Several days before the twins turned one, I started making phone calls, having decided on an impromptu whopper of a birthday party. My mother was in town, and together we made large crock pots full of barbecued beef to accommodate the growing guest list. When I saw people at church the morning of the party, I continued my inviting, and that afternoon, our house would bustle and burst with the friends and friendships that had bloomed over the past year. When it finally came time to set those beautiful twin boys in their high chairs, sing, and cut the cake, I would blow out candles and heave a sigh of relief, having the strongest sense that together we’d made a difficult journey.
Yes, beautiful things grow in the desert. That year was probably one of the longest and hardest of my life. Audrey was six when the twins were born, Nathan four, Camille three. I can remember the crowd we made in the neonatal unit of the hospital where the twins made a short, routine stay since they had been born just slightly premature. In many respects, the older three had grown into some of their own capabilities by then, but that did not make it ever make it easy in the next year to leave the house. That winter was one of the coldest in recent memory, and for many months, the front door would open to another friend, blowing in a gust of wind, sometimes groceries, and most every night, dinner prepared by friends recent and old. I’d often shout to them from some remote part of the house, tethered as I was to a couch nursing two babies. People came and went; I rarely did.
Jeni was a regular visitor in that year of confinement: our friendship first began in the months before I gave birth to the twins. She reminded me recently of the sad picture I was towards the end of that pregnancy when, before it was finally diagnosed that my asthma was flaring up, I coughed violently day and night, sleeping in a chair and spending many a small group meeting with my face buried in a vaporizer. Jeni’s friendship was, best of all, easy, when most of life was not, me heaving around my belly swollen with two babies, nursing an aching back, and coughing frequently enough to cause serious issues of incontinence. Our friendship grew in the slowing I would learn to get used to: I remember how good it felt to sink my pregnant body into the corner of her leather couch and sit motionless for hours.
Yes, beautiful things grow in the desert.
And I can remember the first time Melissa came to my house, she and I still practical strangers as we stood staring over the two burrito babies, swaddled tightly and lying side by side in the same crib. She’d come to bring us dinner, a dinner that would last long in the memory of my children, ending as it did with hot fudge sundaes, sprinkles and M&Ms. When you want to win a child’s heart, bring a dinner that ends like that. And she did win all of our hearts, she and her newly adopted Beka, spending mornings with us and making it her regular tradition over the next year to bring lunch once a week. And in high Melissa style, it always ended with some forbidden treat to which we all looked forward. Melissa and I made our hard adjustments together in those months and years to follow: she to motherhood, me to my responsibility for five children. Our conversations, always interrupted, often tearful, would remind me how often friends are not made, but born.
I owe to Melissa many of the lessons of grace that would be mine in the years to come. All my hard driving of past years had come to a sudden halt, and Melissa would know a different Jen, a Jen tethered to the couch, having no movement of her hands and legs. She loved and treasured me and served me when I did nothing more spectacular that shout a hearty, “Come in! and watch her set a table for nine. Hers has been the Jesus love we all, I think, long for, love that feels so unbelievably steadfast and rock-solid, never depending on our ability to win it.
I owe to Jeni the four months of meals that blew in with the winter wind, she having taken charge to corral willing volunteers to serve our families as we adjusted to live as a family of seven. I owe to her the normalcy she gave our family as she chauffeured our children to and from school, to and from playdates, to and from music class when feeding, diapering, buckling and loading two babies in addition to three other children in order to drive anywhere felt like ascending Mt. Everest with a cartload of bricks tied around my waist. How many days do I remember her presence, easy and familiar (as new friends feel when they’re just right), she with her hands busy burping a baby, stirring the macaroni, setting the table?
Yes, beautiful things grow in deserts.
I remember all this, knowing that is next weekend Nathan and I will spend extended time with Jeni and her family (who have since moved to Austin) and Melissa, who will be joining us from Chicago. I am grateful for the gifts of their friendship, believing rightly that the God who is rich in mercy and lavish in love, never abandons us to our deserts but grows beautiful things there.