I remember the first day my family and I entered a church in a new area. We had just moved from another state and, although my husband had attended once, it was my first time to meet with this congregation.
As we opened the large wooden double doors to enter, I noticed a petite white-haired woman standing behind a small podium. As we approached, she moved around to the front and greeted us warmly. She remembered my husband from the week before and was eager to meet his family. A lovely small smile came across her face as she welcomed us to the congregation, and she informed us that we must pin on some guest flowers to show that we were, if only for that first day, visitors to the area. With that, she gave us a big hug and told us to remember that it was a requirement to give her a hug each week.
We then entered the main hall and began to meet others in the congregation. I talked to someone there about the little lady I had just met in the entry. I couldn’t remember her name, but I described her and told them she had said we must always give her a hug. They replied with, “Her name is Wilma, and that’s just like her.” As time passed, I realized that Wilma looked after a number of things for the church. She was not only in charge of assigning the greeters each week, but she reminded people to sign cards for the shut-ins and the ill. She bought groceries and supplies for the snack service when needed. She made sure we had drinks for the potluck dinners, etc. Of course, this was only how she served others in a formal way.
As time passed and Wilma and I became closer, I saw how she served others in a more intimate way. We started riding together to various events. She would call me and together we would go to visit someone who couldn’t attend church services or we would arrange to go somewhere together. She would speak of the people she needed to visit, the cards she needed to send and where to get the best deals on different supplies we needed. I always thought it was cute when she would say she wanted a picture of your family. She would take your picture and bring it to you a week or two later. I am still not sure if she ever kept a copy for herself. She was a woman who was always thinking of the church and its people and how she could get more involved with the congregation on an individual basis. If a member never got to know this neat little woman, it was their own fault because she was always there, ready and willing to open her heart to them.
If a member never got to know this neat little woman, it was their own fault because she was always there, ready and willing to open her heart to them.
When we traveled to the same area for the Feast of Tabernacles, she looked for us every day to give me a hug and if she couldn’t find me one day, she would comment that I hadn’t been around to see her. My son began to think of her as a second grandmother and enjoyed the loving, adult attention she gave him. While many of the things she did were small, they impacted many in big ways. While on our trip, we had a chance to spend time with some out-of-state friends that both Wilma and our family shared. The couple we were visiting gave Wilma a gift—a necklace—and she was so surprised and touched by it. As she showed it to me that night, her eyes welled up with tears. She expected nothing and was so impressed that someone might think of her in such a special way. I know she wore the necklace for the next few days after that night and I believe she wore it to church for at least the next three weeks straight.
Wilma was a friend to all, and she made many strong bonds with people. Our family hadn’t had a longstanding relationship with her, but we had formed a strong bond in the short time we had known her. This frail 80-year-old woman made you feel like you were important in her life and, in fact, you were. She once told me that no one at church knew me as well as she did, and she was proud of that. She found joy in knowing people and knowing them as well as they would allow.
I remember telling someone once how I felt about Wilma. They responded with the fact that it was just like her, she touched so many people and they all felt very close to her. At first I felt dejected over the comment. I thought, Oh no, you don’t understand—Wilma and I have become pretty close! I didn’t want to be one in a crowd that felt a bond with her. I was special to her, and she was special to me. Then I realized that it wasn’t that she hadn’t had a relationship with me, but that she had a bond with many people. There was nothing false about it, she was a real friend, and she found a way to spread her love around sincerely with almost everyone she came in contact with.
Wilma was the type of woman whose presence sneaked into your life, the type of person that maybe you didn’t at first expect to be close to. She had a soft, gravelly voice; and she would tell you like it was, no glossing things over. She had a thin, tight smile and a subtle wisdom about her. Her words didn’t always sink in right away, but you would find yourself pondering her comments at a later time. Proverbs 27:17, tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
Wilma was the type of person who if she made friends with you and you moved away after only a few months, she would continue to stay in touch through phone calls or by e-mail. She had friends from all over and they all felt a special bond of one kind or another with her. She was peppy and full of energy and even when she was feeling down, she still had a hug and a smile to share with you.
If only all people could find it within themselves to reach out to each and every person they meet along the way, wouldn’t this world be a nicer place? Simply reaching out with the intent of trying to build a friendship can make a big difference in someone’s life even if you don’t see it. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times,” and Proverbs 18: 24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” These are good things to remember. It is too easy to avoid others, and it is difficult especially if you are shy. But it doesn’t take a lot of effort to reach out a hand and welcome someone for the first time, to give someone a little hug or to simply share a smile as you pass by. A friendship can begin with even a small gesture.
Wilma died recently, and there is a hole in the hearts of her friends that her presence used to fill. While no one will ever be able to replace her, we can all be a bit more like her. We can learn the lesson of friendship she taught. We can reach out to those around us and in our own way become better friends, expecting little in return and making other people’s lives a bit better. We know that we will see Wilma again some day, and I am sure she will greet all of her friends with a little hug. It was just like her.