I have an old friend from high school. Her dad was the pastor of our church growing up, and we had 4 years of youth group together. We got married at about the same time and had our first kids at the same time. We spent long afternoons in the hot sun of down-the-hill, watching our oldest sons play in the kiddie pool, trick-or-treating at the local shopping center, dreaming about life. We spent almost every day together.
And then I got divorced, and she got divorced, and she moved away. Even then, even though distance separated us, we were always those friends who could pick up where we left off. Shortly after her divorce, her ex-husband committed suicide. We talked on Facebook about how she worried that her son (the one the same age as my oldest, Kyle) inherited the depression that plagued his father.
Then she became a pastor, and I struggled. And she posted things on Facebook that spiritually I was not okay with. And then one day I unfriended her on Facebook because I just couldn't take it anymore. Our differences, it would seem, had separated us. They weren't differences in any other way than how we viewed the Bible. I wondered how a pastor's daughter could allow herself to believe the things she saw as truth (and even spoke to Michael about them just a couple weeks ago).
My friend, Jennifer, had remarried and often wondered...aloud, to me...why I wasn't remarried. To her, a woman should always be married and if she was not married then her life was not complete.
A few months ago, I found out through the grapevine (sometimes I hate that grapevine) that her husband had cancer. And I thought of her often as I wondered how things were going treatment-wise. I knew he had an excellent prognosis, and he had just finished radiation.
And then it happened...a call I secretly hoped I would never get. Jennifer calling me. Would she ask why we were no longer friends? Could I be honest with her? And have an open conversation with a pastor who went to seminary about what the Bible does and does not say?? Me, a mere mortal, simply a Bible-reader as opposed to a graduated seminary student? I was working at the time. Should I even answer?? Would she leave a voicemail? Would I answer it? How could I return that call...the awkwardness of it was too much to bear.
I answered the phone. I felt guilty, ready to be on the defensive, ready for a debate, ready to say I was wrong to unfriend her (but knew in my heart I had done the right thing for my relationship with God). What came on the other end of the phone, though, was a tiny voice, haulting, choking back tears..."I need you, friend." Her husband committed suicide last week. Oh, what do you say to an old friend in that situation? I said nothing. I cried with her. No words were enough, though I tried to hug her with mine.
Two husbands, both committed suicide...what are the odds? Could she have done anything differently? Was it her fault? Why didn't she hug them instead of get angry when they fell into depression? Why did she take trips to her parents' house to get away from their depression, leaving them at home to wallow in the darkness? She was a pastor...how could she have failed her husband...two husbands?
I have no answers for her...or for me. But I do know this. We are all the same. Deep down we are the same. We don't always agree, and there will always be those we feel we never agree with. There will be those people we feel are so far away from God that we wonder if they can even see Him from where they are sitting. And then the reality hits like a ton of bricks. We are all the same. We all hurt. We are all so far away from God that it's amazing we can see Him or hear His voice at all. A friend reached out because she needed me. God reaches out to us all the time and we are too busy, too distracted, too into our own worlds to notice.
I still don't agree with Jennifer regarding her spiritual beliefs...but I know God loves her...and I know when I get to heaven I'll probably look back on this moment and say, "Why was I so stupid? I was so far away from God, and here I was judging a friend, a fellow Christian, for not being 'christian enough.'"
I wish I could give Jennifer a hug, but she lives on the East Coast now, so sharing some tears will have to be enough.
I can't imagine the pain she's going through. I don't want to imagine it. It's too painful. And that's a pain I can share with her. It's a pain that only God can take away. And I have no doubt that tonight God holds Jennifer tightly in His arms, trying to comfort her and answer her questions and give her hope. He's holding her tighter than He's holding me, not because He loves her more, but because she needs Him more right now. And that's something we all have in common...those of us who know God, those of us who are far from God and don't know it yet, and those of us who don't yet know Him.
If you find it in your heart, please pray for my dear friend, Jennifer, whose husband Ken is now dancing in heaven with all the angels, far from the darkness of his depression. His obituary is not yet online as of right now, but Jennifer read it to me (and I believe it's on Facebook). God did an excellent job writing that obituary for Jennifer...beautiful words only God could muster for a wife still looking for answers as the words flowed from her fingertips to the keyboard.
Today, I pray that we all see each other as the same. In God's eyes we are all the same...so far from Him. May we hug each other a little tighter, and hug those we have nothing in common with even tighter than that. We're all going through something...but we seldom know what that is until we reach out to each other to say "I need you, friend."
That's my heart tonight, hurting and humbled.