Just had a long conversation with a man who has become a bit of a mentor to me: Lyman Coleman. (There is no short conversation with Lyman). Lyman is 75-years-old. And boy has he lived. This morning he said that his goals for life were to educate his children, finish strong, and die broke—meaning leave it all on the field. “So far,” he said, “I’m on track for all three.” He studied Philosophy at Baylor before earning a degree from the Dallas Theological Seminary. (Or at least I think he got a degree there. For all I know he’s on permanent double-secret probation.) He’s worked with the Navigators and was with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association during the height of its ministry. Leaving there, he was one of the earliest voices in the small-group movement. Thousands will still recall his Coffee House meetings throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Of course Lyman’s legacy is most likely Serendipity House, the small-group Bible study publisher and creator of the Serendipity Bible. He remains an innovator, true to his heart and who he has been created to be. Lyman has never been afraid to break the mold, challenge convention, or call out something not quite right … the only thing he’s sold out to in his life is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lyman is also no stranger to pain; to heartbreak. I might think that a man after God’s heart like Lyman Coleman could avoid tragedy. But that just isn’t the case. He lost his wife to a medical malpractice event years ago. He has survived two of his children and recently lost a daughter-in-law. Last month one of his own mentors, Bruce Larson, departed this world. Lyman arrived at the funeral surprised to see his name on the program as a speaker. Responding to his surprise, he was told to just keep it short; that’d he be fine. See, Lyman has avoided most public speaking for several years. He just hasn’t had the heart for it. Life can have that effect. His surprise at seeing his name on the program, however, is indicative of how God works. God allows these things to bubble up in our lives to call us again and again into the redemptive story that He has been revealing to us and continues to reveal. I know from my experiences that it’s not easy. So Lyman followed a thirty minute eulogy. “I spoke for two minutes,” he told me earlier today. “I broke down and I was done. I said everything I needed to say.” He said that this was his call back out on the high wire. He concluded a long time ago that life was meant to be lived on the high wire. Everything else is just preparation.
We talked about several things during that conversation but what I’ll remember is the impact Lyman felt upon seeing his name on the funeral program of a friend. So many of us begin our lives with such drive, vigor, and well-intentioned purpose only to find a place along the way that is “good enough.” We wander. Along the ways of these dusty roads there is potential, if not a tendency, to lose our way. Lyman has told me so many times that we all need two things: (1) a hug and (2) a kick in the ass. Got to love the simplicity there.
Lyman is such an inspiration. He has done so much more than endure. Moreover, he has rebelled against going into each day gently. So much of success and meaning and purpose is wrapped up in showing up, in putting ourselves in the right places regardless of the discomfort or the difficult circumstances or the commitment or the fears we bring. Your name and my name, all of our names, are in the “program.” We are featured players in the Larger Story of our time. And we all have a crucial role to play.