It’s 7:30am and we’re just outside of Baton Rouge headed towards New Orleans. Ten of us are packed in a van on our way to New Smyrna Beach, FL for a week of vacation by way of Cafe Du Monde in Jackson Square. The anticipation of coffee and beignets is almost more than I can stand at this point.
Nancy, me, and our three kids are with Jon, Lauren, and their three. Jon and I are in the front, both a little bleary eyed from trading shifts driving all night. We left DFW at 11:30pm last night. I have that sick to your stomach feeling I used to get at lock-ins when I was a youth pastor. This is why I’m not a youth pastor any more.
Nancy and Lauren are on the bench behind. Lauren woke up about half an hour ago when we hit Baton Rouge traffic. She’s leaning against the side of the van now and gazing out the window at Louisiana flying by at 80 miles per hour. Nancy is still sleeping, contorted in a position certain to require a neck and shoulder massage later in the day.
On the two benches behind are various configurations of children. Teddy (seven) is watching a movie on my iPhone. The others, all teenagers or nearly teenagers are spread out in a mad pile of legs, arms, blankets and pillows. Lauren, Cara, and Anna in one pile. Noah, Roman and Teddy in another. Noah and Roman don’t seem too disturbed by Teddy’s early morning activities. Give them time.
I’ve known Jon since I was 14 years old, Lauren since I was 16, about the same time Nancy moved to Texas from New York and into my life. We grew up in church together, went our seperate ways for a season, and then life brought us back together again in our very early twenties. We’ve been good friends ever since.
You can’t replace the kind of history we’ve shared. Marriage, pregnancies, kids, moves, ministry, weeks, months, years, decades. We know each other’s stories. We tell some of the best ones over and over. No one else would get it. You had to be there. To them I’m not “Pastor” Alan. I’m just Alan. They’re comfortable to be with in a way difficult to put into words. Nancy and Lauren are like sisters. In some ways they are very different and yet they seem to go together in a way that brings out the best in both of them. I think they’re both more beautiful because of each other. Jon and I are alike in many ways but also very different. He can fix anything. He’s an outdoorsman and is about all things fishing and camping. I go along for the ride because I enjoy his company. Besides, he has all the gear. I admire him a lot.
No one tells a story like Jon. I’m certain that there will be at least ten moments in the next week where me, Nancy, and Lauren will be unable to breathe because we’re laughing so hard our ab muscles are completely locked up, tears coming down our face, hoping for some moment in the latest anecdote that will allow us to inhale once or twice.
Friendship is a precious thing. I’ve been blessed through the years with some amazing friendships, each unique and precious in its own way. I think friendship is like farming. It takes time to prepare the ground, plant the seed, and allow time to do what only time can do. But the harvest is worth it.