Rejoice! (And Again I Say, Rejoice!)

This week has brought me news of profoundly beautiful things God is doing in the lives of two old friends of mine, a man and a woman who never met, who would appear to have nothing in common, and whose walks with their Lord and mine are undeniably different and yet indisputably alike.

While in Tucson, I saw Raymond (not his real name), who I’ve known since we were timid little first graders at Mary Lynn Elementary school on Tucson’s west side. This was the side of town markedly poorer than most of Tucson; my neighborhood was lower middle class and was about one-third Anglo and two-thirds Mexican-American, and Raymond’s was predominately Black and more economically disadvantaged than mine. He and I had every class together in elementary school except for 5th grade, and when we went to Junior High and High School, he got pulled into sports and I was drafted into the clique comprised of other flat-chested, stringy-haired smart girls who never dated. Still, we were friends, and I was sad that, as usually happens, our graduation in 1978 marked what both of us, had we given it any thought, would have assumed was a permanent absence in the other’s life.

So at my 20th-year high school reunion, I was shaken and saddened to hear that Ray was in prison for murder, and I committed to pray for him while he was serving his 17-year sentence. But I wanted him to know I was praying for him, and I despaired of finding him, in prison or out, ever again. Thank God for kids who know how to use the Internet. About this time last year, Jonah showed me how to find Ray’s contact information through the Department of Corrections website, and I wept when his picture came up. Cornrowed and smiling, this preacher’s son — his late father pastored a Church of God in Christ congregation in the small southeast Arizona town of Sahuarita for years — looked just like the guy we used to play kickball with. I wrote to him immediately, and he wrote back — letters that were fragrant with love for Christ and almost poetic in his kindness and concern for me and my life, family, and faith. His response to hearing of my 1981 conversion was Psalm-like in its praise of our Father, and when he was released in August, I dared to hope that we would meet up some day.

That wish was granted me last Thursday, when Jeff and I pulled up to his old house and my now-50-year-old friend embraced me and his new brother in Christ, and over linguine and seafood and vegan eggplant Parmesan, he met my sons and began a relationship with them and my husband as he and I renewed our friendship of — can it be? — nearly 45 years. He has a good job, a music ministry at his church, a solid connection with his brothers and mother, and a graciousness in his countenance that speaks not of a convenient jailhouse conversion, but a life renewed and restored by the same God, and very likely in much the same way, as mine. I’m humbled (that’s the word that keeps coming to mind) that we are friends again, and that my guys have a new brother in the Lord.

It’s a very good thing, indeed.

Today, I was reflecting on a dream I had a couple of nights ago, a dream that involved Vicki, my friend and Inter-Varsity Bible teacher and mentor in college, a dairy farm, cats, and jewelry. Discerning that dairy farms, kitties, and strands of pearls likely weren’t the point, I Googled Vicki. Our friendship ended abruptly over an issue 20 or more years ago, and I think the Lord was nudging me to ask her forgiveness. I knew she had been a reporter for the L.A. Times and an editor of the liberal magazine Common Cause, but I was overwhelmed with delight to find that she’s now ordained, a pastor in a Congregational Church back East.

Yeah, tears again. Vicki was and is one of the most gifted, prophetic, faithful and strong Christ-followers I’ve ever known, a woman only a couple of years older than I am who possesses wisdom beyond mere education and experience and kindness beyond measure. She was a friend to me unlike anyone I’d ever known before. But Vicki was sad very often, unsure of her place in the Church and troubled by the hypocrisy and apathy she saw in her sisters and brothers in Christ. Her Internet picture now shows a joy and security I had never really seen in her, and her testimony so clearly demonstrates the hand of God in her life that I was moved to try to reconcile with her. Not just to clear the slate, but in the hope of someday, if God wills, sharing the journey with her.

I hate it when God does this sort of thing, bringing someone to mind and giving me a glimpse of the Spirit’s work in their lives — only to sense the same Spirit’s gentle conviction that I have work to do. The more I read of her ordination and testimony, the more I was forced to examine the “why” of our having been out of touch for a quarter of a century, the reason, painful as it is, that I’m only just now learning this, and learning it from the Internet. The “why” is that I was self-absorbed and insensitive, and the Holy Spirit showed me that it was necessary to humble myself and acknowledge that I’d hurt her. In-person repentance is best, and the telephone is almost as good. But the former isn’t possible and the latter is too easily waved off by becoming suddenly very busy during the times Vicki’s most likely in her office. You know how it is; the reality of different time zones can conveniently screw up my intention to call her, and I could lay the blame on a three-hour time difference insignificant to my TV watching, but insurmountable when involving my having to acknowledge being a selfish clod.

So. I e-mailed first my plea for her forgiveness and then my congratulations on her ordination — with a desire to get back in touch, but a profound joy on her behalf affected not at all by her response. The wonder and delight is the enormity of our Lord’s faithfulness to Vicki and the beauty of her faithfulness to the call he placed in her heart. It would be nice if our friendship resumed. But what HAS happened is the point, not what might; there’s more than enough joy in my heart now.

Two old friends, both of whom left imprints on my heart years ago that bless me even today. Two lives touched by God, two pair of hands engaged in his work, and two hearts devoted to loving Jesus. The stories are different, the struggles diverse and the gifts and callings, disparate. But this last week brought them both together, woven in my life story, adding richness and depth to the tapestry of my life.

How in the world could I not shout it all from the electronic rooftops???!!!!

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