Sabbatical Lessons Learned Along the Journey – Venice

Venice has been referred to as a “puddle of elegant decay.” It was born in a lagoon over 1500 years ago as a refuge from barbarians. Over 100 islands are laced together by 400 bridges and 2000 alleys. And it is a gorgeous old city – a city that survives because tourists flock to it by the thousands. It’s original claim to fame is the fact that the bones of St. Mark – author of the 2nd gospel – were reputedly smuggled into the city in A.D. 828. They are now housed in the huge cathedral called appropriately St. Mark’s Cathedral.

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But my lesson learned has nothing to do with any of this. My lesson can be summed up like this: Never underestimate the value of a great friend.

When I was 10 years old I met Wallace McNair. We played on the same little league baseball team. We went to high school together. We had the same network of friends. We went to the same church and were involved in youth group together. We were discipled by the same guy. He went to Clemson for college while I went to Tulane University in New Orleans – but we hung out together during the summers. When we graduated college we traveled around Europe together for a month with backpacks. A year later he was in my wedding. A few years after that I was in his wedding. He settled in Greenville, SC. I settled in Durham, NC. We stayed connected and got together when we could. The years passed and we both had 3 kids, one wife, and golden retrievers. We supported each other and each other’s kids on mission trips. He came to my daughters wedding and I went to his daughters wedding.


The McNairs with us in Venice
The McNairs with us in Venice

And this week, 34 years after we traveled together around Europe, we met up in Venice Italy with our wives (and his youngest daughter). We had a great time walking the city, seeing the sights, eating at good restaurants, and remembering stories from our past.

He is a great friend. I’ve been thinking these last few days about what makes a great friend. Here are a few things that came to mind:

1) Shared memories – It takes time for a friend to become a great friend. And it takes involvement in experiences together. When I think about the small number of people I would consider a great friend, this is especially true. Wallace and I have a bank of shared memories that bond the friendship.

2) Similar core values – If friends do not believe the same things about life they will never become great friends. It is just impossible. Wallace and I both have a strong faith in God that dictates how we live and raise our families and do our jobs. Without our faith in God we might be friends but not great friends.

3) A commitment to the relationship – Even with the first two in place it takes commitment to maintain a great friendship – especially when separated by many miles. Wallace and I been intentional about staying in touch even when there were long periods when we did not see each other. And because of this, when we do get together, it is easy to pick up where left off.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” For me, one of these friends is Wallace.

Next Stop: Stresa (on Lake Maggiore)

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