by Beth J. Drechsel
I smiled at her. That was all. The next time I saw her she got in my face and loudly exclaimed, “Let’s be friends!” Honestly, I was a little weirded out. But I said, “Sure.”
As a new mommy who spent her days chasing toddlers, and later a mom wrangling teens, she came to my house once a week to pray with me. She shared juicy oranges from her trees and vine-ripened Cherokee Purple tomatoes from her box-garden. She gave me Cottage Living magazines and helped me decorate on a tight budget. We waited together in the school parking lot to pick up our kids and let those kids run off their energy at the playground before going home. At basketball games and band concerts we sat on the bleachers, confiding our frustrations over the son who still threw tantrums at age nine and the teenage daughter who had a fetish with tooth whitening. We cheered each other up, cheered each other on, and laughed until Dr. Pepper squirted from our noses. Then we came up for air, remembered where we were and cheered for our kids.
She welcomed me into her kitchen, teaching me how to ferment kombucha, can zucchini pickle relish, grind whole-wheat kernels and bake bread. She brought me brown speckled eggs from her backyard chickens. In the mornings we power-walked two miles through the neighborhood park or I went over to her house to do Zumba workouts with her. She met me at the library to critique my writing essays and discuss Harry Potter or Henri Nouwen. Every few weeks, she picked me up in her car for a girls’ day out. Often we went thrifting and stopped at a favorite restaurant for chicken pot pie, sometimes we went to a movie, and once we went to the zoo and petted stingrays.
In this later season of my life, she checks in on me through Facebook, her comments liberally peppered with emojis and LOLs. She commiserates with me about the aches and losses of aging, debates with me about politics and social change, posts video of her bliss-filled one-year-old grandson dancing to music blaring from the stereo. She shares photos of her crocheted afghan winning the “Best of Show” at the county fair, and helpful gardening links on how to get rid of the grasshoppers devouring my green beans. And always she’s modeled for me a simple life infused with joy.
I’ve learned a lot by being with her but also by watching her, especially how she handles adversity. I saw how hard it was for her to forgive her husband who was addicted to pornography and then divorced her. I saw how she sometimes skipped supper to make sure her kids had full bellies, and how she continually advocates for the daughter with special needs. I watched her gently care for her dad at the end of his life. I’ve seen her fight cancer in her body and chaos in her home, and then the gut-slamming agony when her son was beaten to death. Through it all, she keeps on keeping on. A few weeks ago she reminded me that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
She’s taught me to expect the presence of God, and to blend prayer and worship into the everyday. How to examine my life and live intentionally, aiming for honesty and transparency. She’s shown me how to take care of my body and not abuse it, and how to sacrificially love my husband and children. How to have healthy relational boundaries and how to ask forgiveness when I mess up in thought, word, or deed. She’s shown me how to be hospitable, generously sharing my time, talents and treasure.
She respects how I think, accepts the whys of my own mind and the yearnings of my own soul. She is not threatened by my opinions but urges me to seek for answers, to observe, and to listen with reflection. She’s challenged me to read widely and to write from my own voice. She shows me where to find truth, goodness and beauty.
She is my mom. She is my sister. She is my co-worker at the architectural firm, my fellow student at community college, a patient I met at the chiropractor’s office. She’s my cousin, my niece, my spiritual sister at church. She’s my next-door neighbor. Throughout the years, women like her have always been here for me. Some have stayed in my life since we first met. Others for only a short time. Some I’ve lost to death. But always there has been someone.
In and of herself, not one of these women has met all of my needs, but each has met some. Not one has taught me everything, but each has taught me something.
And not one is perfect. They are all like me, a fallible individual with both strengths and weaknesses. The thing that has made the difference in our relationship is that she has not treated me as a special project, but as a friend, humbly giving me the gift of authenticity and allowing me to give it in return. By welcoming me into her ordinary life, and making time for me with kindness and patience, she has had a part in my growth and transformation.
I’m often surprised at the individual who has an impact on me. She has sometimes been so like me that she’s my kindred spirit. But other times she is the woman with whom I have little in common, a woman whose background, experience or beliefs are so different than mine that I struggle to relate, a woman of the dissenting voice who confronts my worldview. And once it was a woman who initially intimidated and irritated me – the woman who invaded my comfortable personal space and demanded, “Let’s be friends.”
…a real friend sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
Beth Drechsel is a homemaker and gardener living in Flora Vista, New Mexico. She is happily married to her husband, Paul, and they have two adult sons. She finds joy in her simple life and in her relationships.