“Lisa? No, you’re Laura. Wait … I know you’re a MacCorkle girl, but which one?”
“Boy, you haven’t changed a bit.”
“I wouldn’t have recognized you had you not said your name!”
“What are you doing now? Are you married?”
“You’re still so crazy!”
These were some of the questions and comments I received yesterday at an unexpected reunion of sorts.
I was gathered together with friends who I had not seen for almost 20 years. And it was unexpected as we had come together to celebrate the life of a friend—a husband, a father, a son and a brother. He had fought the good fight, but had lost his battle to cancer the week prior.
Brian’s father had been the pastor of the church where I grew up and where I had spent the first 20 or so years of my life. After the pastor left, the church had split not long after and many members had left and scattered to what seemed like the four corners of the earth.
But in the celebration of a life well lived, many of us came together once again in one place. As I scanned the crowd in the packed church at the memorial service, I recognized so many faces. Some of the names came to me and others were filed too far away in the recesses of my mind that I just couldn’t retrieve them. Thankfully, everyone was gracious and helped me out when I couldn’t recall.
What really got me choked up, though, was the realization that these are the people who have known me the longest in my life. And with them, I feel a deep connection, a fellowship and a kindred spirit that I have not felt in quite some time. These people really know me. They saw me grow up. They reached out to me. They taught me. They listened to me. They endured my immaturity. And yet they still loved me.
I saw my childhood friends, my junior high and high school buddies and even my very first boyfriend, who is a pastor now and has a wife and three children. We reminisced how in college he had told me of his plans to propose to his wife before actually doing so. And I remember giving him the thumbs up, oh those many years ago. It was great to have this come full circle and be able to meet his wife and see who had married my “first love.”
There were also former Sunday School teachers, couples who had been my parents’ friends, youth group leaders, camp counselors, dear and influential elderly friends, young men and women who I had once babysat, my friends’ sons and daughters (many of whom I had never before seen or met), and on and on. It was truly overwhelming.
What was also moving was that we “got the band back together,” so to speak. You see, Brian had loved music, and he had been a former member of our church’s high school youth choir, “The Phileos.” Being a member of The Phileos had been a big deal, a rite of passage for any young person in our church. It’s just what you did—even if you were monotone and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. You’d still stand up on the stage, mouth the words and pretend like you could sing. Mostly because you wanted to belong, and you wanted to be with your friends.
And so in honor of The Phileos and of Brian’s passion for music, we somehow got together several generations of people who had once been in The Phileos (from the ‘70s to the ‘90s), and we performed our theme song (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”) at the memorial service.
Many of us were singing it from memory, with tears streaming down our faces, after years of performing it at every concert or on each summer music tour. The words are still etched in our hearts. And the meaning is forever burned into our souls.
The Phileos’ original director travelled from about five hours away to lead us. And even though some in our group had not even opened their mouths to sing in 30 years, somehow the director coaxed out sounds of sweet melody. I think somewhere between the choir loft and the church pews, the Holy Spirit was working overtime to help us sound acceptable and pleasing to all that were in attendance. In such a short amount of time—and with such little preparation—only he could have made this possible.
As I was leaving after the service, I walked out of the church with an old friend who is now married with a lovely wife and three beautiful children. He showed me a picture of his family, and I told him how blessed he is. How blessed really we all are—no matter in what season the Lord has placed us. Our friendships, the ones that God began many years ago, are still in tact. And it was a joy to worship together, to celebrate the life of our dear brother in Christ and to encourage one another wherever we are in our lives.
The Lord has given us the gift of fellowship with other believers. It is vital. It is imperative that we have these deep connections in our lives. I’m thankful that I was reminded of this yesterday, and I am encouraged to continue pursuing and nurturing these kinds of friendships going forward. Because, in Christ, a friend truly can be a friend forever.