I saw her at a distance as I weaved through people scattered in the walkway, between the line at Starbucks and the restaurant. She was still wearing her coat, seated on the edge of an orange upholstered chair in the hotel lobby, head bent over the phone in her hand. Ten years since we hugged each other, she looked the same as I remembered in high school.
Our paths crossed intentionally in Houston while I was speaking at a conference. We shared a three hour breakfast, talking like we missed each other in church last week. It’s the sign of true friendship, when ten seconds after those initial greetings about the weather; you realize your thoughts remain kindred spirits despite the separation.
She told me she’s been reading my stories every time I post them here. Hi Karetha! It’s the magic of Facebook. I’m not giving up on the fairy dust that connects people, no matter how many times they change those algorithms, darn it.
We talked about mutual friends, our children and parents, the first time I sat with her in church and experienced the Holy Spirit, how the frozen remembrance of the size of houses in neighborhoods of our childhood small town is hilariously distorted.
“I remember how you loved to collect little boxes,” she remarked pushing her hands in a small square while smiling.
“Yes, I had boxes of boxes,” I laughed.
I still do it. I have a square miniature box with Paris in red letters on the top of the mail heap right this moment. I don’t know what to do with them but I save them because their smallness is somehow inviting. That simple recollection of endearment snagged on the doors my mind keeps opening since we visited.
Last week my community was in a furious frenzy about freezing temperatures, frantic about the potential lack of food, unable to frequent the places that serve french fries for lunch. Bread is the life raft for the potential end of the world, in case you didn’t know that already. We have bare shelves in grocery stores to prove it.
Before our small patch on the world froze up and threatened to shatter in a million pieces, I dropped H’s shirts off at the laundry. Never know when you might need a starched collar in the middle of a snowstorm, right?
The sullen Doonesbury behind the counter asked me, “How many?” straight up like he changed his methods with the weather report. He always counts, never makes eye contact, and hands me a yellow piece of paper with my husband’s name on it, like he’s doing me a favor. His question totally threw me off.
Walking back to my car, I passed a woman in a fur coat with glasses resting on the end of her nose, carrying a pile of laundry. Her fancy red car was running with the door wide open. I guess she was in a hurry to buy bread across the street. Only in a small town, I thought. That car would be gone in a skinny minute if this were New Jersey. (No offense to New Yorkers.)
I beat her to the store, helped the manager pack my groceries (I already had bread in my refrigerator in case you were wondering), and asked if they were closing early. Lines of people threaded into each aisle of products, adults and children holding armloads because the grocery carts were all in use. I thought no one should risk crossing an icy bridge after nightfall when the bread was already gone.
She told me several customers and co-workers offered their couches if she found herself stranded . Only in a small town, I thought.
Life is big like God’s Kingdom. But relationship is small town with Jesus. He knows your name and what you will say before you utter it. His couch is always available and bread never runs out despite circumstance.
When life feels overwhelming, remember that belonging isn’t about fitting in to the small boxes the world creates but accepting the small things shaping your one beautiful, big life.