by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

My friend Shirley passed on a few days ago. She transitioned to the next road of her eternal journey. There is nothing else I would rather write about this week than my friend and what she taught me about what it means to be a friend.

The memorial service held in her honor was attended by a host of family, friends and colleagues. One of the awe-inspiring moments for me was when one of Shirley’s former colleagues from 28 years ago stood up to speak. As he began, he said he was certain no one in the crowded room had ever seen him before. He explained that he had worked for a Houston newspaper with Shirley. At some point, he had an opportunity to go to the Middle East to be a correspondent, and apparently Shirley was a voice of encouragement amid a deep sea of disapproval. He shared that it was her encouragement that helped him make a career decision that changed his life, and he would be forever grateful to her. He remains an international correspondent.

Yes, my friend Shirley was an encourager. I, too, have been blessed to receive her emboldening and motivating words. If I was bewildered, confused, uncertain, doubt-filled or frustrated, her encouragement was there.

Shirley’s reassurance was not limited only to difficult times, but also, as her newspaper colleague expressed, to times of possibility when her cheering and boosting were perhaps the greatest. I think Shirley saw each of her friends, family and colleagues as on the road to reaching their full potential, and she knew encouragement would enable us to reach that potential. So she gave it abundantly. The inspiriting atmosphere that filled our conversations allowed me to think aloud when I was with her. Every dialogue was one of self-discovery, and I was changed by each and every visit. She saw the best in me and helped me to see it, too.

Einstein describes friendship in this way: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” We read in the book of John, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loveth at all times.” Mary Baker Eddy sums friendship up by saying it brings “to earth a foretaste of heaven.” Indeed!

My good friend Shirley gave her life for her friends — giving her time, imparting her passion, contributing her energy, offering her ideas, bestowing her inspiration. I’ve heard it said that a friend is more interested in being a friend than in having a friend.

A synonym for “giver” is “angel.” I’m reminded of the song by a longtime favorite country-western band, Alabama, entitled “Angels Among Us.” I believe there are angels among us, and they’re also known as friends.

Shirley encouraged me to follow my heart, my dreams, my vision, my inspiration. I hope I make as much of a difference in someone’s life as she has in mine. May I never underestimate the power of encouraging words and always share them lavishly and bountifully.

Thank you, Shirley, for showing me what it means to be a friend.