Yes, I admit it. I unashamedly still affectionately call my very dearest friend, Mare Bear. If you met her, you’d know why right away. She exudes a teddy-bear-like warmth and comfort. She lives in a posture of listening, always leaning in.
We met at the very beginning of our freshman year at Taylor University, when we were part of the same “Probe Group” as part of our orientation. She was the daughter of an organic farmer, while I was raised by a corporate businessman. The day our dads dropped us off at school that first Fall semester, I remember them carrying on a long conversation over the din of enthusiastic freshman that filled the gymnasium. Soon thereafter, we became fast friends. My favorite memory of us a duo in college was winning first place in an air band competition for our rendition of “Love Is All Around Me.” I played the lead vocalist, but she stole the show as my sidekick on a banjo. Still makes me smile to think of it.
When you leave college, you never quite know who you’ll really keep in touch with over the years . . . who you’ll still call when the good, the bad, and the everything-in-between stuff happens. Mary has been one such friend for me, a touchstone of sorts, through the thick and thin and when the bottom all but fell out.
A few years ago, my family moved clear out to the west coast. What felt like a long-awaited adventure soon became a nightmare as my marriage to my high school sweetheart fell apart. Out of what seemed like nowhere, my life as I’d known it dissolved. There I was in Tacoma, Washington, far removed from the community I’d built through work and church over nearly a decade. Far away were my girlfriends, my pastor, my family. So it is with details like this that I can’t help but wonder about the divine order of things. For just 30 minutes away, my best friend, Mary, was living with her husband in the parsonage of a church he was serving as interim pastor while she attended graduate school in Seattle.
Over the weekend that followed the news that my marriage was over, I was suspended in despair . . . but I was not alone. Mary held me; she wept with me; she let me wander aimlessly around her house, feeling like I was waiting for a funeral. She made me breakfast and lunch and dinner. She was not just there. She was with me, in the heart-wrenching ache of that season of loss.
She gave me some of the best advice a friend can give when sinking to the lowest common denominator feels like a very viable and excusable option:
Do no more harm. Don’t add to your regrets. Always take the high road.
She is undoubtedly a big part of why I didn’t entirely lose my wits.
We had been so excited to live near each other, if not indefinitely, then at least for a season. No sooner had I made the difficult decision to return to my adult home in Maryland, and her husband was being sought out by a church in Arizona. And so it is that neither of us resides in the Pacific Northwest anymore.
Like great coffee, our lives are richest after we’ve been pressed. I am thankful I already knew I had a good friend. What I know now is that I had the best. I love you, Mary. Forty Days Til’ Forty, and this one’s for you!