Just about three weeks ago I found myself lamenting the loss of one of my college fraternity brothers who passed on after a rather lengthy battle with cancer. The friend with whom I was talking was also in the same fraternity and was undoubtedly one of my closest relationships during those four very formational years in my journey toward maturity.
We commented back and forth about how difficult it must be for people to face the inevitable end of life if the question of their eternal destiny has not been settled; or if there are more questions than there are answers. We both agreed that we should have been a bit more supportive of our friend when we had the opportunity to do so.
So imagine my shock when I received a phone call last Thursday evening with the news that my dear college friend with whom I had just been chatting about life and death matters suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep without any warning whatsoever.
With the first fraternity brother, I felt a sense of sadness and also a measure of responsibility to engage others who are willing to understand the essence of the gospel, the good news of what Jesus promised for us if we simply acknowledge our need for Him and desire to really know Him.
With my close friend’s passing, it’s been a combination of reflecting on the wonderful times together and yet a deep sense that there is so much more for us to discover in the love of Christ.
The great hope of the gospel message is that the necessary transition from this life to the next takes us through this “tunnel of uncertainty” where all we can do is to draw close and trust in The One who has gone before us knowing that the scripture is true that “if we die with Him, we shall surely live with Him.” (Romans 6:5) Although my friend Dave lived hundreds of miles away I know he was living a very full and productive life after an exceptional business career and more important, a faithful commitment in marriage for nearly 50 years and a family of children and a number of grandchildren here and on the way.
One of the “strange ironies” of our friendship in these last few years has been that Dave was a regular visitor to this very space. He would often send me an email response to one of my blogs and on occasion he would either ask a follow up question or suggest an alternative interpretation of the things that were shared. I really liked that quality about Dave. He was hungry to know more about God’s will and purpose for his life, but not willing to simply accept everything that came down the highway without carefully examining it against the backdrop of his own personal faith and his very relational approach to life.
It’s not an exaggeration for me to say that I’ve known few people in my life who were as engaging, caring and just plain fun to be with as Dave. During his college years he was never bound by Greek symbols of fraternity life nor by economic or any other superficial characteristic of other individuals.
However, I also knew Dave to be someone that was not afraid to nudge me a little bit when he felt I was not reaching my maximum potential in my studies, sports or other pursuits that were unique to those days.
I witnessed Dave’s faith growing rather dramatically as he and his incredibly lovely wife, Debbie, faced an aggressive battle with cancer in which they have prevailed by the grace of God. In some way that I don’t fully understand, I think the conversations that Dave and Debbie had to have regarding life’s eternal questions during Debbie’s illness prepared him (and her) for this unexpected and, in my view, premature end to this chapter in his life. Both Dave and Debbie were able to speak freely about how to die well and in anticipation of what God has for us on the other side.
So Carol and I will be traveling this week to visit with the family, attend a memorial service where hundreds of others will join together to celebrate the life of a very positive, encouraging and loving human being, Mr. David H. Stovall. Best of all, we will celebrate his memorial service knowing that our next reunion will not be at our 50 year graduating class get together next May, but somewhere in God’s unspeakably glorious eternal dwellings. See you later, my friend.