Plant and Wait
Listen to “Plant and Wait” by Fred Smith
Ten of us, all friends of Bob and Linda Buford, were sitting in the living room of their farmhouse waiting for the most important call of their lives. Just days before, their son Ross and two friends had set off on what Ross described on his answering machine as “the great adventure.” They were planning to swim across the Rio Grande river and then return the same way. The Rio Grande was normally shallow that time of year but the melt upstream had been unusually heavy and the river was swollen and cold – so much so that two of the boys, Ross included, had become stranded in the middle clinging to a rock.
The call could either make us shout with relief or be numb with grief. It was the latter. Ross had lost his grip on the rock and had been carried downstream to his death. None of us knew what to say. No one needed to say anything. We simply clung to each other as Ross had to the rock. Each of us, in our own way, felt carried downstream ourselves. Something in each of us had died. A young man, 24 years old at the beginning of a career, bright, adventurous, kind, and talented – Bob and Linda’s only child – had been snatched from all of us in what turned out to be a tragic misadventure.
One of the most misused verses in all of Scripture is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Worse, it is too often quoted to those who, like Bob and Linda, have suffered such an overwhelming loss. It’s as if we are saying, “You’ll get over it before you know it and then see how this was really for the best.” I know that is not intended but glibly to say all things work together for good at that moment is insensitive at best and sometimes even cruel.
After Ross’s death, Bob and Linda committed themselves to young men and women who, like Ross, were caught up in the excitement, opportunities, stresses, and distractions of early careers. They created a ministry – The Foundation – that sponsored conferences with speakers and topics designed not only to reach into their practical lives, ambitions, and hopes for the future but also challenge them to examine their hearts and motivations. Paul says to the Ephesians that they are to be very sure about where they are rooted and established because that will determine the direction and balance of their lives. Over ten years, hundreds of young couples and singles came to the Foundation and formed bonds with others that, even today, are lasting. So many went on to lives of integrity, faithfulness, and fidelity. Some soared and others, like Icarus, fell from great heights while flying too close to the sun. Some outgrew the easy label of “the best and the brightest” and traded it for becoming, instead, salt of the earth and devoted members of their local communities. Some found the arc of their lives has not been even but more of a meandering than expected. Others, steadily advanced to international stature while keeping their families intact. Sadly, others made the Faustian bargain with success and lost themselves or wandered away. Many shed the burden of “most likely to succeed” and found a more solid measure of success in their homes, churches, organizations, and contributions.
Bob died last year and as I have thought about the Foundation I have again realized how many of these then young men and women considered themselves part of Bob and Linda’s family. For their part, Bob and Linda considered them almost adopted into a relationship that has lasted for decades. They have loved them like their own and they remained until the end of his life a major part of Bob’s legacy. He wrote that his fruit grew on other’s trees and while that sounds simple it is profoundly true. The effects of their sorrow and loss were not wasted in bitterness. Their already close marriage became, against the odds, even stronger. The fruit of those conferences and relationships has been a joy to see.
As you are reading this, I am sitting on a beach in Florida attending the Telemachus conference that was born out of the Foundation by a core of young couples. Today, while they are no longer young they have not lost the commitment to the next generation they discovered as their careers and lives matured. They have become “Bob and Linda” to those following them now. I, of course, am even older but as I watch them encourage these younger friends I can remember with enormous gratitude the opportunity I had so many years ago and now have once again.
Bob and Linda’s seed fell on good soil and has multiplied.
Art by Jean Francois Millet