Stories of Friendship: The blessing I didn’t expect

Another Friday means another story of friendship, although I’m thinking this will be my last one for a while. Not because I’m out of friends to tell you about but because my blogging time might be less in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading along with these, and if you still want to join in, I’ll be happy to post one of your stories on an upcoming Friday. E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Phil and I hadn’t lived here long when I first met Carol. We were still settling in to our new residency in Pennsylvania, to Phil’s role as a seminary student, to my role as a stay-at-home mom when we attended some event at the seminary. I can’t tell you what it was or why we dragged our little family (we had a baby, for crying out loud) to this thing, but I clearly remember sitting at a table with Les and Carol, a pastoral couple in our denomination. (Side note: their last name is Cool, and they are so much cooler than even their name would suggest.)

I remember that I’d just picked up a little writing work for the seminary thanks to a connection with the school’s president, and I was totally proud of myself for still being able to write while taking care of a baby.

We sat at the table with Les and Carol, and they asked us good questions about who we were. I remember declaring myself a writer, and when Les informed me that Carol, too, was a writer, I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I had met few writers outside of the newspapers I worked for in Illinois, so I was a bit stunned to meet one at the same table and within our church’s denomination.

Like all my best friendships, I can’t explain what happened after that. I started attending a writers’ group in the area, which Carol was also a part of, and gradually we would make an effort to meet at Panera (or wherever, but mostly at Panera). We would talk writing and church and books and life.

When I gave my first ever workshop talk at this writers group, I asked Carol, a fabulous speaker, to critique me and give me pointers because I knew I could trust her assessment and take her advice. She has encouraged me as a writer, as a Christian, as a woman with a heart for ministry.

What is so unexpected about this friendship is that, by age, Carol could be my mother. I’ve not had a problem over the years making friends of all ages, but it still surprises me sometimes to find such a good friend of another generation. (That’s a challenge to me, too, to make friends of a younger age.)

When our marriage was on the brink and we were trying to sort out the next steps, Carol and Les talked us through our options, prayed with and for us, and encouraged us to keep on the course God had set for us, even if it was different. Anything I’ve ever told Carol has been met with compassion and understanding. Never judgment or condescension.

She’s the closest thing I have to a mentor, though we’ve never labeled our relationship that way.

When our family was struggling to make ends meet, Carol took me shopping at Costco to buy fruit, and they helped fill our freezer with meat. The year we couldn’t go home for Christmas, they opened their home to us for dinner and games.

She is a passionate advocate for justice who challenges me to make better decisions about where and how I give money and time. (She talks about that on her blog, how ordinary people can make a difference in the world.)

Ultimately, Carol is one of those people I can’t imagine my life without. Had we never moved to Pennsylvania, we never would have met, and my life would be missing something.

(Plus she’s a redhead, which helps me understand our daughter better!)

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