Life is short. But, we don’t realize just how much until one morning we get on Facebook during break at work, and we learn that one of our best friends from 5th grade has passed away.
I can’t write about the details of her death as I am still processing it all. But, one thing I can write about is how people can make an incredible impact on our lives, even its for a brief year in grade school. So…let me take a moment to try and express why I love this lady who has now gone Home.
In 5th Grade my family moved from Casey, IL to the new town of Mattoon, IL. I was the oldest of 6 children at that time because my father was marrying a lady who had two kids, and I already had 4 siblings. We lived in government housing, barely had clean clothes and food, and we attended a new school.
There were times I wanted to crawl under a rock. I was so ashamed of the negligence in my family, and on top of all that, I could hardly speak English very well. These were all very embarrassing reasons why sometimes at school I wanted to hide, and I often did behind my writings in my journal.
But, one day that year I found a very strong and rare friend in Penny. She was tall for our grade, and she walked with a swag of confidence that seemed to challenge the world. Over the course of the year, she would be someone I would respect and admire: Penny Day.
We found things to laugh about, and she actually took the time to get to know me beyond my appearance and awkward shyness. She made me feel “normal” at a time when everything was so NOT normal. My parents had just gone through a divorce. My once stay-at-home mom was no longer living with us, and I was still going through grief over that.
But, I had my mom’s Korean dress. And, it was Penny who made me feel special the day I wore it.
For Halloween, it was someone’s great idea that I should wear my mom’s Korean Dress to school. It was a hit. Penny especially thought so. I think that was the day she officially became my true friend. I saw the look of pride and genuine interest in her eyes. She never asked, but I saw the question in them: How in the world could I have the guts to do something so crazy as to highlight my Asian culture when all around 95% of the kids were white as the corn in the fields behind our school? I guess she grew in respect for me that day, too. We both knew we were brave girls. To find our brave in 5th grade was a rare gift, after all.
Maybe that is why I am struggling some with her passing.
5th grade was a transitional year for me, and Penny helped me to feel strong that year by her genuine smile and down-to-earth kindness. I was not saved then. I’m not sure that she was either. We were just two girls, though, whom the Lord was obviously working on to bring us into His fold. We wanted the good things in life. We valued goodness in others and wanted to change the world with compassion. Of course, God would have more for us in the chapters of our lives to come, but that year, we leaned on the innocence of our 5th Grade to use our brains and our hearts to change our little world around us, beginning with sharing kindness and respect for one another.
Penny was my first friend at Bennett Elementary School. And, because she took the time to accept me as I was, I grew in confidence there and soon made other friends.
We never know how a single life can impact ours. I wish I had the chance to tell her all this when she was still alive.
43 years old is too young to die. I just wish I would have known that she needed a friend this hour. I would have thanked her for being my true friend when I needed one the most, and I would have shared with her who I found to be the most FAITHFUL FRIEND in my life over some of my most hard and challenging years since grade school, Jesus Christ.
No matter how hard life can be, we do have a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus Christ, the King of Life, is FOR US and with us. There is nothing we can go through that He hasn’t already endured. If I had a chance to have coffee with Penny, these are the things we would have talked about as adults, I am sure. I am glad she knew Jesus. I would have just reminded her how much He loves her, how much He loves all of us. We all need these reminders from time to time when life gets so hard and complicated.
So, I pray that this touches someone. Thank your friends for being there. Hold onto Jesus during hard times. Embrace LIFE, and keep the Faith.
God bless Penny’s family and friends!
PS I am attaching a link to a song. I have not seen the musical, and I don’t endorse it, but my church a few years ago did a remake of the song, and I loved the musicality of it. Tonight I realized the song reminded me of my feelings for my friend, and I changed some of the words. I couldn’t make her visitation or funeral, so this is my goodbye.
A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24