Friday, January 4, 2013

A Beautiful Life

It's been a pretty long time since I welcomed the New Year in saying 'Good-Bye' to someone. The last time was 1987 when my paternal grandmother died.

This time it is a very dear friend.

Clyde was one of my most trusted associate ministers when I was a pastor. He encouraged me, respectfully challenged me (although there were times it didn't seem that way!). He protected me and consoled me. We were nearly alter egos. Clyde's courageous life struggles were impressive. He battled addiction. He battled staggering health problems, most of which stemmed from addiction. He battled demons associated with his upbringing that were many times the source of relapse and loss of material security that many of us take for granted. But he did battle and he did so in ways that always made be proud to be his pastor and his friend.

Clyde was a diabetic, he had sclerosis of the liver, heart disease, he was on dialysis and high blood pressure - and those were the things I knew about! Yet, in the church he joined in 2011, Clyde led a prison ministry in which he not only preached in Texas prisons, but he literally reorganized the coalition of churches, recruited new members and re-engaged members who had fallen away. He inspired them all with his commitment, his passion and his love for God.
This was a volunteer position, but Clyde worked at it as if he was a full time paid staff member.

And he would sometimes complain about the workload - while loving every second of it!

Clyde came to the church I served as pastor, fresh out of jail. He first attended Bible study for several weeks. He came by later and talked with me about his experiences. Clyde had been a drug dealer, a drug user and a pimp. He had spent time in prison. But he wanted to turn his life around and he wanted to join our church.

When Clyde joined he was a faithful church member, before he announced his call to the ministry. With very little formal education, he had an unsettling, almost eerie understanding of God's Word. He also had an uncanny understanding of human nature. He was almost always right in sizing up people. But he was amazingly compassionate. Because of his life in the streets, he knew many of the people who would come by asking for assistance. Clyde got many of them to attend church and his sensitivity toward them meant that he would keep up with them throughout the week.

Clyde could be abrupt. He could sometimes be almost profane. He didn't suffer fools gladly. And he was fiercely loyal. He didn't have the best relationship with his mother. But when she grew ill, Clyde cared for her with a tenderness that was almost breathtaking. His grandfather died shortly thereafter and, again, Clyde cared for him before he died. Both incidents took a spiritual and physical toll on him to which most of us could hardly relate. The church in many respects had to care for him afterwards. And yet, in spite of his brusqueness, members of the church grew to love and appreciate him in a way that only made me grow in my admiration for them!

Clyde, had limited formal education, as I mentioned, but he worked at preaching. He read everything he could get his hands on that he thought would help him become a better preacher. He listened to preaching. He went to hear preachers and studied the preachers he listened to. And in he rapidly became a preacher that people loved to listen to because he preached in a relational style that made the congregation feel as if he was one of them engaged in a battle, but not battling on his own. If he could continue to fight his past and work his present and still remain hopeful for his future, so could they.

He taught Bible Study. He led in evangelism and worked with the men of the church. And he was faithful and supportive in every area.

He was close to my family. He helped my children get through some difficult periods in their lives with his presence and his advice. In the past year since my step-father's death, he even called MY mother every week just to see how she was doing!

Clyde was at home in our home, for dinner, or to talk. We talked regularly and I loved getting a chance to hear from him and see him. The last time he was at our house was November 6th. He had his girlfriend (a beautiful and most improbable relationship with a wonderful woman I've known since we were both children. A relationship which, believe it or not lasted 20 years!) came over for dinner and to watch the election returns. I knew each time I saw him, that he would never really get well. But I always thought he would be around longer.

We talked last, when I was on my way back from Austin. He told me about the last medical problems he was having and that he had an appointment with the doctor to see how they could resolve it. Clyde went into the hospital that Thursday and never came home. He died on December 29.

I'll miss Clyde. We don't get a chance to have many relationships that special. There were more than a few members who never understood how we, with our different backgrounds and upbringings, could be so close. We never talked about it. We just loved and trusted one another. He is one of the people I think about, when I hear others speak disparagingly about the inability of people to change. Or how people from South Dallas, don't want any better or can never be any different. The Clyde's of our world aren't really rare. We just don't take the time to know their story.

Saturday morning I'll be preaching my friend's funeral. It'll take the same type of strength it took to preach the funerals of my son, my father and my step-father. I'm not worried. That is the type of strength that shows up when you need it.

Right now, I'm just grateful to God, that He gave me the chance to be a part of such a beautiful life!

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