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A bit of a more personal note today if you don’t mind . . .

Several years ago, I began to reflect on the people who had impacted my life.

Some distantly…

A friend from high school who was a star football player from a wealthy family (by our small-town standards) who took time to be friendly with every person.

Some a bit closer…

A Sunday School teacher who made time to take a group of 11-year-old boys camping almost every Friday night, but then insisted that we stand and recite our assigned Bible verses every Sunday morning; to this day, I can still rattle off Psalms 119:9-11— in the KJV, of course.

Some very close…

The senior pastor of a church where I was a youth pastor (while only a year older than the oldest kids) who taught me how to “do” theology, living out the reality of an incarnate God.

That personal reflection led to a project, first listing all those who had a role in shaping my life, and then tracking them down to say “thank you”.

Some interesting plot twists along the way.

The high school friend who looked at me like I had lost my mind when I showed up at his business after three-plus decades.

A few shapers who had lost their way through the years, one even in prison.

But, for the most, even those whose lives had not played out as they had hoped—perhaps especially those whose lives had not played out the way they had hoped—seemed profoundly appreciative that someone from the recesses of their lives would randomly show up just to say “thank you”.  More often than not, the first contact became the initial step in the reforming of lost relationships, and a widening circle of true friends.

By early spring of this year, I had done it; checked off every name on my list.

Except one.  I could not find Pete.

I first met Pete on a backpacking trip in the Sangre de Cristo wilderness of northern New Mexico. We had very little in common. I was a teenager fresh out of high school; he was an early-thirties veteran with a wife and two children. I was from a small town in the desert of west Texas; he was from Houston.  I was a long-haired, emaciated boy; his 250 pounds were topped with a burr haircut.

But somehow we formed a bond.

Over the next several years, no one was more important in my life. When I was floundering after my freshman year of college, he insisted I come to Houston, move in with him and his family (sharing bunk beds with a six-year old. Thanks Coleman!), found a job for me with a friend who owned an electrical contracting company, and recommended me to his church as a youth minister.

He was a constant friend and companion on fishing trips, annual pilgrimages to Glorieta, and football games at Kyle Field. He taught me a new appreciation for Willie Nelson. He sat beside me when my dad underwent a six-hour heart surgery, was my confidant and counsel through loss, and the stern “buck it up” when I took problems too seriously.

Always, always there for me.

But then our lives went separate directions, literally for decades. And the perhaps most important name on my list became the one I could not find.

My Friday-morning prayer group even prayed with me that I could make contact with him. And then three weeks ago, I found his daughter on FaceBook, and she gave me Pete’s cell number. A phone call, a familiar voice on the end of the line, and we picked up right where we left off 20 years before. Lots of laughter, remembering, and a time to say “thank you”. A profound “thank you” . . . and a promise that we would get together before the summer was out.

I learned later that just a few days after our conversation, Pete went to hospice. And then the message last Wednesday that Pete was gone.

A deep sense of loss, but a much deeper gratitude for the grace that let us have that one last conversation—and the chance to tell him how much he meant to me.

So travel well, friend. I’ll see you on that mountaintop.

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