Friday, February 10, 2012


It was early March, 1983. A Saturday evening. I was in town to speak at FBC Bethalto the next morning. If things went well they would be voting on calling me as their associate pastor that evening.

But on Saturday I found myself at His dinner table. It was just his family, a few of their friends, and my family. His name was Jerry and to know him was to know how to laugh. He had a serious side but could also see a bit of humor in everything. Perhaps it was because of the warm, friendly nature of this man and this family that the church selected them to be the first ones we shared a meal with in what was soon to become our home of twenty-four years.

After we relocated to their village Marsha and Jerry became close and fast friends to Debbie and I. Our kids were little and Marsha was an expert in all things medical. She made her share of trips to our home on the spur of the moment to dispense wisdom and assure us that all was well. She was a part of the volunteer staff in our youth ministry and Jerry was around anytime we were leaving town as a group. He loved the kids and they loved him. He was also a deacon and involved anytime there was a repair or a decision to be made. He is the kind of guy you want to have around your church when you need either brains or brawn.

I have been thinking much about my friend Jerry over the last weeks. He called me one Sunday evening in 1992 after I had spoken in our evening worship service. Game six of the World Series was just about to begin in Atlanta. He asked me if I had a bag packed. I told him that I didn't but I could get one together quickly. I trusted Jerry. I didn't even need to know why. Within the hour we were on the road driving to Atlanta. We were not going to the ballgame. We were going to bring home his daughter who had run away from home to seek greener pastures. It was thirty-six hours I would never forget. We drove all night, arrived around 7AM and proceeded to poke around inner city Atlanta for hours. Without going into detail I'm pretty sure that I came as close to death on that trip as I ever have. He and I were separated by a building and about 30 yards when I was confronted with two of the largest, fearsome looking men I have ever met. I think an angel blinded them and whispered lies into their ears because they concluded that I was a plain clothes narcotics officer and they made a hasty retreat. When we got back into Jerry's car we had his daughter with us. Jerry drove through downtown Atlanta while I (literally) accepted punches from and wrestled with "his little girl" who was trying to get past me to strangle her father. It was well after dark when we arrived back at home. Jerry and I seldom talked about that trip but it cemented a bond between us that stood the test of time.

Jerry is famous around my family as being the one who would steal my son's dinner on Wednesday evenings at church and hide it. There was little Scott could do to retaliate against the Vietnam veteran that knew all of the tricks. I do believe that he got a small measure of revenge one evening when Jerry encountered him and randomly said, "Boxers or briefs?" Scott replied, "I'm not wearing either." Jerry never messed with "Captain Commando" again.

I could go on and on about my friend. He shared his war testimony for the very first time when he was with us on a youth retreat. His story was something that no man should have to live through. He wept between each sentence as the stories poured out of him. Stories that nobody had ever been told. I understood why he had no time for war movies. It was all too real for him. Jerry is a true hero. The fact that he returned from the brutality of Vietnam is a testimony to the grace of God. The fact that he remained sane in the wake of it is just as much a testimony.

Before yesterday I had not seen Jerry in five years. I had moved in a different direction and I got separated from this man that I love so much and respect so greatly. And then came the news that he is fighting a new fight. His latest battle is against an invisible enemy named "Leukemia." I remember how Jerry has been a platelet donor for as long as I have known him. Now his own blood has turned against him. This battlefield is his own body. I followed his story as closely as I could through friends and an occasional email from Marsha. It seems the battle is about over. As surreal as it seems, Jerry may have met the enemy that will finally take him down. Yesterday I made the trip I have been dreading.

I walked into his hospital room and into the arms of Marsha and their two daughters. Jerry lay on the bed, life giving fluids flowing into his body through a vast assortment of tubes. Monitors recorded every heart beat and every fluctuation in his ravaged system. He mainly slept. Yet every now and then his closed eyes would become barely open slits and he would look up at Marsha. He draws peace from her presence. We have all done that at one time or another.

And then it was time to go. I walked to the side of his bed. Marsha spoke loudly to him, "Jerry, Ron and Debbie are here. They want to pray with you." Jerry opened his eyes fully. He turned his head slowly, giving Debbie a smile. His eyes finally settled on mine. He didn't say anything. Really, he couldn't. I didn't expect anything more than a quiet moment to pray and then he would certainly drift back off into a merciful sleep. But I suppose there has just been too much shared between us over the years. We have walked through many good times together. And we have both watched each other get beaten up by the various twists and turns of life. Bonds between friends form tightly through the stress, strains, and confusions of this fallen planet.

Jerry raised his hand toward me and I took it. He pulled my hand toward his face. He drew my fingers to his lips. In the holy silence he gently kissed my hand.

What do you do with that? How do you respond when a weary soldier ... one of your few living heroes ... kisses your hand? I did the only thing I knew to do. I placed my other hand on his head, bald from the ravages of chemo. And I prayed. I asked our Father to hold my friend. To allow him to find God's arms of grace. And yes, I prayed for healing. And Jerry will find his healing. Here ... or at "home." He is destined to be well.

As for me, I carry the symbol of a friendship that has endured more than a quarter of a century. For our friendship is etched forever into my memory through the tears I saw a father shed for his daughter on a night long drive ... through the honor of being asked to accompany him on that most important trip of his life ... through holding his angry daughter at bay until he could get her home and teach her the depths of his love for her ... and through a silent kiss placed upon my undeserving hand.

It was an honor to serve with you, Jerry, in The Holy Army of Our Lord. HOOAH.


The Dashboard Poet said...

The day before you and I buried our Dad I went into the chamber in which his body lay. Nobody else was in the room. My love for him found an expression that, at the time, seemed a perfect act. From this distance, and by a simple telling, it feels a bit odd....but I'll stand beside it. I drew myself fully erect, coming to attention. Taking a step back, I brought my right hand to salute, holding it several seconds, allowing it to slowly fade. I'd done this in tribute for fallen officers, in the performance of my duty. But this beyond duty. Was it just emotion, or did I feel his eyes on me from beyond? I can't know whether he saw me, but in my heart, I certainly saw him...young, vital, and covered in honor.
I pray your friend finds his miracle. Either way, as you said, healing will come. For our sakes, I hope it comes here.

For your friend, Jerry...
Detail...'ten, HUT! Present...ARMS!