Thanks to a dear friend’s initiative and a stellar husband’s acquiescence, I was granted a girls’ weekend to Chicago to celebrate my aging process. Flying into my favorite city, I realized that the longer I live elsewhere, the more that our living there becomes a memory. In the short visit, I was immediately reminded of all the things I loved. When my friends asked me to pick where to eat knowing my love for food, I honestly said it did not matter to me. I just wanted to be with them. Talk about changing as a person! The various spots they chose (Batter & Berries, Wasabi, Avec, & Urban Belly) happily treated my taste buds even if at times there was an hour wait for it. Chicago may have countless delicious eating options including numerous BYOB choices, but it also has a long wait if you cannot make reservations. Is there even a place with an hour wait in Albuquerque? Even if that were so, at least there would be warm sunshine instead of cold drizzle while you stood outside hoping to
win the lottery hear your party called.
I did choose one thing: afternoon tea at The Langham Hotel. The Langham was not around when we were Chicagoans but took over the bottom portion of the Mies van der Rohe building that formerly housed IBM. In a way, it was a belated celebration for two friends, one who finished her Ph.D. and and the other becoming an R.N. Knowing this, Joe, with whom I made the reservation, gave us complimentary champagne. When it comes to the best afternoon teas in the city, most people refer to The Drake and The Peninsula. This is a more hidden gem but equally delicious with impeccable service and a luxurious atmosphere.
Unfortunately I was only able to connect with a small handful of friends given the time constraints and lack of car, but those connections were so fulfilling. It is freeing to be with people whose love is unconditional. Some are so similar to you that all your filters can be completely and freely removed; others are so different that you know the power of that faith that binds you.
One night, my homegirls had dinner just like old times. It had been awhile since I had tears in my eyes from bellyaching laughter. In the same evening, the conversation that gave me the best abdominal workout ever also went real enough to have tears for other reasons. I appreciate friends who do not shy away from confrontation because they fear being uncomfortable or their desire to be liked is too strong. Rather, they love one another enough to say those hard words face-to-face. I personally think it is very rare, and I truly treasure those who will tell each other what they NEED to hear, not want they want to hear.
I loved being back at my Chicago church: hugging my former family of faith, seeing their growing children and new babies, and being deafened by my pastor shouting those words I may not want to hear but NEED to hear. (If you want to hear your kids say, “Mama, turn it down!” and be blessed, I suggest you watch his current series on the Ten Commandments here.)
What a difference two and a half years make! I was in the same exact church, singing the same exact song, crying the same exact ugly cry but feeling entirely different. Afterwards, when she could not help but notice my stoicism defeated by snot and tears, my dear friend asked, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?” She was precisely right. Last time I was in that scenario, I could not sing the words to “How He Loves” because I was weeping over my husband being robbed of the ability to see the beauty of those words. I wrote about it then here. I wasn’t crying just because of flashbacks to the trauma of that time. I was also crying because I could now see the undeniable truth of those words even in the midst of that most difficult time: HOW HE LOVES US. He loves us enough to do not what we (think we) want but what we truly NEED.
We were forced to leave the city we loved with all its yummy food, beautiful architecture, and our deeply rooted community while our family was facing its most difficult time. It was traumatic. I was reminded of all that we had lost. Yet here we are in the peaceful, scenic, perpetually sunny city of Albuquerque where we are deepening in our appreciation of ALL that we have gained.
The boys and I were talking about what they learned at church here while I was gone. Connor dutifully recited the lesson that sometimes God stretches us to make us stronger. We talked about what “stretching” means. Although Ethan knew that it could mean experiencing difficulty, he did not think it made him stronger. He talked about how being sick was so hard. As a result he feels scared and anxious about getting sick. He prays daily that God will keep him from throwing up again EVER. “Ethan,” I told him, “I notice that when we pray every night for our friends who are fighting cancer that you not only ask God to heal them, but lately you have also added that He keep them from throwing up and feeling so sick while they get their medicine. Your prayers have become stronger for them. You understand what it feels like to be so sick and your compassion for them has grown.” He nodded as his definition of strength expanded.
How He loves us enough to stretch us. Though it may be difficult to see in that moment or even after the moment has passed, I know that God is trustworthy and that His enormous love undergirds us in every sweet and difficult time of our lives.