My companion in many dark nights of the heart and many seasons of longing…
My greatest joys, and heroes for pioneering this path farther up and further in…
My friends, crawling, walking, running, soaring, together, into glory…
Your attention, please. I raise a glass of life-wine and pronounce this tribute to family and friends. I honor here the people I cherish most, who walk this life with me. It is they who have shared with me the challenges and wonders of this journey of love. I am blessed by the care of many people. They show me life is deeply better with companions on the way.
Paramount among my fellow pilgrims, I thank my wife and children for the gifts they are to me. And I am privileged to know many friends whose company has filled my days with joys beyond imagining. Please simply receive my heart’s gratitude. You are my greatest riches.
Here, we recently celebrated my birthday. This time, I set aside that actual day to relax, revel in a breakfast of French toast with peaches, play games, walk by the lake under the autumn colors, talk with my children, share a pizza with my wife. I realized half way around the lake that my life is better and more healthy today than at many other times, and in significant ways more so than ever! This joy is created most by the gifts poured into my life by those who love me. Gifts of commitment, encouraging each other, sticking together through the journey – “just” for love: It’s true – life doesn’t get any better… Thanks for being these gifts to me.
At the heart of this, I am grateful to God, for God’s love for me, to the living Jesus who calls me his friend, to God’s Spirit who heals and enlivens me every day. I seek as many days as I remember to pray thanks that God is love, that I am surrounded by God’s loving presence, that God’s love is the air I breathe. I ask God to enable me to experience this love, and to share this love with the people around me. I am blessed by many amazing caring people who make this love a reality for me.
My Companion, My Joys, My Heroes
My wife and children are my greatest joys in this life. Today, I know, experience, and believe my family’s love for me more than ever. The deepest and widest reason I believe it is possible to live surrounded by love – that love is the air I breathe – is because I experience this through my family’s love for me. And I know the journey is so much better with this companionship because you have shared this love with me through all of life’s painful and profound experiences.
I am deeply grateful beyond measure to my wife, Pamela. She is my companion of many dark nights of the heart, and my partner of many seasons of longing and rejoicing. She has traversed the rough terrain with me that has brought me to this point in my pilgrimage where I know more of God’s love, blessing, healing, and hope, and enough to long for more. She encourages me to be the me God made me to be. She believes this deeply, to support me in pursuing the life priorities that pulse most passionately in my heart and joy. She believes this at times more than I – long enough for me to catch up. Together, we have found a great deal worth living for – and we’re on the adventure for more. Thank you, my love. Life is good – and glorious with you!
My children, Christopher, Sherisa, and our newest son, Jon, flower my life with so much of what means most to me. I have been reduced to joy by my children’s births, sharing with them stories to sleep by, playing games to laugh with together, crying for the joy springing from their dancing, cheering for their running through the pain, humbled by their gifts to the homeless, challenged by their creative care for the destitute, truly encouraged by their brave venturing out into the world beyond their comfort zones, inspired by their moving-picture stories of hope, awed by their pursuit of their dreams. I am humbled to share their struggles, and privileged to revel in their discoveries. Through it all, my children have also become my heroes, for the ways they are pioneering this path of love and life farther up and further in.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love… I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete… Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… I have called you friends…
– Jesus, in John’s Gospel, chapter 15 (NRSV)
Crawling, Soaring – Together
For my friends, too … Larry Norman sings a ballad for his friends: I pray God’s love slips on through to you, as we crawl together toward the Lamb (my paraphrase). C. S. Lewis has written of Isaiah’s famous prophecy (chapter 40) that sometimes all we can do is walk through valleys of shadows – but we WILL keep on walking, without fainting. And sometimes, too, we will find ourselves soaring. Walking, adventuring, seeking – I am grateful for my friends who share the courage to crawl and run forward with me, because they believe there is yet more good and joy to be discovered together.
I enjoy more memories of this with more people than I can account specifically here. Like… My parents support to help enable daring and miraculous mission ventures. My father-and-mother-in-law who have cared for me as their son… Artists who gave generous time to blend their piano playing with my joy for singing… A teacher who helped me discover the wondrous art of acting in live theater… A college roommate who talked of the great matters of life together deep into the night… Uncles and aunts who cared for me and my family in the deserts of finding our way in new lands… Friends who laugh and play strategy games with me onward toward the dawn… A friend who needed to move across the country for work and works to continue our friendship… Mentors who encouraged me as kindred spirits into the surpassing hopes of God’s kingdom and the wondrous poetics of God’s word… A brother who walked with me faithfully through an intensely challenging ministry crisis… A colleague who welcomed me generously in two foreign countries and shared excitement for following the original Jesus… A brother who talks of Jesus’ stories, the kingdom, and vintage truth with me over coffee by a fireplace… A brother who read my book (now that is a true test of friendship!)… Brothers and sisters of real community who have spent entire days with us dreaming into God’s best destiny for all of us and our children… And many more… Thank you, all of you.
The Wealth and the Glory
So many of you have shown me the meaning of friendship and love. You have helped me learn the spiritual truth that it is people who are the image-bearers of God in this world (Genesis 1). You have helped me learn to value people and relationships, friendships and love. Relationships are our way of giving the greatest gifts: Unconditional love, enduring commitment, friendship along the way, simply sharing experiences of life together. For all of us, the greatest way to live gratitude is to care for people, “just” for love, “just” for friendship, for the gift people are. As you all have given to me, I encourage us all to cherish our people, to nurture such caring and friendship, to build community. Such love has and does and will change the world.
The movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, reflects this well: A person is truly wealthy by gifts of friendship. And for you, my friends and loved ones, I pray God’s love will whisper in you the sweet Amen of peace, as we walk together in the arms that do not slumber or tire. It is with all of you that I persevere in the hope that we will also run together and not grow weary, and soar together with renewed strength on eagles’ wings. For I, too, am convinced that the strains of this life are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed for us and in us. And it is my deepest hope that we will revel in this glory together in the life and world that is without end…
Readers are also encouraged to explore other posts in this series: Living Life
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22