Friends

Last night I found a note from a good friend in my e-box. Someone I’ve missed since she took another job halfway across the country 18 months ago. Someone with whom I had found common ground here in Santa Barbara, very soon after I arrived 10 years ago. I was so very green around the ears professionally. I had come to my first paying job since working as a personal assistant to a friend almost twenty years before. I was deeply frightened about expectations, both known and unknown, and about my ability (or inability, to be more accurate) to live up to them. The first day I drove up here, with my little Ford Escort loaded to the gills with supplies, my husband put me in the car with sobs and hugs, a rather unusual mode of farewell, to be sure!

We were both excited about the prospects of ‘being sent’ to a new place. (Yes, I know it was Santa Barbara – I’ve heard the sardonic comments about ‘somebody has to serve Jesus in Santa Barbara…’ too many times to count!) but it was a new place, a strange place and it certainly wasn’t a place that ‘felt’ like us. My husband sobbed for me because he had already been in the working world for a lot of years and he fully understood about expectations, about performance anxiety, about awkward personnel issues, about office politics, about hard decisions and about sacrificial labor. He wondered what I would find and he knew he couldn’t be with me for my first few days. His job required (and still requires) him to be in southern CA 3 days per week. My new job meant living in a guest house until we found a home, much of the time without him beside me. It was a strange feeling, after 30 years of marriage, to be without my partner for days at a time.

And I had left behind rich and deep friendships of many years in southern CA. Neighbors and small group partners and co-workers whom I loved. I had been a pastor for 3 years at this point, but I was working in the church where I had already been a lay leader for 21 years and my friendships there had come first. So coming to a new parish – without friends and, oddly, where no one knew me in the context of my family – was strange for me. This was a place where my new boss warned me against making friends within the congregation. I think he was trying to help me establish the same kind of boundaries he had worked on very well for a very long time. Even though he had a number of close associates of many years’ duration within the broader church community, he was careful to tell me that only his small group of male pastors, all of whom lived in other geographical areas, really knew him well. I have since learned that this is not atypical for pastors who are men.

So, I spent almost two years afraid to let anybody get too close, afraid to be my neurotic, vulnerable, broken self with the people I met and grew to know and love. And during those same two years, I was finding a house, moving into a house, trying to live in that house without my ‘stuff’ – our house in Altadena took 11 months to sell – and doing it all without my husband here from Tuesday to Thursday every single week. I was deeply and desperately lonely.

Then I went to lunch with Karen. She, too, was a midlife seminary student. She, too, had deep ties to her mom and family who were living elsewhere. She, too, wrestled with balance and friendships and all sorts of the same kinds of stuff that I was wrestling with. We met for meals about 3 times a semester while she taught in Santa Barbara and those meals helped me begin to feel real in my new home. Gradually, I was able to be more myself – with her, and with others. Gradually, I felt the freedom to be a pastor and a friend in my own way, following the leading of the Spirit and being true to the person God had made me to be. It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it.

So when I saw her name in my e-box, I was glad and grateful. It was sweet and good to hear from her – she is busy with her life and her family, and so am I. Hopefully, we can maintain some sort of contact, despite the distance and the pulls we each respond to, both personally and professionally. I know from painful personal experience that it is not easy to do that. Many of my friends from only 110 miles away are now Christmas letter friends only, and that is sometimes hard for me. But then, there are a few dear ones with whom I can instantly be deeply connected, even after many months of no contact, and for these ones, I thank God.

My BBC (Birthday Breakfast Club) from Pasadena – dear friends with whom I have maintained some semblance of relationship since the move north. These women were God’s gift to me for many years – four of them walked with me into the admissions office when I applied for seminary – and all of them encouraged my gifts and listened to my story with love and wisdom.

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