God on the Ground - Stephen W. Simpson, Ph.D.

I didn’t know he was the groom’s brother. Had I known, I might have kept my mouth shut. If I had kept my mouth shut, maybe Rebecca wouldn’t have been crying at eight thirty in the morning on her wedding day.

“Yeah, I hear she’s quite a piece of work.”

That’s all I said. I said it because I’d heard from multiple sources that Rebecca’s mother-in-law-to-be was, in fact, quite a piece of work. I said it to the guy giving me a ride from the hotel to the rehearsal dinner. I said it because he was talking trash about the groom’s mother. 

What I didn’t know was that the groom’s mother was also his mother. He used her first name, for crying out loud! How was I supposed to know? 

And how was I supposed to know that he was going to report my comments to his family as evidence that Rebecca had been spreading gossip about her future mother-in-law? When his mother, being the piece of work that she is, heard about my comment, she flipped.

So Rebecca called me at eight thirty the next morning to find out exactly what I’d said to her brother-in-law-to-be about her mother-in-law-to-be. 

Meanwhile, I, after a late night with my old high school friends, rubbed my eyes and tried to figure out where I was and why my best female friend in the world was crying. After a couple minutes, clarity started seeping in from the edges.

“That was the groom’s brother?” I asked.

“Um, yeah,” said Rebecca.

It was my turn to flip!

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Steve,” said Rebecca, holding back tears. “You’ve been caught in the crossfire. I’m going to deal with this. You enjoy yourself.”

It didn’t surprise me. She’s like that. The surprise is that Rebecca has remained my friend for twenty-five years.

We met in journalism class our sophomore year of high school. We shared a wry, wicked sense of humor, a love for writing, and similar taste in music, but we argued about things like politics and religion. Since I was male, adolescent, and evangelical, I did a lot of pontificating, smirking, and accusing. 

She didn’t. She listened patiently, gave her opinions, and rarely got frustrated with me. Her worst reaction ever consisted of not speaking to me for an hour when I said something especially nasty. When I apologized to her later that day at a pep rally, she laughed and told me to forget about it.

As we floated through college, graduate school, and miscellaneous jobs, our lives diverged more and more. But she always called me on my birthday. She always went out of her way to keep in touch. She was always the first to call when everyone still returned to our hometown for Christmas. She participated in my wedding without wreaking the chaos and devastation that I did at hers.

She got divorced around the time I got married. It would have been easy for her to indulge in a single lifestyle and ignore her married friends. That’s what I would have done after suffering through a difficult breakup—I would have turned my back on people with families. 

Thank God Rebecca isn’t like that. She welcomed my wife as a new friend. She embraced our children. She asks for pictures. We’re both busy now, but when we connect on the phone, she listens more than she talks.

For a long time, I didn’t like myself very much. Rebecca played a big part in changing that. If someone so cool, so self-possessed, so witty, cares about me, I must not suck that much.

Only a few people other than my wife can demolish my self-preoccupied self-loathing in seconds. Rebecca is one of them. Eddie is another. Also Mark, Jimmy, Kevin, Galen, and Ryan. And my wife, Shelley, who deserves to be mentioned twice. And once there was a guy named Bill. I want to tell you about these people.

I’m tired of writing about myself. It’s not that I’m running out of stories about my life; it’s just that those stories tend to travel down thematic roads that have been well trodden in this column. Also, most of what I’ve written for “God on the Ground” gives the impression that it’s just God and me on a mystical journey together. That’s a huge misrepresentation. 

God works on me through other people, and I want to tell some of their stories. I want to tell you about how God uses them to do the long, slow work of molding me into something moderately useful. 

Thank God he doesn’t leave the work to me. Thank God other people show up to teach me about things like friendship, patience, love, generosity, and grace.

Thank God for Rebecca.