My first memory and visual image of Jolene was of her sitting at the back of the church. It was late in August, and she was probably less than a month before she would give birth. Her eyes sparkled, fading out the rest of her face, as she sat listening to those around her. I know I wasn’t a fly on the wall that day, but somehow I don’t know where I was in relation to where she sat.
As time flew by, I would either see her with a little one in tow, or pregnant for her next one. First, there was Michael and then Nathan, then the girls Bethany, Emily, and Hailey. Strangely and somehow, I watched them growing up, knowing their names as if angels placed them in my mind. It had to be angels because I didn’t know Jolene. It never occurred to me if I thought she was nice or kind, funny and understanding, or even loving. Occasionally, I would hear a mention of Jolene’s name, but I only knew her as Lisa’s friend.
Friends were a sore point in my life. I had been burned by hopeful possibilities of friendships. Most women that I have sought friendships with( but not all) survive mainly on the surface, and the friendship subsisted mostly on what I initiated. I was tired of being an anomaly, of wanting a relationship that would go beyond the simplified banter of “How are you, I haven’t seen you in so long, What are you up to?”
Over two years ago, the parish bulletin advertised about a possibility of a Women’s Ministry. They were asking for a consensus of women to come and share their opinions. Grudgingly, I showed up. I had no faith in this kind of ministry working out in my parish. Call me cynical. but I didn’t see it happening, in fact, I was not interested in being involved in this type of ministry. Much to my surprise, Jolene, along with another woman was leading the meeting. Everything in me was screaming to leave, but I stayed long enough to write my contact info on the sign-up sheet.
About a week later, Jolene contacted me and she asked me to be a part of the Core team for the new Women’s Ministry. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why she had asked me, I mean, I knew there were tons of other women who would be better suited to making decisions required for a Women’s Ministry. I wasn’t so much as putting myself down as knowing my strengths and weakness; I couldn’t visually place myself on the team. It made no sense to me. I prayed but nothing came, kind of, as I was in the void. I liked being in the background where I could watch and listen. Later, I would allow my thought processes to guide me to making decisions and clarifying impressions.
Sitting in the back of the Martha’s car, the other women who leading the women’s ministry, I listened to Jolene and Martha chat. Again, I wondered if this was worth my time, and what was I doing with a bunch of women who normally go to the 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday.
We met in the backyard of another member of the core team. She had prepared a few snacks and drinks. For about two hours, the women discussed the elements that could be involved in the ministry. For the next two hours, I listened to each of the women share their ideas, and each time I was asked to share, I shook my head. I had nothing to share. It was as if God had spiritually cut my tongue, and all I could do was listen. As far as I was concerned, women in general talk too much.
I don’t remember what encouraged me to call Jolene, but I did, and we found out over time how much we had in common. We are both of a contemplative nature (spiritually) introverts, readers, etc.
After two years, Jolene and I both left the ministry, both through different circumstances, but I was well aware that the friendship we had started would change. All of a sudden being friends wasn’t as easy as it had been the first two years. We managed to connect but the old voices of dissent started to rush in. The first two years had been all grace, and now it seemed we had some work to do. I doubted if she wanted to be my friend, and I wondered if she wanted to hear from me. Seeing her busyness from being a homeschooling mom, I felt the familiar tug to disappear.
My anxiety drew me away, but my Spiritual Director gently reminded me that relationships take time, work and above all: love. I wasn’t well schooled in the areas of relationships and I was waiting for her to drift out of my life. In fact, for a while I expected it of her. Somewhere His grace still subsisted in giving me what I needed to do, which was to believe that maybe Jolene really did want a friendship with me. To give her a chance despite her heavy schedule, and be willing to take what she could give.
In the beginning, Jolene was a gift. I was able to trust her where I hadn’t trusted other ‘friends,’ and I knew that she understood, or simply gave me the gift of her listening. Most of my life, I just wanted a friend who I knew got me, and I didn’t feel that I could only share certain parts of me. Jolene far exceeds those qualities, and she remains the gift that the Lord desired to give me in the first place.