“Table for two,” we said in unison after a sidewalk bear hug and the jingle of the coffee shop door opening. We slid into our wire and wooden chairs beside the window on National Avenue and didn’t know where to begin. Good friends can pick up where they left off, but sometimes it takes a moment to find where they left off. “…So what have I missed?”
In the last ten years, Lizzie and I have gone from being friends to co-retreat leaders to neighbors and back to friends again, only now a thousand miles apart. Notably, she and her husband are front-and-center in perhaps my favorite photo of all time, sandwiched but still somehow dancing between gaggles of sweaty Marquette friends at their wedding. It comes up on my screensaver all the time, but that morning, like every other time I see them, I forgot to tell her how much joy it brings me.
“Kurt couldn’t make it, but he sends his best.” Too bad, I thought, and my mind flicked somehow to the time I crashed on their couch and woke to little kisses from their pup @marlofromwisco, every bit as hospitable and kind as his “parents.” Next time, Kurt. And your little dog, too.
Over eggs, rosemary potatoes, and some sort of cranberry-carrot juice cocktail, Lizzie beamed with a Saturday-morning joy as we swapped stories and recorded a “Happy wedding!” video for some others in our college gang. It was one of those times you try to pack three years of life into three hours of conversation.
Life isn’t all eggs, rosemary potatoes, and cocktails, though, and soon our stories got real as our plates got empty, all the sorts of trials and tribulations that haunt peoples’ late twenties. But her struggles were certainly not mine, mine not hers, our lives perhaps parallel but in totally different worlds. As best I could, I listened wide-eyed and head nodding but unknowing as she described the challenges of finding the right parish life, riding the professional tide, and weathering a $10,000 quote for first floor windows in a new/old house. $10,000!? A different life.
I watched her eyes as she went – they lost no light as she took me through some of the year’s greatest darknesses. Anxiety, worry, stress, fear.
“And you know, with the baby coming and all…”
I hope she didn’t see my face.
I knew she was pregnant. But sometimes, you know, people forget. Right?
Okay Sometimes I forget. I had no excuses, but suddenly the table for two became a table for three, from Garrett and Lizzie to Garrett and Lizzie plus baby. With this “new” and game-changing detail, she finished her $10,000 windows story with the reason why her eyes kept so bright despite so much darkness in the stress, the anxiety, the fear of that day:
The evening after the frighteningly high window quote, she and Kurt attended a Lenten Bible study. As they sat with that residual anxiety from the thought of $10,000 windows, the Bible study began with prayer: “Jesus, help us to call to mind your presence, for you promised to be with us when two or more are gathered in your name…”
Her face lit up as if I too knew the punchline…
…but seeing that it (again) hit me much slower than it hit her, a big-hearted double-bearer of motherly grace, she explained, patiently but excitedly, her voice quickening but trying to remain steady, first at breakfast and then again, beautifully, in an email –
“Garrett, at that moment I realized that there are two of me—two of US—together in my very being at all times! God is always with me, that I know. And he tells us very specifically that when two or more are gathered in his name, there too is He. What an absolutely incredible gift that is for an expecting mother… a divine duty!”
The rest of our conversation rolled in awe, her stories each culminating in prayerful relief and peace as she tried and brilliantly succeeded, again and again, to name the miraculous grace of pregnancy, of bearing the presence of God, never alone but incarnating in one the minimum two needed to bring God anywhere. Some of my pregnant friends have told me that expectant mothers eat for two, but never had I heard – or felt – until this Saturday morning that perhaps they love for two as well.
Lizzie could have and would have written all of this better, but she and Kurt now literally have their hands full – with June Debra. There will be no more divine sneak-attacks, no more grace ambushes on clueless friends now. God is wide out in the open; I can’t wait to meet her.
The cover photo, from Flickr user Georges De Valkeneer, can be found here.