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December 21, 2012
Pebbles, Potholes, and Perspective
Friendship: Does It Really Matter?
by Sarah Hancock

Just before Thanksgiving I sat at my desk, staring blurry-eyed at the clerical work on my screen. Tap. Tap. Tap. Looking up I saw one of my clubhouse members staring at me, his face solemn.

"I don't want to bother you." He stood tentatively in the office doorway, as though he weren't sure whether to come in or go out.

"What's up?" I asked, still glancing at my computer.

"Do I matter?" His question pierced my busy anxiety. I turned from my desk to face him, inviting him in to have a seat.

The question echoes still. "Do I matter?" How many people in this world ask themselves the same question during this holiday season? For those with few family or friends, specifically those with mental illness, this is a haunting question which, if gone unanswered, leads a person to believe that no, they don't matter. Depression is actually greater in the holiday seasons because while many people have family, many others do not. Those who have little emotional support, are those hit hardest by the holidays because they have no one with whom to enjoy this special time of year.

Let's back up eleven years. I was completing a lengthy hospital stay. During that stay I had many family members and friends who'd dropped by to visit and support me. One such couple was my bishop and his wife. They were nearly nightly visitors. On an evening before my release, I joked that I'd only get to see them on Sundays. The Bishop's wife, Judy, responded, with an invitation for an ice cream outing that coming Thursday. It was a date! From that week on, every Thursday for the next six years she treated me to ice cream. If I was in the hospital, she would bring the ice cream to me. If she was out of town, she sent me a carefully chosen card full of love.

Much like my friend at work asked me if he really mattered, at one point I asked Judy if I was her project. She laughed and asked me what on earth I was talking about. After that I knew, we were just friends and that's what friends did. As the years passed and as my illness waxed and waned, many people didn't or couldn't remain friends with me because my life was in such chaos. However, Judy and I became quite the team. Thursdays became errand day. When I was with her, I wasn't a weirdo. I was Sarah. She looked past the label. She listened. I felt my most confident when I was with her. Why? Because, to Judy, I mattered.

This coming week the Christian world comes together in celebration of the birth of our Savior, the perfect example of unconditional love and eternal reliability. (It's something we don't talk about much, but our Savior and our Heavenly Father have or will fulfill every promise ever made.) As you look around you, take time to smile and even approach those who may stand on the sidelines. You may be the only one who does. To you who stand on the sidelines, reach out to others you feel could use a little lift. It could be as simple as writing a post-it note of encouragement or compliment and handing it to them in passing. I've had visiting teachers who wrote me little notes of encouragement on a regular basis. I lived for those notes. I kept them all in a safe place. I still pull those notes out and reread them. Perhaps you can make a card for someone who may not receive any others. Maybe you can make that call to someone you feel could use a friend.

Although Judy set the bar higher than I'll ever be able to meet, we don't have to take someone to ice cream on a weekly basis. For those of you who may struggle in knowing what to say, let me reassure you, the most important thing you can do in a conversation is listen.

I think the best Christmas gift we could give to the world around us is a warm heart and tender hand. To those of you who may be estranged from family or friends, or have a family member who seems to have alienated his or herself with their personal decisions, put aside the hurt. Start over. Write them a note letting them know that they will always be family.

As we work to bring others into the circle of friendship and inclusion, regardless of a mental illness, we can help them "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men" (2 Nephi 31:20) Be that hope for someone else, who knows what your friendship will mean to both of you in the future. Let others know, Yes! They matter!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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