I sat in the back of the bus.
I sat with the other bewildered children listening to some strange lady trying to get us to sing songs that we had never heard before. She seemed way too happy for that time of the morning.
The church bus picked us up early on that Sunday morning in Oak Harbor and I was on my way to Fremont Baptist Temple in Fremont, Ohio. It is hard to believe that my parents allowed me to ride this rickety old bus some 25 miles to Fremont to attend Sunday school. But it was 1971 and things were different back then.
It seemed as if that strange lady in the front of the bus knew a never-ending list of songs. She sang those songs one right after the other and I found myself taking a liking to those catchy songs. Before I knew it we arrived at the church.
As they herded all of us up and tried to get us in line and in the right Sunday school room, I was still uneasy and not really comfortable with all of these strangers. I did not know anyone.
I was led into the fourth grade room and was introduced to my teacher. Mr. (Gene) Trusty was my teacher that day. He shook my hand as I walked in the room and remembered that he about broke my little 10-year-old hand that morning.
I sat at the end of the first row of chairs I could find. It did not take long to discover that I was looked on a little differently. I sat there quietly not wanting to draw attention myself and not really wanting to talk to anyone. I mean I was a bus kid and no one pays attention to a bus kid. That is just the way it was.
Then just before the class started this skinny little boy with blond hair came right up to me and asked me if I wanted to sit with him. He asked me my name. I told him that my name was David and he introduced himself as Steve.
Thus began the unlikely friendship that lasted from that Spring day in 1971 right up to Monday, October 10th, 2011.
Steve Schueren and I have known each other for over 40 years.
In those early years, we quickly became fast friends and though I lived in Oak Harbor and he lived over 30 miles away in Old Fort, Ohio I would spend time at his house as often as I could. We had the same love for sports and there was just something that just drew us together as friends.
Every Sunday I would rush off that broken down church bus and find my way to our Sunday school class and there would be Steve waiting there…saving me a seat. A seat for a bus kid.
This continued for the next few years, until one Sunday they told us that the church was no longer going to be sending a bus to Oak Harbor. I lost contact with my Old Fort friend. Three years passed.
In 1976, my sister started to drive and we talked our mom into allowing us to drive to the church in Fremont. As we parked our car and made our way into the church, I wondered if Steve was still at the church. Sure enough, there he was. He welcomed me and invited me to sit with him. It was as if nothing had ever changed and we just picked up our friendship where it had been left three years earlier.
For the next 10 years we did just about everything together. We were active in the church youth group, went to summer Bible camps. Hung out with each other and attended the same Christian School, played varsity soccer and basketball together. Listened to the same kind of music and sang in the same group. We worked at HJ Heinz together and both decided to go in the ministry and attend Liberty University together.
From that spring day way back in 1971 I have always looked up to Steve. That is not to say that we always got along. Like all friends we had our differences. We had our times where we needed space from each other. We both were very competitive and like any other friendship we had our share of arguments and disagreements.
Sometimes when you have a friendship that is similar to the one that Steve and I had, it would seem as if we had a lot of things in common. In reality we were quite different. I was an Ohio State fan… he was a Michigan fan. I was barely aware of who the President was… he could talk politics before it was popular to do so. I scraped by academically just so I could remain eligible to play sports… he was an excellent student. I was a stutterer and could not speak in front of people without embarrassing myself… he could hold the attention of a large crowd and could clearly explain difficult concepts long before he finished his education. I struggled with my walk with Christ, it was a daily battle… he had his act together spiritually and was an example on how a young man should live his life. He was one of the most focused and intelligent people I have ever known.
We were together for a lot of our life events. I remember the night Steve told me he was confident that he was dating the girl who would steal his heart. Being his longtime friend I must admit I was rather shocked and I had to admit I had never witnessed him so taken by a girl. I am referring to Rhonda, who would soon become his wife. Both he and Rhonda would be in my wedding and we would all share in celebrating the births of our first-born children.
He would graduate college and seminary and go directly into the ministry. He served in a church in Virginia for a few years and then he took the opportunity to teach at Temple Christian Academy in Fremont, Ohio where we both graduated. I had the privilege to work with him during his time at Temple. He was a gifted teacher and could inspire those who sat under his teaching to grasp the deeper things of God. He had a unique ability to challenge those that he taught to think and defend what you believed. He would teach you that if you believed something you needed to believe it because you researched it yourself and that you did not just believe because he or any other preacher said it was so. He was such a student of God’s Word. His students loved him and looked up to him.
It was during this time I noticed something different in Steve. He struggled with a burden that I did not see coming. Like Paul in the New Testament, who carried a burden for years that God never took away, Steve would carry this burden for years to come. This burden would start affecting his teaching. I am sad to say that I did not appreciate the years we worked together at Temple. I wish I could go back and change the way things happened and certainly how it all ended. I deeply regret it to this day. I was in a very difficult position where I had to tell Steve that the school was going to head in a different direction. We parted ways and from that point my friendship with Steve and his family would be strained at best. He would move on and become a wonderful pastor to those that he ministered to in churches in Indiana and Southern Ohio for the next 20 years or so.
I am sad to say that for this portion of our adult years “life” got in our way. He was busy in the ministry, raising children and moving forward with life. As I struggled in my walk with Christ, I found myself falling farther away from what was left of our friendship. When I went through a divorce in 1995, I had lost all contact with Steve. I alienated myself from almost everyone from my past and Steve was no exception. (I have documented my journey away from the Lord a number of times on this blog) Steve and Rhonda had remained friends with my ex-wife and I think that Steve and I went close to 13 years with no contact with each other. What ever was left of my friendship with Steve and his family was over when my divorce was finalized. I was a failure as a believer, a husband, a father and as a friend.
Steve battled his burden and I battled mine. His struggles were different from mine and while mine were for the most part self-inflicted, his were not. I deserved what I received from my choices and my self-inflicted struggles. Steve did not deserve what he was dealing with.
In 2009, Steve accepted the call to be the pastor of Bigelow Church in Portsmouth, Ohio. He was excited about the opportunities that this ministry had to offer. About that same time he came home to visit and one Sunday morning Steve and I talked for the first time in years. We talked for about an hour after church and we were re-united again. However, it was evident that time and space had changed us. We were not the people we were in high school or college for that matter. We would not ever again be the “Steve and David” combo we once were all those years ago.
The bottom line was that we re-established contact with each other and we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. I am thankful that we talked that day in the church because although it would never be the same we did indeed write notes back and forth over the course of the past few years. He would comment on my blog posts and I would comment on his. He had started a blog called, “A Clay Jar Speaks”. It was insightful and perfectly reflected his commitment to the truth of God’s Word. He linked my blog to his and I have had a number of people visit this site through the link on Steve’s blog. Over the next few months, we shared some letters and I had the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated his friendship and thank him for everything he had done for me all those years ago. I apologized to Steve and told him how sorry I was that I had failed in our friendship. I was hopeful that we could move forward and put behind us some of the things that had come between us.
But it soon was evident that Steve had begun to battle his burden again. Our communication slowed down and this past April he stopped responding to my notes and letters. I had known that Steve had battled depression since his time at Temple Christian. Over the years, there would be periods when he would struggle and I know he fought the battle courageously during these times and he would always come out on the other side. I had no doubt that this time would be no different.
When the phone rang on Monday, October 10th … I knew. The news on the line was devastating.
Steve’s death was sudden. When I heard the news I simply could not believe it. I had lost another pillar of my childhood. In 2009, I lost both Bob Emrich and Bryan Blakely, two of my closest friends. Both of them taken too young and too quickly. These losses were devastating to me. Now a few years later I lose Steve. We may not have been as close as we once were but make no mistake that he is and will always be a major influence in my life. Another pillar in my life… gone.
I cannot say I understand Steve’s death. I cannot process it. I don’t understand the decisions he made that day, but I accept them. I believe that he was courageously fighting his burden and it was a battle that he could no longer see the end of. It is with that aspect I am most saddened. It would be unreasonable for me to assume anything else other than the fact that he was a weary soldier and was ready to go home.
Steve was well-loved and he had done so many things on earth that had a direct impact on eternity. I will forever be grateful to have known him. I will forever be grateful that Steve was there at the right place and at the right time all those years ago in that Sunday school room when he asked a skinny, snotty nosed bus kid to sit next to him. I wonder where my life would have taken me had that not happened.
What is it that I will remember when I think of Steve? I have a long list of precious memories. Besides his commitment and love for the Word of God, I think everyone who knew him very well would agree with me on this. It was his sense of humor. He had a wonderful sense of sarcasm and humor. That is what I will truly miss about Steve. He could make me laugh and not many people could do that.
I will remember him when I hear a Ronnie Milsap or Tim Sheppard song. I will remember him when I watch the Ohio State – Michigan game. I will remember him every time I turn on the NCAA March Madness during basketball season. I will remember him each and every time I watch a political debate on TV. He would just love to comment on the perspectives of each candidate.
All of these things and more will trigger memories of him.
I will forever be grateful for spending 40 years of my life with the pleasure of knowing him. All the memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered. Steve will forever live in my heart. Steve is in heaven now. This is not the time for me to grieve his death; I choose to celebrate his life. I choose to think back and remember how Steve touched my life. How he made me laugh and how good Steve was as a person. I am thankful that I was given the chance to have known a man named Steve Schueren… he made me a better person.
(Updated on January 11, 2012)
I mentioned in the last few paragraphs that I would always remember Steve when I hear a Tim Sheppard song. Since Steve’s death this song has taken a very special place in my heart and it will always be the song that will bring back cherished memories of the man of God that I knew in Steve. This song brings me great comfort and as Tim sings please take a moment to reflect and remember Steve as I do…
Steve will forever be missed but I know in the right time, I will meet Steve again. He will be waiting there in heaven and maybe he’ll be saving me a seat and invite this “bus kid” to sit next to him…just like he did all those years ago.
I look forward to taking him up on that invitation.