The choir sang and then I spoke. As I shared our missions vision to the group at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Satellite Beach, I scanned the people’s faces and my eyes screamed to a halt when I saw her face. “My good friend, Carol, was sitting in the audience. She smiled as she realized that I had recognized her. Though, it’s probably been 10 years, it was the same smile and the same kindred that was sparked as I continued my presentation.
There is perhaps nothing better than seeing the face or hearing the voice of an old friend. Yesterday, Mia called. Even though my phone clues me into the person calling, I waited until she responded to my greeting before I called her name. It makes her giggle that I “recognize” who she is. Mia is a Special Gathering member who has attended off and on for more than 20 years. She was a young girl of 14 or 15 when I first met her and now she is an adult with two teenage children.
High functioning and dual diagnosed with mental health issues, Mia began smoking cigarettes when she was first institutionalized for bipolar disorder. Now, she has ruined her lungs. At times, she cannot breathe because of COPD. We laughed and talked for about 5 minutes. “Please, pray for me,” she said before we hung up the phones. She promised to come to Special Gathering on Sunday but I no longer expect for her to attend, even when her deep desire is to be there.
This morning as I texted Carol hoping we could meet for lunch, I was struck by the fact that my love for Mia and my love for Carol are the same. Mia isn’t a “special needs project.” She is my good and long-time friend who often calls for prayer because she loves me as much as I love her.
I talk often with Ferne Brandt, our area director of The South Carolina Special Gathering. I’m happy that I’ve finally gotten to know most of her core membership because I can never tell whether she is speaking about her members or her volunteers. The respect and admiration regarding the friendship they share isn’t different.
When there is genuine friendship, something miraculous happens. We not only share memories of the past but joy of the present and anticipation for a glorious future. When I scanned the room at Trinity Presbyterian, it wasn’t simply the joy of seeing an old friend that ignited my spirit but her smile said, “You are doing good. You’ve found YOUR place and I love you for who you have become.” The most wonderful thing I saw in Carol’s smile was an appreciation for who I am today–not what I was twenty years ago.
I find that sometimes I get stuck in the mud and mire of the past in regard to my members. Oh, you act so spiritual now. Thoughts swim in and out of my brain. But I remember when you hit George and cussed out Marie. Then there was the incident on the city bus and… Too often, my thoughts are Ralph will never change. Ignoring the fact that those behaviors were when Ralph was 20. Now he holds down a job. He has become the primary caregiver of his elderly mother and he has garnered the respect of his peers.
While old friends are wonderful, we cannot get stuck with old visions. I must demand that my thoughts leap forward into the future, commanding myself to learn and grasp the new visions of Special Gathering members, all my friends and of myself.