This last weekend I met up with seven girls whom I’ve known since college. Back then we really were girls, but even fifteen years later I can’t bear to call us “women.” We hadn’t all been in the same room since 1999. From Friday to Sunday we lounged in our chairs by the fancy hotel pool, our chairs crammed together in an awkward non-pattern so we could hear one another better. This meant that some friends got a better line for the sun, and we usually let the serious sun-bathers have the best position. Often we’d swap chairs to get a drink or to join a separate conversation or borrow a magazine, but for 48 hours, we talked non-stop. It’s my husband’s nightmare, bless his heart.
On Friday night, we tread lightly. It started with the “How ARE you?” and “How are your kids?” Various relationships within the eight are closer or more distant, but few of us have been in close contact lately, and we had a lot to catch up on. I personally have kind of fallen off the face of the earth over the last few years. But these are the people I lived life with as I became an adult. I literally lived with several of them for years at a time. And I’m tempted to say they “knew” me so intimately, but really, they know me in the present tense. They know the core of who I am. Of course we all have changed and grown, but not enough to make it matter. They know great and horrible and quirky things about me that many people don’t. So it didn’t take long for the shallow questions to move to the deep questions. The brief, elusive answers gave way to the longer, real answers.
As we sat under the palm trees, or stayed way too long at a restaurant table, or crammed into one hotel room, we poured our hearts out to one another. In the late 90’s, when our lives all intersected the first time, life was blissful and full of potential. We were more or less innocent to the harsh realities of the world and our biggest concerns were whether to go to Disneyland for the afternoon or study for an exam. We communicated with one another either face to face or by leaving messages on a white board outside the dorm room. “Em! I’m in the caf! Come find me!”
But now, 15-ish years later, life is many things, but blissfully innocent and full of potential don’t seem to be a the top of the list. Between the 8 of us and our families, we shared seasons of death, depression, disease, addiction, dangerously ill children, unemployment, mental illness, hurting children, loss, broken marriages, cancer–virtually every brutal dish that life can serve up was represented in some way. We listened and wept, sitting there on those pool chairs, surrounded by wealthy and overly tanned senior citizens as well as vacationing families. Everything faded away as we caught up on 15 years of life.
But we also shared the best part of our lives. And we laughed. Oh my gosh, we laughed. Jokes that were funny then are still funny to us now. Ridiculous things we did as stupid 19-year-olds now seem even more hilarious to us. No one appreciates a subtle FRIENDS reference like these girls. In a way, being together brought out the careless hilariaty of our youth. Our lives are pretty serious, but falling back into old roles with these friends reminded me how amazing it is to laugh until you snort. Or pee. Actually, I never knew it was possible to pee your pants laughing until I lived with one of these girls in 1995.
On the plane ride back home, I felt tears spill onto my cheeks, and I wasn’t sure why. I was excited to see my family, but I couldn’t get the intense feelings of the weekend out of my heart. I was thinking of my friends’ hurts and joys, but also felt immensely filled and grateful. Eight women whose lives and personalities are SO different, whose experiences have propelled us eight different directions, and yet we are THE SAME. We are each trying to figure out how to be the best mom we can be to our kids, and figure out what it means to love our husbands the way they need. Each is fighting a unique battle, searching to find meaning in the chaos as well as the mundane. We’re trying to figure out our roles and our futures and what that looks like in our specific home. Sometimes we see God’s faithfulness searing out of the darkness, and sometimes we need a beloved friend to point out where His faithfulness is quietly sustaining a light. We’re letting go of the illusion of perfection and living in the glorious imperfection.
Being a grown up is tough. Marriage is hard work. Careers and ministry are complex. Parenting is sometimes heartbreaking. I left with the weight of carrying some of the burdens that they shared with me, but they also took some of my burden with them. Life is messy and complicated. But it is also magnificent. I never want to go through it alone. I’m so glad I don’t have to.