Friendship Factor #4: "Not a moment too soon"

I am very hesitant to write about my good friend Greg...but I sensed the Lord would have me tell you about him. Here goes:

Greg Stephens came on staff with our local church(Peerless Road, Cleveland TN) as the minister of music. This was 1983. More talent than any one person should ever have in this life time. He was originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota, and was thrilled to be coming back to southeastern Tennessee to fulfill his musical giftedness.

I thought he was pretty wonderful from the first choir rehearsal. He had my unwavering confidence. He could direct a choir to almost unimaginable musical heights, helping us to really 'feel what we are singing about."

He was a bit cocky--but then again, we all can be. Something happened...and I'm not sure what it was. But things began to change...and not for the better.

Things started changing in our local church. Alliances were being made that we had not previously experienced. The "us" and "them" syndrome swept through the music department of the church, and left many people in its wake. I was one of them.

I remained faithful to use the limited abilities that God had given me, and in spite of disappointments and disillusionments, was in the middle seat, second row of the choir loft every Sunday morning and evening.

Now, much to my dismay, Greg was not only the music director, he was also assuming the responsibilities of "Ministry to Singles" for the local church. I thought "Oh great, now I have to put up with his arrogance during the Singles' meetings too..." I was not too happy about it. I had already suffered more disappointment than I had ever asked for.

In September 1986, I made the decision to enter the United States Air Force. It was somewhat of a sudden decision, yet the Lord seemed to have His hand on all the processes, speeding them along for me.

I left my home church, the people I had known for many years, and the familiarity of Cleveland, TN. I thought I had left behind the disappointments, the hurts, the disillusionments, and frustrations as well. But I really didn't. And especially not how I was now feeling about Greg Stephens. I had been part of two ministries that he was directing, and didn't even get a "proper send off" from him. What nerve!

I would occasionally see him when I would be back in TN for various reasons, and we always extended the cordialities that acquaintances with good manners use. But, I was still hurting, harboring, and holding on to alot of things...stuff...baggage...issues.

I received a call in early January 1996 that my Grandmother Fields had suffered a heart attack and that I needed to get back to AL as quickly as possible. I was stationed in West Texas at the time...and made the emergency trip home. I made a quick trip up to Cleveland TN, and felt that I should go see Greg Stephens again, confess what had been troubling my heart for almost ten years.

I found him, at his new ministry assignment, and had the opportunity to sit down and talk, face to face--heart to heart. I confessed everything to him. We cried together. We prayed together. We embraced...and we affirmed our friendship and love for one another as God's children and brothers in the Lord.

He had an appointment already scheduled, and so lunch wouldn't be possible. I bid him adieu, and went back to Alabama, and then on back to West Texas. My heart was lighter, and I knew that God was smiling on what had transpired between Greg and myself.

Five days later, I had just gotten home from the office, and received a telephone call. "Phil, this is Sheena...I've got some bad news for you. Our precious Greg Stephens died of a brain aneurysm this morning about 8:30. I know you loved him, and he treasured you. I'm so sorry, but I knew you would want to know."

I was absolutely stunned! Not Greg...not now...I was preparing to move back to Tennessee and go to seminary...he and I were gonna do some projects together....NO! Not Greg....

But sadly, it was Greg...

The Holy Spirit reminded me of all those passages in the New Testament that instructs God's children about forgiveness, reconciliation, and brotherly love.

I wasted almost ten years...but through God's grace, when God welcomed Greg Stephens into the portals of heaven, I knew that my friend was "finally home."

Some things can't wait...and if they do, it will be too late.

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