The drive across Washington State in midsummer is a feast for the senses. Actually, it is a literal feast too, if you do it right. It was not a conscious decision to acquire 80 pounds of peaches, nectarines, apricots and pluots today on my drive to visit my favorite and my best transplanted Southerners. But the Spirit led (that maybe should not be capitalized…) and I followed with sticky, juice-covered glee. There are verses about not quenching the Spirit, you know. Pretty sure I have the context right.
I couldn’t honestly tell you what the construction workers along Blewett Pass have been doing for the past twenty years or so, but I know that their busyness affords me extended opportunities to drink in the beauty. When I see the sign, “Road Work Ahead, Prepare for Long Delays”, my girlish heart skips a beat. I turn the music up, roll the windows down, and peer upwards. I am useless at naming trees (clarification: I am useless at knowing their technical names. I am great at naming them in the sense of, look kids, Isobel is sporting new leaves today! But I’ve been told that isn’t terribly helpful to the populous at large), so I cannot tell you what these towering pillars of strength are that wave and flutter their multi-colored leaves, pointing at the bright blue sky that God hung as their parlor wallpaper. But they captivate me. There always seems to be a breeze on this pass, sending the leaves into a speedy flutter, and midday summer breezes are the most gracious of all wind — they are hot without smothering, refreshing without a chill, and they carry with them the scents of dirt, of wildflowers and bees, of the sun itself. If you don’t think sunshine has a smell, you are not kissing enough farmers.
Huh. That came out funny. You should really only be kissing one… ideally the one whose socks you launder… alright, let me rephrase. If you don’t think sunshine has a smell, holler and I’ll loan you one of my husband’s dirty work shirts.
Not all of the sensory experiences of this drive are pleasant, however. Every rose has thorns and every hot car has sweaty thighs that stick to the seat. Don’t get me wrong — I am quite thankful for the Earl of Towcester and his aged leather seats. They are easy to clean when, as a purely hypothetical example, you reach through your coffee cup on a Sunday morning rather than successfully grasping the handle and flip the dratted thing full over, soaking said seats in a dark and caffeinated flood that Noah would have given a nod of somber respect. Entirely hypothetical, you understand. If those seats had been covered in ordinary cloth upholstery, they would have been awake for days. But as I attempted to pry my thighs loose on the drive home, trying to use the centrifugal force from a particularly sharp curve in the road to bring my own slightly less sharp curves to greater independence, the thought hit me with a loud slap (ok, in all fairness, the slap may have been a bit more thigh than idea) that getting stuck is an all too common experience…
In the 17+ years that the Beloved and I have been married (we actually had quite the ordeal last December trying to figure out how many years it had been. We were both absolutely convinced that it had been 18 — it felt like we lost a year when we finally stopped to do the math and the card he gave me on the morning of our anniversary read, “Happy 18th… 17th… 25th… aw, whatever.” Hallmark wishes it had this man on staff), we have moved 13 times. And we are not in the military or the witness protection program (wink, wink). It probably should go without saying that we have had a great deal of change in our relationships, in our friendships, in our communities. Yet for a thing that shouldn’t need saying, I can still find myself startled by the bittersweet, by the loss that is inherent to being alive. It isn’t really the moving that has caused the break in relationships that catches me in the chest, knocks the wind out of me. Sometimes it is an organic parting of the way, like the change that comes when people have children and you discover that you have very different priorities, standards and styles. Sometimes there is a break in fellowship — the words you can’t take back, the misunderstanding that went unaddressed and gave room for relational drift, the time they felt you were insensitive about their dog and a friendship of ten years becomes a strained “Merry Christmas” text (it’s true — I have a sad checkered past in this area. I am not much of an animal person, meaning chiefly that I think they are animals and not persons. Go ahead, get going on the hate mail. I love getting mail). Forgiveness is not the same thing as restoration, as trust.
We are to maintain peace, as much as it depends on us. But even supposing there is no lurking sin that has gone unrepented of, relationships end. Even the ones you could not imagine your life without, even the ones who were a defining feature of who you were in that season. There lies the rub, you know — God gives us seasons. Not every person you love is destined to stay by your side to the end, perhaps not even into the next season of your life.
As I chafed against the seat, I developed a more profound internal squirm as I thought through all the people I have desperately tried to restore the old friendship with, and how universally it has failed. For example, I have grieved the loss of my first friend and mentor as a young mom plunged deep into the world of raising special needs kids, this beautiful and gracious woman who would ride in the car with me for hours as I drove kids to hospitals, just to help me stay awake and sane. She was the first one to teach me, by example, that when you are in the depths of a trial and all you can see is darkness, your real friends do not offer you platitudes. They stand next to you and believe the promises of God for you until you are strong enough to take them on for yourself again. The break in relationship was entirely my sleep-deprived fault, and while she forgave me, the season of intimate friendship passed. I would hand over several digits to have it back. I cannot trace the story in every friendship that faded; that is perhaps even harder for me. What do the kids these days call it? Getting ghosted? Yes. It has happened more than once, and my soul aches over the loss.
The squirming deepens as I realize that part of why I have gone to such lengths to try and restore relationships from the past is because I fail to trust God. Am I honest enough to admit that I wonder if God’s best for me is past? That even though He filled my cup with true comradery and affection in the past, that He may make a current season of loneliness last forever? Can I admit that I liked what I had and that sometimes I pine for the past… that when it comes down to it, contentment does not come naturally? Can I further face unflinchingly the reality that God has ordered my days, my relationships, my emotions according to His good purposes that I do not need to work trying to recreate a window in time that He has closed, that He has gently but firmly moved my scrabbling fingers away from the window sash because I will never succeed in reopening it?
To remain stuck is to miss the next wonderful thing my Lord has for me — whether that wonderful thing be another friendship that feeds the soul or whether it be a season of being alone with Him, of learning to pour my heart out to Him, of finding purpose in being displaced.
Not to mention, it is really hard to reach your coffee cup…