This day, July 23, is both a joyful and solemn day for me. It is a day where I remember great adventures, the bond of true friendship and brotherly love, and also the emptiness that follows in the wake of earthly death. My best friend and blood brother Sonny would have been 66 today had cancer not cut his life short. Sonny and I were sitting in the sun at the edge of his garage about three weeks before he went home to the Lord. I told him that no matter where I was at, or what was happening, or what time of the day it was, I knew that I could count on him if I needed him. It wasn’t something that I thought, or hoped about. I knew it. That’s the type of relationship we had. We were more than brothers.
We met in the basement of Wayland Community Church, in the village of Wayland, Ohio when we were four years old. Two shy boys who wouldn’t speak to anyone, but we spoke to each other. That meeting was the beginning of a lifelong adventure for Sonny and Billy. We did all the things young boys do, making good use of my parents 100-acre farm—riding horses, making tree forts, playing cowboys and Indians, civil war, World War II, camping out, backyard football–you name it. In all of these adventures, we sought to be on the right side of things. We were the good guys, the heroes. Our values and character were formed in those early days and our commitment to love, truth, honor and justice carried over in our adult years.
Sonny’s life recalls how he loved his family; his integrity; his honorable character. These qualities just didn’t happen. They were all parts of his upbringing. How his parents raised him. The influence of my parents. The talks we had around the campfires. Along about the time when we were 10 or 11 years old, we learned of Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code. He wrote them in the 1940s. It was a code of conduct on how to live your life—things like never shooting first, treating others well and with respect, telling the truth, keeping clean thoughts and speech, being a hard worker and a patriot. These were the pillars that held up our lives, with Christ as the chief cornerstone.
Christ gave us a new commandment as recorded in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” So often our professional careers take different paths. We don’t see close friends for long lengths of time. We wish that we lived closer together; that our families could be closer—seeing life in the rear-view mirror is a perfect 20-20 vision. So often, we let the busy days become weeks and months and years before we realize that time has passed and relationships have been put on the back burner. They are precious. Water them. Feed them. Hold them dear. Have a July 23rd in your life to remember and cherish the good times.