Every so often you receive a gift that is unexpected and unexpectedly good. One of those gifts arrived the other day in the form of an email from a friend. In fact, his friendship is the gift. The email was a reminder of the gift.
Stuart and I see each other once a year, the second week of June, for five days of studying Reformed theology. We email or call a few times in between one June and the next, and that is about it. Except that a week of study and a few emails are hardly the measure of a friendship that is such a gift. Stuart wrote:
I just got back from (my trip). There was much time on the road to think about life. I’m very grateful for my friends, and you are high on the list.
I’m not great at staying in touch, and will endeavor to do better. But for today, know I appreciate you.
Okay, make the sexist comments about how men communicate with each other. Guilty as charged. Four short sentences. I have known Stuart for 23 years. The four sentences are enough. Thank you, Lord, for Stuart, and the gift that his friendship is to me.
Stuart is a pastor in another state. We were in seminary together and, frankly, would never have guessed that 23 years later we would be high on each other’s list of friends for whom we are very grateful.
Stuart is a dozen or so years younger than I am. When we were in seminary, I was married with children and lived in the family apartments on the other side of campus. Stuart was single and lived in the dorms. I was from the west coast, Stuart from rural North Carolina. We met at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, more his stomping grounds than mine. We did not spend time together outside of the classroom, and I don’t remember first meeting Stuart. We were simply in the same classes.
In one of our shared classes, a Christian Education class, we were told to find a partner and design a class we would present in a local church. I am not sure how Stuart and I became partners, but I am glad fate or God put us together. It was God. It was, to borrow a phrase, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But it was a friendship slow from the starting blocks.
After graduation from seminary, we went our separate ways, Stuart to rural North Carolina and me to the shores of Green Bay and then the hills of Western Pennsylvania. We would not have any contact for nearly nine years. Then a seminary professor of ours died, a mentor to both of us, and Stuart wrote a tribute to her that was published in a denominational magazine. He said what needed to be said. “Yes, it is like that,” I thought, and I wrote Stuart to thank him. Within a year or so Stuart and I – serendipitously? No, providentially, I think – found ourselves attending the same denominational conference, and the slow-building friendship had found its footing.
Stuart is now in Tennessee, married with teenage sons, and I am in Langhorne, the full nest of that family apartment at Union Seminary now empty. We are part of small group that studies Reformed theology the second week of June each year. And we are friends who are high on each other’s list of friends.
Like Stuart, I am very grateful for my friends, and God has been kind in filling my life with friends.
Earlier in the week I talked with Sam, a friend who still lives in that little town on the shore of Green Bay. I spent an hour with Pastor Michael from Brazil. Michael is half my age. He grew up in the abject poverty of a favela. Our conversations are in Portuguese. “He’s becoming a friend,” I thought when the Facetime session was over. I also talked with Dale, a retired college professor from Oregon who I have known for thirty years. Three lines of text message affirmed my friendship with Jonathan in California. Three weeks ago I walked along the bluff above the Ohio River in Beaver, PA, with my really good friend Jeff; it was as if I’d never left the place.
The anatomy of a friendship? I suppose you would find something if you dissected them, but for now I think I will just call them a gift from God. They are a gift God uses to comfort and confront, encourage and sustain us along the way. They tell us that life is good. They just seem to happen. I don’t know how. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of friendship. Thank you for Stuart, Sam, Michael, Dale, Jonathan, Jeff. There are a few others high on the list, as well. Thank you.