stick with me
I've been reminded this week of a few of my favorite treasures.
One came to me 34 years ago when, fresh from my mother's divorce to my second father, I opened the door to our new apartment and stepped out onto the complex's playground. I know my heart was hurting. I'd said another goodbye, left a home in Arkansas I'd grown to love, and endured yet another upheaval--one in a long series. I was only ten.
The gift walked right up to me--that very first day--and took me in. "I'm Andy," he said. "Wanna play war?"
The thought had never crossed my mind, but I jumped at the offer of friendship. Our circle eventually included two others. We were the imposing team of "Bobby, Andy, Annie, and Shanny"--and no one messed with us. We claimed the field behind the complex and spent hours and hours perfecting war. We didn't fight each other; we fought invisible enemies. But we always won. I have vivid memories of arguing with Annie about which of us got to be hurt. "You were hurt yesterday, remember? You had a broken arm. I get to be hurt today."
Before long, we formed a "band," which meant that we spent long hours lip-synching to the Partridge Family. (Andy--who was then David Cassidy--went on to have a music ministry.) Most summer nights, Bobby would spend the night at Andy's--which was one floor down and kitty-corner from Annie's. I'd stay at her apartment, and the four of us would sleep out on our respective balconies. How the neighbors politely endured all that middle-of-the-night giggling and object-throwing, I don't know.
I haven't seen Bobby or Annie for many years, but Andy is still my friend. He emails me all the strangest and silliest stuff he can find. And now my gift has expanded. I so adore his wife, Patty, that even though they live another state away, we try to see each other as often as possible. And in a few weeks, she's coming up to lead worship for our women's retreat. I can't wait to hug her.
This week, I spent time with another gift--one I've enjoyed for 32 years. Stephanie came to me when I was twelve and living in yet another apartment complex. This time, I got to play Andy's role. I watched Stephanie, her mother and three siblings dragging boxes into the elevator and made an offer. "Wanna come over?" I asked. She did. And we were rarely ever apart after that.
She was a beautiful gift during a very turbulent time. In the period that we lived in that apartment complex, my mother would remarry and divorce again. Life was a perpetual question mark, but Stephanie was my haven. I could be serious with her, I could be goofy, I could be adventurous. One afternoon, just because it sounded interesting, we took our overall-covered selves down to the parking lot and rolled around in a giant mud puddle. We still laugh at the memory of our mothers' faces when they pulled up together after a shopping trip and found their preteen daughters covered with mud.
Yesterday, I met Stephanie in the Chuckwagon restaurant in Everett for a "quick" cup of coffee. She's up from Oregon to support her mother, who just had back surgery. We'd planned to meet for an hour; we stayed three. There was too much life to translate for one another. We talked about our particular challenges, our favorite memories, and the lessons God has brought through our latest trials. I was a mixture of sadness and gratitude when we hugged good bye--sadness that she was leaving, gratitude that I know her at all.
And then this morning, my 30 year-old gift wrote to me. "I've been trying to explain to a new friend how I came to love tea," Ken wrote. "See if this jogs your memory." He went on to explain to his friend about the state of mind he was in after a hard break-up in high school. And then he wrote this:
When I went home from Christmas break that year, I went by to see my old friend, Shannon. She was very aware of the state of my heart, and we also talked a fair amount about life and about love. But, she was also there for me, just as an escape and a place to be safe.
Early in the time of that break, Shannon asked me to take a day and go with her to the Market Spice Tea shop at the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. It's a magical place. The original Starbucks is there (after the back of the station wagon became too small). And so much else is there. I had to completely trust her, as I'd never been in downtown Seattle before. I was scared, but also enchanted. We wandered through bookstores, heard the fish market men barking out orders, shared a pomegranate, and absorbed the Market Spice Tea Shop.
l never forget walking into Market Spice for the first time. You are bombarded with a thousand different smells. Beyond teas and coffees, every spice imaginable (and many that are unimaginable) is sold in that store. An ancient building, with wood floors and earthy employees, the small little store was row after row of big glass jars of all types of treats.
Shannon and I found our way to the teas, and breathed. We each picked out a tea ball and a mug. And we picked up several little plastic bags to start putting our selections in. 1/4 pound of spearmint. 1/4 pound of Market Spice blend. 1/4 pound of this and 1/4 pound of that. It was such an adventure!
Now, you have to remember that, to this point in my young life, all I'd ever had as a cup of hot tea was Stash's spearmint tea. I knew that I was in for a wonderful treat. And I was right.
We left Market Spice that day in December, 1978, and drove back to Shannon's home. She put on the hot water and broke out the backgammon board. And we sampled. I'll never forget that evening. We played whoknowshowmany games of backgammon. We tried every tea that we had purchased that day. We talked and talked and talked.
And Shannon Southard (now Woodward) became one of the most treasured friends that I've ever had.
Ken lives in Raleigh with his wife and two daughters. Though we're thousands of miles apart, he keeps the friend-fires burning. He remembers my birthday. He remembers Dave and my anniversary. He sends me pens, and packs of notecards printed with his fantastic artwork, and sometimes, tea--all just because he wants to remind me that I have a friend on the other coast.
The world is tumultuous and fast-paced. Everything is quick-cooking, disposable, forgettable, replaceable. In this life, we don't hold on to anything for very long. How grateful I am, this morning, for my friends.