Then, via email, I have been able to communicate with another layer of people, sometimes at a fairly deep level. Once in a while I'll hear from someone who is reading one of my books, or leading a small group that's studying my work, and we have the opportunity to share from the heart. Sometimes we become real friends at a distance.
But there is no substitute for actual contact, in person. I knew this already, but the trip to England last week confirmed it.
Last year, when my cousin Linda's illness took a more serious turn, I exchanged a few messages with her husband, Dave. Eventually, a couple of emails moved beyond the perfunctory and we exchanged some thoughts and concerns that moved our correspondence into the realm of friendship. He was no longer "Linda's husband" but had become "My friend Dave".
We talked about ministry to men, and about what might be possible in the context of the church the Andrews family attends in Newbury, England. He surprised me by saying he wanted to launch a new men's group by studying my book "GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men". Then the guys in my small group got involved...
- This is the part that "gives me chilly-bumps" as Rebekah would say. My men's group purchased some books, then passed them around so that each copy had signatures and words of encouragement from about a dozen guys. When Dave starts his group he'll be handing out copies of GET REAL to English dudes who will know they're being prayed for by a men's group in Florida. That's powerful stuff.
My plan was to hand-deliver the books (plus a leader's guide and two copies of "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian). I knew the day of the funeral wouldn't work, so Dave suggested I come over to his house for Sunday lunch.
So I drove over to Newbury last Sunday morning (A graph of my movements during the England trip would reveal an erratic series of lines all over the map!). I had met Dave briefly in 1992 but other than that handshake and "hello" we'd had no direct contact, other than the emails I mentioned above. This is Dave - left - fixing lunch.
Email is great, and it certainly set the stage for a deeper connection. But, if a good correspondence via the Internet made us friends - then after a handshake and a hug I knew that we were brothers.
I ended up staying the entire afternoon, drinking coffee and chatting in the same "conservatory" where Linda had sat when we talked via Skype back in December. I got a beautiful picture of Dave and Linda's marriage, their life together as a family, and where God is leading him in response to the terrible tragedy and great wonder of the circumstance that bought us together.
Dave and Linda's three teenage children joined us for lunch. They were great; open, transparent, honest. We talked about their mum, and I was impressed by the spirit of love and the sense of peace I discovered around the table.
I guess what I'm talking about - rambling, really - in today's post is the transformational power of relationships. Because I got on an airplane and travelled to England - quite impulsively, for me - I have a new brother, Dave Andrews. I now have renewed relationships - relationships that mean something - with my cousins Graham, Peter, and Alison (Linda's siblings); and I connected meaningfully with many of my other cousins, as well as a host of other people.
We were designed, as human beings, with the capacity for authentic, soul-relationships of real depth. But for the most part, as a species, we merely scratch the surface.
I met a man on the airplane who wanted to talk about the great void he is aware of in his life when it comes to meaningful friendships. I was too sick to have much of a conversation, but I pray that he reads this post.
More on this - I know you can see it coming! - in this week's posts. I'll leave you with this scripture for today; it was the substance of our conversation in my "small" group last night.
Love and blessings - DEREK
- As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you 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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. - John 15:9-17