Leaning In

Her daughter was sitting in jail, off of her medications. My daughter was sitting in a body that was slowly trapping her. Both having difficulty understanding and finding ways to cope with the struggle, feeling the full weight of genetics we didn’t intend to pass on and maybe the difficulties brought on by having been born to too-young mamas.

During one conversation, my friend described her life as if she were a giant rock near the sea that had to endure the waves beating against her again and again and again. Day in, day out, wave after unforgiving wave. Baby at 16 with a man who left, a husband she spent years visiting in federal prison, double mastectomy, depression, miscarriages, her grown child in an out of trouble and now in jail facing a long term sentence.

We cried together. Prayed together. I tried to find the right words, comforting words, encouraging words, words that let her know I heard her and loved her and believed in her like she’d done for me so many times over the last 5 years. Like when the hormones from having baby number three revolted against me, and Dan and I spent months miscommunicating and misunderstanding each other and missing the mark in our marriage. I was a complete wreck with my young kids and she dropped everything to come be with me all morning and told me things like I was a good mom, and to leave the dishes for another day, and it will get better, just hold on. And she was right. She usually is. She’s a wise woman so when she talks I tend to listen intently and believe her. I need women like her in my life like I need air to breathe; to see all of my ugly and mess and instead of loving me in spite of it all, loving me in the middle of it all.

A week or so after our conversation we sent a few emails back and forth with songs and Bible verses that were meaningful and made our tender hearts ache. She concluded that in our struggles we are leaning into each other a little, holding each other up. I like that picture. One without the other would fall, but leaning in to each other we are like the roof of a house, allowing its occupants to watch the storm pass, safe under the rafters.

She and I originally met because our husbands work together. One benefit of this is once a year we get to attend the staff Christmas party together. I like doing these types of things with a good friend. It’s safer for me. This friend of mine knows I dislike crowds and small talk and I know she loves the energy and the plethora of people to learn about. At things like this she lets me hang close and intuitively pulls me into conversations so I don’t have to wander around offering smiles that hide my introversion, pretending to fit in. She’s a master at noticing and filling people’s needs, which is part of what makes her incredible.

Back at the party our hurting hearts put on our best smiles, made conversation with wonderful people, and ate great food. There was a BINGO/gift exchange game which started out quiet enough. She and I sat shoulder to shoulder making little jokes with each other. But both of us had been holding back so much for so long, and one chuckle led to a giggle, then an outburst and hysterical laughter and the dam that had previously held back all emotion burst and flooded for 2 SOLID HOURS.

We were obnoxious. So much so that Dan’s supervisor questioned my sobriety during his weekly meeting the following Monday. Truthfully, it was a fair assumption. The last time the waves hit me like they have in the past year, instead of leaning in I found the bottom of a bottle of tequila and lost the top of our stair case. Also, this may be a good time to mention that our husbands, my friend’s and mine, are on staff at a church. But the way I see it, his coworkers also work at a church so they HAVE to forgive us. Right? It’s in their job description. “Thou shalt forgive unruly spouses of staff members,” or something like that. I’m sure of it. Besides, what WOULD Jesus do?

Back to the Christmas party, at our church, with the church staff, and their church staff spouses and my friend and I letting go of 365 days of holding back. It all ended with us dressing up with items from the Lost and Found area and snapping pictures in front of what was intended to be a backdrop for family holiday pictures. Honestly, it is my most treasured picture of us. A picture of us laughing, hysterically and uncontrollably, until our faces hurt while the waves continued to beat against us. A picture of us leaning in.

Dear friend, when the waves are unrelenting and you feel like the next one might just drag you out to sea, lean in. When the pressure of your journey is unbearable, lean in. When it feels like you’re confronting your deepest fears and insecurities, that is the time to lean in. When the loss is too great or the sting of death stands at your doorstep, sweetheart please lean in. Leaning in may not stop the pain or the pressure, or the sting, but you may just find yourself in a flood of laughter in the midst of the waves.