Ash Wednesday came and went in my world without its typical markings. No breeze in the air. No warm sunshine. No scrumptious aromas. No reflective liturgy and no ashes on my forehead.
Like most of the great adventures I have embarked upon, this Lenten journey began whether I was ready or not. Like clockwork on Wednesday, my inner self called my name and demanded I begin this year’s quest by counting my blessings.
Two of the greatest blessings in my life are Tia and Debbie. One I met the weekend I came as a candidate to be one of her pastors. The other I met through our daughters before her family became a part of the church.
With both it was love at first sight. My success over the years with female friends was zero, so no one was more surprised than me when we bonded.
Tia invests herself vocationally as an academic principal for middle schoolers and Debbie as a dean of students for a liberal arts college. Tia has a boy and a girl. Debbie has two girls. Tia and Debbie both grew up in ministerial homes…one in the north and one in the south. Debbie is a bit older than I am and Tia a bit younger. Tia builds things and Debbie makes beautiful things.
I am the nontraditional one. I am the one who prefers wild finger nail polish and a hair color I was not born with. I am the one who brazenly challenges orthodoxy. I am the one who lacks homemaker skills and I am the one who is still trying to find herself vocationally after all these years.
These women “get me” even when I do not “get” myself. Having entered their lives as their pastor, I was not prepared for their friendship. Maybe it was their professionalism or maybe it was because they grew up in ministerial homes, but something inspired them to seek me out as more than “their pastor” … I was their friend.
In 2011 the season for being their pastor came to an end when my spouse took a job in a different state. I would like to say it was an amiable transition, but truth be told I fought the move. One day I will write it all down, but for now let’s just say my beloved friends pulled me through. They knew enough about grief and about me to realize that no matter how “adult” I was pretending to be when I exited the church system, I would crash and crash hard.
Unable to stop the crash, these blessings of mine walked with me. They listened and cried with me. They offered insight and thought-provoking questions. They let me grieve.
When the grief slid into depression they upped their game and intentionally connected with me in spite of the miles. Their love kept me afloat.
When I could not find a job, these friends of mine reminded me of my gifts and talents. They pushed me to try something new and not dwell in the past. They inspired me to dream again and boldly step into a new adventure. When I did find a job and it was something outside my wheel house, these women dared me to try.
As I fashion and form who I am in this season of my life, Tia and Debbie continue to inspire me. They ask bold questions and send me thought-provoking books. They encourage me to step out and not settle. They dare me to dream big and insist I boldly step into new adventures.
These women unashamedly remind me to be the one I am destined to be and not less than. They challenge my inappropriate self assessments and dare me to try new things. They invite me to question and to wrestle with my unrest. Our friendship bears witness to a love that keeps covenant.
Gratitude for a love that never gives up, never fails, seems to be the perfect starting marker of a Lenten quest.
These women and I do life together, challenging each other to continue to be formed and fashioned by the One who modeled what love is. In spite of the miles that separate us, we commune together and are real together. We laugh and cry, weep and celebrate.
What began as a relationship between congregants and their pastor has become something very precious to me. I am the minister I am because of Tia and Debbie. I am the mother I am because of Tia and Debbie. I am the disciple I am because of Tia and Debbie, my forever friends.
Rev. Katrina Stipe Brooks has served as a pastor, campus minister and youth pastor. Part of a clergy couple, she is also a mother to a daughter in Divinity School and a son in college.