I have to admit something right off the bat. I love the Christmas season. Presents, wonderful gatherings, and the eager anticipation of watching my family unwrap the gifts that are neatly wrapped and labeled (thank you dear wife) under the tree. Did we choose wisely? Is everyone in the house happy?
For the last several years, I set my sights on life after Christmas, because I get to go and play, and yes study, in Austin. When I am there, my cohort and I seem to shed the weight of the world off our backs and enjoy each other’s company. Many times through the two weeks that I am there, I seem to be transported back to old college days and the craziness of meeting deadlines. The people that I see each and every semester are the dearest friends for whom anyone could wish. Kindness and joy pervade the air, and I get caught up in the beauty of deep friendships, where nothing is off limits, and no judgment is made.
This past week our group’s hearts broke as we received word that one of our friends died after a heroic battle with cancer. Harold was a man of high integrity. He was my very first friend that I met in Austin. The first semester of our studies Harold and I were inseparable. When theology classes ended, I could count on him to be my dinner buddy (yes there was alcohol involved).
He could make a room laugh with his very dry sense of humor. Through many meals, we would talk about life and some of the crazy things that happen to us in ministry. What I remember vaguely about those times was Harold’s passion for ministry. His awareness of God’s call on his life was very evident as he shared with honesty and integrity about his passion for working with those who are homeless. When listening to him, I thought to myself, “Man I hope that I exhibit that much joy and love for what I do.”
Harold is no longer with us, at least in the physical sense. I attend to go to Austin in January, and raise a glass to the heavens and say a prayer of thanksgiving for my amazing friend. I pray for his family as each person finds a new normal. May God’s Spirit bring shelter to Harold’s children and wife.
And as for the other beautiful people in our group, I intend on hugging them all a little tighter than before, sharing with everyone the joy that their presence brings to me. We will probably shed a tear or two as we remember our dear friend. We will give thanks for him, thanks for each other, and thanks to the God of our own understanding, who fashions us into the people that we are called to be. Today I say, “Thanks be to God for the gift of relationships, and how we are invited to share in each other’s journeys.”