I’m sitting in an office today. It’s not really mine. It’s a loaner that a couple of friends arranged. An escape from the tiny space I work in at home. It’s quieter here. No one banging dishes in the kitchen. No dog barking at the squirrels. No sound of traffic in the street. Just me and four walls. A place to focus, to think, and to remember.
I’ve left the door open into the hallway and can hear people come and go, all silently as though they were in a library. And, outside, visible through my one large window, is a sky that looks as gray and dreary as I feel. I’ve just lost a friend. No… someone who is much more than that.
Throughout our lives, people come and go. Some leave a mark and others don’t. Very rarely do any of those relationships last for long. But this one has lasted twenty-five years. My heart is not sure how to handle its loss. So much of who I am, I owe to Herb.
We met when I was five years old. He was the pastor of the church my family attended. I remember thinking he looked a bit like a giant teddy bear… even with an electric guitar in his hands. His wife, Jeanette, would give me gummy worms after church each week if I could recite a Bible verse for her. It wasn’t long before I felt that we were friends.
Mentor. Guide. Fellow conspirator. We’ve had some great adventures together. Like the time when he decided to take my on the light rail from Sandy, UT into Salt Lake City. All he had in his pocket that day was a collection of large bills. I watched as he slipped one into the ticket machine and out came the change… in change. Over $20 in $1 gold coins. The look on his face was priceless.
Then there was the night we stayed up past midnight. We’d watched a basketball game together. Or, more precisely, he had watched the game while I wrote in my journal. After the game, we sat and talked for hours. Our discussion wandered from theology and I recall sitting on the couch while he read me lines of poetry from a battered volume off his shelf.
I used to accompany him to the office on occasion. Till my dying day, I will believe that the best hours of my life were spent sitting in a pastor’s office, watching him work. Sitting there listening to the rhythm of church life.
I recall one particular afternoon when my presence attracted an abnormal amount of attention. He’d just accepted a call to serve a new congregation. I’d been in his office all day and one of the church ladies kept glancing at me as though she wasn’t sure why I was there. Finally he introduced me, “This is my daughter, Anna.” He waited long enough to get a good reaction before clarifying that I was his daughter “In the Pauline sense”. I will never forget the expression on the poor woman’s face!
He was a sort of sage full of both the spiritual and the highly practical. And I couldn’t help feeling that if someone really did follow Christ, they would look a lot like Herb. So I did the one thing that pastors don’t want members of their congregations to do: I imitated him. I said what he said. I did what he did. And today I’m sitting here drinking Dr. Pepper… because that’s what he drank.
We didn’t always agree. I didn’t always take his advice (though sometimes I wished I had). But I know that, at my core, much of who I am today is attributable to him and the example he set. So I’ll raise my Styrofoam cup: to the best Christian I’ve ever known. To Herb. I’ll see you on the Other Side.