Fully known

“Are you gonna be okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, of course,” I said, confident in my answer. This was not my first bridal shower. I’ve been to a decade of them. And I’ve been to weddings. Last year, I went to eight of them. Eight weddings in one year. (Remember weddings? Before COVID?)

“I know these things can be hard,” my friend said, measuring my expression for sincerity. 

“Yeah, they used to be,” I admitted. “But it’s been a good year and God has been so faithful to me in everything, and I’m okay – really. I am so at peace with this rich, full life God has given me.” 

It wasn’t a lie, although I have had to explain the truth of it so many times recently I sometimes wonder. I can go to a wedding and dance my heart out and feel nothing but joy. I can look forward to bridal showers and baby showers and not feel that painful sting of disappointment that someone else has received a blessing I so dearly wanted. Do I occasionally loiter around the cake and coffee for a little extra emotional support? Absolutely.

But mostly I’m fine. 

“Alright then, can you carry in the Jelly Beans?” she asked.

I nodded. 

Dancing the night away with an old friend at the first of eight weddings I attended in 2019. PC: Jessica Castellano, jesscastephotography.com

Michelle and I had parked a few blocks away from the house that, in an hour or so, would be Grand Central Station for bridal buzz. I carried the box of candies and we hurried down the sidewalk in our nice dresses and pretty shoes, excited for what the afternoon would hold. 

I wasn’t officially part of the set-up committee, but I had spent the night at Michelle’s house and had therefore been drafted into the pre-party team. I didn’t know either of the ladies already at the house, plumping cushions and rearranging tables for the expected guests. Both women were sweet and earthy and incredibly welcoming. I love people like that. And they were both good huggers, which – even in those pre-COVID days – was a quality I appreciated. 

“Mary, if you’ll just strip these branches down and then place them around the tables for decoration, that would be so helpful,” said the hostess. 

Decorative branch placement is, I’ll admit, not something I feel qualified to do. Some women know how to put a room together – I am not one of them. 

“This is not my gifting,” I whispered to Michelle as I awkwardly tucked the branches around the salad bowls she was placing on a white tablecloth. 

My gifting, I think, is to keep the pot stirred enough that the comfort levels of my friends and family never quite settle. You know what they say: if you can’t be sanctified, you sanctify. 

Okay, I made that one up. But it feels true. 

“Hello everyone!” 

The bride’s sister waltzed into the room in a confectionarily sweet rush of positivity and smiles. Rachel is a cheerful saint. 

“I still have stuff in the car if anyone can help!” she said, her tone nearly as bright as her smile. I jumped on the chance to let someone else fix the boughs of whatever plant this was and followed her outside. 

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” Rachel said. It’s hard not to feel warm and loved when Rachel talks – she makes you feel like you’re the person she’s been waiting to see all day. She gave me a snug little squeeze. “I’m so glad you can help! How have you been?” 

In snippets, we tried to catch up, but eventually we both got pulled into the whirlwind of party set-up. The Jelly Beans found themselves in tiny bowls around the house, which was a gorgeous home that felt like a cross between a day spa and a log cabin. Someone had fixed my branches and the salad bowls were now accompanied by sandwich plates and platters for dips and dressings. Things had been elegantly draped, labeled and touched with a grace of forethought I most assuredly do not possess. 

And then we waited. 

With little left to do in the house, we found ourselves headed back outside to enjoy the sunshine of early March. I took a seat on the steps and Michelle and Rachel joined me on the beautiful brick stairway.

“Have you gotten any feedback for your article?” Rachel asked.

Ah, the article. That small work which has led me down a year-long quest to better understand and further engage the Christian community on the issue of singleness. At that time, I had only just posted the blog a few weeks before, and in it I laid out the case for greater introspection on the issue of singleness in the church. It was a strongly worded letter, as far as blogs go, and I had definitely received feedback. 

If you can’t be sanctified…

Writing it hadn’t been hard (though it came from some hard-earned experiential wisdom). It was the bevy of conversations which followed that had been difficult.

“I think people who are happily married felt a little attacked,” I said slowly, choosing my words delicately in the presence of these dear married friends of mine. “People who haven’t had to walk a long season of singleness or haven’t had to live through the effects of growing up in a community where marriage is valued the way it is don’t fully understand it when I say, ‘Marriage is not the source of joy’ because, for many of them, marriage certainly has been the primary channel from which God has poured joy into their lives. When I say, ‘marriage is being overvalued and it’s hurting our congregations,’ they don’t want to believe me.”

“But marriage is valuable,” said Michelle with a tender firmness. She and I had spent a lot of the previous night and this morning’s breakfast talking about singleness, marriage and women in the church. It had been productive and insightful. But that’s just Michelle all over: productive and insightful. 

“It is,” I agreed, feeling tired already. 

The more I have dug into this issue, the more I have realized how many people in the Christian community don’t understand that our words and actions can sometimes create a culture where marriage looks like the fulfillment of things that can only truly be found in a relationship with God, things like identity and purpose and worth. And things that are implicitly taught can be so hard to identify and uproot. At first, these conversations had been riveting – it is such a privilege to be able to engage hearts and minds – but I was beginning to feel small beneath them. 

“Marriage is such a blessing,” I said carefully, trying to measure my words again. “But it shouldn’t be valued above singleness – both are equally important callings of God to serve his kingdom, just in different ways.” 

Our hostess joined us on the steps and listened with a thoughtful expression right as I launched into my “life of purpose” spiel. It’s the one where I drag out Jeremiah 29:11 where God says “I know the plans that I have for you… Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a future and a hope.” And then I mention the verse in Ephesians where we are told God has prepared good works for us to do. This isn’t conditional, we aren’t promised a future and a hope and a purposeful life only if we find a spouse. No, this is a promise for all of God’s children, wherever they are on the road he has placed before their feet. 

And what a promise. 

I believe these words with my whole being but by that point, “the marriage idol” and the question of the identity and fullness of the single Christian felt like a worn out topic in my mouth. Some days I’m ready for a battle, and some days I just want to sit on the steps and eat Jelly Beans. For once, I wasn’t really feeling like being a pot-stirrer. 

I let Michelle take the reins of the conversation and Rachel gave me a look that gently seemed to ask, are you okay? 

Of course I’m okay. I have all these promises of God to keep me company.

The bride arrived with another wave of cheer. Like her sister, she is a calming fount – but where Rachel bubbles, her sister gently streams. 

Hugs were given, pictures were taken, conversation was had. Like most parties, the guests began to arrive slowly at first and then all at once. The quiet, beautiful home turned into a space bustling with laughter, smiles and the gentle hum of joy. 

If I learned anything from the eight weddings I attended last year, it’s to treasure the fellowship afforded at celebrations like this (and to always clock the cake table). Women from at least five different churches embraced and encouraged one another, enjoying each other’s company. Some I knew well, others I have simply seen as a constant backdrop to the church gatherings and events I have been to over the years. 

Trying to say hello to everyone was impossible. A few people were already tucked deep into conversations or were too far across the sea of faces to easily reach – like the girl I had recently met at a fellowship meeting, or the golden-haired mother of one of my friends, or the silver-crowned saint from a neighboring church… Life is too short to spend enough time with all the people in it.

After the obligatory consumption of sandwiches and salad (and Jelly Beans), we played bridal shower games. 

I am good at these. 

My competitive nature, combined with the number of showers I have attended in the last eighteen months, has made me a force to be reckoned with. Give me the toilet paper and I will make you a bridal masterpiece that could walk itself down a runway. (I’m also pretty good with gift bingo, but that wasn’t on the agenda at this particular gathering). 

“Time for the bridal quiz!” Rachel declared, her voice tinkling across the room like a chorus of little bells. With the bride snuggly in a rocker and a slew of girls gathered around her feet like packages about a Christmas tree, I found a corner in the back of the room by the hallway occupied only by a young woman and a bowl of candy. 

“Hey, how are you?” I whispered to her as I maneuvered closer to the bowl of sweets (the cake had not yet appeared, so I was making do with what was available and Jelly Beans are an eternal joy). 

She smiled at me with buttery blue eyes that made me feel warm to my soul and responded back in a whisper as someone tried to edge around me to get to the hallway bathroom. I never quite know where to stand for these things.

“I liked your blog post, by the way,” she whispered as the bridal quiz began in the living room. “I’d love to talk more about it.” 

She would be a good person, I thought – the epitome of a servant-hearted woman who has walked through the season of singleness with purpose and grace. I added her to a mental list of women interested in sharing their experiences, but I didn’t push the topic there – I was feeling a bit talked out on singleness and my hand was a little more emotionally attached to the Jelly Beans than I had expected it to be.

“We asked the groom some questions about the bride and she has to guess what his answers are,” Rachel was explaining to the enraptured room that was bursting with giggles. Leadership is one of Rachel’s giftings – she executes the role with the same grace some might use to place a decorative bough on a salad table.

“How are you doing?” the young woman in the corner asked me as Rachel continued the instructions, and I could see the same kind of concern in her eyes that had been in Michelle’s and Rachel’s earlier. It was that ‘are you okay?’ look I was beginning to know so well. I shrugged. 

“Just waiting for the cake,” I smiled. 

We both turned our attention to the game and laughed as our friend tried to figure out what her betrothed thought his best gift to her had been. What an interesting thing, I thought, to be known by someone. What must it be like to have someone who can read your mood at a glance or know just how you like your coffee or share the same favorite moments with you? 

And just then, unexpectedly and out of nowhere, a painful throb I thought I had long-conquered found its way into my chest. It’s an empty ache, the kind that longs to be filled by something. For all my talk of a purposeful life and my unresting march toward changing our perspective on singleness and marriage, I sometimes forget about the very real desire to be known by someone.

Are you gonna be okay? I asked myself as the ache spread from my chest toward my finger tips.

Unsure of my own answer, I left my friend in the corner and meandered into the kitchen, out of the line of sight of the quizzers, and found the coffee spread. 

“Hiding?” asked a voice behind me and I turned to see my friend’s golden-haired mother, a woman with a sweeping blonde mane and the world’s softest smile. I tried not to blush at getting caught avoiding the festivities, but I suppose some women just understand these things. 

“It’s quieter in here,” I said, pouring myself coffee. 

The hostess came over with a plate of lemon bars – the cake! – and she showered me with the gentlest look I have received in 2020. Gentle looks and good hugs must be among her giftings, for they certainly blessed me many times that day.

“Thank you,” I whispered before she disappeared to distribute the lemon bars to the other guests, leaving me and my friend’s mom alone in the kitchen. 

“I wanted to talk to you about your blog,” my friend’s mom said in a low voice. I sighed.

Her son is one of my dearest and oldest friends, thoughtful and kind and unusually intuitive – I suspect he gets a lot of that from the woman who was standing before me. I was talked out on singleness, and a lump in my throat had developed since the quiz game, but I wanted to hear what she had to say. I leaned in.

To my surprise, she didn’t say anything about singleness or marriage. She wanted to talk about what it meant to be a woman – that was it, just being a woman in the eyes of God. Who did God want us to be? What were we to him? How should that affect how we live our lives? 

It was a refreshing take on an old topic, and honestly, the real root of the conversation I’ve been trying to have with people. What does it mean to carry out man’s chief end? How do we glorify God and enjoy him forever? 

I felt somehow the answers there had a lot less to do with marriage and singleness than we typically ascribe. 

“It’s good to hear your perspective on it,” I told her as we sipped our coffee quietly in the kitchen. “I feel like I made a lot of people feel uncomfortable with my initial article and I’m trying to understand where everyone is coming from.”

In truth, this crusade I have found myself on to get the church community talking about our treatment of marriage and singleness is proving more complicated than I had anticipated. Not the least of reasons why is that I have begun to find people inspecting my own life to see if it matches the sentiments I espouse – if being single is such a good and godly calling, why are you still making spinster jokes and stuffing your face with Jelly Beans at bridal showers? It’s hard to convince people that I am content on the path of singleness when my heart still occasionally lurches at a hope unmet. It’s hard to explain that disappointment and joy can indwell the same moment, and that the promises of God provide a scaffolding for building ourselves up beneath the gravity of pain but they do not take the pain away. 

Convincing the church that God has a plan in calling his children to walk seasons or lifetimes of singleness is hard, but it’s not as hard as it can be trying to persuade my own heart. And that – that, dear friends – is why I wrote the blog in the first place, because I need help reminding my sinful heart that this life is not my own and God’s plans for me are good, even when I find myself lonely and hurting at a bridal shower.

We talked in hushed tones in the kitchen as the bride opened up her gifts and I watched from over a countertop with a longing eye – not for the gifts nor for the implied groom, but for the sisters at her feet. They knew her, too, perhaps better than her intended did – for now at least. 

Oh, to be known! To be loved! To be full! 

Like most parties, it ended slowly and then all at once. Michelle was tugging on my arm, ready to get home to continue her busy day as a wife and mother. I grabbed a couple of Jelly Beans for the road and followed her out the door. 

We drove back to her house where my car was parked and she gave me a squeeze. 

“You’re always welcome,” she said, and I know she means it. Hospitality must be one of her giftings, like some people are with decorative branches or gentle glances or cheerfully leading a group in organized fun.

I pulled out of her drive to begin my two-hour trek home as the sky erupted in a magmatic flow of color. The confidence and peace with which I had walked into this bridal shower had withered into doubt and disappointment.

“Am I gonna be okay?” I asked God, speaking out loud. 

No answer, obviously. 

For all my talk about the value of singleness and its place in the body of Christ, there was no denying that it can be a lonely road from time to time. 

“Is it too much to want to be known?” I asked God again. My words were lost in the blarrings of the radio I had cranked up to drown out the ringing in my chest. The sky melted further into burning reds and oranges, and I melted with it into my own burning worries and wants. 

My mind searched desperately for the promises I know God gives for comfort and hope in times like these. I knew they were there. Hadn’t I just this afternoon heralded the truth of God’s Word, all those pages of Scripture filled with the promise of purpose, redemption, peace, hope and joy?

All these things I know. They are etched onto my aching heart. But as much as I long for a life filled with purpose, I long to be known, too.

I let the road absorb my tears for a little while and then I turned down the radio. 

I thought of the girls at the foot of the bride. We can be known by anyone. How many of the women today had proven that to me – understanding when I might need a hug or a lemon bar or to hide in the kitchen – and how many of my friends would ace that bridal quiz? I am known.

Something in my mind clicked. 

Isn’t that a promise, too? Doesn’t the God who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, who hems us in behind in before, who knows each word on our tongues before it is spoken, who tests our anxious thoughts and leads us in the Way Everlasting – doesn’t he know us? Doesn’t he know us perfectly? 

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

Brushing tears from my face, I blinked up at a sky now green and gold with dusk. For all the fuss I make about people looking for things in marriage that only God can perfectly give, I had certainly called this one wrong today. The desire to be known in relationships and in marriage is natural, but it is only a glimpse of what it is like to be known by God. 

God knows who I am – he made me. He made someone who will latch onto a controversial issue and boil it down to its bones and then spoon-feed it to people until it is fully consumed. He also made me someone who cannot place a decorative branch to save my life.

And God knows what he made me for. He has paved my road with his own plans. It is cobbled with blessings, even if marriage has not yet been one of them, even if it never is. 

What a great God we have. And he did not do all these things because he knows me fully (though he does), but rather because these things are meant to help me better know him, that he might be glorified. And one day, I will know him fully, and I will enjoy him forever.

I smiled in the dark as tail lights from traffic turned my dashboard red. 

With a sigh, I realized I might need to keep stirring this pot a little longer. It may be an annoying gifting, but it’s the one I’ve got. I know I’m not the only Christian struggling on the road God has ordained. This Christian walk is a constant practice in trust and patience and faith. Rediscovering God in our low and lonely moments is a life-long process and all too often we look in the wrong places. But what better desire than to seek to understand who we are before him and what he expects of us, man or woman, married or single?

And if we seek him with all our hearts, he will be found – that’s his promise. That’s the second part of the verse from Jeremiah, so often overlooked. After God tells us he has plans for us, he promises that if we seek him he will be found by us. The real hope is not of plans and future blessings in this life, not the hope of marriage or of joy in singleness or of purpose in service. The hope is Christ, and we have him already.

I popped the last stolen Jelly Bean into my mouth and thought with a smile, just a few weeks till the wedding! I bet they’ll have cake and dancing. (There wasn’t because of COVID, but that was part of God’s sovereign plan, too.)

Evening stars blinked above my windshield and my pretty shoes lay on the passenger seat next to me.

What a rich, full life God has given us to live, and what a comfort to be known. 

Every step homeward

I’ve never minded coming home in the dark. I used to walk home all the time in Prague. The bus would roll up to our stop at the edge of the village and the doors would open with a loud sigh, leaving me on the stone sidewalk beneath bare tree limbs and bright stars. 

That short walk up the hill to the old home in whose attic I resided for two years was one of the best parts of my long days in Prague. There was contentment in putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that each one was taking me closer to somewhere I belonged. The peace and purpose that comes from simply walking the path before me was impervious to the influence of wherever I had been and whatever was waiting for me up ahead, good or bad. 

I don’t live in the moment as well anymore. 

Post-hat wedding shot. PC: @loveisradco on Instagram.

“Really?” I said to the large semi merging in front of me on a crowded Bay Area highway with not enough lanes. This was two summers ago and I was headed to a wedding.

On either side of me were cars backed up for miles. And they say LA traffic is bad. I had been stuck in Bay Area rush hour for two hours and as the time on my GPS readjusted again, I realized I might be cutting this wedding a little close. 

Leaving my sister’s house had been harder than I expected. Not that I wasn’t able to get ready early enough – in fact, she even took the kids outside so I could use the bathroom to primp without being interrupted a dozen times. 

But once my dress had been donned and my hair done up, I stood by the patio door and watched her and my niece and nephews soaking up the sunshine of late June on Berkeley’s greenest, most bee-occupied lawn. 

Deborah caught my eye and walked over with her three-week old – a bundle of pink wrapped in nylon hair bows bigger than her head. 

“You look nice, Mefs,” she said to me. 

“Thanks,” I said. “The outfit looks alright without the hat.”

This wedding invitation had asked guests to wear hats and fascinators and as I haven’t owned a fascinator since I lost the one I bought for the 3 a.m. live streaming of Kate Middleton’s wedding, I went with a hat. It was large and conspicuous and I wouldn’t have done it for anyone other than Lina. 

“The hat’s not so bad,” Deborah said as I tried to fit it over my heavily sprayed curls. She stepped inside into the kitchen and I followed her.

“Whose wedding is this, again?” she asked. 

“Lina,” I said, knowing a name wouldn’t help. “She was the one I met right before I left for Prague and then we were penpals.” 

“The same one you visit sometimes when you’re up here?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Her.”

My family hasn’t met the amazing, mousy miss Lina, whom I have always affectionately called “Dinky.” 

Deborah bounced the newest addition to our family on her hip while putzing around the counter, clearing up from our lunch. 

Ten years ago, all I wanted was this. I wanted a little home and a gaggle of kids and a person to live my life with. I think a lot of girls who grow up in the church want that. I think we want it naturally, but I also think we’re implicitly taught that marriage and kids is our purpose in life, our calling. So I’ve spent large periods of the last decade feeling like I haven’t arrived yet, like I’m on hold and, no matter how nice the “please hold” music sounds, all I really want is to talk to the person waiting on the other end of the line. 

(It should be noted that I never felt that way in Prague. Not for one second.)

And, in the face of not getting what was once my dearest hope and desire, my aim of late has been to figure out how to gracefully age out of one dream and into another without retaining any of the bitterness that so often accompanies disappointment. 

“You’ll be late if you don’t get started,” Deborah said. “Traffic up here is pretty bad.” 

It was hard to pull away. I hesitated one more moment, breathing in the quiet joy of her happy home, and then I grabbed my shoes and headed to the car. 

It took me the better part of three hours to get from Berkeley to San Juan Bautista, but driving my snazzy blue rental car into the tiny Northern Californian town was worth it. The main street was lined with old store fronts and antique facades. Off the main street were neighborhood lanes (I got lost down a couple) with “children at play” signs. The blooming gardens and the well-kept homes were evidence that people here cared about the life they were building. 

Suddenly, I felt very much like someone passing through – not just through the town, but through life. If I have a home or garden or roots of any kind, I couldn’t tell you what they are. 

A narrow street off the town center strip hailed me over with long-limbed oak trees and I parked. I was early, even after all the traffic, and the venue was a five minute walk away, according to my GPS. I took a deep breath and opened the door. 

Getting out of the car took considerable effort, given the hat, but I made it out and was immediately swept up by a strong breeze, the kind that knows where it’s going and pushes you out of the way in a hurry. 

One hand on my hat and the other firmly on my dress, a la Marilyn Monroe, I sauntered as conspicuously as one can up the quiet lane, past a man in a T-shirt and shorts who gave me a quizzical look, and then onto the main street. 

Time to find a drink. 

Now, I’m sure San Juan Bautista has some decent bars, but the closest one to the venue was a small, four-stool dive on the adjoining end of a Mexican restaurant. 

Three of the stools were already occupied by a few comfortably-dressed locals. My hat and I sat down in the fourth.

A very friendly bartender peered over the counter at me with a smile I thought I recognized and asked, “What can I get for you?”

I leaned in close and said in a low voice, “I’m about to go to a wedding and I have to wear this hat.”

He nodded with a grin and said, “I know what you need.” 

I don’t know what he ended up giving me – something with lemon and vodka – but it did the trick. Within fifteen minutes, I was chatting with the other patrons and making smalltalk with the bartender. 

“Joe,” he introduced himself, and suddenly I realized I knew why he seemed so familiar. His godfatherly reach around the bar, his gentle tone with servers who came up asking for drink orders or buzzing with a question they couldn’t answer, his commanding presence behind the counter, his jolly and affirming interactions with any customer who approached him for a drink or a friendly word – these were all qualities possessed by a Joe of my own. Joe from the diner, our graveyard buser and personal diner coach, always ready to give a pep talk when things get harried at 2 a.m.

Joe helped me get my hands on some chips and guac until I finally worked up the courage to walk down the block to the venue, hat still perched conspicuously on my head.

It so happened that, as I was walking down the main street, Lina and her entourage were walking up it. 

My friend is a beautiful woman who shines from the inside out, glowing like stardust and exuding a cool and conquering spirit like she’s Disney’s most down-to-earth princess. She’s translucent, a fae in human form. Seeing her there, silhouetted by a dipping sun, backlit by golden rays, slightly windswept in flowing ripples of white and crowned with flowers, I nearly lost my breath. 

“I’m so glad you wore your hat,” she said emphatically to me as we brushed by each other.

I did this for you, babe

The venue was a patio garden, draped with lights and decked with all the trimmings of a millennial wedding – a chalkboard with seat assignments, a churro truck… You know, the basics.

Mentally counting hats among the other attendees, I found a seat and waited for the ceremony to begin. 

It was short and sweet, which was fine with me because I was hungry and the hat was giving me a headache. I only knew a handful of Lina’s friends, but one of them was also at my table. We were of comparable age and life stage, so there was enough to chat about as we awaited our fellow table mates. 

An L.A.-based writer in her late twenties or early thirties, a Los Vegas-based script and screenplay composer in her late twenties or early thirties, a self-made fitness coach in her late twenties or early thirties… The pattern became clear fairly quickly.

“This is not the Singles Table, is it,” I said. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement.

The Singles Table was clearly two down from us with all the younger women and single men. 

“Yeah, no. This is definitely the 30’s Table,” said one of the girls over her drink as we watched the other table. “We’re no longer single girls, ladies. We’re single women.” 

There was a moment of silence as we listened to the polite laughter and awkward giggling floating from the singles table – that necessary social grace required when sitting next to strangers at a wedding. 

We had had very little of that at our own table – most of us had dropped into deep conversation pretty quickly. Why are relationships so hard and why do we decide to stay or leave them? How much do you put on the line for a dream job that has small odds of ending in success? When do you throw away caution and when do you abide by it? What do you do when life gets lonely? And how the heck do you stick to a nutrition plan when you have roommates with terrible eating habits (”and what if you’re that roommate?” I asked).

Our laughter wasn’t awkward, and neither were the moments of vulnerability we all seemed to share so openly. 

We all agreed to take our hats off, and when some of the girls were ready to find the bar, I went with them. We came back with Dirty Shirleys and cosmos and something super pink. Our table was one of the last to be called for food and we had a good time joking about the wait. No one felt up for dancing until one of us did, and then we all went onto the floor together. We checked in on each other as the night rolled on, unfolding in merriment under crystal stars and warm breezes.

“How are your feet holding up? No shame in going barefoot if you need to, girl.”

“Hey, are you doing alright? Do you want company or would you rather have a minute alone?”

“Can I get you a lemonade, babe? I’m going that way now.”

“You wanna dance? I wanna dance. Let’s go.” 

It felt good to be cared for and to care for others.

The girl gang dancing the night away. PC: @loveisradco on Instagram.

At some point in the evening, we all shared our “So how did you meet Lina?” stories. Most of us met her through a friend. 

I met her in a parking lot. I was picking up campaign signs for my boss – a political guru during the 2012 election cycle – and she was riding around with her friend while her friend delivered the signs to various drop off points. The three of us had talked for a minute in the parking lot, made the exchange and gone our separate ways. 

Then I got a text from Lina saying, “Hey, got your number from my friend. You seem cool. Let’s hang out.”

That’s a paraphrase, but not much of one. 

She hounded me for several weeks and I eventually ran out of polite excuses not to see this stranger. So we met up at a coffee shop with another one of her friends and we worked on our laptops for a few hours… And that was it. We have been friends ever since. 

Eight years, dozens of international letters, a few baseball games, numerous cups of coffee and hundreds of deeply sincere and meaningful conversations later, I was here at her wedding. What a life we live. 

“I’m starting to think she did this on purpose,” said one of the girls at our table. “Like, she didn’t make a 30’s Table, you know? She just made a table with all of her friends and she wants us to meet because that’s what she does. She introduces women to other women and we all become deeper and stronger and better for it.” 

That sounded like our Lina. 

And it was nice attending a wedding and not worrying about whether I’d meet someone on the dance floor or in the cake line or in the seat next to mine at the table. Instead, I spent five hours with these incredible women – handpicked for me to meet by one of my best friends. They oozed cool and confident and carefree while being tender and sweet and strong. They made me proud to be a woman and they made me want to be a better one. 

How much time do I waste looking for a man to spend my life with and end up missing out on the women who have been there all along? 

Platonic relationships are so undervalued. 

I thought of Joe from the bar as I sipped on my last drink and he made me think of Joe from my diner in San Diego. Friendships abound all throughout life if you make the effort to look for them. I’m a lucky girl.

We all exchanged contact information and said our goodbyes in waves of retreat, each of us passing into the dark in due time to find our cars and our ways home. 

Keys in one hand, hat in the other, I found my blue rental beneath the spreading limbs of moody trees, each bathing peacefully in starlight and shadows. 

And then I drove home in the dark. 

The four hour commute in traffic was barely two hours long at midnight. And I thought about life the whole way home – how good it is to surround yourself with friends, how lucky I am to know the women I do and how sweet it is to have somewhere to go even if it’s just one step at a time, like a drive in the dark, a walk back from a bus stop on the edge of the forest, or a day in an ordinary life given to us by an extraordinary God. 

There is contentment in putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that each one is taking me closer to somewhere I belong, and that somewhere will not be here in this life. As sweet as it would be to have a blooming garden and a kitchen full of kids and someone to hang up their hat on my wall at the end of the day, all of those aspects of home are temporary. They will turn to dust in time, like the rest of the world. We do not belong here.

So I will keep my eyes on my heavenly home, knowing that every day is a step toward it, all while rejoicing in the journey and the friends that join me on it.