One of the best gifts in life is friendship. There is so much value in the face of a friend, who can look you in the eyes, and say “I love you just as you are.” There is beauty, simplicity, and grace in this gift. I have many such people it seems who do this, but none quite like the brother I call “Pops.” His real name is David Luce, but to everyone, it seems, from grandchildren to children, to my children, to friends his age, he is Pops. He’s one of those delightful people in this world, with eyes that sparkle, a heart full of joy and the love of Jesus, and a depth of love for life that is expressed simply and graciously.
Back in 1998 on our first family trip to England, the kids met and loved Pops. They’d met him first eight years previous on his trip to the states, but they were super young then. So staying in his magical “Dad, this feels like a gateway to Narnia” home, called “Orchard House,” equipped with wardrobes and all, spending time with his children (my age) and grandchildren (our children’s ages), well there was nothing to compare.
Our second daughter Grace, then 11, was enamored: “Pops, when I grow up I want to come and take care of you in your old age!” He couldn’t stop chuckling over this.
Recently, one waiter, who likes waiting on Pops in a local restaurant where Pops now shares a home with his children near Nottingham, told his daughter, “When I met your dad, it restored my faith in humanity.” Yes. That’s what this man does just by being the person he is.
Pops produces such laughter through comments, gestures, his unique take on life, and the way he plays at regular games with the family.
Traveling in the car with Pops, he will narrate which hymns from the Baptist or Methodist hymnals the numbers on license plates represent. Upon request, he will sing the hymns. “That’s the great Charles Wesley hymn, ‘O For a Heart to Praise My God.'”
He tells the story of awakening once and noting that the time on his digital, red display clock read “4:09” and he prayed to the Lord, knowing that #409 was the hymn titled “Art Thou Weary,” saying, “Yes, Lord, I am weary and I think I will go back to sleep.” Who does this?
Once playing the English game Articulate with his family and mine, Pops had the word “Warship.” In this game, you are allowed to say anything except any portion of the word you have been given in order to elicit that word from your listening team. For most of us, this means saying a stream-of-consciousness kind of list of word associations. Pops first gave the clue, with a triumphal sounding voice: “Danger upon the Sea!” That was it, and then he waited. Pops felt this ought to do it. Seeing our baffled expressions, and our hand gestures asking for more clues, he then added, resolutely: “Remember the Enemy!” As the timer buzzed, we all burst out laughing. And he, ever a good sport, laughed with us, saying, “Ah, what Sweet Merriment!”
A rich part of Pops’ history is that he was born and lived his first 18 years on the Island of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands.
He is fluent in French and still reads the scriptures in that beloved heart language. At the age of 7, the Nazis took and occupied that and all the Channel Islands for the five years. He and his family chose to stay together rather than ship the children to England, so as a unit, experienced the deprivation and challenges that accompanied the occupation. His dad, also the village baker, manager of a general store and postmaster, tried to continue his work. At one point he made bread from ground bird seed as the impact of the occupation worsened.
Pops is a Jerseyman through and through. Although college and his Baptist ministry all happened in England, he still finds his roots there on that beloved island. I’ve known Pops for 40 years, so have heard much about this “homeland,” but it was only this past June that I had the privilege of traveling there with him.
What a privilege that was to travel with this dear brother, 26 years my senior, an elder statesman at 85, with a heart of someone in his 20s. Our adventure began as we sat by a woman on the bench awaiting the bus in Nottingham to take us to the East Midlands airport. I asked her where she was heading, since she also had a suitcase, and she said, “I’m heading home to Jersey.”
“Jersey?” I said. “That’s where we are heading. Pops was born there.”
At that, they began to exchange greetings.
“Which Parish (the island is divided up into 12 parishes) are you from?” Pops inquired.
This blond, young woman named Catherine, in her white raincoat, answered, “Trinity.”
“Well, so am I,” said Pops.
“Really,” Catherine responded, and thus they began to narrow down where they had lived and where her parents yet lived, which part of Trinity, which crossroads, etc, and as impossible as it seemed, this woman’s parents lived (and she had grown up) in the house next door to where Pops had grown up. Her family owned and lived in the house where his grandparents had lived all his growing up years.
The bus came and we chuckled at this impossibility, and joyfully boarded and traveled to the airport. As we rode he commented upon the bus, appreciating it’s design, etc, saying: “What a civilized bus!”
I asked, “Pops, what would an uncivilized bus be like?” He just chuckled.
We flew from East Midlands to Jersey, on a packed plane and my tour started from the air,
“There, Brian, there below, that’s the lighthouse. You see we are approaching from the west, as I predicted. Beautiful day, it is, what a blessing from the Lord.”
Pops had such joy in his heart as we arrived. I had not seen such vigor in him for a while. He was home.
There are few gifts in this life greater than having the privilege of touring this island with this Jerseyman as my guide. What laughter we shared, as we rented this tiny red car for our island tour, I mentioned to the woman helping us at the Avis counter that Pops is a Jerseyman and fluent in French, as was she, and with joy, they launched into a conversation in that heart language. She bid us “Au revoir!” and we launched onto the tiny Jersey lanes that joined to the main “highway.”
Pops had created a two-column list of the sights he wanted me to see while on Jersey. Every one of these was connected to memories of life as a boy when he’d bicycled around much of his part of the island and certainly to his favorite Jersey bays for swimming.
He had booked us into the Biarritz Hotel, his favorite place. This is a Methodist-run establishment had upgraded us to a bay view room. This place offers three meals a day and still offers morning prayers and a Sunday night church service. We took these in. We also dove into another devotional together, shared Scripture readings and sweet times of prayer on our own during the week.
This visit marked the 40th year of our friendship. We met the third Sunday of September at Muswell Hill Baptist Church 40 years ago in 1978! Back then, I had walked in on that Sunday seeking a place to be part of a worshiping community, while studying in London. Little did I know that this randomly chosen congregation would embrace me and embark me on a friendship that would teach me joy and free my heart from many layers of hurt.
That Sunday when 45-year-old David Luce entered the pulpit and shared from his heart the message of Jesus, what struck me most was the joy that shone from his face as he spoke. David then and now overflowed with love for Jesus and the joy of Jesus within him.
How could I know that first Sunday that I’d be frequently eating lunch with his family that term, and that we’d be hosting him in our home a decade later and that a mentoring, growing, deep friendship would launch.
But now 40 years later, we were traveling to Jersey. Pops hadn’t visited for six years. As we would meet up with people there he would tell them he’d left the island fifty years ago for college. Finally, I said, “Pops. 50 years ago? You left at 18 and you’re 85. I count 67 years.” He protested that he was rounding the number. “Well Pops,” I told him, “that would never work in math class! When rounding most of us would round up to the next 10 not down by that number!”
He laughed and laughed, and said, “You’re a terror! I tell you! A tonic!”
It was a pleasure to explore jersey and see it through his eyes.
Sunday we visited his home church Ebenezer Methodist Church where his dad had played the organ for 60 years. We were greeted by Ruth Pinot, a friend of his,
who had organized the stitching of the Trinity Parish tapestry (check out that link to the Aug 27th post). The church was this eclectic mixture of old and modern and trying to decide what it would be in this era.
But meeting those who’d known Pops as a boy who were still there was incredible One couple invited us to tea a couple days later. That day my swim was in Bouley Bay.
The journey to visit with John and Rosalee was my favorite journey across the island. We were running late, and Pops got a bit turned around so we ended up, on this Tiny Jersey lane which was two-way, apparently, traveling across the island at what felt like 60, when 20 mph would have felt fast, zooming past fields, cows (“Pops! There’s a Jersey Cow!” Woosh!), crops along hedgerows and rock walls of jersey granite. It was harrowing! We arrived only ten minutes past the hour!
That conversation between these three octo+genarians, with memories of Pops’ parents and grandparents, was delightful. Rosalee served us traditional Jersey treats and tea. She and he had grown up together and sat there reminiscing on their lives. The “remember when” stories were unending. She and Pops had met in Bouley Bay while both in the water for a swim a decade back, and she chuckled recalling how they stood there, deep in the bay chatting away.
Another day we visited the main town of St Helier. There he’d taken organ lessons, and there also he had gone to school from age 6 to 18. As we arrived at his school, I was not certain what to expect. The gate to the establishment was grand enough-
But I was not prepared for what awaited as we walked up the path and rounded the corner. There on this imposing hill stood what could have been Hogwarts! “Pops! You never mentioned you’d gone to Hogwarts?!?!”
Actually called “Victoria College” with school for boys through 18. It was founded by Queen Victoria and completed in 1852. To visit this place was like a step back in time to ancient England. To get into this school, Pops had received the last of the five full-ride scholarships offered. He chuckled recounting how as he attended there, he’d one year received the “classics” award, yet he was the sole person in the school studying Ancient Greek for the classics curriculum. He truly was “top of his class!” We eventually found the office and were told: “You can’t just wander around!”
JK Rowlings description of the fictional school could have been based upon this massive place. The school had “houses” and competitions between them. Quidditch, anyone? When the administration discovered there was “a boy” from the school visiting, the Headmaster came to greet us and we were given a tour.
There was even a great hall upstairs, in use for exams, so we couldn’t go in! Might have been struck by a wand. Since it had been so long since Pops had attended, his professors now have rooms and halls named after them. Our tour guide was a bit in awe, pointing to the name above the room we were entering, “You studied with him?” “Oh yes,” Pops responded, nonchalantly.
We left the school and after a tea, caught the bus back to our hotel. That day I swam in our bay. We always sat in the same spot for dinner, our assigned table, next to these three sisters from Ireland. My favorite moment with them was when one of them asked for a bit of custard to go on her dessert and the waiter had brought her a “boat” of it. She literally applauded and smiled and had such joy seeing that custard. “Pops! There’s a woman with the same love of custard you have!” I said. Later he was going to chat with her after dinner about her experiences working for a famous English evangelist with whom Pops had been acquainted — this is back in the 1960s. I told him he as out for his hot date. “You’re a terror!” he laughed.
Time. Conversations. Laughter. Prayers. Swims.
These were elements of this trip but were ingredients in our friendship as well. Pops was super patient for me to swim as much as I’d like in the 60F waters. He often just waited on the shore. Never in a hurry. Once he even stretched out fully clothed “sunbathing!”
“Love is patient,” wrote the Apostle Paul, and from the number of times Pops waited and waited for me while I swam, clearly I’m loved.
When we left to fly back to London our dinner friends came out to wave us off.
Life is filled with memories and adventures. Places. Experiences. Sights. Encounters. But people, friendships are what make a life. What a gift to live known to others and loved by them.
“Friendship is unnecessary,” wrote CS Lewis, “like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value, rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” (brainyquote.com)