This post was written by Kate Anderson and originally posted to her blog. We've reposted it here with her permission.
But then, I found out that my best friend has cancer.
The thing you need to know about Joe is that he and I have had a rocky relationship. We've been friends since first grade, but there were several times in high school when we refused to speak to each other, times that would last for months before one of us caved. He's broken my heart time and time again, but one of my weaknesses (or strengths, depending on how you look at it) is that I'm forgiving of others to the point of being a doormat. So we kept mending our relationship as best we could, ignoring what we couldn't fix, and continued being friends. Few people have made me as furious as he has, or as depressed, but few people have made me laugh so much in my life.
Since we've gone to college, I only see him once or twice a year, and I talk to him maybe half a dozen times beyond that on the phone. I'm just not a phone person. But whenever we do talk, it only takes a few awkward minutes before we feel like KateandJoe again, not Kate and Joe. It was still unusual when I got back from a run one day about a month ago, sweaty and hungry and in a hurry to get to a volunteer gig, and noticed that he was calling me.
"Hey Joe, what's up?"
"Are you busy right now?"
"Well, I just got back from a run, and I'm gonna have to head out soon to go volunteering, but I have a few minutes. What's up?"
"Kate...I have cancer."
After the shock passed and he gave me some more details about what was happening medically, I found out that he would be leaving his college the next afternoon to get treatment from home. I asked if it would be an inconvenience if I were to come visit him that night - his school is about three hours from mine - and after thanking me profusely, I got his address and looked up some directions.
It's times like these when you learn how you really handle yourself in times of distress. My boyfriend had come into my room during my conversation and was sitting next to me. I turned to him, informed him that I was about to cry hysterically, but in ten minutes I had to pull myself together because I had to get to the city as soon as possible. He held me, I cried, then I moved on.
Within four hours I was at his school, surrounded by his friends and their gratitude that I had come all the way up to see him. I was so confused by this - who wouldn't do this for their friend? I've known him for about fifteen years, so why wouldn't I come to see him?
A huge group of us walked about two miles to go to Joe's favorite frozen yogurt place. By the time we got back, my leg was cramping horribly from my earlier three mile run and three hour car ride, and I was limping for the rest of the night. We all played Wii games, and introduced his German friend to The Wizard of Oz. She thought it was strange and didn't understand why we liked it so much. We ate pizza and candy and drank way too much soda, and we all touched each other more than new acquaintances normally would. Joe, another girl, and I went into his room and helped him pack, though the other two often cried and we all kept stopping to share stories. I didn't cry, because I had already done that earlier and I was here to be a support, not to take that support from others.
Finally, everyone drifted back to their own rooms, and I was left alone with Joe for the first time since I had gotten there. We somehow ended up cuddling on his twin bed, him holding me and me curled up with my head resting on his shoulder. We talked about old times, strange stories that his college friends wouldn't really know or understand, and sometimes we talked about what would happen to him now that he was going home, and sometimes we were just silent.
It was during this time, at 4 in the morning, with my cramped leg still aching and us crammed onto such a small bed, that I felt this huge wave of love for Joe. I drove all this way even though I can't afford the gas because I love him. I was curled with him because I loved him. I held back my tears because I loved him. Even though he had hurt me in the worst ways, took all my weaknesses and used them against me to break my heart in the most painful ways, I still loved him with everything I had.
Is this how God loves us? No matter how much we hurt God, or how much we hurt each other in God's name, or how many times we look at everything God offers and turn away from it in favor of embracing hell on earth, does God still love us?
Holding Joe and being held by him, in the most innocent way, just offering comfort in the only way I could once all my words had failed me...that was the first time that I truly felt that I could call myself a Christian, and not feel shame. Following Jesus means loving those who've hurt us. Following Jesus means holding those whom I've never met, like the next day when Joe's van pulled away, and the one person there who loved him as much as I do clung to me and sobbed into my shoulder. Following Jesus means dropping everything and driving through the night just so I can see Joe.
Following Jesus means holding someone who has cancer at four in the morning, and telling them that you'll be there for them, no matter what.
Following Jesus means love.