Let me tell you my two friends, Jeff and David (but he's "Dave" now, though I still call him David most of the time).
I have known these two guys since I was in the third grade, Jeff was in fourth grade, and David was the older and wiser sixth grader. Twenty-six years of my life I have been able to count them as my dearest friends. I'm thirty-four. That's like ... umm ... twenty-six thirty-fourths of my life!
A couple of weeks ago, we went on our annual float trip. These float trips started in our church youth group, "Cornerstone," the youth group of Harper Chapel United Methodist Church. Those first trips consisted of a bunch of wild teenagers and a couple of grown-ups renting a bunch of canoes and floating down a river somewhere in south-central Missouri, camping on a gravel bar, cooking over fires, singing, praying, goofing around, chanting "we are the ultimate battle cruiser," and generally loving life and each other as hard and as fiercely as teenagers are able to.
This most recent trip consisted of six adults and seven children under the age of ten hanging out at Dave's house for the weekend, going to the neighborhood pool, checking out the zoo, playing volleyball in the backyard, and playing cards in the evening around the kitchen table. Okay, not quite the same as those original float trips, I will admit. But wouldn't you know it, the thirteen of us still spent the weekend generally loving life and each other as hard and a fiercely as three young families are able to do.
Relationships that last over time survive a lot of change. For Dave, Jeff, and me, life has meant college degrees, marriage to the three most wonderful women in the world (and the infinite patience of Jo Beth, Kathleen, and Erin to put up with the three of us all these years is something to behold!), jobs, and miraculous, beautiful, energetic children. And as we have gotten older and our lives have changed, our love has just gotten deeper.
We disagree about a lot of stuff, too. For example, Dave gets his kicks killing perfectly innocent woodland creatures (Bambi is currently being mounted on his living room wall). Jeff has a tendency to drop cigarette ash into our scrambled eggs (that was back when he used to smoke, of course). When we talk politics, we go around and around, with definite differences of opinion that other people would allow to get ugly. The thing is, in the midst of all our changes and disagreement is this deep and abiding love for each other that holds us all together in spite of ourselves. When we disagree about something, I let Dave and Jeff know how wrong they are and then get on with the card game. (And pass me another Sam Adams, Jeff, if you will allow me to have a taste of your "good beer.")
It is very good for pastors and their families to have friends like Jeff, Kathleen, David, and JoBeth. To them, we aren't "the pastor and his family." We're just Uncle Andy, Aunt Erin, Cori, and Wes! To be able to relax completely, turn it off, and metaphorically remove the stole for a few days is vital to my spiritual health and psychological functionality. Plus, it is just a heck of a lot of fun!
And I can't wait for our next float trip! (Hey guys - Maybe next year we will be able to "starp" again.)