Last Saturday, while the world mourned the loss of Neil Armstrong, the news of another devastating loss began to trickle out via Facebook. At first it was vaugue requests for prayer for an incredibly difficult situation, but later my buddy Stan began getting tagged in RIP posts.
To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. Stan was not yet 50, and ran several marathons each year. He had even taken to coaching others who wanted to train for their first distance race. Stan was thin and started running nearly a decade ago because he didn't want to die young like his father.
The funny thing about my relationship with Stan is that he was a "friend of a friend". I met him though Scott Stargel, who had been friends with Stan since college. They modeled for me what friendship could look like as adult. They had walked through the good, the bad, and the ugly with each other.
We would gather a few nights a week on our computers to play online games and chat. We didn't care as much about the games as we did the chat, but the games were the magnets that drew us together. Over the course of many months I began to realize that Stan was an incredibly bright (UTC BIO) man but equally a solid father, husband, and churchman.
I experienced Stan to be an incredible encourager. We would occasionally email about different things, and he always wanted to know how "the church" was doing. I would lament that things weren't moving as quickly as I had hoped and that it was infinitely more difficult than I had anticipated. He always found a way point out the bright spots, the growth, the cool things that were happening. I wondered how he could do that so quickly...
These last few days, I find myself clicking on his Facebook page to see how people are responding to his death. I must admit that I have been intrigued by the breadth and depth of the posts. Although Stan was only 48, he made the most of the time he had as folks from his childhood and college years can clearly articulate the difference Stan made in their lives.
High school classmates speak of his kind words and support that made life bearable at times. College colleagues speak of his ability to bring calm to incredibly stressful situations. His former pastor told me that if he could clone someone to teach people how to lead at church, Stan would be the mold he chose.
One of the comments that stood out was a lady he helped coach for her first marathon. She said that Stan had believed in her before she believed in herself. That resonated with me because I think Stan believed this church plant in Texas would take root and grow before I believed it.
I am grateful that I got to stay a night in his Chattanooga home on my trek to Dallas. I am grateful that Scott introduced us, but I am most grateful that this "friend of a friend" became my friend.