Have you ever been afraid to reach out to someone?
Not only physically. Verbally as well.
Maybe you’ve passed someone on the street with tears in their eyes. Maybe a coworker was especially quiet one day. Maybe you felt strangely drawn to someone you waited in line behind at the store; like you should say something encouraging.
But you didn’t. Maybe you were shy, maybe you felt you wouldn’t have anything helpful to say, or maybe you were just afraid.
Afraid of rejection. Of awkwardness. Of sounding too eager.
I understand. I’ve been there so many times. It’s still something I struggle with on a near daily basis.
Should I say something? Would it help? Would it hurt? Would they want to talk to me or would they be annoyed? What can I even say?
The interesting thing is that I’ve found it’s always worth it, even just to say hi, or ask how someone is. Sometimes that’s all the further the conversation goes, and I pray my effort at reaching out to them brightened their day somehow.
Other times, one simple greeting or question opens the gates for so much more. I’ve had this experience many times. One in particular is on my heart this week.
Early last year, I had the opportunity to act in a play. It was my first non-musical theatre production, and I was both very excited and very nervous for rehearsals to begin. I was cast to play a Sister, ‘related’ to three other girls I’d never met before.
The first rehearsal, as we waited in the wings to practice our first scene, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I should talk to one of the girls in particular. She looked very shy and didn’t seem to know anyone there. Every time I glanced over at her, she was looking at me. We’d exchange shy smiles, and then go back to waiting, and that pressure continued to build inside me.
I remember praying in that moment, asking for the words to begin the conversation. I’ve never been good at starting conversations or even keeping them going most the time. But I wanted to make her feel comfortable, and wanted to know how to do that. I turned to her, started to open my mouth – and she beat me to it by asking what grade I was in.
Such a simple question. But from then on, we never had trouble finding things to talk about. It seemed we discovered more that we had in common every time we spoke. It was one of the easiest friendships I’ve ever had, and though it usually takes me a while to feel comfortable with a new person, after just a couple weeks, I felt like I’d known her for years.
It’s fascinating how God works. Just prior to this play, I’d been praying for the opportunity to be a light to someone. To be able to show His love to someone who needed it. In my mind, it was an opportunity to help someone, and had nothing to do with me. What I found in this new friendship was that very opportunity – but it ended up changing my life far more than I imagine it changed hers.
After the play ended, we promised to hang out often over the summer, and continued to email each other back and forth, sharing excerpts of our writing in addition to the chatting.
I got to see her at a dance a few weeks later, where we both shared in clumsiness and laughter; our first non-theatre time together. At home that night, I thanked God for bringing such a sweet and wonderful friend into my life. I never imagined that would be the last time I’d see her in person.
Several weeks later, on Mother’s Day, she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
DIPG: diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma; a vicious cancer that targets young people. There is no cure. Though slow progress is being made, even the available treatments don’t often bring promising results.
All at once, my dear friend and her family found themselves in a whole new, terrifying world of doctor’s visits, radiation, low odds, and uncertainty. I watched as they struggled to navigate the slew of heartbreaking challenges flooding into their lives. As they wrestled with the impossible decisions and horrible choices they had to make.
And through it all, I was continually inspired by the faith my friend showed, even in the midst of such crippling sickness and sadness.
I was blessed to be able to have many conversations with her over the next year, all via technology. We didn’t talk much about her diagnosis, about where she was in her treatments. I don’t think either of us wanted to think about it. Instead, we shared more of our writing, and discussed movies, favorite books, personality types, puppies, music, and Scripture.
We ‘accidentally’ video-called once (neither of us knew who actually initiated the call, but God works in wonderful, mysterious ways), and spent it gushing about the book she decided to publish that summer; a beautiful fantasy story about family, bravery, and love. 1 My siblings and I loved it so much that we dressed as some of her characters for a costume party afterwards, and I texted her almost daily with instances where we quoted her lines.
I treasure each and every one of those moments. Of those messages. I knew, in my heart, to treasure them. That I would miss them eventually. And now I do. I miss those hours spent talking about anything and everything, enjoying one another’s company, and encouraging one another with God’s precious Word.
I miss it very much. Especially this week, as I think of her recent 18th birthday, which she spent with her Savior. How amazing to think of her celebrating her birthday in Heaven. I’m so glad for her, even if it is so very hard for those who loved her, still on earth.
Why her? Why has she and her family been allowed to suffer and grieve? Why was she called home so soon? Why have similar things happened to so many people we don’t feel should endure them?
I don’t know. I don’t understand. And I don’t believe I will until I reach Heaven, should God choose to reveal it to me then.
But as I look back over my friend’s journey, I’m reminded that we don’t have to understand God to trust Him. We don’t need to have all the answers to have faith that He does. We may not see all the ways He’s working through the hardest periods in our lives, but He is. And He’s working all things together for good.
I got to see my friend touch so many lives through her battle with cancer. So many people, many of which likely wouldn’t have known her otherwise, were inspired by her faith, her determination, her love for her family, her strength. She was a beacon of light; a hope and an encouragement to so many, and an example of true trust in God.
Through watching her over those months, I saw faith, love, hope, joy, and peace modeled every day. I was encouraged, inspired, and amazed by the way I saw God use her. I tried to use what I saw in her beautiful heart and apply it to my own life, and my own heart. She was truly a gift to everyone who knew her.
What a blessing to be one of them. What a blessing to know that I’ll see her again someday. And what a blessing to look back on our friendship here, with fond memories and a full heart.
And all because she reached out.
What if she hadn’t chosen to start that conversation? What if, in that case, I didn’t say anything either? What if we never got to know each other, or develop that friendship?
Imagining it hurts. I would have missed so much. I wouldn’t trade everything I experienced and learned with her, even if it meant I didn’t feel the pain of losing her so soon. God used her to change my life in many ways, and I plan to tell her that someday. I hope she knows.
Over my life so far, so many friendships have bloomed from a simple question or comment, and all of them have blessed my life. And though I’m not as good at starting those things as I should be, I’m trying to improve. I’m realizing how important it is to make an effort to show love to those around me, even when it’s uncomfortable. I’ve seen how God can work through our steps of faith.
Today, my prayer is that you and I would keep our eyes open for opportunities to bless someone else, through a conversation, a gesture, or an act of service. I pray we’d not only notice those opportunities, but also have the courage to act on them. I pray we’d not be discouraged when it seems like our acts haven’t made any difference.
Because we may never know how God will use those moments to change lives. Others and our own.
When I think back to those first moments in the theatre wings, wondering if I should talk to the shy, smiling girl next to me, I didn’t expect any of what followed. Now, I’ve had the privilege of seeing God work in so many more beautiful, amazing, unexpected ways.
And, with every day that passes, I look forward to seeing more.
Therefore encourage one another
and build one another up.
(1st Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)
1. My friend’s book can be found here.