A few blog posts back I wrote about my experience of walking the “Camino de Santiago” (The Way of Saint James). However, I had left out the description of the three connecting plane flights and eight hour layover(s) it took to get there before even officially beginning the actual walking part of the almost 200 miles! My beginning flight in Denver, Colorado, continuing onto some other place in the states, eventually landing in Germany and then FINALLY – arriving in Spain! The great lesson learned and the experience with the travel time was probably equally as fruitful as the pilgrimage itself due in most part because of my traveling companion.
I owe so much gratitude to this person for all she has taught me and for sticking by my side through all my endeavors; to this day she is one of my best friends and truly the most loving, generous and loyal individual that I know. In all honesty I have never had a friendship quite like her’s; it reminds me of the good Saint Thomas Aquinas’ words,
There is nothing more to be prized on earth than true friendship.
Out of respect to this friend’s privacy, I will henceforth refer to her as “Jane”. She is that prize to be found on earth in a friend! Our friendship initially began strong, then it took an unexpected detour wherein we simply could not stand one another! But “providence” stepped in and made sure we both had the same flights to Spain, forcing us to spend time together during the combined three flights and lengthy layover(s)-time. The involuntary confinement actually saved our friendship; we had no choice but to face each other and talk since we definitely had plenty of time! Jane later told me that if God had not paired us together then she would most likely never have sought me out again! That feeling was mutual; we simply shared an equal dislike for one another. I realize now it was probably due to the fact that we are similar in so many ways, including our heartfelt emotions. Although she and I are both full of joy and humor, we love deeply so we also hurt deeply – it doesn’t take much to upset our sensitive natures. I remember dreading the long, tedious travel time and Jane actually admitted to a mutual friend of ours “Great, I am stuck with Jade all the way to Spain”!
Jane has been there for me through all the seasons of the past few years; sometimes I still find myself surprised at the friends who do indeed come and go and the friends God intends to keep through all the storms and sunsets. I have been firmly rooted in my Catholic faith since baptism as I am a “cradle Catholic”, but for a brief time in college (when I met Jane) I more or less got off-track. I never missed Mass or my daily devotions, but ironically I lost my identity for a solid year and a half trying so hard to discover it. During this time Our Lady placed Jane in my life; she met me right where I was at the time and took me under her sisterly wing. We started meeting for coffee on campus where we were sophomores at Colorado State University; I joined her all-girls Catholic bible study once a week and we even sang in the same Gregorian Chant choir for Sunday Mass. I didn’t know it then, but she was praying much for me to lead a more solidly Catholic life because even though I was starting to attend daily Mass and faithfully going to her weekly bible study, I was certainly not dating the right people. Something even then told me that only Christ and His Mother could satisfy my heart, but “whatever that meant” I had no idea at the time and I greatly avoided any “nun-talk”. In fact, I devoted a whole entry in my journal telling Jesus just what qualities and traits I wanted in a future husband….boy, I’m sure He had a great laugh!
Later when I wholeheartedly decided to break it off with the last man I ever dated and before one-hundred percent pursuing a life of celibacy, Jane told me she had been praying for me through it all – specifically that I would get out of that last relationship I had been in! She was my first example of a selfless friendship, a friend who’s sole purpose was to lead me to God and help me find my true identity at the time; hadn’t I been searching for that very thing? Little did I know, Our Lord was seeking me and it was through Jane. So what was it that had happened to cause such sudden dislike of each other? I honestly do not know the exact time, but it was some months later when we both found ourselves with a group of eighteen other missionaries to Rwanda, Africa – and we were not on speaking terms at that point. Although having being in Africa together for almost a full month’s time, there is not one single picture out of the hundreds taken of us together; I’m ashamed to admit that if we did speak of each other or to each other – it was never words of charity! After returning to the states we both stayed clear of each other’s company for another full year before our pilgrimage to Spain. We couldn’t necessarily avoid seeing each other as we were involved in all the same Catholic events, Mass and bible studies. I look back now and I realize Satan was threatened by our future, binding friendship and how much glory it would one day bring to God and Our Lady!
The devil was definitely at work in the cracks of our seemingly “doomed” friendship. We began deliberately competing and trying to outshine the other up with our singing talents (we laugh at this now). It was so much so that her now-husband (and also my good friend) sternly said to her in Africa “stop with the silly American Idol competitions” to which Jane replied “We are NOT competing”- he absolutely could see right through us! The reason I chose to call my dear friend “Jane” in this post is because of the characters Jane and Lizzie Bennett in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice (a novel we both share a special affinity for); they shared a healthy and special bond and that is what we have now after all these years. However, what led me to title this particular post “Another Martha and Mary Magdalene” is to show how these two saints (two sisters) played such a role for Jane and me in our friendship; even more since she feels like a sister to me as well and this all began on our flight from America to Spain. Jane is an excellent organized planner; I am the exact opposite. We still joke about this because I almost never know what I am doing! Our friendship and the experience we shared in our travels together revealed to me just how much Martha and Mary actually needed and complimented one another by their differences. Jane did not know it, but I was depending on her for everything to get us to Spain in one piece. Ever the pre-planner, she had booked the hostile we would be staying for our first night in Spain, she spoke Spanish and she had planned out everything months in advance.
I on the other hand, had received my flight reservations with Jane last minute when a mutual friend found a cheaper deal and I was given her flight; that in itself shows how much I do not plan ahead. I followed Jane around like a lost puppy and did the only thing I knew how to do – pray! I grasped my rosary (the sword as it were) like it was Mary’s Hand and continuously thanked Our Lady for Jane, praying earnestly in thanksgiving for this dear friend who sincerely was acting as my “guide”. Jane thought I was just being calm and collected while it took us a long time to find our place to stay for the night, but she couldn’t have been more wrong; I was constantly giving thanks to God for her companionship and it was humbling for me that the friend I once “competed with” was the very one who was clearly much wiser, smarter and far more organized than myself. I was ashamed; I saw now that clearly she had nothing to compete with. Although I now saw myself for what I really was, something beautiful happened – I accepted this reality. The fruit from this acceptance was finally being able to love Jane for the amazing soul that she is! What is so striking about this story is when we reached Santiago in Spain at the conclusion of our 200 mile walk. Our priest leading the pilgrimage asked all of us to go around the room and each choose three people among the group who had inspired us. I couldn’t believe it when Jane stood up and recommended ME! I can’t do her words justice but what she said touched me and moreover, very much surprised me!
In front of all the pilgrims we were with, Jane candidly talked of our traveling time together, comparing our obvious differences and how we both handled “getting lost” to that of Martha and Mary Magdalene. Little did I know it, but she said she had been depending on MY prayers to get us to where we needed to go; in a very beautiful way we were BOTH humbled. Even though I was aware of how much I needed her, she actually needed me, too. That was the truest of humbling experiences because to this day I still can’t understand how she could feel that way. Yet, we both realized how much we needed each other – AH, it was such a glorious moment and triumph! I think of that mysterious quote by an anonymous monk:
God restores more wondrously than He creates.
Our Lady restored our friendship and it actually looks better NOW – much more glorious than when it was first created. In a very real sense, if we had not gone through those hard times, we wouldn’t be as strong in our bond as we are now and wouldn’t have been able to see now the finished product of a stunning restoration! I think in that moment Jesus and Mary were so pleased with us for humbling ourselves and seeing that we were sisters all along. The greatest lesson I think I learned was that the very person I was afraid to show my weaknesses with is NOW the very friend and sister I do not feel compelled to hide my failings from, quite the opposite in fact. I know that it is just like in the beginning of our friendship when she pushed me to be the best I could be, but now it is simply better, we are stronger than ever before. Since having left Carmel in my pursuit of – ironically enough – the actual vocation of Mary Magdalene (an anchorite aka Carmelite Hermitess), Jane has been one of the first to support and understand me completely in why Our Lord is luring me into the “mountain of concealment”. So while Martha and Mary have their differences and specific roles, they are both still to be found at the foot of the cross next to the Mother of God ready to love and suffer for Christ. I have found that even on Calvary, I am in the BEST OF COMPANY!
Dearest Jane, I dedicate this post to you and your wonderful friendship, and for leading me into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Your letters these last few months have been my joy of going to the mail-box. Thank you for never loving by halves, but with your whole heart. You are one of my truest sisters in Mary- this is OUR year!