Tag Archives: Friend

Profound Impact. Memories of a Mentor.

In the early hours this past Monday morning my friend Chuck finished his earthly journey. Chuck had a profound impact on my life and I can safely say that I have been forever changed by his influence over the past 35 years. He was an employer, teacher, mentor, counselor, benefactor, and friend. Our relationship serves as an example of how much one person can influence another, and God has taught me innumerable lessons through it.

I met Chuck when I was 15. I had been cast in a role of Heartland Productions film, Face in the Mirror, and Chuck was an executive for the company in the marketing department. Chuck was gifted by God with a particular charisma that drew people to him and I’ve always marveled at it. I still remember seeing him on the set and wanting to know who he was. Eventually we met and I was surprised when he seemed to take a particular interest in me. I had just made a decision to follow Jesus earlier that year and Chuck wanted to learn more about my story. We made plans to meet and talk.

When the film was released, Chuck asked me to help with a few marketing efforts. That led to him offering me an after school job cleaning and repairing 35mm films, which then led to him asking if I’d like to do a weekly bible study at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday mornings in his office. For two years Chuck taught me to study God’s Message, to memorize it, and he instilled in me an appreciation for spiritual discipline. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t write my chapter-a-day blog posts if it weren’t for Chuck planting the seeds of spiritual discipline in me on those early Tuesday mornings back in the early 1980s.

One of the other lessons that came from our relationship in those early years was not one I believe Chuck necessarily intended. Our strengths have their corollary weaknesses and, despite a protege’s penchant for placing mentors on a pedestal,  I learned over time that Chuck was a driver. He had his own ideas about that paths I should take in life. He pushed me in multiple ways. He pushed hard. In fact, Chuck once confessed to me that he’d thought he’d pushed me harder than any one he’d ever mentored. Things broke.

For a number of years Chuck and I did not communicate. I went to college, got married, and had children. It had been about six years when I made contact with Chuck again. We got together and talked about our falling out and the years of silence between us. We admitted our mutual failings, expressed our mutual forgiveness and our relationship resumed.

It was a year or so later that I found myself suddenly in need of a job. When Chuck learned of this he asked to meet with me immediately. Years earlier he’d left the production company where he worked during my high school years. He and his wife, Charleen, started a management consulting firm under their name, c wenger group. Chuck said he thought he might have full time work for me in 6-12 months. He promised me that if I would take a step of faith to start with them part time, he  would commit to trying to build an opportunity for me with the group. I took the step of faith. Things moved even faster than expected. Within just a month or two there was plenty of work for me to do. That was 21 years ago.

I entered a new phase of Chuck’s mentoring. This time it was not as a young spiritual sojourner but as a young businessman. The group was small at that point. In those early years our semi-monthly staff meetings were at the Wenger’s kitchen table with Chuck, Charleen, Scott (a fellow colleague from the Heartland Production days, who had already been working with the group for a few years), and me. Chuck and I traveled together on business a lot in those early years. We worked together, served together, and prayed together. We spent countless hours together on the road. The group grew and Chuck journeyed beside me and continued to mentor me during those tumultuous years when a young man confronts his demons and learns what it means to be a man.

Scott Tom Chuck in Israel - 1

It wasn’t all work. Chuck, Scott and I also served at BSF together. We sailed Lake Superior together with our colleagues. The three of us journeyed to Israel together. Chuck and I spent time together at his place in Florida, and I have so many fond memories of late nights on his deck overlooking the Intercostal waterway enjoying good wine, great cigars, laughter, and conversation that was enjoyable, challenging and inspiring.

The journey was not without its share of challenges. One of the greatest lessons I took from our relationship over the years was the perseverance required through life’s ups and downs. When you do business on a daily basis with another person it tends to reveal both strengths and blind spots, sometimes in unexpected ways. Chuck and I had strong similarities and marked disparities. We often brought out the best in each other and at times struggled intensely with each other’s weaknesses. Yet there was always between us love, admiration and appreciation built on our mutual faith in and devotion to Jesus.

Charleen died in the late 1990s, and Chuck chose to retire at the end of 2004. Scott and I took over as owners of c wenger group in January 2005. Chuck remained on as Chairman of our advisory board and continued to provide wise counsel to the end. I feel perpetually honored that Scott and I were entrusted with leading the company he and Char began.

Each of our life journeys are affected by others. A few years ago I took the time to recount all of the ways Chuck made a profound impact on my life. I thanked Chuck for each one. This week, as I process my own grief at his passing, I find myself recounting all of them again, and thanking God for each one, and for Chuck. I hope that I influence a few lives a just a fraction of the ways Chuck influenced mine.

No Friend of Mine

friends notMy relatives have gone away;
    my closest friends have forgotten me.
Job 19:14 (NIV)

Job’s frustration with his three ash heap companions is growing. I had to laugh when I came across Job’s statement “my closest friends have forgotten me.” What about the three friends who have sitting there with him and having this conversation? So, what was Job’s intention with this comment?

He could be implying that after hearing their words and arguments the three compatriots are no longer considered close friends. After spewing their self-centered diatribes of judgement, Job finally sees their hearts and motives with clarity. He recognizes that they are really not his friends. Their status has been lowered.

Job might also be making the point that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have never been considered close friends. If true, then it tells me something about the three of them. The three amigos feel some self-righteous compulsion to visit a suffering man they hardly even know and convict him of his sin. As the old saying goes, “with friends like that, you’ll never need enemies.”

Either way, we continue to see that Job feels increasingly distant from his companions. He claims that even if they were correct that he harbored some secret sin, it was none of their business:

If it is true that I have gone astray,
    my error remains my concern alone.

I see a foreshadowing of the showdown to come between Job and God.

I Wonder if Love Isn’t the Best Defense

Superman Band-AidOh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Job 11:5-6a (NIV)

I remember a young man with whom I went to school. It was the 1980s. While most of us were accenting our permed mullets with parachute pants and Forenza sweaters as we carried our Jansport backpacks to class, this well cropped young man was wearing a three piece suit and carrying his Samsonite briefcase. He was a firebrand. Always speaking from a well entrenched position of know-it-all-ness, he seemed to have assumed the role of God’s attorney. His truth was God’s truth and he was ready to make his case whether you wanted to hear it or not.

I thought of my classmate this morning as I read the treatise of Job’s third friend, Zophar, who finally speaks up. He’s heard Eliphaz and Bildad have a go at Job, and he’s heard Job’s responses. Zo’s soliloquy starts off like a boiling pot blowing its top. Zo seems to feel the need to defend God from Job’s word. Like my friend from school, he takes on the role of God’s attorney, speaking on behalf of the Almighty.

What I find most interesting in Zophar’s message is that he is at once chastising Job for assuming he knows the mind of God and making the same assumptions about Job. Like his other two amigos, Zo speaks from an assumptive position of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Job has done something sinful to deserve God’s wrath and punishment.

I have to be honest. When I ponder Job’s friends, I not only think of my briefcase toting friend, but I also see shades of myself 30 years ago. The further I get in my own personal life journey the less passionate I feel about defending God with my words and the more passionate I feel about simply representing Him with my loving actions. Zophar asks Job if he thinks he can fathom the mysteries of God, and I am increasingly comfortable with the fact that I cannot.

This morning, I’m thinking about what I would do or say if I were one of Job’s friends, sitting with my buddy on the ash heap. The truth is, I’m not sure I would try to make sense of it. I would tell Job I love him. I’d admit that I don’t get it either, and I would apologize that I don’t have any answers. Then, I’d ask if there’s anything I can get him to ease his suffering. A cup of cold water, perhaps. Some Superman Band-Aids for those sores? Maybe telling a bad joke or two in an effort to coax a smile. It still falls short of meeting the depth of Job’s need, but I feel like it comes closer than what I’ve seen from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

Top Five Things I Loved About Dottie

2009 Awards Night (71)

Note: I wrote this post this past Friday and then realized that it was probably what I should share at her Celebration of Life service which was held last night. I refrained from publishing it until after I read it there.

My friend, Dottie, died this week. After fighting and surviving two battles with cancer, her heart failed her unexpectedly. I find that ironic because, in my experience, Dottie’s heart never failed anyone who knew her.

I first met Dottie in 2004 when I was cast as the gruff and somewhat foul-mouthed Captain Brackett in the musical South Pacific. I met Dottie as she worked in the Costume Shop helping get me costumed for the show.I cannot claim to have been particularly close friend, but she was a friend, and she was dear to us all. We were both part of the theatre and arts community. Having been president of the local community theatre for the better part of a decade, I worked with Dottie and helped oversee the costume shop that she founded and managed. When she first learned of her struggle with cancer, Dottie came over to our house, sat on our couch and told us; She, Wendy and I cried together. Today, she is absent in body while Wendy and I continue to cry.

The top five things I loved about Dottie:

  1. She did what she loved, and she loved what she did. Dottie loved costuming. It was her passion, and she followed that passion. When our community theatre began a decade ago, Dottie started storing costumes in her attic. Within a few years her attic was overflowing and the community theatre decided to rent space and start a costume shop. Dottie managed and ran the costume shop, pretty much single handedly, for years. She didn’t do it for riches or fame or notoriety. She did it because she loved it and it made her happy. More of us need to follow that example.
  2. She laughed…alot. Perhaps it’s because she was always doing what she loved that she almost always had a smile on her face and was constantly laughing – even through her tears. I loved her laughter and the way she made me laugh.
  3. She threw a mean Christmas party. Many people throw parties. Few people throw them well. Dottie and Mike’s Christmas parties were legend. Wendy and I often could not attend because of conflicts (especially with performance nights), but I will always remember the warmth of her home, the quality of the spread, and the joy of the host.
  4. She was courageous. Dottie feared cancer. After defeating it once, she feared its return. When it did return, she feared the second battle. She defeated it a second time. It is said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to do what needs to be done in spite of it. Dottie found her strength in the midst of her fear. I admired her for that.
  5. Love. Anyone who is around the theatrical community for any length of time knows what a dysfunctional lot we can be. It’s no more dysfunctional than any other gathering of flawed human beings, we just have the ability and training to be capably dramatic about it all. Dottie, like all of us, experienced her share of conflicts. I was a witness to a few of them, yet I never witnessed Dottie holding a grudge. I never observed her being unkind, rude or mean. I did see her being forgiving and kind to individuals who had not been particularly kind to her. I witnessed her love for Mike. I watched her selflessly and capably raise her granddaughter. I observed her being a good friend, and I had the privilege to experience a little taste of that myself.

The last time I saw Dottie was as she exited one of the performances of my play Ham Buns and Potato Salad this past month. She was laughing, which was no surprise. One of the lines in the play which Dottie loved most of all was when one character says, “That boy is so dumb he has to get naked to count to 21.” Dottie came up to me and simply said, “Twenty-one” and continued laughing. She then whispered “I can’t believe you wrote that!”

Dottie knew that I was a person of faith. And, while I am a follower of Jesus, I am no prude and will give true and authentic voice to the characters I portray and pen as an actor and playwright, even if the words they say may not necessarily be the words I would choose to come out of my own mouth. Having said that, please know that I do not have to channel Captain Brackett from South Pacific in order to say what I know to be true: Dottie was one helluva dame, and my life is better for having her in it.

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Whole, Free, & Leaping with Joy

With Sherman Van Zee in USP's "Christmas Post" 2006
With Sherman Van Zee in USP’s “Christmas Post” 2006

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” Malachi 4:2 (NLT)

It’s always a shock to find out first thing in the morning that a friend has died unexpectedly. I was blessed to share the stage with our friend Sherm and to direct him. He was a sweet spirit and a gentle soul. He was a fellow wayfarer, following Jesus. He shared with us some of his story, and much of it was filled with sadness and many trials. Yet, whenever I worked with or spent time with him he was full of joy.

I read this verse from the prophet Malachi this morning, and was reminded of Sherman. His journey through this earthly life ended this week, but the Sun of Righteousness has just risen at his homecoming. The scars on his soul are healed. I am encouraged to think of him whole, free, and leaping with joy.

We All Need to Be Strengthened

Giorgio Vasari: An angel strengthens Jesus pra...
Giorgio Vasari: An angel strengthens Jesus praying in agony in Gethsemane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strengthen the man you love,
the son of your choice.
Psalm 80:17 (NLT)

As I sat down to my quiet time this morning, my computer still had up on the screen the post I wrote last night about attending our friend’s Little League game. As a result, while I read the chapter this morning my brain was still thinking about it. Forgive me if I add one more word picture from the experience.

While we watched the game, one young man just wasn’t sure if he really wanted to step up to bat and have that ball flying straight at him. His parents each had to get down to his level and give him a good talking to. The boy finally got up there and gave it a try Parents encouraging their kid to get in there and do his best.

Everyone needs to be strengthened from time to time. Even Jesus, the night before He would be nailed to a cross, found Himself discouraged and despairing to the point of sweating blood. According to Luke’s account, angels were dispatched to strengthen Jesus as He prayed to His heavenly father in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Everyone needs to be strengthened from time to time. We need to be strengthened as a child to step out of our comfort zone and doing things that will be good for us. We need to be strengthened by teachers and coaches in school. I need to be strengthened by my buddies who have the common experiences of being a man and can identify with the struggle. I need to be strengthened by my wife who knows my most intimate insecurities and will speak into my heart like only a woman and soulmate can.

Wise King Solomon said, “woe to him who falls down and has no one to help him up.” Today, I’m thankful for all of those who along the journey have strengthened me when I needed it.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

Speaking of “buddying up” and having good companions for the sojourn: K is for Kevin. Kev and I started our chapter-a-day journey almost ten years ago, and the dude is still walking it with me. In what was one of the darkest moments of my journey to date, it was Kevin who called to say “I’ve got your back.” I’ll forever be grateful for that moment, and countless others we’ve shared on the journey together.