So right now, as he's breathing in the unpolluted air of heaven, and saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy," face to face with the One he loved so much, I wanted to share more publicly a post I wrote the first few weeks I had this blog (then reposted just last April). It's my way of saying, I love you, Sam. Always have, Always will. Thank you. There's not a strong enough word for what I feel when I think of how grateful I am for your impact on our lives--all our lives!
He was a long, tall Texan, as the saying goes. An athletic man who loved kids and loved Christ and had been in Jim Rayburn' first Young Life club in Texas back in the 40s. We, my contemporaries and I, were lucky, in the way that God is lucky (which isn't luck at all!) that this Texan was in our town, teaching at WSU and willing to start Young Life with some eager college students back in the 70s, about a year or so before I started high school. By the time I walked into my first YL club, there were 100 strong a night, and more on the way. They were golden years of Young Life in the Palouse, and I was in the thick of it. Thick, too, was the drawl of the Texan as I sat at his feet every chance I got to lap up what he knew of Jesus, what he knew of the life of a disciple. I drank a whole lot of milk in those early days in Young Life and Campaigners.
I'd grown up in a liberal Methodist church, memorizing the books of the Bible like any good Sunday school kid, but not really learning much about Jesus Christ. When I heard the real story of the cross and resurrection,the summer before I started high school, it was like I'd been looking for Jesus all my life--waiting for that puzzle piece to fit my life together, I just didn't know it--and I wanted in. But I wasn't in my hometown when it happened and I wasn't sure but that I might not be the only Christian in our whole town. My first Young Life meeting, a couple months later, was a revelation. This big ol' Texan stood up and started talking about the Jesus I'd just fallen head over heels in love with. I walked up to him afterwards and asked him point blank (OK, so I'm a little dim!) if he knew the Jesus I knew.
He got me plugged into Campaigners almost before I could blink (which, I have to tell you, I first thought was going to be something like the Young Republicans. Think about the name. Where did that name come from, anyway?) and there two college students took me under their wings. It's funny how, in those days, those two women seemed so old to me. I mean, they were in COLLEGE. But now, we're all just empty-nesters together. We had some times together, I'm telling you. One infamous trip up a mountain getting stuck in the snow and having to sleep--nine of us--in April. Completely unprepared for the weather, the car-sleeping, all of it. We were babies. When I think of it from my age now, I shake my head at the potential danger. But the faithfulness of God in that moment. And in what was created in that moment--all those girls--every single one of them, is my very close friend 36 years later, because of that week-end, to no small degree. That, I think, is spiritual formation.
But the Texan. To try to distill his influence on a paragraph or two might be impossible. But I remember one Young Life message with absolute clarity: a cross-talk he did as Barabas, with a giant B on an old sweatshirt. He talked about being in prison, waiting to be killed, hearing the rumbling of the crowds, hearing the swelling noise as they began to yell, and then the dawning knowledge that the crowd was screaming, "Free Barabas!" His voice shook, it actually shook as he said, " I didn't deserve it. I deserved to die. But I was freed." And he spoke of the cross, and Jesus' death from his eye-witness's view-point, as if Barabas had had to follow, had to see this man who had taken his place, the place deserved. And then the clencher--we are all Barabas. I remember that talk, in the large crowded rec room of my friend's house on State street on Sunnyside Hill in my home town my freshman year in high school as if he was standing before me right now. I tell you, I haven't heard many sermons I can quote verbatim, but that one tightens my heart every time I think of it. So profound it could be given every Good Friday, and we'd still never get it. We deserve it--we sinners--and He took our place!
We had conversations about many important decisions in my life. Life decisions. Some of his advice I took, some I didn't. He tried to talk me out of going away to college. I went anyway. He was all for me marrying the Beve, of course. And was proud to do the marrying, in fact. He and his wife came to see me in the hospital when I had my first child. Turns out the only thing the Texan didn't like was that we hadn't named her after him--she had been born on HIS birthday, after all!! He was a tease that way. In the years since we moved to this town, I've been lucky to share a meal with them now and then, to have them in our home. We have never lost touch, the Texan and me. How could we? It was on the rock of his life, that my own was built. We talk of matters of faith, and matters of the heart. Outside of my father, no other man had greater influence on me for so long a time. God used him. I am who I am because of him. Thank God.