A mentor told me years ago that if he could die with his family and a small group of friends around him, grateful for the fact that he had lived amongst them and blessed them by doing so, then he would die a rich man.
I have some friends like that. People I would be privileged to sit beside when they were dying so that I could tell them how deeply they have enriched my life. I’d like to introduce you to an unlikely one today.
This is Dana James (the less attractive man on the right). We go way back. It’s all kind of murky now, but somehow our lives intersected and, for better or for worse (actually a lot of both), we became friends. I don’t mean casual friends. I don’t even mean close friends. I think we are what you call, “3 a.m. friends.” You know the phrase – the person you could call in the middle of the night and they would come. From the other side of the world, if need be. Because, well, they just would.
This past weekend he and his wife, Sheila (think miniature Ed, God help her), came to visit us. And cry with us. And bless us. And care for us. And buy me peanut butter cups (because Dana ate all of mine). They were supposed to stay one night, my health and all. They stayed two. We never noticed.
Scripture says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). If something needs sharpening, it’s my understanding it’s because it’s dull. God sent Dana into my life because I have been very dull throughout much of it and needed sharpening.
As you may know, I believe we are all glorious ruins. It’s hard to grasp how great our glory and our need is. We ourselves are so often a secret to ourselves. So we need others to help us see. Here is what Dana has taught me about myself:
- I am a man that needs rescuing. Dana was involved in saving me from an early death. Years ago, at Panama City Beach, I was busy rescuing a 7th grade girl from a riptide (because I am from Indiana and know about such things). Dana saw that my attempts were so effective that now the rescuer needed rescuing also. The paramedics agreed. All my life I have been rescuing others; Dana was the first person to tell me (in 20 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico) that I needed rescuing myself.
- I can be obsessive/compulsive – and ungrateful. Dana built me a house. Yea, you read that right. A stunningly beautiful house. A house I never could have afforded if he had not gone to each of his subcontractors and asked them to cut a deal for me. We loved this house, but it had its quirks. For example, the front porch kept disappearing. Seriously. All better now, but while it wasn’t? I was a true prig about it. He has forgiven me, but still insists I was the worst client he ever had.
- More than anything, I have needed someone to come back for me. Dana was an elder in the church I planted and pastored years ago. He was also the headmaster of a school. He tried to do both, but there just weren’t enough hours in the day. Time and time again he disappointed me and let me down. I responded by griping about him – behind his back. If only he would help me more, I could be more successful, I was sure. Why wouldn’t he cooperate? It finally all came to a head one night when I exploded on him verbally in front of some other men. He walked out of the room in shock and promptly resigned.
In my mind, I was completely justified in what I had done (see “prig” story above). The awkwardness was that we were both to be at a men’s retreat that weekend designed to help college guys become true men (don’t you love God’s sense of humor?). A lesser man wouldn’t have, but Dana came. The tension between us was palpable.
The retreat started off safe enough with about 30 of us in a circle going around answering the question, “Why are you here?” When it was my turn I said something vague, spiritual, and innocuous like, “to know God better and help each of you do the same.” As Dana’s turn approached, I found myself praying desperately that he would follow my lead. No such luck.
Instead, he exposed us and the ugliness that had come between us. He said, ” I’m here because a couple of days ago I had a falling out with our pastor. He hurt me deeply and our relationship is very broken right now. But I’ve known this man too long and he is too important to me to walk away from him. So I am here this weekend to fight for us – and to restore who we’re supposed to be – together.”
As the saying goes, “You could’ve heard a pin drop.” I have never been more stunned – or felt more loved. One college student told me later that he could have gone home right then. He didn’t need to hear anything more because he had never heard anything so great between two men ever in his life. Do you understand? Dana wouldn’t give up on me. And for the first time in a life that had been filled with abandonment, someone came back for me.
Dana, it’s my great privilege to stumble together towards home with you. Thanks for the things you have taught me about myself and the times you have carried me, and in my dullness, I never even knew it.
Your unlikely friend,
P.S. Lots of emails and paperwork going back and forth about the clinical trial. First trip to New Orleans is scheduled for Wednesday, April 16th. Tests, scans, and more paperwork then. I won’t know until after this if I have even been accepted into the trial. At least I have my foot (and my platelets) in the door! Thanks to all who have offered to go with me and help drive. It’s the middle of the week, so this may be an issue for many of you. I’ll be in touch as we sort it all out.
And yes, I’ve been drinking the damn tea!