I saw an old friend today. And he filled my heart with love. That was the overwhelming emotion I had this past Sunday as I sat in church. I was listening but my eyes were roaming around seeing the faces of those in our new church, none of which are familiar to me yet. I suddenly spotted him. He wasn't quite the stature of my friend, but there was much about his face, his head that instantly transported me back 20 years in time.
I was in my twenties, single and going on my first missions trip through my church. John was a retired truck driver and he was going to be our bus driver, from Kansas to Monterrey Mexico. There are some people whose physical attributes are memorable and some whose personality is just so big and open that you'd never forget them. He was both. He was a large, muscular man that always wore boots. His head was like Kojak. His eyes and persona was the most loving of anyone I have ever known. Everytime he saw me headed his way, he greeted me with wide-open arms ready and waiting to embrace me with the best hug in the world. Not a squeeze-the-stuffing-out-of-you hug, but a cacooning, encompassing hug. Everyone that met him became his friend.
John and I had many opportunities during that week to talk and share. He had only been a Christian a few years and shared that he had been the stereotypical truck driver before. Memory has made some of the details a bit fuzzy, but around the same time of his conversion, he met the most wonderful woman in the world and they married. He shared with me about his wife's faith and was probably the first person I encountered that challenged my beliefs regarding denominational boundaries. He was very sensitive to that fact and made it perfectly clear he wasn't trying to make me believe as he and his wife did. But I was at a point in my own walk where I had some questions and never heard satisfactory answers. Some of the things John touched on answered those questions and my spirit knew it was truth. John and his wife were just the kind of people you could lay your complete and total trust in their walk they experienced as true and honest.
I left my hometown 20 plus years ago but there's always people, no matter how long or how far you go, never leave your heart. John was one of those. I would hear news about he and his wife from time to time through the grapevine and see him from time to time when we would go home for visits. I always felt like I had talked to him last week. John died of cancer a couple of years ago. I grieved the loss of such a wonderful person from this earth. It needs all the Johns it can hold. But I was so happy to think of him reunited with his wonderful wife in heaven and being a new bright light in the multitudes there.
As time has passed, I have thought of John, on occasion, fondly. And then Sunday, there he sat in front of me. As you now know, it wasn't actually him but someone that looked a great deal like him from a distance. Even though this particular bout of remembering John was fraught with missing John, it was a a good journey of remembering a soul that was one of the best this world has ever known.