Learning to Love Well
(A Tribute to a Friend)
Early last week I heard the sad news that a friend of mine, who lived in another state, had lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. While I couldn’t help but rejoice knowing that he had actually won the victory as he passed from life on this earth to eternal life in heaven, I also was saddened as I thought about his family and friends who mourned his loss. I, too, was saddened by his loss.
I first met Jerry Vogel probably close to 20 years ago when I attended a writers conference for a new writing assignment at LifeWay Christian Resources. Jerry had previously worked as Preschool and Children’s Minister at several churches in Texas, but had joined LifeWay in Nashville, Tennessee where he worked to help train others who worked and taught preschoolers and children. As I attended writers conferences from year to year, I learned much from Jerry. You could not listen to one of the devotions he shared, participate in training he led, or talk to him very long, before you learned at least four things about Jerry. He loved God. He loved his family. He loved kids. And he loved his work and work family. Jerry loved well! God’s hand was all over Jerry’s life and ministry.
But there is still one more thing that always comes to my mind when I think about Jerry. You see, at best, I probably saw Jerry only two or three days over the course of a week, one time a year – if even that often. Yet, each time, he never failed to remember me. He would greet me by name, perhaps ask me something about my family or church, or tell me a story about one of his grandchildren. Our chats were short, shared around a conference table or waiting in line for lunch. I heard him do this over and over again as he met new people and renewed old acquaintances. Every single person was important to Jerry.
This was a huge thing for me. Being the introvert I am, it is not always easy for me to “find my place,” especially in a large group. I’m much more content on the outside looking in than in the middle of all the activity. I’m sure that Jerry recognized that about me. Yet, in his own engaging way, he welcomed me, encouraged me, and drew me out, making me feel that I belonged.
Before Jesus’ death on the cross, He told His disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Sometimes that love is shown in action – doing, giving, serving, praying, going, telling. At other times that love is shown in a smile; a word that encourages, uplifts, inspires, or motivates. And, perhaps at still other times, that love is shown simply by taking the time to acknowledge another individual, communicating their value and worth.
As I think about Jerry and the way he loved people, I’m reminded of Jesus and the countless ways He reached out to show others they mattered. The Scriptures contain story after story of how Jesus….
- engaged those others avoided (ex. the woman at the well)
- showed mercy to the accused (ex. the woman caught in adultery)
- showed compassion to the sick, crippled, and blind
- wept with those who mourned (ex. death of Lazarus)
- called those that others rejected (ex. Matthew, Zacchaeus)
These are just a few of the many examples of ways that Jesus reached out to love people, whatever their situation or need. He often went to great lengths to show people He cared for them. In fact, He went all the way to cross to show His love for us, to show us that even in all our mess, He loved us enough to die for us.
I last talked with Jerry last October during another writers conference. I had no idea that would be the last time I would see him this side of heaven. If I had the chance, I’d like to thank him for all he taught me through the years – as much as by what he did as by what he said. I’d like to thank him for modeling Christ’s love to all of us so well. A saying that has been attributed to several different people, including Teddy Roosevelt, goes something like this – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Jerry loved and cared much. I pray that I, too, might be a better conduit of Christ’s love to others. Heavenly Father, help me to truly care for others and to love more like You. Help me to love others well.