Farewell to My Friend

This week, I did something that I never thought I would do. I attended the funeral of my friend. His name was Darrell, but only his mother called him that. He was always Phred to me. Phred was 54 years old. He passed away from COVID. He will become another one of those COVID statistics that you hear about on the news. But his death is not a statistic to me. It is very personal. Phred was my friend. In fact, I think it is safe to say that outside of my family, he was the best friend that I ever had.

I met Phred right after I was saved during my sophomore year of high school. He was a part of our church’s youth group. He also worked in the children’s ministry of our church. He did puppets for children’s church. With his encouragement, I began to work with the puppets as well. He and I became the main 2 puppeteers. We had such a blast! We created characters and voices. He was Dum Dum. This was a Cookie Monster looking puppet that the children loved. Phred and I would sneak to the 7-11 store between Sunday School and children’s church. We would buy a chicken box and eat it behind the stage between puppet skits. We would roll with laughter every time that the children’s leader would declare that he smelled fried chicken. We never admitted to knowing anything about it.

Phred and I became inseparable friends. I was either at his house or he was at my house. We fished together, hung out together, sang in the Follies together, rode around in the truck together, got in trouble together (thinking about the egg incident here), stayed out of trouble together, did puppets together, and goofed around together. As we got older, Phred was in my wedding and I was in his wedding. In more recent years, we were blessed to be able to serve together in the church again. I was his pastor for 8 years. He was a deacon. He was a faithful servant of Jesus. He made a difference in so many lives.

This brings me back to the present. This week, I attended his funeral. After the service, I returned to his grave after everyone was gone. There were some things that I needed to say to the Lord while standing at Phred’s grave. Among other things, I thanked the Lord for allowing Phred to be my friend. I prayed for his family. I walked down memory lane. And I asked many questions.

As I looked down at that mound of dirt, I saw one huge horse apple. You would not have seen it because it was not really there. But it was there in my mind. Allow me to explain. Horse apples grow on a tree and look something like a green brain. There were several horse apple trees in the pasture on Phred’s family property. We loved to take the truck out there and load it up with horse apples. After dark, we would deliver these strange gifts all over town. We covered the children’s minister’s porch with them. We put them on the front seat of many of our friends’ cars. In a small town, you learn to entertain yourself. It is also possible that some of them were thrown at the RR crossing sign on Shiloh Street. I am certain the statute of limitations has passed on that. After a night of sneaking around and placing these “green brains” in strategic locations, we would wait for the real fun to begin a few days later. We would try to hold back our laughter when a buddy would say, “You won’t believe what I found in my car. It looked like a green brain. I don’t know who put it there. I don’t know why they did it. I don’t understand. What do you think it means?” Those green horse apples raised questions all over town.

At Phred’s grave, I openly confessed to the Lord that I do not understand. And I asked my questions. My questions are not questions that come from doubt. They are questions that come from grief. I know where Phred is. I know why he is there. He was a follower of Christ. He is with the Lord in heaven. This is far better for him. I have no questions about that. My questions are for this side of heaven. Why? Why now? Why him? How can You bring good from this? I don’t believe that God is afraid of my questions. Nor do I believe that He is required to answer them. In this world, we are looking in a dimly lit mirror. We only know in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). We don’t see everything clearly. One day we will see the Lord face to face. I think that my questions will vanish in his presence. Until then, I must walk by faith and not by sight. I must trust the Lord even when I don’t understand. This is the right answer. But I admit that it is a struggle to do it. I need God’s grace to see me through.

Phred and I spent a lot of time riding the dirt roads of our county in a truck. We spent hours doing this. We would get on a straight section and make the truck fishtail from side to side. We would laugh and then do it again. One day we were riding on the Landfill Road. We were not yet to the straight part that was perfect for fishtailing. So we were driving normally. As we were going around a curve, we met an oncoming truck who was on our side of the road. We had to put our truck in the ditch. The driver of the other truck did not stop. We were left in the middle of nowhere with our truck stuck in the ditch. We tried to push it out, but it was no use. Cell phones did not exist. So we waited and hoped someone would come along and pull us out of the ditch. We waited for quite some time. Finally a Good Samaritan came along and used his truck to pull us out of the ditch. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Right now, I feel like I am stuck in a ditch. No matter how hard I try to shake it off or ignore it, I can’t get myself out of the ditch. There is no nice, older gentleman who is going to drive by in his truck and pull me out of this ditch. There is only One who can help me. The last thing I did before leaving my friend’s grave was to read a verse. It was the last thing that I ever texted to him. I don’t think he ever saw it. They put him on a ventilator shortly after I sent it. But he saw it and experienced its truth in a very different way. And I need its truth right now. It is the only way out of this ditch. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

One day I will see Phred again. The Lord will call for me just like He did for Phred. Faith in Christ has made me ready. When I see him again, I hope to sing a song with him. Phred and I used to sing together in our high school days. In fact, one of the last things I did before walking away from his grave was to sing one of our old songs. One year at our high school’s Spring Follies, Phred and I performed an old song called “Popsicle.” During the chorus, my part was to hold out the word “popsicle.” Phred’s part was to sing, “Ba-ma-ma-ma-ma, Ba-ma-ma-ma-ma.” He did it in a deep bass voice. The crowd went wild each time he did it. It was probably the strangest song ever sung at a graveside, but I sang part of the song at Phred’s grave. But when I sang the word “popsicle,” there was no “Ba-ma-ma-ma-ma.” The cemetery was silent. Phred was not there to sing his part. One day, I will see my friend again. One day, we will finish the song.  What a day of joy that will be!

Until then, I thank the Lord that He allowed Phred to be my friend. He was an influence for good and for God in my life. Farewell, my friend. I will see you on the other side.

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