Thursday, February 5, 2015

Friend at the Edge of Eternity

Today, I found something I had written 15 years ago. Reading it again brought it all back. I'd like to share it with you here. The names have been changed.

Friend at the Edge of Eternity

Jenny entered my life with a plop. "I’m bored!" she said, as she plopped onto the edge of my bed in the first hour of the first day of our freshman year of college.

"I’m bored!" Plop! I left my door open, and the scene repeated itself every afternoon at 4:00 when she returned to the dorm from classes.

Over time, I discovered that her boredom linked directly to her loneliness. She had grown up in a tightly bonded family of eight. Alone for the first time, she didn’t know what to do with herself. Put her with other people, however, and she glowed.

Jenny and I and a couple of others from our dorm formed a little group of friends that hung together all through college. When I married after my sophomore year and moved off campus, Jenny and the rest of the group grabbed an apartment two houses down. We rendezvoused every Friday for Pizza Hut Pizza and then beer at Ella’s. I stood and laughed along, not drinking beer, but not minding that they did. I even created an "All roads lead to Ella’s" button that Jenny wore proudly for years.

Jenny always showed up neat and trim, with oxford shirts, clean blue jeans, loafers and a smile. No longer bored, she seemed impervious to pain of any kind. Maybe, like me, she kept sadness in a compartment no one could see. We complained plenty about professors, textbooks and finals, but deep feelings were never part of the picture. Small talk and laughter ruled.

I struggled through my final college years. My grades soared while my life fell apart. My marriage had become a sham. I sought spirituality in all the wrong places. Every new day held less reason to get up. And I shared none of it with anyone.

Surprisingly, Jenny first saw through me. She helped me laugh after my divorce and while I groped for level ground under my feet again. I was on the three-changed-majors-I’ll-be-in-college-forever plan, so after Jenny graduated, we laughed long distance. I visited her when she worked in a VA hospital tucked into Iowa cornfields and bicycled with her along Lake Superior when she moved to Northern Wisconsin. After I re-married and she finally settled down in Madison, we followed the same pattern: We wrote. We called. We laughed.

Eventually, the Lord of the universe found me and called me out of my spiritual infancy. I wanted to think about Him! Read about Him! Talk about Him!

But not to Jenny. That was far too scary. I had changed, but my relationship with Jenny hadn’t. Years and years of companionship and laughter still hadn’t pried open the door to deeper things. We seldom talked about anything important, let alone Jesus.

Five (20, now) years ago, I woke up trembling from the remnants of a nightmare. I dreamed Jenny had killed herself and gone to hell. That image seared itself into my brain, so at 2:00 a.m., I called her.

"Jenny, I’m so glad you’re there! Are you all right?" I was so upset my voice shook and blood actually started coming out my nose. "I dreamed you died!"

Even though I left out the hell part, she still thought I was nuts. Later, I gathered my courage and wrote to her about the whole dream. I told her about Jesus, and I waited for a reply. None came. When Christmas approached, I sent her a "Merry Christmas – I miss you" card and eventually got a "Hi, how are you?" card back.

We settled into a Christmas and birthday card friendship, pretending things were the same as always. Then, with no warning, I received a form in the mail. Jenny wanted to adopt a baby Chinese girl and had given my name as a reference. Glancing through the numerous sheets, I found question after question I had no way to answer. We had never connected at that level. Yet the biggest question in my mind wasn’t even on the form. Where was she at with God? One thing was certain. I could not be any kind of reference without finding out.
I gathered up my courage and called her. Maybe we could get together on Saturday? We slipped easily into our old ways, laughing about nothing in particular, having a pleasant conversation, and planned a date to meet. So far, so good. I prayed, prayed, prayed! I implored God to give her an open heart and me the right words. "Please Lord," I begged. "Call her so loudly she can’t ignore You!"

Two days later a scathing letter smoked into my mailbox: If I didn’t know her well enough to answer the questions without meeting with her, I had no business being a reference!

How unlike Jenny! I could only conclude that Satan knew my plan and had put a stop to it. Now what? I could give up and write back saying, "No, no, you misunderstood!" We could go back to the way we were. We could talk and laugh. And someday, maybe I could stand next to her grave, knowing that instead of heaven, she was in hell. Forever.

I wrote back, pouring my soul into a gospel message I prayed she’d understand. I closed the door on superficial friendship, and my heart constricted with finality. I pleaded with her to answer, even just to yell at me. And I slowly slipped the letter into the dark, watching the mailbox swallow it, feeling like it was also swallowing me.

Will I ever hear from her again in this world? Will I see her in the next? I cling to Romans 8:30, Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Please, Lord, call her loudly.

The events written about here happened twenty years ago. That little Chinese girl is a young woman - probably in college somewhere. I don't know what happened with my dear friend. I never heard from her again. Was it worth it? I know at the time, it was what God wanted me to do. I hope we'll see each other in God's kingdom one day. I hope she understands that what I did, I did out of love for her. Sometime, over the years, I fell out of the habit of praying for her. I'm glad I found this today - if for no other reason than to begin praying for her again.

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