Friends are Friends Forever

 

In the late 1980s Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant had a hit song that stated:

“Friends are friends forever, if the Lord is Lord of them; And a Friend will not say never, and the welcome will not end.”

It sounds corny but I have found that it could not be more true.

As I get older I find that I don’t have as many close friends as I used to. I have golf buddies and fantasy sports buddies, colleagues that are close, but the ones I feel closest to are the old friends. Those ties from years past can be the strongest.

The most traumatic time in my life was when I was 13, and I lost my mother to cancer. I have spoken about this often on this blog and on other venues, but here I have a different take, on the aftermath.

The loss of my mother left me devastated and I always look back at that as a dark time in my life, it changed everything.

In the last year of her life you could track her health and my grades on the same line. I went from being a straight-A student to ditching class because I hadn’t finished my project. The following spring I quit playing baseball for the first time in eight years.

A few years back, on the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I was speaking to my group at The Grove Men’s Bible study. I was bemoaning her loss and how my life had changed, and one of the men spoke up.

He said, “Your grades went into the tank, you quit sports, so substance abuse was probably next, right?” He was surprised when I said, “No.”

He is a retired police officer and had spend a great deal of time working with kids in juvenile hall. He said that better than 90 percent of their stories started just like mine; loss of a parent or loved one, bad grades, quitting things they loved; which led to alcohol, smoking, drugs; which led to criminal activity, then violent crimes; which always led to imprisonment or death.

He asked, “So how did you manage to avoid the tail end of that story?”

I answered with, “God’s grace.” And he followed with, “How did that manifest itself?”

I thought about it and answered, “I had people who loved me and weren’t going to let that happen. Particularly a good group of friends.”

I said, “I don’t know if they ever had an intervention meeting where they asked each other ‘what are we going to do about Brian?’ But each of them did their thing and kept me going, propped me up until I got my legs under me again.”

He asked if I was still friends with those people. I was thankful that I could say yes. Brad, Rob, Kristi, Andrea, Tonya, I am still in touch with all of them. I went to all of their weddings, and know the names of their kids. We have been spread out over the years, but when we meet up it is just like old times.

After I lost my mother I was pretty much a functioning zombie. I went around doing stuff, but was numb inside. I quit caring about everything I used to love, and became very apathetic about life.

They made sure I stayed involved and didn’t drop out of life. They showed me love when I needed it, whether I deserved it or not, as well as patience when I would resist. There were others who helped along the way, parents, teachers, etc., but this core group were the best.

I am forever in their debt. And there isn’t anything I would not do for them in a time of need. I can only hope to repay them for their kindness and loyalty.

John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I take that to heart.

As we move around in life those true friendships can be some of the only certainty we find. I’m glad I still have mine.

 

Love is …

As I sat and listened to Cal Baptist University’s Dr. Chris Morgan speak on I Corinthians 13 at the Grove on Sunday, I was reminded on why this is quite possibly my favorite Bible passage.

It speaks about Love, what Love is, what Love isn’t. About how we may have other spiritual gifts at our disposal, but without Love they mean nothing.

As the world seems to be spiraling out of control, the hatemongers on both sides chipping away at our moral foundation and widening the divide between us, I can’t help but think we could all use a little more love.

From the start of the passage Paul talks about all of the spiritual gifts the people were praising themselves for, and reminds them how useless that is without Love.

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

” If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Jesus tells us that if we have Faith the size of a mustard seed, it can move mountains. Paul follows it up by telling us that even that kind of Faith means nothing without Love.

The next part you tend to hear at weddings, but former Grove Men’s leader Mike Barnes turned it on its head and set it in a new perspective for me.

He said to read the passage, then read it again and replace the word Love with your name. As followers of Christ we should be showing His Love in our everyday lives.

So take a look, and then insert your name into it.

4) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

5) It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

6) Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8) Love never fails.

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4) Brian is patient, Brian is kind. Brian does not envy, Brian does not boast, Brian is not proud.

5)  Brian does not dishonor others, Brian is not self-seeking, Brian is not easily angered, Brian keeps no record of wrongs.

6) Brian does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

7) Brian always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8)  Brian never fails.

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So how did you do? Definitely some hits, but some misses for sure.

If someone were to take a look at your life, just how close are you following the Word of God? How good of an example are you setting for others?

In a time when the world is rapidly filling with hate from all sides, we, as Christians, should be showing there is another way to live.

And remember the phrase, “They shall know us by our Love.”

 

1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)

13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The Difference Between Life and Death: A Tale of Two Seas

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Happy & Sad (Photo credit: Swamibu)

Have you ever wondered why two people, when facing the same difficulties, can react so differently?

Some are the picture of hopelessness.  They have a perpetual black cloud following them everywhere, and doom seems imminent, no matter the size of the problem.

But others who face the same circumstances are not only hopeful, they are joyful.  To look at their countenance you would think they lead a perfectly blessed life.

I’ve often wondered, “What makes the difference?”  And who knew the answer could be found in geography?

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Storytellers: Father’s Day edition

This weekend will be filled with people telling stories about their fathers. That kind of thing always brings a smile to my face. And on Monday, I was smiling a lot.

This past week the Raise Foundation was hosting the Blue Ribbon Celebrity Golf tournament in Irvine. When I found out that Kermit Alexander was one of the celebrities helping raise money to prevent child abuse, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hang out with a man that has become one of my favorite people.

A little background: Kermit Alexander is a former two-sport star at UCLA, playing football and track, where he won a national title in the long jump. He went on to play in the NFL with the 49ers and his hometown L.A. Rams. Kermit has been through a great deal in life from the glory of being a professional athlete to the great loss of having members of his family killed in a gang shooting, to finding peace again in the faces of the children of Haiti. (All of that is chronicled in a story I wrote (read here) about his book “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” )

The man has seen a lot in his 75 years, and one thing is for sure, he knows how to tell a story. So getting to spend a few hours with him out on a golf course was too good to pass up.

Once at the course I found out who was playing in our group. The scorecard said, “Darren Drysdale.” That last name strikes a chord for any baseball fan, especially one that grew up around the Dodgers.

Darren is the son of Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale and UCLA basketball great Ann Meyers Drysdale (who was also at the tournament).

Much of the round was spent with Kermit telling stories. Some I had heard him tell before, like the day he took out Bears Hall of Fame running back Gayle Sayers, and almost got into a fight with George Halas.

He also talked about taking his teammates and friends out to this golf course (Strawberry Farms) because he knew the tight fairways would get the better of them as they played for money.

But what struck me the most was how he regaled Darren with stories of his parents. Darren was only 3-years old when his father passed away, so I would imagine most of what he knows about his dad has been relayed to him from other people.

But this was different, it wasn’t stories of how his father, a strong-jawed, 6-foot-6 pitcher, would intimidate hitters on the field, these stories were about what a gentle giant he was off the field, and how much he loved Ann. All of which brought out smiles from Darren.

Later I found myself sitting next to Ann at the post-round dinner. I told her about the stories Kermit was telling. She smiled and said, “It’s good for kids to hear stories about their parents from other people. It gives them a better perspective about who there parents are.”

And that kind of became a theme for the day. After another round of old NFL stories, Kermit started to talk about his father, Kermit Sr.

Once at an event, a four-star general greeted Kermit with the usual, “I know who you are.” Kermit got that a lot as a professional athlete, but he was surprised when the general went on to talk about Kermit Sr.’s exploits during World War II.

Kermit went on to tell anyone that would listen about how his dad was a Montford Point Marine, the first African-American military group “allowed” to see action in the field. Turns out Kermit Sr. was a “tunnel rat” during the war in the Pacific. The Japanese soldiers would create small tunnels when they would get dug in for battle. The tunnel rats were responsible for following the tunnels and killing off the enemy. The group would become infamous among the enemy lines. As Kermit loves to tell it, the Japanese soldiers referred to them as “demons” because the men with dark skin (which they had never seen before) struck with such ferocity that the soldiers would run the other way.

As Kermit told these stories about his father, the smile on his face began to grow. He was more excited talking about his late father than he was talking about his own exploits on the football field.

As we were playing golf I was able to slide in some stories about my late father as well. And what started out as a round of golf, turned into a storytelling session. On the verge of Father’s Day, three men of varied ages (26, 42, 75) and backgrounds joyfully exchanged tales of their fathers.

It wasn’t a perfect day (our team finished in the bottom half in the tournament), but it was close.

On this Father’s Day, give the old man a hug, and if he no longer with us, sit back a tell a fun story about him to anyone who will listen.

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Memories on Mother’s Day

Updating this it has been 30 years since I have been able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my Mom, Susan Lynn Pennington Goff. And with recent additions to my life, I find myself missing her now more than ever …

In the years we were together, she instilled in me a lot of Love.

Love of Baseball. Love of Reading. Love of Music.

And a Faith that could move mountains.

BASEBALL

Mom was a sports fan, especially baseball. Growing up in the West Virginia/Ohio area Mom and Dad liked the Indians, but once they moved west, it was all about the Dodgers.

Dad would often receive free tickets from salesmen at work, but it was Mom and I that would use them and take in ball games in L.A. and Anaheim.  We would pick up a program, grab a hot dog and head to our seats. She taught me how to keep score, how to pay attention to all the little things, like where the fielders were playing and how the pitchers and batters adjusted to what the other was doing. I often wonder how she would have done at Fantasy Baseball.

One year, the Arlington High School choir had a fundraiser where they auctioned off baseball bats that were autographed by Dodgers players. As my eyes opened wide and a smile crept across my face, I am sure my parents cringed at the thought of how much it was going to cost them to get one. As the bigger names (Garvey, Guerrero, etc.) started going for big money, my Mom didn’t give up, and I came home with the bat of light-hitting shortstop Bill Russell. I don’t know what they paid, but it didn’t matter as I became the biggest Bill Russell fan on the planet. The bat still hangs in my bedroom.

But more than a fan of professional baseball, she was a big fan of Little League baseball. I played Little League for six years, and I do not ever remember playing a game when she wasn’t there. Rain or shine, sickness or health, she would be there in her lawn chair, with her homemade crocheted afghan in my team colors.

After Little League, I moved on to Pony League. My Mom was hospitalized that season at Riverside Community. But the Pony League happened to play its games down in the ravine across from the hospital. My Mom was on the fifth floor, and they moved her to the other wing, which had a view of the field. On game days she could watch with a pair of binoculars.

That was her last Baseball season, and as it turns out my last year of playing organized ball. It just was’t the same without her.

READING

Another thing I got from my Mom is a love of the written word. Mom loved to read, and loved how words could be sewn together to tell a story and bring about an emotional response. The school year was always filled with reading of course, but summertime was as well. We would take weekly trips to the Arlington Library, exchanging one book for another, usually it was more than one book. From short stories and biographies to Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (Mom’s favorite) to Choose Your Own Adventures, the summers were filled with reading.

Mom wanted to be a journalist, because she loved spreading the news and telling people something they might not have known. That is something I clearly got from her, as I am 18 years into a career in sports journalism. Which is something I wish she was around to see.

MUSIC

Mom had a bumper sticker on her station wagon that read, “There are only two kinds of music, Country and Western.”

Mom was a country girl, and we were raised on the likes of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and the Oak Ridge Boys. Which is probably where my Sister gets her love of Country music.

To this day you could throw in a CD of Kenny Rogers greatest hits, and I could probably sing a long with all of them. My parents’ song was “Through the Years,”  but one of her favorites was “Coward of the County.”

One of her favorite groups was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, with hit songs like “Fishin’ in the Dark,” and “Mr. Bojangles.” One year we had season passes for the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which included a Summer concert series. I still remember sitting on the hillside at the amphitheater to watch Nitty Gritty.

But as much as she was a country girl, she also grew up in the 60s, and that meant California beach music. She loved the groovy tunes of the Beach Boys like “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” and “God Only Knows.” I still have her Good Vibrations album on vinyl. And of course there was Jan and Dean (another act in the Summer Concert series in San Diego) with hits like “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Dead Man’s Curve.”

FAITH

Our trips to the ballpark and trips to the library and concerts were only surpassed by trips to Church. Despite her on again, off again battles with cancer, her attitude never changed and Faith never faded. One of her favorite things was the story of the “Footprints in the Sand.”

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“One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it: “LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.” The LORD replied: “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

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She found comfort in this, and it kept her positive during times that called for anything but. It is in that Faith that I find the strength to stay positive and keep moving, keep striving for the best no matter the obstacles in the way. And to find the strength to keep living out that Faith, no matter who we lose along the way.

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Gear up, but don’t forget to bring the Love

As I graduated high school and was heading off to college, my uncle gave me a gift, a small plaque with a Bible verse on it, I Corinthians 16:13. The verse quickly became one of my favorites.

“Be on the Alert. Stand firm in the Faith. Act like Men. Be Strong.”

Short, sweet, simple and to the point.

The verse has become a favorite among men’s groups and the military. It brings about images of being in battle.

Be on the alert — Be watchful, keep an eye out.

Stand Firm in the Faith — Pastor Mike Barnes loved this phrase, using it as a signature at the end of his emails. He said it made him think of ancient soldiers, like the story of the 300 — Shields up, cleats dug in, together as one holding off the enemy.

Act Like Men — A couple years ago, I went to a men’s conference in Long Beach, that used this phrase as its slogan. It is an interesting phrase that leaves a lot to be interpreted. What does it mean to “Act like a man.”Sitting on the couch eating pizza and watching football, is that acting like a man?

I was looking up the verse in a new Bible one day and found a different translation, rather than “Act Like Men” it said “Be Courageous.” I love that the phrase for Act Like a Man is synonymous with Be Courageous. It means that we as men are called to Be Courageous.

And speaking of courage, there are a lot of people that have the wrong idea about being courageous. They believe that having courage and acting courageous is to have no fear. When in fact being courageous is more about overcoming your fear, rather than not having any. As humans we all have our fears, what makes it courageous is being able to set aside that fear and do what needs to be done. And that is what it means to “Act Like Men.”

Be Strong — Pretty straight forward

A pretty strong message as a whole. Kind of like a halftime speech from a legendary football coach, it can fire you up and have you ready for battle.

But like most Bible stories and verses you can always use some context and look at what is around that story or verse.

And in this case, all you have to do is look at the next verse.

I Corinthians 16:14 — “Do Everything in Love”

As we go through our daily lives as Christians we come across those that would persecute us. The enemy is all around and we feel the need to strike back. Verse 13 is a rally cry.

Be on the alert … stand firm in the Faith … be courageous … be strong

We need to be ready to defend our Faith, be have to remember who we are and why we are under attack. While the World will become volatile, we are called to “Do everything in Love.”

It should be our defining characteristic.

As the world closes in, it is only human nature to want to fight back using the same tools, like Hate, shame and fear. But we need to dare to be different. They should know us by our love.

Don’t get so caught up in what we are doing, that we forget why we are doing it.

As Easter weekend is upon us, we are reminded of the price that was paid to save us.

We also need to remember the message he left us. Love our neighbors, and by neighbors I believe he meant everybody. Even the ones that are not going to show Love back, I would think especially them.

Jesus spoke of how the Faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains, and Paul reminded us that Faith that can move mountains is worthless without love.

So when the World closes in around you, gear up for the battle,  bot don’t forget to bring the Love

Purpose over Pressure

Last week the Men’s bible study I attend focused on Luke 10 and the story of Martha and Mary.

In the story, Jesus was visiting their house and while Martha was busy being the hostess (cooking and setting up), Mary was sitting next to Jesus soaking it all in. When Martha complained that Mary wasn’t helping, Jesus said that Mary was actually doing the right thing.

The message was that sometimes in life we get so focused on what we are doing, that we forget why we are doing it.

As Christians, sometimes we get so focused on the traditions and routines that we lose sight of what is most important.

Earlier we read of how Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus as a child. They were in Jerusalem for the annual festivities, and got so caught up in the celebration of the coming savior, that they literally lost sight of the Savior.

Organized religion can have that same problem. We get so caught up in WHAT we are doing, do we go to the right amount of services, sing the right songs, talk to the right people, that we simply forget WHY we are there in the first place, to commune with God.

The take away from last week’s message was that when your priority is WHAT you are doing, you wind up being driven by PRESSURE. And while being driven by pressure will motivate you, it can quickly burn you out.

When you are more concerned with WHY you are doing it, you are driven by PURPOSE.

And like most moments of Truth, this doesn’t just apply to our Christian walk, this pretty much applies to life in general.

So in the hustle and bustle of the new year, try to remain focused on the WHY, and remain driven by a purpose.

“My Name is Job” — The story of a True Believer

There are many stories I like to tell about my Father, Edward Ray Goff, but there is one in particular that tells you everything you need to know about the man. So on what would have been his 64th birthday, I am going to share that story …

It was the summer of 1988, and at Magnolia Ave. Baptist Church there was occasion for a “testimony night” when the Sunday evening service was set up with microphones in the aisles for anyone to come forward and share their story.

Those nights were usually filled with new Christians who were on fire for God and could not help but to shout their story from the mountain tops. And there tended to be a lot of old-timers who would ramble on about people and places that were no longer around.

But on this particular night, those in attendance would be awestruck by what they were about to hear.

I was sitting in the back, where the youth group tended to sit, when I heard a familiar voice.

My Dad had stepped to the mic, and as he looked around the room he said, “Some of you may not know me, my name is Job.”

There was a nervous laughter in the room, because everyone there did know him, and everyone there knew exactly what he meant with the “Job” reference.

It had been a rough couple of years in our house, and my Dad began to tell our story in great detail.

By late 1986 my Mom’s health had begun to take a turn for the worse, the cancer she had fought off before had returned. In the spring of ’87 she required two back surgeries to remove the cancer. Post surgery complications delayed the process and the cancer spread. She spent her last six months in the hospital.

Dad told the story of his struggle in dealing with the loss of the love of his life, and the added pressure of trying to raise two kids, who were 10 and 13, on his own. All those months of us taking daily trips to the hospital as her condition worsened. And of course the feeling of loss at her eventual passing.

As if that were not enough, the story continued.

During my Mom’s final days, my Dad had been having his own health problems. He told of how he started having spells where the right side of his body would go numb. His first doctor told him it was probably stress, but an eventual trip to a specialist led to the diagnosis of cancerous brain tumors.

In May of ’88 he underwent the first of what would wind up being three brain surgeries to remove those tumors. So not only was he worried about his own life, but about how his kids were handling everything.

He talked about how he had been a working man his whole life, from welder to truck driver to maintenance supervisor, and now he was being forced into medical retirement at the age of 38. What would he do with the rest of his life.

He stood there looking like a broken man, a shrunken body from all the cancer treatments, literally hat in hand (he would wear a hat to keep his now bald head warm, but always took it off in church). And just as it looked like he was about to break down, he looked to the heavens, and took a deep breath.

And that is when something amazing happened. He began to praise God … for everything. He talked about how blessed he was for being able to spend 18 wonderful years with his wife, for his kids, for his family and friends that had rallied around us during our darkest hour. He praised God for it all.

He talked about how the time off of work would allow him more time to serve in his church and community. He was always building something, either stage sets for the children’s musicals, or wheel chair ramps for someone’s home. There was always something that needed to be done, and now he was free to do those things.

You see, it wasn’t by accident that he said his name was Job. He didn’t just reach out and randomly grab a name from the Bible. My Dad read his Bible every morning and knew it inside and out. Raised in West Virginia by Southern Baptist preacher, he knew the story of Job, and knew of the similarities with his own story. And he wasn’t about to let the opportunity to talk about God pass him by.

It was an amazing night, I was never more proud. My dad was a hard working, soft spoken man, who would rather let his actions do his talking for him. But on this night he stood up to show the world that he was not about to let his Faith be undone by his circumstances.

His cancer would be beaten, but it had taken its toll. He would live on for nearly 20 more years, the last 10 in his native West Virginia, never shying away from sharing his Faith with anyone that would listen.

So for those that may wonder where I get my resolve. How it is that I can roll with the punches that life brings. How I can continue to be hard-wired with an eternal Hope and have a Faith that cannot be shaken …  it is all right here in this story.

I am the son of Job.

And on that note, my sister, Betsy, and I are embarking on our third year with Relay for Life, helping raise funds for the American Cancer Society. The ACS does more than just search for a cure, they help victims and their families that are already affected by this dreaded disease.

Take a look at my Relay for Life page and help us in the fight against cancer …

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?fr_id=57753&pg=personal&px=28322700

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