01 December, 2012

There'll Never Be Another Like Him

I'm still struggling today to process the fact that my good friend Neil Smith has left this life  and is now in Heaven. It just seems too surreal and my mind cannot wrap around the fact that he is gone and I won't see him again in this life. Neil and I had one of those relationships that don't come along very often were you could say just about anything to each other, maybe even get mad at one another and still be friends. We held each other accountable in many ways. Years ago we agreed that from time to time we'd check on each other and ask "where are you in your spirit?" It was a way of holding each other's feet to the fire, and making sure that as we walked out the life of ministry to others that we never neglected our own spiritual walk. We'd give each other encouragement, a pat on the back... or a kick in the seat of the pants... what ever was needed at the moment. I'm going to miss those "where are you at" calls. Over the last few years, since Neil suffered his heart attack, and then I had a close call with a 100% blockage near my heart, those calls took on a new twist. We also began to push each other to take care of ourselves better, to watch what we eat and to exercise. Ironically, Neil did a much better job of this than I have done. It just so happens that earlier this week he had chewed me out for not going to the doctor sooner when I had chest pains and for letting my weight creep back up. He made those calls because he cared. That's what friends do.

Neil was also my "go to guy" when I needed a sounding board or needed advice. Actually, the call earlier this week was made by me to him, because I was walking through something in my life that I needed an objective, unbiased opinion on. One of the things I loved dearly about Park was the fact that I could ask him something, and he would tell me the truth. Whether it hurt or made me mad, he was going to say what needed to be said, and then after words ask me, "Are we good?" To the best of my recollection, we never once hung up the phone or walked away from each other after a disagreement until we both knew that our relationship was in good standing. I don't know what I'm going to do with out this key to my life removed. It just so happens that the night before he died, I had something happen that sent me into a rage and without thinking, I picked up my phone to dial his number because Neil was always the one guy who could help me get beyond the junk that people dump in your life and focus on the main thing. I looked over at my son and told him that at that moment it was the first time I realized that my friend might now make it. Up to that point, I simply had never allowed my thoughts to go there. From that moment on, deep in my heart, I knew it was only a matter of time. Selfishly, I did not want to let him go. For Julie, Katie and Maddy, I was praying for a miracle to happen. But I knew. It was time.

I told my wife just a few minutes ago that it still seems so unreal. Fact is, it seems unfair. This man, though small in physical stature, was a giant in spirit. His faith and commitment to the Lord were just unshakable. His passion for ministry has been steadfast, from the time I first met him when he was a teenage evangelist until the day he left us. His love for people was matchless... especially the people of Kenya. My lord, if you got him talking about Kenya, his eyes would sparkle with joy one moment and tears would pour the next as he spoke of the work he did there and the people who had become so dear to his life. Not too awfully long ago his day to day ministry role had changed to that which had him involved in the lives of the children in the school that his church operates. At first, I thought he was nuts, but he threw himself into this role and he began to talk about the burden he had for those kids and their families. He was just that kind of guy in that no matter what he was called upon to do, he did it as unto the Lord. Like I said, guys like this don't come along very often.

I'm going to miss my friend. But I'm not alone. Neil touched the lives of so many people and was loved by all. Last night as I tried to wind down and find some sleep, as I laid my head to the pillow I prayed for his family and thanked God for allowing me to know be a small part of Neil's life.

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