Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Friendship In Fuzzy Slippers

I remember when Jason and I were first married, living in a tiny basement suite in Caronport, SK while he finished his college degree. I was lucky in that when we moved to Caronport, I had a built in support system of young married friends waiting there for me to catch up with. We were in a small group with friends like Jeff and Heidi, Kyle and Kirsten, Kevin and Melanie...all couples that married and who we knew before we moved there. In the course of the year, we travelled with a comedy/drama group (never, never ask me about this....) and I found another dear friend in Tara. At the end of the year, as school came to a close and Jason and I moved back to the Lower Mainland, I had my first lesson in the liturgy of leaving. We packed up our 69 Volkswagen van with our worldly possessions in tow and we headed west. Somewhere just outside of Mortlach, approximately 10 mins down the road, I started to cry uncontrollably. I was grieving the tight knit circle of friendship that allowed me access to the fridges and crockpots, late night movies and mid day coffees of life in a small town. In those days, we rarely picked up the phone but would walk over to one of our friends' homes for a game of cards or a movie or just some sort of homemade snack of some sort with coffee. Those were the days....domestic bliss and no concerns over drinking coffee after 8 pm. We wives sat together watching our husbands play football and hockey, we shared rides to the ER when one of them took a puck to the face, we cleaned up and teased Kirsten, the best cook of all of us, when she came home to the fire department clearing the smoke out of her kitchen and the rest of the four plex in which she lived...when her crockpot chilli became officially became four alarm chili.
Driving away from that little town meant driving away from an idyllic first year of marriage that, though not perfect, was simple enough that it became nearly that in my memory. I cried for the type of life that I thought I wouldn't find in bigger cities and the deep friendships I had found there. In fact, I cried so hard, that my husband of just about ten months, detoured hours out of his way, through Lethbridge, so I could have a few days reprieve with Tara before heading on to our new life on the coast.

Fast forward a few years later, we had been pastoring in a small church in the Okanagan for a few years, with probably some of the most incredible kids we've ever had the privilege of sharing our lives with. Again, a small basement suite with a family upstairs, allowed us to share much of our lives with two amazing girls in our youth group, as well as their younger siblings. Tina and Des were in and out of our lives and house and fridge for the years we lived there and we were so happy to be in such a place where we could just hang out with these girls and their friends pretty much whenever we felt like it. We used to say that when we lived in Westbank, all our friends got out of school at 3. Truthfully, we really did have some of our deepest relationships with the kids from that little church, so much so that when we look at our Facebook feeds today and our fridge, it still has a disproportionate representation of kids, now adults, from those early days. There's something to be said for the freedom we had in those days to fully share our lives with kids and the fact that they are still some of our favourite people in the world to visit and catch up with.  And yet, a few years in, we felt like we needed to move on to another ministry. With incredible pain, we drove out of Westbank, both just sick at heart with the leaving, knowing even then that what we were giving up could only be called "the good old days" when we look back in the future. A different kind of leaving but there were holes in our lives just the same.

Not long after, another leaving and we found ourselves back in Caronport. Jason enrolled in seminary, me very pregnant with Aidan. We moved into a little duplex, one of our first homes where we lived above ground....and when we arrived in Caronport, our small group, including Tara and her now husband, Perry, had arranged for all our stuff to be unpacked and in the house when we arrived. I felt immediately at home. Our friends, Kevin and Mel were right across the street and over the course of the year, I met women, including Danielle and Charlene, who would become some of my best friends. In the years that followed, we were involved with college kids and our home once again was filled with young adults and even some of our beloved Westbank kids. What a treat it was to have Des and Chris in our home again, exchanging meals and laundry for babysitting Aidan. Mel and I began a tradition of watching ER in our pi's once the kids were in bed. We would get comfy and then settle in at one of our houses with the baby monitor on in the other and we would watch our show together. We would carpool into Moose Jaw for groceries with Tara or Char and we would gather as moms in a little hall on campus to let our kids play and for us to have coffee together. It was there that the friendships I had longed for were reintroduced to me and they only got richer. Then the leaving season began again, even though it wasn't our turn. Danielle and her family moved into Moose Jaw, Charlene and her family moved out west. Again, I had to figure out the appropriate way to grieve those close friendships. And then, it was our turn. And again, my friend Melanie and I hugged goodbye, and she had to watch me cry my way out of town yet again. I remember telling her that what I was going to miss the most was having the kind of friendship where you can run across the road in your pyjamas and it seems completely normal. It seemed to me the mark of deep friendship.

We found ourselves welcomed into a church in Sparks, Nevada and again, thankfully, we were able to find ourselves a community of friendships that filled some of the empty spots in our life. Pregnant again, because what would a job search and an international move be without the added pressure of a new life to support....I was surrounded by amazing women who reached out and just plus one'd me to their circle of friends. It never fails to astound me how there are gaps in our lives that only one person can fill but how groups of friends seem to share that load and cover what they can. Suddenly there was a Maria and a Dana, Lycia, Lisa and Misty, Sheri and Robin. And the gap closed and my life was full again - of love and laughter and women in pyjamas - on overnights to San Francisco or retreats in the mountains of Nevada City or even just across the road. Robin lived across the road and I would send Aidan, now four, running to her house to ask to borrow whatever it was I had forgotten at the store. One time, I sent him for pepper and as I stood at the window, watching him run back, pepper shaker in hand, pumping his arms and running with all his might, I realized he was shaking pepper into the air and then running into it. Thankfully, his eyes were screwed up tight in his running stance but he still managed to get eyes and a mouth full of pepper and so ended the errand running chore for Aidan.

We spent six years in Nevada and it was a place we felt completely at home, despite the fact that we were clearly un-American in our lack of flag on the front porch. When it came time to leave Sparks, I kid you not, it was my undoing. I have never experienced such a raw wound as having to leave Nevada tore in me. Jason drove the packed Uhaul truck in front of me, driving in our raggedy old Jeep, and I cried from the state line of Nevada until we hit the southern Oregon border. It was three states and about 5 boxes of tissues on the floorboards before we stopped for the night, and I could hardly see for how puffy my eyes were. It wasn't an easy leaving and our lives were completely upside down, and the last thing I remember seeing was Robin breaking down on her driveway as I rounded the corner of the cul de sac, not knowing when I would see her again.

The thing I've learned is this. There is a liturgy in leaving that should involve celebration and mourning. It's a little snapshot of life - where there is the beauty of love and laughter and life and on the edge of that, the pain and loneliness of facing separation. Whether you lose someone to death or distance, there is always going to be a grieving period until you figure out the new normal without the day to day of that presence in your life. When I left Robin in her driveway, we both knew that our friendship would stand the distance, simply because it was strong. And it has. Nearly 8 years later, she's still one of my go to girls for life advice. As is Charlene, nearly 17 years later, and a short but essential list of others I am fortunate enough to have for reference sake when I lose who I am. And I do tend to do that, I tend to reinvent or forget my own self when I am disoriented and settling for less than what was set out for me.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the marker of friendship that I had once mourned. I had spent the evening on the back deck with my friend, Deb, across the street. Drinking wine and talking family and work...she asked me to come back in the morning, she needed to talk about something when the kids were at school. So, the next morning, we both sent the kids off to school and she sent a text telling me that coffee was on so I threw on the day before's clothing and headed across the street, mug in hand, with bedhead and no makeup. I walked in the door, about to excuse my appearance, when I saw her. Fuzzy housecoat, hair back in a headband, no make up. No excuses necessary. We laughed about it and then we hit the deck. And we delved into a tough subject and we talked it through. And walking back to my place, an hour or so later, I realized, that here I was, back in a place where friendships aren't iron clad. They're pyjama clad.

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