The Relentless Pursuit of Relationships

by Andy Wood on April 29, 2016

in Five LV Laws, Following Your Passion, Life Currency, Love, LV Cycle, Principle of Legacy, Time, Turning Points, Words

Daddy and Laura KateYou’ve probably never heard of Yarbo.  Unless, of course, you’ve spent some time tooling through Washington County, Alabama.  This unincorporated community, positioned halfway between Chatom and Millry, flies by your car window pretty fast on Highway 17.  A couple of old chicken houses, an abandoned softball field, a few house trailers, that’s about it.

At least that’s how it looks through my window.  Yarbo is a place on the way to some other place.

My dad had a different view.

On his regular excursions between Millry, his home at the time, and Chatom or Mobile, he would notice a singular figure sitting in the shade of one of those mobile homes.  An older black gentleman would spend hours there, offering a friendly wave at passers-by.  And there in the warmth of those Southwest Alabama summer days, my father found a kindred spirit.

He waved back.

Eventually he came to look for his nameless friend and would make a point of tooting his horn and waving.  Though separated by all the things that make for TV news sound bites – race and economic status and culture and probably politics – each of these men found in a simple gesture a point of connection.

That wasn’t enough for my dad.

One day his curiosity got the best of him.  Who was this man? What was his story?  So Daddy did what Daddy did.  He stopped and asked.  He got his highway friend’s name. What he did for a living. His family. What he’d done since retirement.

That unelected mayor and ambassador of Yarbo passed away a couple of years ago. But my dad never tired of telling the story – complete with recalling the man’s name (sorry, busy and preoccupied me can’t remember) and his story.

Daddy and CohenYou and I or a business person may refer to that as networking. A journalist may call it investigative reporting. A pastor or deacon or Sunday school teacher may refer to it as showing the love of Christ. An anthropologist may see it as reaching across a social or cultural divide or a throwback to the days of the friendly Old South.

To my dad, it was just life.  The relentless pursuit of relationships was as normal as breathing.

An Unspoken Agreement

We were very different in so many ways, not the least of which was our basic personality orientation.  Ever the extrovert, it was Daddy who would typically make the calls. And like any phone call to somebody who stays busy, those calls were an interruption.  But our unspoken agreement was simple.  When he called, I answered.  Because his calls to me, however random and however they may have interrupted whatever I was doing, were important.

Of course, there were times and seasons when the phone wouldn’t ring for a couple of days.  Then I would call him to see what the heck was the matter.  Usually he’d be off gallivanting on one of his travels doing extended work in the yard or hanging out with friends.

So now that it’s been a few days since I heard his voice, I’m finding this urge to pick up the phone to make sure that everything’s OK.

I just know that he won’t be answering.

And while that’s really sad on one level, I find a great deal of comfort in knowing that in heaven he’s doing what he started doing down here – the relentless pursuit of relationships.

The Rules are Pretty Simple

Daddy with Jackson and CasonThe operative word here is “relentless.”  He knew no strangers.  To my dad there was never a reason to be standoffish or unfriendly. In fact my niece referred to him the other day as “the friendliest man I have ever known.”  Amen to that.

He also was no age snob. He was just as at home with an infant or toddler as he was with a fellow senior or somebody in-between.

In the relentless pursuit of relationships, the rules are pretty simple:  When in doubt, move toward people, not away from them.  You walk in the door. You make the call.

When he wondered what I was up to, he didn’t just sit there and guess, and he certainly didn’t assume I was busy.  He walked in the door. He made the call.

When I was on a stage or behind a pulpit for some significant event, he didn’t just celebrate in proud silence.  He walked in the door. He made the call.

During those times when I disappointed him greatly or my life was a broke-down mess, he didn’t just sulk or fume or hide out in embarrassed silence. He walked in the door. He made the call.

Daddy and FischerWhen our kids or grandkids were born, he didn’t allow the miles between us to form barriers. He walked in the door. He made the call.

When it became way past obvious that he and I were very different, he didn’t allow the differences to forge a division. Time and time again, he walked in the door. He made the call.

Even on his death bed he found a way.  We learned that despite his outward appearances of improvement, his lungs were continuing to deteriorate rapidly. But for two or three days he had brightened up as he got to see all five of his grandchildren. And he tuned up when one of them told him that come November or December his eleventh great-grandchild would enter the world.

Know what he didn’t talk about?  His job. His career. His politics.  But when he was staring at an appointment for a face-to-face meeting with the God of heaven, he did what he always did…

He walked in the door.  He made the call.

Leave Your Own Legacy

IMG_4034There are people in your life and mine who want to be able to say about us the things I see and hear being said about my dad.  And if his life still speaks today (and it does), it just isn’t that complicated.

Walk in the door.

Make the call.

Or put another way… if you keep passing the same old man every day and waving to him, maybe you should stop what you’re doing and actually hear his story.  It may not change the world.  But maybe in your relentless pursuit of relationships, it will change his.

Or yours.

Martha Orlando April 30, 2016 at 5:40 am

The relentless pursuit of relationships . . . Isn’t that what life is truly about as we serve as Christ’s ambassadors?
Your father was, indeed, a one-of-a-kind, amazing gentleman.
Blessings and prayers for you and yours, Andy.
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Bubble-licious!

Elizabeth Jernigan April 30, 2016 at 7:25 pm

I remember the last time I saw you….you preached and magnified your dedicated Christain mother’s funeral! Now, I saw you at your dad’s wake. Sometimes it seems strange , we who are related, do not share…..other times.
My late mother-in-law, Bea Parker Jernigan, was your mom, Mamie’s, sister. I always had an interesting time with JoAnne and Jim…..researching genealogy of the Parkers. By the way JoAnne and I finished Vigor High School together, too (1956). Jim passed away after spreading the love of Jesus everywhere he went…there in the hospital…he had his priorities straight ! Yes, he is physically not here….but just look at his legacy ! He walked in the door…….Jesus met him. He made the call…..Jesus wrapped him in HIS arms !

Roberta Tatom May 1, 2016 at 6:50 pm

This same pattern of Jim’s when doing his “safety” routine at a McIntosh business, resulted in his friendship with my daughter’s mother in law. She was always asking me why he hadn’t been by. He was always asking about my daughter’s mil and maybe sharing a mil joke. But whatever safety check he made on a business call resulted in a permanent bond. She’s new to Facebook but the news of Jim’s impending death was difficult to process.

Milinda Reed Griffith May 1, 2016 at 7:47 pm

I loved your Dad and mom. They were two of the most real caring people I have ever met. So thankful to have known them both.they were real.

Jan Smith May 2, 2016 at 11:57 am

A wonderful person and a friend I enjoyed so much. There will be a void in our lives with his passing.

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