Today on the blog I'm sharing my story about a very special (yet unexpected) friendship.
This story was recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls.
That night as I cleared the dinner table, a rush of excitement hit me. I tossed the dishcloth toward the sink and raced to the computer. “I’ve gotta’ tell Grace!” I hollered back to my husband still standing by the sink.
I typed “Guess what!” on the email subject line. Then I paused, remembering when I first met Grace. It was an unexpected friendship, and it all began with an email.
Grace and I attended the same church for several years, but our paths never crossed. Why would they? I was a young mom; she was a grandmother. I sat in the balcony in case my fussy baby required a quick escape; she sat in the front row. My wardrobe included a handy burp cloth draped over my shoulder. She wore lovely scarves from Talbots. I couldn’t imagine what Grace and I might have in common – until the church newsletter.
As a full-time mom, the church newsletter satisfied my creative cravings. Each afternoon I tucked my babies in for naps and tiptoed to my office. Then I cranked up the baby monitor and escaped for a few hours, writing articles and designing page layouts. When the need for a new proofreader arose, the church secretary suggested I contact Grace.
I soon learned that Grace was a fabulous proofreader. But her knack for spotting a typo wasn’t the only quality I liked about her. When it came to encouraging others, Grace had a gift – and impeccable timing. I remember one morning, struggling to start an article after a sleepless night with a cranky baby.
I plopped into my chair and stared at the computer. My mind felt as blank as the screen. I knew I shouldn’t let my lack of sleep and raging hormones dictate my disposition, but I didn’t care. How did I ever think I could write? Looking for an excuse to procrastinate, I opened an email from Grace.
Hi Sheri! I just finished reading the final copy of the newsletter. Another great job! Thank you for all the time and thought you put into it. You are one special gal!
I smiled. Maybe Grace scrutinized the newsletter with a critical eye, but she always looked for the best in me.
In time, our email topics expanded beyond the newsletter. We chatted about marriage, realizing we both chose ambitious, professionally-driven men. We talked about motherhood. Grace offered a different perspective from friends my own age. She empathized with my struggles, but reminded me to enjoy every passing stage. We discussed our faith, our families – even our love of shopping. Then one day we realized we shared something else.
“Imagine that,” Grace smiled, “born on the same day, only three decades apart. We should meet for lunch!”
Over the years, our birthday lunches became a tradition. We kept them simple; just getting together and exchanging cards. Except one year when I couldn’t resist a little surprise.
I stepped inside Applebee’s, scanning the busy lunch crowd. Grace waved from a table near the windows. As usual, she looked like a stylish grandmother in a ruffled cardigan and sparkly beaded necklace. I scooted into the booth, discretely placing a gift bag beside me.
“Happy birthday!” Grace reached into her leather handbag and gave me a pink envelope.
“Happy birthday.” I said, passing her gift over the table.
Grace raised an eyebrow and gave me a lighthearted “shame on you” look.
“It’s no big deal.” I fidgeted with my napkin. “I just saw it and thought of you.”
Grace drew back the tissue paper and uncovered a small stuffed teddy bear in a red cheerleading outfit.
“You’re always so encouraging to me,” I said, hoping my unexpected gift didn’t embarrass her. “You’re a great cheerleader.”
Grace’s blue eyes glistened as she propped the bear on the table. “Well these days I’m not sure I’ve got the energy to be a cheerleader.” She dabbed her eyes and laughed. “I can’t believe I’m seventy!”
“Me either.” I plunked my water glass on the table. “You certainly don’t act like you’re seventy. Aren’t you supposed to dress like an old lady and drive a white Buick?” I teased. “I wish I had your wardrobe, and you drive a red corvette for heaven’s sake!”
Grace knew I was teasing, but in some aspects I was serious. For years I had watched her, and I was impressed. It wasn’t the clothes she wore or the car she drove. It was her attitude. Even at seventy, Grace never stopped learning, never stopped growing and never stopped giving. She didn’t care for the spotlight, but was content connecting with people one-on-one in her own soft-spoken way. During a phase of life when she could easily focus on herself, she intentionally touched the lives of others.
That year I also began a new phase of life. After devoting ten years to full-time motherhood, my youngest started kindergarten. At first I felt lost. My days had revolved around three little girls for so long. Now what would I do?
I took my first small step out of my comfort zone and signed up for a writer’s conference. Then I finally worked up the nerve to tell someone besides my mom and husband about my aspirations to write. I told Grace.
“So … how was the conference?” Grace leaned forward, resting her elbows on the restaurant table.
“I loved it,” I said without hesitation.
Grace nodded as I rambled on.
“The speakers were excellent. They shared great tips for improving my writing, and I got to meet other women who also love to write and …” I stopped for a moment, hoping my enthusiastic chattering wasn’t disturbing the stuffy-looking businessmen at a nearby table. I took a deep breath and softened my voice. “I just felt like I was right where I was supposed to be.”
“That’s wonderful!” Grace said.
“I know, but me? A writer?” I said. “I’ve got nothing to say.”
Grace straightened in her chair. “Apparently God thinks you do.”
So when I learned that I would be published, I couldn’t wait to tell Grace. And when my article came out, I gave one to her. A few days later a group of ladies gathered around my dining room table.
“How exciting! What page is it on?” one lady asked, thumbing through the table of contents.
I thought for a moment, but Grace answered immediately.
“Page 241,” she said with a wink.
When I first attended our church, I sat in the balcony. Sometimes I’d watch the people below, pondering who might make a good friend. My eyes gravitated toward other young moms.
But I’ve learned the best qualities of a friend have nothing to do with age. A friend is someone you can trust and confide in. Someone who believes in you. Someone who cares about you – and you care about them.
From the balcony, it can be difficult to see the people below. I used to think a grandmother sat in the front row. Now I can see she’s a cheerleader – and she holds all the qualities I need in a friend.