St. Paul's Lutheran Church -
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St. Paul's Lutheran Church -
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AT ST. PAUL'S THURSDAY
FROM 1-6 PM
Please submit prayer requests to Lisa Beller at lhbeller@
This is a story that involves golf,
but is really about the value of friendship.
This story was written to be a Christmas gift
to a dear friend of mine
so that he could understand how important
our friendship was to me.
A couple of years ago it was
published in the Lutheran Witness
under a different title.
The sign greets me as it does
every year, “Welcome to White Deer Golf Course”.
It beckons me, as it does every time I come to this town on vacation.
Once again, I find myself pulling into the familiar parking lot.
The sign greets me as it does every year, “Welcome to White Deer Golf Course”. It beckons me, as it does every time I come to this town on vacation. Once again, I find myself pulling into the familiar parking lot.
Our hearts leap for joy seeing the parking lot is mostly empty. The clock on the dashboard tells us it is 5:47 in the evening. There is no need for Robert and I to exchange words, because this place is special. Its "special-ness" is not due to the course's ability to challenge our golfing skills. It is special to us because it is here that our friendship is consummated every year as we bare our souls. Here at this place where men and women chase a white ball with sticks, we share our hopes and dreams of the future, all the while reminiscing in a shared past.
The van doors open and we make the quick journey to the back of the van to retrieve the golf clubs. On the way, we steal a glimpse at the #1 and #10 tees to see if either is occupied. As luck would have it, neither tee is occupied at the moment. As Rob gets his golf shoes on I pull my clubs out of the van. I ask him the same question I ask him every year: “Do you really think those things help you?”
A smile takes over his face and he says, “Well, I always seem to kick your tail.”
With that, the banter commences,as we pretend to believe ourselves a better golfer than the other one. When, in reality, we both have too much love for one another to really care who has the better score card. Yet the talk of who is better will continue through the entire night of golf.
Finally, set and ready to go, we both once again look to the two beginning tees and are happy to see no one there, as of yet. “Well, which nine do you want to play first?” Rob asks.
First of all, you must understand that at this particular golf course they offer twilight golf for $9.00. This means that you can pay your fee at 6pm and play as many holes as you can until dark. The fee to play at any other time is $11.00 for 9 holes. So, for Rob and me, the challenge isn’t just trying to get the best scores we can, but seeing how many holes we can play. Our current record is 20 holes. We must weigh a couple of factors in deciding which nine to play first. The front nine is harder, and takes longer to play, but the back nine is usually more full than the front because it is easier. As we get to the door of the clubhouse we are given a view of the back nine, and we see a number of foursomes that occupy several of the fairways. I turn to Rob and say, “Let’s go off the front.”
So we pay our $9.00 fee, and we smile as if we have just bought the isle
“You have honors,” Rob says with a smile, “It will be your only chance today.”
“You're probably right. I will probably feel sorry for the sorry state of your game and let you tee off first.”
The first hole is a 460 yard par 5 with a slight dogleg to the left. I tee up my ball, take a practice swing, address the ball, and then swing. The swing feels so good, but the ball never achieves flight and rolls only 75 yards. This is, of course, another reason that Rob lets me go first; he is well aware that my first tee off is usually less than spectacular.
Rob doesn’t say a word as he replaces me at the tee. He hits a beautiful shot, 210 yards, just to the right of the fairway, and very playable. He looks me straight in the eye and says, “I think I’ll take that.”
I grumble under my breath all the way to my ball. I take the 3 wood out and, this time, the ball does travel a respectable distance. The rest of the hole is not as kind to me. I chip over the green twice and receive a triple bogie, while Rob finishes with a bogie.
The second hole, that is a 415 yard par 4, treats me much better. Rob puts his tee shot in the trees to the right, and hits a couple of them before getting to the green. I was lucky enough to stay in the short ruff with my tee shot. I miss the green with my second shot, chip on the green, and two put. I have a bogie, and Rob, a double bogie.
The next hole is another par 4 that has a dogleg to the left. It is one that you can cut the corner on, if you hit it well. The management of the golf course does not wish its golfers to take the short cut. So, in order to deter us, they have erected an obstacle. They have taken four telephone poles, placed them in a line parallel to the suggested route of the ball, and spread a green plastic net across the span created by the poles. I tee my ball, decide to avoid the construct, and try to hit it where management wishes me. The swing feels perfect as I strike the ball. Then, the unthinkable happens; the ball hits one of the poles square and comes flying back at me as quickly as it left the club. I dive to the ground and look up at Rob for a moment in disbelief. Our disbelief gives way to laughter and the facade of a competition is over.
After the laughter dies down Rob asks me. “I suppose you’ll be using your Mulligan?”
I smile and tee up another ball and hit it. This time it avoids the telephone poles and makes it to the trees to the left. We finish the hole rooting for each other, and catching up on each other’s families.
The next hole has a foursome at it, and we look back to #2. Nobody has gone off it yet, and there is no one coming off the 1st green. We elect to go back and play number two again. This is all part of the strategy, as we run a race against the dropping sun that will soon takes its light from us. The challenge is not only to play a good game of golf, but to play as many holes as possible.
We snake our way across the course, never stopping and waiting for anyone. I write down the scores for each hole. But what goes on the card is insignificant compared to the friendship that is expressed with every stroke. For on the golf course, Rob and I tell each other our hopes and dreams for the future. Not just our future, but for our families as well. We solve the problems of the world and reminisce about our college days. Golf becomes a means to an end, an excuse to spend time together; a time to share as two men rarely do. It is a time that is to be cherished, and deep down I curse the sun for receding into the horizon; giving us no more time for golf.
We play the last hole in almost total darkness. We stick together, trying to watch the other’s ball as it flies toward the green. The day culminates in the final putt, on the final green, and we have played 21 holes. Besting our record by one.
We evaluate our play, and try to make each other feel better by describing our friend’s play in more glowing terms than a true inspection of reality would allow. We reach the van and Rob takes his shoes off and says. “I really had fun. There is nothing like this. I look forward to it every year.”
“You and me both.” I respond.
I shut the back doors to the van and walk up to the driver’s seat and get in. I hear my door slam shut, but I do not hear the passenger door close. I look over to the passenger’s seat and it is empty. Suddenly reality stares me in the face. My farce is over. My friend does not now, nor will he ever again, occupy that seat. Never again will we play golf together. For the Lord had called him home a few months after the final putt of last summer’s vacation.
Reality is a hard thing. It is something that takes time to adjust to. That is why, one last time, I had to play golf here on vacation. I had to play Rob one more time. You see, every step of this golf course drips with his presence. With every step I took I could hear the echo of his voice. I could see every shot he took in the years past. I had to play golf with him one more time, for my own sanity; I had to say goodbye to him in my own way.
I know an outside observer would say that I walked the golf course alone, talking to someone who wasn’t there. However, there is truth that the observer could not see, that I could only see with the eyes of faith. The truth is that Rob was with me on every step. As tears fill my eyes and my throat swells, I reflect on the words of the liturgy. “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all of the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising thee and saying.” I reflect on this because it is what gives me hope in my grief, because I can no longer call my friend and bare my soul. I have lost an irreplaceable companion. But the loss is not eternal, but a moment within eternity. For while I sojourn here in this vale of tears, Rob is not with me. But when I am called home, I will join the company of heaven singing praises to God. For the truth is that Rob is not dead, but lives with his savior, in peace. He is in the arms of Christ, who laid down his life for him. And one day, he will gather me also.
This truth does not stop the flow of tears, or lessen the tightness in my throat. Not at this moment, but soon I will find myself in church and sing with Rob, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And I will realize that Rob is with me. And I will know that faith will comfort me through my temporary loss.
But until then I sit in my van alone, as the van sits in a deserted parking lot, and I cry. I bare my soul one last time for the gift God had given me: my best friend.
Note: This was a Christmas gift to
my best friend Mark ROBERT Kaiser, to show him how much our friendship meant to
me. So Mark is well and still plays
golf with me on vacation.
God so loved the World that He gave His one and only Son
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Thank you for visiting the web site of
St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Eden, New York.
God Bless You!