Nancy and I met when we were eighteen. We had both just started a three month training course at Youth With a Mission, in Nancy’s native California. I had traveled from Tennessee for the experience. She was three hours up the road in a cheerfully charismatic non-denominational fellowship.
We made fast friends with a group of girls our age, a kind of rat pack of young disciples: Jen, Cami, Ginny, Nancy, me. Four blonds and a brunette, blissfully unaware of the effect we were having on the godly men around us, in more ways than one.
Nancy wanted to study journalism after YWAM, as did I. We kept in touch, and when she headed to Asbury College in nearby Kentucky, we would meet up occasionally. I was there when she met Scott, the guy who would change her life and give her three sons. Her journalism career at a weekly in Colorado paralleled mine in a daily in Tennessee, and we commiserated about bad bosses, terrible story ideas, and keeping our moral compass pointed toward Jesus in the strange new world of the 1990s.
Oh, we were so cute and naive. I sent presents for her wedding–which I could not attend because my car needed new tires–and for the births of her first two sons. I missed the third one, because by then life was in full flow, including a change of location to Scotland, pre-Facebook. It was a little harder to keep up back then, kids. We had to send emails uphill through the snow both ways.
We did all manage to meet up once, post-marriages but pre-kids, in Colorado for a four-day glorious reunion. Cami was married to Eric, whom she would later divorce. Jen was married to Ken, with whom she would travel many paths, including learning to flip houses in the San Francisco area and raising three girls adopted from China.
Nancy traded in journalism for a role in her husband’s church as he founded a new one under the leadership of theirs, which was growing outsized. Rather than get a bigger building and encourage commuting, their pastor wisely began to plan in surrounding communities. Scott and Nancy took up the challenge.
Fast forward, as we drifted apart, separated by geography and years. It was interesting that we changed directions in the politics of Christianity as well, but that never pulled at the foundations of our friendships. Among other topics, Jen remains staunchly pro-life to the point that conflating women’s rights with the rights of the unborn was a conversation we had more than once. I fluttered around what I considered a common sense middle with Nancy, who was quieter about the whole thing: if the church was so concerned about the unborn why didn’t it treat men the way it did women, explaining what a horrible sin it was to impregnate and abandon a woman and encouraging the policies that would regulate male bodies? Etc. You might be able to truncate the position into “we’d be actively pro-life if the church had a lick of common sense when it came to gender and racial equity issues.”
Cami was having none of that. She was right to choose and women’s empowerment all the way, and considered Nancy and I soft on feminism, even brainwashed, although that was not a word anyone used. Too loaded.
The letters (those were the days, my friend) cards and emails, and eventually the casual Facebook updates, kept coming, but we went from deep issues to liking each other’s pictures of batches of chocolate cookies–and announcements of forthcoming publications as Cami, Nancy and I launched our writing careers.
My last personal communication with Nancy was about six years ago, when her oldest son died. When a teenager in a Christian church commits suicide, and his parents are pastors, all hell breaks loose. Nancy disappeared from Facebook and I didn’t expect a response to my hand-written note. If there is anything worse than losing a child, it is being judged by your loving community for that loss.
Nancy was on my mind from time to time, and in my prayers. I liked graduation pictures for her younger sons, smiling at the small Scotts who had grown taller than their father.
About a month ago, it crossed my mind to catch up with Nancy, but I was busy, headed to Scotland leading a tour group with Jack. I’d do it when I got home.
Nancy and Scott were also headed out on vacation, for a swift getaway in Montana. That’s where the rainstorm caused horrific driving conditions resulting in a head-on collision. All those involved died at the scene.
It wasn’t a constant friendship, it was a backdrop from formative years. The world was steadier when Nancy–sensible, steadfast Nancy of the curious mind and the common sense “I see the difference between theology and convenience and power struggles” perception–was in it. The light looks dimmer, the world feels less safe, with this beacon of honesty, transparency, and kindness taken from it.
Fare thee well, Nancy. I know you went straight from that car seat to the arms of Jesus, and I feel confident of the first thing he said to you. “Hi, honey. What shall we talk about?”