This is a paper I wrote for my creative non-fiction class, edited slightly to post here on my blog. Any feedback or constructive criticism would be appreciated!
There are people who insist that people don’t change, that a person is only what they always were, and will always be what they are.
I can’t say I remember the first time I met Lisa, or how we became friends to begin with. I told her so at her wedding, before she went off on her honeymoon: I said I couldn’t imagine my life without her; she’s like a sister to me. I do remember one event which really solidified our friendship. It was one weekend at Women of Faith, an annual Christian women’s conference; Lisa was rooming with my mother and me at the hotel. On the way back from a meal break, my mom had gotten us lost and made us late and then been mad at me for it, and I was so frustrated with her that I couldn’t sit in the arena. I wandered around the concourse with Lisa until we found a little room reserved for prayer. We spent the rest of that session together in that room; we missed the whole Mandisa concert, but she didn’t care and stayed with me anyway. That’s how Lisa is: She deeply cares about people. She has this love that seems to pour out of her and spill all over you until you’re drenched; her smile and her belief make you feel like you can do anything. When I first knew her, I thought she was a perfect model, with her natural blond curls and slim tall feminine build and perfect kind smile. She is the most joyful and beautiful person I know, my best friend.
We talk about everything. We’ve had conversations about faith, about politics, boys and men, movies and romance, food and fashion. Once, when we were talking in my car, I had an idea, almost an image, pass through my mind, and I told her what it was: It’s as if the whole world is black and white, and when she walks into a room, she brings the color with her. It’s just who she is. She is the city on the hill, a beacon. She is also a former felon.
When we would talk together, she sometimes told me about her history. She wasn’t always full of light and grace. I don’t remember the exact conversations; I’ve heard her story a few times since. She told me about her teen years, how she got into alcohol and all sorts of drugs. Her mom once rented a one-bedroom apartment with a boyfriend when Lisa was only sixteen; there wasn’t room for Lisa, who was expected to figure things out on her own. She often hung out with thieves and broke into places to steal. She told me a little about her time in prison. More often than not, she was in solitary confinement, wing 3 South —“the hole.” I saw a picture of the old her: Black hair, mug shot glare. No color, no life, just resentment and hatred and darkness. She would fight anyone, for anything. She would tell me these things, and I wouldn’t believe her. I’d tell her that was a completely different person. She would agree.
Sometimes we talk about my life, my struggles and anxieties and fears. We talk about how difficult my relationship to my mother is; how it feels having to go back home as an adult; what it’s like to be virtually the only person I know who’s still single and with no children; what it’s like to feel alienated from people my own age; how it feels to question the path I had complete faith in when I took that first step over three years ago. We talk about how I’ve been through many changes in my life, yet I feel as though I’m back at Start: I did not pass “Go,” I did not collect $200. Sometimes I feel like I’m in jail, waiting, watching others take their turns around the board. The path I’ve chosen is taking me through a long and weary wilderness of papers and ink, fearful dabblings in writing, late nights spent in alone rather than out with friends, allowing ideas to form and change. Sometimes I wonder what it’s for, why God is taking me this way and if it is really Him, and I tell my friend so. She reminds me how everything is a season, how the leaves will turn eventually and the attire of my weary desert will change for something cozier, and all the trekking that feels like worthless wandering will have been worth it because I started out going somewhere and I’ll get there. She believes in change. I believe her.
When Lisa decided to follow God and to get clean, she lost everything: The friends she used to run with abandoned her; she had to take her little girl and leave her boyfriend; she really had nowhere to go. Everyone told her she would fail and be right back, and no one took her seriously. She was a single mom with a record, and a recovering addict. Employers don’t often care what a person’s felony charge was, or how much their life has changed, or how much they regret their mistake; all that most employers see on paper and before them in an interview is a felon, and felons aren’t hirable. Lisa was alone in the world with very few options, and might have given up but for the dim light growing within her that drew her on for just one more day, one more day. People who experience addiction and recovery say it’s not one life-changing moment, but a thousand impossible choices every day. Lisa chose every day to take one more impossible step into the unknown, to leave behind who she was and everything she knew, to become the beautiful person she is today—an impossibility itself—a miracle. She chose to be the impossible before the eyes of her old friends and family, every day over years and years becoming what they told her she would never be: Free.
Lisa is married now, and going through even more changes; our friendship has gone through some changes as well. She and her husband are busy learning how to become one, figuring each other out, working out how to build their new life together. She seemed distant for a while, and I was afraid the season for our close friendship may have come to an end for good; but it was only a short winter while her new marriage began its long spring. We still talk, and now I go to her house to visit with her whenever I can. Lisa and her husband just had their first baby together, a girl. She’s changing before their eyes. She will grow up with a father who loves her and a mother who believes in her ability to change and the goodness of it. She’ll also have an auntie, not by blood but friendship, who will be there as often as possible. Lisa is still my best friend; that hasn’t changed, and for that I am glad.
Though it’s much different than it used to be, life is not suddenly easy for her, because she’s not done changing. We all continue to morph into different versions of ourselves as long as we live, either becoming more and more the person God made us to be or running from that person. Every day we choose to trust what He says about who we are is a day we choose the impossible. Lisa inspires me to keep hoping one day I might be married, though I can choose to be whole and happy now regardless; to keep hoping, even when I feel as though no one else is walking the same road as me, that this season won’t continue forever. She reminds me I am exactly where I need to be in order for God to do what He needs to do with me, even if it’s not ideal. I don’t know who I’m becoming yet; I don’t know what I’ll do with this degree once I earn it, besides hang it on my wall. I believed in the beginning that this part of my journey had a purpose, that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. This road is not easy, and it must be because it’s the right way; His roads are always narrow, after all.
Lisa told me once about being in the hole in prison, absolutely at her desperate end. Her life felt as though it was being engulfed in darkness and despair and she would never get away from it, never change; she “kited” for her mentor over and over, but her mentor let her be alone. The only book they allow you in the hole is the Bible. She read it and read it, sought and groped after all the promises and hope written in the pages, longing for the light. One day it came. As to Paul on the road to Damascus, the light came. It flooded the cell, flooded her, and the love that came with it destroyed her. To this day, it destroys her; it shines out from that hill of her life into the dim valley of single college students dwelling at home in the wilderness, reminding them that things change and people change, and light always comes.
For more of Lisa’s story, read her testimony on the Esteem Outreach website.