Regarding Happily Ever After

Squeezed together on the bench seat of an old van, Speciose and I couldn’t help knocking into each other as we bounced over potholes, swerved around pedestrians crowding the red clay roads of Kigali, Rwanda.   She speaks Kinyarwanda to someone on her cell phone, clothed in vibrant African dress, hair braided like a piece of art. 

I only know one language and this woman, living in a third world country, can speak four.  I am one of several visiting Americans shifting through her world, fascinated by her skill in translation and bartering. 

We eat lunch at separate tables on a crowded terrace overlooking the metal roof skyline of the city. I notice a faraway look; she picks at her food quietly. It leaves me curious. 

On my last day in Rwanda, during a final embrace she reveals what haunts her.  “The children are starving and we have no way to feed them.  Do you think you can help,” she asks hesitantly.

I accept the challenge and together, over five years, we manage to help sustain eighty children – orphaned in the genocide and living in a village of child-headed households. Her courageous question is the seed for our blooming friendship.

Years later, on her first visit to America she sleeps in my guest room, soaks in her first bubble bath, and learns how to load a dishwasher. We share concerns for our children, laugh about picking up after our husbands, shop at Target. Surprised by what we share in common despite our individual circumstances.

Last fall, I find myself seated across from Speciose sharing a meal at her own dining room table, surrounded by her three children. But before we sit down, I ask to wash my hands. 

She brings an empty coffee pot with water and asks me to follow her down a narrow hallway, outside to a dusty back yard. On the way, I notice she has no kitchen sink, refrigerator or stove, just a small burner over hot coals lying on the floor.

She gently pours water over my cupped hands and I rub them together. The precious water she carries in a plastic jug for a few miles on foot.

Today, I turn on the faucet to fill my electric kettle, open the cupboard for a tea bag and notice the Rwandan tea I bought with Speciose at the market.  I think about how tea makes the list of necessities we purchased for the orphans. Remember asking her, “What about toilet paper, do they have any,” and how she laughs in response, “They are fine to use old magazine pages.”

The day before I leave Rwanda, we’re bouncing over potholes again when she taps my shoulder from the back seat. I turn around to see her smile as if she has a secret to share.  She tells me how she finally receives a visa to visit her sister in Canada and thanks me.

They approve a visa because I brought her to the United States and her passport stamps show that she returned to Rwanda, unlike others looking for a way to escape poverty.

She takes flight a few days later, and never returns. Our friendship freezes in that truck like a movie on pause during an interruption that lasts over a year now. And it haunts me like a dream I can’t figure out.

Have you ever had a friendship end abruptly, without explanation?

Some of you may recognize the first half of this story as my essay selected as a finalist for Real Simple’s Simply Stated Blog Contest about unexpected friendship. I decided to share it here with a postscript as I think about how many things in life happen without explanation or happy ending.  How faith resides in the the tension of unresolved acceptance.

He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. ~Daniel 2:22

Linking with God Bumps and God Incidences, Word Filled Wednesday, Walk With Him Wednesday, Imperfect Prose, Thought Provoking Thursday

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57 Responses to Regarding Happily Ever After

  1. I have read this before – it moved me then and it moves me now. Does your FB note today indicate you have heard from her recently?

  2. What beautiful and amazing pictures. What an even more beautiful post and I hope you hear from her some day.

  3. This makes me so sad, Shelly, but from a writer’s (and a reader’s) perspective, I’m really glad you didn’t tie this one up with a happy little bow. Some stories just end hard. So much of life is unresolved, and in your writing this, we enter into your frustration and sense of loss. Some writers might be tempted to wrap it up neatly (read: me). … Thank you for not doing that.

    • Thanks for the encouragement Jennifer. It was the reason I wrote it that way. Because our lives are not always wrapped up nicely with a bow and we have to learn how to live with the tension of that daily. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and honesty in your comment.

  4. Tereasa says:

    This post hit so close to home. I felt your compassion for your friend and her cause. It hit even closer when you spoke of the pause. Sometimes our causes become so much more than we expected and we are surprised by friendship. I had a dear friend in Ecuador that I have not heard from in over fourteen years. I have searched for her, hoping she’ll show up on facebook or a similar platform. I remember our days with fondness and look forward to our reunion some sweet day.

    • I guess the point is we are called to obedience not controlling the details. People come in and out of our lives for reasons we cannot understand and if He thought we needed to, I am sure he would let us know! So grateful for conversations with you Tereasa, they make me smile.

  5. The contrasts here, back and forth between two worlds, two ways. You refer to this as the “first half,” so I’m curious as to whether the story did resolve. But even if it did, for that time that it hung with its unanswered questions for you, isn’t that how we live so much of our lives? We might think we know, but truly, we don’t get our hands around as much as we’d like. Beautiful, thoughtful, as always, Shelly. Thank you.

    • Lyla, it isn’t resolved. I rest in the hope that it may or may not be, knowing He holds all the details in His hands. I’m just grateful for the experience with the Rwandan people. They enrich my life. And you are right, there is so much about life we think we know but don’t really. Appreciate your stopping by. I’ve been reading at your place, just too busy lately to comment. You put a smile on my face quite often.

  6. Grace VB says:

    Your story grabbed my heart twice; once with the mention of Rwanda, the second with the unresolved friendship. We have friends in Kigali who care for street kids, HIV/AIDS widows and refugees. I was supposed to go once, but was unable to because of health concerns. Rwanda remains dear to my heart.

    and I’ve had friends that have wandered off suddenly. some have moved away, back to their homelands or have been moved by husbands to a different part of a city. and some have just disappeared, walking out of my life without notice. It’s hard not to feel hurt, not to judge. It’s hard not to blame myself, to wonder what i did wrong. So I pray and wait, hoping one day to understand.

    Thank you for your beautiful words. :)

    • Oh, I wish you could go to Rwanda. The people are so lovely and teach us so much about how to live joy in life outside of circumstances.
      I think we all can relate to these kinds of ends in relationships that are unexplained. And put them in the hands of the one who knows far more regarding life than we do.

  7. oh my goodness. what a powerful story… and you, helping to sustain and feed those 80 children… oh girl. is there an organization we can help support? and you haven’t heard from her since?

    • I have heard from her once Emily. Just saying she missed me and wishes we could talk in person. And we are no longer helping the village, too complicated to explain here but we have seen fruit and rest in that for our efforts. It was a wonderful, life giving opportunity for me.

  8. Mari says:

    This is beautifully written. Immediately it brought to mind several relationships that ended abruptly for me. It feels things so unfinished. Her question to you “Do you think you can help,” spoke to me. I have wished for a “clear” opportunity to help in third world countries when in reality Jesus has already called all of us so I dont have an excuse! Thank you for sharing this essay.

  9. tara pohlkotte says:

    this friendship you weave and grow is inspiring… then for it to just end. well, i’ve been there. and know the pain and questions involved. this life isn’t finished with us yet…wonder if you’ll need to add another post script in the future?? :)

  10. You speak about things here that really tug on my heart strings… things that speak deep to my spirit. First about feeding hungry children. I still have a dream that God would use my family somehow, to feed hungry children… to be part of something that we can watch grow and grow into, for His kingdom (if that makes any sense).

    Then, I understand the disappointment in the sudden interruption in what you thought was going one way, and then went another. Oh, by God’s grace, may we always put our hope and fix our eyes on the One Who never changes…

    I am not blessed to be in the SDG group with you… you are truly a blessing to me :)

    • Michele, I think those opportunities seem to come in God’s timing. I rarely have ever gone looking for them, just stepped into them when the timing seemed right. I hope you do find a place to land as a family to be part of reaching out beyond your walls.

  11. Oh, wow, I love your heart. And it is so tough not knowing the answers, especially when we feel we pour out our heart and feel vulnerable when the friendship, that seemed so true once, now feels like mystery. Thank you, Shelly.

  12. Alecia says:

    I look back and sometimes wonder why. What happened to have the friendship just end? I heard once some friendships are only for a season, some are longer. And I think that, that must be what those lost friendships were, they were only meant to be for a season. God knew what we needed and brought us into each others lives, then it was time to move on.
    I just love how you marry your words together, it always makes for lovely reading.

  13. Shelly, this is beautifully written. i love how you dont give us every little detail, and jump around in time, letting us fill in the missing pieces. good writers do that. i love reading you. and so glad i know you–you have a special heart. i know you mourn over Speciose. i have had similar experiences–some with someone i knew for a very short while–they came in like a whirlwind and left the exact same way–but the really long friendships–those are the ones that hurt the most–and ive had my taste of that too. thank God He has redeemed most of these. i give them all to Him. thank you for reading this week–for your kind words–left a reply for you at Emily’s. blessings.

  14. Lovely. Real. Honest. Authentic. Raw. Just like life. Thank you. BLESSINGS!

  15. Ms. Kathleen says:

    I haven’t always known exactly why friendships have ended but I know I can find out about them if I need/want to as they live in the US although it is not always easy. I think fear of why keeps me from it sometimes. Losing a friend across the miles from another country, suddenly and unexpectedly must be painful. I am sure you would like to know she and her family are alright. Bless you!

  16. rgerryts says:

    Sometimes I read and wish the story was fiction. Endings can be so abrupt. So true to be like a dream you can’t figure out. Thanks for sharing.


  17. I can relate. We were never created for abrupt endings. Our eternal souls react to all earthly endings, don’t they?

  18. Jen Ferguson says:

    This is beautiful. I remember that contest — I didn’t enter because I was not brave like you. Your stories create a rhythm in my heart. This one? Oh, I wish there was an answer for you, for me, for all of us who have lost a friend for reasons unknown.

    • Oh my, I don’t know if it was bravery or naivete but I am thankful for the experience. And you should’ve entered. I read about it and then remembered it on the final day, sat down and wrote the story and emailed it just before midnight. I couldn’t believe I got picked! Thanks for your encouragement Jen, its one of your gifts.

  19. I’ve lost friends unexpectedly and always wonder what happened. Living in the “tension of unresolved acceptance” is a huge part of life it seems. I think of Job who never knew what happened behind the scenes of his story. Thanks for sharing this!

  20. I’m not really good at living in the middle of unresolved stories–which makes my discipleship problematic, at times. The good news is, I know how THE story ends. Just wondering what’s going to happen in some of the chapters inbetween.

    You enter writing contests? You’re so brave. But this is a good one :)

    • Me too Nancy. I need to have closure, know how things end, tie it all up with a nice bow and give it away. And that writing contest was the only one I ever entered. I got lucky, really lucky.

  21. There are so many mysteries, unanswered questions, in this walk in life, in our walk of faith. A lovely story of friendship you shared– (though the ending is uncertain and unknown at the current time).

  22. brian miller says:

    wow. you know i have no answers for you, and you may never know…i guess in that moment we trust that it is in hands beyond ours…and that the time you were given you touched a life in a way that carries it forward…i get this with kids i counsel that i may never hear from again…

  23. What a gifted writer you are! You told this story so lovingly- and I could not believe the conclusion! Thank you for sharing this story. I am sure Speciose thinks of you and sends you love and light every time, and with some friends, that is the best you can do.

    • I was hoping for your response to this story. Thanks, I feel like I accomplished my goal. :) I did hear from her once, letting me know she thinks of me and wishes she could talk to me in person. So glad you visited, what a blessing your words are.

  24. Dea says:

    Friendship is complicated. Moses was called the friend of God and Jesus talks about friendship in John 15. I think about your question, and I think about the times I have walked away from my Friend—the One who washed me clean with precious blood, more than my hands. I have been to Target with Him and slept under a mosquito net with him and a million other things. Yet, there have been times I haven’t invited Him into other parts of my life—-especially my pain. I wonder if that is what happens many times in human relationships, we just can’t bring ourselves to ask others into our pain. So we close the chapter and write on. The other Friend, He writes on too but He keeps us in the Story.

    Keep praying for you friend…. and know that this morning, I prayed for you.

    • I think you are right, that we don’t invite people into our pain because it feels too vulnerable. Thanking Him that he doesn’t give up and keeps writing our story too. Lovely thoughts you have Dea. Encouraging and thought provoking the way you see things. So grateful for your prayers . . really grateful. Thank you.

  25. r.elliott says:

    Shelly…yes friendships that just end are so puzzling…sometimes it makes us question…were we just someone to use…and even though we don’t like to think it is so…sometimes it is…but maybe not here…I would think how people who suffer so process life and friendship is so radical different than ours…maybe not bad…just different. I love the honesty here…thanks~

  26. kd sullivan says:

    I am so glad that you’ve shared this!

  27. Dorie says:

    Beautiful words you have shared today. Yes, I’ve had a friendship that just disappeared with no closure. Even to this day, years later, I still sometimes think of her, my friend and wonder how she is…

  28. Amy says:

    I’m an Amercian living in China — I have had several friendships with Chinese friends end abruptly when one of us moved away (not all!). I do find there is a different definition of friendship, how long it takes to develop them, what you can expect from a friend, and how things end. I’m still growing in my understanding of friendship cross-culturally (and here I mean in the broadest sense — there is some cross cultural element to every single person I know, even in my own familly!). Thanks Shelly!

    • So true Amy, whether we have friendships cross culturally or otherwise, we are human, with the same feelings and inherent needs, just different filters. Thanks for adding to the conversation, especially with your perspective living abroad.

  29. Celeste says:

    The short answer, yes.
    But I have an idea of at least I suspect what happened. At any rate it remains unknown and I continue to think about this person, even search for her name through all the new social media we have at our finger tips. But…it remains a mystery of sorts.
    I liked the writing for the similarities of my own experience. Now, leaving for Ethiopia is a few short days, I will have an experience to share back with you.

    • I suspect I know why too. It may have to do with a less than kind husband. May. We do share this love of dusty red clay roads and the African spirit that makes us want to be better. Thinking of you as you prepare and thanks for the link. I’ll be visiting.

  30. Sharon O says:

    wow… beautiful. and I hope you hear from her someday.

  31. Laura says:

    I don’t know Speciose but I want to go find her. I want to hear the end of the story. Your description of a movie on pause is perfect. The friendships that have ended in my life, I know why. But I can’t change scripture or hearts on my own. So I wait for the one who can change hearts. Hopeful that someday, here on earth or in heaven, you will hear the rest of your friend’s story.

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