I met my best friend when I was a junior in high school. I was helping with the youth group at First Baptist in Winnsboro, TX. I met all the students on a Sunday morning and after church, Mike Zachary invited me to lunch. He asked me if I would like a tour of the city. He drove me to Main street, stopped the car, and pointed to his left and said, “Now that’s North Winnsboro, to my right is South Winnsboro, across the street is East Winnsboro, and as you may have figured, we are currently in West Winsboro. Now, lets get a burger.” And right away I liked him! He was down on my level. We spent the whole day together talking about things that teenagers talk about, some of which I will not share with you here. At the end of the day, we got a Coke and a package of “Ding Dongs” and celebrated our new friendship. I can’t remember why that combination of snack food and drink. Probably because it was closest to the check out counter and it was cheap. From then on, through our lives, we celebrated our triumphs and our heart breaks with “Ding Dongs” and Coke. We became room mates in college, we celebrated, “Ding Dongs” and Coke. When he moved back home, we had a sad going away party with “Ding Dongs” and Coke. My wedding to Betty, his wedding to Janet, the birth of my children, the adoption of his Daughter Anna…all with “Ding Dongs” and Coke.
Years went by and we kept up with each other. Sometimes we’d call or show up at each other homes. We went to car shows and gun shows. Often when I didn’t expect it, Mike would show up at a revival meeting where I was preaching, and we’d catch up in the parking lot. Sometimes we would talk for hours.
Some years ago, my youngest son, Caleb was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He was given just months to live. We had surgeries on our little boy to remove the tumor, but in the process, a portion of his brain was removed that damaged his equilibrium and his eyesight. The prognosis was bleak and my world kind of fell down around me. I was in his hospital room, well after midnight when there was a knock on the door. It was faint, so I didn’t answer it at first and then it came again, so I got up and opened the door. There stood my friend Mike, holding a box of “Ding Dongs” and a Coke….. For a moment a burden was lifted from me and my tired brain was, for just a welcomed little while, put in neutral. We normally would catch up on what was happening in our lives, or recall some fun times in our past. But that night we sat quietly. Nothing was said or remembered, just a friend leaning on another friend. He was with me for two days, and I was comforted.
Mike called me about two years ago and wanted to see me and talk. I said I would be home next week and would call him then. He said that wouldn’t be soon enough, he needed to see me today. I was in a revival not terribly far from him and I said we could meet there if he didn’t mind the drive. He showed up that night. After the service we went to the parking lot and he told me about a friend of his who had died that week and it broke his heart that he didn’t get to tell him how much he thought of him. “I don’t want that to happen to us,” he said. “ I want you to know that I love you and thank you for being my friend.” Well, you know how emotional old people are. We both cried and hugged each other. We hugged for a very long time and after a bit Mike said, “Do you think maybe we’ve held this hug for a little longer than we should?” We quickly unhugged, wiped our eyes and he said, “Maybe we should go shoot something or hang some drywall. Oh, and I’ve got “Ding Dongs” and Coke in the car.”
Mick Zachary passed away this week. Though I use words in all that I do, I just can’t find the right ones to express my grief. I was privileged to speak at his service and thrilled to be with his sweet family in the middle of this. But today, I am really hurting. Other than my wife, I really have no other friends that go back so far in my life that I’ve maintained a relationship with all this time. Mike and I sang together for years. His harmonies were unreal. He just filled in all the gaps with with a vocal style like I’ve never heard. I will miss singing with him. I will miss his humor. When Betty and I were married, we got great gifts. Toasters, mixers, dishes, silverware. Mike gave us a puppy! A PUPPY!! You just have to love a guy like that. But of all these and so many other things, I will simply miss his presence in my life.
I arrived early at the funeral home yesterday before any one else was there. On the way, I stopped by a convenience store. One last time, by his side, I celebrated with my old bud. I, out loud, remembered a few snap shots of our relationship that no one else knows, I thanked God for our friendship, and I had a final “Ding Dong” and Coke with my friend.
In John 11, Jesus lost his friend Lazarus. I don’t know how long they had known each other, but most assuredly not for 49 years. Jesus, knowing all things of life and death and heaven, still stood at the tomb of his friend and wept. Today has been a “ weep” day for me. Tomorrow will be better as will the next, but the hurt will always be there. Jesus knew that, and I am comforted in that knowledge. Mike is now in the presence of the Lord. He was always trying to beat me at something, and now, it looks like he won. My heart is heavy for me and my joy is great for him. Hey Mike, when I see you in Glory, I’m bringing you a puppy!