This week I was delighted and surprised to receive a lengthy letter from an old friend.  In it, she delved into the images and experiences that have defined her life as of late.  In some ways, her letter has been a spark, igniting the illusive fire of nostalgia.  I cannot help but linger in the past, recollecting the women with the memories we created that have formed me from my earliest of years.

To Jaime—a woman whose compassion for nature mirrored the great John Muir.  No matter the company we kept or the time that pressed, she insisted on stopping and offering a benediction for any injured animal.  Many a time can I remember bending in awkward prayer, amidst shouting kids and swaying trees, our hearts breaking for a fallen bird lying next to the concrete curb.  From her I learned how austerely beautiful an interruption can be, and that “not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father” (Matthew 10).

To Stephanie—a woman with whom I share a kindred soul.  This one time, at band camp… in all sincerity, one time at camp, a peer leaned over and asked me for a pen.  Searching through my collection, I chose the one I was least likely to miss—probably a black or blue Bic missing its cap.  In a swift rebuke, Stephanie leaned over and whispered to me in words that echoed Jesus:  “Be generous; give your best pens first.”  Who knew that a writing utensil could be so indicative of a heart?

To Dwana—a woman who has taught me one of my most memorable lessons.  One Sunday after church, we sat on some couches, chatting with our legs tucked under us.  I was not doing well, haunted perpetually by some spiritual ghosts that I could not shake.  And that was not who I was!  I was strong, immovable, fierce; I did not have weaknesses that I could not eventually overcome.  “Dwana, I understand that there are valleys, but they should end… sometime, no?  But I feel like this one is never-ending.”  “Mary, be patient in your valley, give it time.  You don’t always have to be strong.”  Years later, these words—this memory—still arise like balm to sooth my soul.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12).

To Leigh—a woman who is never afraid of sublime transparency.  I still have cards from  years ago, cards in which Leigh left not one single white space empty; rather, each corner was filled with the confessions, delights, and mysteries of her heart.  Those cards were like the written manifestations of our friendship: our coffee conversations, sleepovers, shopping excursions, double dates and car rides never had a moment in which I could not witness her dismantling authenticity.  From her, I learned that an open heart is an inspiring gift.

To Ruth—a woman who has taught me more about God than I thought possible.  More than being my roommate (and the best one ever, sorry Dave), she revealed to me the complex balance necessary when viewing the Creator.  He is intimate, like a daddy; yet He is awesome, demanding reverence.  He wants our feeble prayers, words as precious as a child’s innocent laughter; yet He is beyond words, scoffing at our humanistic attempts to confine him in a mortal box.

To Tammy—a woman whom I have counted a best friend for 17 years.  From her, I have learned that true Divine relationship lies in mystery.  That if I worship a god I cannot question, then my god is too small.  Together as sojourners we have departed the deceivingly comfortable land of Certainty, climbed the mountains of Regret, forged the river of Americhristianity, parched in the deserts of Doubt, napped in the meadows of Surrender, and danced in forests of Ambiguity.  Though never arriving, we have relinquished the definition of arriving; together we relish the Unknown.

These are just a handful of women who have molded the shape of my soul.  There are more, who for the sake of time, I cannot pay tribute to in this moment.  I recognize that just as the current of a river shapes the rocks that contour it, the women I call old friends, new friends, or forever friends have indubitably changed my landscape.

And for that, I am forever in their debt…

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