My Best Friend

by John C. Westervelt

It has taken me forty years to fully understand the meaning of the word "friend." In the summer of 1953 I returned home after three years as a naval officer on a destroyer off Korea. Right away I was back in the church of my youth to worship God and meet girls. Across the room in Sunday school was an attractive, slim brunette in a summer chiffon dress that matched her sky-blue eyes. The eyes that won my heart would steal her away thirty-four years later. I didn't need a friend so much as a fiancée, which Nelda soon agreed to be.

With success in family and my engineering work on Apollo, I still didn't need a friend. Soon after the first moon landing, I began the layoff of my engineering group.

Nelda remained loyal as this task slowly pushed me into depression. She was the friend who orchestrated the equally slow recovery. First came survival, then much later a healing. After five years I was terminated and found a job in oil. In my need, a seed of understanding friendship had been planted.

A few years later Nelda and her mother spent a week in Fort Worth with my daughter sewing costumes for a church drama. While shaving, the morning after Nelda's return, I found a small, cross-stitched plaque on the wall next to the mirror that read, "God has blessed me with you."

In late November, ten years after beginning my new job, Nelda called and said, "Let me buy you lunch." Nelda had worn contacts for thirty years, but now she needed bifocal lenses. She was ecstatic because the doctor said he could fit her. Nelda's determination kept her in the new contacts despite severe pain, which foretold permanent damage from a reaction to the solution.

Eight months, four ophthalmologists, and three dermatologists later, the excruciating pain in the eyes and face had only worsened. Nelda and our daughter had written and performed some biblical monologs. Equally excruciating was the mental pain of giving this up. Nelda slipped into deep depression.

On a Friday after work in August 1987, I unlocked the garage door to the hot smell of exhaust. I found Nelda in the car with her opened, well-worn bible on her lap. God provided me a numbness of mind.

The words of my 1987 Christmas letter were written by my daughter. "... We, as a family, confirm that God will continue to work through Nelda as she has imparted to us faith, hope, love, laughter, and life in fullest measure. During her 56 years on earth, she was the best wife, mother, and grandmother that any of us could have asked for. 'Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.' James 1:17

"We loved Nelda dearly and always will miss her, but we are finding God to be faithful as He comforts us in our loss. We have tested what Nelda wrote in her journal in March of this year from the book of Lamentations and found God's word to be true: 'The Lord's loving-kindnesses never cease; for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.'"

It's 1994. Memories deepen my friendship for Nelda. Each morning as I shave I am affirmed by the cross stitched message, "God has blessed me with you." My response to Nelda is, "God is growing me. When my time comes, you'll find me a loving friend for eternity."

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