The last time I saw my friend Ron in decent health was at his home, late-November of last year. He had just finished his second of what was supposed to be six chemo treatments but, because his body wasn’t taking well to the chemo, he had the week off and a few of us were visiting to talk and pray with him.
I met Ron in high school. I was a student, and he was the student ministries pastor at my dad’s church. Being the son of the senior pastor meant there weren’t many adults I could talk to—at least not ones that wanted to know what was really going on in my life. Most were content to assume that everything in my life was going well. And if they saw something they didn’t approve of, they were usually sure to let my parents know about it. I steered clear, keeping an appropriate emotional distance.
Ron wasn’t like that. Not only was he one of the few adults in my life that had a genuine interest in how I was doing, he was one of the few people of any age in my life that actually cared about the substance of my response. Beyond that, he wasn’t shy about airing his own dirty laundry. From very early on in our friendship, Ron was just as forthcoming about his flaws as he expected me to be.
Though I grew up with an amazing father and don’t feel like my childhood experience as a suburban, middle-class American lacked any of the essential elements (ask me about apple pie, BBQ and baseball), Ron is the guy that pushed me outside my comfort zone.
He taught me that Christianity means following Jesus’ example of loving—not judging—people more than yourself, and that other people’s flaws are only correctly viewed within the context of your own.
That every experience is, to some extent, spiritual, and should be seen through that lens whenever possible.
He bought me my first cigar when I turned 18, my first beer when I turned 21, and my first scotch when I stopped talking about how I didn’t hate the beer so much.
He encouraged me to pursue music when few others did, gave me freedom to experiment and fail in roles of leadership that I now know, looking back, I wasn’t ready for.
He introduced me to the love of my life in 2005 on a trip to Ensenada, Mexico. Amanda and I fell in love running a day-camp for children in a very poor part of the city, on a trip that Ron planned.
In 2008, a couple of years after I graduated high school, he and I started a small house church with a small but close-knit group of people in our city. A church that we didn’t want to be like other churches. One that wasn’t fixated on money, or some kind of feigned spirituality, but that was focused on inviting people into whatever we were doing, wherever we were at. Whether that “wherever” was a church sanctuary, a living room, a bar, or feeding the homeless at a local soup kitchen.
Much like Ron, Sacred Way was sincere, willing to hear everybody out, and ready to accept anybody we came in contact with. We were sojourners looking for a home. We just wanted more people to join us on the journey.
Now, a mere four years later, I was sitting across from Ron at his house. His body hadn’t taken well to the chemo. He had sores in his mouth that kept him from eating little more than yogurt, forcing him to lose at least thirty pounds. He barely looked like the Ron I had known for fourteen years, even if he sounded like him. Never one to miss an opportunity to tease, he took verbal shots at everybody in the room for anything he could as his three boys ran in and out of the house and his wife, Jen, made sure he never ran out of water.
There were about seven of us there. We talked briefly about the chemo treatments, but mostly focused on what his first meal was going to be after he recovered. (In-N-Out. Smart man.) Since the 2012 election had just concluded we talked politics. Football came up—I, obviously, stayed out of that discussion. He was getting an iPhone 5 soon, switching from Android, and he wanted to know if I’d be able to help him transfer all of his contacts and accounts over to it. (Of course!)
After we moved through the small talk, he mentioned that someone had replaced the tires on his car so his wife could continue to drive it. And he cried. He mentioned that meals were being delivered almost every night. And he cried. He mentioned that he couldn’t believe how much love people were pouring out on he and his family.
Here was a man who had spent his entire life pursuing not money, not fame, but loving people. And now he was sitting on the couch in his condo, unable to walk, barely able to talk, absolutely taken aback by the fact that people loved him. It was surreal.
When my turn came to pray, I could barely even speak through the tears.
On December 7th, 2012, I was in a meeting when I received a text from my wife: “Ron isn’t going to make it…”
After a grueling two weeks in and out of the hospital, there was nothing more the doctors could do. He was fading fast.
Word spread quickly, and within three hours on a Friday morning, more than 100 people had filed into the ICU to see him. To hug his wife and his three boys.
Because of the anesthesia, Ron wasn’t conscious. There are a lot of theories about what someone is experiencing when they’re in that state. Some say it’s nothing, while others say it’s an extremely vivid dream. Whatever it was, Ron was stubborn as he ever was, and he held on as more than 150 people dropped by the hospital over the course of 24 hours to offer their condolences.
He passed away around 9pm on December 8th, surrounded by family.
He was so loved.