Tucking her hair behind her ear, she leans against the counter and smiles. “It smells delicious.” For a moment we can be old friends trying out a new recipe together. It’s familiar. We’ve been breaking bread together for the better part of a decade. Cauliflower riced in the food-processor she taught me to use because she has the same model. Mixed with eggs from her chickens, because she’s thoughtful and gathered them before coming over. And probably too much cheese, because we’re both big on dairy. I flavor the mixture with herbs from a bottle that have been floating in my pantry for longer than they should. As much as I would love to be one of those culinary artisans, the kind that tends her own herbs, deftly waltzing around the kitchen with precision and grace, I’m not.
But she’s okay with that. She’s come to be content with whom I am.
As is the case, the faux pizza takes entirely too long to make because we chat while I cook. I keep losing my place in the recipe. We have an easy banter; a movement around each other that has been rhythmed into our sinew. Her hands chopping while I stir; mine breaking egg shells while she pours the wine. And weaving through all of it are our words, this river that has carved the deep places in our heats. We can read the other face, what’s behind it; and have learned how to draw out what is lurking, needing to be known. We know how to pick out the truth among the words scattered over boiling pots and stories spilled over the wine, chilled in the summer months and warm throughout the winter. We have come to know how to feed bellies and fill hearts.
Her generosity toward my attempt at this new recipe is a way of honoring who I am and what I need in this world. She is safe. She is daring. Safe because even her criticism is just the right blend of guidance and listening and try-again. Adventurous because she will try anything with me, go anywhere for me, dream everything with me, and continue to encourage me, with her Don’t-you-dare-quit speech, even when my heart is so weary that I can only cry into my plate.
And she is leaving.
Tonight we have forgone the formality of my small kitchen table, not because it’s covered with the abandoned dishes of our six-between-us children; rather, the comfort of the sofa and chair keep us as we wrap blankets about knees and thereupon balance plates. Tonight, between bites and sips, we are trying too hard. The veneer of smiles so thin it’s watery surface mocks. But neither one of us has yet the courage to dive below.
Holding her wine glass halfway to her lips, she sighs. “Our churches talk so much about love and we emphasize faith over everything. But I hear nothing about hope.”
We have been waiting for this summer for the past eight years. We strained toward it as we rocked each other’s babies and sprawled in our living room floors. We dreamt of school and what lay beyond as our little tables crowded with four, then eight, now twelve tiny hands that needed washing before the lunches were served. The afternoons in our small houses, when our miniature people napped, were filled with whispered theology. We spent many pouring over each other’s tentative attempts at putting pieces of ourselves on paper. All those years spent knowing each other.
Now, she’s leaving. So that it feels like I don’t know what to hope for anymore. Both our knees are scuffed from praying for this very blessing. This job. At this time.
As she talks of missing hope, this sister of my heart is teaching me, even as we face what we had never considered. In her careful and studied way, she is pacing me through the theology of hope. Sometimes, when I am bone weary and scared, hope is idea of the tangible necessities that will get me through. Other times, it is merely the opaque promise of plane tickets and then trying to imagine places I have never been.
This is the hope of Jesus. When He walked among humanity, He offered the immediate kind: the cure for diseases, the banishment of demons, the provision of food. He gave the hope of community to the outcast, love to the forgotten, and a way in for the outsiders. To those who walked closely with Him, those who knew Him in the day-to-day, He gave the hope of what’s to come. Though they didn’t understand it when He was with them; still, Jesus was their incomprehensible hope. Now, and in the time to come.
We each have the promise of this hope in Christ, this here-and-now alongside the not-yet of the future. And though, as my heart’s sister pointed out, we may not talk about it much in our churches, this hope lingers at our table. It is both in her smile as we laugh because I forgot to turn on the oven, and the eggs have abandoned the cauliflower; and in our scheming for girl get-a-ways that seem like fairy stories, as we hold each other’s gaze through eyes brimming tears.
It is this hope that tells me she will sup at my table again before loading into her minivan and driving so far away that it will feel like forever. And I will drink again from her good wine glasses before she packs them into boxes which I will close with tape and my tears.
For as Jesus’ physical absence shows us, there is hope to be had, even in the barren times. Hope that in the time to come, all will be restored and made whole again. Hope, that promises will be fulfilled.