The annual meeting of the religious denomination I am a member of falls in June each year, always coinciding with the birthday of a dear friend and mentor. For ten years we were roommates at the gathering and carved time from the schedule packed with meetings and worship services for dinner, or dessert to celebrate her birthday. Each year our celebration has included mutual church friends and a recounting of the ways our lives have been enriched by one another, even when we have lived miles apart and seen each other only once or twice a year.
This year neither my friend nor I held positions requiring us to attend the conference, and so I travelled to her house to spend an entire weekend. The two of us, free from other obligations, walked and hiked with her dogs. I read her stories from my creative thesis. We talked and talked, talked. We laughed at how a year or so after I met her and shared a room for the first time at a conference for spiritual leaders, my shyness cracked and I kept her up until two a.m., “talking her hind legs off,” as visions for the future of our church, and my life as a writer and the ministry I could craft took form and danced in my imagination.
This woman is bold and outspoken, vital and visionary, and for years I have felt that she has been walking the spiritual path a few steps ahead of me, modeling the challenges of risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking. Our walks haven’t been the same, but our commitments to growth and healing and moving forward allow us to celebrate rather than be threatened by our differences.
My dear friend has also been out of work this entire calendar year. I know other people who are struggling with unemployment, with mortgage payments they can’t meet, who fret, and rail, whose faith seems to have evaporated just when it is needed most. So I was a little concerned to step into my friend’s condo to find that she’d been selling her furniture, books, clothes, thinking it was a sign of discouragement, a nod to desperation. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Her downsizing was in fact detachment. A surrendering of her will and desires to a wide-open future that hadn’t (and still hasn’t) been revealed yet. She was letting go of things she didn’t need, of possessions that might encumber her, and expanding her job search from the San Francisco Bay area to encompass the entire country. She was prepared to let go of her condo, knowing she’d never be able to sell it for what she’d paid. And she was okay.
In fact, she was more than okay, she was beloved and she knew it. Months of unemployment had given her spaciousness for tending to important relationships and healing them, for self-care, and for committing to the spiritual practice of yoga, which in turn primed and prepared her for one of those rare liminal moments. She knew she was loved and precious, held and cared for by our creator, a feeling that flooded her with tears of joy and unbounded gratitude. This love and gratitude was unconditional and completely unrelated to her career path or credit score. This assurance would conquer her self-doubt, would sustain her when she struggled to pay bills, would remind her of her inherent worth, no matter where she lived, no matter how long it took to find another job.
I thought of how bold and brave my friend was, and how if I were in her place, I’d want to embody those qualities, too, but wasn’t sure I’d have it in me to be as secure and confident. I was blessed to hear her story, to know that she spoke with truth and wisdom, not only about herself, but a universal truth. We are loved. We are valued, even when we don’t see it, even when we don’t measure up according to the culture’s standards.
I knew I was being offered a gift that weekend, a glimpse of my dear friend always a few steps ahead of me on the path, shining a flashlight, inviting me to join her. I had no idea as I left her house that the very next day my husband and I would decide to take the next necessary steps into the unknown alongside her.