Posted tagged ‘friendship’

When Old Friends Reappear

June 5, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      June 4, 2019

                                 

I received a termination notice from a school I’ve been a substitute teacher at. The notice was the result of not having subbed there a single day this past school year. Timberview Middle School, where I teach so often that some of the students think I’m one of the regular instructors, schedules me a steady 3 days a week. It’s also where I coach three sports and practices begin right after school. As Carol keeps saying to me, “You’re suppose to be retired!”

“Reconfigured, dear!”

The other school that was looking to terminate me has its dismissal bell 15 minutes later than Timberview, and the traffic jam getting out of the school grounds resembles the chaos of Paris streets. 

I went to talk to the person who schedules substitutes and we worked things out for next year. 

“You know, Johanna, at my age when I hear the word “terminate” I think of other things.”

“Sorry, Mr. Wolfe. We really don’t like to terminate people.”

“That’s a relief! You know, I’m starting to look for where the defibrillator is when I come into the school building.”

“You’re not serious?”

“No, but I might be if the word “terminate” gets used too many more times.”

When you reach Medicare age you start to think about things like that. You start to think about how long your hips and knees are going to hold up, how many more “rodeos’ you have in you, and what you can’t eat more than what you can eat.

But you also start thinking about old friends, people who have been a part of your journey in the past or the present. There is a longing inside you to reconnect, to sit and converse, to have a few more of those moments together, like in the past, that cause you to smile.

One of those old friends, Chuck Moore, pastor of First Baptist Church of Champaign/Savoy, Illinois, had a serious health situation about a month ago. Another old friend (In fact, the oldest of the three of us…like, just a few days younger than dirt!), Tom Bayes, has talked to me about converging in Champaign to see Chuck. Tom lives in the Charlotte, North Carolina area now. The three of us pastored churches in the Lansing, Michigan area for years and became close friends. Our “BMW Group” (Bayes, Moore, Wolfe) met for lunch every other week for seven years. 

Tom and I have “a need” to see Chuck. It’s that longing that won’t go away, the relational equivalent of a Big Mac Attack. (Oh, there’s another word that causes us to shudder in our old age…attack!)

Two days ago I received an email from a long lost friend named Randy Bockman. We lost touch with one another about two decades ago. What a delight to read an email from “The Bock”! We met while studying at Miami (Ohio) University and became good friends. He was one of my groomsmen. But then we lost touch with one another. I moved to Colorado Springs and he moved from Cincinnati to somewhere in Indiana.

When I read his message, once again, that longing to reconnect rose to the surface. He was one of the greatest guys I ever met and my life has been a bit impoverished without his presence.

Old friends are like rain showers for parched souls. They are God’s blessings for the last parts of our journeys. 

Brandon Bayes, Tom’s son who sometimes says something that qualifies as wisdom (I know he’s reading that comment so I had to make it a bit sarcastic!), said to his dad, “Are you all going to wait until there’s a funeral to get together?” It was not really a question, but more like a coach’s halftime admonition to his team as they huddle together in the locker room. 

When old friends reappear, or old friends have a setback of some kind, you can’t get rid of the urgency to see them again. It’s what signals to you that your life has depth, has roots of relational significance. 

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!

Sitting Bedside With Someone Awaiting Glory

November 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 25, 2018

                            

There are people who come into your life for a season and bless you for a lifetime!

Jim Newsome is one of those people, arriving with his wife Pat in the last three years or so of my final pastorate. A gentleman and a gentle man, a man of faith and a faithful friend, he is now in his final days.

And he’s okay with it! About a month ago he was discovered to have pancreatic cancer. Jim, now 84, understands the prognosis and for his final days he is resting at home, welcoming friends from near and far who have come to have final visits and conversations.

Carol and I went yesterday and sat beside his bed. When we left I said to her, “That was a great visit! I’ve never laughed so much sitting beside the bed of someone who only has a few days to live.”

In fact, when Jim and Pat received the news of his cancer and entered into hospice care, Jim’s comment was “I’m ready to go, but when’s it going to happen?” He said it like a Frontier Airlines passenger whose flight keeps being delayed- a common occurrence it seems with Frontier!

We talked about his life, how the Lord has guided his life, and various situations where this couple, who celebrated 64 years of marriage two weeks ago, simply trusted that the Lord would lead them.

Jim survived polio when he was in the Navy. He spent a month in an iron lung, realizing that several other sailors at the time were succumbing to the disease. It caused him to give thanks to the Lord and to understand that God had a purpose for his life. For him to live to the age of 84 would not have seemed possible back in the early 1950’s. 

Yesterday he told us stories that caused our souls to laugh. His skin color is showing some signs of jaundice as the disease affects his liver, but his face continued to smile. He told us stories of life redirection, like how a bout with pneumonia that landed him in the hospital short-circuited his graduate studies for his Master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado. When Pat came back to the hospital the next day, worried and wondering, Jim told her that he and the Lord had talked it over and gotten it figured out. A few days later someone they knew, connected to a mission organization, called him and asked if he could do some welding work for him. Twenty years later he retired from the organization!

As Carol and I left they shared with us that they were grieved when I retired at the end of 2015 from ministry, more specifically stopped being their pastor. I replied, “The best thing about pastoring is the relationships, and the hardest thing about pastoring is saying goodbye to those people you’ve had special relationships with. 

Jim and Pat Newsome are people that I’ve been blessed to know, and saddened to leave. We joined hands and prayed as Carol and I were about to leave. As I came towards the end of the prayer Jim squeezed my hand. It was his punctuation mark on our friendship. 

“Jim,” I said, “if I don’t see you again I’ll see you on the other side!”

He looked me in the eye and replied, “Plan on it!”

The Grief of Living Long

August 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 5, 2017

                              

Long life seems to be congratulated, celebrated, and strived for. It is tacked up on the bulletin board as a goal, a destination.

The dark side of long life is when everyone has dropped out of the race of life and you become the last one still running. That is, when your spouse for the life journey, all of your friends, and anyone else who used to come to your high school class reunion has passed on. All of those people you’d pick up the phone on a Sunday night to call, or would call you, and check on are now checked off. It is the harsh truth of the long-living.

I didn’t quite understand it in all of my years of pastoring the flocks of different congregations. I can remember the words of a number of elderly folk whose spouses had passed on. There was a longing for God to move them on as well. They were ready for this journey to be over and the next eternal journey to begin. I misunderstood that to be a longing to be in heaven where there is no more pain and suffering, but that longing was disguising the pain that comes with the loss of a special relationship.

My dad’s best friend, Bill Ball, passed away this week at the age of 92. The loss wasn’t unexpected, and yet sometimes we procrastinate coming to terms with its arrival. My dad is 89 and wherever he goes he is now usually befriended by either a cane, a walker, or motorized scooter. Having Bill Ball pass on was a wound to his spirit. About three years or so ago there was Dad, Bill Ball, and Ralph Carrico. Ralph passed away, a victim of cancer, and I saw how that grieved my father, but he had Bill Ball to grieve with alongside him. They supported one another through the loss of their friend. This time around he’s having to struggle through the journey by himself. Yes, his family is comforting him in the midst of the sorrow, but the reality of the situation is that the “long-living” experience a profound form of grief that grows out of the longevity.

My sister and I took Dad to the “viewing” of his friend on Wednesday night. There is something necessary for the living to view the deceased, and something painfully revealing. As my dad stood there beside the casket staring down at his old friend he wept. His body trembled as the tears found their way down his face. He knows that he is in the winter of his own life, but outliving your friends is a weight that he must drag with him for the rest of his days.

And there’s really nothing that his family…his three kids, seven grandkids, and eleven great-grandkids can do for him to make it okay.

I remember a song by Charlie Peacock from twenty-five years ago. It was entitled “Now Is the Time for Tears”, and it begins with the words “Now is the time for tears. Don’t speak! Say no words! There is nothing you could say to take this pain away!” Dad’s grief is not to be fixed, but simply to be present with.

We often talk about life as being a journey. The other part of that, however, is that life is to be journeyed with others. I can see the loss etched into Dad’s wounded face. He just finished another round of radiation treatments this week for another skin cancer episode on his nose. His nose and ears have been cut on and radiated so many times that his face has often looked like a battlefield, but this pain that I can see is not connected to any cancerous growth, or demanding treatment plan. It’s simply the look of loss, the mask of long-lived sorrow!

Richie Bibelheimer…38 Years Later!

July 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 30, 2017

                               

A couple of weeks ago I was at church camp as…well, I’m not sure what my title position was! I think I was the “Whatever Person.” When someone said “whatever” it was my responsibility, unless it was a high school girl being flippant and obnoxious when she said the word!

So…as the Whatever Supervisor I was able to float from session to session. At our camp week we have elementary, middle school, and high school camps going on at the same time, so I roamed around making sure things were going okay.

The surprise of the week was reconnecting with an old seminary classmate of mine named Richie Bibelheimer. When I heard that name as the pastor for the middle school camp I knew it was my old seminary classmate. I mean…how many Richie Bibelheimer’s can there be, right? It took me a year of seminary just to learn how to pronounce it, and now 38 years later our paths were crossing again!

Here’s the thing about seeing someone 38 years after the last time you saw him! Your picture of him is still the one from 1979! You still remember him from the era of leisure suits, thinner waistlines, and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

He walked right past me at dinner Sunday night in the camp dining hall. After he passed he called my name clothed in question form. “Bill? Bill Wolfe?” I turned and looked at the white-haired senior citizen who had just passed me by. “Richie, is that you?”

“Yes!”

“Good Lord! Richie Bibelheimer!” There’s one thing about seeing someone almost four decades removed! You don’t want to come right out and say it, but you’re thinking it! “Man, do you look old!”

And the thing is, he’s thinking the same thing about you! The last time you saw each other you were in your mid-twenties. You could still jump and run like a gazelle, you had all your hair, and you didn’t have to travel with a pharmacy everywhere. Now your knees hurt, your face sports a couple of age spots, and the only thing progressive about you are the lens in your glasses.

Time keeps going even when we slowly journey through each day, and all of a sudden you meet an old friend and you realize just how far you’ve journeyed since your last conversation.

The other side of that is our reluctance to think that people change, that they will always be who they were back in the day…some obnoxious, some attractive, some hard to figure out, and some who seem to have it all together. People change, however, despite our tendency to firmly implant them in a distant past understanding. The physical changes are easy to see, despite the attempts to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. It’s the inner changes, the emotional upheaval, and the chaos of life that get blanketed from our view. The double chin is easier to see than the broken marriage. The wrinkled face is much more evident than the loss of a child a decade earlier.

Richie and I looked at one another, came to grips with the march of Father Time upon our lives, and enjoyed the blessing of renewed friendship…38 years later as a Whatever Supervisor and a Middle School Camp Pastor.