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Sometimes A ‘Celebration of Life’ Really Is

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Have you ever wondered what people who know you would say about you when you’re gone?

Come on, don’t even try to deny it. You know you have. We all have. I think there’s something within us that makes us curious about what people “really” think about us. I suspect it’s mostly some level of insecurity: do our friends really like us as much as we think? Maybe it’s some level of guilt: are we really making a difference in the lives of those around us?

Earlier this week, I traveled to Columbia for a memorial service for my friend, Rick Stilwell, who left us far too soon at age 44 last Friday. Nearly everyone who spoke were people I’ve known since high school, just like Rick. I ran into several classmates and even one of my favorite high school teachers.

It’s a cliché that seems to come true when you reach a certain age: the only time you really see all of those friends you swore you’d stay in touch with are at funerals and weddings. But after the service, several of us gathered at Zesto, a favorite restaurant in West Columbia, and reconnected. Just as Rick would have wanted. (The only thing missing at the table, as Rick would have seen it, was the coffee!)

But unlike most funerals, this service, though peppered with some sad moments and shed tears, truly lived up to the phrase, “Celebration of Life.”

Rick loved to connect with people and helped them connect with others, and I think he’d have gotten a kick out of the fact that his service was streamed online live, and that people from anywhere who knew him — either in person or from his online presence, @RickCaffeinated, could be part of it. Rick loved his friends, and his closest friends, a true “band of brothers,” took turns remembering funny times they shared. Rick loved his family, and they spoke as well, talking about what an incredible brother, husband and father he was.

And Rick loved the Lord, and one of the most poignant moments came at the end, when the man who offered the closing prayer choked up as he revealed that without Rick, not only would he never have been in ministry, but would never even have come to know Christ. And when he broke up and paused, stifling tears, it was Rick’s widow, Vicki, a pillar of strength, who walked up on stage, stood by his side and supported him.

Rick gave those of us who were fortunate enough to know him a “homework assignment” of sorts. The #LiveLikeRick hashtag that popped up on Twitter has been suggested to really mean #LiveLikeChrist, because that’s how Rick tried his best to live at all times. Rick showed us how it’s done.

It’s up to us to follow suit.

That’s a tall order. But I’d sure hate to let Rick down.

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