A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17
Johnny Cash sang it. “My name is Sue…now you’re going to die.” Well, his name wasn’t Sue but it was Francis. Like Sue…it was a somewhat unusual name for a man and Francis was an unusual guy. I met Francis when I went to pastor at the LaMonte Baptist Church. The church had three deacons and they were named Leo, Francis, and Floyd. All three of them were special guys and I grew to love each one of them for who they were. I was a very young, inexperienced pastor. I was new at the pastoring thing. So new, in fact, that when I mowed my grass at the parsonage, across the street from the church, I would wear dress pants. I wasn’t sure if pastors were allowed to wear jeans so close to the church. They can.
So, even back in 1984, Judy loved flowers and the parsonage was woefully short in that department. In fact, I’m not sure there were any flowers in the entire yard. Well, one day Judy declared that she wanted a flower bed. She began to actually plan the “where’s and how’s” of the flower bed. If it would have been me, I would have grabbed some flowers, dug a hole, stuffed them in, and added dirt. Good luck. Not Judy. She decided that the flower bed should go along the front of the house and that it need to be raised. That means we needed to find some timbers to build up the height of the bed. Again, after a little thought, she decided that railroad ties would do the job.
Somehow, I casually mentioned to Francis that Judy wanted a flower bed. Now Francis was the “go-to guy” when it came to things like the parsonage. He had already led the charge in installing a brick flue so we could have a wood burner so he was the natural choice for the flower bed. I said, “Francis, Judy would like to have some railroad ties for her new flower bed”. Francis didn’t miss a beat. He said, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at five.”
Well, sure as shooting, the next day at five, Francis pulled up in his big ole dually, white Dodge pickup truck. You know there are pickup trucks too pretty to get dirty and then there are real pickup trucks. Francis had a real pickup truck. I climbed inside and we headed toward Sedalia the largest town nearby. I figured we were heading to the hardware store there to purchase some ties. I was wrong. You see, there was a railroad that ran parallel to the main highway. We went down the road a ways and then…Francis turned.
Yup, he turned on a small road and then immediately took a right. We had arrived at the railroad tie store only it wasn’t a store…it was the factory. I found myself in railroad tie heaven. You see, the railroad company had recently replaced their ties and the old ones were strewn all down the rails. As far as you could see there were railroad ties. I was just amazed. I should have been afraid.
Francis said, “Preacher, how many ties do you think you will need?” Well, I told him I thought ten or twelve would be enough.” So we started going along the tracks and selecting the best ones for the flower bed. Just like a carpenter would choose the best 2×4’s at the lumber yard, we picked the best ties. This was just awesome. And then it happened. I heard the sound of distant train whistle.
Now I didn’t think a thing about it. I always was a bit gullible and way too trusting. I had just assumed that Francis had called the local railroad office, told them the church needed a few of their old ties and got permission to get some. I was wrong. I heard the whistle the second time and it was decidedly closer. I noticed that Francis had picked up the pace…he was definitely moving a little faster. I still didn’t think a thing. I just assumed he didn’t want to be that close to the tracks when the train went by. Well, that was kinda true.
The whistle blew again and this time it must have been about a mile down the tracks and Francis said it, “Preacher, we gotta go.” I did sense a bit of urgency in his voice but I kinda thought it was a safety thing. It turned out it was a bit more than that. As we got back in his truck I said, “Francis, what’s the hurry?” I was thinking we could just move the truck further away from the tracks and we could even wave at the crew as they went by. “Preacher, you don’t think they are giving us these ties, do you?” Wait. What?
Yup…I just discovered that we were stealing ties from the railroad. It wasn’t a matter of safety it was a matter of not going to jail. So, Francis cranked the engine and mashed the gas and off we went just before the train came by. In the back of the truck were a bunch of railroad ties and in the front were two guys. One was a preacher, one was a deacon and both of them were guilty as sin. One knew all about it and the other was just learning but both were tie stealing criminals. Francis was smiling and I was wondering if I was going to jail. But somehow it all seemed like a great adventure.
Well, we got back to the parsonage and we built the flower bed. Francis helped with that too. Years later when I would return to the church to preach, share at a funeral or maybe just drive through town, I would look and see the ties. I didn’t remember the sin (I’m sure I confessed it. God had forgotten it and I figure I should too.) No, I remembered a crusty old deacon, but more than that, a friend who wanted to help. His way wasn’t ethical but all these years later, his willingness, his own brand of love is still lodged in my heart. The Book says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” You know there are fancy friends, and rich friends and maybe even friends in positions of power. And then there are the Francis kind of friends. Of course if you’re gonna steal railroad ties, you definitely need the Jesus kind of friend. As a matter of fact, He says, “go steal no more” in Ephesians 4:28, and I didn’t. His specialty is forgiving when you mess up and He’s the best friend of all. He’s the kind of friend that wouldn’t have frowned or pretend He didn’t know you when He saw you in Walmart. No, He’s the stay by your side friend. Through thick or thin, jail or not, He would say, “Don’t worry…just rest in Me. I’ve got this.” Now that’s my kind of friend.