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Cypress Friends

March 20, 2012

Sitting on the edge of the Pamlico River this past weekend, I took in the beauty of this unique place. As the sun went down on the quiet swampy river, I admired the bald cypress trees, older than I am, draped with spanish moss with widening trunks extending into the water. I remarked to my friend, Jeff Barwick, “I bet those roots are pretty strong.” “Yep,” he answered. “They don’t go down in hurricanes.” Jeff lost several large oaks in his backyard this past year due to the winds and flooding as a result of hurricane Irene.

You could probably guess that this was guy’s trip by the weekend menu: duck breast wrapped with bacon and jalapeños, venison tenderloin, smoked pork shoulder, 1/2 bushel of steamed oysters, and a low-country shrimp boil – all accessorized with beer and all cooked and eaten outdoors. Most impressively, all seven guys were fed Saturday evening’s dinner (oysters and shrimp boil) on a newspaper covered table without a single plate or utensil (besides oyster knives). Throw in a fire pit, constant laughter, pick-up basketball, a boat outing, corn hole, and some incredible NCAA tournament games on TV, and you have an near perfect man-weekend.

However, these are are not just friendly relationships. The seven of us, and a few others, lived together during our college years in a house just off campus in Chapel Hill. They all knew Sydney as my girlfriend before they even met their own wives. We were passionate young Christians bonded together in our commitment. However, our worlds were shaken Maundy Thursday 1996 when Tripp Kimbrough (far right in the picture below) was diagnosed with a large brain tumor in his temporal lobe. We shaved our heads alongside him in commraderie with his initial surgery which would be the beginning of a 13 year battle with brain cancer. Tripp currently receives semi-annual scans and has been “cancer-free” for 2 years (he recently had a concerning MRI which turned out to be a false alarm). Despite some very mild cognitive issues, Tripp is completely functional and amazingly whole. He works as a Hospice Chaplain, a career which was birthed out of his experience as a cancer survivor. Tripp loves what he does, and is generous with his gift of compassion.

Driving down to the river Friday night with Tripp in my car, I couldn’t help but be emotionally stirred by the experience. There was something about being with him in the stillness of an eastern North Carolina night that was powerful beyond words. Our stories were and are so intertwined. I couldn’t exactly articulate it, but I felt God’s graciousness in preparing me for my trial with Sydney through my relationship with Tripp so many years ago. And I could see that He had given me so many amazing friends over the years in order to establish a web of support that I would really need, and my family would need someday.

And as we traveled east, I felt the love and acceptance of a group of guys who knew me well, and had loved me well for a long time. I wept. They were waiting for us with a depth of comfort that you just can’t develop quickly. A relationship offers a powerful presence when you can say, “This guy was for me fifteen years ago, and he is for me now. So, I don’t think that is going to change. I really can’t mess that up.”

Since those years, we have kept up with each other to varying degrees. But, the bond is always there. When Tripp showed up at Sydney’s hospital room shortly after her diagnosis in early 2009, though we hadn’t spoken in five or six years, we hugged and picked up right where we left off.

So, despite the incredible menu and agenda this past weekend (all of which I consider a special outpouring of grace on me), the true highlight was Sunday morning when we had a time of worship and sharing what God has been doing (and not doing) in our lives. We encouraged one another and spoke truth into each others’ lives. It is this experience of connecting deeply and vulnerably that has and will continue to grow our friendships through the years.

Like the cypress trees surrounding us on the Pamlico River, these relationships have a developed root structure which is wide and deep. I left with deep sense of gratitude for these and other “cypress friends” in my life.

They have and will continue to weather flood and wind, and thankfully for me, they don’t go down in hurricanes.

From → Stories

  1. Praising God for these deeply rooted “cypress friends” that our sweet Father has placed in your life. May HE continue to pour His love out on you through friends and family like this.

  2. hhpt permalink

    You are such a good writer. We’ve never met* but your writings on grief, hope, friendship, love, family, and faith are so inspiring. By writing and sharing with the “blogosphere”, you remind me of the connections that exist among us as people, and between humanity and God. Cypress knees and iris are among my favorite living things. It sounds like the only thing missing on this trip (or in your telling of it) was a dog!

    *we do have friends in common, I’m not a total creeper!

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