And a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 The picture you are looking at is of a friend of mine, Mike Beckman. Mike is a decorated U.S. Navy veteran. He came into contact with Agent Orange while serving as an equiptment operator with a Navy Construction Batallion (Seabees) at the end of the Vietnam War. As a result of this he developed a rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Jesus Christ said that the greatest love one can show is friendship. ” No greater love has anyone than this: That he lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13. I think that Mike, better than the rest of us, has a real sense of the cost of laying down your life for your friends. And, in the few hours I spent with him a couple of weeks ago, he taught me volumes about true friendship. Not with words however, but by the way he lives his life. You see, much to my shame, Mike has always been a much better friend to me than I have to him. And yet when I arrived at his house, they had a big cookout going with all his kids and grandkids. Inlaws and outlaws as they say. Another old friend of mine was there. His name is Mark Statt. He’s the outlaw. (It’s an inside joke. You’d have to hear the stories from our teen years) They made me feel like a returning hero. After hugging everyone I went out to the front yard and cried. Even now the memory brings tears to my eyes.
This is a long story so you might want to stop and get a cup of coffee before you go on reading.
What you don’t know is that I’ve pretty much ignored these guys for twenty or so years. Even though we were all very close at one time. We spent all of our “wild and reckless” years together. We all join different branches of the Armed Forces. Got married and had kids and grandkids and stuff. I took a very different path from them after my first marrage fell apart. I moved away and began a very ernest and sincere search for God. My life had become a dead end and I was terrified of where that was leading. God heard my cries and rescued me from the pit of dispair that was quickly devouring me. He gave me a new life and joined me to others just like me. No more lonliness, no more fear. Twenty years went by and I had little or no contact with Mike or Mark. My fault.
Mike however, continued his military career, including serving in the first Gulf War and literally risking life and limb over and over again. He worked as an aircraft crew chief on an aircraft carrier. Very dangerous job, with a short life expectancy. Then, after twelve years or so, he left the Navy with a tidy sum of money in his pocket and settled down to civilian life with his wife and kids. All during this time he kept track of me through my mom. He knew where I was and what I was doing. I did not reciprocate. After all he was “worldly” and I was… well I guess you could say that I had developed a keen sense of spiritual pride. Needless to say all this came home to me at that cookout. All those people running to me and hugging me.. I wanted to dig a hole and hide. Not that I ashamed of the life that God has given to me, I’m not. This is the most wonderful life one could ask for. But no one was saying “Where the heck have you been?” or “Did you forget how to write?” like I was expecting. Just…,”Man, it is so good to see you again!”…… Friends, go figure.
I had not planned to go see Mike, or Mark for that matter. I was going to take my mom to northern Ohio to see her nieces and nephews who were having reunion of sorts. One day I got it in my head to stop and see Mike on the way. I knew from talking with my mom that he was very, very sick. I guess I was feeling bad that I hadn’t kept up with him. I also felt like I might not get another chance like this to see him. Man, am I glad that Idid.
My first impression of Mike was how frail he is. When I hugged him he said, “Not too hard brother.”( We grew up hugging each other and we always hugged like we meant it.) He uses a cane to walk. Which is what you would expect of a guy who looks as old as he does. Except he’s only 53 or 54. A year younger than I am. His hair has fallen out..twice. So have his fingernails. So did his teeth. They didn’t grow back, but thankfully his hair did and so did his nails.His beard and eyebrows haven’t grown back either. His hair was black and curly. He wore a mustache. He looked hispanic. His hair is now very thin and reddish gray in color.
However, he is a very greatful man, and a very humble man. He is thankful for every day he gets to live. He is greatful for his family and friends. He and his wife Nita are very hospitable people. Warm and genuine, real, and rough as a cobb. I’m absolutely certain they don’t mind that discription. I know they’ll read this so I won’t say anything to you I wouldn’t say to them. And I can say anything to them. I can’t always do that with some of my “Christian” friends and thats a shame. A shame on my part as well as theirs.
One incident I wanted to mention that illustrates the caliber of man my friend Mike is happened when we were in a grocery store. There was an old woman in a wheel chair in front of us at the checkout counter. She started to get out of the chair to bag her groceries. Suddenly Mike blurts out,” Isn’t anyone going to help this woman?! I guess no one cares whether she has to bag her own groceries or not. This irritates the hell out of me about people!”. (There were other colorful explitives in that delivery. But for the sake of other peoples conscience I’ll leave them out.) By the way, you might do some soul searching about why the word usage is more important than the fact that no one was helping the lady in the wheelchair, in some “Christian” circles. I just stood there in shock. You should have seen the look on peoples faces. But brother let me tell you she got help. The sad thing was a good “Christian” brother like me didn’t say all that, or be the first to help. Once again, I felt ashamed of my lack of love.
The greatest thing I learned during my visit with Mike and Nita Beckman is simply this. Friendship isn’t about how many friends you have, but about what kind of friend you are. Do you love I all times? Do I do something for/with my friends even though its not particularly fun for me? I can tell you this: I wouldn’t have made it through twenty odd years of trying to follow Christ without my friends here in Rose Creek Village.
I’ve always found it amazing that friendship has always carried with it that special power to overcome many hardships and rough times. David told Jonathan that his love was better than the love of a woman. David’s friends and fellow solders risked their lives to get him a drink of water when he was thirsty. They were warriors who fought together and had faced many hardships and difficult times together. I’m sure they also shared many a laugh and cup of wine at the camp fire over the years.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus was a friend before he was a savior. Mother Teresa said the poverty of the U.S. was worse than the poverty of India.She said,” It is the poverty of lonliness that plagues the people of America.” To many little old ladies that bag their own groceries because folks have lost their “friendliness”.
Perhaps I’ll make another trip to my friend’s house in Cincinnati, Ohio soon. Maybe at thanksgiving time. Yes, maybe at Thanksgiving. Because,I’m very thankful for my friends. We all need friends, friends like Mike and Nita Beckman, who out of a sense of charity may entertain angels unaware.
I write this post in honor of my good friend and dear brother Michael Howard Beckman. I don’t want to say all this after he is gone. I want to honor him now while I can still tell him how much I love him.