When You Lose A Friend

As a follower of Christ it’s great having friends who you not only enjoy being around, but will tell you hard things. True friendship is when that works in both directions. There are many friendships where it only works one way. You know it’s a good friendship when you can part company after a tough discussion with a big hug and a “love ya man” no matter the conversation.
 
I’m sure you know the kind of friend I’m talking about. It’s one where you can spend hours with that person or in a group of people (which is especially fun) and laugh until you can’t breath. You look forward to your time together. If there’s significant time in between meetings, you can continue on as if it were yesterday.  But the “specialness” of the relationship I’m talking about isn’t just the fun, but those “real” moments that turn serious. Moments when you talk about spiritual things. Eternal things. Family. Personal struggles. sadness, anger and more.
Lee Geysbeek, Chris Geysbeek, Jeremy Fleming, Greg Yoder at Griffins Hockey game (2018).
This friendship is more than words or time together, though. It’s demonstrated. Calling or texting out of the blue asking each other to do something — watch a baseball or hockey game, grill halibut, steaks, or eat our favorite wings and ice cream. Meet for breakfast or coffee. A guy who texts your daughter to tease her and show love for her. When you have that kind of friendship — a trusting deep relationship kind of friendship — you not only value it you crave it.
 
But when your friend’s heart beats for the last time you grieve. You grieve hard. You cry ugly tears (stealing words from my friend Amanda) because you know that kind of friendship can’t ever be replaced. You even get angry wishing you’d said more, hugged more, got together more, laughed more, prayed more, read more and dreamed more because that person isn’t here anymore. You KNOW you’re going to grieve because THAT’S missing. Then you feel guilty because you’re friend’s family seems to have it more together than you do.
 
As a follower of Christ you feel guilty because you’re constantly wishing them back. It’s selfish. It’s NOT what they would want. In past conversations the “shut-up, I’ll be with Jesus” conversation comes to mind and you realize that just about everything we talked about had that common ending — Christ. Being with Christ. Having a relationship with Christ.
 
My friend Lee Geysbeek lost his life to a heart attack on Saturday, December 1, 2018. As I type that, I have to quickly correct it. While he lost his physical life, he gained eternal life with Christ alone.
 
Lee has so many friends. It would be insulting to him or them to say any differently because I believe each one was special to Lee. The only reason I say that is because of the hundreds of people who came to his celebration of life service who said, “Lee was such a good friend.” We often said to each other, “You’re my brother from another mother.” But for ME, Lee was one of MY closest friends. He was the guy I called when I needed advice professionally, personally, and spiritually. I can safely say that because I don’t have too many people I say that about. How’d it start?
Lee and Greg at WMPC Sharathon
In 1988, Lee wanted to hire me at a radio station in Grand Rapids. While I turned him down that time, in 1995 he asked me to become the Executive Director of Mission Network News. I don’t know why. I didn’t have the right credentials. I wasn’t even sure I had a passion for it. But I accepted and that literally changed my life. I went on and served at MNN for 20 years. Professionally, our leadership team at Cornerstone University had a great bond. Our love for Christ was the passion. Together we won awards, went on trips, and more. I felt grateful and indebted to him. But over the last 30 years our relationship changed from that cool guy in GR who offered me a job, to boss/employee relationship (which only lasted a few months), to becoming a true friend.
Frank Wright (NRB), Greg Yoder and Lee Geysbeek at 2008 Award Presentation
 
I’m nothing like Lee. I can name my top friends on one or two hands. At Lee’s celebration of life service there were hundreds of people who loved him. One person I met said he was one of Lee’s closest friends. I can’t recall Lee ever mentioning him, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true. Lee love people. I’m sure Many people had similar relationships that he and I had.
 
While my selfishness is oozing from me tonight as I write this therapeutic blog, I can’t help but ask these questions:
  • What’s the lesson?
  • What do I do?
  • How can I honor my friend?
  • How can I honor God?
  • What do I do when I need “Lee” advice?
 
I don’t have answers to any of these questions. But this is what I do know. I want to be more like Lee, which is really being more like Christ. I want to show love to more people. I want to remember names better. I want to spend a lot of time laughing. I want to encourage people. I want my family to say that I was a loving father. I want my wife to feel adored. I want people to know that I LOVE Christ and that’s what I’m about. I want those who disagree with me to enjoy our time together even though we disagree.
 
One of the things Lee and I shard, the same verse that convicts us and motivates us. I Timothy 1:15b-16, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” We talked openly about sin we struggle with. After lamenting, we were quick to remind each other that God’s grace is greater.
 
While the grieving continues, and the sadness lingers, I’m thankful for Lee Geysbeek. It was a friendship that started 30 years ago. It was a friendship that “was ordained from God.” That was Lee’s response to everything and I’m sure he said that about ALL his friendships. It’s hard to understand, but even Lee’s passing was ordained.
 
You lived well, Lee. You taught us how to love. You taught us how to laugh. You taught us it was okay to cry. You taught us God grace is truly amazing. You taught us that the Gospel is the most important thing. For me, you taught me that even guys give big bear hugs.

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