The Bridge to Sally’s House

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…and a time to build up.”– The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:1,3 NAS)

“The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within- strength, courage, dignity.”– Ruby Dee.

If I weren’t so OCD, I could find my way to Sally’s house without checking the map. My house to Denver, then Denver to Orlando. After I get my rental car it’s less than an hour to the coast, bop over a couple of bridges, and before you know it, I’m home away from home.

I know better than to argue with her over where I’m going to sleep. “The kids have to get up early for school. You take my room so they don’t disturb you.” These aren’t kids anymore- they are working their way through college and living with Mom. I may catch a glimpse of them coming or going, but I don’t see much of them. Neither does she, but they are the reason she gets up every morning and goes to work.

Not this morning, though; she’s spending the day with me. She puts on a pot of coffee, lights her first cigarette, and with characteristic directness observes, “I suppose you want to go to the beach.” I just left Colorado in the dead of winter- what do you think? She lives one bridge away from the shoreline at Cocoa, another from the Kennedy Space Center. This perfect January day is warm and sunny, so we join the crowd over by the pier. The sand is hard-packed, perfect for a long walk; but we sit and watch the water. Her right foot is a little crippled from the car accident so long ago, courtesy of a less-than-sober boyfriend. Her mom snuck me into the ICU as family when her life hung in limbo. Passing as sisters was easy; watching her recover was hard. Thirty-five years since the accident and not a day without pain. But she knows I love to walk, and my late-middle-aged brain sometimes forgets how much it hurts her. She never forgets.

To say our friendship was made in Heaven would crack us all up- me, Sally, even Jesus. We were freewheeling teenage girls without a compass, working together at the local supermarket. Our parents evicted us simultaneously so we moved in together. In retrospect, I can scarcely believe we survived. We knew a little about taking care of ourselves, but nothing about boys or alcohol or the meaning of life. I could say the Seventies were a simpler time, but in reality we just acted like simpletons. For reasons known only to Him, God gave us each other so we wouldn’t get lost.

Our twenties and thirties were a jumble of growing up and moving on. Neither of us was a good bet for becoming a  responsible adult, but God had other plans. We each married and had two children. Both of us survived addiction recovery; she survived her husband’s, I survived my own. Both of us weathered the challenges of marriage as well as the crazy demands of parenthood. Sometimes we went years without talking just because the stresses of work and family drained us dry, but eventually the phone would ring and we’d pick up as if we had never left off. To sustain a friendship for almost forty years over two thousand miles seems like a miracle, but the real miracle was that we each found Jesus Christ. Neither of us could have survived our forties without Him.

We rolled into our fifties changed women. Sally was widowed nine years ago when Bob died of cancer; she called me with his diagnosis shortly after Catherine died. Whatever childish ways we held onto vanished in the face of death. I could only keep my sanity by surrendering my all to God; she could only take on the multiple roles of mother, father, and sole provider by praying for wisdom, courage, and provision. Our conversations took on a deeper tone because we lived on a deeper level. Suffering our grievous blows gave us a shared perspective; finding faith in Jesus gave us a common hope. While the folly of our youth still gives us a good laugh, our shared faith binds us as sisters. We have built a solid house of friendship that weathers the storms of life.

These days, I see her growing in beauty even as our bodies betray our age. The vanity of her youth has given way to self-sacrifice on behalf of her kids. She hasn’t bought herself new clothes in too many years, but her kids have a home and an opportunity for education. She spends her Saturdays limping along behind the lawnmower under the blazing Florida sun, working on her house and saving her money. Someday when we’re both flush we’ll take a vacation together, provided we live that long. But whether we do or don’t, I’ll find a way to get back to Sally’s house, my home away from home. It’s just a couple of bops over the bridge, from my house to Denver to Orlando.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”– Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

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