This might be a long post.
A few months ago, our friends, Blake and Amanda, let us know they would be leaving their positions at our church and moving closer to Amanda’s family in West Virginia. Blake and I have become very close friends while working together with our youth group. And, as couples with kids, our two families have spent a lot of time together over the last 3 years. More on all that below.
There is a lot of transition going on in my life right now. God is working on me big time and preparing me for something. I’m not sure what it is, but I handed my job stress over to him a while ago and am letting him run with it. I also asked him to correct the things in my life that needed correcting. Be careful what you pray for. I am trying to be as open to his discipline as possible, but my flesh tries, often, to rebel against his work. This year has been a struggle, and Blake has been there to listen to me, to be my friend, and to mentor me spiritually.
This past Sunday night we had a going away party for Blake and Amanda. My wife suggested a month or so ago that I should let Blake know, in front of the other youth leaders what he has meant to me, and how much I have benefited from our friendship. I was just going to write him an email and let him know all these things, but there is something about publicly affirming someone in front of others that just makes it more special.
I’m introverted by nature. I keep my emotions on the inside. It’s hard, and even painful, for me to express myself emotionally to others. I’m working on it, slowly. My natural tendency it to just think through things, pray about them, and figure it out without outside influence. I’m learning that the process can go much quicker if you get it out there. But, I will admit, for some things, I find it is easier to keep them locked up in my head and let that little computer of a brain work on them while I go on with my life. Then, at some random time, in the shower, or while out running, it will spit an answer out; epiphany.
In this case, my wife was right. I needed to let Blake know. And, I needed to let him know in front of other people.
I sat down and started writing. It was difficult. I felt those lumps in my throat. I felt tears forming in my eyes. I felt all kinds of emotions and I tried my best to take those feelings and put them on paper. I went through the whole process again as I proofread the letter, several times.
Sunday night came. The party was going great. We had an awesome group of people there fellowshipping (is that a word?), having a good time, making jokes, laughing, talking, eating, etc, etc. We presented Blake with a gift to say thank you for his 5 years of service to the youth group. It was time for me to step up and speak to the group since we were all sitting together in one room.
My voice was shaking. Blake had already spoke to the group which turned the mood from playful and fun to serious and emotional. I pulled the letter from my pocket and let everyone know that while Blake was good at speaking from his heart, I had to write from my heart.
As I began reading the letter, memories flashed through my head of all the time we had spent together. I had to force them out. If I thought about what I was reading, I wouldn’t be able to read. I paused, pushed it all as far out as I could, and just read the words on the paper. I had no idea what the mood was around me. The lumps in my throat came and went. I made nervous jokes to ease the tension (some were strategically place in the letter to do just that). Tears started to well-up, but I pulled them back. It wasn’t easy putting my emotions out there for 30 other people to see. It wasn’t easy to tell other people what this one person meant to me.
Finally, I got to the end. Blake and I made eye contact and did some sort of weird handshake. The room applauded. And then for the next hour or so people shared what was on their heart. It was an emotional, yet joyous time. We laughed and cried. We brought closure to this part of our lives, and paved the way for the next chapter.
I have included the letter below. Have you let your friends know how much you appreciate them lately?
A few years ago I sat in Sunday morning service and watched the kids take over upon their return trip from Doors Camp. A couple weeks prior to that Steph and I had officially met Blake and Amanda for the first time. We had gone out to dinner with them and our old friends Kathy and Michael who were the ones that invited us to check out FBC. After dinner, we went back to Kathy and Michael’s and sat and talked, laughed, listened to music, and got to know about bit about each other.
Blake talked about camp and I got all excited. I asked when they were going and he said in about a week. I hadn’t once stepped foot in FUSE as a leader. And there was no way I thought I could take the time off work. So I missed camp that year.
Watching the kids perform on stage and hearing Blake talk about the summer, I knew that I had to be a part of FUSE. Actually, I had known for a while. Steph and I attended FBC pretty sporadically, and for a while, everytime we showed up, Blake spoke. I heard a voice loud and clear telling me to go talk to Blake, but it took awhile for me to actually do it – mostly out of laziness.
After that service, I let him know I wanted to talk about helping out at FUSE. And, within a few weeks I had filled out the paperwork, met with him, and was all set for my first Thursday night.
I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been to a youth group before. I walked into a fairly empty room (because I like to be early).. The kids had no interest in talking to me that night. I remember just standing in the middle of the room wondering what the heck I was supposed to do. Blake said he didn’t care about my skills and talents. He just wanted me to build relationships with the kids. I did my best to try to make something out of nothing those first few nights. Since it was the first night of the start of a new school year, I found a few kids who were also there for the first time. I was able to talk to them a bit, and through games and other activities, begin to build the foundations of leader-student relationships.
I came into FUSE with a somewhat hardened heart. I was in denial about some of the sin in my life. I was afraid of what people outside of church would think of me when they found out I was a Christian. I was certainly not following unashamedly our savior’s example. But, I was pretty confident in my ability to work with teenagers. I still had a lot to learn.
A couple months into this new adventure in my life, Blake asked me to meet him for lunch. At first, I thought I was in trouble. I thought he was going to tell me I wasn’t trying hard enough, or he didn’t like the way I was handling my leader responsibilities.
The lunch turned out to be quite the opposite. Blake let me know that he was very happy with what I was doing at FUSE and told me that God has shown a light on me to him. He wanted to start meeting regularly, working on my spiritual growth, and building a stronger relationship with me.
No one had taken an interest in me like that before. I was beside myself. Yes, of course I would meet with him. So this began a long history of lunch meetings. We would read books and discuss them (although, I don’t think we ever actually finished any of them), we would talk about ideas for FUSE. We would joke around. I got to see Blake as more than just a youth pastor. We learned each others strengths and weaknesses. He became a real person to me. And in his transparency, I found a genuine man. I found a guy who was willing to take off his mask and just be real.
We became friends. Then we became brothers.
Our families would get together for dinners. We spent time watching movies together. We spent a week watching Harry Potter together in preparations for the newest movie releases. We played board games and card games. We sat up late just talking about anything and everything. We sat around fires, made s’mores, and talked while our kids built relationships with each other. We went on trips to Universal Studios together. Before we knew it, Blake and Amanda had become some of our closest friends. We couldn’t wait for the next time we got to have that one on one time with them (or two on two as it happened to be).
We started a Bible study. A small group of us began looking closer at God’s word. I felt so inadequate. I felt I didn’t have anything to contribute. But, I also felt so honored to be a part of that group. Over time I started to understand my beliefs more. In listening to Blake during Bible study and when he preached I became more confident in myself and my understanding of the path that I have chosen. In talking with Blake I learned more about the teenagers that God has brought to FUSE. Slowly, God softened my heart and began the process of re-molding me into something useful. That process continues today, but God used Blake to make this possible. I know I still have a long way to go.
He trusted me first with doing giveaway. Then, he trusted me the the MC responsibilities on Thursday night. He trusted me with speaking to the FUSE students. He trusted me with leading leadership groups for some of the high school students. He trusted me with a lot, and he was always willing to listen to my thoughts and ideas about working with youth, and the direction that FUSE was headed. In addition to all that, he always let me know how grateful he was that I was a part of FUSE. I never felt like Blake took me for granted.
Blake showed me what it means to be a real friend. He showed me how to love my Christian brothers. He showed me what it meant to follow Christ. He has been my co-worker, my friend, my brother, and my mentor. To say that I am sad to see him go is an understatement. To say that I will miss him just doesn’t seem to express what I am actually feeling.
I’m sure everyone in this room can attest to the fact that when you needed him, Blake was always there. Somehow, someway, he found the energy to be there, and to listen. And then, after you poured your heart out to him; after you told him the one thing about yourself that you thought was unforgivable, he would lift you up. He would praise you for your courage to be real with him. He would accept whatever you told him, and open his arms to you. He might be the first guy to tell me he loved me that wasn’t forced to by a therapist.
Blake is a unique individual…in so many ways. Aside from the crazy hair cuts, dying his facial hair, the countless times he sacrificed his body for a laugh, and his layers upon layers of shirts, he was uniquely made to do God’s work. He is one of the most courageous people I know. He truly does put God first, maybe not always, but when it counts, he overcomes the fear, looks past his emotions, gets past himself, and does what God has called him to do. He has always been willing to sacrifice himself for God. We should all recognize this and seek to do the same in our own lives.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from Blake, but the biggest lesson was not something he told me, it was something he showed me. Blake has shown me it is possible to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.
I am not saying goodbye to my brother. I still consider him my mentor and my friend. I expect many more conversations about youth leadership and what it means to be a Christ follower. I expect our families to still spend time together. I expect many more fireside chats about aliens and the wonders of the universe. I expect more family trips together. I expect more laughs and more memories. And though I never thought I would use my vacation time to go to West Virginia, we are very much looking forward to visiting our family there.
Until God brought FUSE into my life, I had never really had any close guy friends, but now I have found Blake, and some of the other guys in this room. I have found my true brothers.
I’ve been able to let a lot of people walk out of my life without blinking an eye. But Blake means too much to me to just close this chapter of my life.
So Blake, to you I say, “Seeya later, brother. I love you!”