She was one of the first friends I made when we moved here sixteen years ago. I don't remember when we first met exactly but I do remember attending church supper on a Wednesday night as a visitor and feeling every bit of that appellation and all the unease it signifies. In our nervousness and discomfort, we were nearly ready to bolt, ditching prayer meeting entirely, when she plopped down at the table beside us and chatted and laughed like we had been, and would be, lifelong friends.
That, I would soon learn, is her gift to us all: open, unreserved friendship offered in heartfelt sincerity and generous love to any and all. We stayed for prayer meeting that night and ended up staying for church too, for some thirteen years or more. Her son and my son became the very best of friends, spending countless hours at one or the other's home or at her parents' home. When her dad died her boy was here spending the weekend with us, his parents and us both hoping to alleviate some of the heaviness that weighs on a young kid's heart and mind when his grandad is so very sick.
Ever since that Wednesday night in the church fellowship hall, I have remained grateful for her generous friendship, for her contagious joy, and for her humble faith.
My husband called me last Friday, our conversation beginning with the preparatory warning: "I've got some sad news." My friend's mom had died, he told me, suddenly, unexpectedly. I couldn't believe it. None of us could. I'd just seen her, I protested, at the grocery store. She who lived with such cheerful vivacity and determined optimism now dead? It seemed shocking, inconceivable, one so full of life passing so quickly.
We stood in line Monday morning to pay our respects, me, my husband and our oldest boy. So many were there to offer their condolences and to honor this godly lady so highly respected and so dearly loved. We waited over forty five minutes before finally reaching my friend and the rest of the family. As she greeted us, she commented on how beautiful her mom was and we had to agree. With a smile and a laugh my friend acknowledged her confidence in her mom's reward: "She's up there all mad at us for crying and making a big deal," she quipped. We loved her, we told her.
My boy hugged his friend and I wondered where the years had gone and how in the world those two little guys had transformed seemingly overnight into the men I saw before me. Funerals make one realize, among many things, the fleeting nature of our lives and the quick passage of time.
As we waited in line my son received all sorts of congratulatory handshakes and heartfelt well wishes. I thought to myself, and not for the first time, that this one of the things I love about our community: we grieve together and we celebrate together.
During the funeral service, I sat next to another very dear friend of many years. I remembered her remarking once, many years ago, that the years would pass and there she and I would be, friends still, the "little old ladies" that form the backbone of church and community. We laughed about it in our youth and should I remind her of it we would probably laugh still. Sitting there at the funeral I remembered and I thanked God for friends, for shared journeys, for boys becoming men, for the legacy of a life well lived, and for the hope we have in Christ and Christ alone.
We were pulling out of the parking lot and I told my son, my boy-now-man, that I didn't want to be unnecessarily morbid but funerals tend to make you think and this is what I'm thinking: that when I die I want whoever preaches my funeral to remind the mourners (however many or few) of but one thing: that I was a wicked, depraved, rebellious sinner and my only hope is Jesus.
Yes and amen.