Wisdom and Abiding Friendship
By Gary Dollar
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7)
It was fall of 1989, near the end of my life, that I met Wyndham. My family and I were stationed at Fort Devens in Ayer Massachusetts. I was a career soldier enlisting in the Army in 1975, and over the past 14 years, I had become severely addicted to alcohol. My attempts at sobriety for the 10 years leading up to then were futile, including a treatment program at one of the best inpatient centers in the country. I had become hopeless, emotionally hollow, and suicidal. Somehow, I was still alive but my internal organs ached. I was dying.
Even though I was reaping what I sowed and getting what I deserved, my wife Susan, my son Aaron, and my daughter Andrea were innocents and never should have experienced the hell I introduced into their lives…
- Physical and emotional abuse
- Fits of rage
- Legal separations and consistent threats of divorce
- Broken promises to change creating optimism followed by heartbreak
- Kids living fatherless for much of their adolescent lives
- Susan living husbandless, in fear and loneliness
- Hypocrisy – this “man” of the house was a respected and well-liked police officer during all of the insanity, and consequently, they were forced to live the lie outside the home as a happy and healthy family.
Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas this September with a vengeance. It caused 53 deaths and over 16 billion dollars in damages. It made landfall bringing sustained winds of over 140 mph and overwhelming floods. Those who ignored advice to get out but survived the onslaught were comforted when Florence passed over and continued on her way. But they were oblivious to the devastation until they wandered outside. It will take months, and more likely years, to rebuild—and even so things will never be the same.
In the last half of 1989, Susan and I were introduced to Jesus and became disciples. (Apparently, nothing is impossible with God.) Repentance produced a time of refreshing for the entire family. My external changes were obvious. I stopped drinking and smoking as well as using “Army dialect,” and Susan learned to find peace in God and gain trust in her Father to protect her. The storm that presented our most immediate threats had passed over. But, it was the deep-rooted devastation to our hearts and minds that presented the biggest risk to our future physical and spiritual lives.
Eight weeks after our conversion we were deployed to Germany. Even though I told my new brothers, that “I was all set,” they insisted that Susan and I spend some time with the Shaws for some marriage discipling time before departing. That was the first time we met Wyndham. He was nothing like we expected. We anticipated a stodgy, un-relatable priest-like man who would let us talk for a while and send us on our way with some superficial advice. But he was nothing like we expected. He was unpretentious and kind, and not only opened his home to us but also his heart—much like a loving father. We knew he was a “safe place” He was extremely compassionate and never gave a hint of condescension, arrogance, or superiority. That day Susan and I confessed sin, cried, shared things from our past that we had kept secret for years. He was open with his life and masterfully handled the scriptures laying the Biblical foundation for Godly marriage. I left his house that day knowing that I had a real friend. While serving in Germany the Shaws would always schedule time with us during the European Missions Conference in spite of the huge roles and responsibilities they had at those events. Each time we met, no matter how long the separation, they treated us like we were together the day before and were always concerned with the progress of our marriage, asking Susan how things were going. I’m not sure why they didn’t ask me…
Sadly, over the years, there have been times when I allowed my past life to resurface. These were some of my darkest moments that at times would cause me in shame to turn my back on God, in some cases for a long time. Wyndham frequently reached out to me and let me know he was praying for me. And the few times where the situation would become desperate—in love, he fearlessly came to my side to encourage and call me back to God. It was those times that led me to repentance, and back to the church family.
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)
God, in his providence, brought us back to Fort Devens from Germany. I have since retired from the army, moved to a neighboring town near the Shaws, gained further education, entered the civilian workforce, and recently retired. Wyndham and I became the best of friends through all these times. No man has done more to save my marriage, my life, and ultimately my soul. His carrying me through the hard times has created a bond between us that will last into eternity. I am so thankful to God that he determined for me this appointed time in history at this exact place.
There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 RSV)