Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Times that I Spend with My Best Friends

Twenty six years ago, when I was 19 and a strange combination of naive and arrogant, which I suppose many 19 year olds demonstrate, I met an "old man" who was about the age I am now. He was to become the president of the college I was attending and little did I know that he was going to change my life.

As a sophomore, I met him during one of his first weeks on campus and he was able to very accurately explain to me the frustrations I was currently facing. He said, "I can imagine that you are eager to out there and change the world. You probably feel that stuffing envelopes in a campus office while you attend classes is uneventful and boring. But remember this: Moses spent 40 years kicking around sand in the dessert before he was ready for God to use him." These were the first of a multitude of one-liners that he used to change my life.

I found out soon after I got to know Dr. Mills that he and I shared the same personality profile. This was important to me as I had recently been told that with my personality I would not amount to much and seeing that he was so much like me and had achieved the presidency was encouraging. "Velvet Hammer" was the nickname given to our personality type and he quickly pointed out that while he might be a velvet hammer, I was a velvet slush hammer. He would say to me, "Miss Flye, YOU are a raging hurricane while I, I am a gentle autumn rain."

We have had more than 100 significant discussions in my life and they have molded and shaped me into the person I am today. During my senior year, his son and I were taking the same class and since he had some issues with reading comprehension, I offered to read aloud our collateral reading. Thus I got to know his son and his wife quite well over that year. We shared many excellent times together. His wife prepared me for my first interview for a real job by taking me shopping for a "business suit" and helping me get ready for the trip out East. They hosted my parents for dinner the day after my college graduation. They were the last people I saw as I drove away.

Three years later I came back to work for Dr. Mills and began some of the best four years of my life. He pushed me, argued with me, challenged me, made me think, and somehow convinced me that I could be better than I had ever previously imagined. He taught me phrases like, "If God wants to do something great, He starts with a problem. If he wants to do something incredible, He begins with an impossibility." He instilled in me faith, determination, hope and courage. He made me believe in myself and in a great big God.

His daughter Heather played volleyball for me when I coached (I know, don't even think about fainting over the fact that I coached a college sport) and we had great times together, even though we only won one game that season.

Dr. Mills and I travelled together -- breath-taking trips, not necessarily because of the scenery but because of his driving! He convinced a waitress once that I was out on leave from a mental institution without me knowing it. He played tricks on me that had friends and strangers alike doubled over with laughter. And every time something funny happened between us, he could tell the story later like nobody else, again and again, to a new audience each time and the story got funnier with every telling.

My four years as the Dean of Students passed by and I was off to Mexico to work as an educational consultant. I could sense his prayers for me from afar and every time I returned to campus he and his wife, Bonnie, were more than willing to let me stay at the house and enjoy their company as well as their pool.

Soon after I moved to Minnesota I received the news that Stephen, their son who I had helped with a class so many years before, had died tragically. I received a call from Dr. Mills the week between Stephen's death and his funeral and walked through that time with them.

At our wedding, Bart and I had Paul and Bonnie be our host and hostess. If you were there you remember him taking his job very seriously, directing people to the reception in the same way that he forged college basketball teams to victory as a coach. Having them there made our day even more special.

In 2001 Bart and I were privileged to attend the World Methodist Council Meeting in Brighton, England. Paul and Bonnie were in attendance and we had a wonderful meal together. Hours passed where we laughed until we cried. Paul and I shared story after story, and threw jab after jab, with our better halves listened and occasionally joined in.

By 2003 we had nine children and Paul and Bonnie invited us to come share time with them on Seabrook Island, their new home in South Carolina. Paul took on the challenge of directing my crew with enthusiasm and the kids still talk about our time with them in their home and on the beach. Four days later, tired and sunburned, we left with many memories.

Within a year of when we left, Bonnie received the news that she had cancer which she battled for a long time, finally passing away in January of last year. During those years she and I had multiple instant message conversations where she would type until she was too tired and needed to rest. A paragraph in her eulogy describes her well:
All through her married life her energy went into her children but she also contributed to students at each of the colleges/universities she and Paul served. She assisted students with their studies and study habits. She gave them confidence and always shined as a spiritual model. Her love of Scripture and her devotion to the Lord was evidenced all throughout her life in everything she did. She was a spiritual inspiration.
I was one of those students.

It didn't seem possible that Bonnie could be gone. I think that I secretly felt that if I were to see Paul again, I would miss her way more than I had previously. But knowing that I couldn't pass up a chance to see him, I called him and asked if he would have time to meet with us while we were in Philly this week.

Not only did he agree to meet with us, he agreed to drive to us, a 2 hour trip one way. And we had a marvelous time together. Being with him reminded me again of the many things he had taught me: That no matter what, God is on the throne.... that we can move on and be victors instead of victims, that there is a purpose and a plan and that we ARE strong enough to keep going. Sure, I missed Bonnie more, but it felt great to talk about her, to honor her memory, and to reminisce

After two and a half hours it was time for him to leave. As we visited I was shocked by how little he had changed. He's 71 now and doesn't seem a day older than he did 26 years ago. If any of you know him, know that he is exactly as you would expect him to do. The same attitude, the same mannerisms, the same zest for life, the same sense of humor, the same man.

There is not one other person who has more directly impacted my life. There is no one else I trust as implicitly to be a role model and mentor to me. He knows me. He understands me. He always has.

The interesting thing about Paul Mills is that I'm not the only one who feels this way about him. There are so many others who have a similar story about the way he impacted their lives.

I'm sure that many of you haven't read this far and are annoyed by me using so much blog space for this story, but the point of the post is this: Each of us owe our successes to those who have gone before us and it is our job to pass on to those who come behind us the same legacy of faithfulness. And so, after an amazing day yesterday, I honor Dr. Mills (who will most likely never read this) the words to "Find Us Faithful." Because I know that above all else, he expects me to pass it on.

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.


Denise Denison said...

Oh Claudia! I am crying my eyes out right now! I miss the Mills so much! And you sound like you mother! And now I miss her too!

debbie said...

that was awesome.

Tudu said...

I don't know him but that was beautiful. You are lucky to have someone impact your life in such a wonderful way.

Marge said...

What a beautiful tribute to your friend. And I'm so glad you got to meet with him in Philly. I'll bet he is proud of you, too!

Torina said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing! You are very fortunate to have such a person in your life.

FAScinated said...

I've heard you talk about him before, Claudia. I'm glad you got to see him. What a beautiful tribute.

HollyMag said...

Paul Mills is truly an amazing man! I haven't seen him since he left BWC. (I would always get to see him at the Pacific Southwest District Conferences when he'd speak on behalf of BWC)

So glad to hear he's doing well and hasn't changed, but he was always a great story teller and a Godly example.

Thanks for sharing!

waldenbunch said...

What a beautiful tribute. I hope one day someone can say that about my life. Until then, like you, I will run the race God has called me to.