My mom had been gone for several weeks when Nick and I were drove back down to Northern California for his seminary classes. While he studied in town, I spent the days fifteen minutes outside of the city limits at my parent’s house. Their dream house.
It was a quiet house now. There were no chickens or goats in the backyard. No puppies crying in the laundry room. The horses were gone. The halls were quiet. My mom’s reading lamp was dark.
This particular night, my sisters were not there, my dad was not home, my husband was at school. In the solitude, I tucked my babies, 4 and 1, into their makeshift beds, read them bedtime stories, and turned out their lights.
Then I sat in the quiet and missed my mom. I happened to be sitting in the very seat that she always sat in. Her spot. The memories played before my mind like a movie. I relived it all. And I cried. Alone.
It was one of the loneliest, hardest nights.
The next day, one of my longest friends reached out. She’s one of those friends that will always be close no matter how long it’s been since we’ve spoken. If I ever get placed in an old folk’s home, I want her to be my roommate. We’ll laugh and play pranks until Jesus comes for us.
She invited me to a movie. I didn’t want to go to a movie. But I didn’t want to sit alone in my mom’s house, reliving her last moments. I was a caged animal ready to run. My husband agreed to stay home that night with the kids so I could get out of the house. When she pulled up in the driveway in her minivan, I practically ran out and jumped in.
I was immediately accosted by a horrendous smell. She turned to me with a huge smile.
“Sorry about the smell. The dog got sprayed by skunk and I had to drive him to the vet. He actually sat right there where you’re sitting.”
I burst into laughter.
“But I spritzed the car with orange body spray, so hopefully you wont stink.”
We were laughing so hard that we almost peed our pants before we were even out of the driveway. She retold the cautionary tale of the skunk, the dog, her 5 kids. My face hurt from smiling by the time we pulled into the movie theatre parking lot.
We purchased our tickets and took our seat. The movie was a comedic love story set in Italy. It seemed a safe enough pick for both of us. You see, this friend, she loved my mom too. Our mothers had been best friends. I may not have grown up with them, but it felt like it. As the movie started, we laughed. We ooed. We awed. We laughed some more.
And the smell of skunk grew stronger and stronger and stronger.
She leaned over and asked, “Do I smell?”
I nodded. “Do I?”
She began to laugh. “Yes. So bad.”
We giggled silent as tears streamed down our faces.
The movie continued. And merciful heavens, it smelled like an orange-covered skunk was strutting himself all over that movie theatre.
It appeared out of nowhere, like a thief. In the middle of this romantic comedy, the heroine found herself brushing her hair alone in her room. A grandmother figure appeared and asked the heroine, “Did you have a mother?” The heroine shook her head. The grandmother picked up the hair brush and began to brush the woman’s hair. And she cried. Tears rolled down the heroine’s cheeks as she was given a simple comfort, the brushing of hair, to fill in the missing spaces of what she would never have.
Of what I would never have again.
My heart burst right out of my chest and split into pieces. I struggled to breathe. My friend reached over and put her hand on the back of my head. She said nothing. Together, we sat there . . . loving my mother . . . missing my mother . . . feeling my pain together, feeling her pain. No words were necessary.
We laughed more. She drove me home in the skunk-filled car. She dropped me off like she had when we were teens . . . long before the marriages and kids and tragedies had existed. Just like the time when she and her 3 sisters and I piled into the little tiny coup, sharing seat belts and laps, and drove to the theatre enjoying our first parent-free outing. We watched Hope Floats and sat in the back of theatre balling our eyes out along with two old women in the front row.
“I’ll bring cookies and milk tomorrow,” she said, as she waved, and drove off.
And she did. She couldn’t stay to have them with me. But she drove up, hugged me, and said, “Love you, Kates.” She handed me a half gallon of milk and a container of oreos that I then went and shared with my little sisters.
It’s been almost six years . . . but I still remember that gesture.
A friend who offered what she had.
A skunk-filled van, a movie, cookies and milk.
Her presence, her laughter.
And it was everything.
I’ve often wondered if God orchestrated it all. If the dog and the skunk met in a divine appointment of heaven moving earth to save me from my pain.
Or maybe, she simply responded to His promptings.
Comfort has come to me in many forms through the years.
Homemade jam, banana bread, chicken soup.
Fresh cut sunflowers.
Cookies and milk.
A simple text.
A message on facebook.
A seat offered among friends at a recent Christmas Eve service. My daughter snuggled up in the lap of a friend, the same way she might snuggle up in my mom’s lap. If she could.
Flowers delivered every.single.year.
Little gestures that may have felt so small to the people who gave. . . little gestures that came straight from the hand of God into mine.
God is not asking us to wait until we have it all together.
Sometimes there’s not enough time to clean up life so that we can then help others.
We just have to do it.
And we may never know what one delicate, simple act will do. I don’t think my friend realizes how defining her rescue of me that night was.
It was nothing grand. She did what she could. And with 5 kids at home, perhaps it did take a lot for her to give.
But she gave.
We like to debate what it means to be the hands and feet of God. We want to know “who” and “how” and “really God?”
Meanwhile, someone is putting the keys in the ignition of their stinky van and driving to where they are needed.