Posted tagged ‘Friends’

Friend Listening

May 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  May 19, 2019

                              

Carol and I are returning from a European river cruise that was awesome and memorable. Being in the youngest 20% on the boat made us feel like 65 year old teenagers! Suddenly, as we travel home, we’re feeling a bit weathered!

Our friends, Dave and Robyn Hughes, joined us on the cruise. They now live in Bradenton, Florida, but a long, long…very long time ago Dave and I went to high school together, he performed the function of being my Best Man, and I performed his wedding ceremony.

It was good! It was needed! It was heart aching!

You see, Dave and Robyn’s oldest son, Brad, passed away two years ago this month. His death was the result of an unfortunate accident. Brad was in his mid-thirties at the time of his passing. When I received word of his death I called Dave and we talked for a few minutes, but being together on the cruise was a chance for us to talk face-to-face, laugh and cry, journey through the dark lonely walk, and renew our deep friendship.

He talked, I listened, asking a few clarifying questions as he retold the story, but mostly just listened. A friend is someone you can laugh with, but, more importantly, a friend is someone who stays on the path with you. The path is adorned with bright flowers at certain times, but also potholes of misery at other times. 

Dave needed to talk. Grief causes some people to clench their jaw muscles tight in firm anger and anguish, while other people need to talk through it. It is the honesty of grief that  reveals the loss, deep loss, and its effects on different people in different ways. Americans still live in the land of denial when a significant loss occurs. We so often are in fear of looking weak, but grief is not about who is strong and who is weak. Grief is about healing the wounds of loss.

All of us have, or soon will, experience loss in some way. For Carol and I, all of our parents are now deceased. It’s a tug on our hearts at any moment. A conversation from long ago breaks to the surface and Mom or Dad seems to be right there…but they aren’t. 

So Dave and I talked, and sometimes rested in the silence of our conversation. We told each other old stories that we’ve shared umpteen times already and pondered the questions that have no answers. 

Friendship is about listening. It’s about taking the hand of the other and leading him into the unrest, and it’s about helping him look ahead in the looming shadow of the past. It’s allowing the other to ask the questions of spiritual doubt and confusion without rushing to the shallowness of snappy conclusions. 

I miss my old friend! I’ll miss the opportunity to stand on the deck of the boat and listen to his sadness, and to retell the stories of the pranks we pulled on each other and others. We long for our next gathering, wherever that might be…God willing!

The Scarcity of Friends

March 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 15, 2019

                                     

“A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your success!”  

                                                                    -Doug Larson

My dad passed away 13 months ago today. He was a great father, a person of great character, and a man of faith. He left this life four months short of his 90th birthday. Long life, lots of good memories, but he outlived his friends!

There’s something good about being “the last one breathing”, and yet, there’s significant downside as well. Not that 89 year olds should be carrying a casket, but Dad had none of his long-time friends still around. Bill Ball, Ralph Carrico, Jim Rollyson, Walt Doyle, Harold Brown…they had all moved on to Glory! Thankfully he had plenty of grandchildren, two sons, and a son-in-law who were able to hoist the casket from the hearse to the grave site. 

When Bill Ball passed away in the summer of 2017, it was also the finale of friendship for Pops. In the midst of the new reality- the absence of his friends- there was an unspoken sadness, a silent weeping in his spirit. It caused me to pause and reflect on what made these five men so valued to my dad. What causes friendship to grow deep roots?

And gloomy as it may seem, it caused me to consider who my pallbearers would be? Who are the people who will pick me up and set me down for the last time? I have plenty of people who are my family and relatives who would do it…I think!…but what about the others who will literally walk beside me for the final steps?

It’s a question that is revealing and, for some, disturbing. As a friend of mine once said, “I have many acquaintances, but few friends!” Those words said many years ago resonate with me more and more. I have, according to Facebook, a multitude of friends, but, in reality, almost all of them are simply acquaintances. A few of them could be said to be friends.

What differentiates between those two categories, friends and acquaintances? For me it’s the following:

1) A friend is someone who listens and is also willing for me to be a listener. It’s a two way street. Someone who only listens is simply a counselor. Someone who only talks is…annoying! There’s been times when one of my friends just needed me to have ears, and other times when he needed to be still and hear.

2) A friend is someone who holds the rope as you climb the rocks and pulls you up when you’ve descended to the depths. In other words, he applauds your accomplishments and helps you recover from the defeats.

3) A friend is someone you can call on at anytime and anywhere, never doubting in their willingness to rescue.

4) A friend is someone you can laugh with uncontrollably, as well as vehemently disagree with. Your friendship is not based on the two of you being like one another, but rather on a relationship that respects your differences.

5) A friend is someone who advises you to slow down, think and pray about it, before you do something stupid; and asks you “what in the world you’re waiting for” when the solution is as clear as your hand in front of your face!

6) A friend knows your weaknesses and temptations and sometimes has to slap you up the side of the head to wake you up to where you’re heading!

After going down my list the number of people who qualify to carry me to my final resting place gets whittled down, but I know that they are also the people who will grasp the handles with firmness and resolve. 

Old Friends in A New Day

January 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 3, 2019

                              

“Friendship knows no barriers that it will not make its way through, knows no distance it will not travel, knows no time that will bring its end except the end of life itself.”

                                                                                                        -Me

A friend of mine once said that he had many acquaintances, but few friends. He was profoundly wise in his view of friendship. Many of us have an inconceivable number of Facebook “friends”. I just checked my FB page and found out that I’m at 1,043! That doesn’t mean I’m popular, it just means that there’s a lot of people I know. Sure, some of those are immediate family and relatives near and far. My cousin Suzanne lives in Park City, Utah. I haven’t seen her in a few decades, but it’s good to see what’s going on in her life.

I digress from my point, however! 

Carol and I spent New Year’s Eve in Charlotte, North Carolina with our friends Tom and Diane Bayes. Their son, Brandon and his wife Mary, and their two young kids came over for dinner. Brandon is reading this blog so I’ll detour for a moment just to say this to him- ”Hee, hee, hee!” It’s an inside joke that brings a memory back to him of the Holy Land tour he, his dad, and I were on years ago.

Back to Tom! Both Tom and I are now retired American Baptist pastors. For about 15 years of our ministries we served as pastors at two churches in the Lansing, Michigan area. The two of us, plus another American Baptist pastor, Chuck Moore, met for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the southside of Lansing every other Wednesday for about 7 years. We formed friendships that have carried through. We called our threesome “The BMW Group” (Bayes, Moore, Wolfe). We figured it was as close to a BMW that any of us would get. 

We differed theologically, and yet we respected each other’s views and beliefs in an uncommon way- we listened and didn’t belittle!

Carol and I arrived at the Bayes house about 2:00 in the afternoon and for the next eleven and a half hours we talked, laughed, ate, toasted the new year, and finally went to bed at 1:30 in the morning. It was as if we had never been apart.

Friendship is like that. It doesn’t struggle to chat, and yet is comfortable with the moments of quiet. It doesn’t need to impress, yet it willing to wade through the waters of discouragement that one or the other is trudging through. It congratulates and consoles. 

Both Tom and I…and Chuck have traveled through tsunamis of church ministry. Each of us has been at one time or another the solid post that the friend in the midst of the storm has grabbed onto in the dangerous ministry times of being swept away. Each of us has also been the one who has grasped for that post. It’s what friends do for one another! 

Brandon pressed the issue with us during dinner. “You two are both retired. Why don’t you meet up with Chuck in Chicago sometime?” (Chuck pastors in Champaign, Illinois now.) 

So we will! I texted Chuck about the idea and meeting and going to a Cubs game, but we really don’t even need a baseball game. We just need each other! Location is secondary! That’s what friends do. We don’t need an event to meet around. I’ll say it again…we just need each other!

The Blessing of Three Dave’s

June 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 17, 2017

                                        

Three seems to be a number that is used quite often in various ways. In A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The three wisemen brought gifts three kinds of gifts to the baby Jesus, and my seminary preaching professor taught us to preach sermons that had three points…and a poem!

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Shadrach, Meshach, and To Bed We Go- er, Abednego! Abraham’s three visitors! Three crosses on top of Golgotha! The angels in Isaiah’s vision saying “Holy, holy, holy!” Jesus saying “Verily, verily, verily!” Important encounters and relationships seem to grow out of threes!

I’ve been blessed by three Dave’s who have been a part of my life journey. Our son, David, is  named after two of the Dave’s. He would have been named after the third Dave, but we hadn’t met him yet!

Dave Shaffer was a part of the first church I served on the staff of after graduating from seminary. He and Pam graced the lives of a just married young couple entering the intimidating experience of ministry. Laughter was a part of our friendship. We felt comfortable around one another. My ministry at the church was a short fifteen months, but our friendship is about to hit forty years.

Dave Hughes was one of my high school best friends and my best man. We were a part of the same youth group, ate a lot of pizza together, and played basketball together. I was privileged to perform the wedding ceremony for Dave and his wife, Robyn, and on a different wedding night- the wedding night after our friend Mike Fairchild got married-  Dave and I, groomsmen in the wedding party, went to the hospital in our tuxedos to celebrate the birth of my first niece, Jennifer. Three weeks ago his oldest son, Brad, was found dead on a hiking trail in Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, passing away from heat exhaustion and dehydration. I called my friend to walk the journey of loss and sorrow with him. I know he would have done the same for me.

And the third Dave, a hulk of a man named Dave Volitis, came strolling into my life about 15 years ago when he and Donna moved into the house across the street from us. Now a retired Air Force Chief Master Sargent living in San Antonio, he continues to grace my life with his stories and encouragement. We recently were a part of a mission work team that traveled to British Columbia together. My kids were always intrigued by Mr. Volitis, his humorous sayings (“higher than a cat’s back”, “about as welcome as a hemorrhoid”, “about as useful as tits on a boar hog”), and his engaging personality. He became a part of my congregation even though he and his family were more of the pentecostal tint. I cried when he moved to San Antonio.

Three Dave’s! I’ve had other Dave’s as a part of my life as well, but these three men left their imprints on my life…past, present, and future. I envision a time in the future when I arrange to have them all together in the same place, and to express my appreciation. What stories would come out of that gathering!!! I think that would be pretty cool!

A utility company worker, a civil engineer, and a career military person…about as diverse in occupations as you can get. Each of them now a grandfather, and each of them a part of families that have encountered significant loss in the past year.

Each of us has been blessed by numerous people in various ways. God plants them in our lives for a bit, a while, or a lifetime. Rarely do they congregate around the same first name, but the repetition of my Dave’s has highlighted in permanent marker how blessed I am!

The BMW’s

June 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 26, 2016

                                               

We all need others. I recognize that there are those who approach life with a mindset that says no one can do anything as well as they can, but even those people, swimming in arrogance and perfectionism, need others.

There are those who join us in our journey who are pivotal in keeping us on the path. Being a pastor is a highly stressful calling, because pastors lead churches that almost always have some people that no one else would put up with. Pastors have people who would complain about Jesus’ beard if they were given a chance. Pastors also have people who are on the other end of the spectrum- people who are the salt of the earth, wonderful and encouraging.

In my years of ministry in Michigan I had two other pastors who came alongside me, and I alongside them. We called ourselves “The BMW Group!” Since we were pastoring churches in the Lansing, Michigan area where Oldsmobile was located, the BMW letters did not indicate the cars we drove. Instead it stood for Bayes, Moore, and Wolfe. Tom Bayes was pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Lansing; Chuck Moore was pastor of Charlotte First Baptist, just a few miles outside of the city; and I was pastor of Mason First Baptist, also located just a few miles outside of town.

Bayes, Moore, Wolfe…BMW!

For about seven years we would meet every other Wednesday for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the south side of the city. We’d laugh, share, moan, talk about people who made our lives miserable, seek advice from one another, and chew on lunch. In those years we became best friends amongst all the pastors we knew. Almost twenty years later I still see Tom and Chuck as my best pastor buds!

And the interesting thing is that each of us was so different theologically. Tom was fairly liberal in his views, Chuck leaned to the right, and I was the moderate. That’s pretty much where each of us still is, but our friendship provides a solid base for dialogue. When you are committed to the journey, and you know that the other two are also committed to the journey, you can disagree on what are the important things to pack in the suitcase, and how to pack them.

Today Chuck pastors a church in the Dayton, Ohio area, I’m in Colorado Springs, and Tom is finishing up an intentional interim pastorate in Gastonia, North Carolina. We’re figuring out when and where the three of us can meet up for a couple of days of fellowship, laughter, and just being together.

Our closest friends are not always the ones who live closest to us. Our closest friends are the ones we can place a call to at a moment’s notice and know that they will be there to converse with, or just to listen.

We all need others. Even Jesus needed others. He had the twelve, and even in the midst of the twelve he had the three…his closest confidants!

I miss my buds. There are plenty of people on the bus headed to “Good Riddance!”, but there are just a few who bless us with their presence, with their conversations, and lift us up and keep us going.

I’ll climb in my Honda Accord in a few minutes to drive to the little church east of the city to speak, but I’ll be thinking about my BMW!

Who is a part of your BMW?

Missing A Sixty Gathering

September 22, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 22, 2014

                                              

I graduated from Ironton High School in 1972. For those who are math-challenged that means I received my diploma 42 years ago. It also means that most of the people in my high school class hit the “6-0” sometime during this year.

This past weekend people from my “Class of ’72” had a 60th Birthday Bash in Ironton.

I couldn’t go! I had a team of three year olds I needed to coach in soccer…otherwise known as “herd ball.”

But I did see pictures from the birthday bash that several of my Facebook friends posted. Here’s the hard part! When you don’t see people for decades you tend to ask the same question over and over again: Who is that?

Sixty looks different than eighteen! My frame of reference with Ironton High School is still with an eighteen lens. But things happen! Hair turns grey…or white…or disappears! Waistlines expand, people get shorter, more bent over. Wisdom has its price tag…support bras, support leg stockings, back support wraps. Aging is not easy.

I miss a lot of my high school classmates…Dave Hughes…Margaret Whaley…Mike Fairchild…Tommy “TD” Douglas…Jim Payne…Susan Heald…Greg Harding. The memories come back of Carl Pyle singing “Climb Every Mountain” at graduation, Sunday night youth gatherings at First Baptist, Junior Prom with Mary Cronacher, setting the school record for the mile run (which lasted for one..maybe two years) in a race in Charleston…and only finishing fifth! Getting ribbed for not getting my driver’s license until I graduated (Jeff Waddell kept asking me how the stereo system was on my bicycle!), Smitty’s for unhealthy lunches, the protest of some of the African-American students, during which they got on the school P.A. system.

Good times!

I’m assuming that most of us in my class have grown out of high school. We’ve matured, gone on to raise families, become overbearing parents just like ours were, and now grandparents who carry around thousands of pictures of our grandkids…and maybe one each of our originals! We’ve gone our different ways and now we look back on what was and miss the Friday nights, the possible teen romances, and the laughter of crazy adolescence.

Sixty is a new phase of life that came along whether we were ready for it or not.

I have to admit something. In some ways it’s hard for me to go back to my old high school. For one thing, they tore down my school and built a new building on the spot, with the exception of the nostalgic front entrance columns that they kept standing. But it’s also hard for me to go back because I’ve moved away and moved on. Life is better in many ways, harder in others, but most of all, completely different. I’ve been a pastor for thirty-five years, married the same number and only once, father of three, grandfather of two and a half (3 next March). Most of my life these days is focused on a completely different set of priorities than I had at IHS.

I miss my old classmates, and I’m okay with that.

Lost and Found

June 24, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 23, 2014

 

                               

 

My life has been filled with lost opportunities and blessed findings. Once in a while the lost comes back to be found.

Or, better yet, the lost is waiting to be found…like the lost and found box at the middle school that is filled with all kinds of coats, hats, watches, and bracelets. Each was forgotten for a while, left to sit until a stranger found it.

There are people who are a part of our lives who disappear around the margins because we forget, we become disengaged and focused on other things and people. And then, later, when we remember, they are no longer there. Neglect has a way of turning friends into acquaintances, and acquaintances into those that we lose track of.

Social media fabricates an atmosphere of connectedness. We are friends with those that we haven’t seen since high school. We comment on a one sentence post and, for some reason, think we are still connected.

In our culture of instant messaging, ironically, it is easier to be lost.

The answer may not be in how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers we have, but rather in having a few friends that we deeply invest in. we seek to find them deeply. The quality of our relationships is much more valuable than the quantity of our relationships.

I think about my life. Who is it that would be greatly effected if I lost my friendship with them? The list gets whittled down quickly, and it is in that downsized list that I find those that I must not lose.