If you were sitting in front of me right now, you would know by my face that I really love my Rachel, because I started crying as soon as I popped her picture into the white box. She has to be the next friend about whom I write because I had a conversation with Sharon (about whom I wrote the last blog post) that turned into a story inside of my Rachel story. If you happen to know Rachel, you know everything is either a sign or a story with her, and you understand I would be failing her, somehow, if I didn't look at our relationship as a series of stories inside a story.
Rachel could talk the ears off a dead man and confuse Confucius, but somehow these truths make everyone love her even more. Honestly, she's probably the most loved person in all of Powhatan, and I can guarantee that--even now--there are people reading this, bristling, thinking: how dare that Brandee Shafer call Rachel her Rachel; she's my Rachel! And those same people need to get their underbritches out of a wad because, yes, you're right: she's your Rachel, too. That's the thing about Rachel: if you know her, she's yours, because she loves and cares for every person and animal she's ever met, including people who have no sense and cats who have no fur or bladder control. If you're looking for Jesus and can't see Him in Rachel's eyes, you're one of those people who has no sense. She'll love you and care for you, anyway.
I met Rachel because she and I went, separately, to Kevin Salyer and asked him to put us to work. Kevin was the Minister of Pastoral Care at our church (PCC) at the time, and he started meeting with us and three others who had also expressed an interest in pastoral care. Out of this evolved the PCC Care Team, as I know it. (I stress the phrase "as I know it" because I'm aware that there were caregivers before Kevin drew the six of us together, but I don't know that history.) It was an awkward little time because none of us newbies really knew what (s)he was doing, just that there existed a calling. We all started in the same place, and God stretched us into different directions within the Team. Others came alongside, and--of we "original" six--Rachel is the only one who remains in leadership; in fact, she's leading the Team. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I did not connect instantly with Rachel, mostly because she seemed quiet. I know, now, that she was just unsure (not of her calling, but of what to do with it) and soaking in everything Kevin had to say. I, too, was unsure, but I handled myself differently (foolishly) and ran my mouth entirely too much, which got me into trouble with Kevin. (A very difficult thing to do, I would imagine, and definitely worth a blog post at some point.) But Kevin is an amazing leader, and he brought Rachel out and simmered me down, which was really just foreshadowing of what God would continue to do.
My friend Connie asked me, recently, how long Rachel and I have known one another, and I answered, "Oh, about four years," and Connie couldn't believe it; she had assumed Rachel and I had been friends since high school. That's what Jesus can do! If you've ever really worked alongside someone in ministry, you know that bonds form that have nothing to do with time, space, or anything explainable outside of God. And let me tell you: Rachel and I have prayed for and seen some miracles.
My favorite one to tell is this: one evening--on the same day Rachel had gone to the doctor for a little bit of help in conceiving a baby--she held my daughter Clementine, who looked up at Rachel and smiled her first real smile. I caught it with my camera:
Later, on my drive home, God brought the story of Elizabeth and Mary to my mind: how John the Baptist, inside Elizabeth's womb, leapt with joy because he knew he was in the presence of Jesus, with whom Mary was pregnant. I knew in my heart that Rachel was pregnant, also that Clementine had smiled in sensing it, and I felt God nudging me to tell Rachel. I questioned God in telling her; she had longed for a child for over a decade, and I didn't want to be wrong and hurt her. But I just kept feeling the nudge, so I blurted it all out, she believed me, and later came the confirmation that Rachel had indeed conceived Zachary Austin on the very day in question.
Honestly, I've never known Rachel to doubt me. Even if that sounds unfathomable to you, you don't know the half of it, because--over the course of our friendship--I have begun countless conversations with Rachel by saying: "Ok, so you're the only person in the world who would believe this," after which I've proceeded to tell her some God thing I can hardly believe, myself. In some cases, I have gone to her at the beginning of a story (after hearing God's voice, but before acting), and--on each of these occasions-- she has encouraged me to act on what I've heard. Many times, she has acted along with me or assisted me in some way, thereby adding her beautiful touch to the undertaking. On other occasions, I have gone to her at the end of a doozie of a story, and she has marveled with me. Finally, there have been instances of my responding to Rachel when she has asked my thoughts on a certain situation. At times, I have known instantly, in my spirit, what to say; at times, I have prayed for and received an answer; and, at still other times, I have prayed and returned to Rachel empty-handed. I take that aspect of our relationship very seriously and would never intentionally mislead or hurt Rachel. In fact, if a train were barreling toward her, I would give no thought before jumping in front of it to throw her out of its path. My husband and children could be standing there watching and screaming for me not to jump, and--as God is my witness--I would jump, anyway, which is where my conversation with Sharon comes in.
One night, Sharon and I were sitting outside a McDonald's in Shenandoah, and she asked me a question about my friendship with Rachel. I confessed to Sharon something I'd never told Rachel: that--for just a second, when Kevin chose Rachel to lead the Care Team--I experienced something akin to envy. (I'd always been more Jonathan and less armourbearer!) Also, that--in the very next second--I decided to trust Kevin's decision and support Rachel, whom I had come to really, really love. Looking back, I can see that Kevin absolutely made the right decision for a million reasons. There isn't time to go into all of them, but suffice it to say--at the end of the day--Rachel has the more caring heart. And Kevin's work of bringing Rachel out and simmering me down was very much part of God's great plan in growing the two of us; I'm certain I have learned much more in following than I would have in leading, and Rachel has learned much more in leading than she would have in following. Furthermore, as I told Sharon in Shenandoah, I believe I have a calling on my life where Rachel is concerned, and the calling is to protect her: sometimes guide her, but mostly protect her. It was something to which I'd never given conscious thought, but--as soon as I uttered the words--I knew it was true.
It was with great excitement that I told Rachel about my insightful conversation with Sharon, and--at the tail end--I added: "It's true; it's really true! I feel like a lion walking back and forth in front of you!"
Rachel asked, quietly: "Brandee, do you know what Rachel means?"
I answered: "No."
Rachel said: "It means little lamb."
Even so, days later, I was having an especially rough time, and my head was filled with crazy thoughts about how everyone hated me, and that particular thing--the lion thing--kept coming up. Satan asked: "Who do you think you are? You're no one! And what was this, saying nonsense to Rachel about protecting her? What an idiot you are!"
The phone rang. It was Rachel. I told her: "I've been feeling so stupid for saying all that the other day. The lion thing."
And she responded: "Satan has been attacking me, too. There's this thing that God is calling me to do, and Satan doesn't want me to do it. And every time he tries to get in my head and tell me all of the bad things that will happen if I do what God wants me to do, I close my eyes and picture you as a lion, walking back and forth in front of me, protecting me."
So. Rachel brings to my life the gift of faith: not only in God, but also in me. And because she has faith in me, I draw and squeeze just as close to God as I possibly can: growing in faith, listening for His voice, receiving His direction, and preparing myself for what lies ahead for both Rachel and me. We are in it together. Because she trusts in me, I will be found--at every turn--trustworthy. Heart and soul, I am with her.