Clothed in the Love of My Friends

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Tivoli Copenhagen Poster “Rare Masked Harlequin Boy” 1972 Richardt Denmark by Permild & Rosengreen

Tucked away in my memory, there is a charming tale of a young boy. I’m not sure from where I remember the story, but I have known a few versions of it for many years. It’s one of my favorite parables. The story introduces us to young Peter, who grew up in a very poor family. Peter loved going to school and playing with his schoolmates. 

On one particular school day, Peter noticed that his friends were laughing and chattering with excitement about the masquerade ball that was the yearly highlight of the town festival.

“I cannot wait for the ball,” Suzanne said excitedly. “I shall wear a beautiful costume of indigo silk, with a mask to match it.”

William said, “l’m wearing red, a bright shiny red.” 

And Victoria gave every detail of the gown of purple velvet her mother was sewing.

One after another, the excited children described the colorful costumes their mothers would make for them — green, purple, orange, yellow, pink, gold, silver. They told of the fine fabrics their fathers had purchased on their travels. Every mother had set aside the fabric for just this occasion.

One of the children noticed that Peter was not joining in on the gleeful conversation and walked up to him.

“Peter, what will you be wearing to the festival?” she asked.

“I’m not going to the festival,” Peter said, “I do not have fine clothes to wear and my family cannot buy cloth for a costume.”

“But you must come, Peter,” another friend said. And then others joined in.

Their mood changed from gladness to sadness, and since it was now a sad and somber time for Peter, he slowly started walking toward home.

After he left, the children talked among themselves, wondering what they could do to help Peter get to the festival. William, who had been thinking through the dilemma, finally spoke out.

“I know! I don’t need so much cloth for my costume,” William said. “I can cut a small piece from my costume and give it to Peter. Perhaps his mother can sew it into something grand.”

“Yes! I can do that too,” said another. And then another, until all the children joined in. So they devised a plan to help Peter get to the festival ball.

779892E8-E60E-4139-8F7D-BA79EABE8FFDThe next day William arrived at school with a twinkle in his eye. In fact, all the children had twinkles in their eyes as they went to find Peter. Each friend brought to Peter a small scrap of cloth they had torn from their costumes. One after another, they gave Peter pieces of cloth of every shape and size. Small scraps snd larger pieces, blue, red, yellow and purple — every color you could think of really.649A5787-671B-4447-9C81-453A595FB029

Peter was speechless, and if one looked closely, they might have seen a tear slide down his cheek. Peter took all the little pieces of cloth to his mother, who would take the scraps and do her magic with needle and thread.

The special day finally came, and the happy children arrived, each clothed in a bright, beautifully colored costume. When Peter arrived, no one recognized him at first, but there was a collective gasp in the room. He entered the room, tall and proud, wearing a black mask and a multi-colored, diamond patterned costume.

Who was this person?9C1F7151-7BE8-42F3-9A14-BE364EBACCFA

It was Peter, they finally realized, in amazement!

“Look at the beautiful red on his costume. It’s the same color as what I’m wearing!” 

Another child said, “There’s part of mine!” 

And each of Peter’s friends shrieked with happiness when they saw their own pieces of cloth cut into diamond shapes and sewn together on his costume. It was stunning — from the gold brocade, to the shimmering red satin, to the verdant hue of the green taffeta, to the sparkle of the royal blue silk. All the children were happy about what they were wearing, but they were even happier about the small piece of cloth they had shared with Peter.F76CB1DF-9191-4D1D-8C0D-0727F57C7CD1

Peter thanked them, having to speak very loudly to be heard over their happy exclamations.

“Everyone is happy tonight,” Peter said, “but I am the happiest one of all, because I am clothed in the love of my friends!”

From that day forward, Peter’s friends called him “Harlequin.” And that’s the tale of how Harlequin came to be.

So what does this little tale have to do with anything. Last week, I happened to pick up a fluffy, white blanket that’s in our extra bedroom. I held it and remembered that my friend had brought it to me in the hospital when I was so sick. Her church had prayed over the blanket in a church service and sent it to me with love. I was in bed for a long time, and each time someone covered me with the blanket, I thought of the echoes of the prayers it held and the love of the friends who sent it to me. Like Harlequin, I was clothed in the love of my friends.

As I wait on a possible kidney transplant and wonder whether or not a transplant will be in my future, the one thing that comforts me is the love of my friends. The truth is that I am covered with an abundance of love. My friends from from all over the world are praying for me, breathing prayers for my well-being and my health, offering me “colorful pieces of fine cloth” in the whispered blessings they send to me. 

Last night, the depth of caring that friendship can offer became very clear to me when I received an incredible message from a friend of many years. The message was that he had begun the process of donating a kidney for me. Stunned by his announcement, emotions tender, I remembered all over again that I am clothed in the love of my friends.

For that, I am incredibly grateful.

 

 

Weep with Those Who Weep

AD620082-4B5E-47C6-B2B0-0D553454614BWhat a caring and compassionate ministry it is to sit beside someone who is grieving and remind them of God’s grace. In recent days, I have wept for and with so many friends who are grieving for what they have lost because of the Florida hurricane. To be sure, there were losses in Georgia and in the Carolinas, but the devastation in and around Panama City was catastrophic.

Hordes of compassionate people traveled to Florida to help. They will clean up debris, repair or rebuild homes that sustained damage, do electrical work, provide help in the shelters, share their hearts and God’s heart, and stand beside families as they pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Mostly, they will weep with people, and that’s what will help more than anything else.

Author Ann Weems paints a sparkling vision with her words that speak of the “godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” But then she tells of a deafening alleluia arising from the souls of those who weep and from the souls of those who weep with them. From that weeping, Ann Weems tells us what will happen next. “If you watch,” she writes, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.”

I like to think that the caregivers who traveled to Florida did a lot of weeping with those who needed it and that they stayed near them long enough for them to “see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.” When all is lost — when you learn that your loved one has died or you stand in a pile of rubble on the ground that used to be your home — seeing the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies would be for you a manifestation of pure and holy hope.

Without a doubt, Florida is experiencing “the godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” Their memories of this devastating time will be cruel and long-lasting. They will remember better days, neighborhoods that once thrived, schools that were destroyed and friends who are trying their best to recover. But what grieving people will remember most is the care someone gave them and the loving compassion of strangers who became forever friends. I am reminded of the words of poet Khalil Gibran:

You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.

― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.    Romans 12:15

Friends

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Watercolor art by Kathy Manis Findley

There is nothing as enriching to life as genuine friendship. Not the superficial kind of friendship that boasts hundreds of “friends” on social media. Not the fickle kind of friendship described as a “fair weather” friendship. Not the exploitive kind of friendship that befriends someone only if there is something to gain by it. 

I’m actually talking about a specific friendship with a friend that is dearly special to me. But I am also talking about friendship in general. The kind of friendship I’m talking about is tried and true friendship that stands up to the test of time. It’s friendship that remains even though miles separate friend from friend. It’s friendship that cares through the years and deepens as time passes. It’s friendship that gives of your best to another person without thought of getting something in return. It’s friendship that is sweeter because you have allowed another person to know the real “you.”

Through the years, I recall many friendships that occurred in threes — three friends that were virtually inseparable so that when you saw one, the other two were close by. Of course, the friendship of three fluctuated with opportunity, going to different schools, living in different neighborhoods, and even those little spats that occurred every once in a while. Within those three, there were always the constant two — the twins, so to speak. For a time, I had this kind of friend.

So what did we do to build such friendships? That’s easy. We talked about boys and first loves, rivals for the boys we liked, as in girls that we didn’t like. We talked about going on dates, who was the cutest boy, and which boy liked which girl. We discussed the ways we might let a certain boy know that one of us liked him. We planned attendance at the next dance and how we could finagle to sit by a particular boy in church. We talked about going to Panama City to find a new crop of boys at the famous Hangout. We talked about clothes and shoes, especially shorts, and how we would sneak the shortest shorts by our ever-watchful parents. And of course, we planned times of spending the night together — eating, laughing, sitting in the dark around the lighted Christmas tree, listening to Otis Redding’s  “Try a Little Tenderness” and talking about boys all night long.

Sounds rather superficial, right? Maybe. But the truth is, in those relationships we learned how to share ourselves. Those giggly teenagers, who shared every intimate secret with one another while acting completely and unabashedly silly, grew up to be good and wise and strong women who still needed friends with whom to share their most intimate secrets. And guess what? We do. We still do. Across the miles, we interact with one another as if we have always been together. We share a love that is sweet and comforting.

Deep in myinnermost spirit, I know I can still count on the friend I made as a teenager. Apparently, ours was a bond that could not break. So thanks, Suzanne. I love you, then and now.

“Are you upset, little friend?”

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Charles M. Schulz

These days, I find myself in the very center of worry and discontent. I feel vulnerable, out of place in a new place I never expected to make my home. The problem is, I think, that I have not really made this place my home, and that reality has left me unsettled. I left forever friends behind when we moved here. I think the reason for my worry, my occasional despondency, even my fear, is that I feel alone. I recalled this week the well-known lyrics of a Carole King song from the seventies.

When you’re down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again;
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you
Should turn dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind should begin to blow;
Keep your head together
And call my name out loud, yeah
Soon I’ll be knocking upon your door . . .

It is a frightening state of being facing worry or illness or aging or loneliness, finding yourself disconsolate at times, and alone, without a loyal friend. But we have a mystical, magical force that leads us through the dark nights of the soul every time, without fail. I’ll name it faith.

A dear friend who just faced some devastating news reminded me of a deep-down, rock-solid truth about faith when she wrote, “My faith is bigger than my fear.” And that’s how we live a life filled with times of worry, aloneness, days of grief, fear, and sometimes mourning that engulfs us hard and long.

No person escapes such times, for they are an inevitable part of life. So we meet hard times face-to-face, up close, and we survive. We are, as the Bible says, “troubled on every hand, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair . . . cast down, but not destroyed,” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

To be sure, we are left with scars of the soul and spirit. Yet we live on, knowing that after times of despondency, we are stronger than we were before. There is no deeper consolation than the words of Scripture proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.

— Isaiah 43:2

I hang on Isaiah’s words, and I have rested on them so many times when sadness overwhelmed me and fear had its way. These Isaiah words are enough, more than enough for my disconsolate times.

But then I happened upon just the right message of consolation for me in this particular time of my life. And I found it in a most unlikely place. It’s a delightful little message of real and true comfort that speaks so sweetly to me, and perhaps to all of us who need a friend and an extra boost of encouragement in a time of worry.

Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry . . . I’m here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.

― Charles M. Schulz

Amen.

Ethel

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I’ve been thinking about Ethel, one of the most loyal and dearest friends I have ever had. At times, I am quite sure she watches over me from her very special place in heaven. That comforts me, but makes me miss her all the more. Ethel came into my life when I was going through a dark time. She stuck close, in fact, through many difficult days, making all the difference in the world for me.

Ethel was like a best friend and a mother all rolled into one incredible package. I was her pastor for nine years. She offered me love and care through thick and thin. During the early days of our friendship, my light went out. Life was dark and dreary, and I was facing evil days. At least that’s how it felt for me. Ethel was a spark that rekindled my spent light. She helped change my life.

A friend posted this quote on Facebook yesterday. It so closely describes what Ethel meant to me.

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”  – Albert Schweitzer

Ethel lighted the flame within me. And what’s more, she taught me how to keep it lighted and how to make it through the dark times. Rest in peace, my dear friend. You meant so much to me.

Forever Friends

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What a wonderful reunion with Suzanne, my best forever friend. We had not seen one another in over forty-six years. As teenagers, we were inseparable. Many people called us the twins, and it’s true that we did look alike. We did some wild things as teenagers, not bad things, but silly things. We danced together, we sang, we listened to Otis Redding, we dreamed about boys. We did things that teenaged girls do, and we always did them together.

How did it happen that we lost one another for so many years? Why did we not stay in better touch? That’s an age-old story, losing touch with even the closest friends. It feels like we wanted years and years of a deep friendship.

When we greeted each other with a long hug, we both cried tears of joy. Being together for a few hours was glorious, and it felt as though we had never been apart. We rehashed good memories, talked about old friends, shared pictures of our children and grandchildren.

I’m so glad we made the effort to meet and spend some time together. I’m glad that true friendships never end, they just take up where they left off. I enjoyed spending time feeling like a teenager again. It made me forget my poor health, my aches and pains, and my age for a few hours. It made me feel the feelings of a teenager again, and that was a refreshing break.

Today’s life lesson: Memories are life-giving. True friends are forever friends. Try to keep them near.