The other night at hockey, I watched a friend of mine do something that rang of character. Given where we were, I wanted to ring a cowbell or shout or fist pump or something but I held back. Instead, I just sat quietly as the bleachers of a city hockey rink turned into a holy place for me. Life lessons can hit at anytime, sometimes the realization of what you've learned creeps up on you, sometimes it's as blatant as a flashing sign. This was neither, it was just a friend, being who she is when she thought no one was watching.
A few years ago, our friends were hit hard by the "sucks to be in ministry" train that has hit most of us at one time or another. Jason and I were just reeling from our own ministry train wreck and subsequently moved north to work with these friends, knowing that we would find it a place where Jason could work his style of ministry and not be reprimanded for having kids in the office or for considering having lunch with kids as a valuable use of his time. Sadly, it was a brief honeymoon period, in fact, all too short…for though we weren't targeted, our dear friends were. (Insert disclaimer that this is just my rendition of the way it went down…blah blah blah…and that I won't name names as a means to protect the "not-so" innocent.) In the midst of some of their worst days, they experienced the heartache of friends that chose sides, chose to remain silent and just generally distanced themselves when needed the most. I remember crying through some of those days as if it were my own pain again. In many ways, it was. Sadly, our friends were forced to leave the church, they left the country and were able to serve others down in the USA where we all know, they need Jesus far more than we do in the Great White North. (again…just cut and paste that disclaimer any old time you wish.)
Fast forward, five years, and they are back in Canada. The other night, our boys played hockey against each other. Regardless, we decided we could share the bleachers without conflict so we sat together and watched our boys back on the same sheet of ice. It seemed very Canadian and as if all had fallen back into place as it should be. For the first period, we sat and cheered both teams, laughed and just enjoyed each others' company, with just the faintest hint of static in the arena. If you've ever been on the wrong end of a relationship meltdown, you know the static I speak of. That slightly heightened sensitivity that one of the ones who hurt you, whether intentionally or not, is around? It's that buzz or high pitched frequency that makes dogs run or cats hiss for seemingly no reason…the Spidey sense that tingles when something is just off. I knew right away what it was but didn't bring it up. I'm cowardly like that. But, my friend, how her actions heal things in me that she'll probably never know…got up after the first period, walked down the bleachers out of sight and didn't return for the whole next period. At one point, once I had figured out her disappearance, leaned over and caught sight of her hugging a mutual acquaintance who is also the mom of one of the boys on our team. I wanted to cheer. Or ring the cowbell. Or fist pump. This is grace in action. The woman who is not much more than a casual acquaintance to me, was a dear friend of hers years ago. One who, for reasons I don't know, didn't stand up or comfort or demonstrate the level of friendship that many assumed they shared. And here was my friend, giving her grace, showing her love and forgiveness, on the sidelines of a bantam boys' hockey game.
When you experience it, you know it. When you see it, you know it. When you give it, you really get it.