When I was in my 20s, I was a member of two singles groups in Greensboro. The first was at Westover Church, the second Christ Community. I first attended Westover Church when I was in my early 20s, made some of my best friends there, and then moved over to Christ Community ARP around my mid-20s, (where John Kimmons, whose parents were some of my adult friends when I was growing up, pastored) and I met some of the rest. Both groups intermingled as we introduced friends to friends, so the numbers just grew. Both groups were similar….full of fun people who loved God, loved people and knew the meaning of the word community. For a lot of us, who never seemed to have any money, we used each other for things like moving, painting, eating, and cheap entertainment. Sharing our lives and our meager stuff. Entertainment that included dollar movies, themed parties, ballgames, general hanging out in packs, and beach retreats Memorial Day and Labor Day (50 people + 1 house = fun chaos!). And encouraging each other. Lots of that. The kind of people who know you and still love you. The kind with whom you build lifelong bonds and great memories. Those you laugh with and cry with. Those who cheer you on for life.
Two of my friends during this time were Lou and Brenda. I had friendships with each, but those friendships didn’t really interconnect. I loved them both individually and cherished my time spent with both. When I had moved away from Greensboro and found out that they were dating, and then engaged, I was surprised (“when did that happen?”), but ecstatic. Had not been on my radar, but it seemed so right. They just fit.
With all of the moves I made over the next years, I was difficult to keep up with. Them too. At one time we all lived in Raleigh for a brief time….had dinner one night, a few phone calls with Brenda to catch up, but busy lives took over and contact was sparse. Then it was onto moving around again for all of us (me back to Statesville, them to Singapore and then back to Raleigh.)
Lou and I reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. Though Brenda was never a Facebook person (she always being someone who would prefer to look you in the eye), I felt that she was back in my life again, too. And it was on Facebook I found out about an incident that would forever change their lives. Brenda was driving a friend to chemotherapy (because she did things like that), and for some reason drove the wrong way on an exit ramp. The friend she was driving realized something was wrong, and told her to pull over so she could drive. Brenda pulled into the first place she could, got out of the car to move to the passenger seat, when she fell to the ground in a seizure. That was the beginning of the nightmare that eventually led to her death, in May 2010….the day before her 49th birthday.
My former roommate from those Greensboro years, Nancy, and I shared a lot around that time because we had a similar reaction…..it shook us to our core. We trust God, but to no longer have the opportunity to see Brenda again on this earth was a shock. Even those of us who hadn’t seen her in a long time. We grieved our loss. We grieved for our friend Lou….whose heart was broken and who had so quickly lost his helpmate. He was on our minds constantly and it was difficult to not be able to fix things for him. We grieved for their four children, who we knew would dearly miss the woman who was maternal even before she had babies, and for whom family was second only to serving God. It was a time of sadness.
From the first moments we heard of Brenda’s illness and then death, there were prayers. That God would care for Lou and the kids. That all of their needs would be met. That somehow out of all of this there would be great joy. We believed these prayers would be answered, even when it seemed like a difficult thing for God to do. We watched and we waited, and saw Lou’s heart heal little by little and life grown into a new normal for him.
Meanwhile, amongst that same group of single friends from the Greensboro years, was Amy. I didn’t know Amy quite as well as I did Lou and Brenda, but always liked her very much. Even though she is a Duke grad. She was smart and funny and had a great heart. While I had not kept up with her over the years, I found out later that she had married, adopted a couple of children (a cool story in itself), but then had also become widowed far too quickly. She was living in Arkansas…. seemingly far away.
But as God does things, Lou and Amy ran into each other. In the midst of each of their pain, they found the support of each other. People who share similar experiences, but also common faith. Sparks flew. And this weekend they were married. A lovely gift of joy to a couple of people who have been bruised by life. A new family of eight created.
On one of those singles beach retreats long, long ago that I remember sitting out in the sand with my Bible and finding a Psalm that has become one of my favorites. It’s weird that it struck me so strongly at that time, since there wasn’t much pain or difficulty in my life. Even then I didn’t quite understand why it meant so much. But it was one I memorized and has come to mind lately as I think of Lou and Amy, as it has during some other poignant parts of my life.
“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
LORD my God, I will praise you forever.” Psa 30:11-12 (NIV)
I believe in providence. I believe that God sends us what we need when we need it. I believe He directs our paths, and even between Arkansas and NC He can be the magnet that brings people together. (Even when they are State and Duke grads, who sometimes can be really hardheaded.) As I have said in the past, I try not to pray passively. So now, I get to acknowledge that God not only has answered these prayers, but He did it in such a sweet way. Once again, this wedding just seems right. He sent Lou another member of our family….plucked from that special group of people that bonded long ago.
Neither Lou or Amy are the silent types….and their overflowing hearts will be a beautiful thing to behold. I can’t wait to hear of the great things that will come out of the blending of their lives and their families. So yea God! Thanks again for a great picture of life, your way. Thank you for caring for my dear friend Lou in such a special way, and for your provision for Amy. Thank you for turning wailing into dancing.
As verse 5 of the passage above said “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Let us rejoice! I know that my friend Brenda sees the beauty in it….and in heaven is doing some dancing of her own. Because that is the type of soul she is.