Tiptoe......................peeking through the gate


A leaden log stuck in a bog,
Sinking in muddy glue.
A word reminiscent of blah and glob.
I don't like it. Do you?

(But people do read blogs. And I like to write. So...welcome to mine!)

Angels in the Dining Room


     When Peter, Susan and Edmund were 7, 5 and 3, Ross and I decided to plan a vacation from them. I’m sorry to put it that way, because we loved our threesome, but the fact is that any place anywhere would have been fine. As long as it was just Ross and me.

     We’d tried the family vacation before and learned that our Dodge caravan, which should have been a soothing home away from home, turned into a chamber of horrors on a road trip. I’m not talking about endless requests for drinks and bathrooms and more drinks, or the amazing quantity of pinches and pokes that 12 small arms and legs can deliver. No, right in our seven-passenger, all-American car, two adult prisoners, strapped into their seats and unable to flee, were subjected for hours at a time to The Cruelest Method of Torture Ever Devised for an Introvert: Constant Noise.

     A lot of it was innocent. “Can’t we play 20 Questions one more time?” “Can’t we count up license plates again?” “Can’t you turn up our tape? We can’t hear it back here!” “Betsy (the dog) just ate my sandwich!” Some of it wasn’t: “Edmund pulled my hair again and you won’t do anything about it!” “Why don’t we get to stop at McDonald’s like Justin-and-Ashley-and the Whole World?” “This car smells just like Betsy!”

     We had an offer on the table. Some friends in Nova Scotia had spent a week with us at the lake the summer before and wrote afterward, Come on up and see us next summer. So that became the plan. Drop the kids with the grandparents and drive two long days to Halifax. Spend three days with the Burnhams and take two more to get home. A full week of noise withdrawal.

     It worked, and we had a marvelous time, except for one thing. Shortly after arriving home, my back began to hurt. The pain continued through the fall, growing worse each month, until finally in December, while pulling a pizza out of the oven for Peter’s birthday, something snapped. The party went on, but the party-giver listed strangely to the right the whole afternoon. By the next day, I could hardly walk. A day or two after that, I was bedridden.

     Now, what does a mother do when she has three small children and can’t get out of bed? She calls her mother. And mine came, just as soon as she could book a flight. Grandma was a retired grade-school teacher, so she spotted all of Edmund’s tricks before he could pull them. (When Grandma was suffering from dementia shortly before she died, I took over a family photo album to remind her of us. When she saw a picture of Edmund, she put her index finger on his nose and announced, "He was a pill!") With Grandma around, no one was allowed to cheat at Sorry, and no more cookies disappeared from their hiding place on top of the refrigerator . She kept the meals coming and the house clean, but her relentless cough was worrisome and might mean heart trouble. We wanted to protect her, in spite of our need.

     So that’s where friends, a.k.a. the Body of Christ, entered. Without any human coordination, they offered heaps of help and filled in every single gap the five weeks I was on my back. Library books, medical help, carpooling, Valentine baskets, play dates, meals, housecleaning and on-site prayers came our way. When my mother left, a thoughtful friend even brought her flowers. This amazing synergy kept my mother out of crisis and my family from collapsing.

     I thought of this episode in our family history when we moved from New England to the South this past Wednesday. Once again, we were in a pickle. Way too much packing and cleaning to do at the end, and too few hours to do it. That’s when Joy and Cheryl entered the picture. These female dynamos arrived with bottles and brushes and rags and went after woodwork, bathtubs, sinks and the refrigerator. Joy had to leave at noon, but Cheryl stayed until 5 p.m., then went to the U-Haul store to help Peter load his car on a trailer behind the 20’ truck. By the end of the day, I might be forgiven for wondering if she was human or angelic. Meanwhile, Lin arrived with a goodbye gift—silver and lavender jewelry she had created and Elizabeth brought lasagne, garlic bread, salad and chocolate chip cookies for dinner. Our favorite foods.

     But it didn’t stop there. At our new home, hundreds of miles away, the Body of Christ was waiting for us to arrive. Grace and the General (a Civil War buff) showed up to unload the truck and unpack boxes. Afterward, they invited us to dinner at their house. Another wonderful Italian meal. They called the next day to see how we were. It's a different state, but the same love is here.

     Years ago someone told me she was having trouble making friends in a new city. I asked if she would consider attending church. “What good would that do?” she sneered.

     After this last week, I could tell her with greater certainty than ever, "More than you could possibly imagine."



Christmas in Summer



           If life-altering events announced themselves with drum rolls and trumpets, we'd all pay attention. But they don’t. So, twenty years ago, when Ross noticed I was drooping and said, “Eve, you need a break. Let me take the kids up north for the weekend,” I had no inkling the next few days would reach into our future twenty years ahead and give it shape.

           That Friday morning, we loaded up the van, maneuvering around the large bookcases I was painting in the garage, and I waved goodbye to Ross and my three active tow-heads. Edmund was probably pinching Susan's thigh as they drove away, and Peter might have been complaining about the broken air conditioner, but...Happy day! Not my problem! I could sleep late, eat what I wanted or not eat at all, read a book, hear myself think….Then the phone rang. That’s when I should have heard fanfare. Instead, I heard a plain old ring.

            “Hi, Eve!” Meg sounded perky as ever. “I was wondering if you could help me out.”

            “What’s up,” I asked, immediately wary. Meg has the energy of a whole football team.

            “Well, I have a house full of company, kids sleeping on the floor, and some people we met in Texas a few years back just pulled up in their van with their four kids and asked if they could spend a few days with us. I haven't had time to hear the story, and I'd take them, but we're out of beds...”

             My thoughts were not charitable. Who would just pull up in a van from Texas unannounced and expect housing? Why should I take in people I’ve never met? Ross didn't have this in mind when he took the kids by himself so I could rest!

             Still, Meg would do anything for me. So, I compromised: yes to the adults; no to the kids. Meg could step over four more bodies on her way to the kitchen in the morning and probably laugh about it.

             Chad and Fritha arrived after lunch, looking dazed, even numb. Something was awfully wrong. I motioned to the chairs in the family room, offered some drinks and we sat down. Three hours later we stood up. In between, I heard chapter 1 of their strange odyssey. They had been hippies back in the 60's, idealistic, dreamy, dissatisfied,  trying to find their way in all the wrong places. (They still looked like hippies, at least around the edges. Something about the thick sandals, worn jeans and wooden crosses.)

            Jesus rescued the two of them in California during the Jesus Movement. Charged by his love, they started a Christian outreach to drug addicts in Texas. A benefactor donated the use of an older house, and they stripped off several layers of paint on the front door to free the rich mahogany underneath. With plaster and scrub brushes and long hours, they turned the house into a home and opened their arms to the Messed Up.

             We stopped for dinner, then came chapter 2. The ministry began to flourish as broken people found their way through the gleaming front door and encountered the life-giving love of Jesus. Twenty-four year-old Fred gave up drugs and started college; Anne stayed for a year then returned home to make peace with her parents (she had left home at 15 in rebellion and headed straight for San Francisco, where she lost her virginity to a much older man and her mind to drugs). We stopped there and headed for bed.

              Breakfast Saturday morning: Chad and Fritha said they had slept well for the first time since leaving Texas. We moved on to chapter 3. All was well for years until Mr. Someone became jealous of their work and busied himself by spreading rumors about them. Mr. S was very close to the ministry and Chad and Fritha felt he was eyeing them malignantly. They shrank from defending themselves, feeling it was un-Christ-like. Anyway, there was no practical way to stop it. They didn't know who Mr. S was talking to or what he was saying. They only knew that a wildfire of gossip was roaring through their Texas community. After some tears, prayer, and words from the Bible, we broke for lunch.

             Chapter 4. The jealousy now out of control, Mr. S saw his chance to drive them out of the home they created for people they loved.  He would go to the Board of Directors with the evidence and persuade them to remove the pair from leadership. He would do this by attributing motives where there were none; by putting his own twist on their actions and words. (More tears and prayers.)

             Dinner and the conclusion of the matter. Mr. S made his case, bolstered by a community that had heard only his story. The Board voted. Chad and Fritha were removed from leadership and asked to leave immediately. Poof! In one day, they were out on the street, and all they possessed in the world was their clothes and an old van. Said Chad: "I don't know why, but the one thing I keep thinking about after all this horror is the hours I spent stripping off paint, trying to restore the front door." The front door through which so many broken hearts had entered, and so many healed hearts had left.

              It was Sunday morning, and I only had time for one more chapter before we both needed to leave. What had happened since? I wanted to know. "Well," Fritha said, "it's been rather amazing." We just started driving, and we've been asking God to give us what we need all along the way. And he has! People have handed us money or paid for a meal for us. One time the kids wanted to go to an amusement park, and we took them just to look. The guard at the gate called Chad over and whispered to him, ’Just take those kids in for free’." And what had happened to the ministry? Chad looked pained. "Mr. S was put in as director," he said. "I worry." We were through. Chad and Fritha and their children got in the van and drove away on their strange mission to find God’s plan, and Ross returned that afternoon with the children.

             They'd all had a great time at the lake, frolicking with cousins, eating the ice cream and cookies Nana always offered. Edmund had a cold, so he fell asleep and didn't pinch anybody on the way home. Peter had collected a jar full of green sea glass, and Susan had a new bathing suit.  To my surprise, I was not worn out by my weekend. There was a sense of rightness about what had happened. As though it was ordained, and enough grace to cover it all had been poured out on us.

              Months later, a letter came from Chad. It said (in part), "We could never find words to express the comfort of being able to talk about our pain with someone who cared. Those three days last summer were a turning point for Fritha and me, a stepping out of our darkness and into our long-term healing. Thank you is too weak a word."

              That weekend has stayed with me for 20 years, a sort of signpost pointing to a future time when Ross and I would do something similar. (I should mention that Ross is an excellent listener.) Years ago, before I knew we would have a large farmhouse in the Carolinas, God gave me the words: Christmas in Summer. I took it to mean the Father envisioned a future ministry in a southern climate where we would celebrate Christmas with those who came. Now we have Eden's Gate. May we keep the spirit of Christmas there, where "tidings of comfort and joy" reign because of the Father's love. We believe he will send to our farmhouse the lambs of his choosing and we are on tiptoe waiting to meet them on the veranda and usher them through our heavy front door. 

               The adventure is right on us. Today was our last Sunday in a church that is family to us. Tomorrow Peter and Edmund pack the truck, Tuesday Joy and Cheryl come to help clean, and Elizabeth will bring dinner. Then, it is off into the great unknown, the future already planned but not yet revealed. Pray for us!






Southern Storytelling


    We are moving. Not across town or even across the state, but to a different culture and lifestyle. A small town in the South. If I wonder aloud whether we'll be happy here, someone is likely to ask, "Do you like the 1950s?" Our town still has 85 cent ice cream cones and a public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. People are nice to you on the streets. They smile, they spin yarns. Our Yankee son went to the paint store in town and returned an hour later shaking his head. "Everyone around here wants to tell you a story," he said. He was working for us by the hour and counting the cost!

Cotton Field

    Storytelling is a big draw for us. After all, the South did give us William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty. Long generations of family lore waft around town, embellished a bit more with each telling, perhaps.

    We've heard about the woman who came home to a surprise years ago. "Mr. X, his daddy had money. He had an 18-wheeler pull up one day while his wife was out. When she got home, the house was empty." Eudora Welty would shake that family down and get to the bones of that story!

    Or this one: "My Grandaddy told my aunts, 'Don't you ever marry a Fanwalter. You do and I'll disinherit-ya.' The second he died, both Daddy's sisters went after those handsome-crazy Fanwalters. Now I've got mixed-up cousins who have to live with Mama and Daddy because of a Fanwalter." Flannery would dissect the Fanwalters with swift strokes until one of them got her knife (or a bull's horn) in the chest...

      I hunger for stories. I learn through stories. There was a lesson to be learned from each of the stories mentioned above. Jesus taught through stories about widows and coins and pearls. I remember a week in my life when I was treated to storytelling in the South on a daily basis. The storyteller was a Northerner, actually, and not known for oratorical excellence. But perhaps by being in the South, he caught the gift.

     Pastor Will in my childhood church was movie-star handsome, wore cool sunglasses and knew how to have fun. He started our youth group and grew it into a powerhouse of spiritual activity in the area. But, as a kid, I overheard Dad telling Mom that he just didn’t get our assistant pastor and sermons. In Dad’s opinion, they were uninspired.

     Then came a spring mission trip to Appalachia. Pastor Will was taking our youth group down south, to paint and fix up a Christian boarding school. He also would run evangelistic meetings for several nights. Although my siblings and I were too young for the youth group, Mom and Dad signed us all on as support personnel. To me, it sounded like a lot of driving and a long week of hanging around feeling young and useless and wishing I were home.

     But that was not how things turned out. An unexpected treasure lurked right at the heart of our mission trip: Pastor Will’s preaching. Decades later, I can still see him standing at the pulpit in that tiny church, night after night, painting the Kingdom of God in stories that rippled with life, in images that lingered. The Kingdom of God, he said, was like a Lost Sheep. Suddenly, we were the sheep, shivering, cold, stumbling on the mountain in the dark. Then came the Good Shepherd!

     Another night, the Kingdom was like a dangerously poor woman searching for a single Lost Coin. Right then, we were vulnerable. We were riffling through drawers and closets in a frenzy of fear. Imagine our joy when she found the coin!

     And, best of all, on a brilliant Easter Sunday, Pastor Will and the rest of us were digging in a field in a humdrum way, tired and discouraged, when suddenly we happened on a huge pearl lodged deep in the dirt. Giddy with joy, we rushed off to sell everything we had to buy the field with the Pearl.

     After church all of us went down the sunny mountainside and knocked on doors of tin roof shacks to invite people to church. In one living room, we found Granny, huddled in a recliner in a corner of the room.  The family said she was just about to pass. As she lay there, chickens pecked away around her on the cracked linoleum floor. Granny whispered something to her family. Her son said, "Granny wants to know if you'll sing I'll Fly Away?"  Hymn books were handed around, and with aching hearts, we began: Some bright morning when this life is over, I'll fly away.. Suddenly, the glory of God wafted into that room, sweet and heavy with joy. Heaven and earth were joined!

     Easter in Appalachia has never left me. The sunlight streaming through the church and down the mountainside, and the golden glory settling in that tin shack all felt like God’s amazing love for His world. I took in forever that the Kingdom of God was worth everything we might give up on earth. It was a treasure that must be shared.

     On the way home, it seemed only right to bring up Pastor Will and his preaching. “Dad,” I said, “I really liked the sermons this week.” My father was not one for handing out compliments indiscriminately. I waited for his response, a bit nervous. “Yes,” he said with conviction, “I thought the sermons this week were outstanding. Pastor Will really seemed motivated.”

      Dad was motivated, too. Throughout the decades of his long life, he picked up grade school kids and elderly people and brought them to church. For years, he drove miles and miles to a bad section of another town to ferry a carless single mom and her three wild children to Sunday School. He invited co-workers at the college where he taught to services, and he encouraged me to invite my public-school friends.

     Dad knew that each person, north/south/east/west needs to hear the One Story that can “heal the brokenhearted and set the prisoners free” (Lk.4:18). The question now is: Am I motivated to tell it?


    (P.S.-- On this web site don't expect to see many real names of people or towns. An artful disguise is a kindly wrapping for many stories. But I hope to keep everything else intact and, above all, never to disguise the point of the tale.)



Eve and Zoe, Lifelong Friends


            Put an uninhibited avant-garde poet together with a shy Victorian and what do you get? Lifelong friends. It’s a bit unlikely, but it really happened at a study center in the English countryside back in 1974.

            The morning we met I was walking from the dining room to the kitchen at the old Manor house, distracted by the kettle of blackberry jam I was about to make. England was out of sugar, and I’d been trusted with a precious, hoarded five-pound bag and an equal weight of blackberries to make preserves for an upcoming wedding.

So, I was minding my own worrisome business that particular morning when Zoe strode into the foyer and threw down her duffel bag. The new student called over her shoulder. “Where do the bags go? Could you give me a hand?”

I was annoyed. This sturdy person looked four times stronger than I felt. With cropped auburn hair and a commanding voice, she seemed boyish, alien.

“Hi,” I said without warmth. “I’m Eve. Your bags should go upstairs in the girls’ room.”

“Oh thanks. I’m Zoe. Wanna’ show me the way?”

Grabbing the duffel with both hands, I lumbered up the massive staircase while Zoe followed with her knapsack. The girls’ room on the second floor held seven beds. Mine was one of a pair lying close together in a nook just inside the door.

I was happy in my little hideout. Private and shy by nature, I’d always liked corner seats in restaurants and alcoves in old houses. As we passed through the doorway to our room, I looked anxiously at my familiar space. There was only one available bed—the one beside mine. Dropping the bag there, I suddenly felt sick in my core. My beloved nook was about to be ruined.

The Manor house was a relaxed place, and swapping beds was allowed, so I glanced around, trying to remember who was leaving next. Jan from South Africa was going soon, maybe before Christmas. Although her bed was tucked into the drafty built-out bay window, I decided to claim it right away. With that settled, I offered Zoe a quick tour of the property and then went to the kitchen, where I turned up the gas too high and within one hour burnt all the blackberry jam.

            After lunch and a vague confession about the smoke-flavored preserves, I retreated upstairs, hoping to read a little before study time in the afternoon. In my absence, several pictures had appeared on the wall next to the new girl’s bed. I leaned forward to see what they were, then stepped back in surprise. Tacked up in our little nook were half a dozen black and white photos of nudes—one of a bare-breasted woman who looked like Zoe.

            Nude photos never would have hung in my family’s home. My parents were so opposed to sexualizing little girls they’d forbidden me to take ballet lessons, fearful of tutus and bare legs. Certainly they had carried the skin issue too far, but staring at a nude photo of the woman in the next bed was….weird.

            As if the photos weren’t trouble enough for one afternoon, my new roommate plopped down uninvited at the end of my bed.

            “Are you a Christian?” she asked.

            That was a painful question. I told her yes, but added a string of qualifiers. I was raised in a Christian family, in a church that took the Bible seriously. But I was having some problems finding God for myself. Some kind of barrier kept me from him. That’s why I was here.

            At my church, we had a word for telling other people about God. The term was witnessing. I’d been trying to witness for years, without much success. Absolutely certain that God existed and that he could help everyone but me, I often pushed through my natural reserve to tell people that a loving God was alive and would like to enter their lives.

            In English class my senior year of high school, I’d sat in an alphabetically-assigned seat next to a girl named Gail. While our teacher was lecturing away about Elizabethan stage costumes, Gail whispered to me that she’d taken a bad LSD trip the Friday before. Dozens of worms the size of snakes bored into her brain and writhed around. She’d tried to claw her head open to pull them out. The horror show lasted for hours.

            Whispering behind my hand, I told this pretty party girl that she didn’t need LSD; she needed Jesus. I wrote down my phone number and handed it to her. Please, I pleaded, call me before you ever do this again. I’ll come get you; I’ll do anything to help. If she’d give God a chance, I knew he’d help her.

            Now the roles were reversed, and I had someone asking me how to find God. I didn’t like Zoe, but I couldn’t turn her away. The witnessing habit was strong in me. And she was determined, pressing her way into my space and, ultimately, into the Kingdom of God.

            But that didn’t mean I had to like her. Or to be her friend. Just before Christmas, Jan packed her bags for South Africa and I moved my things across the room. The bed in the bay window was only fifteen feet away, but it felt like a blessed mile. There were two beds in my new spot. Moira, a rugged Scot, slept in the other one. She began each morning by throwing open all the windows and exclaiming, “Good fresh air!” None of the Americans thought we needed more air in the month of December, in an unheated house, but nobody said a word to Moira. I was colder than ever, but quite content.

            Zoe wasn’t alone for long. Within days, a new student moved into my old bed. Temperamental, redheaded Jane was a former witch who played the cello and refused to get out of bed in the morning—just the kind of person who might enjoy nude photos on the wall.

            I wanted to move on and I tried to move on, but Zoe kept coming around, wanting to talk. She was there on the end of my bed every night. She even urged me to come into the bathroom with her during her weekly tub, so we could keep talking during her bath. Everywhere I went, there she was.

            By January, I’d had enough. One night I went to bed in the freezing bay window and shivered in my sleeping bag while talking to a God who always seemed off for lunch somewhere.

            Still, I argued with him.

I can’t be around this woman any more. I’m through! I don’t like her!!! Send someone else to help her! I can’t even figure you out myself. Why does she need me?

Something mystical and urgent seemed very present. It said, over and over, No, you are not through. I want you to be her friend.

Again and again and again and again, I said No, I can’t!

The monotonous dialogue continued without interruption until about 4 a.m. Weary of the whole business, finally, with very bad grace, I said Yes to the firm Voice.

It is now 39 years later, and Zoe and I have been friends for all of them. She has been loyal and loving all the years of our friendship. And she was our first guest after we moved in to Eden’s Gate a week-and-a-half ago.

Here’s what Zoe is like today, 39 years after Jesus found her.

There is a crippled saleswoman at the garden shop in our little town. One leg is so stiff and straight the woman appears to have a prosthesis. I have interacted with this woman before and felt sorry for her. But, when Zoe was in the garden shop with me last week, as always, she went straight to the heart.

At the checkout counter, she bent toward the woman’s ear and whispered, “May I ask what is wrong with your leg?”

I cringed. Zoe always moves in bold strokes. That hasn’t changed.

The woman looked startled, but she answered in a soft Southern drawl, “I have terrible arthritis. I can’t even bend it.”

“May I pray for you?” Zoe said.

The woman nodded. Zoe put her hand on Nettie's shoulder.

“Dear Jesus, I ask you to come to Nettie and heal her leg. Please take out the stiffness and make Nettie all well. You have the power to do this and the love to do this. We ask you for a healing!”

Nettie looked up, grateful. She reached toward Zoe.

“May I ask you to pray for our finances, too?”

Zoe took Nettie’s hands in hers and prayed that God would step in to her family’s financial troubles and show them a clear way out. Softly, Nettie thanked her.

That is my friend Zoe, the friend I fought God over in the bay window 39 years ago. I couldn’t see the gift in her, but he could. I’m so grateful he won the fight.


Zoe is Back


Zoe is back. We are working on the final chapters of her love story with God. Memories overwhelm me at times as we handle her life word by word and sentence by sentence, giving each of them the care reserved for fine breakables. It’s been 39 years since we met, and our friendship has endured more near breakages than I could recall. No other friend has filed away at my rough edges like Zoe. No other friend has so pressed into my soul and made me expose what is there and stuck around to love me afterward.

Today I thought back to the summer of 1976, after we had shared an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I was helping her drive to California where we would say goodbye. We traveled west Zoe-style, stopping at a river where she threw off her clothes and waded in. ( I sat in the car, hoping no one would see her…or me.) We dropped into Salt Lake City, because Zoe’s cousin lived there, and toured the Mormon Tabernacle, where a man Very High Up in the church became convinced Zoe was destined for a future in Mormonism. So was I, he said. He urged us to follow him to a special room where we all sat down and he made an impassioned plea for us to give his church a chance. And stay another two weeks, perhaps with him and his wife.

We slept in a cornfield. Or, rather, Zoe slept. I spent the night staring at stars while cornstalks poked into my back. When she woke in the morning, I was dabbing my face with a cotton ball dipped in a face cleanser. It was expensive stuff, so I used it sparingly. The bottle was nearly gone, and it needed to last another month until I could get back to Boston and buy more.

“What is that?” Zoe asked.

“Face cleaner.”

“Can I use some?”

I was trained to be polite, so what happened next was surprising. I hesitated. I probably even looked worried.

“What’s the matter? Why can’t I use some?” Zoe sounded a little on edge.

I didn’t want to tell the truth, so I hesitated again.

“What’s wrong? I want to know!”

This was awkward, and I wasn't going to look good.

“I kind of hate to share it with you, because I have so little left and I need it to last a while.”

Zoe looked disgusted.

That’s the problem?” she snorted.

I nodded.

“Why would you think something like that?” she asked, sounding more hurt than annoyed. “We’re in this trip together. Don’t you know if you needed more I would chip in? Why wouldn’t you just tell me what was up?”

So Zoe. She didn’t like anything hidden. Get it all out.

Another time we had a Big Misunderstanding, more commonly known as a fight. When it was all over, we did a post-mortem and agreed that one of us (and I don’t remember which) had been thinking ungenerous thoughts about the other of us. That wasn’t right, fair or good for our friendship, Zoe declared.

“Let’s have a pact,” she said. “From now on, each of us will always choose the generous interpretation of what the other is doing/saying/thinking.”

I nodded. There would be another pact at the end of that summer, a more important one, but I will save that story for another day.

My final Zoe anecdote happened yesterday. Ross and I left for a hymn sing in our little town while Zoe stayed home to work on her projects. When we returned a few hours later, waves of smoky air greeted us at the door. Zoe ran over. “I did a stupid thing while you were gone,” she said, grinning. I burnt the cabbage in the pot.” She held up the pot, which was black inside and out. “And that’s not all,” she said. She held up the steamer basket from inside the pot. That, too, was black.

Oh, well, I thought, the stinky cabbage smell will be gone in a few days.

“But then I did something else,” Zoe said. “Come over by the door.” She pointed to her feet. There was a char mark on the southern pine floor in the exact shape of the pot that was now black.

“The pot smelled awful and I ran to the door, but I couldn’t get it opened, so I set it down on the floor.” Zoe was laughing.

“And that’s not all, either,” she said, as my heart drooped.

“I ran outside with the pot and put it on what I thought was mud, but it was grass. I burned a hole in the lawn.” Zoe was laughing even harder.

“Do you feel like parents who left their five-year-old at home without supervision?”

Ross laughed and I nodded. Later, I vented a bit to Ross. Just a bit. It’s hard to be annoyed with Zoe for long.

Ross ended the discussion with a sentence:

“Zoe is worth it.”

Today Zoe apologized for laughing and made arrangements for our wonderful handyman to fix the floor. Today I could care less about the floor. Or the pot and steamer basket. Or the lawn.

Today I’m grateful for a friend who has stayed put for 39 years. Given what she and I have been through together, that is a miracle. Just ask our husbands.