I never remember it is coming, and yet, every year, faithfully for the last 12 years, there it is in my mailbox around the same day as the year before. It is always wrapped in the same brown paper, and I see the familiar handwriting scrawled across the top. The paper and the handwriting have become as much a symbol of friendship, care, and hope as what they hold inside. A gift. A reminder that I have a friend who cares and does not forget, which is also a reminder of God's faithfulness. Such grace I don't deserve.
I always feel a little choked up in the opening, not so much because of what the gift holds, but because it was sent. It was sent and is sent every year helping me to hold onto hope on one of the hardest days of the year for me. She lives hours away and yet with a little brown paper, a little card with note written, and familiar handwriting, I feel cared for, remembered, and loved.
I've often been asked, "What do I do? What do I say? I don't know how to help and come alongside the hurting friend or family member. I don't know how to help the person who has lost someone or is hurting."
She called. Every. Single. Day. I don't have any idea how long it went on. She didn't call because she had all the answers. She didn't call because she thought she could fix it. She didn't call because she had walked the same road. She just called, and I knew she remembered me in my darkest days. She called and I knew someone cared that the world was moving forward when I could not. The calls weren't long. Sometimes we chatted about the mundane. Sometimes I shared my heart. Sometimes I didn't. Sometimes she offered to run an errand or take my little man and I would do a grand task that took lots of energy like vacuum the floor - because sometimes that is all a person can muster after great loss. The calls reminded me, God sees and He cares.
When people ask, "What do I do?" My answer is usually simple - just show up. It doesn't have to mean being physically present. When that is possible, that is good too. Remind them God cares by showing care.
Many days another friend just stopped by. Even in the midst of my deep grief, I knew how hard and painful that stopping by was. I knew she battled her own feelings of survivor’s guilt. I knew she had the inner struggle of not knowing what to do or say. Yet, there she would be at my door again ready to just be present, or to listen, or to pitch in, in some way, in my life. Sometimes she bore simple gifts to help, and sometimes she came empty handed but carrying something greater than money could buy - compassion and love. We weren't the closest of friends at the time so it isn't even like there was familiarity to help ease the difficulty of the visits. We were still in the baby stages of friendship, but she made herself available even when available was hard and that cemented a long lasting friendship. The visits were the visible evidence that God was present.
It isn't grand words of wisdom and solid answers that ease pain. It isn't always what you can carry in your hands either. Struggle, heartbreak, and hurt are helped by others being "present" in some way. Be available to people. Show them God is near by being near.
In more recent trials, another friend was always available to listen again to the pouring out of my heart. She was quick to pray; quick to point to where real answers are found - the Word of God; and quick to send an encouraging word, verse, or song. She couldn't be physically present but she "showed up" over and over showing herself available. She showed she remembered, she cared, and more importantly, pointed me continually back to the One who cares most and knew all about it.
Showing up isn't easy, but it isn't as hard as we make it either. It is simply "seeing others." See them where they are at and then being willing to "be there." It is a slowing down enough so people aren't a blur we are passing but are hearts with real hurts and needs.
Last year, when life weighed heavy and one boy ended up in a hospital bed, more people made themselves present in our lives. One of these was a brother-in-law. The days were long and weighty filled with unanswered questions. No one could just fix it. Nearly daily, there he would stand in the doorway, smoothie in hand, smile on his face. It probably seems a small, simple gesture to most. To the person in that room all day, me, it meant the world. Someone remembered. Someone cared and took a few moments to slow down and see. He showed up. He didn't come with answers. We didn't have deep discussions. He was just there. He came, he brought a simple token that met a need, and he prayed. I was reminded that God provides.
“David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.”
1 Samuel 23:15-16
One man struggling and in the wilderness and the other goes to where he is and "strengthened his hand in God." What a beautiful picture of friendship and of what we can do as spouses, parents, members of the Body of Christ, and friends. We can go to where people are. We can meet them in their wilderness. With technology today, that is possible from anywhere in the world. You can strengthen another person in the Lord from anywhere.
Have you looked around lately? Do you see hearts? What kind of wilderness are the people around you in? How can you show up and strengthen their hand in God?
You and I don’t need all the answers. We don’t need eloquent words. We don’t need to deliver grand gifts. We don’t even have to understand what it is like to walk in the wilderness the other person is walking. We can all be Jonathans. Jonathan did three things. He paid attention to where David was and what was going on in his life. He got up and went to David, meeting him in his time of need. Then he strengthened David’s hand in God. The strengthening comes from just showing you are aware of their need, you remember them and are praying, and you cared enough to reach out.
God has faithfully provided many Jonathans in my life. I could write a long time if I told of all of them, and I am eternally grateful. My prayer is that I can continue to grow in my ability to be a Jonathan to others.
How about you? Who needs you to be a Jonathan and strengthen them in the Lord?
Maybe it is a simple gift sent; maybe a phone call, text message, or letter; maybe it is a physical visit; or maybe it is as simple as a smoothie in hand. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, or how inadequate your words seem. God doesn’t need any of that to use you to encourage another.
He just needs you available and willing – like Jonathan.