I have shared time and time again how Bulgaria has formed the person I am today. It was the time where my faith was challenged and I was forced to decide if I really believed all these “stories” about Jesus I had grown up hearing about. I have expressed blessing upon blessing the Lord laid on my life as a result of that short trip 12 years ago. But I have yet to share one of the greatest, longest-lasting gifts from that trip. Her name is Sally.
I’ll start with a short excerpt from my Bulgaria journal from 12 years ago:
Sunday, June 24, 2001
Today we attended the First Baptist Church of Varna. Alisha, Eris and I were asked to sing. After that another group got up to sing and it didn’t take me long to figure out they were from England. After the service, we talked with them. It was great to be able to communicate with someone without a translator! ..There was a girl named Sally, and she was very nice. We began singing worship songs together….It is like I have known them my whole life, and we have been life-long friends. They are working in a town an hour and a half away in an orphanage….”
Friday, June 29, 2001–Free Day
This evening we went to the Sea Garden to meet up with the English mission team again. I talked to …Sally a lot and became pretty close with her. I can’t even explain the bond that seems to have formed with these guys. Sally is so sweet …and we seem to have to same view on so many things.
I came home from Bulgaria, settled back into normal life, but Sally and I stayed in contact through email. During the summer of 2003, Sally decided to come visit me in little ol’ Southern Illinois. (Somehow, her mother and my mother agreed to this!) She came for 2 weeks to stay with my family. I introduced her to all of my friends, and we laugh now because I tell her I was SO ready for her to go home that first trip. I was so jealous of how everyone wanted to talk and listen to her when I would take her out with my friends and family.
Fast forward to 2005: She came to visit again…yes, here in Southern Illinois. Andy and I had been married for one year. I was working my first week of my first teaching job, so Andy and I would work all day and come home to cram in fun with Sally. This trip included her first tubing experience, capsizing a canoe, getting pulled over 3 times (no tickets!), her 21st birthday and some great pizza delivery stories. This was a trip of celebrating the phase we were at in life together.
By 2007, Andy and I decided it was time we traveled to her neck of the woods–to the booming Brighton, England. We slept on the floor of her apartment, and had the best time of our lives. We explored Brighton and the sea, we went for a visit to her Uncle Frank and Auntie Lorna’s house in London, “visited” the queen, we ate curry, had coffee with the amazing song-writer Stuart Townsend and his wife Caroline in their home, jetted over to Paris for a few days, and visited her wonderful church. We continued to bind the cords of friendship, no longer acquaintances.
Shortly after this trip, Sally was called to Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada to help work with her church. She was on the same continent, but still far from being “close.” Five years flew by and Andy and I had 3 babies, diminishing the easy-going travel to see our dear friend. And then, in 2012, Sally endured a devastating and life-changing event…a season in which I learned more about the Lord and His faithfulness through her struggle than ever before. Shortly after this, we brought her into our home for a short visit with the hope to provide a momentary ease from life’s pain and a time to catch her breath. We cried together and we petitioned the Lord from my living room couch, crying out to the One who carries our burdens. We weren’t just friends anymore, no we were by every heavenly definition sisters. She was family….not just to me, but to Andy and to my children.
This trip ended quickly, and though trials are sometimes unbearable, nothing is wasted in the Kingdom. The Proverbs say, “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” and I have known in the past year that this is true of Sally. Christ has truly made her closer than a sister because our friendship through Him. We have marveled this past year about God’s provision and His will. The Lord knew 12 years ago at a quick meeting in the First Baptist Church of Varna that He would form a sisterhood that we would desperately need at this time, on the same continent. We could have never seen in coming, but, oh, so beautiful.
So, here we are, summer of 2013, and Sally is finishing her two and a half week stay up with us. We take her back to the airport Monday. We have shared life together this time around. We have opened up our beautiful, messy, noisy life to her. We have snapped green beans and watched Ann Voskamp until we were sick of both. We have canned tomatoes and picked raspberries and eaten well. We have celebrated her 29th birthday with food and more food and laughter and dessert. We have talked about the Lord, and how His love endures forever and how He is good even when life is not. We have laughed and cried, and we have marveled at the hope for a future. Every moment I spend with Sally reminds me how great Jesus is, how He is alive and how He loves us. She challenges me to cling to Him more, because she clings to Him with every fiber of her being. She encourages me to worship Him more, because there is nothing that she loves more. She is “Auntie Sally,” “Scuba Sally,” and “Sister Sally.” And she is a gift.