Dear Former Friend,
My thoughts of you and our former acquaintance cause a smile to flash across my face as I recall happier times. When I came into an institution and culture that was foreign to me you were the first to give me a hand in navigating my new surroundings. You and your lovely wife were the first among our colleagues to invite my family and me into your home. We laughed as your daughter kissed my son, and when you corrected her she said, “But Daddy, you told me to love everybody.” It is a cherished memory.
On the nights you cut hair we engaged in ever deeper and open forms of communication and our friendship became more than professional. Our hearts were one as we sought to serve God fully and to seek His will for our lives and careers. We were one in the desire to guide our students to excellence in Christ, character, and academics. As more responsibility came our way we sought with unity to lead the institution we loved and served from the office(s) we held. During a difficult change in administrations, together we stayed by the stuff, supported the new administration, and protected our students from the struggle that threatened to divide as the incoming president sought to chart a different course for an institution mired in the traditions of the past. I saw the hurt in your eyes as some lashed out against your father, of which he was undeserving. You poured out your heart to God and I tried to be a compassionate listener with an understanding heart. We made it through and the beloved institution was and is better for it. I continue to be proud of the contribution I make to that great place through the work of my son.
Remember going out before dawn and climbing the mountain behind our homes to settle into a good stand for deer hunting? Although I had hunted since a youth, it was your first time. You were in much better shape than me, but you waited patiently as this flatlander breathlessly toiled his way to the top. When you downed your first deer, oh the joy and celebration that encompassed our campus community. And I cannot help but remind you of the first time you shot your new rifle and the patch you wore beneath your eye for all to see you made a mistake.
You loved the basketball team from your alma mater and enjoyed your nearly annual brag as your team defeated mine in their yearly rivalry. You took great pleasure in inviting me over to watch the game and rub my nose in our defeats. One night, however, my team schooled yours and went on to victory. It was an upset and you told me you would not have invited me over if you had foreseen this as a possible outcome. I called you on the night your team lost in a controversial last second play that ended their drive to another NCAA championship. You cried.
When I began to descend into the darkness that has become my life for the past seventeen years, you were there. Before I was to pull the trigger on my pistol to kill myself, I called you. You came and talked the gun out of my hand. (Years later I found out the firing pen on that gun was broken. God is good.) That marked the day I emerged from my darkness. It lasted around three years. After sinking into a second depressive episode, you supported me. On the night I thought I was having a stroke, which turned out to be a panic attack, you stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. When my son ran to you in a panic when he thought I was going to hurt someone, you came to settle me down.
We shared some great times, some sad times, and some difficult times, but for the past eight years we have not shared anything. The last time I reached out to you for help you did not come. It was a day in May in the Spring of 2008 and my wife had told me to leave. It was only a few days past my second hospitalization for my third severe depressive episode. My heart and my head have searched for a reason for our breach ever since.
Perhaps you no longer knew or liked the man I had become. I did not like him either. That man was angry and desperate. Angry because of all he had lost and desperate to hold on to what he had left of himself and his world. On that day he saw it all slipping away and was powerless to stop it. He was broken and alone. The year I spent in jail was God’s way of stopping me from further personal destruction. That angry and desperate man died in jail and a new man in Christ Jesus emerged. It is hard for others who know me now to imagine me as that old man and I pray by God’s grace they never meet him.
Maybe you had reached the end of your personal resources and no longer knew how to help a person with severe depression. That happened to me. While pastoring my last full time charge I was ill-equipped to help a young man of the congregation experiencing depression. I did not recognize it and did not know how to relate to or minister to him. In two short years I became like that young man. My ministry now is to reach out to other depressed people with hope and attempt to educate people in ministry about mental illness.
Possibly you felt compelled to take sides when my wife and I separated. That can be a very awkward position to be in. How can a person be loyal to one without being disloyal to the other? Is it even possible to be loyal to both? As I friend people on Facebook who knew both my ex-wife and me, I ask myself, “Was this person a friend to our family because of my ex-wife or because of me?” It is a dance I do not enjoy, but find necessary. It was on that premise I sent you a friend request. I am truly sorry for putting you in a position to choose between us. Some who I considered her friends have friended me, for which I am truly grateful.
I have considered the chance that I have offended you or your family personally. Honestly, I can think of nothing, but I welcome your input.
In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift,” (Matthew 5:23-24 NKJV) I am seeking a bridge over the chasm between us. Our friendship will never be as it was before, but can we choose to end our indifference toward one another, shake hands, and embrace in Christian harmony? I pray we can.
The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,
I was sorry to hear about the sudden death of your college classmate and friend, and the crisis of purpose it caused for you. However, I am pleased that it led your very competent and gifted hands to the position you now hold in a place I dearly love. May you achieve success in your mission for God.