Tuesday, January 15, 2013

At Times It Was Really Funny

My heart is simply shattered as I write this piece. I buried one of my very best friends on earth yesterday, Rick Stilwell (aka. Rickwell, aka. @RickCaffeinated). His sudden death on January 11, 2013 has not yet fully registered with me. It has been an incredibly surreal weekend. I cannot adequately describe the void that Rick has left on this earth. Nor can I adequately describe how much of an influence he was on my life. My heart goes out to his wife and college sweetheart, Vicki, and their two wonderful children, who now have to grow up without him. My heart simply aches for them. Yet I cannot ignore the reality that my heart aches for me, too. He was my friend, brother, and my rock in so many ways. For thirty years, I was privileged to know and love this man.
It all began in 1983 in Coach Payne’s P.E. class at Airport High School. I and my lifelong pal, Jay, were hanging out together as always, trying to be cool (I was trying...he was succeeding). The next thing I knew, this skinny kid with huge glasses started hanging around with us. I don’t even know where he came from. I was able to determine that his name was Rick. There was never a formal introduction. One day he was just there!
Jay, Frog & Rickwell, 2006
Wherever Jay and I went, he was there. To be honest, I was a little annoyed at first! Ha-ha! It wasn’t long, however, before we were all fast friends. We called ourselves, "Jay, Frog, and Rickwell." At the time, I had no idea that he would be one of my lifelong best friends. I also didn’t know that I had a date with destiny that Rick would unwittingly orchestrate. 
Right away I knew that Rick was a Christian. He was never shy about it. I had always sort of believed in God, but I saw a passion in Rick that I had never seen before. He invited me to church many times, and I politely declined each time. He was very persistent, however, and offered to pick me up at home and drive me to church. I finally agreed. To make a very long story short, it was at this church that I discovered Jesus and invited him into my heart on April 11, 1983. In this same church, Trinity Baptist, I made some close friendships that have lasted to this very day. I found a family of believers who loved and discipled me and a Pastor, Don Davis, who I adored and still do. I eventually received a call into full time ministry. I was ordained in 1997. Rick participated in the service. I have since pastored three churches and seen hundreds of people come to the Lord, here in the US and abroad.
All because of this skinny kid with glasses from P.E. class.
Rick was so much more to me. He was a steadfast friend. In nautical terms, he was my rudder. The rudder is the part of the boat that keeps it on a steady course. Rick was that for me in many ways. I have veered off course a few times in my life. Rick was always there to offer a word of encouragement, or, if necessary, a rebuke to help me get back on course. Sometimes we would “chat” online, and one of his favorite replies to me was “::smacks Todd on the head::.” If he was really trying to make a point, he would add, “::jumps out of chair and smacks Todd on the head::.”  He had his softer side, too. When it became public that my marriage was officially over, he sent me a text message that read, “It doesn’t matter to me who is or isn’t at fault. What I want you to know is that no matter what, I am on YOUR side, friend.” That meant so much to me at that time in my life.
What I loved most about Rick was that he was real. There was nothing showy or fake about him. He was who he was, and that was enough for him. He worked hard at loving and providing for his family. He was an upright man in every way. His example spoke as much about him (if not more) than anything else he said or wrote. He was a teacher and a discipler. It gave him such great joy to pour himself into others. Rick Stilwell made me want to be a better husband, father, friend, teacher, and writer. I owe so much of who and what I am (online and off) to his friendship. He would reply, “Bunk” to that statement. He never wanted attention or credit. It is true, nonetheless.
Rick was a forward-thinker. He didn’t think “outside the box.” Rick believed there was no box. He met each challenge as an opportunity to improve the world around him. He did a lot of this through social media. I can honestly say that Rick had definitely found his niche. He would be so proud of the now viral #LiveLikeRick movement that has risen from the ashes of his untimely death.
Finally, Rick was a deep thinker. For years he kept journals and blogs. I have never read his private journals. I am sure his family will treasure them. His blogs and other online posts will be greatly missed. He was all about connecting with others, either face to face or online through Facebook or Twitter. He lived for the conversations. Rick believed that it was more important to listen than to simply be heard. In this day where so many are rattling their sabers and raising their angry voices, perhaps a #LiveLikeRick lesson is in order.
For my fortieth birthday, Rick gave me my very first moleskine journal. In one of my recent moves, I had misplaced it. I rediscovered it recently, and I plan to use it to the full, or as Rick would say, “Crush It!” May we all strive to #LiveLikeRick, for in doing so, we will #LiveLikeJesus.
Rick, my friend, saying goodbye to you today was the hardest thing I have ever done. I just can’t believe you’re gone. No more coffees and chats. No more dinners at DeLucca’s or D’s Wings. It isn’t fair! No more of your infamous snark and wit. For over half my life, you have been a major part. I make this promise to you, sir. I will keep living. I will look after your family. I will finish that novel, and, like it or not, you will receive a dedication! I love you, and I can honestly say I have never had a friend like you, nor will I ever again. Thank you, sir, for a lifetime of hilarious memories. Thank you for introducing me to Jesus and all of our dear friends. Thank you for always believing in me and for choosing to call me friend. I will not say goodbye. I cannot. Instead, I will employ one of your favorite lines of old, “It’s been real, it’s been fun, and at times it was really funny.”
I will see you later, my friend. "A friend loveth at all times..." Proverbs 17:17
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