Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Thanksgiving to friends......
This morning I received an e-mail from a social networking site reminding me that today is the birthday of a friend of mine. The friend's name is Terry Fraley (Terry is the big guy in the blue shirt on the far left of the picture). A few people within our community will know who Terry is, but most of you will not. The reason that I'm writing about this is because Terry died on February 7, 2009 at the age of 44. Terry had numerous health problems that plagued him over the years of our friendship, and many of these problems were exacerbated by a prolonged battle with prescription drug abuse and the grinding stress of chronic mental health problems. Terry had Borderline Personality Disorder and was a self-injurer. I remember a couple of Terry's cuts being so bad that it took up to a dozen or more stitches to close them. "How could someone ever do that to their body?", I remember asking myself in those days. Though sincere, I was ignorant, generally clueless about the reality of mental illness and not a little judgemental in the ways that can only be exposed by the deep down gut-wrenching examination in which these types of "no suitable answer" situations place us. But just like Jesus, through his suffering Terry helped me to learn; and he helped me to be redeemed in a manner that could not have happened otherwise. He was another in a long line of tortured mentors helping me to love better, bringing enlightement to my ignorance and a more sober sense of conviction to my efforts.
Sometimes I did not see Terry for months on end. One time while we were out of town Maria and I loaned him our truck so that he could go and see his daughter in Hazard. We also gave him the keys to our house so that he could use our computer to work on his resume. When we returned we discovered that Terry had used our checkbook to pay his rent and had been ordering things online with our bank account information. When confronted Terry confessed readily to all of it. We tried to work it out amongst ourselves as believers living by grace; we were dissappointed in the initial results but pleasantly surprised in the long run....we tried to suffer long with each other...we went through a couple of revolutions just like this...we held on to each other, tenuously, for years. We were rarely ever together in "Church," but we kept finding our way back together when it seemed to matter the most. And on more than one occassion we were able to find our way back together because our mutual friend Scott Morehead was always helping us to build the bridge back to one another.
Terry always possessed great admiration for Scott, and absolutely loved spending time with him. I think that in some ways Scott was Terry's ideal self; he was an accomplished physician, devoted husband and dedicated parent. Terry was very bright and capable, but his myriad struggles were always there to put strict limits on his upside. He loved studying bio-chemistry and medicine, and could do well with it when his mental health was stable and his ego was in check; but that was an exceedingly hard balance to strike. I think these reasons helped to make Terry's friendship with Scott a very special thing for him. And it was always a wonderful picture of the reconciliation that we all have in Christ, the Christ who respects us enough as persons to not respect our pretensions, positions or titles. Whenever Terry and I were estranged, Scott was always there to help build the bridge that brought us back together.
I remember Scott calling me one day to tell me that Terry was in the hospital after a bout of congestive heart failure. I went to visit Terry and tried to encourage him. Because we were very concerned about his health, Scott and I talked more than once about how our hope was that we could simply help Terry "end well." We knew that the end probably wasn't too distant. We were learning. We were beginning to understand what it means to simply sit and be present to a friend instead of trying to "solve" them. I had taken the time to study the different dimensions of Terry's mental health problems and was much better prepared to be a friend to him. His suffering had produced a wealth of new wisdom and insight in me. I would henceforth be a better friend to others because of what Terry's struggle taught me. Just like Jesus, I had been transformed by his suffering. I distinctly remember telling Terry I was sorry that it took me a long time to learn these things and be more present to him. I confessed and he accepted my confession.
I think that it was around the time of Terry's hospitalization that he began going to First Alliance Church pretty regularly with Scott and his family. Scott would pick Terry up in the morning and on a couple of occassions Scott and Tammy (his wife) had Terry come over for lunch. Terry even began singing in the choir at First Alliance. It seemed like he had finally found his place; and I was profoundly happy that he had found his place even if it wasn't our place (Communality). My very limited ecclesiology and immaturity in love would not have allowed me to see this for what it was even a couple of years prior. I was still too caught up in trying to build up my own "project" and therefore not as able to see what Terry really needed. But the good news is that Terry ended well! He was in a pretty good season of life. And he ended well because a few friends, by God's grace, were able to "fulfill the law of Christ" by a severely bent but never broken commitment to "sharing each other's troubles and problems(Galatians 6:2)."
On an evening not too long before he died, Terry stopped by to pay a rare visit to our old guys group at the Golfview House. That night we were studying 2 Corinthians chapter 6. We read through the section where Paul says "Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you. Our hearts are open to you. If there is a problem between us, it is not because of a lack of love on our part, but because you have withheld your love from us. I am talking now as I would to my own children. Open your hearts to us (2 Cor 6:11-13)." I will never forget what Terry shared after we finished reading that passage. He said that he realized that what Paul was saying applied to him and his relationship with the rest of us; that we had opened our hearts to him but he had not done the same with us. It was stunning. Why was it that Terry showed up on this particular night? Looking back on that night, I've come to believe that this was a special gift that God gave to us. It was God's way of allowing us to celebrate the bond that had never been broken between us. And it was God's way of helping us to understand that it is ultimately the Triune God's open heart (not mine, or your's, or Paul's) that makes it all possible. What a special gift it was to share that moment together.
So, I wanted to share these thoughts today to celebrate Terry's life and give thanks to God for the many profound lessons that he taught me and the time we shared. When I looked at the e-mail this morning the first thing that I thought about was my dear friend Scott. Like Terry and I, my relationship with Scott has been sorely tested at several different points; and because it has been tested it has also been refined and strengthened. It has taken me a long time to realize that and see it for the profound gift that it is-grace upon grace. So, I also want to give thanks for Scott and for the time that God allowed us to share with Terry and the treasured memories that we were able to build; memories that knit together the otherwise broken fragments of broken lives. So, on the day that would have been Terry's 45th birthday, I give thanks to Terry and to God for assisting so profoundly in my own "new birth."