I wrote this post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent, as a reflection on a wonderful few days I have just spent celebrating my friend Cheryl’s 60th birthday.
To be honest when I first arrived at the celebration I felt a little for taking off time like this in the middle of Lent. Then it struck me – Lent is a season to renew, refocus and restore ourselves. This celebration accomplished all three. I hardly opened my Bible, but have rarely spent a more spiritual time together with a community of friends.
Four of our party share memories that date back to the early days on board the first Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis which we all helped pioneer. Some of you may have seen the recent 60 minute program on the Africa Mercy which highlighted this ministry and the amazing fruit that has flown from our challenging efforts and sometimes heartbreaking time together.
One of Cheryl’s friends who had not been through those pioneering commented “I have never seen a group of friends with such a special bond.” And its true, those days of struggle when we sometimes did not even know where the money for our next day’s food would come from formed a depth for friendship we could never have created in any other way.
We reminisced about the trip Ruth and I took in the mid 80s’ on which we recruited Dr Gary Parker who was featured on the program and has now lived on board for 26 years. I shared stories of my adventures in the hospital chipping, scraping and painting wondering why God had called a doctor to do such work. (You can read more about this in my book Tales of a Seasick Doctor). We talked too about the challenging times when some of lived in tents on the Hawaiian island of Oahu while the ship had a sprinkler system fitted – no sacrifice you might think until you realized this lasted for twelve months. The rest of us lived on the ship surrounded by welding smoke and with the not so gentle sounds of unloading cement and cars. Not an easy time to be in charge of the ship’s medical ministry and without these friends I am sure that I would never have had the faith or the sticking power to see it become a fully functional hospital on which I oversaw the first years of Mercy Ships medical ministry. Most important of all we talked about the faithfulness of God in midst, the regular rhythms of prayer, fellowship and fun which molded us together into this very special friendship.
Friendship is so important to our lives and our faith. I would not be the person I am today without these very special friends who cried with me, prayed with me and shared my joys. They helped me confront the demons in my past and brought me healing. What better way to spend a part of Lent than with such friends.
It reminded me of a friend Tom and I share who always contacts us during Lent. His Lenten discipline is to contact friends he has not been together with in the last twelve months. He too recognized the importance of such relationships in molding us into the people God intends us to be.
So think about it. Are there friends you have been out of touch with for a while that you could contact during this Lenten season? Are there ones that were once friends that you are now estranged from? Or are there friends that you fear to contact because they are in challenging circumstances you can’t cope with hearing about? Or sit for a while and think about relationships that have renewed, restored and transformed you. Give your friends a call just to say thank you for their input into your life.