Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sharing the Struggle

Work has been particularly grueling lately. I mean, it always moves at a fast pace, which suits me just fine, but in the last few weeks I feel like I'm hanging from the back of a bumper, white knuckled, driving way too fast down the freeway. One minute I'm screaming from sheer excitement. The next, I'm trying to keep the bugs from choking me along the way. It's a multi-tasking world, I know. But it is simply exhausting.

This is why I almost didn't go to a conference today. I was overwhelmed with the work in front of me. Although I really wanted to hear the lunch speaker, who I heard had a great story, it was my friend, Dulce, the conference organizer, that sealed the deal. I made a promise to be her helper during lunch. Did I mention that Dulce is a kind, giving soul, who radiates light and love? It's hard to let someone like that down no matter what kind of stress you're under.

Gracia Burnham, the speaker, had quite the story to tell. She and her pilot husband were Kansas-natives, who had been missionaries in the Philippines, when they were captured in 2001 by an Islamic group. For over a year, a whole year, Gracia and her husband were hostages and forced to witness unspeakable horrors in the jungle. Before being rescued, she was shot in the leg and her husband in the chest during a gun battle. He died in the jungle exactly one year and 11 days from when they were first taken. Gracia returned to her three children in Kansas.

She talked about all the prayers from back home that lifted them up in that year in the jungle. She talked about her captives, many young boys, and where they are today (a few even write her from prison). And Gracia spoke with great wisdom on forgiveness and God's power, but the tears came down in earnest for me when she reflected on why God chooses one path for one person and then quite another for the next.

"The strong one [Martin] died and the weak one [me] got to come home and tell the story, to carry on the mission," she said. Really hard to understand.

I don't understand much about life, but I know I was supposed to be in that room today. I needed to hear her story, her life-changing message. When I was given the job to pass out her book at the book-signing table, so she could stand up and hug people and write a message of hope on the inside page, I felt something shift inside me. It got filled suddenly with something better, though most days, the Lord knows, I feel so unworthy.

"God bless you, Heather," she writes on my page. No words come out, so I just hug her tight. It's not enough, I know, but I make a mental promise to pay it forward. Life is too short and precious to do otherwise.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Praying Mantis Club

I was in St. Louis this weekend for the wedding of my dear friend, Mary. She is one of the five founding members of the PMC, or Praying Mantis Club (pictured left, though Mary is absent because she's greeting her wedding guests). It's a group of girls that would get together every month, once upon a time when we all lived in Kansas City, and try a new adventure each time we gathered. Our only common thread at the beginning? Me.

It was a tentative gathering at first, as we tried to figure out our role in this group as only women do. We picked apples in Weston. We ate at new restaurants. We tried yoga in a room heated to over 100 degrees and, even though Rhonda passed out, the rest of us held our poses perfectly. We drank too much wine. We laughed really loud in public places. No ones asked us to leave, but they probably should have. We did pottery. We perfected our self-defense moves. We even made predictions on where we would end up in five or 10 years.

In the fun of it all, we gave ourselves a name, Praying Mantis Club. This came from our merriment (dark and sinister as it may be) at the role of the male praying mantis in the sex act. In order to even have sex, the female must first bite off his head and then he dies. For sex. Only a male of any species would die for sex, but only a female would bite off his head and then proceed to get it on with a headless male. Relationships are complex. We all agree on that.

All of us made it this weekend to Mary's wedding. It was a reunion of the sweetest, and even bitter sweetest, kind. I really miss my friends. These are unique women that grow stronger every year, but unfortunately it's without me being near. I'm not there for every story, or heartache, or miracle. I'm the faraway friend. Because I love these friends so much, I've even managed to block myself off from some new friendships where I live now. That may be the saddest part of the equation, I think.

Friendship is an amazing and complex thing. It's hard to understand why some groups work and others just fizzle away. Thank you, PMC, for all the memories and love. I was reminded how much I love you this weekend. It's time to move on. I know you'll understand.