"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24)
"A friend loves at all times . . ." (Proverbs 17:17)
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
"In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends." John Churton CollinsI have such a friend. I've known him a long time. He's a Jesus-follower of great heart. My friend is a unique man who's had more than his share of suffering and sorrow . . . way more. He stills goes through it and sometimes feels beyond what he can bear, but bear it he does. This friend of mine is also generous of heart, wisdom and wallet. His giving is borne of compassion, and I think, joy. In the midst of his trials, he gives.
He's also a man who loves and serves the least of God's children: the throw-aways and cast-offs who offend our culture's delicate sensibilities. I've not known anyone who lives such a fierce love for the severely broken and disfigured. They are "his kids." He is Jesus to them, even though I suspect, some are utterly unaware.
I'm writing in profound gratitude because a few days ago this friend stepped up and walked into the middle of our pain bringing relief. He offered it in response to questions about persistent financial struggles and the strain it put on us in the midst of trying to do ministry here in Northampton. He felt compassion and as is his way of living his faith, he responded by lifting a substantial burden from our backs.
When he told me, I was speechless and overwhelmed by what he'd just done. Some stumbling words came from my mouth in response. I'm sure they were inane. He was matter-of-fact when he told me, not wanting accolades or drippy words of appreciation. He's not of that ilk. He wasn't helping to play the hero; he was helping because that's his way in response to his love for God and his friends. He showed genuine concern and acted to do something about it.
Curiously, his phone call (we'd talked earlier and I let him know our need), came at the lowest emotional point of the day for me. I was disoriented and numb, beaten really. I think I'd been so ground down to emptiness in this fight over the last few months, as had Tricia for that matter, that I couldn't leap for joy when my friend told me the good news. I wanted to, but it just wasn't there. Later that evening, I lie on the floor in our worship space. The lights were off and I needed to have a heart-to-heart with my Abba. I poured out all I was feeling, confessing my fear, sadness and sense of abandonment. I needed to be real in crying out to him. I'm not sure it helped anything, but I had to do it. I was grateful and told him so, but I was just spent. I gave him what I had in me to give.
The long and short of it is because of my friend's stepping up, we get to fight another day. While we aren't out of the woods by any means, I still have hope because people like my friend respond when we're in the slough of despond. And I'm repeatedly taken by the reality that in this often bewildering journey, there are other friends who stand with us in support of all kinds (and have since we arrived here. You don't realize how much we appreciate your care and service!), including the marvelous wild-at-hearts on the imagine/Northampton Team. They've all voted with their lives and families, leaving the familiar for this crazy missional adventure we are shouldering together. I'm so proud to be associated with people of their stripe.
Real friends are pearls of inestimable price. They reveal the heart of their friendship when the bottom drops out and your life becomes tenuous, sometimes frighteningly so. I hope I can be that kind of true friend someday. In the meantime, I'll continue learning from the friends God has put in my life to show me the way by their beneficent, selfless actions. He taught me huge lesson just 2 days ago through a man who exemplifies true friendship more than he is really aware.