If you let your mind think through your friends, you will likely attach some specific thing to each of them − something that sets them apart from everyone else. It’s a wonderful thing to have different friends from different seasons that connect with us through something unique.
If I were doing that exercise, one of my friends would have the words “banana bread” beside her name. She makes it often and it shows! It is unparalleled in consistently being delicious. She knows my husband loves it and she never fails to bless us with some throughout the year. She bakes a great fruitcake also, but anyone who knows her knows about her banana bread.
As I was reading a passage in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 23:16-17) today, I paused to read the following footnote:
“A true friend does not minimize or make light of the sorrow or difficulty another may be experiencing but, rather, helps the other find strength in God.”
The statement fit perfectly for this “banana bread” friend and my thoughts drifted back to the year 1995. It was one of those years that remain etched in your memory forever.
At the time I was working as a clinical counselor and marriage and family therapist in a Christian private practice a half hour north of our home. My husband was working in the same profession in a practice 45 minutes south of our home. Our two adult children were living hundreds of miles away in Maryland and Tennessee.
My parents lived just two miles away with my younger brother who was developmentally delayed and mentally ill. I was grateful to have them near and to be in good health even though my dad was then 84 and my mother was 79. I couldn’t really handle thinking about the time they would go home to be with the Lord and I would become guardian to my brother with all the challenges that would create.
I could never have imagined that concern would come true in 1995.
My father was very healthy with none of the ailments most folks bump into by the time they are in their 80’s. He was a soft-spoken gentle man who had served the Lord his whole life. He was the anchor for my mother who experienced a variety of chronic health concerns. I expected one of these conditions would likely result in her death prior to my father’s, but I was wrong.
In late February 1995 my dad developed pneumonia and was hospitalized within a week. The disease resisted all medical treatment and five and a half weeks later on a cold starry March night, he passed from this life into the next. My own grief was set aside to deal with my mother who crumbled from this loss of the one she had married 55 years before.
She had started to falter while my dad was hospitalized and needed to be hospitalized twice herself during the same time period. So it was no surprise the hospital called me when my father died and looked to me to make all the decisions.
That compounded exponentially when my mother died exactly three months to the day of my father and I became my brother’s guardian.
Again there was little time for grieving. I needed to handle my brother. I also needed to try to manage while working and sorting out what and how their home and belongings would be handled. Our children were able to be present for only a short time before returning home to work and their own families.
It was several months later when I needed to tackle going through the things in my parents’ bedroom. It felt overwhelming to be intruding on such personal belongings and I was weary of making decisions. I chose a day to go to their home, but I had no idea what to do with the things in their bedroom.
Think about your own closet and dresser drawers and then think again. You might remember you sometimes tuck things into those drawers, on a closet shelf, or a night stand drawer you weren’t sure of what to do with or wanted to keep for a little while. You might remember you have clothing with holes in them that you don’t throw away because you wear them when gardening or something else, but you would never want someone else to see them.
On the appointed day I received a call from my friend, Shirley, whom I referred to who makes amazing banana bread. She wanted to know what I had planned for the day and when I told her what it was and that I was overwhelmed, she responded in a way that I recall as if it were yesterday.
She offered to drive to my parents’ home (She lived nearly 45 minutes away) and suggested she bring banana bread and tea and would be there to help in any way I needed.
A few hours later I sat on the bed or floor of my parents’ bedroom as she sat near by. Each item I picked up required a decision and I was struggling.
It was then that she suggested a plan of sorting into categories. There would be things I might choose to sell, others I could give away to an organization who would pass them on to those in need, others might be ones to throw away, another pile would be “I don’t know,” and a last category would be to a nursing home she often visited that she knew would be happy for some of the things.
I cannot begin to tell you how her suggestion made the load lighter. As I picked up each item, she sat nearby and listened to me sometimes tell a story about the item if it was one I had given to either of my parents. Sometimes I would just share something about them and she listened.
Banana bread and tea accompanied the hours spent. When the drawers and closet were empty and piles in each category, she then offered to take each pile in large bags to disperse them to the places they were to go.
The tenderness of her heart and the care she demonstrated that day are treasures tucked into my heart even 24 years later. How well she loved me! She listened to my heart and words without minimizing or offering religious platitudes. It was the greatest of gifts.
You see, Shirley is far more than banana bread even though she has blessed me with it often. At another crisis time, she arrived at my door with a roast beef dinner after I had been injured when a car struck me in my office parking lot. But Shirley is more than the food she makes and offers to many so freely.
Shirley is a friend who loves well without demanding, one who responds to a need she senses before even being asked, and one who listens without offering unasked for advice. She knows how to respond to someone in grief or difficult circumstances by being present.
Shirley is Jesus with skin on many times.
Sometimes that means banana bread.