My life is blessed with one of those “forever friends,” the kind of friendship that perseveres through a lifetime of griefs and joys and celebrations and tragedies. The kind that persists even through seasons of drought when there is little or no contact, just a remembrance at birthdays or Christmas. She offers me unconditional love and a ready ear to hear my complaints, hurts and praises. Her name is Arlene. My daughter bears her name as her middle name–that’s how special she is.
A little back story: Arlene, Carla and I were the only “married women” in our nursing class in 1978. (There was also male married student.) I was the only married who had children. Now “nontraditional” students are common, but in those times, not so much. The beautiful lady on the left is the woman I speak of above. However, the lady in the middle is still in our lives. Her latest contribution is offering “grooming tips” as we all age. That’s a bit of an inside joke, folks.
Now to the gist of the story. Arlene and I are not particularly gifted when it comes to physical sports and activity. But you have to have “phys ed” credits to graduate. We were comrades in a “Physical Conditioning” class. Our sweet instructor recognized immediately that we were no longer 18 and definitely not athletically inclined! (I had birthed 2 children by then!) She then coached us through a personalized physical conditioning program, grading us not on our achievement of some preset criteria but on our percentage of improvement from baseline. We both got an A! (I recently had an encounter with that professor who, in 2021, recognized me and described to me her memories of the 2 “older” students that she had helped through the class.)
Ok, long story, I know. But during my visit with said professor, I observed her to be reading a book with pages well marked with underlining and notes. She described how the book had been gifted to her in the 1970s and recommended it highly. Arlene’s birthday was approaching, and I immediately knew what her gift should be.
Phillip Keller, born in East Africa, was an experienced shepherd, and, line by line, he expounds on the true meaning of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. So for the past 5 months, Arlene and I have had our own book club with telephone calls on Sunday afternoons (she’s in Alabama, I, in Arkansas) that invariably last an hour. We have reconnected in a precious way as we grew ever stronger in our realization of the sacrificial, caring, alert watchfulness and concern that our Good Shepherd, Jesus, expends on our behalf.
We humans are so like sheep, whether we want to admit it or not. We don’t know what’s best for us. The shepherd does. We will eat the food of the world when the Bread of Life is waiting for us. We will drink from a muddy puddle when the clear clean Living Water is waiting for us to drink of it. We fail to recognize the dangers around us. He recognizes and intervenes with that “still, small voice” that holds us back from bad decisions. His rod and staff guide us and pull us back from danger, from floods that can sweep us away, from brambles that entangle us. He stands guard over us when Satan prowls to take us down.
I cannot begin to adequately describe the beauty and power of Keller’s exposition on Psalm 23. It has touched my life at the heart of my faith. Through this conversation with my friend, we have grown even closer, growing in our love for our Saviour and love for each other.
Arlene asked me to write a blog similar to this. She didn’t anticipate so much focus on her and our friendship. As we discussed what thoughtless, stubborn creatures we sheep can be (and are), we were reminded of God’s unconditional love, drawing us ever closer, for He is full of mercy and has blessed us with His unmerited favor, grace.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I hope in Him!”Lamentations 3:22-24 (NIV)
Thank you for sending me a friend like Arlene. Thank you for your unconditional love and the sacrificial death of Jesus. Thank you for salvation, for your protection, for your provision, and for your Holy Spirit that ever draws me closer to you. I ask your blessing on all who read this, that they will know the blessed assurance of being a sheep under the care of the Good Shepherd. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen
Thank you, Reader, for sharing this moment with me.