Your Father's Friends
It's funny how short, random conversations can have such an immense impact on one's life. In July 2005, I was blessed to go on a mission trip to Jamaica with the Minerva Drive church in Murfreesboro, TN. While there, we conducted a VBS for the kids and encouraged the church in that community. But we also got to go exploring in the afternoons. On one such afternoon, returning from adventures in nearby Ocho Rios, I found myself sitting in the van next Doug Couch. I had known Doug for 5-6 years at that time; he had attended a preachers retreat along with my dad some years before. Doug and I began talking about my father's death some 10 months prior. Towards the end of the discussion, he shared Proverbs 27:10 with me and offered an exhortation not to ignore its wisdom.
"Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend..." — Prov. 27:10
I don't think I've ever said it to him in person, but Doug, you will never know how much that conversation has impacted my life. This past week, I was particularly reminded of that Proverb.
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Every year, during the first week of February, I sit down to a meal with Mike Johnson who preaches in Richmond, KY. "Uncle Mike," as I've always known him, was my dad's college roommate, best man, and a pallbearer at dad's funeral. Whenever I spend time with Mike, I like to think that Dad is present with us also. This year was different, however, in that Mike and I spent less time talking about dad or ministry or Dallas Cowboys football (the usual subjects). There was a new topic of conversation: my son, the latest Daniel Whitworth. Daniel 2.0 is only 10 months old, and while he is friendly towards most anyone, the way he took to Mike so quickly and without any hesitation gave me chills. Mike has always been great with kids, but he had my son giggling in no time.
More than anyone else, Mike has reminded me on constant occasions that my dad isn't really gone... He lives on in his family and friends. Dad's laughter and joy and unyielding faithfulness to God inspired so many, and Mike reminds me of that often. Uncle Mike, thanks for being such a wonderful friend to dad, to me, and to my son. I hope to be as faithful to your son Austin as you have been to me.
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Sometime in late 1984 or early 1985, a visitor showed up to the Morton, Mississippi Church of Christ. Doc Tim, as I've always known him, was working weekends in the local emergency room while finishing up medical studies in nearby Jackson. He and dad quickly became friends; Doc Tim started sleeping on our couch at home and he and dad would go walking in the mornings. Soon, Tim moved his family to Morton to begin his family medical practice. His son, Ty, is a few months older than I, and we have been friends since we were barely able to sit up. In 1989, Tim moved his family to Florence, AL where they have lived since. Tim and Pam told my parents, "We'll find a church for Daniel to preach for so that y'all can move up with us." They weren't kidding. They moved in August 1989, and my family moved in May 1990 for a local congregation. My family has made several more moves since then, but Tim's family has remained constant—not just geographically, but also constant in our hearts. It seems every time something big has gone wrong in my family's life, Tim and Pam were in the background, lovingly helping us pick up the pieces. It is impossible for me to exhaust the stories of their kindness and generosity. Mom told me once that Doc Tim was dad's best friend in this world, and I never let him forget that. This past weekend, Sara and I were in their home, and it warmed my heart to see Doc Tim play with my son with a tenderness and joy that I would have only seen if my dad were still alive to play with his grandson.
A little over two years ago, as Ty (Tim and Pam's son) was looking to move his family to Texas, I took he and his wife out to eat in Houston. We reminisced that night of all that God had done for us through one another's families. I exhorted him that, if something were to ever happen to me, I hoped he would be as faithful to my son as his parents had been faithful to me, and I promised to do the same for Sam and Silas if ever necessary. Knowing his character and heart, I know Ty will go above and beyond this request.
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My dearest Little Man,
I have some bad news. As much as I love you, I will not be around forever. Don't panic—I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon. But there will come a day (and I hope not for a very long time) when I will die. I won't be around to guide you, show you love, and support you. When that day comes, I want to give you some advice that will serve you well for the rest of your life: Don't forsake your friends, or the friends of your father. Be faithful to them. Look to spend time with them and learn from them. Encourage them to share stories of their friendship with me. I hope so desperately that those stories warm your heart, that they give you joy, and that they motivate you to love Jesus with every fiber of your being.
And if you ever run into a preacher named Doug Couch, tell him I said thank you.
P.S. None of the above applies to Uncle Happy. He will be a terrible influence on you. Just kidding... Sort of.
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