An open letter to a friend I have known for 14 years who is coming up on his first wedding anniversary on December 6, 2015. I had the privilege of watching his wedding in the Pabst Brewery in December 2014. Watching his wedding was one of the greatest joys of my life. The reasons I explain in this letter. This is a letter thanking Joe for his friendship and fellowship and recounting a friendship through a tough season in 2001, and watching him grow into the man he is today.
“The sincere friends of this world are as ship lights in the stormiest of nights.”
Giotto di Bondone
“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”
Teddy Roosevelt on his time in North Dakota
“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”
Proverbs 17:17 NLT
This has been on my list of things to do for some time. The other day I noticed on my Facebook feed that it is your birthday. Plus I realized you are coming up on your first anniversary of being married. It’s with that in mind that I want to write you this letter. This will be personal and emotional as I try to recall the first time I met you in 2000/2001 and retrace things to today. I moved from California to attend Marquette in Milwaukee, and I threw myself into life. That was when Marquette Cru only had 5 people…four girls and me. 🙂 I was the only guy who was planting a Cru chapter at Marquette. In the course of time Jason from University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee called me. I still remember this call. He asked if I could work with someone at UWM and get to know them and help them out. I was like, “Okay… I could do that.” If I remember Joe I think you called me first. I arranged to drive by your house and pick you up. I still recall driving down 27th street in my Honda over the Menominee Valley to your parents house. When I pulled up in front of the house you popped out and got in the car. Tall, wiry and going a million miles an hour. Joe in the early times I knew you it was difficult. I struggled with your emotions, and found you to be draining. When I disengaged from you from an event I was overwhelmed and felt mentally exhausted. I didn’t know what to do. I remember your mother called me to ask if Campus Crusade was a cult. That was an interesting phone call and I tried to explain to your Mom that it is not. I could see why some people could think that but I tried to reassure her in that conversation. I realized as time went on that things can’t continue the way the were. The relationship wasn’t healthy, I need to establish some boundaries and decided to do so with you one day in an Applebees in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on the south side of Milwaukee. Remember I said you can order anything, and you were like “Oh boy…” and well you did place an order. I recall thinking to myself, especially as a teller at Firstar Bank, as well as grad student, “How am I going to afford all this?” The point of that evening and meal was to place some boundaries. Over dinner I told you that things can’t continue like they were if I recall. Without getting into all the details I encouraged you to seek some assistance. I also requested as long as you were like this to not contact me. I remember during the meal you peeled away a couple of times to the bathroom. I waited for a while and I went to the door and opened it and I heard you weeping. I felt awful but I needed to put boundaries on you as the relationship was not healthy. After that dinner I dropped you off and reminded you of the conversation as I recall. And that was it.
Sometime after that you did a summer project through Campus Crusade to Medora, North Dakota. You wanted to evangelize the prairie dogs in the Rough Rider state. I don’t know how much you know about Teddy Roosevelt Joe. I don’t know if you aware of the circumstances of what led Teddy Roosevelt to North Dakota. On February 14, 1884 on the fourth anniversary of his engagement to his wife Alice she died shortly after giving birth. Shortly before his wife’s death his mother Mittie passed away. To lose his mother and wife on the same day devastated Roosevelt. In his journal entry Teddy wrote, “the light has gone out of my life.” If you would like to read the entire story you can do so here. This book by Edmund Morris is considered the go to biography. At Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City Roosevelt looked devastated to see his wife and mother lying in a coffin. Roosevelt withdrew in grief and headed to the Dakota territory to find a way forward in life. It was in North Dakota that he found himself again. This is one of the many quotes that Roosevelt said about the great state. “Nothing could be more lonely and nothing more beautiful than the view at nightfall across the prairies to these huge hill masses, when the lengthening shadows had at last merged into one and the faint after-glow of the red sunset filled the west.” I write all this to say that Teddy Roosevelt is not the only one who found himself in North Dakota. You did the same thing when you headed out there on a Cru mission. You grew profoundly, you matured, wised up considerably and bloomed. When you came back I heard about it and heard some amazing stuff. Jason encouraged me to re-engage you and I decided to do so. After all I wanted to encourage this growth and get to know you. I remember that first phone call after that long period of silence and you realized it was okay to contact me, and I was perfectly happy to hear from you. We both became members of Wooded Hills Bible Church and we each worked in Crusade..I did Marquette and you led University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. From time to time we did stuff, I recall when you wanted to see the Rookie. I also recall when we went to the Firstar Fireworks display over Lake Michigan with several other people if I remember correctly. Then there were all the Crusade activities, the retreats, the conferences, etc.. What made many of them special was chilling with you, Erick, and so many others. I have a lot of good memories from those events. When I graduated from Marquette you and Jen showed up. You made a big impression on my Mom, who liked you and thought highly of you. You and a guy I know from Kansas named James Crestwood made a deep impression on my Mom and from time to time she would ask about you.
In the course of time life pulled me to Washington, D.C. I honestly had some mixed feelings about going but publically I was excited. One of the hardest things would be leaving the community of people like you, Zach, Erick and others. One of the last things we did together was go see Steven Curtis Chapman if I remember correctly. At Wooded Hills they prayed for me and sent me off at my final service in March of 2005. You showed up. And with that we kept in touch by phone. Over the next several years I would hear about your attempts at finding that right female. I remember the differing times you would call me up and tell me about it. I saw you deal with all that through the highs and lows. You were one of the many people who came out here and visited me. I drove you up to Philadelphia at your request and enjoyed chilling with you. Then the one thing that saddened me was the loss of your father and how he passed away. I’m sorry Joe. I wish there was a way I could have prevented that from happening the way it did.
While you thrived in Milwaukee I had a prolonged and major faith crisis out here in D.C.. There are no words to describe what it felt like. Probably the only way to describe it was it felt like the ground below me collapsed and everything came crashing down. I was so overwhelmed with doubt and had to contend with the tables being turned. What do you do? After all this wasn’t supposed to happen? Many people didn’t understand what was happening, and I was both nervous, afraid and angry. The most difficult aspect as things were falling apart is knowing that I did everything I was supposed to do…and it still fell apart. I severed ties with nearly every person we both knew in Wisconsin. In the end I severed ties with 95% of the people I knew as most of my life was in the evangelical church. However you were one of the people I kept in touch with infrequently. Out here in DC I befriended a co-worker named Andrew White. Andrew by the way is a pseudo name. Andrew was involved in a highly controversial organization called Sovereign Grace. He placed incredible pressure on me to get involved in a church called Redeemer Arlington. Andrew had drunk from the well of fundamentalists like Mark Driscoll and John Piper. He called Sovereign Grace healthy. When I looked into the organization I couldn’t believe what I was discovering….blogs, webpages, and red flags. I read about child sex abuse cover up, the shepherding movement, people calling it a cult, and story after story of divided and destroyed families. In the course of time as my faith crisis worsened I posted questions about Sovereign Grace and Redeemer Arlington in blogs like SGM Survivors. What surprised me is the number of people who warned me to stay away and who claimed it was a cult. I even had people who personally reached out to me who cautioned me on the organization. I needed help I mostly didn’t need Sovereign Grace and the pressure I was under. This letter is really to you so I am not going to dwell too much on these problems related to Neo-Calvinism, Sovereign Grace and other issues here. What did happen is that I stayed away from Sovereign Grace. The cost was high as Andrew gave birth to a false accusation that took name at my name, my livelihood and my character. Andrew thrust me into the darkest season of my life and while I tried to pick up the pieces of my life, Andrew turned around and started to recruit another co-worker to Redeemer Arlington. I’ve seen a lot in my life…from atheism, to Mormonism, to differing sides of Christianity, and I have never seen anything like this before. I don’t know if I am shunned, Sovereign Grace is notorious for shunning, as it embraced the shepherding movement. Anyhow the point is I hit bottom. I experienced a betrayal that was horrific. Just dragging myself out of bed during this time was difficult. Every time I heard one word – what I was falsely accused of – I would cry or shake at the gym, bar, or grocery store. I had no idea what was happening to me. I wondered then, and still today why parts of Christianity in the United State are so painful, and often so toxic? As I tried to recalibrate my life I also realized that I made a number of mistakes as well. I drank too much Christopher Hitchens Kool-Aid during my faith crisis. In the course of time I set out to repair, seek forgiveness and work things out with everyone you knew in Wisconsin. I remember the time Joe when you called me and I told you what I was doing and your reaction was like, “Wow…that’s impressive!” All I wanted to do was help bring peace, own my part of the mess and find a way forward. It was something that I needed to do. I wanted to do the right thing.
In the summer of 2013 I had another bacterial infection which put me into the hospital. Even from a hospital bed I was working the phone and working things out with people. I remember you called me Joe, and there were two things that you spoke about. When you heard about what Andrew White did you opened up and you shared about a false accusation you endured. How it shook you up, and how it affected your job. You also told me that on the last day the person who made the false accusation came to you and said they were sorry. You were one of several people who told me a story like this and you also encouraged me in relating to me during this dark season of my life. However in hearing this kind of story I was privately encouraged that one day Andrew would do the same thing. That he would say, “Eagle, let’s talk” and open up and hear some heartfelt repentance. The other thing I remember is that you had told me about a new person you had met. You’re demeanor and the way you spoke about this person was very different than other people. And as I listened to you speak I knew deep down in my gut that you had met the person who would become your wife. It was a feeling I had, I knew you well enough to know that this was different. With that I looked forward to hear what would happen. I didn’t want to say that publically but privately that is what I believed.
Then there is the time you texted me and played a game asking me to guess the big news. With that you told me that you were engaged. I still remember the talk with you on the phone and you telling me how it all came about. I was up in Beltsville, Maryland when you told me that news. I actually grabbed dinner in a Potbelly Sandwich shop and cried in thinking of the situation. Here’s what was neat. There are many people I want to see go far in life, and you are one of them. To know what was happening is amazing and it’s something that I wanted to see, because I thought you’d make a great husband, and Dad one day. Plus you are just one of those nice guys that I like to see have things fall together in life. With a wedding date, I knew I had to be in Milwaukee for this. After all having known you for 15 years how could I not be there? One other quick thing you did…on the day I had weight loss surgery you were one of the first people who texted me and wished me luck and encouraged me. That meant a lot to me as I was quite scared.
In early December I flew to Milwaukee for your wedding. I wrote about much of it here in reflecting on the experience at the time. I have to tell you that watching your wedding was one of the highlights of my life. It most certainly was one of the most anticipated weddings I looked forward to attending. When I watched your wedding in the Pabst Brewery I reflected on all that happened in your life. From how I first met you, the conversation in Applebees to today. Never in my life have I seen a guy grow so much, or so deeply. It’s been amazing to watch and I look forward to hearing what will happen in the future. Joe you are one of those rare guys that has an amazing heart. I can’t begin to tell you what you have taught me in life. You’ve taught me about grace, love, wisdom, maturity, and friendship. You’ve taught me about grace in how you forgave me when I asked for your forgiveness that one time. You were one the people who knew what I had to do and you encouraged me. In doing so, you exhibited more of what it means to be a man, than many who argue what manhood is. You taught me about love in this context. You showed a lot of love over the years and you did so in the context of how you engaged in Milwaukee or in your communications with me here in Washington, D.C. I find you to be incredibly wise and mature in your behavior and life. I wonder if some of that came about due to work experience or coaching football. I know you are working for your wife’s family business today but I have to say this….I hope one of these days you’ll still coach football. I could see you doing well in it and with your youth I can see you relating to young people quite well. Plus if you ever became a coach for the Badgers I’d privately hope I can get some tickets through knowing you! 😛 You’ve taught me about friendship in this one sense. You engage, and you care. You don’t let boundaries be a distance. You are one of those friends that I want to keep in touch and maintain in life. In the end Joe you taught me so much more that you could possibly imagine.
Getting back to your wedding, your wedding was beautiful. The dinner afterward was nice. Greg’s toast was well done, I know how much you love and care about Greg Marshall. He’s a blessing in my life, I wish I would have gotten to know him better when I lived in Milwaukee. But that has been rectified. Watching you dance with your new wife, and your Mom was just perfect. During the evening I went over and introduced myself to your Mom. Your Mom was like, “Oh you’re that smart guy who lives in Washington, D.C.” I got a chuckle….the truth is I’d trade the lifestyle and culture of Washington, D.C. for Milwaukee in a heartbeat. Your Mom and I discussed a lot during our conversation. I told her I remember speaking with her on the phone long ago, and she laughed. I also expressed my deepest condolences on the loss of her husband. Two other points were made. I told your Mom that your wedding night is probably one of the highlights of your Mom’s life. To see her son get married and witness it meant a lot to her. I told her she must be proud to watch all this transpire, and your Mom told me as to how proud she is of you. She is also proud of your wife and talked about how special she is, which I concurred deeply. Your wife really amazed me. Talking with your Mom was neat, to place a name with a face was extremely special.
Also during the evening I had a chance to speak to your gorgeous wife. I was impressed by both her personality and intellect. She thanked me for coming to the wedding and said you apparently speak about me from time to time. I told her that I hope it’s good things. As I briefly got to engage your wife I walked away really stunned. You are a lucky guy Joe. As the wedding winded down I think I was one of the last people to leave the Pabst Brewery. I think I was there until the last song. The truth is I didn’t want it to end. It was one of the most memorable evenings I can recall, and it was great to catch up with so many people. The following day December 7, I flew back to Washington, D.C. by way of Minneapolis. When the plane landed and was taxing to the terminal my cell phone notified me of two text messages that came from you. The first one referenced the dinner that took place in Applebees 14 years prior and in the message you said “I hope last night’s dinner made up for it.” I laughed on the plane when I read it. The second message you sent thanked me for being involved in your journey through life. I cried on the plane when I read that message.
I have to also write this….there are times in my life but more so recently where I have wondered what would have happened had I not reengaged you after that period of time following that difficult dinner at Applebees? That conversation which was done face to face still remains one of the hardest conversations I did in my life. Yet I often have asked myself…what would have happened had I not reengaged? What would my life have missed? How would my life have an incredible void? How spiritually poor would I be? I wouldn’t have seen you grow and mature. I wouldn’t have seen you get married. I never would have had that privilege of observing your wedding. The man I know I would not know….and that would be a true loss, one of the biggest in my life. Deep down I have to say that as I rebuilt my life here in DC after my faith crisis that prior experience in 2001 or so motivated me deeply. When I reflected upon what happened between us in 2001 Joe it drove me to want to duplicate that with Andrew White and a couple of others. Having experienced that period of life in 2001 and watched what happened I saw when two people work things out in the course of time. You could have something very unique, rare and deep. Something tried by adversity and hardship that is pure. Many people miss this because they only think temporally of the here and now. They don’t think of where things could be 10 or 15 years down the road. They don’t think strategically or long term. I think God wants us to experience situations like this, I think that’s why scripture has a high view of reconciliation. It’s for our benefit in the long run. The frank reality Joe is that after knowing you intimately for 15 years I could write so much about you. But as I wind this down I want to communicate something from the depths of my heart.
On the plane in Minneapolis you thanked me for being involved in your life’s journey and I have to say the same thing. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being the man who you are and giving me the privilege to watch you grow and develop. You’ve taught me so much and my life is rich in many ways. What makes it rich is individuals like you Joe. You have spoken so much into my life I can’t put into words what a privilege it has been to know you. You are one of those rare friends that comes along that I hope I will interact with until my death one day. You have blessed my life with your presence and you continually believe in me when at times I have doubted myself. So thank you…I love you brother. I thank the Lord for getting to know you. I miss you quite a bit. I can’t begin to tell you that I think about you from time to time. There are times I am at work or driving home and I wonder as to what is happening with you. Please keep in touch and don’t ever grow distant. I grew up with two sisters in my family in California. The truth of the matter is that I wished I would have had a brother. I feel like I have one in you Joe. I want you to know that I believe in you and that if you’re life hits a rough spot I have your back as a friend. I’d give a lot for you out of love and grace. With that I am going to sign off and say take care of yourself. One of these days in the near future we have to connect in person. If you ever decide to visit the Washington, D.C. area you are welcome to crash at my place.
I love you brother!
BTW – Do you remember that time in 2002 or 2003 when you saw me at the corner of 16th and Wells St. And you asked (if I remember correctly) if Wells was a two way street and I said it was in a joke, and you started to drive the wrong way, and then realized what happened? Should I have put this on here. 😛