Once upon a time in a backyard far, far away, I stood in a back yard swimming pool with two wonderful little girls… sisters, a year or two either side of 10 years old. We swam, we played, we laughed, we splashed in the brilliant early summer sunshine… and then, we stood still and we talked a bit. While I was, for sure, a grownup, my temperament had always made me more “kid” than “adult” and it seemed children made a lot of sense to me, and I to them.
These beautiful girls were getting ready to move – well, their parents were getting them ALL ready to move – as Daddy’s job was shifting from their city to one hundreds of miles away. And… and… they weren’t real happy about that. Now, they trusted their parents completely, respected and loved them, and they KNEW everything was going to be “all right” (for their parents said so), and they were going to a wonderful place (for their parents said so), and they’d make new friends and have a terrific school (for their parents said so)… and, above all, they knew… they absolutely KNEW… that their parents never EVER lied to them.
But still… they weren’t happy.
So I asked… what was making them unhappy? And they said… they were a little afraid.
So I asked… what were they a little afraid of? And they said… they had lots of friends here, and they were happy here, and they knew everybody here, and now… soon… that would all be gone, and they’d be in this new place, and they wouldn’t know anybody or anything and they’d have to start all over and it was scary to think of that.
I smiled and nodded, saying, “Ah. I understand. You’re right. Going to new places we don’t know what to expect really… and that’s always a little bit scary, yes.”
Now, my OWN life had included lots of moving around, and even my service in their city, my coming to know them, was yet a “stopover” in a series of places and situations the Lord led the path of my life through. They knew I had come from far away only a few months before, and that I was likely to move elsewhere when my assignment was finished.
So they asked, “Um…?”
“You’ve gone to lots of new places, haven’t you? You’ve done this lots of times, right??”
“Well, why isn’t it scary for you?”
And I laughed as we took a moment to splash one another a bit. But then I answered.
“Well, it IS a ‘little scary’ for me, every time. But I’ve learned this wonderful thing in my travels, and maybe it will help you, too. It’s always a bit sad when we live somewhere, we love people and they love us, we make friends, and then we leave all that to go somewhere else. But there’s three important things to know.
“First, just like Mom and Dad are telling you, there are ‘new friends ready to be made’ in that new place. For example, look at us… look at how much we love each other and the friends we’ve become. This was my ‘new place’ just a short time ago. YOU two, weren’t in my ‘old place’, and if I had stayed there, I would never have gotten to you or make friends with you. I’d have missed out on all that. THAT would have been awful, right?”
They nodded somberly.
“Second, and this is really important,” as I dropped my voice to a conspiratorial whisper and they drew closer, “you don’t have to lose all your NOW friends. You’re thinking you’ll feel all alone in your new place until you get to know folks, right?”
They nodded sadly.
“But look! Mommy and Daddy are going right there with you, right? So that’s a big plus. You have telephones and letters and pictures, right? ALL your friends here, will be happy to stay in touch with you, talk to you, write back and forth to you, and probably even VISIT you there from time to time. You don’t have to LOSE any of the friends you have right now and we don’t have to ‘disconnect’. See? Think about it, even if you don’t SEE your best friend, does that mean they’re not still your friend, or that you can’t keep loving one another or stay in touch? I mean think about your Grandma and Papaw… they’re here now, to help with the move, but they’ve always been ‘with you’ and ‘yours’ even when they’re several states away in their own home, right?”
They nodded, a bit more brightly, as they realized these things were true. They began to smile.
“But here’s the best part, you ready?” I continued, “We all share something very special, you, me, your folks, your grandparents, Uncle Charlie…” and here I named some of the really “special friends” whose impending loss was causing them such grief… “all of us share Jesus inside of us. That’s not just something we believe, that’s SomeONE who connects us. He’s in us and we’re in HIM. We’re all connected, all the time, and that’s what makes love so special. Love is that ‘connection in Him’.
“Jesus makes ‘forever friends’ when people connect in Him. You have many ‘forever friends’ here, and you will never EVER lose them. Whether you’re close up or far away, you will always be able to reach out to each other… writing, phone, visit… and that friendship will always be as rich and deep as it ever was. In fact, it will likely grow over time. And it won’t matter how far apart you are, or how long it has been since you’ve been in touch. Do you believe me on this?”
For some reason, there seemed to be a prompt of Spirit that said it was important that they understand this. So I waited.
They nodded, “we believe you.”
“Good. Because these people you feel sad to lose…” and again I named some of the precious friends, some kids, some adults… “you need NEVER lose. ‘Forever friends’ will always be deep in your heart that way, AND you will make more in your ‘new place’. Everywhere I have ever gone, I have found new ‘forever friends’, and they are precious to me anywhere I am, whatever I do, however long it is until I see them. Again.
“Jesus makes all that possible. In fact, it’s not just that He makes it POSSIBLE, but that it’s just how He IS. ‘Love never fails’, eh? Just because you may travel far away, your body may move… doesn’t mean that love is any further away in your heart, or that you aren’t still connected. See?
“So, what have I learned in my travels? I’ve learned that moving is ‘a little bit scary’, yes. I’ve learned it’s ‘a little bit sad’, yes. But I’ve also learned that I never lose my ‘forever friends’ that they are with me always, just as Jesus is. And I’ve learned that everywhere I go, I get to find more of them, and that’s exciting. In fact, that’s pretty much why God sends me in the first place. THAT, can be kind of fun. OK?”
They nodded, turned to one another, and began to whisper. Then the elder said, “Wait a minute, ok?” and as I nodded (a bit confused) they headed off to a different part of the pool for some mysterious, but intense, conversation. I started swimming elsewhere.
They called me back with a air of resolution, and the elder said, “We’ve decided. We think you’re right.” The elder was a surprisingly serious child, often very thoughtful and always very earnest, so I went to the pool steps to sit and let them speak with total attention.
“We hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. We won’t lose our friends here, but we’ll miss seeing them all the time. But yes, we know what you mean by ‘forever friends’.” The younger nodded in agreement. “Would you,” and they reached forward, each taking one of my hands, “would you be our ‘forever friend’, too? We don’t want to lose you either. We love you, and maybe sometime God will send you to work where we are.”
“Sure I will, girls,” I stammered as I hugged them and blinked back a tear or two. “In fact, I think it’s really too late, Jesus already made us ‘forever friends’ quite a while ago, huh?” and we all laughed.
But very solemnly I promised, “I will always be your friend, no matter where we are or what we do. We’re in Him and He’s in us and together we’re in the Father. There is nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth, that can separate us from that love, or even… from loving each other. Always. That’s true now, and later when you grow up it will be true, and (conspiratorial whisper) even AFTER… ‘forever’… like when we are finished with our bodies, and our tents are rolled up and we’re in heaven itself… even THEN. ‘Forever’ means we will ALWAYS be friends, and you can trust that.” And we went on from there to swim, splash, play, squeal… and then go in to dinner when we were called by their Mom and Dad.
Their Dad later mentioned that he didn’t know what we’d done or talked about that afternoon, but he thanked me because he could see the girls being much more comfortable as the move approached, than they had been before. I was glad of that.
I got to touch their lives from time to time in their teens, as they grew into wonderful young women.
I got to attend their weddings to wonderful young men.
I got to rejoice at the birth of their (two apiece) wonderful children.
I got to praise and wonder at the development of their own wondrous ministries and growth in grace and strength before God and man.
We have remained “forever friends”… but this memory, this story told from a backyard pool, had just drifted into the dim recesses of memory as something never thought about for years.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This “precious child” (to me, always, no matter how old they got, or how grown up), the elder sister, so earnest and kind, went to be with the Lord yesterday, as her body was rolled up like a tent, succumbing to a long and valiant struggle with cancer. Over these years, God has taught me new depths of prayer and loved I have never imagined, in my determination to lift up her and her entire family to the grace, love and power of God.
Nearly unceasing prayer for her, and unflagging availability and support for her family in any way, were the only way I could express my friendship. I know she passed surrounded by family, wrapped in the love, prayer, and grace of countless friends, as Jesus took her in His arms and wiped away every tear and trace of her pain, leading her home.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When she had gone, I was sad. I am honest. I hurt. And I no more spout “true, but inappropriate” words to myself than I do to others in grief. When told that Lazarus was dead, Jesus wept. Grief is real, true, and godly. And grief, was mine. Along with the sympathetic grief of knowing the loss felt by even the most faith-anointed family.
So I just took my grief, my sadness to Jesus. Along with my gratitude, my joy, my realization of the wonder of her afternoon. There is an unspeakable joy and wonder to “coming fully to life”, that has meaning only because of our innate “rejection and revulsion at death”. I just allowed all my “feelings” and all my “thoughts” just to be whatever they are and were, as I took me to Jesus and rested in Him.
And the Comforter came, and He brought this memory. He seemed to wipe my tears, as this memory replayed, and as He squeezed my shoulders, He said…
“That was Truth there. It is sad that she has moved. It’s a bit scary to consider moving where you can’t see exactly what lies beyond. But you’ve not ‘lost’ her, nor her you. None of you have lost one another. The ‘contact’ has changed, but it is not gone. So grieve, yes… but even in that, remember that you’ve not lost one another. None of you. You are, have always been, and will ever be ‘forever friends’… and she KNOWS that… She knows that now, senses your presence, even more than she could before. So,
over time, let your joy overcome your grief. To be ‘in one another’s heart’ is not just a cliché… that’s a FACT, because you are all in MY heart, and I in yours, and you are all in Me.
“For now, just allow your grief and rest in Me for comfort. But beyond that, just go on doing what you do, for this is My will. Keep on making ‘forever friends’… and let others know to do so. This is wondrous, and this is how I can move and touch heart to heart.”