This week a dear friend of mine left this earth and entered his forever home in heaven. Because I so desire each of you to know Jesus, I would like to introduce you to my friend Jim. He was a fine example of reflecting Jesus. This is the tribute I wrote and read at his funeral today.
There are friends and there are family. Sometimes we are given the rare gift of the two intersecting, our family becoming our friends or our friends becoming our family. Jim (and Joyce) are friends that became family and so have left a special imprint on my heart.
I had known Jim for several years through church where he served in a number of capacities, as well as through his role as the beloved Cookie Man at the church’s preschool where my children attended, faithfully sitting outside the classroom at the close of each day handing cookies to adoring 3 and 4 year-olds. On Sundays, cookies were traded out for candy in his pocket as many children, mine included, looked eagerly for The Candy Man at the end of service to get their special treat. While I had known Jim for some time, he became most special to me when I was on staff at the church. He was no longer just someone I knew, but my friend.
While Joyce worked at the preschool, accompanying her each day, Jim kept busy doing countless things for the church behind the scenes. A lot of those things were building related, but when I came on staff as the family ministries pastor with a good chunk of my time spent on children’s ministry, he jumped right in and helped me with so many things, becoming one of my leading partners in ministry. He was so creative and artistic. I won’t soon forget entering an empty tomb he made, filled with awe I felt as if I was experiencing for myself the very first Easter. As I have spent time remembering my good friend these last few days, I can’t think to tell you anything other than this–Jim was like Jesus.
Jim was a listener. Jim and I spent many hours together working, and I’m not a quiet one (he wasn’t either one on one), so that meant talking to each other all along. I learned many things from Jim and heard many good stories about his growing up (His mom wouldn’t let him eat hot dogs or chocolate, both things he came to love as a result—once I even gave him both for his birthday), his time in the military (he showed me pictures of him by a tank and recounted his experiences during the Detroit race riots), all the jobs that he held, his daughter. Julie, I don’t know you, but sometimes I feel like I do. Your dad was so proud of you. I know that you’re beautiful because he showed me your picture. I know that you’re a hard worker because he was always telling me what you were up to, and maybe because he said we were cut from the same mold when it came to this. I know you like to sing and have a wonderful voice as he shared productions you were in with me. Of all that time talking, what impressed me most was his listening. Jim knew my joys and my sorrows. He knew my success and my failures and frustrations. He didn’t try to fix it all. His ears always ready, he just listened. Jim was like Jesus.
Jim was a protector. Yes, Jim had a sweet and gentle spirit, but he also had a very protective side. His eyes were always open to what was going on, faithfully standing in the lobby Sunday mornings just to keep an eye out. During the week, he intercepted visitors, protecting our time when we were so busy we didn’t know what to do, and no visitor would have felt neglected. Us pastors couldn’t have done any better as Jim greeted people with genuineness, care, and compassion. He was discerning. Especially for the ladies that worked at the church, he knew when to make his presence known, making us feel safe. Jim was like Jesus.
Jim was an encourager. Jim was quick to tell people how important they were, to compliment their success, to recognize their service. Jim encouraged by his actions as well. I don’t think he ever missed a Sunday I preached. Often I would find a devotion sitting on my desk that he wanted to share to encourage my heart in some way. He would walk past and tap me, whispering a verse to lift my soul, a favorite Zephaniah 3:17 “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Since moving on from Westland, in the process of beginning a new church in another area, Jim continued to be that encourager, recognizing my gifts and sending me a text here and there letting me know he missed me and hadn’t forgotten me. “Hi, this is Father Jim, “a nickname I gave him after people started mistaking him for pastor, not just when they visited our church, but out in the community too. One time he was at Burger King and one of the employees thought he was a priest and started confessing to him. “I’m sitting in your chair. I haven’t forgotten you.” Jim never put down, but always lifted up. Jim was like Jesus.
Jim loved children. The news of his passing ripped my kids’ hearts apart. He had become like a grandpa to them, somebody they looked forward to seeing, not just for the treats he gave, but for the hugs he offered and his overall attitude toward them. He was always so kind to them, treating them not as lesser people because of their age, but giving them the same respect that he would anybody—listening carefully and with patience to my youngest who has speech delays in order to understand him, recognizing the things that made them each unique, their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. He knew their favorite colors, their favorite candies, the things that would keep them engaged. And he related to them accordingly, uniquely. Jim was like Jesus.
Jim was aware and generous. He met needs. I’m not sure how Jim knew that Ben needed a new winter coat, but he sure surprised me one day when he handed me a brand new, and not cheap, coat he had purchased for him. His listening skills made him aware of church needs too. I won’t forget one day when he slipped me a large sum of money to rent a porta-potty to enhance the church’s soccer program. It was a need we realized late and hadn’t budgeted for, but he made sure it happened, saving me personally many trips across the parking lot with dancing kids. Jim was like Jesus.
Jim was a rescuer. He picked me up for work when we were down to one car and it was too cold to walk. He helped me when my car had broken down and I had unsuccessfully tried to push it to a position where it could be jumped, resulting in the car dragging me several feet down the road (I’ve since learned the proper way to push a car). Lost keys, locked keys, he was there. I am a recovering work-a-holic and he (and Joyce) would often make sure I took a lunch break (he liked to pick up Taco Bell for me) to sit and eat. There was a time when I had worked myself silly, the hours I was putting in, and the things I was ignoring, taking a toll on my body and twice Jim took me to the doctor’s when I was unable to function. Jim was like Jesus.
Jim liked a celebration. He was the master of Christmas, he and Joyce faithfully decorating the church for many years. He had his own Christmas closet that held all of the decorations, but it wasn’t just a storage closet. It was a room that brought joy as it was decorated itself with twinkling lights and he had it wired to play Christmas music year round. He gave me access to his special room, knowing that I loved Christmas as much as he did. Jim was like Jesus.
Jim was gracious. The definition for grace is unmerited favor. Often, and correctly, used to talk about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, there isn’t just saving grace, but sustaining grace, the grace that gets us through another day, favor that we don’t deserve. Jim.showed this. I always felt like Jim’s favorite because of all the little things he did for me. One year he decided that it was too much work to hang the fresh Christmas greenery outside. I told him how much I missed it and the next year he worked hard and put it up again, just for me. My favorite little thing was probably the Archway lemon cookies I often found on my desk, and always when I needed a little pick me up most, not because I had done something to earn them, just because. Jim was like Jesus.
Last, though I could go on with my many memories and examples, Jim was sacrificial and humble. Jim gave of his time, talents, and resources without expecting anything in return, and he did so quietly, never seeking praise or recognition. Jim was like Jesus.
To know Jim was to know Jesus. His life reflected Him well, and my memories of Him will always lead me to thoughts of our Lord, which is right where Jim would like them to be.