My friend Bruce Wood died yesterday. Thanksgiving Day…and his daughter’s birthday. He had struggled with cancer for over twenty years.
I have many fond memories of Bruce. He was a few years older than me, and he was the first person, other than my family, that made me feel truly welcomed at church. The first time I ever remember speaking to him he was walking in the hallway at Bethlehem church with his girlfriend Linda, soon to be his wife. He said, “I’m glad you’re here.” And he told me he hoped I would be back. He meant it.
We sang in choirs and ensembles together when I was growing up. We roomed together on tours and at camps. We ministered together and prayed together. We talked at length about God’s calling, his and mine. Back then, Bruce was one of the few people in my life I felt really understood what it means to be a young man with a calling trying to figure out which way to go. I watched him make decisions about school and marriage and church a few years before I had to make those same choices.
We had a lot of fun together too. Bruce was playing men’s church softball before I was old enough, but he convinced several coaches to let me play on their teams for tournaments. Bruce genuinely thought I was a good player and was comfortable enough to let me know. The last tournament we were in together I had a team and he had a team. The only game my team won was against Bruce’s team :-) He told his pitcher to walk me, but the guy threw the ball too close and I hit a walk off the field home run. Bruce just shook my hand after the game and told me he knew I was going to do that :-)
I was in high school when Bruce was first diagnosed with cancer. He asked the church to pray for him, and we had a special prayer service on a Sunday night after the evening service. I cried when it was my turn to pray with Bruce. He had surgery and a portion of his leg was removed. Years later his entire lower leg was taken, and he had to learn to walk with a prosthetic.
The surgeries didn’t keep him from playing softball or basketball. In fact, a couple of years after his leg was removed he schooled a few youth in a pick up basketball game at a retreat where I was speaking. He didn’t rub it in on the kids. Bruce wasn’t like that.
Bruce married Linda. Eventually they had two children. They served as examples to me of how a Christian marriage should be. This morning my heart goes out to Linda and the children. Such loss.
What else can I say? I know my friend Bruce is, at this moment, enjoying all that God has for him. His work here is done. I will miss him, as will so many others. But I will see him again, and when I do I won’t be surprised if he cracks that smile and says, “I’m glad you’re here.”