In my post yesterday, I mentioned a time when I walked through the valley of deepest darkness during my pastorate in Virginia. The black dog was howling so loud I couldn’t hear the still small voice of God. I told you how I was able to work through that in the power of God and his word. There was a significant factor I didn’t mention.
His name was Lee.
Lee was a family counselor at a local medical clinic. A doctor, one of the deacons at my church, had decided to open a rural Christian medical clinic and he brought Lee on to provide counseling to those in need. Lee also pastored a church in Farmville.
His most significant ministry in the late 1980s (from my very selfish perspective) was to walk beside me as I wandered in the wilderness. We would have lunch together and talk about life. I’d share my frustrations and he gave me gentle advice. He’s the closest thing to a mentor I ever had. We’d listen to cassette tapes by great theologians with another friend (an Episcopalian charismatic Calvinist lawyer with degrees from both Harvard and Yale). We’d listen, then stop the tape and discuss.
When I thought my life was falling apart, Lee was God’s duct tape. He was there. He didn’t judge me but he didn’t ignore my stupidity either. He told me what I needed to hear not what I wanted to hear. Honestly, I am not sure where I’d be today without the ministry that Lee had in my life. I don’t really want to imagine.
Then, God called me to foreign mission work in Iowa nearly 25 years ago. We said our goodbyes and wished each other well. I moved on. Life got more hectic and .generally happier. Year after year went by and I didn’t talk to Lee. We didn’t email. I doubt Lee has a Facebook page, but if he does we never friended each other. This man was a rock, a servant of God, someone who helped me through a dark time and I just moved on. We may have seen each other a time or two when I went back for visits. I preached a revival back in Drakes Branch in the 90s and I think we might have shared a meal then. But we gradually lost touch with each other.
I really suck.
That’s not a word I generally use. I went with “stink” in the title. But it is the proper word. I suck. I have many great friends whom I seldom remember to call, or text, or even message on Facebook. I get busy with life and I just forget. If you call me, I’m thrilled to talk to you. I really am. But I’m busy and stressed and I almost never get around to being the one who makes the call.
On Monday, Lee called me. He had a question, but that was secondary to the fun we had catching up. We chatted for a long time. Rehashed old times. Caught up on family events. We fell right back into talking about our lives. Amazing, after 25 years we picked up where we left off. Oddly, he recommended a book to me that fit right into our discussion about unhappy pastors and helping the hurting, even though he didn’t even know I was a blogger. I purchased the book and I will read it soon.
It was great to renew that bond.
But tonight, I’m wondering why I let so much time go by. Why didn’t I call Lee occasionally? Exchange an email now and again? Send a Christmas card? I don’t know why. Why don’t I take the time to keep up with my friends, to tell people what they meant to me? There’s only one conclusion. I suck.
It’s all moot now. I won’t be catching up with Lee anymore. A few minutes ago (Tuesday evening), barely 24 hours after I hung up the phone with him after 25 years of idiotic silence, Lee died suddenly. He’s gone. Honestly, I don’t know if I feel worse or better because we talked yesterday. I’m thrilled that we had an hour to renew our friendship the day before God took him home. But the irony reminds me of how close I came to losing a friend I hadn’t spoken to in more than two decades.
How many friends do I have like that? Family. People I love. People who have loved me and ministered to me, who have meant something to me.
A couple of weeks ago I got to spend 5 days in Santa Fe with some good friends from long ago, guys I went to high school with back in Taiwan at Morrison Academy. It had been a long time since I’d seen most of them, but renewing old ties just reminded me how important friendships are (even if they did keep reminding me what a brat I was in high school). Friends matter and I can’t keep treating them as I often have!
I have a list of things to do a mile long. When you have an earned doctorate in procrastination, your to-do list can become prodigious. But I need to do so much better at the friendship thing. There are some things you can procrastinate. People are not one of them.
I’ve noticed something recently. I used to do funerals for people 20, 30, 40 years old than I. But now it’s becoming more normal for me to realize that I went to high school the same time as the deceased. Time is passing by. If I keep on procrastinating, I’m going to keep feeling guilty every time I get the message that another Lee has gone to see the Savior.
It’s got to stop, Dave.
Don’t be an idiot. You are never too busy to contact a friend or to make those who have built into your life realize you appreciate what they’ve done.
I’m sorry, Lee.