What made us friends in the long ago when we first met? Well, I think I know; the best in me and the best in you hailed each other because they knew that always and always since life began, our being friends was part of Gods plan. – George Webster Douglas
Today we are having a party for my friend Bev, who turns 50 in a few days. It’s a fun process to get ready. Buying gifts, choosing recipes for the supper and overhearing Bev’s anticipation and trepidation of the milestone has given me
pause for reflection on our friendship. She has certainly been one of God’s great blessings to me in the last almost 30 years.
I met Bev in my early twenties when we were both students at MBBC, Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Elmwood (now part of Canadian Mennonite University). MBBC was a formative place for a lot of us. Besides studying scripture and learning what the Christian life was all about, many of us at Watershed met lifelong friends there. Bev was from B.C. and I was from Winnipeg. We were in the same circle of friends and got married in the same summer. We were each other’s bridesmaids and shared important milestones together. Looking back on those years, it’s almost like we were kids together.
When I was in elementary school, I used to sing a round song:
“Make new friends, but keep the old,
one is silver and the other gold.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized more and more the wisdom of keeping old friends, who have known and supported each other through many life stages. Sometimes families, when they are healthy, can be good, old friends together.
Trouble is, sometimes “old friends” lose touch with each other for various reasons, but Bev has been one of those old and gold friends. Our lives changed in significant ways: we left our MBBC context, she divorced and remarried, our church folded and regrouped into what it is today. About 10 years into our friendship, it became clear that I hardly new Bev anymore.
It’s easy for friendships to dissolve and fade amid those kinds of changes. We would have lost our deeper friendship as well had it not been for the wise insight of Paul Patterson, our pastor and Bev’s second husband. He told us at an important juncture that we too could keep our friendship as long as we let go of the old ways we had related which didn’t make sense anymore. This happened 20 years ago now. It was difficult at the time because it felt like I was giving something away, but as I’ve discovered often in the years since, it’s often when we let old things die that the new has a chance to move in.
There was an important visit over coffee where we once tore up an old picture of us together, but made a commitment to continue to be friends. I kept those torn up pieces, wondering what would come in its place. In the years since, our “new/old” friendship has indeed morphed into something better than what we had. Bev’s remarriage had deepened her and I began to realize that she had my best interests at heart. With both our hearts desiring a meaningful life of faith, we kept talking and being formed together in our community’s Bible studies and so many hundreds of meaningful events.
Somehow, Bev is one of those friends who I feel sees to the heart of me, no matter what “warts” of mine are clouding the picture. Put another way, she sees me as I believe God sees me, loved above all else, and often tells me so in many ways. In the early days of Watershed, I wasn’t sure how I fit into this group of people. Many were (still are) more scholarly than I and different in temperament. When I confided my misgivings to Bev, she told me that she was sure I belonged. This small observation in the early 90‘s was a huge encouragement to me at the time, and helped me find my unique fit in Watershed.
I am often prone to depression and negative thinking, but with Bev, as with any soul friend, I can breathe easier and just be myself, knowing that she will graciously give me the benefit of the doubt and keep seeing God in me. She has also been caring enough to be honest and give me a loving “kick in the pants” when needed. She has always pointed me to who she knew I was at a deeper level and called me to become my best self. What greater gift can a friend give? I know I can count on her for advice, for a good laugh, to talk about our sons who grew up together and are still good friends or to borrow that proverbial cup of sugar.
As a teenager oh so long ago, I used to carry a poem in my pocket by George Elliot. I’ve been reflecting on this poem for this blog post as it seems to capture exactly what I mean.
“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.” – George Elliot
In Elliot’s poem, there is a “faithful hand” that takes and sifts all the chaff and grain of life, keeps what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness, blows the rest away. (God I love that poem.) For me, that faithful hand is God.
If we didn’t have the larger context of meaning that we do in our house church, I think our friendship would not be this way. Bev is this kind of friend not just to me but to everyone in our group. As we all steep ourselves in scripture and prayer and forging a life of faith together, the face of God begins to shine in each other. God has used Bev to stitch our community together in many ways, whether its through her amazing and generous baking and cooking, her watercolor art, her smiles and small kindnesses or her words of encouragement, wisdom and faith.
I am so thankful that I feel safe with another person in this way. In a world where so many are lonely, I see this as a golden treasure from God.
Happy 50th Birthday my dear friend. I love you.