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Just recently, a friend told me she's waiting to be five years cancer-free so she can be eligible for a kidney transplant. She goes for dialysis twice a week and still works very hard. She comments on my hair, saying she wants my hair instead of her own grey-black crinkly three inches. I'm looking at her beautiful dark face topped by an elaborate scarf and I tell her she can have it, if I can have her smile. She laughs and says, "You don't want my dental bills." I said, "No, I want your scarf collection."


I hope you all have a friend like this.


We are not childhood friends or ex-classmates or distant relatives. We met when I took a menial job washing dishes at the Christian Conference Center where my daughter and her husband live and work. Ten minutes away, if I drive slowly, which I don't. The place might as well be ten light years in the past or a century old, which is closer to the truth.


She taught me how to use the industrial dishwasher, how to properly clean every inch of the kitchen, how to place every fork and plate in the correct cabinets. It was both satisfying and maddening to maintain the ritual, the order of the way things have always been done, especially when it made no sense. The other staff spoke Chinese and Spanish to each other so she and I developed a friendship, which included much hilarity.


There is a dress code there, think modesty and Sisters. In 100 degree weather, I once wore an American flag T-shirt underneath a calf-length sleeveless dress and got a stern talking to. Sorry, no mottoes on shirts. Me: "But I was trying to cover my shoulders and the words GOD BLESS AMERICA, LAND THAT I LOVE were hidden." The Sister looked at me as if I was lying. Me: "I bought it at the Christian book store on the grounds." Finally, I said, " I'm only here to help my daughter before her husband goes to Iraq. I am only here to wash dishes for Jesus."


Now, they all take Jesus pretty seriously there, so that was that. From then on, my friend made me sing about Jesus as I washed dishes, "for lying to a Sister". That just made the whole experience more fun, as far as I was concerned. Our two voices blended as we sang snippets of hymns, old rock and roll lyrics but with Jesus inserted, country and western, Rod Stewart's Maggie May. Devil Songs, she called them, laughing.


I hope you all have a friend like this.


So she and I got together for a quick cup of coffee which turned into three hours of some gossip, some serious discussion, numerous introductions to new kitchen co-workers, ending with my friend praying aloud for me. Some people might not be comfortable with this, but it's what she does and the air in the room actually seemed electrified. I decided to go with the flow. She is originally from South Carolina, so the lilt of her voice and power of her history colored the very long prayer.


I know she really believes in the power of prayer, so I just listened and let her words wash through me. At some point she mentioned hedges of protection and letting the blood of Jesus cover all of my concerns. I regret to say that's where she lost me as I began imagining my family amongst blood-dripped hedges. When she finished, I think she was expecting me to pray for her, which I have done in the past, just in a more private setting. Her apartment before surgery. In the hospital after they removed both of her breasts.


All I could manage was a weak Amen. But after I woke this morning to see ice glistening the forsythia hedge that did not get pruned after the storm, actually ice covering everything, I thought perhaps this is an answer to her prayers, because I found it so calming and beautiful after two days of fighting ridiculous medical battles on behalf of my husband and getting nowhere except frustrated and furious.


I hope you all have a friend like this.

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