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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

This past week, I received the news that my lovely ‘soul friend’ of previous years, Joy Crawford, had passed away at age ninety-one. On my last visit to the nursing home where she had been for some time, she did not stir or recognise me. Wondering what to do, I wrote her a little note which was eventually found on her bedside table by her daughter. And I sat and prayed and remembered, just as I have this week, after hearing of her death.

Joy and I met together once a month, first during my time at theological college when I needed a mentor—or spiritual companion, as Joy much preferred to be called—and then on into my years in local church ministry. After that, we kept meeting when we could, until she became too frail and unwell. Joy made a huge impact on my life, so much so that the dedication in my very first novel, Heléna, published in 2007, reads: ‘To Joy Crawford—my lifesaver’. I still also have a card Joy sent the day I finished the very first draft of that novel where she wrote: The Book! Well done, dear Jo-Anne. Congratulations—and my prayers and love for the next phase. Joy. Joy always believed in me, encouraged me and supported me in prayer and practical ways—and it was an absolute delight when, in 2012, she was able to share in the launch of what we called ‘our’ book, Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, an account of our years of meeting together and the many ways Joy helped and encouraged me in that time.

Joy was doubtful at first about putting parts of our many conversations into print, but I think she would be delighted to know Soul Friend is still selling today and ministering to those who read it. Just last week, a friend told me how much Soul Friend had impacted her and how glad she was it had been written. I am so thankful Joy’s voice can still be heard in this way and that her gracious wisdom can go on blessing others.

On occasions, Joy would email me, although she was much more comfortable sharing face-to-face in her beautiful study at her home in the Blue Mountains. I included some of these emails in Soul Friend and have just glanced through them again. Even her greetings there speak such love and grace to me—‘Very dear Jo-Anne’; ‘Dearest Jo-Anne’; ‘Dear friend’.  What a privilege to be called a ‘dear friend’—especially by someone who we know truly means it. Joy would also use these words often as we parted at her front door. ‘Go well, dear friend!’ she would say in her gentle voice, as she gave me a warm hug—words of blessing, words of comfort, words of love.

Yes, Joy was my lifesaver, in the midst of some choppy seas in my life. But above all, she was my dear friend—a friend who truly mirrored to me the deep friendship Jesus offers each of us.

Lord, may I be such a friend to others too.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. 1 John 4:7

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I John 4:11

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Jo 17It is some months since I have been able to visit my friend in the nursing home where she now lives. As I make my way to her room, I hope and pray she will recognise me. At the door, I see the nurses have just settled Joy in her special, comfortable wheelchair. She turns towards me—and her whole face lights up.

‘Oh! What a … what a … sur … oh!’

I reach out and grasp her hand, while Joy continues to look at my face in wonderment.

‘I’ll take her to the sunroom,’ a lovely nurse tells me—and soon we are settled there.

Joy continues to search my face with loving eyes. I resist the urge to tell her my name. I suspect it has slipped her mind, but it doesn’t matter—I know she knows who I am. I remind her of our book Soul Friend that I wrote about our journey together during my time at theological college, then on into ministry and writing.

‘Yes, Soul Friend,’ she says softly—and I know she remembers.

I talk to her about her family and mine. I share some little Turkish cookies I used to make often and take to her whenever we met and she remembers those too. It is a little hard for her to hold them now, as they tend to break easily. I see that the crumbs they leave on her clothes concern her a little, so I try to help her brush them off. We look at each other and laugh—a laugh that is beautiful music to my ears because it reminds me so vividly of other shared moments of joy. She has not changed—she is still the same precious person deep inside. Yes, she may now have trouble completing sentences. Yes, she may grope for the words she is trying to say. Yes, she may not remember names so easily. But she is still my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy, out of whose face the love of God shines.

Eventually, I see she is getting tired. A nurse comes to wheel her to a lounge area and I prepare to say goodbye. I hold her hand and give her a kiss.

‘Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you—there’s nothing like a kiss!’ she says, closing her eyes in ecstasy.

‘Then I’ll give you another one!’ I tell her, dropping a light kiss on her forehead.  Her face is suffused with pure joy.

And as I hold her hand one last time, then turn to leave, I hear her familiar, beautiful words that have always felt like a blessing to me—‘Dear friend!’

As I drive away, the thought comes clearly to me that these two beautiful, little words are what God desires to speak into our hearts each day. I am not in my friend’s situation, but so often, I too become confused. So often, I let life overwhelm me. So often, I forget God. Yet each day, God reaches out to me and talks to me as with a dear friend. Each day, God is there to help me on my journey—and I am so blessed.

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:11 New Living Translation

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There’s something very precious about finding friends who will hang in there with us through thick and thin, isn’t there? They know we have imperfections and we know they do too, but they are still our friends – and that’s the bottom line.

It’s wonderful too, isn’t it, when, after having lost touch with good friends over the years, we meet up with them again only to find they are just as warm and welcoming as they always were? It’s like we pick up the conversation where we left off all those years ago, as if we had seen them only yesterday.

Recently I was reminded of how wonderful true friendship is through three events that happened in quick succession. The first was the wedding of a girl I have known for about twenty years. Some time back, she went through a very difficult patch in her life which she would not have survived without the love and care of genuine friends around her, who went the second and third mile for her sake. While I had lost touch with her a little, these friends had not and were still standing with her and around her at her marriage ceremony, helping out with the various tasks involved with such an occasion.

The second event was a church service back at the church I attended for thirteen years and then served as one of the pastors for a further five years. Here I experienced, as always, a warm and loving welcome from the people there, and a sense that nothing had changed between us, despite nine years having passed since I was part of that fellowship.

And the third was a simple time of catching up with an old friend over coffee. This friend is about to head overseas and will be spending some time with a mutual friend of ours, so offered to take some gifts to her on my behalf. We are all at different churches now and all separated geographically, but our friendship is still as warm and as caring as it ever was.

These three recent experiences have highlighted again for me the truth of Proverbs 18:24:

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

And they also served to cause me to reflect on what sort of friend I am myself to those around me. We can get so wrapped up in our own affairs and overwhelmed with life at times that it’s easy to overlook our friends’ needs. We mean to contact them to see how they’re going or to remember their birthdays or to include them in some event in our lives, but somehow we don’t attend to it. Yet I am so aware how much even a brief email from a friend means to me and encourages me in my rather lone writer’s life. Paul’s words in Philippians 2: 4 are always a challenge to me in this regard:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul goes on to remind us that our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ, who ‘made himself nothing’ and gave his very life for us to bring us back to God. What a friend we have in Jesus, as the old hymn says! And Jesus calls us his friends too, as we follow him and listen to him and do what he commands (John 15:14).

Now there’s a friendship that makes all the difference, don’t you agree?

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