There’s a place my heart and mind frequently go when I meditate on the love of God.
It’s a place where, on hard days, deep sadness, yearning and joy collide; on easier days, they simply intertwine.
Long before Chloe fell ill, long before my world fell apart, I fell in love with a verse from Zephaniah.
Someone had put the words to music, and as I sang the little chorus alone or in groups I could almost sense the warmth of God’s arms around me, the tenderness of his eyes on mine, and the joy in his voice as he sang his song of affectionate love to me. It brought joy to my heart.
Fast forward to the days of Chloe’s suffering.
I would sing to her, albeit off-tune, the sweet and true lyrics of “Jesus Loves Me,” even while crying bitter, heartbroken tears, yearning for her to be healed, longing for her to know how very precious she was.
Fast forward further to the inevitable and terrible day of her passing. I was still singing, and still questioning.
Then came the afternoon when we had to lay her in that grave. I couldn’t bear to watch as they covered her casket with soil, but Juan, bless his heart, stayed with her little body till the end.
Even as we said good-bye, I knew that her soul was long gone and that in some miraculous way she was resting in the warmth of God’s embrace, cradled in his arms, free of suffering and pain.
I knew beyond doubt that she was—and will forever be—loved. Tenderly loved and rejoiced over by her Creator and Savior. Loved and treasured by us.
So when the time came for us to choose a gravestone and select an epitaph, it only made sense to include lines from that comforting verse:
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Amazingly, a year after Chloe’s passing, a dear friend gifted me with a powerful, perfect reminder that Chloe was “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” In this depiction of deep love, Jesus sits in a rocking chair and tenderly embraces a tiny babe.
Most poignantly, it’s nail-pierced hands that hold the babe.
Those same hands hold me. Those same hands hold you.
There are a few songs from my childhood that hold nuggets of timeless truth.
One song in particular is a little tune we sang during my time in Girl Scouts. While most of my memories of those days are rather vague and increasingly fuzzy (summer day camp, “sit-upons” woven out of strips of newspaper, ditties about Little Rabbit Foo Foo, random badges, and of course the infamous cookies), the lyrics of that one unforgettable song have grown more meaningful and poignant over the years.
Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver, the other is gold.
A few years ago my heart was unexpectedly crushed by what seemed to be a crisis in friendship. In reality it was no such thing, but the impact nonetheless sent me into an emotional tailspin. I spiraled downward and crashed hard.
In inexplicable ways, though, that ordeal brought about some deep changes in my life, and I have awakened to the great joy found in forging new friendships. My world is widening and my heart is growing. I’m in awe of the way God is enriching my soul through these people who are opening their lives to me—me, a gal who until a few years ago was encapsulated in a rather small world. While at times these new friends offer me novel thoughts to ponder and conscience-stirring causes to embrace, they are just as apt to open a window of comprehension into my own past experiences as we tell one another our stories and contemplate the paths we’ve traveled.
Yes, silver is precious.
And so, of course, is gold.
My “golden friends,” like me, are getting noticeably older. Over the years, we’ve walked through joy and sorrow, peace and anguish. Weddings, births, and deaths. Misunderstandings, impatience, and ugly attitudes. Fractured hearts and fractured minds, restoration and renewal.
We’ve spoken words of affirmation and acceptance, and we’ve encouraged one another to “keep on keeping on” while attempting to love one another with the love of Christ, knowing that He will carry on to completion the good work that He has begun in us.
But one undeniable reality is that our individual capacity for memory just doesn’t work as well as it used to. We’re becoming more forgetful. For a while, we blamed childbirth and/or hectic lifestyles; now, we blame menopause. And, truthfully, we occasionally even wonder if early dementia is beginning to set in.
But one of the joys of these long-lasting friendships is that we can actually help one another remember. We can recall the ways our friendships were forged in the midst of college adventures or community outreach and ministry. We can remember times of silly antics and riotous laughter or times when God’s presence was made all the more real to us through the embrace of loving, caring hearts.
This brings to mind, of course, the most heart-wrenching experience of my life, an experience that revolved around the illness and eventual death of my daughter. Many of my “old friends” were the ones that walked me through that time.
And some of them are the ones that helped me laugh again afterward.
I’ll always remember my first belly laugh after Chloe’s death. There we were in Palm Desert, a small group of old college friends on a weekend getaway, and as we were chatting about days gone by something set us off into the kind of laughter that causes your belly to ache and sends tears streaming down your face. And for me, in that moment, tears of sadness merged with tears of laughter as it dawned on me that I was doing the unimaginable: my daughter was dead, and I was laughing. Laughing hard. Yes, she was alive in Christ, but she was physically absent from me after more than a year of horrible suffering. And I was laughing.
That laughter, incongruent as it was with the despair that had gripped my heart for so long, was part of my healing journey.
Of course, when I mentioned that bittersweet experience of 17 years ago to these same friends just recently, they had little recollection of the event. It hadn’t stirred their souls in the same way it had stirred mine. But the memory-prompting, for all of us, served as a palpable reminder of the golden nature of long-lasting friendship.
And then, not to be overlooked, are those “old friends” who for one reason or another have slipped quietly away from our everyday worlds. Reconnecting with a few of these ladies has added an additional layer of depth to my life. In fact, as I interact with them I feel as if I’m mining in a field with veins of both gold and silver, not always sure of what I’ll find as these old friends and I dig into unexplored ground, encountering new challenges while holding onto the richness of our shared pasts.