frustration and disappointment. We talked about the struggles of marriage and raising kids and how to sustain our art. And we survived my attempts at navigation in the concrete jungle of NYC. This particular map-reading disability has strained my marriage on more than one occasion. A friendship that survives my neuroses, complaints, and inability to understand simple directions is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow–a mythical treasure.

After warming our bodies with pots of tea, and our souls with talk of city life, we wandered over to the Tenement Museum. We settled on the Shop Tour, and the guide walked us through a shop front in one of the original tenement buildings, formerly inhabited by various immigrant groups new to New York City. We stepped back in time from the bright cold of Orchard Street into a dim room with a dark wood bar, barrels and taps, and brass instruments hanging behind them. Tables and chairs sat scattered about the room, and adjacent to the pub, was a tiny kitchen with a pot-bellied fire and bratwurst dangling from thin white string strung across the ceiling.

While the store front evolved over the years taking on many different faces, the original shop was a community pub run by a newly wed couple who arrived in New York as children from Germany. As we listened to the docent tell their story, it became clear that the pub served as a hub for the entire neighborhood. It was a gathering place for families, neighbors, and co-workers to share a drink, eat a hot meal, enjoy music from the homeland, and strengthen into a community. I imagine friendships were forged over a pint of lager, business deals confirmed over handshakes, and love blossomed over bratwurst.

We’ve come so far from these tight-knit communities, and we’re poorer for it. There are no family pubs, no community hubs in my corner of suburbia. My friend and I live 45 minutes apart from one another, and it takes highway upon highway to see each other in the flesh. It takes every bit of intentionality and planning we can muster to spend half a day visiting our nearest big city.

The Shop Tour reminded me how much we need each other, what community can and should be, and what community looks like today. Today, it looks like fruitless driving adventures and museum visits and coffee shop chatter. On the return train, we bumped into my friend’s real-life neighbor. We chatted on the ride home, and she asked how my friend and I met. We looked at each other for a split second, and then I laughed when she said, “We met on twitter!” How very 21st century.

The tour stirred up a sense of misplaced nostalgia in me for the past (if only we had a corner pub, a Luke’s Diner, a Central Perk, a Community Congregation), but it also encouraged me to appreciate the ways we go about community and friendship today, and examine how I can do it better. More than that, it helped me appreciate the gift of finding a friend who will  plan multiple days out together with varying degrees of success. Who puts up with my particular brand of crazy. Who tells me the truth about herself and doesn’t look away from the truth she sees darting behind shadows inside of me. We met online, and she’s become one of my most faithful and dearest.

Something in me still longs for the promise of days when creating community and cultivating friendships meant spending an evening cozied up with a glass of wine, or an afternoon unfolding over cups of fragrant tea with endless refills. I can keep searching for these opportunities to take part in what once was, but I must also embrace what is. What is friendship today? How can I create physical space for it in a life often conducted online? I’m carrying these questions with me into the new year, and I hope the new year will unveil a few answers.

The Significance of a Sister Circle

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After the family funeral, one of the older women approached me in the buffet line between scooping spoons of mac and cheese and chicken piccata onto my plate. Another peppered my daughter with questions through the stall door of the church’s ladies room. A third struck up a conversation with my son while waiting to greet the family after the memorial service. They spoke as if they knew the intimate details of our lives, asking questions only a magician, or someone in the family’s inner circle, could pluck out of blue sky and thin air.

When my son turned to me with wide eyes and a questioning look during the granny brigade’s interrogation, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He had finally come face to face with a lifetime member of his grandmother’s infamous Sister Circle…

To read the rest of the post on lifelong friendship, join me at More To Be.