I have two, linked, unfortunate habits - of overthinking things, and of overcomplicating things.

This is a simple story of love, joy and blessing, which I have attempted to tell twice already this week, but have ended up binning each time because I made it far more complicated than it is. So let me try again - 'third time lucky', or some such.

Once upon a time, I was young. Hard to believe now I know, but I was. And life wasn't particularly great. In fact, most of the time it was fairly horrid, with a few good bits in it (sort of like a really cheap hot cross bun - dry, tasteless and with nothing like enough juicy, fruity, bits). Into that life came a young lady, called Isobel. She was very, very, kind to me; gracious and loving. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, she was a Christian, and she was responsible, almost single-handedly, for my conversion to Christianity.

She was, from my side at least, the best friend I'd ever had. We stayed in touch while we were students - writing letters, and seeing each other during university vacations; but we lost touch around the time I married Linda and she went off to Spain as a missionary.

I've frequently regretted losing touch, and wished that there had been a way we could have kept up the friendship. I've spent thirty-odd years praying for her - but increasingly aware that I might well be praying completely the wrong things - heck, in my more honest moments I was aware that for all I knew she might even be dead. I tried a couple of times to trace her, but failed abysmally. So I gave up. And I sort of buried, and completely refused to recognise, the regret... There was nothing I could do anyway.

But at the same time an almost completely unacknowledged longing was slowly growing in me... Particularly over the last year and a bit, since life has become so richly blessed... I wanted to be able to share that with Isobel and say 'You did this - I am in the blessed place I am now because you were obedient to God, and loved me, all those years ago.'

A couple of weeks ago, Helen, our vicar's wife (and ordained clergy-person in her own right) preached a beautiful sermon about friendship. As so often with things in church, it brought me face to face with what I had been trying to avoid. And I realised just how sad I felt, really, about the loss. Later, alone, I wept buckets - great big sobs from the depths of my soul; I cried so much that I gave myself sore eyes and a splitting headache. I went along to our Lifegroup (a Lifegroup is a small group of Christian friends who meet together to study, pray and generally share their lives) on the following Tuesday evening not sure how to cope with my feelings - we often discuss the sermon - I just wasn't sure I could 'hold it together', and heck, I was supposed to be leading the evening - I’d cried again trying to prepare for the meeting. Anyway, the other members were, typically, loving and gracious.

At the end, Alex, a lovely, thoughtful, young lady, asked if I had any details - she thought it shouldn't be impossible to trace Isobel, and she enjoyed a challenge. I didn't hold out much hope, but I gave her the few 'concrete' details I knew, and went home. I told Olivia, another friend - the mum of another Isobel (a gorgeous little baby) about it and she said she would pray - and perhaps try to look too.

A couple of days went by - and then a message from Olivia to say that she'd found some news - from 1987. Well, anything was welcome, and it brought the ‘end' of the story three years closer. Then Alex said she'd contacted a lady at the missionary organisation Isobel had worked for, and she'd promised to look into it.

Suddenly, there was a faint glimmer of hope...

But also a lot of trepidation - would they have any details or be able to contact her? And if they did, would Isobel even remember me, let alone want to be 'in touch', if she was even still alive?

A few more days went by, then an email from Alex with the subject line 'SUCCESS' - and a forwarded email from Izzy - with a real live email address. She remembered me fondly, and was happy to be in contact. HALLELUJAH!! More tears - mainly of relief this time. So, I fired off a quick email, and sat back to wait - rather nervously it has to be said!

And then, one evening when I got in from seeing friends - there in my inbox was a lovely long email from Izzy, with photos.


I was shocked. In a way I still am - I keep re-reading her email and looking at the photos. I’m back to needing to keep pinching myself to check that I'm not dreaming... Life is, sometimes, almost too perfect. Psalm 37: 3-4 says:

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

That is so very true.

I am a contented soul; at peace with myself, the world, and God. If life is a hot cross bun now, it is still warm from the oven; sweet, sticky, spicy, and crammed with juicy fruit; probably lashings of terribly naughty melted butter too.

I have replied; a long email full of life’s comings and goings. I am back in touch with my friend. In some ways it seems like a 'little thing' - trivial even. But it isn't to me. It's a great big thing. God is so good to me. He blesses me. He uses my friends to bless me.

God bless you and your friendships.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020