“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.”
– John 15:13 ESV

The Apostle Paul loved his friends. He appreciated them and spoke highly of many, and his greetings to his comrades reverberated through his writings. Paul encouraged folks and he reveled in seeing Christian spiritual growth wherever he traveled.

Is there anyone who came into your life, even for just a short while, who touched you deeply and who you call a friend? Someone who may no longer be in your life but who you think about often? You could be out and about anywhere and a particular scene or the scent of a certain aroma hits your senses, and that person comes to mind.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”
– Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV

For me that person was a Marine who I knew for only a short time before her brutal ending, but she left an indelible mark on my soul.
Soon after my arrival at the barracks in Millington, Tennessee, I caught sight of Lance Corporal Collins. She entered the foyer, pressed for perfection in her dress greens. Just by the way she carried herself, I knew she was someone to emulate in certain respects.

Military wise, we ran in different circles. Susan had arrived for school months before me, and she was slated to graduate during the summer of ‘85 – just around the time of her untimely death.
We mostly ran into one another at the barracks, passing in the day and quickly chatting before heading off again in different directions. We also occasionally ran into one another during our off time, and there is one night that stands out in my memories of her.

With my drink in hand, I turned and caught the waft of an inviting warm, spicy scent. As I looked around to find out what it was, a friendly wave and beautiful smile invited me over to the other side of the bar. All I had to do was follow my nose because as I approached the seat beside her, Susan blew out a lung full of smoke that circled and dizzied me with its incense.
We said our hellos and as I sat down, I asked, “What kind of cigarette is that? It smells amazing.”
“It’s clove,” she answered. “It’s the only kind I’ll smoke. It relaxes me.”
“It smells relaxing.”
“Want to try one?”

Susan was waiting for her boyfriend who was late, and she was a bit irritated. Relationships became our subject of conversation as we sat together, sipping our drinks, and puffing on clove cigarettes. She talked about the guy she was seeing, and then quite unexpectedly she shared that he had been stressing her for sex.
“I’m still a virgin. And I’m waiting ‘til I get married,” she stated adamantly.
It was a personal share that touched me deeply – like a knife striking bone. A few months prior, my own virginity had been stolen by rape and it was still a raw, gaping wound – one that in that moment I debated opening-up to her about, but chose not to.

“Hey, you recently got engaged, didn’t you?” She threw the question my way.
“I did. We’re not sure how all of it will transpire yet, but we’re excited.”  It was a lie on my behalf though. The truth was that I was lost and confused, a hot wreck of a mess. The engagement was a scared run from life after rape.
Just then Susan’s boyfriend arrived.
“Well, I wish you guys the best of everything!”
As she jumped up to hug her man, I made my way back over to the friends I had come with.

There’s another memorable night in Susan’s life that I don’t believe any Marine stationed in Tennessee at that time will forget – the night she was abducted and then murdered. You can read about it here https://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/smcollins.htm.

A couple of years ago, my husband Mike and his family took his father’s ashes to be placed in Arlington National Cemetery, where Susan’s remains also rest. It was a trip I had always wanted to make but I was recouping from a knee replacement and unable to go.
So, I purchased a pack of clove cigarettes and Mike promised to visit Susan’s grave for me and leave her my hello. The cemetery’s restrictions didn’t allow for the entire pack, so Mike left just one cigarette, and he took a picture for me.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
– Romans 12:10

Susan’s legacy of service may not mean much to anyone who didn’t know her, but I believe that those of us who were honored to train and serve with her will never forget.
Just as Paul’s friends never forgot him. As the apostle ready himself to leave the Ephesians, he prayed with them.

“And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him,
being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken,
that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.”
– Acts 20:37-38

Good-byes are rarely easy. But for Christ followers, our blessed assurance is in knowing that all the pain, hurts, and sorrow in this life will be forever blessed in the next.
What a friend we have in Jesus!

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down,
and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:17-18