Stories of Friendship: The ones who know our then and now

The past few Fridays have been devoted to Stories of Friendship as I aim to honor meaningful relationships in my life. You can read past stories here and here, as well as a guest post on the subject here. If you have a friend you’d like to honor with a story of friendship, e-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Last weekend our family took two days and headed west to Pittsburgh to hang out with some dear friends whose home is often a resting place for us as we travel from our home back to Illinois to visit family. Rarely do we get the chance to hang out for an extended time and always when we do, we find ourselves lingering and leaving later than we expected.

So today’s story of friendship is dedicated to this couple: Josh and Rachel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is them more than a decade ago, when the story of our friendship began. Before Phil and I were an “us,” Josh and Rachel were friends of ours. I met them at a weekend retreat for college-ish age students. It was a terrifying experience for me walking into it because all of these people had grown up with each other and I was an outsider. I’m an introvert anyway, so being an outsider compounds the problem. I could have slipped through unnoticed but Josh is one of the first people I remember taking the time to talk to me.

I remember sitting on a couch, fading into the background, and him jumping over the back of it and nearly knocking my head with his feet. Then it became a running joke, how Josh almost killed me at my first retreat. And Rachel, a talented musician and singer, welcomed my feeble attempts at guitar and singing after I’d barely learned how to play.

This couple has always been an encouragement to us. They have ties and roots in Illinois. They understand where we come from. They love Chicago as much as we do and Rock River Bible Camp holds a special place in their hearts as it does ours.

About the time we moved to east-central Pennsylvania, they moved to western Pennsylvania, and it’s been a blessing to have friends who know our experiences in the past and the present. Friends we can pick up with immediately and don’t have to explain our messy past lives to. Not much anyway.

We raid each other’s fridges when we’re staying. I dig through Rachel’s cupboards looking for coffee because I know she’ll have some. We look out for each other’s kids. We talk about life and books and ministry and artistic callings and balancing all of the things we love. Rachel’s dad officiated the marriage of Phil and me, so that’s practically family right there. And when we visited their current church on Sunday, people asked if we were Josh’s family. I wanted to say, “Yes! He’s our brother!” because some relationships feel like that.

Our friendship spans more than 10 years. That picture up there was then.

This is our now.

pa kidsSo much has changed in our years as friends. Multiple moves. Lots of kids. (I remember when all these kiddos were born and now they run and jump and talk and laugh and fight and wrestle and hug!) And our friendship has rolled with the changes.

We had a chance this weekend to take a group picture of the four of us while eating breakfast out (Josh arranged for a sitter to watch our crew of munchkins so the grown-ups could enjoy breakfast! Do you see why we’re friends?!) and I totally forgot! So, the picture of the kids will have to suffice.

I’m giving myself a few tears just thinking about these precious friends and how much they add to our lives.

It is rare to have a friend couple that has lived in the same two states as we have and had many of the same hopes, dreams and desires.

Our couches and guest rooms are always open to each other.

So are our lives.

I wish everyone could have a Josh and Rachel in their lives.

(Maybe you do! If so, tell me about them!)



Great ex-temptations

I’d love to tell you that week 2 was a great success, a triumphant victory, a jumpstart to the My Loss Their Gain campaign.

Not so.

I spent the week at Rock River Bible Camp, one of my favorite places on earth, counseling at a camp for high schoolers. I had the best of intentions to start the week, and actually, I didn’t do too bad. I skipped the chips at the first meal, chose a Rice Krispies treat over a brownie for dessert and ate a 100-calorie fudge bar during snack bar duty instead of one of the dozen or so candy bars that stared me in the face. The next day, I woke up early and ran a mile, then ate two bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios and some fruit for breakfast.

That’s when the week took a turn, both for the better and the worse. By breakfast, we’d lost power and as the day dragged on, it looked like we weren’t going to get it back anytime soon. The kitchen staff got creative with meals. We used buckets of river water to flush the toilets. We improvised chapel times to use the most daylight we could. By day’s end, we had enough generators to power some of the camp, but not all of it. So, we had showers, but no hot water. And no fans for sleeping at night.

It was a great experience for this challenge, in light (pun intended) of the electricity availability in Liberia, which I’ve heard is unpredictable at best. Some of the kids complained about the circumstances, which reminded me again of how little we know and think of the rest of the world.

While at camp, I also began reading “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger,” a book published the year I was born. Even though its statistics are outdated, its arguments, so far, are compelling. I was particularly struck by this quote from the book, especially on our day without electricity. It’s a quote from another book, “An Inquiry into the Human Prospect” by Robert Heilbroner.

“The world is like an immense train, in which a few passengers, mainly in the advanced capitalist world, ride in first-class coaches, in conditions of comfort unimaginable to the enormously greater numbers crammed into the cattle cars that make up the bulk of the train’s carriages.”

We should have been grateful that we had water, even if it was cold, and that our situation had a forseeable end.

No power meant the ice cream bars in the snack bar freezer were fair game, so we hawked them like a ballpark food vendor. I ate two ice cream bars myself. I’m not proud of that. Over the next couple of days, I ate dessert at both meals, something I had hoped to avoid. Camp food is delicious and abundant and I am sometimes weak.

Tuesday, our electricity was back. I avoided the nacho cheese on taco day and didn’t eat an afternoon snack, but the desserts were again part of my diet and I had popcorn that night.

Wednesday morning I ran 1.6 miles and skipped lunch because my family came to visit.

My notes for the rest of the week only get worse. Desserts, candy bars, second helpings of monkey bread, garlic bread and lasagna. Add to it all small amounts of sleep and massive amounts of coffee and I think, diet wise, this week was a total disaster. Since I’m not at home, I’m not going to weigh myself this week to see the damage because I like the scale to be a controlled factor.

Here’s what I learned, though:

The Bible says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” — 1 Corinthians 10:13.

I was faced with major temptation for food this week. God provided ways out, but I didn’t take them. I knew going in that I would be tempted to overeat, but I didn’t take steps to protect myself from it. I will have a better plan next time.

This week, I face similar challenges. When I’m not in control of the food that’s available for lunch or dinner, I have a hard time eating healthily and in proper portions. It’s also supposed to be scorching hot and I have a lot of places to be and things to do this week that probably won’t allow for much exercise.

I had hoped to give you hope that I’m starting on the right foot.

The journey continues.

Man of my dreams

Day 18. I dreamt about my husband today during a rare hour-long afternoon nap. I’m not sure the last time that happened — the dreaming of him, that is, not the napping. Sometimes when I dream about him, it’s of something bad happening to him. Today wasn’t like that. It was just a being together kind of dream.

Although I literally dreamt of him today, he also is figuratively the man of my dreams. Indulge me while I recollect. We have an anniversary coming up, and I like to remember how our relationship began, how I felt when he proposed, what it was like to marry him. A recent look at our wedding pictures helped the reminiscing process.

Phil and I were friends before we were a couple. The first time we were in a group together, he called me by name. I consider this the beginning of our story because it touched me. There’s something about hearing your name, at least there is for me. It’s a personal address. I was new to the group at the time and it made me feel acknowledged. When I tell him this, he just shrugs. He didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it’s forever burned in my mind.

We became friends through church activities and other social events. More and more I was drawn to him. Eventually our friendship grew to the point where I considered him to be one of my best friends and when he wasn’t around, something felt off or missing. He brought a certain energy to our group of friends, and he lit up my world. I guess I could say I was pining for him at this time.

We grew closer and closer as friends until finally, the day came when he put his arm around me while we watched “The Princess Bride,” already my favorite movie, now with added significance. I was giddy with joy but also fearful that maybe he made a mistake and the next day he was going to tell me he was sorry for leading me on. I didn’t sleep much that night, and when he said the next morning that we needed to talk, the fear and joy continued to mingle. When he clarified that he wanted to date me, my joy was more than I could contain, and he held my hand as we walked down the hill at Rock River Bible Camp.

For both of us, there was not much question that our relationship would end in marriage. With a friendship foundation firmly supporting us, and a love for the Lord binding us, we could see no other outcome. A year later, also at RRBC, he proposed, and I still smile thinking of how nervous he was, how he enlisted help to orchestrate a game that ended in a proposal, how I could hardly believe this was happening. I remember my friend Nikki commenting that I kept looking at my left hand, admiring the ring I had picked out but didn’t know he had bought.

Two years later, we were married. Looking at the pictures, I remember the joy. Everything wasn’t perfect that day, but it was the perfect day, if that makes sense. Although it was a jam-packed, emotional, somewhat overwhelming day, all I cared about was that at the end of the day, I would be Phil’s wife.

Almost three years have passed, hardly enough time for us to be tired of each other yet, but some marriages these days don’t last even that long. Mostly today I just miss his physical presence. We’ve had some great phone conversations, which hasn’t happened much, if at all, since he left the Army. And we’ve seen each other on Skype calls. But none of that is the same as being in the same room, sleeping in the same bed, riding in the same car.

Our separation time is ending soon, and I can hardly believe how fast it went. I still have much to learn about what it takes to make a relationship work and survive in less-than-ideal conditions, but with only a few days to go until I see my husband again, I’m grateful for the opportunity to re-appreciate him.

I can’t imagine being married to anyone else. He truly is a gift from God.