It's technically a question. Which has always amused me since in the hymnbook it is punctuated with a period. But the construction is fairly complex, so I suppose I can forgive the oversight. You should already know how obsessed I am with the hymns, don't be surprised that I have spent time pondering the punctuation of a verse. And while we are at it, please notice that I am getting comfortable enough with this blogging thing to bore you more frequently with my hymn obsession. First you got lectured on Amazing Grace, now if you would all kindly open your green scriptures to hymn number 293... Someday you may even get lectures on my very favorite verses and passages, but this is the one that came up today.
No, its not my favorite hymn. I don't dislike it, its just not really in my top 25, partly due to the complex grammar construction, that makes it so that I wonder if those that get all teary over it are really aware of the text. There are a whole bunch of great and emotional phrases in it, but the real meat of it, the real substance of the text is often entirely overlooked.
I wish I could actually graph it out on the blog, but lets take apart the text of that second verse for a moment. "What greater gift doest Thou bestow" is a question, but since the thought is not complete we are postponing the punctuation with a comma. "What greater goodness can we know" is another question, but it is continued with the qualifying "Than". You see, language is really just math. (Or I suppose if you want, math is really just language. Whichever helps you to comprehend better). The bottom line is, if you shave down all the extras, the question asked is "What is greater than?" So it is a question. and a profound one at that. What is a greater gift than friendships that strengthen and enrich us? And perhaps since the author intended to convey that the answer is "nothing is greater" I can see why the statement is punctuated with more finality than a question mark. Of course, if I really wanted to convey finality, I would have gone with an exclamation point, which is why I question the period. It seems to be neither accurate enough to represent the grammar, nor emphatic enough for the philosophy.
This is why a lot of times, I just don't talk.
My very dear friend from my freshman year at BYU found me the other day. I have no idea how her husband ran across my email address (perhaps they already had it and he was cleaning up files?) but he emailed me to ask if I was me and when I was they looked me up on facebook, and we have hadd all sorts of fun chatting since then. And I have been thrilled with the whole thing, because I have been thinking about the two of them so much lately. He was my friend too, but she lived on my floor in the now flattened Deseret Towers, S-Hall, and we had all sorts of wonderful chats and fun. And the thing is, I have grown up a whole lot since that year, and I have come to an awareness of what a mess I was back then, and how much of that mess must have been evident to everyone around me. And yet there were, in spite of the messiness, a very few people that took me under wing and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I wasn't unaware of the awkward silences and looks I got, I wasn't oblivious to the social aviodance, I was in fact entirely convinced that I deserved it, and so I did nothing to change it. But for some reason, there were a few people around me that felt I had more to offer. One of those people heard me singing while I was cleaning a bathroom at 4 am, and he invited me to sing in his choir, and he encouraged me to do a little more with music. And maybe he was just in need of an extra soprano, but it made me feel like I had a place on that campus. I would have drowned without that. He is a high school music teacher now, and I have quite a few friends that know him as an authority figure rather than as the friend that offered me a lifeline when I sorely needed one. And maybe life hasn't dealt him all the cards that he wanted, and maybe he has grown into someone else entirely, but he still gets to count mine as one life saved.
Along with Johnny is Jenny. She is one of those Ensign cover model type women. Well, when we were BYU freshmen, I suppose it would have been New Era cover model. Bright and funny and friendly and talented and practically perfect in every way, she had all the popular friends and was out on a different date nearly every night of the week. I was nowhere near her social circle. Yet somehow, she chose me to be her friend. It wasn't the patronizing "project" kind of friendship, I don't think. I've been in those before, and I think I recognize them, but if it was she was way better at it than anyone, perhaps because she was more sincere. She played the piano, I could barely read music, she flirted with every boy in the ward, I didn't even own makeup, she smiled easily, I was too terrified to make eye contact, she had smart funny replies to everything, I could barely loosen my tounge to talk. She was the first person I really knew who spoke openly to me about things like hopes and dreams and daydreams and fantasies and faith. So many of us were too terrified to really share, but Jenny had confidence and humor that comforted even the most insecure of teenage girls. And insecure is what I was. It didn't matter though, she still treated me as if I belonged in her circle of friends, she still invited me to parties and told me about the boys she was seeing and writing and interested in. And even though I was nowhere near ready to start talking and sharing myself, she let me watch and listen and simply accepted that I was learning and that I was making my own efforts. Maybe what I am trying to say is that I never once felt like she was mocking me. And when I did start to talk and to try things, she was right there encouraging me. And of course, she got married right out of freshman year. But we stayed in touch here and there, we had each others phone numbers for a long time, and she had babies and I went on a mission and she bought a home and I graduated and she raised a family while her husband got a PhD and I worked a few dead end jobs and she went back to school and finished while I worked a job I loved and she got accepted to med school while I returned to working dead end jobs. And I think is particularly funny that 15 years later, the former pre-med student now has a degree in music and the former music major is starting med school in the fall. That's right, we went our seperate ways after just one school year, but somehow her frienship still affects me to this day. And I have made many more friends since then that have been affected by the confidence she taught me, and perhaps they are unaware, as much as I may be unaware of their friends that affect our relationships. And some of the friends I have made since then have had as much as an affect on me and my life.
The thing is, I have been asked in the past few weeks how I have the patience to listen to or deal with a certian level of immaturity, and the answer was easily, because of Jenny. I wonder where I would be if she hadn't had the goodness to teach me, and I have to offer whatever I can to that soul that is sinking where I once stood. It's taken a lot of good friends placed perfectly in my life to keep me afloat. Whatever stability I have is not my own, and as such I have no right to withold it from others that stand in need. And every time I offer my hand to someone else, I offer it knowing that were it not for people like Jenny then I would have nothing to offer. I wonder who the people are that helped her to become someone that offered strength, and I wonder if they are aware of how they have touched my life, and I begin to see very faintly how connected we all are. And I feel more deeply how important those friends are that we sing about in hymn number 293.
So I'm choosing the exclamation point, and I'm dedicating it to each of those friends that has strengthened me. I don't know if you all know who you are, and I don't dare make a list, not here, because of all the lists I could make, that would be the dearest and most personal to me. Just know that if we have laughed together, if we have mourned together, if we have shared testimony together, if we have sat up ridiculously late chatting and reading, if we have exchanged emails full of hopes and fears, if we have hugged or cried or thanked each other or called just to say "hi", if we baked cookies and ate the dough before any of it hit the oven, and most of all, if I have been able to listen and learn from you, you can take a bit of the exclamation point as well.
What greater goodness can we know than Christlike friends who strengthen our faith!
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