Posted tagged ‘friendship’

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.

The Illusion of Facebook Friends

June 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            June 25, 2017

                                    

I’ve crawled up close to a thousand Facebook Friends now. I’m almost impressed with myself! I am easily fooled into thinking that they know me…or, even so, read my Words from WW blog that gets posted on my Facebook page. ..like this one!

But let’s be honest! Very few of our Facebook friends are actually friends. They are more like acquaintances, people that we know and are interested in to some degree. I graduated with about 210 classmates from Ironton High School Class of 1972. There are 76 of us on Facebook. About 50 of those are my Facebook Friends, and about 5 of the 50 are my real life friends. That isn’t to say that I don’t care about the others, it’s just to say that friendship means more than giving someone a “Like” sign, or sharing your latest vacation pictures with them.

There has been some neat reconnections for me with people on Facebook. Kids I led in youth groups over the years, former basketball players that I coached, college teammates, cousins, and young adults whose weddings I performed. Those are awesome connections that I treasure.

An old friend of mine named Harold Anderson once said that “He had a number of acquaintances, but very few friends.” A couple of months ago Carol and I met up with the Anderson’s as they traveled through Colorado. We hadn’t seen each other in about twelve years,  but it was like we hadn’t missed a day. Our conversation was constant and meaningful for a solid three hours. Harold is in that growing list of friends that I was categorize as “non-resident friends”, people that I don’t get to see on a daily…or even yearly basis, but still hold a special place in my heart.

Friends value each other. We value what each of us brings to the life of the other. We value meaningful information about life events. We value the humor and the heart cries. Friends can sit down on the deck and have long conversations, or also feel comfortable just sitting there in silence. Friends can call each other up at a moments notice to check on how the other is doing. Friends use Facebook as only one source of connecting with the other.

Friends respect each other. Differing opinions do not necessarily divide them. Facebook has become the dumping ground of how people feel about issues, and the reaction ground of others who disagree with them. There are not clear boundaries on what is acceptable communication and what is venomous rhetoric. It’s like a verbal mixed martial arts slugfest! And here’s the thing! People say things on Facebook that they would never say face-to-face, or say to their parents…or perhaps now, let their kids hear them say. Friends are respectful of the other. To use a term of one of my old seminary professors, they see each other “with equal regard.” Friends can agree to disagree.

Friends check in on one another. One of those high school classmates, a guy who was my best man and I, in turn, performed his wedding ceremony, lost his 34 year old son less than a month ago. I dialed his number and let him grief on my shoulder for a few minutes from 2000 miles away. Two weeks later I called again and we talked for a long time. In another week or so I’ll check in with him again.

One of my best friends in ministry lives in North Carolina now. We check in on one another by phone. He reads my blog, and will probably send me a reply. When I was having a rough stretch of ministry he’d call me to see how I was doing. When he was having a similar stretch I’d call him. That’s what friends do! I don’t really care about what he ate for breakfast, but I do care about how his rotator cuff is healing from the surgery he had, and how the expected arrival of his second grandchild is looking.

I’ve got another friend in San Antonio who I need to call back today. He left me a voicemail to see how my dad is doing from the surgery he had this week. I’ve got to carve out about an hour of time when I do call him, because that’s how long we’ll talk about life, family, and friendship.

If I use those criteria for friendship my Facebook page would probably be 90% acquaintances and 10% friends…and that might be high! Either way I’m thankful for all the 976 who “friended” me. There’s a lot of blessings in those faces!

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 Two Davis’s

August 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 12, 2016

                                      

I made two visits this week. Both of them were to men whose last name is Davis. One of them celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday. The other is 95! Neither of them has a lick of hair on top of their head- one because his dad paved the way for that hairstyle, which has been followed by all three sons, and the other because…he’s 95, and the top of his head looks like a telescope view of the moon’s surface!

One of the Davis’s is the Sultan of Sarcasm, the other is content to get settled in to telling the listener a story.

The younger Davis has taught middle school social studies for fifteen years…perhaps being the reason why sarcasm rises to the surface for him so often. The older Davis was a postman, familiar with the lives of those that he delivered important letters from loved ones to.

I was the pastor to both of them and their families. Since I retired from being a pastor a few months ago now I am a friend to both of them.

I refer to the older Davis as my “Colorado Dad.” He possesses many of the same great qualities as my father has. The younger Davis could be my son, but I prefer to see him as one of  my peers. We have shared many a lunch together in his school classroom, talking about this and that.

Both of them are dear to my heart.

Both of them have cancer.

The older Davis is in his final days. I sat by his bed yesterday, probably for the last time. He drifted in and out of sleep. I held his hand, he told me how much he loved me. My heart ached to see his frail figure. The two of us had golfed together a number of times over the years. I would drive long and to the right, and he would drive short but right down the middle of the fairway. He would be putting it in for a bogie, and I’d hope for a bogie putt. At the end of our nine holes he would be about a 46 and I would be a 48. BUT he was 90 and I was 57! We enjoyed each other’s company so much. Every time he greeted me we would embrace and he would whisper to me “Love ya!”

About five years ago I officiated the funeral service of his only son, who had died in a motorcycle accident. I grieved with my Colorado dad as the sorrow overwhelmed him. A parent should never have to bury one of their children. It was a confusing time for him, and I mostly listened to his questions about why things happen. It was also at that time that he started asking me more questions about heaven, what it would be like and whether he would be reunited with his son there?

I held his hand for one last prayer by his bedside, and then he dropped into a medicated slumber again.

The younger Davis was discovered to have a tumor in his brain six years ago. He had just done a state high school championship game in basketball and a month later had a seizure. When a second seizure happened shortly after that he was checked out at the hospital. The test revealed the tumor. Three months later surgery was performed to get as much of it as possible. Ninety-five percent was removed and the follow-up treatments took care of the rest.

But cancer is like the neighbor’s dog who keeps coming into your yard and pooping. You clean up one mess and the lawn looks pristine again for a while, and then you look out the window to see the canine leaving his mark again. Cancer is kind of like that. It is a time in a person’s life that is filled with crap! The crap of dealing with insurance companies…the crap of scheduling appointments…and the crap of never-ending anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

My friend’s cancer came back. We continue to pray for healing, but hope too often is getting shoved into the back seat. On Wednesday his family had a birthday celebration for him at the rehabilitation facility he is a patient at. Hopefully he will be able to return home next week with some skills that will enable him to better function in his home. The future is uncertain, and he knows it.

My visits with him are often punctuated with quiet moments as each of us deals with where we are in the journey. I brought him a totally inappropriate birthday card that I knew would bring a deep chuckle to him. One of the comforts of our friendship is that we can be a little off-color with one another and not be embarrassed. In fact, we expect a little political incorrectness in our conversations.

Our journey has gone into the deep valleys of new tumor growth, but also ascended some high mountains of clear MRI results.

Bottom line! I have been extremely blessed to be a part of the journeys of the two Davis’s! The depth of a friendship is discovered by the bruisings of life.

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?