Friends Who Pick Us UP
Monday - May 18th
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
Our friendship started around age three. Lance and I were inseparable throughout childhood. We spent many Indiana summer days sitting around trying to overcome boredom by coming up with something fun to do. While our connecting yards and our little dead-end cinder road neighborhood provided an incredibly adventurous space for a couple of boys, we often couldn't settle on what to do. When we did decide on something fun, there was no one with whom I would have rather done it. As friends, we were so different. Lance was competitive and very gifted as an athlete. Me, not so much. His parents let him tackle all kinds of sports. If Lance played baseball, so did I. If Lance learned to bowl, so did I. If he played in a basketball league at the YMCA, he and I played at home. When Curly Neal of the 1970s Harlem Globetrotters died March 26th of this year, Lance texted me asking if I had heard the news. He reminded me that as kids, we pretended that we were the Globetrotters as we played in his driveway. He pointed out that I had been Curly Neal to his Meadow Lark Lemon.
When Lance got into tennis, so did I. When Lance picked up golf, so did I. When Lance played football, so did I. When Lance picked up boxing (like every other kid who had just seen Rocky), I got my little brother, Troy, to be his sparring partner. What? You thought I was going to let him spar with me? He would have hurt me! During the blizzard of 1978, Lance and I started writing a fictional book about "The Blakes Adventures of the Endless Cave." We finalized several chapters of what we thought would become a bestseller. We made a horror movie with his parents' 8-millimeter movie camera. We built a haunted house in Lance's basement for other kids. That one didn't work out so well since the only other kid in our tiny neighborhood was my little brother - and Troy was already a part of the haunted house cast.
Lance and I built forts in the woods, rode our bikes, played Atari games, climbed trees, and used my brother Troy as our own crash dummy as we repeatedly threw him from the roof of our shed. We had our share of fights, bad days, and boredom. But, Lance and I had fun doing life together as boys! As we grew into upper elementary and middle school, we also got ourselves into things that were not all that great for us. While I won't elaborate further, I will say Lance may be the one person who could tell some stories and destroy my campaign - if I was ever to run for President of the United States. I have had many incredible friends throughout my 53 years of life. Still, my first friend remains incredibly meaningful to me because of how he sharpened my life at a young age. The Book of Proverbs says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" (27:17). God placed Lance in my life during a critical part of my childhood journey. My mom's traumatic brain injury deeply impacted my home as a kid. Life could be a bit traumatic at times - and that is an understatement. Lance saw stuff that clearly signaled to him our house wasn't typical. But as a boy, he didn't let it change his friendship with me. He accepted me and cared about me no matter what. I needed that kind of friend. Lance was that friend. All of us can be that kind of friend to someone. We don't even have to know the extent of their challenging life circumstances, but we can be the kind of friend who, by their presence and their care, sharpens the life of another.
When I was a boy, my best friend, Lance Cleland, was not a psychologist, minister, or social worker. Until he read my memoir, All But Normal: Life on Victory Road, Lance didn't know the extent of our family's issues. He was a friend. King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 that friends help each other up when the other falls down. Lance, unknowingly as a boy, was that kind of friend for me. We all need the type of friend that not only sticks with us when we are down but also helps us get back up. Those kinds of friends come along in seasons of life when we need them the most. As Lance and I got older, I moved out of state, our parents moved from Victory Road, and we lost touch for a season. More recently, we have met for lunch every couple of years as I visit family in Indiana. We text from time to time. I thank God for the gift of Lance's friendship. Do you have friends like that in your life? If so, thank them! Today, May 18th, is Lance's 53rd birthday. Happy Birthday, Lance! Thanks for being such a great friend during a crucial season of my life!
God gifts us with incredible friends, and He gifts us as incredible friends. He wants us to pick each other up when we are down!