My Friend Joseph

I have often thought that I have the best friends anyone can ask for. The quality and quantity of genuine friendships I have could keep a person full. And I have often desired to write a blog post about each one of my friends in a way that would highlight and honor them.

Today, it felt appropriate to write about my friend Joe. First some interesting facts:

  • I met Joe in Middle School gym class (met is a loose term because I am not quite sure we had more than a few passing words).
  • The next time I saw Joe was at Capital Assembly of God in Hamilton, New Jersey, on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2007. When I approached him, I am not sure he remembered me at all from Middle School.
  • A little over a year ago Joe moved into his first apartment
  • Joe has texted me everyday since the beginning of the pandemic to ask me if I am okay, except for a brief period where his phone needed to be fixed in which he appologized for not being able to check in.
  • Joe also texts me on most every holiday and every daylight savings change over and any time we are in a heat wave to make sure I stay hydrated. And every time he has received an attendance award at work. And every time he goes to an event that has to do with comic books, and most vacations he sends me pictures half of which are selfies.
  • In 2007 and 2008, I invited Joe to a few events (one event, either an an open mic night or Christmas Party, he said was the best night of his life) at the church I grew up in, Nassau Christian center in Princeton, since about that time he has taken a bus from Trenton to Princeton to continue attending there, though I have not attended since 2011.

These facts give some context for my favorite story about Joe, a story I cherish and offer you to cherish as well in order to convey the depths of friendship, solidarity, and in general what human beings are capable of.

In the summer/fall of 2008, Joe sent me an email asking if he could attend my college graduation in 2010 (yes, you read that right, 2 years in advance) which was in Virginia because “he had never attended a college graduation and would not be going to college himself.” I responded kindly and briefly, “Yes, Joe. I’d love to have you at my graduation.”

Truth be told I laughed and figured he would forget but I am a sucker for sentiment so it touched me that he asked. A year and half later after minimal interactions because the summer of 2009 I spent in Russia, Joe began to make preparations and reached out again seeing if he could still come to my graduation.

I offered to arrange transportation, but he said his dad would be driving him the 5 hours to come. He would arrive the Friday night before, but did not give me a time. When May rolled around, Joe showed up a little before dinner the day before my graduation. He came to Texas Roadhouse with my dad and my dad’s then fiance now wife Lorraine. I don’t remember what Joe ordered but I do remember about halfway through his meal, he took a 5 minute break to read a comic book he brought with him to the restaurant. It made me smile.

After dinner, we went back to my apartment where many of my friends had gathered just to hang out and laugh. Some of my friends wanted to get ice cream; I oddly enough was tired and didn’t want to go so Joe went with my friends. They came back within the hour and Joe suggested we watch, I believe Cars on DVD, which I narrowly avoided by convincing him that we would not have time to watch it. He understood and we continued to hang until about midnight.

I think that was a bit late for Joe, so he let me know he was tired and I agreed since I had an early morning to graduate the next day. So I said goodbye to friends and we got ready for bed.

Now I admit I should have been a better host and offered my room, but I was in college and just assumed people would be comfortable crashing on couches. I offered the couch and Joe politely declined. I then asked, “would you like to sleep in my bed and use my room?”

No sooner had the words left my mouth, Joe was in my room and seemingly tapped out for the night. I slept on the couch and it made me smile.

The next day was the graduation rigmarole, and I took pictures with my friends. I think Joe was in every picture. After pictures we went back to my apartment to figure out lunch and get Joe packed up. My mom came with me into the apartment, and I had left my cap and gown in my room, where Joe had slept. My mom and I were sitting on the living room couch where we could see into my room and I saw Joe pick up my cap and look at it.

I turned to my mom and said, “10 bucks, Joe asks if he can have my cap.” She said through slight laughter, “No, he won’t ask that.” I replied, “I know Joe; if he asks I’m giving it to him.”

A few seconds later Joe walks out and says, “Hey Jimmy, do you think I can have this?” Looking over at my mom I smiled, then back at Joe, “Yeah Joe, you can have it.”

Joe’s father had stayed in a hotel and took Joe back to New Jersey after my graduation lunch. It was one of the kindest things someone had ever done for me.

Since 2010, I maybe have seen Joe 3 times. I remember trying to invite him to a Marvel movie a few years back but he declined because he only likes DC comics even though they make far worse movies.

Every time Joe would drive in my car, he would bring Cd’s. I remember one time listening to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson on loop an entire car ride. I remember feeling giddy inside seeing how many times he would hit the back button. It helped that it’s a great song honestly.

I have never had a sad moment with Joe. Joe is the kind of person that not only is it better when he’s around, but he is also always encouraging. Joe is not wealthy, not priveleged and is unassuming and generous. Joe has great parents and a sister that I may have met once who lives in Missouri. And Joe is my friend.

From Left to Right: Victor, Derek, Me, JOE!!!!!

The only other picture I have of Joe, he’s in the background with the Mets hat and sunglasses. He loves the Mets!

Holy Family Fullness

I’m running on 3 hours of sleep, I’m writing at the end of my work week, I’m recognizing  I am weak. I’m remembering the Body is strong. I’m resting in the hope that my eternity is secure. I’m relying on a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on and the intercession of Jesus to keep us faithful to the end.

I had a wonderful night worshiping Jesus yesterday  with the family of God. I was reminded of the following passage in Mark 10:28-31

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” (I weep here)

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one (<—- you’re not alone) who has left home (“safe” places) or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children (family) or fields (possessions and provisions) for me and the gospel (Jesus and the good news of His kingdom) will fail to receive a hundred times as much (more than we can imagine) in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions (I don’t need to put that part in parentheses because it should stand out)—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

I emphasize, perhaps my greatest joy is worshiping, singing, dancing before the Lord along with His people, people on mission together. I experienced so much  joy seeing them worship.

The-Holy-Family

I’ve had this experience several times this week: my mom shared a testimony with me about feeling led to encourage and pray for her coworker at the library; I’ve heard news from both my communities here and in Charleston on Thursday night and I have been offered an opportunity to teach a class in January on theology. It was a great week for me in that realm.

Yet, I’m losing track of the days and time: when I had certain conversations, losing track of promises, of how to obey the leading of the Spirit. I find my desires to be tired and malaise as I try to wait and hear for the now.

I read verse 28, Peter saying “We have left everything to follow you!”

There have been seasons of my life I’ve read Peter’s words and have shared his

earnestness. However, what I have missed and still will likely miss in the future is Jesus’ actual response. Jesus doesn’t so much affirms Peter’s earnestness which is heartfelt and sincere, as much as Jesus simply states, “Peter this is the lot of everyone who follows.” You twelve are no different than any sincere follower of Jesus. You all will be called to leave something.

And I here the Spirit ask me, “what aren’t you leaving  behind? Have you chosen “safety” again? What are you going back to that’s empty”

I’ve definitely run back to some familiar things, some are not helpful, even sinful and others are stagnant. None of them are filling. I hope to find mercy in the familiar but mercy is something that is new every morning. It’s like mana; mercy and grace comes fresh for the moment for the thing God telling us to do. And it must be fresh.

And the only way to maintain fullness is to eat and drink a new every day. And this is where I wander and stumble.

I cling so hard to the past, expecting the past to change or trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist, relying on my history with Jesus rather than fighting for friendship in the present.

If I pretend like all of my past does not exist or when I try to remove the past from me, I stifle the opportunity for God to come through on His promise to make all things work together for good.

And stifling that promise for newness and fullness of life feels like death when you’ve put all your faith and hope in it.

When we, like Peter have left all to follow, we’ve agreed to surrender control, and I find myself often trying to refinance the terms.

I return to construction. I run from the Church when she wounds me. I wound the Church in my running. I lose myself in job security as I find the insecurity within myself alive and well. I am confronted with my selfish motives and rather than persevere for something worthwhile, I merely persist in my waking non-working hours questioning most everything. And in writing this I fear I victimize my reader. I’ve grown weary from writing about painful things. It’s a contradiction because the Kingdom I profess is coming is one in which pain passes away.

Once I’ve chosen the Kingdom and the family of God, I’ve made a choice to dine forever with God. The choice of dining or dying has been made and that means there is no longer room for fellowship with darkness.

I now must dine in the light and having  the Spirit of Christ in me means dark things, behaviors, and spirits have to make an exit. Yet, tares mingle among the wheat.

I’m still being sifted, as a child in my faith. And in it I am reminded how little if anything I contribute to this process. But one thing is certain I must habitually continually say yes to the process.

Family, to stay full at this table, we must dine daily even in the presence of enemies, as the psalm says. In the glory of the presence of God, a holy fullness will drive out the emptiness of darkness, hopelessness, and uncertainty. Faith is certain for the hopeful. May we stay full.