Growing up, my family was part of a larger Baptist church in suburban Detroit. I, myself, was ‘born in the pew’ as they say. Our family drove the 15 miles many times each week: Sunday School and church on Sunday morning; back in the evening for another service and Baptist Training Union (BTU); Wednesday prayer services; various social events; Bible School in the summer. Growing up among those believers is a legacy for which I can thank my parents. There wasn’t any question that we would be going to church regularly. No other activity took us away from that habit. And, yes, my dad was an avid golfer, but not on Sunday.
I formed deep friendships with many of my peers. We ate at each other’s houses, slept over, knew their parents and older siblings.
A recent trip to Michigan brought many of us back together after too many years. But with friends who have shared so much of one’s life, you can just pick up where you left off.
It was great to see Laura in person. She is a career veteran missionary and my main reader in Bangledesh. It was time for furloe and so we talked face to face.
And there's Nick. He has told me many times that I was the first person he met at church, that fateful Sunday night when his parents and their brood slipped into the long pew next to the Hayes family. Nick and I were 14 at the time. I don’t remember that first meeting but I do remember sitting with him on the floor of a youth group party, listening to the Byrds’ Turn Turn Turn (hey, the Bible set to contemporary music!) That’s one of those details that you remember as the short term memory starts to fail.
And Margaret. She and I became buddies when I was about 8. We remain best friends through our preteens, high school and college. Although we never really got into trouble, let me just intimate that I had more lively teen years than I might have, had I never joined up with her.
And the King twins. In a family album, there we are, 5 years old, at our Sunday dinner table, each with a shiny star on the center of her forehead. They are looking at me and I’m talking. (of course)
And Lee. His family, mine and another shared holidays and vacations together. There were the summer caravans, dads driving the station wagons, pulling the trailers that wound through roads up north, to New York, to Washington D.C. Within those families, there were kids other than siblings to play with.
Lee, the closest thing to a big brother: once we were riding on the floor of my mom’s car, behind her seat, when he pulled out this little metal ring and suggested that I put my thumb on it. I did. As the cigarette lighter branded my thumb, I’m sure Lee sat amazed that I was so trusting, or dumb.
Lee: who tried to teach me to water ski. Lee: who took me exploring at this huge quarry in the middle of the Detroit River. The rocks filtered the pollution and left a clear, cold lake.
Lee: the guy I called at least three times during high school when, by my own designs, I got myself into a mess. He got me out and never told. What a guy!
Lee, who stood up with us on our wedding day.
Lee, a man of God who, when he heard that Mike was ill, called and talked to both of us and then continued to be in touch, sending words of encouragement.
Lee, who fell ill in February and passed away in June, two weeks after his 60th birthday.
As I chatted with his wife, Karen, it seemed trite to mouth those platitudes about how we ‘never know when.’ But the irony of the situation was hard to dismiss.
The family stood by his casket as a slide show played overhead. There was a boy, kid, and man I knew. One photo, taken at his birthday party, confirmed reality. The illness had ravaged his body but he still shinned with the smile I recognize.
There came the time when friends could say something or share reminiscence. And here we nodded to recognize this man, a follower of God, a servant, a friend, a husband, father, grandfather. (I resisted adding the story of how he talked me into burning myself..it just wasnt' a good fit)
And when a child of God is freed, the pain of separation, though real, is tempered with a joy that he is with his Lord.
I remember that Tony Dungi spoke to a group of men about his son who 6 weeks before had committed suicide. Although still reeling in pain, he spoke of the hope of heaven saying, “And if I could call him back from his Father’s side? Would I? I would not.”
I did not take a poll, but I assume most of the gathered friends are believers who know, even as they may grieve, that this man is not the shell on display. He has moved into the arms of his Father and we will see him again.
As such, the funeral home was like an anteroom outside the throne….Lee got to enter. We have to turn back.