Plant and Wait

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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

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Showing 12 comments
  • Avatar
    Kevin Cusack
    Reply

    Fred – Indeed the Foundation provided a regular recharge and refocus for Meg and I along with many, many of our friends.(Friendship today that were developed and deepen at the Foundation) To say the impact on us was life changing is not an overstatement. We have carried a vision for making 100x investments for the kingdom ever since Bob challenged us to do so.
    We are so appreciative of all those who chose to build into our lives at such a pivotal time for us as a young couple raising a family. That certainly includes your help, insight, encouragement and challenge over all these numerous decades.
    Bob and Linda’s investment has produced one of the highest and best return I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. May we all strive to be as fruitful with all the God has entrusted us.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Kevin. You and Meg are living proof of what Bob and Linda hoped for.

  • Avatar
    Doug Stepelton
    Reply

    Amen Fred

  • Avatar
    John T Wierick
    Reply

    Beautiful tribute to your extraordinary friend, Fred. What a legacy. At the risk of sounding heretical, there’s a big part of me that wonders if this kind of investment in others, having our fruit grow on “other people’s trees” for generations after we’re gone, is what eternal life really looks like. Sure sounds more satisfying than singing hymns forever.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. I don’t think this is heretical at all. This life is training for the next and the next will have even more responsibility.

  • Avatar
    Jack Willome
    Reply

    Fred,
    Wonderful reflections on The Foundation rising from the ashes of Linda’s & Bob’s grief over losing Ross. Dee and I are also among the multitude of beneficiaries of Linda and Bob’s generosity, which had a tremendous influence on the formation of our values. In addition to The Foundation were YPO’s Fellowship Focus Forum, Leadership Network and early stages of The Gathering and HalfTime. All staffed so effectively by a small team in Tyler (including Carol Childress & Gayle Carpenter), led by you. Bob was the entrepreneur, while you and your team “gave legs” to his big ideas. Thank you!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Jack. No one knows better than you. Being here with so many “alum” of the Foundation only underscores what you have said.

  • Avatar
    Russ Pulliam
    Reply

    Thank you for this reflection, Fred. My first awareness of Bob was hearing his story about Ross on a cassette tape, about his cable tv business and its future. That helped me be ready to read his Second Half books 10 to 15 years later, with much benefit. Bob’s ministry has been a blessing to many here in Indianapolis, so many men I know in the second half now and doing significant work for the Lord.
    Russ Pulliam

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Russ. As you know so well, some tragedies are turned inside out and others do not. I am grateful for you.

  • Avatar
    Steve Leach
    Reply

    I remember well when we lost our first son Wesley to Sudden Infant Death and all “those verses” were thrown at us and the good meaning comments like, “God must love Wesley so much He had to bring him home early,” which only made it harder to understand what God was up to in the tragic loss for a such a young couple. To your redemptive point, Carolyn started reading the obituaries in the Houston Chronicle and every time she found the death of a child, she wrote them a note of hope for God’s grace and comfort. It was over a decade later when we ran into a man who had gotten one of those letter. He told Carolyn that it saved his life as it had pulled him back from the precipice of suicide. He went on to write a book and start a ministry, thus a piece of God promise of “all this” was realized, yet never on this side of heaven in proportion to our loss.

    Bob was a real hero in our time and I think God for his love of we Halftimers and those young men and women blessed by The Foundation.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Steve – I don’t think I knew this until now. Thank you for sharing it. I trust you all are doing well. Our good friends, Abi and Ryan Fredericks just moved to Austin from Baltimore.

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