incidental contact


IMG_0066Packing up a house is an archaeological expedition through the layers of a life in one place, not only because of the collections of things that have to be sorted and assigned a destination, but also because of the stories that get unearthed.

One that came to the surface is a favorite from my days as the youth minister at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth. One Wednesday evening I was walking down the hall of the building getting ready for the night’s activities when I passed Hazel, one of the young people, coming the other way. For no particular reason other than to greet her, I said, “Hey—I like you and I tell people that even when you’re not around,” and we smiled at each other and both kept going in our set directions.

A couple of days later, I received a card from her in which she took the time to tell me she had had a really bad day at school and my passing comment in the hall had reminded her she was loved. “You made my day,” she said. I can remember sitting at my desk with the card and thinking I needed to mark the moment. Incidental contact had lasting implications. I meant what I said to Hazel, but I wasn’t aiming for a life changing encounter, yet the things we set in motion with our words and actions—however small they might seem—are out of our control in some sense.

As Ginger was digging through the layers of life here on West Trinity, she found a letter my father had written to me in August 2006. We were still in Marshfield in those days, and my depression was still heavy. I had started writing about it on this blog in December of the previous year. The public nature of my disclosure was new to me and to my family. My dad was not one who easily spoke about his feelings; when he needed to get to something, he wrote it down. The letter is full of compassion and empathy. He was working hard to connect with me, telling me about times in his own life when he found the darkness visible. He reminded me that his best friend battled depression most of his life. And then in the last paragraphs he wrote:

What I pray you will get from this letter is the understanding that you are loved, accepted, and prayed for. To express to you how proud I am of you would be impossible. You are the most multi-gifted person I have ever known. My heart overflows with memories of joy and excitement in watching you grow and develop.

In reading some of your blogs it seems that I am the source of some of your heartache. If so, I am saying to you I am very sorry. I can say in all honesty that not in any way did I intend to create problems for you. You are the pride and joy of my life—I love you.

Sincerely, Dad

As I read and reread the letter through my tears, I thought about Hazel walking down the hall that night because I realized that, in some ways, my incidental contact with my father along the way had left him with the impression that it was his fault. That was not my intention. I am grateful to look back and be able to say that in the time between the letter and my father’s death I had the chance to let him know my depression was not his fault and we both got better at forgiving one another. Still, I keep looking at the letter . . .

. . . and what I see is how hard a time I had understanding how much he loved me. I read what I have quoted here and on some level I can’t describe I feel almost surprised, not because of Dad but because of the layer of my being that has to be reminded again and again that I, too, am wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and worthy to be loved. We have talked so much about random acts of kindness that it has become somewhat of a cliché, yet it matters that we look up and offer regard to those with whom we encounter in our billiard ball world. When I look at the letter and I think about Hazel there in the hallway, I pray my kindness is more than random. Incidental contact can be intentional, even in a passing moment. It’s worth remembering that, in the more consistent relationships in our lives, the layers of incidental contact stack up into patterns and rituals that either build pathways to our hearts or walls around them.

The archaeological dig here in our house in Durham is days away from completion and we will pack up the plans in the rented moving vans and head north. They don’t make a truck big enough to carry the memories of the incidental contact that reminds me of a love that will not let me go.




  1. “You are the most multi-gifted person I have ever known” . . . and one of the most multi-gifter persons I know. Thanks for the gift.

  2. Incidental contact, indeed… I met you and Ginger at youth camp in Sherman, TX in June of 2010. Since then, I have started a ritual of daily prayer for everybody I know by name in connection to Southwest Baptist Youth Camp; all the campers I know personally from each of the churches, their adult sponsors, pastors, and music leaders, all the children in my church who might someday go to youth camp, all the way down to the ‘little bitties’, and all their Sunday School teachers and caregivers. It is a list of more than 200 people, and I take about an hour and a half to complete it. Your dad used to pray for you and now you and Ginger are in my prayers daily. You are indeed a gifted and giving man, and much loved.

  3. “They don’t make a truck big enough”, indeed. We moved last year and I was stuck on a line from a song about “new light through old windows”, and kept circling back to Lyle Lovett “This Old Porch”, too.

    Your kindness is way more than random. Blessings on your whole human and canine family through the move process…!

  4. Well said, my friend. I will always remember the affirmation cards that we all wrote to one another when you were our Youth Minister her at UBC. We can never affirm one another enough. I have so many other sweet memories of our time together, and how we saw God in one another.

    My prayers go with you and Ginger on your next lap of God’s journey.

    My love and prayers that you “go in grace and peace and in the arms that will hold you.”
    Jill Calder

  5. What a marvelous meaningful memory letter from your father. How is it there are “things that should never be thrown away”. Thinking about your move and the next place you will multi-blessing!

  6. We are both so grateful we met you and shared even a little of our lives with you and Ginger. We are grateful there is a blog to follow. We know about starting over and how long it takes for a place to feel like “home.” You continue to be a part of our home here.

  7. Very recently I finally got through two storage spaces filled with an entire house that I packed away for what I thought would only be a moment, but turned into seven years. I’ve found cards, notes, poetry, diaries, and every other non-technological communication a person can receive. They were as recent as 2007 and as old as the late 60’s.
    I had a very similar experience to the one you describe. But for the most part, I was shocked by all the love, support, and genuine people-just-like-me I found. My depression and anxiety did not allow me to see most of that at the time it was presented to me. Sometimes I get angry, other times sad, and even other times I find myself in wonder about why God wouldn’t want me to soak that all in while it was there. My life would have been profoundly different if my point of view had been to see the love handed to me rather than walk around in fear for almost as long as I can remember. Yes, it would. Because that fear eventually created exactly the thing I was afraid of. Now it seems so late.

    F*** it, it’s a blog, right? I can say whatever I want.

    I love you, and I love Ginger too. sju

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