Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
March 3, 2002
She was six
years old the first time I saw the cute little girl who would become my bride
14 years later. It was the first day of school in September 1938. We were
beginning the first grade together, two of the 30 students in Mrs. Oakley
We had no
idea that day that we would spend the next twelve years in school together
there in the small town of Wetumpka, Alabama. Except for one year we were
seated near each other. Seating was alphabetical and her last name was Brown.
So in most classrooms we were both usually on the front row.
brunette hair did not catch my eye then like it would later when we were
teenagers. As we grew up we became friends. Eventually we were both members of
the same “gang” of 12 to 15 boys and girls who partied together frequently
through our senior high years.
paired off as couples during our weekend gatherings, Dean and I were drawn to
each other. Somewhere along the way I fell for Dean. Somehow I knew that she
was “the one” for me. None of the other girls attracted me quite like this
beautiful brunette who had won my heart.
were not married until we were 20, we sometimes joke about having had a 14-year
courtship. Now, as we approach the celebration of our 50th
anniversary, we feel so fortunate to have known each other for 64 of our 70
years. For many years I have been humbly aware that Dean’s friendship is the
greatest gift anyone has ever given me. I treasure it more than my own life.
of friendship did not dawn on me in my early years. I was aware that I had
friends and was thankful for it. But many years would come and go before it
occurred to me how blessed my life have been by the enduring gift of the
friendship of other persons. In the autumn of my life I am convinced that
friendship is the most precious gift anyone can give or receive.
was reinforced by a conversation with Billy last Saturday. Billy was the best
man in my wedding. We were roommates in college at Auburn. His focus was
engineering; mine was English and journalism. After marriage and graduation we
later we discovered we were living in the same city. We renewed our friendship.
When our family moved to another city, we lost contact again. We never
consciously gave up on each other; more likely it was the tyranny of the urgent
that consumed our time, attention, and energy until none was left for long
distance relationships. “Out of sight, out of mind” may explain it.
dialed the number I thought might be Billy’s, he answered and I thought I
recognized his voice. I should have identified myself but instead my first word
was a question: “Billy?” His response
was a tentative “Yes,” and I sensed he figured I was selling shingles or
vitamins. Quickly I identified the voice he had not heard in 27 years. His immediately
warm response cheered my soul.
minutes our friendship was renewed as we shared current information about our
children and grandchildren. We made a plan to get together soon to share the
joy of seeing each other face to face. As our conversation ended I felt so
blessed that the friendship of an old friend had not been lost. Billy had
generously indicated that he also valued the renewal of our relationship.
not always happen. When our family moved back to Nashville after an interval of
12 years, I ran into my best friend during my seminary days at Vanderbilt. We
met on the street, waiting for the light to change at an intersection. He
responded coolly to my warm greeting.
remembered that he liked to play tennis. I asked if he had time to play with me
one afternoon. He was not rude but replied that he already had a partner he
played with every week. I got the message. It was quite obvious. He had
politely explained that he had no time in his busy life for me.
away from each other that day with a sense of finality. We have never talked
again. Right or wrong, the signal I picked up from him that day was that the
bridge between us had been burned. He felt no need to rebuild it.
judgment that day was hasty. I tried to convince myself of that. Maybe my
friend had a migraine headache that day. Maybe the pressure of a terrible
personal problem absorbed him. Finally I concluded that I should respect his
apparent wish that our friendship not be renewed.
For a while
I struggled with his indifference and rejection. I nursed the hurt. Then wisely
I decided one day to give it up. The hurt was healed. I embraced a deeper
awareness that not everyone will treasure my friendship. But that does not
diminish my worth as a person. On the
contrary, it enhances my appreciation for the friendships that a few people do
As a pastor
and a pastor’s wife, Dean and I have had the privilege of serving many
different churches. In each setting our greatest reward was not my salary but
the gift of friendship several people offered us. Pastors soon learn that many
of their parishioners are content to offer only casual friendship. Some will
not offer even that. A few may feel compelled to engage in a hostile
relationship with their pastor. That is not unusual; it is simply the way life
awareness must be tempered by the reality than no person can be a “close”
friend of many people. The number is probably no more than eight or ten. We
can, of course, serve one another in love and work together to achieve common
purposes. We can bless one another with mutual respect and link our lives to
accomplish common goals. Such a relationship can be treasured even though it
does not reach the level of close friendship.
nearly 13 years in Opelika my wife and I have been blessed with the gift of
friendship that has been extended to us by many people. Some of those friends
are in the church I serve; others are not. I treasure each one. I take none for
granted. I have had the high honor of serving alongside some of the finest men
and women I have ever known. Friendship was not required, but it was given, and
in each case it was a gift, a precious gift.
been more precious than that given me by my staff at Trinity. We have worked
together but even more we have laughed and played together. We have had our
share of crises but we have survived, mostly because of the depth of our
friendship. True friendship allows people to struggle through failure,
disappointment, anger, and frustration, and emerge stronger and more mature. We
have seen a stronger bond result from conflict.
I live the more profoundly grateful I am for the gift of friendship, whether
casual or close. No other gift is more precious. All other gifts pale by