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26th of February

Rendezvous with Red


How is it that sometimes we women meet another woman who feels like a twin?  That’s my friend Kathy.  Our “coming together” was quite in line with our personalities.  We met camping.

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Todd, our young kids, our yellow lab, and I sailed on the U.S.S. Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan and drove north to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for the first of many times, many years ago.  A bit more rugged than most campers, we hauled all our gear into the walk-in only sites.  Next to our site, I discovered a mother camping alone with her two young children.  Turns out her husband had to work, so this adventurous soul decided to camp solo with kids!  My kind of woman!

Wanting to make a new friend, as always, I poured two glasses of Chardonnay and sauntered down to her site.  We liked each other immediately and ended up doing most everything together, her family and mine, for the remainder of our camping trip.  So much fun was had by all that we decided to meet again the following year—and the year after that—and the year after that.  I can’t even remember how many years we camped together but I do remember all the laughter and discovering new and crazy things we have in common.

As our kids grew, our lives became busier and the camping trips stopped.  Kathy and I didn’t even remain in regular contact.  But she’s the kind of sister-friend where there’s no pressure, no expectation, no awkwardness.  Whenever  we reconnect, no matter how much time has passed, it’s as if no time has passed.  There’s just love and laughter.  That’s all.

Years have gone by and our kids are now grown, except for one of mine.  Kathy and I planned a rendezvous for last week, deciding to go a bit more upscale than tents and campfire cooking.  We met in Chicago, which just happens to be both of our old stomping grounds, long before we met.

Our trains arrived at Union Station about an hour apart, Kathy’s first.  Standing there waving wildly in her light blue down coat, I ran to hug her.  We don’t care who sees how weird we look.  Because, after all, love trumps opinions.  Our excitement over reuniting was uncontainable.

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We grabbed a cab and got to know our driver quickly.  That’s something we have in common—a fascination with people and an ability to connect quickly.  Our cab driver had a distinct and interesting accent so I asked him where he was from, trying to start conversation.  Kathy and I got a geography lesson which ended in wild laughter.

Our driver was from Albania.  Albania?  Where the heck is Albania?  I guessed it was close to Greece and he was impressed that I knew.  But then I said, “Doesn’t it border Russia?”.  My geographic ignorance was on full display.  No matter!  Ignorance can be bliss when you can laugh about it.  And we did.  All of us.  It’s good to laugh about your short-comings sometimes and not take yourself too seriously.

Off to The Whitehall he drove us, a beautiful boutique hotel right off Michigan Avenue in the heart of the upscale shopping district, across the street from Bloomingdales, for (gasp!) $72 per night, total!  How crazy good is that?!  (If you don’t know Chicago hotel costs along what’s known as One Magnificent Mile and The Gold Coast, you don’t know how impressed you should be!).

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Within an hour of our rendezvous, I had laughed my vocal chords sore and snorted my nasal passages clear. Kathy is hilarious, especially because she doesn’t try to be hilarious.  She just IS!  And we play off each other.  For example . . .

First thing we do when we get to our hotel room?  Discover there’s a phone in the bathroom, on the wall across from the toilet.  So of course we have to take pictures of ourselves sitting on the john using the phone!  It’s this silly sort of play we love!

And we both love being stupid.  Like that first night when we zoomed to the 95th floor of the Hancock building to have wine and appetizers while admiring the breathtaking cityscape, glittering with lights.  Suddenly, I stand up and announce I’m going to the south bank of windows to take a picture of the Hancock building which we can see in the distance.  As I start walking, Kathy says, “Heather, we’re IN the Hancock building!” in a nonchalant manner.  Mortified by my ignorance, we howl with laughter to the point where my mascara runs and we’re trying to contain ourselves so we don’t draw too much attention in this chic Chicago lounge.

And then I start demonstrating how couples at a wedding I attended the previous weekend in “the hood” of Milwaukee sashayed their way down the aisle to a Stevie Wonder tune.  Unaware that I had an audience, the wait staff approached me moments later asking if I danced.  Well . . . not really.  The howling continued.

In addition to our love of laughter, Kathy and I have some serious common interests.  We both love art and nature and hiking and cooking and EATING!  We both do yoga and Pilates and we like a glass of wine with dinner (and lunch when on vacation in Chicago!).  We love people and coffee and we discovered we have the exact same personality profile according to the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory.  We are Extroverted (E), Intuitive (N), Feeling (F), and Perceptive (P) and we ENFPs make up less than 10% of the population which is why many people think we are, umm, unusual.  We’re that touch-feely, artsy-fartsy, spontaneous, adventurous-type who can be highly annoying to left-brained folk but highly necessary to keep the majority of the population from boring each other to death.  (A bit of a biased opinion there!).

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So we talked and laughed and ate and shopped and . . .

We were transfixed.

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The Art Institute of Chicago, to art-lovers like us, is a slice of heaven on earth.  We posed in front of the famous lions on both sides of the massive staircase leading to the entrance.  Then we climbed the marble steps to our favorite set of galleries—the Impressionists.  We discovered we both have the same favorite painter—Renoir.  And right there in the center of the gallery, staring right at us, we discovered we both have the exact same favorite painting of his—“Two Sisters”, that gorgeous canvas of the woman in deep blue dress and vivid red hat with her younger sister by her side and a bowl of yarn balls in front of them.  Kathy and I had both admired this painting many times before when visiting the gallery alone.

Our visit together brought a surprise to us both.  There was a newer exhibition called “The Science of Renoir”.

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The Art Institute discovered, upon separating canvas from frame, that Renoir’s red paint had faded, creating a muted effect on the portrait that was not the artist’s intent.  The original color tones, especially the red, were rich and vivid.  Microscopic and chemical analysis of a miniscule flake of red paint extracted by museum researchers identified the red pigment as originating from the blood of a tiny insect, the cochineal bug that feasts on cacti.  The pigment is especially light sensitive which is the reason for the substantial fading compared to the other colors.

While staring at the original painting, now faded, and an adjacent, digitized version showing Renoir’s vivid red color choice, I thought about the beauty of blood.  I thought about original intentions and perfect love.  How, unlike priceless museum canvases, God’s perfect love never fades with time.  How even the elements of light and air have no effect on the beauty of blood, priceless to us, life-costing to One.  How flesh and bone frames are destined to age and decay but the blood of Jesus guarantees restoration of life—the way the greatest Artist intended us to be—and not just us, but all of creation—vibrant, stunning, radiant, ever-lasting.

Oh what a Savior!  Oh what a hope!

And I thought about true friendship—how we are able to love because we were loved first by True Love . . .

Kathy and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on everything even though we are remarkably similar.  But the most important thing we share is love.  We have a true sister-love that loves unconditionally.  And one thing is for sure—true love never fades.  And true love is not to be housed in a museum of relics.  True love is to be spread lavishly across the canvas of humanity, every stroke joining together until we see, as we all will one day, the face of the One who is the essence and source of True Love—the One who paints us to perfection.

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