"Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?" CS Lewis
We returned home yesterday from a week spent with just such a circle of friends, around a fire very like ones I imagine Lewis speaking of. Each morning at my family's cabin on Whidbey Island, Beve and the professor, both of whom are extremely early risers, made a fire in the large fire circle where I've often sat, danced and laughed late at night with cousins, siblings, children, parents. A different time of day, but the marshmallows and sticks made their appearance, nevertheless (though I, uncertain breakfast eater that I am, was unable to manage one!), just about the time we sleeper/coffee-drinkers stumbled down the meadow to join the fire, and start the day with smoke curling above us, around us, sometimes following us. The smoke and conversation in equal measure, I should say.
But then we never seemed to lack for conversation. Not when the sun was covered with misty clouds, making that fire seem right and in order, not around our 'second breakfast' (a nod here to hobbits), since the 'smores were first, not in the kitchen as six capable adults moved in easy symphony to clean up a rather small space, not later in the day when we'd chosen an activity. There is always much to say, of course, when friends of 40+ years are together. Old stories we've heard a time or two, but sometimes only from our own spouse without the full truth that differing points of view can bring. New stories of how life has changed since last we sat or walked or ate together.
This year, our aged parents were present at our fire and table and lawn-chairs. Almost as present as if they'd pulled up their own chairs--for good or ill--along side us and plopped themselves down. Two of the three couples are in the middle of elderly care. Daily, never-ending, life-altering, life-ending (for them) elder care. And the third couple is barely out of it, with the death of a mother. It seemed this week that no matter what else we were talking about, it came back to those parents: to our care for them, our difficult relationships with them in the past and present, learning to love the unlovable in them. I suppose when we marry we imagine such days will come, but we don't actually realize what they will mean. And it's hard. I don't pretend otherwise. So there's a fellowship to how we're living life, across the state, across the country from each other. This is the age--mid-fifties--when the focus of our attention shifts away from the daily care of children to parents, and it's an odd, but reassuring, feeling to discover we aren't alone in it.
We also spoke, naturally, of jobs and spheres of influence. These are men Beve has known since he was ten years old. When they were in high school they, with seven or more other boys, were members of 'the Rock' club, complete with rules and regulations. This club was comprised of the Christian boys in our class who were determined to remain 'bachelors until [the] rapture.' Oddly, even though I went to high school with these boys and married one of them, this week was the first time I'd heard more than simple murmurings about it. I'd heard them call each other rocks, of course, had certainly known--first-hand!--that they didn't date girls more than once, but I sure didn't know about this club or the rules. Tells me volumes about how so many great young Christian boys that I might have liked to get to know a little better managed to elude even real friendship with girls. I'm not bitter or anything...really, I'm not. I'm just saying, it's nice to know it wasn't that they found us (the Christian girls in their class) singularly uninteresting, unattractive, un-everything, the way we thought they did.
Anyway, listening to these friends speak of their spheres of influence was a bit hard for the Beve. It's been a hard year for him. Losing his beloved sister, dealing with Grampie and Thyrza on a daily basis has made him feel like he was not very effective in his job. It takes a lot to make my very large, very confident Beve feel small, but that's close to how he was feeling. One of these men impacts countless students in classrooms, by mentoring them, in counseling, just walking with them at the beginning of their adult lives. The other's circle extends across the globe as he criss-crosses it monthly to check on this project in Australia, that one in Japan, another in London. And I get how Beve feels.
However, as we were talking about it on the drive home, I told him that it's not about how large one's circle of influence is, but how faithful one is in that circle. Is Beve faithful to what God has called him to do? Absolutely. God hasn't called him to an international corporate job. Never in a million years would that fit Beve's gifts and bents. Likewise, God hasn't called him to teach. Not at a college level, not even at at high school level. What Beve does, he does brilliantly. Faithfully. He plants his size 15s in the shoes of insecure 15-year-olds and walks around in their worlds with them. He sits along-side the marginalized--even in his own school--and allows them to feel safe and important. No, Beve might not get any more than a hearty handshake at the end of his years of service, but he is exactly where he's been called to be, faithfully doing his job.
And that, dear readers, is how one measures success. Not in the world's terms, but in the Kingdom's. We came home ready for our own bed (as always!), but so enriched by the time with these four other people. They make us laugh, made me cry (I was truly on the edge of tears all week...a completely unforeseen, unwanted thing, but then, my mother's dying, so I let it go), and made us plan our next vacation together: next summer in Jerusalem...er, New Jersey. And...thanking God for this life-long circle of friends.
"The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are." CS Lewis