One of them, anyway. This is the saddest post I’ll probably ever write on this blog. I got word this afternoon, about 4:00 PM, that Rusty Snyder, one of my very closest friends in life—for 30+ years—had suddenly, with no warning whatever, gone to be with the Lord. Excuse the stream-of-consciousness, but I’m not interested in a coherent post, but rather just my thoughts as they come to me. My first thought is that, for the believer, the homegoing of another believer is a cause for at least an element of rejoicing. “We sorrow not, as others who have no hope”, I’ve reminded countless funeral-goers through the years, and now, I’m finding myself having to remind myself again and again of the truth of the Scripture. It doesn’t say, “we sorrow not”, because if it did, well heck, you could probably throw the whole Bible in the can as so much hooey and nonsense; it hurts, man it hurts.
Rusty was a member of the first graduating class of Roanoke Valley Christian Schools; I was president of that class. If memory serves me, the vote that was taken for that position, in the first week or two of my senior year, was very close, and I think I won on Rusty’s vote. He didn’t much care for such things, and as I recall, the whole “election” consisted of some school official sticking his head in the door and saying, “hey, don’t forget to elect a representative to student government”. But nonetheless, Rusty cast a deciding vote (verbally) for me.
I’d met Rusty playing baseball. He played for Williamson Road Rec, and I played for Wilmont, and the only reason I recognized him from baseball—when I began to attend the church his family attended, Shenandoah Baptist—was because he had long, straight, jet-black hair. Nobody else had hair quite like that, and it gave him an appearance—well, I’ll be kind to him now and just say it was “different”. Didn’t really know him, but when I started at Shenandoah, there he was, and we recognized each other and hit it off. Later that year, we each played school ball, he first base for Ruffner Junior High, and I second for Lucy Addison. Each team went 7-3 in the regular season, tying for the championship and necessitating a playoff to determine the Roanoke City Junior High championship. We kicked their butts, no small source of enjoyment for me through the years.
Then Rusty and his family moved to Virginia Beach, and our budding friendship was put on hold until just before our senior year, Rusty and family moved back to Roanoke, and with a couple other guys from the church joining me, we managed to persuade him to enroll for his senior year at RVCS instead of Fleming.
Little did I know that his decision to do that secured our friendship for life.
I got the call from Tim this afternoon that Rusty had been out raking leaves today, had chest pains, and died at the hospital. The words hit me like an avalanche. I was so stunned that I didn’t know how to react, until the end of the phone call when I started getting emotional and, well, I’ve shed more tears this afternoon and evening than I have in a long time.
It wasn’t supposed to be Rusty. He was the picture of health, in better shape than myself; when I called WebbieDude Paul, another Class of ’78 friend, to tell him, Paul’s remark was, “I was supposed to be the first to go” (WebbieDude Paul needs to shed a few…well, OK, more than a “few”). We spoke on the phone for a few minutes, and Paul shared a couple of reminiscences that actually caused a laugh.
One of the best things that Paul said about Rusty is that, after high school, when Rusty and I went to Salem Redbirds minor league baseball games, and Paul would be there drinking beer with his “Rowdy Ridge” friends (they had a reputation), Rusty didn’t mind at all going over and talking to Paul, and acting like a friend, unlike me, stinking Tennessee Temple Pharisee that I’d become. Paul didn’t add that “Pharisee” part; I did. Ouch.
But see, that’s the way Rusty was. He was genuinely a friend. Yeah, I know you’re supposed to say that after someone is gone; that’s happy-talk that you always say, even if you don’t mean it. But I mean it. Rusty was a quiet, unassuming guy, but he let me know, in many ways through the years, how he felt about me as a friend.
I remember, back when I had more Pharisee leanings than I hope I do now (but I’m not pronouncing myself cured; spiritual pride is the worst kind, the most insidious kind, the nastiest, most disgusting stench-ridden kind), I really wasn’t sure Rusty was much of a Christian. After all, he had a rock music collection that’d be the envy of most any 70’s teenager. I, of course, didn’t listen to that stuff, because no good Christian ever would, you know. Oh, I walked the Olivia Newton-John fine-line, because she was “pop” or even “country”, not rock-and-roll, which would send everyone to hell who listened to it. Which Rusty did. Openly. Not in-your-face, but not hiding it either. And of course I judged him to be less than “spiritual”; sure, he was a Christian, but, you know…
But then it gets interesting. A family began attending our church, a fractured family, fractured because the dad was an abusive drunk kind of guy. Two teenage girls, both of whom are friends to this day, and two little kids, a boy and a girl. Boy couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6. Boy didn’t have a dad, or a big brother; just all those women in the house. And who was it that took little David under his wing, acted (for years!) like the dad he didn’t have, or the big brother (I don’t know all the details of the relationship)? Was it “spiritual” me, with my whitewall hair cut and my Bible college plans? No…it was Rusty. And the reason I know almost nothing about his relationship with David, other than the fact of it, is because Rusty didn’t talk about it. He just did it. He just loved that little boy and helped him here and there (the lack of specifics, again, is because he didn’t talk about it), and that little boy grew into an upstanding young man, who went to Bible college himself and got a youth ministry degree.
And then there’s the fact that Rusty worked for, what, over 20 years in the AWANA Sparks ministry. He didn’t talk about it much; along with his wife, he just did it. And how many hundreds of kids have been influenced for Christ through the years by this guy who didn’t talk about it; he just lived it.
And then there’s how he loved his family. His three girls, all roughly corresponding to the ages of my kids, were his life. He coached each of his girls (I assume he coached his youngest) in basketball, and softball, and who knows what other kind of ball, and he coached other kids, too, a ton of them, in soccer as well as the other sports; I couldn’t keep up with how many teams he coached. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he did it right. Not only well, but right, teaching them all the right lessons, not only about sports, but about sportsmanship and teamwork and all of those things that stick with us for a lifetime because of people like Rusty.
And then there was the time a few years ago when we sat in his basement and he told me the story of a stand he took, in a situation he was in, that demonstrated to me incredible integrity. Not that I was surprised, mind you, but I was just beaming, listening to this guy who “wasn’t spiritual” tell me about how he was faced with a choice of compromise or taking a hard stand, and how he’d done the hard thing, because it represented integrity. I told him in a subsequent email how proud I was to have a guy like him for a friend, a guy who’d put it on the line to do what’s right. He told me how he bragged to people about me being a pastor, and how happy he was to have me as a friend as well.
You know, those kinds of conversations are the kinds that we ought to have with all our friends, before it’s too late, because now, Rusty is with the Lord, and I hope he died knowing how much he was loved. I love him, and I will miss him dearly. I can barely see to type. Would you pray for his wife, Sherry, and her daughters? Would you pray for his mom, Jane, and his dad, Russell, all of whom must be experiencing grief like I can only imagine. It’s killing me sitting here in Georgia, three states away, and I can only imagine. Pray for Karen and I as well; we’ll leave after church tomorrow, and I want to do whatever little bit I can to ease the pain for the family of this man I loved so much.
Finally, and maybe I said this already, forgive me: let’s tell our friends more regularly how we feel about them. I’m glad that Rusty and I had a couple of conversations where we said those kinds of things; I really, really am. You just never know, do you?
Oh, and one other thing; sorry, this is my post, and I’ll write it as long as I please. When I got the news, I drove over to the Speech and Debate Tournament my kids were in, and that Karen did hospitality for. The closing event, where the awards were handed out, was finished by a song and a prayer. I have no idea why this song was chosen; it doesn’t seem to me to “fit” with an event such as a Speech and Debate Tournament. But the song was,
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way;
When sorrows, like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Needless to say, I couldn’t sing, but I listened as those time-worn words took on fresh meaning. We sorrow not as others who have no hope; it is well with my soul.