With only a week to go before we head out of Akron, we are trying to spend as much time as possible with our friends here.  Tom and I have been very blessed to be in one place for 25 years.  Most United Methodist ministers move every five to seven years.  We lived in the same house for 25 years, served the same church for 21 years, and our son was able to go all the way through school in just one school system.  So we have the luxury of friends outside the church that many UM ministers are not able to have.  There isn’t anything wrong with having friends who are part of the church, but being a pastor is different than being a friend.  Now that I am retired, I expect that some of my former parishioners will continue in my life as friends.

Wendy and me today
Wendy and me today
Deborah and me back in 1979
Deborah and me back in 1979

We have some friends that we have known since college and grad school.  My best friend from college (Ohio Northern University) has a home in North Canton, less than 15 miles away.  Another friend and I were drawn together at Kent State in the graduate program.  We had sons that were both babies when we started, so we hung out together with our sons and our studies.  Both of these women have been a great blessing in my life even though I only see them four to six times a year.  They make me laugh and remind me of events that shaped us.

I also have a group of friends who are all clergywomen.  We started meeting together shortly after I started at Wedgewood.  We had children who were the same age and we were all struggling with the work / home / life balance in our lives.  Meeting for lunch every other month helped us keep all of those things in perspective.  We have supported each other through various life events, such as divorce, marriage of children, and the birth of grandchildren (I’m still waiting for grandchildren – but I’m not in any hurry!).  These are women I respect, with as many years in ministry as I have had.  They make me laugh and help me make sense of the calling of God on our lives.

My clergysisters - Marta, Lea, Tina, Annette, and Karen
My clergysisters – Marta, Lea, Tina, Annette, and Karen
My sister Julia and her family - Devon, Jared, and Mike
My sister Julia and her family – Devon, Jared, and Mike

For the last 10 years my sister and her family have lived close to us and attended Wedgewood.  Our family is traditionally scattered, but Julia and Mike moved up to the Akron area from Chillocothe and it has been a joy to watch my nephews grow into fine young men.  We saw each other every week at church, had dinner together frequently, and helped each other with lots of different things.  My nephews especially enjoyed using our pool and have missed it this summer!  I am so thankful that we have had this time to get to be friends as well as sisters.  Growing up we shared a room and, with a five year age gap, we had a loving but contentious relationship.  Now we love to talk together as we try to figure out the past, our parents, and life in general.

Chowing down at Friendly's - Tom, Eric, Tom, Esther, Susan, Sandy, Dana, Kendra, and Cheryl
Chowing down at Friendly’s – Tom, Eric, Tom, Esther, Susan, Sandy, Dana, Kendra, and Cheryl

Finally, Tom and I have a group of friends that we have enjoyed since our boys first played t-ball and were Tiger Cubs together.  We’ve sat together at ballgames (I can’t count the number), gone on scout camp-outs, and shared vacations together even now that our boys are grown.  I will miss them most of all when we hit the road, but I expect that they will come visit us and share our adventures with us.  We enjoy getting together for dinner regularly and we are always the loudest group in the place – and we don’t use alcohol to fuel our fun!  We help each other, laugh and cry together, and know that any of us could call on each other in a time of need.  Friday night we went to Outback for a delicious dinner and then – when Outback didn’t have the desserts we wanted – traveled two miles down the road to Friendly’s where we closed the place down.

I am so grateful for these friends in my life.  They make my life better, richer, more fun.  They are rocks who help me roll with life’s punches.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12