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They're not heavy, they're my brothers...and sisters

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By The Staff

In this week’s column, I’d like to pay tribute to some people who are very important to me – my friends.

Some of them I haven’t seen in years, but they have never left my thoughts and prayers. Some of them I’ve only heard from on occasion; others, I hear from several times a day through a wonderful little thing called Facebook. There are also those that I see several times a year, and talk to on the phone at least once a week.

These friends are from periods throughout my life – people I’ve known my whole life, people I’ve met in other states I’ve visited or lived in, and even people I know from my college days in Georgia. I also count among my friends my “kids.” I worked for many years bivocationally as a journalist and a youth minister, and many of my “kids” have stayed in touch with me, and it is a privilege to still be a part of their lives in a small way as they’ve grown into adulthood.

But no matter how often I hear from or talk to any of them, I cherish them and am honored to call them my friends.

What got me started thinking about this? Well, several things, actually. I get somewhat reflective during the holiday season, and I start to think about what really matters to me. That list always includes my family and friends, and although I was terrible this past Christmas and didn’t send out the first card, I did think of my friends and miss them.

With that in mind, I heard from my sister-friend, Tammy, that she had created this little list of things about herself. Tammy and I “found” each other again in the world of Facebook after having lost touch for several years. She and her husband are friends of mine from my college days, and two people I love dearly.

In her list, she had included a comment about me...so sweet and kind. She listed several friends and family members who have had a positive influence on her life in some way. It was special to me that I was included.

So I started thinking about creating my own list and, of course, that turned into a column. But before I even get started, let me just say two things: First, I know that the people listed here are my friends and you don’t know them. But just remember, there’s always something you can learn from others, so my words about my friends may spark something in you.

Second, if you’re not listed here my friends, don’t think you’re unimportant. I’ve learned so much from the friendships I’ve been blessed with in my life and I don’t have the space here to list it all. Just know you’re loved and appreciated, and we’ll talk later.

My friends are my crowning glory, and what I’ve tried to do here is list a few who’ve blessed me in an extraordinary way and, in my own way, say thanks.

It’s often hard to know where to begin, but I really don’t have that problem this time. I have to start with my friend Autumn. Our mothers got confused and forgot to make sure we were related. But it’s OK.

Autumn is one of the kindest, most loyal, most thoughtful and dedicated people I know. She cares for her family and friends no matter what, often taking action to provide for some need or want with no thought of herself. She’s completely selfless, and no matter what she says, she’s a wonderful example of what a spiritually-centered woman should be. She is an awesome wife, aunt, sister and daughter, and we could all learn a thing or two from her about keeping priorities straight.

I can’t even begin to thank her for all the times she’s listened to me after I’ve had a bad day, jumped up and down with me after I’ve had a great one or cried with me when I was hurting. There’s no one that I can just laugh with until I cry like her. I know that she prays for me, and it’s a major source of strength for me.

If I did have a friendship crown, Autumn would be the jewel in the center.

Then there’s my good friend, Ken. He would be the squiggly metal part of the crown that kind of holds it all together.

Ken is one of those people that even after you’ve been apart for a while, when you come together, it’s like no time has passed. I don’t think I’ve ever told him how much I truly appreciate him. He and I became friends when I lived in Oregon, and he and his wife, Faye, also a special friend, still live there. The Internet has been our friend, and has enabled us to stay in touch.

When we both lived in the same area, we saw each other several times a week, mostly church-related. But we hung out a bunch outside of that also. He and his family are so special to me.

Ken is an “Aw, shucks” kind of guy. He never takes credit for anything. But he is a strong leader and he’s got the same kind of sick, twisted humor that I do. I think that helped us bond.

I have so much respect for Ken. He is an example of faithfulness that is growing more and more rare these days. He is my brother, graying goatee and all.

And last, at least on this list, are my good friends Dale and Alicia. They live in Washington state, and we go way back. I have watched them go through ups and downs as individuals and as a couple, and I’ve gained so much respect for each of them and for their relationship. It’s rare to find that soulmate that will stick with you through thick and thin, and these two special folks and their marriage are an inspiration to me.

Dale, like Ken and I, has a rather twisted sense of humor. I like that about him. He makes me laugh, but more importantly, he makes me think. He would be those grippy comb things that hold the crown in place.

And Alicia is one of the most warm, open and welcoming people I know. She could make a rock feel warm and fuzzy. She has never failed to make me laugh, but she has also moved me to tears by her sweet spirit and deep commitment to her faith. She would most definitely provide the rest of the sparkle for the crown.

I could go on and on, but this handful of people are the ones that have inspired and challenged me lately and I will carry their lessons into this new year.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of you bring to my life in 2009. It’s gonna be awesome, so bring it on. And please know that I will be offering up a thing or two for each of you as well.

No crowns required.