There are people in your life who with the character and conviction of their words teach you about grace. I have been blessed by many such wonderful mentors along the way. But the really spectacular encounters are with the people who cross our paths who just seem to so effortlessly be grace in flesh. Some of us are gifted to love without condition, forgive without cause, and be generous without means. I may be a preacher’s wife, but I often find myself with none of these things. But blessedly, I have a dear friend who is and by who she is spurs me on to try harder when it comes to all these things.
I don’t remember life before she was a part of it. We were more than school chums; we were wide-eyed child adventurers together in a world of our own making. The upstairs bedrooms and TV room of her old farmhouse were all the names of places we plucked off the globe, and we solved the mysteries and finished the missions fueled by Kraft dinner, biscuits, and uninhibited third grade imaginations.
In fifth grade, my family moved away for two years. I was torn apart. Despite a new friend to fill the void, it was a painful time. On the brink of adolescence is a hard time to lose your bearings and even though I was able to return, my friend found her open arms scoffed at by an angsty teenager, deeply suspicious of the value of anything other than “fitting in”, whatever that meant. I lost out. She lost out. Lost in my own difficulties, I didn’t realize what a difficult time it was for her as her world was crashing and how much she probably needed me in some of those high school years as I bounced around on the edge of the crowd never really giving her the time of day. And yet she never once mocked me, never once called me on my character or lack thereof, and never once treated me with anything other than kindness.
College came and again I went away. I learned better lessons this time. The course of events taught me humility, compassion, and ultimately what really matters. When I met my friend again, I knew I had to make it right. What could I say? I think I gave her a copy of a CD I liked and wrote a little note of bumbled apology. She could have unleashed ten years of pent up disgust. But she didn’t. She just again held out her open arms, unconditional as the November day I went home from grade school with her for her birthday dinner wearing my gym shorts because I had peed my pants being too timid to ask the teacher for a bathroom break. I’m sure if she had known she would have asked for me. She’s never been afraid of her voice the way I have of mine.
I think we ate dinner that night on her mom’s Old Country Roses dinnerware. As an adult, I started collecting Old Country Roses, and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized my love for certain country antiques and vintage collectibles comes from the many happy memories I have associated with the parts of my childhood at that farmhouse. Most of the Old Country Roses items I had were from department stores or discount housewares retailers, which were beautiful but with their history still to be made. Imagine my surprise two years ago, when I opened my Christmas present from my husband and it was twelve vintage OCR dinner plates! Not only did they come with a story, but they were part of my story. My friend’s mother was downsizing her collection and my husband had purchased some of it for me.
Since then, my husband has been filling out my collection from her collection. Not only that, but my dear friend has been known to show up at “not coffee” (I’m tea, she’s hot chocolate) dates bearing little gifts. One such gift was the cake plate in the picture above which I absolutely think is one of my favourite pieces in my whole collection. I love this pattern not just because I find it pretty, or because it reminds me of simpler times in childhood, but because it confronts me with a friend’s embodiment of grace.
I’ve always been fairly good at writing what I feel, but not always so with speaking. One of the biggest ways I show the people I love how I feel is with food. I’m so glad that when I serve a nice dinner or bake a cake to share with those I treasure the most, my friend is there, not just in the reminder of the plates, but in my heart. We love because we have first been loved. For this, I am truly thankful.