A tribute to a friend who died too young

What I remember most about him: Jonathan liked to jump off the carport roof.

Their house was a split level, and the carport roof was an extension of the upper floor. We would climb from the balcony outside a bedroom onto the roof. I crept timidly, petrified as the world swirled around me until I thought my head would explode and little bits of my brain fly out.

Jonathan walked to the edge . . .
took a deep breath . . .
jumped . . .
and landed on his feet.

It was an everyday occurence for him, as common as him jumping down a flight of stairs or off the bed in his room. I don’t remember him ever getting hurt, though I’m sure it happened. But he brushed off the danger and jumped. The exhilaration of flying for a few seconds was worth a trip to the ER. 

He saw risk and exhilaration and satisfaction at a safe landing.

I only saw risk. 

I would run downstairs, calling for his mother. “Miss Sandy, Jonathan jumped off the roof!” She would shrug, as if to say, yes, this happens a lot.

I wonder if that same reckless, risk-embracing mindset influenced his decision to become a high school girls soccer coach. Let’s face it: being a coach is tough. You have to make quick decisions, push your team hard, unite a diverse group of people, and deal with unfair referees and angry fans. Add that a high school team is young. Add the drama of female hormones. The results are anything but predictable. The threat of failure is always present.

Yet Jonathan, in his jump-off-the-roof way, took the challenge. After he died, his parents found Max Lucado’s book Outlive Your Life among his things. He had jotted notes in the margins and they printed a few in the program for his memorial service. Here’s one: How can we get more involved in these youth’s lives? Another: We’re only a step away from eternity.

Reminded that our lives are short and eternity is forever, he embraced the risk of delving deeper into others’ lives.

It’s risky to get involved in someone else’s life. It’s risky to love. It’s risky to try to make a difference in the world because there’s always the chance that you’ll fail. My love for another person won’t always result in being loved; they might spit my love back in my face. My attempts to show someone that they are made in God’s image might result in them shattering the glass in the mirror. I might fail. For a perfectionist like me, failure is a four-letter word.

I’m content with jumping off the bed: little risk but also little reward. Jumping off the roof could lead to broken bones or flight. Jumping into the air, not knowing where the bottom is, leads either to a quick and loud failure, or a great, world-changing success.

Some successes are applauded during a person’s life; others after death. And a great success isn’t necessarily a splashy, Nobel Prize winning ones. Some great successes are mustard seed sized ones that grow and blossom and bring beauty to a dark world. They’re the result of faithfulness in little things like loving a difficult person, giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, or changing a diaper at 2 a.m. It’s the tough love that sends the team running another lap, even when they complain.

But loving another person that fully is the greatest risk of all. I may fail as a coach, a parent, and a worker, and the results may be disastrous. A losing season. A rebellious child. A failed business. Those are quick, loud failures.

Yet if I reject failure, reject the risk of loving you, do I really love you at all?

I think Jonathan knew this. I think that’s why a thousand people came to his funeral. Not because he was a great public figure or because they had a social obligation to come, but because he had jumped into the vast unknown that is loving another person, and landed safely.

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