I haven’t always been good at friendships. I decided early on books were easier to get along with.
And if you don’t live with grace for yourself, it is impossible to offer it to someone else.
She was the friend my mom and I knelt down on the pink pile carpet for. Fifteen years old and I believed I was some sort of reincarnation of Anne of Green Gables. She had golden curls and lived in a storybook brick farmhouse with birds carved into the upper hall cupboards. But her greatest gift to me? Seering honesty.
And so began years full of picnics and high teas, daring each other to splash into fountains, dresses pulled high. We discovered secret streams, watching the crawdads scramble, meandered through antique shops in search of tea cups and scheduled sleepovers where we pulled back our bandaids to show our wounds.
Through college, our friendship provided the laboratory where we struggled both together and against each other to become persons.
When we were 16, we reverently folded open the 1992 Teen Missions poster, smoothed out the wrinkles and poured over exotic adventures: an orphanage in Nepal, a riverboat trip through the canals of England, building schools in the desert of Egypt.
We dared each other to run hard after God.
That summer, after raising our funds, she went to Romania to build churches and I went to Albania to mortar a brick wall around an orphanage. The God-following adventure never ended and I became an Anglican pastor and she has for the last 15 years served youth on air-force bases in Italy, spreading picnics for hundreds and daring them to lift their faces up to the Holy.
But she has been the one to garden this friendship, tending it with postcards and crossing long distances to hear my ordinary stories, weeding through my years of neglect.
And this has been the quiet lesson: in a facebook world full of virtual friends, the bloom of real friendship requires intentional faithfulness.
Keep showing up to us, she has taught me, even when the connection wears thin.
Tonight I miss her. She pulled up to the little yellow cottage last week Wednesday and I opened wide the door of my life to give her a taste of the glory that is a Michigan lake-town in early summer.
I slowly unwrapped my treasures:
A long walk beside the Lake, the sun reflecting in a long ribbon across the water,
sesame seed crusted French toast battered with rich custard,
Saugatuck’s charm-packed downtown and taste-testing a white peach balsamic vinegar that coats the mouth in sweetness,
Italian picnic of baguette and pesto and salami on the sailboat slow at 2 knots,
and a dance party with the children to “Save the Last Dance for Me” as we motored past the lighthouse, crowds waiting for the last glimpse of the melting sun.
Joy, honesty, and more joy spilled easily from a friendship where both are becoming Velveteen Rabbit real.
And the gift of showing up for the last twenty years surprised us with the depth of a complicated aged wine, a wine we never would have sipped without the slow work of faithfulness.