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"Enduring Friendships"

"If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

I recently attended the funeral of a man who died at the young age of 47 years.  Bob* had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis years earlier but the last four years were the most severe, causing him to be institutionalized.  He was unable to speak so loneliness was his constant companion.  His spouse abandoned him not long after his MS diagnosis taking his precious children and she soon remarried, which was a tremendous grief to him.  Bob's older sister visited him regularly, but most did not bother.  Some family members could not cope with his physical deterioration.

I had the rich experience of visiting with him in his hospital room on Palm Sunday.  After quoting the 23rd Psalm I had prayer with him.  The presence of God enveloped the room where we were and he spoke through his penetrating eyes that he embraced every word that was spoken.  It was a spiritual experience I will never forget.

At the funeral I had the privilege of helping the family prepare a eulogy and read it on behalf of the family members.  Following the eulogy another man stood and gave his tribute breaking down emotionally when he said "I didn't visit Bob like I should have."  I could hear others weeping upon hearing this admission.

Following the funeral service two people came up to me and said "I visited Bob in the beginning but I kept putting off visits and eventually didn't visit at all."  One was a minister who was burdened for Bob years ago but over the course of time lost sight of this dear soul.  He came to his funeral with a very heavy heart.  Another was a close relative.

The folks who spoke so honestly to me were simply expressing the sentiment of the group that gathered at Bob's funeral.  "We wish we'd made the time to be the friend that he needed during his difficult years."  God brought to mind the Scripture from Matthew 6:20 where Jesus says "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven."  Friends are eternal treasures and our relationships are enduring as long as we cultivate them and even make sacrifices for them.

Many of us have seen the commercial where the elderly person who has fallen calls out to anyone who will listen, "Help me!  I've fallen and I can't get up!" Solomon reminds us that we have an obligation to help a fallen friend – whether the friend has fallen physically, emotionally or spiritually.  I left the funeral home knowing that the comments of the day would have a powerful impact on my life.

I went from the funeral home to the Adult Day Care Center where I do a monthly hymn sing. Instead of quickly shaking the hands of the individuals I sat down with several of them making conversation and listening to them individually.  One of the clients with Multiple Sclerosis, anxious to speak, could only speak the first couple words before the communication process shut down, but I listened intently.  Instead of overlooking a Downs syndrome client who often waves a napkin while I lead in hymns I brought it to everyone's attention and decided that we'd all join Sam's* leading.  The activities director distributed tissues to the others and we all waved our "flags" while we sang "Joy is the Flag Flown High from the Castle of my Heart."  You can imagine how much Sam beamed throughout the song and we enjoyed the experience as well.

Later that afternoon I introduced myself to a neighbor up the road.  Since September I've intended to meet her, especially after I learned that she has a 6 year old child born with multiple handicaps.  I'd heard that he was scheduled for heart surgery last December. Though I'd made it a matter of prayer I'd never put feet to my prayers. The mom told me that he was still struggling from the heart surgery and was currently in the hospital.

It's a small world when you and I take the time to share ourselves. I learned that my neighbor's son underwent the very same kind of heart operation as my own daughter and is under the care of the same cardiologists that my daughter sees regularly.  I could personally feel some of her struggle.  I hope to do much more, but wish I'd been there for her a lot sooner.

I'm trying to contact a friend that took an emotional and spiritual fall over three years ago.  We're no longer the close friends we were, due to our move to PA four years ago.  Possibly she's uncomfortable relating to me in her present condition.  I want to rekindle our relationship because I want it to be an enduring friendship.  I want to assure her that I love and care for her in the midst of her current struggle.

I wonder if God is speaking to you about an individual that you've neglected due to heavy work schedules, extra-activities, or possibly you've just forgotten about that dear soul.  As you go about your day building treasures that will rust, fall apart, or soon become out-dated, would you let Bob's story speak to your heart as it did mine.  Don't forget about the ones around you that God has brought into your life but have become faded memories for various reasons.  Make the time to reach out to more needy people who will quickly respond to the loving attention you're willing to give them.

Brooksyne Weber

PS – The reason I write so passionately about the comments made from various people at Bob's funeral is because I too grieve about not visiting him sooner.  I learned about Bob over a year ago through his sister.  I prayed for him often, but never put feet to my prayers until it was almost too late.  I could have encouraged him through periodic visits.

*Bob and Sam are not the real names.  I changed them for privacy reasons.  I got permission to write about the experience from Bob's funeral from a family member.