Friends show up
A digital, electronic, social-media friend simply cannot be the kind of friend an embodied friend can be. An online "friend" can flatter or encourage, but the thing a purely online friend cannot do is actually show up. A digital friend cannot be a friend in a place. Only an embodied friend can be that.
Let me tell you about my true friend John. In earlier posts, I have written about how my life has been filled by rather more excitement and tragedy than I would have preferred. What an embodied friend can do, that no digital friend possibly can, is be present in the midst of the difficult moments in your life. Only an embodied friend can alter the circumstances of your life during those moments when you desperately need the direction of events to change - those moments when words of affirmation from afar, however welcome they might be, just cannot touch the depths of your current struggle.
My friend John has shown up. Repeatedly and in some of the darkest moments of my life, he has been present in that place with me, or with my family. And I owe him a debt. I'm indebted to him for the love and care and loyalty he has shown me. I suppose this post is sort of a belated "thank you". But I think I also want to remind myself of the distinction between friends who can only offer their words, and friends who can offer their very presence.
I was headed into surgery once and didn't know whether I would be coming back. I've written about this before. It was expected to be an 18 hour surgery, and it was going to be a very long day for my wife and kids. Not least because there was a reasonable chance I would be cognitively altered, and not in a good way. But also because my wife didn't know whether I would survive at all. And who was it showed up to be with her that day? Why, my friend John and his wife Chris, of course. They, along with some other friends and family, closed ranks around my wife, and my kids, and loved them through that awful day.
I've written before about the tragic, self-destructive life of my late daughter. When she was in high school and first started going off the rails, she managed to get herself expelled from a private school. John and his wife Chris had been her teachers there, and the teachers of her brothers before her. When my daughter was expelled in the middle of the year, and her entire year's education was at risk, my friend John showed up at my door. He showed up, unasked, to tutor my daughter in chemistry and help her make it through the school year in the absence of any other possible opportunity for her to complete that course. My friend would accept no payment at all, of course, and all of my protestations were swatted away with dismissive laughter.
My friend John and I have played tennis and golf together. We have hiked the mountains of the Pacific northwest. We have rafted together down the Yakima river (over some of his protestations I must admit) and we have attended more student musicals and concerts put on by his wife Chris than I can possibly count or remember. We have laughed hard - very hard - together. We have cried together. We have been at graduations together, and we have been at funerals together. In the peaks and in the valleys, John has shown up.
I love John. My entire family loves John, along with his precious wife Chris. And their daughters. They are one of those rare important families that, if we're very blessed indeed, sometimes inhabit our lives.
What prompted me to write all of this just now is the fact that John is facing a crisis of his own today. Unexpectedly - out of the blue - my true friend finds himself deprived of his normal vigor and struck down by a failing heart. He faces a surgery this Monday that the doctors had to think hard about before even recommending, due to the tenuous nature of his heart condition.
Can you pray for my friend John?
Between now and through Monday I'm going to be praying hard. When I can, I will get down on my knees. Will you join me in praying for my true friend?
I visited him today at the hospital and held his hand and prayed with him, and also with one of his daughters. I wanted to be there in person, as he has been for me. I owe him much. But I also love him much, as I do the rest of his family.
As I read back over these words just now, it occurred to me that much of what I have written could almost certainly be written by thousands of John's students along with all the families that my friend John has blessed over the years. The thing about true friends like John is this: whatever they have done for you, they have probably done for others. That's because the loyalty and sacrifice shown by John is a bi-product, not of your or my attractiveness, but of John's own abiding good character, and of the God that he serves.
I suspect, in writing these words, I'm actually echoing the thoughts of many others right now - those who have quietly been befriended by John. And loved. And shown up for.
Please pray for my true friend.