As his brother, I don’t really have childhood memories that don’t include Roger. We were only 16 months apart so we shared everything – a room, clothes, and even friends. In my memories, he is in every scene. He is part of the furniture, one of the things that always remain. Yes, everything else changes around it, but he was always there. Always pushing me, challenging me, and making me better.
Yes, I was the older brother, but most of the time, it was Roger who would go first. When we were really little, I remember a swimming pool with a large diving platform. I watched all the adults and big kids jumping off the rocks and wanted to join them, but I was scared. So. . . as any good big brother would do, I convinced Roger to go first. I wanted to see how it went before I did it myself. Roger didn’t hesitate. He jumped off the rock, added a little spin move and landed safely in the pool below. I jumped after seeing him. His courage gave me courage. Without trying, he pushed me, challenged me, and made me better. This story sort sets the tone for how things would go for the rest of our lives.
Roger was almost always the first to do the daring things. He was the first to ride a roller coaster, the first to jump from the roof to the trampoline, the first to climb onto the sled when it was tied to the back of the motorcycle (mind you, there was no snow and sparks were flying all the way down the road beneath your butt). In his early years, Roger was the daredevil of the family. If you consider a trapeze artist, he was the guy flying through the air flipping all around. Me?? I was the guy watching in the stands and wishing I had the courage to try it. Roger waited ‘til his Jr year in High School to start running track and went to state. He tried out for the school play his Senior year and got a lead part. Brave doesn’t begin to describe Roger. He tried it all and found success in almost everything. He may have had some fears, but he didn’t let it control him. He walked on at Texas Tech and put in the work to eventually make the team. Roger was the first to get married (and by the way, that’s one of the most daring things he did). He was the first to have kids (even more daring.) These are the acts of a man who was confident. A man who is willing to take some risks. A man who had found something worth giving his life to.
As he grew older, and had more responsibilities, Roger became more like the catcher for the trapeze artist. When his family needed him, he was there to catch them, to support them, and to bring them back to safety. At work, he did the same thing for his students and his coworkers. As I have read comments online over the past couple of days, I’ve seen story after story of Roger’s impact on the people around him. He was a catcher. He may not physically be catching anyone, but he caught us all when we were struggling. On the day when we were kids and I convinced him to jump from the rocks into the pool, he was catching me – not physically, but my fears were overwhelming me, and his bravery caught my fears and encouraged me. When we laughed together, Roger was catching my insecurities and bringing me hope. When he told funny stories of stupid things students had done in his school, (and by the way there are a ton of those) When he told those stories, he was shedding light into the darkness that creeps into all our lives. Roger caught us. When our inner struggles were raging or even creeping in on us, when we felt like we were flailing through the air and out of control, Roger’s presence was a calming presence, a reassuring presence. He was catching us.
Some of you may not know, but back in June we almost lost Roger. He was in the hospital for several weeks and we didn’t know if he would make it. I spent quite a bit of time with him in those days. We had many conversations. We laughed. We cried. We remembered. We looked to the future. We talked about the things that were important to him. And at the center of it all were two things, his faith and his family. At that time, Roger made a decision to be very intentional about both. He knew that he had been given a 2nd chance and he didn’t want to waste it. In one of the quiet, sorta awkward, hospital moments, Roger shared a story with me that he had read. It was about a trapeze artist from a Max Lucado book called “Anxious for Nothing.” Here’s the quote:
“The secret is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe (my catcher), I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron. . . . The worst thing the flyer can do is try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.”
After explaining that story to me, he said, “Steve, that’s what I’m trying to learn to do.” He wanted to learn to trust the catcher, God. He understood that for his whole life, he had been flying through the air flipping around all over the place. Yes, it looked pretty sometimes and he masked it well by being a catcher for all of us, but he knew that on the inside, where it really matters, he had never really trusted God. That day, he decided to be different and he began a new journey. It’s not that he didn’t know the Lord before that day, it’s just that he knew there were more ways he could learn to trust Him. With this decision, Roger proclaimed an eternal truth: The catcher can be trusted. God can be trusted. On that day, Roger stretched out his arms, released the tension in his fingers and trusted the catcher. He fully trusted that Jesus would be there.
And isn’t that the Gospel? Jesus is the catcher. Jesus swung down into our world and reached into the muck and mire of our sin. He sees us flailing around in the air pretending that we have everything under control, and he rescues us. In spite of ourselves, he rescues us. Like the catcher, Jesus stretched out His arms too. The cross was the tool He used to reach us, to rescue us. And here’s the thing: He can be trusted. He is fully capable of catching us. No matter what ways you have twisted your life around or what ways the world has tossed and turned you, He can catch you and He can save you.
After that day, Roger was different. He had a new purpose. He began rebuilding his physical body, and his spiritual life, as well as his relationships. He read his bible more. His body was fragile, but he pushed it. His body was tired and worn out but he was motivated by his love for God and his love of his family to push through. In between medical procedures, he worked hard at loving the people around him. He was the Roger I had always known – pushing me, challenging me, and making me better. Roger actually started returning phone calls!! He even made some pretty long trips to show his appreciation for the people he loved! He may not have known it, but these last 6 months have been a gift to us. They allowed him to “set things right.” And they allowed us to see him as the man God intended him to be. It’s truly been a blessing. God is good.
Although Roger wasn’t perfect and certainly made some mistakes, He loved you all. Fiercely. He spent his life looking for ways to love you. He wanted to guide you boys and lead you to be a “Simple Kind of Man.” In the end, and in spite of his own physical suffering, Roger sacrificed over and over again to love and support you. And me too. Even up to the very end, he fought to live for the sole purpose of being able to give more of himself for us. This is love.
At my own wedding, Roger quoted something from a book called “Wild at Heart.” He said that every man longs for 3 things: an adventure to live, a beauty to rescue, and a battle to fight.
Roger has lived all of these things. He lived an adventure, he rescued the beauty, and he certainly fought some battles. He has had a full life and He has lived it well.
So what would Roger say to us? Roger always “went first.” Now, he’s done it again and left me behind watching as he goes on another adventure with Jesus. As the risk taker that he was, this is what I think he’d say.
When you get to the end of your life, it’s not the things you did that you regret. It’s the things you didn’t do: You didn’t get right with God. You didn’t catch the people in your life or you weren’t there for them in the times they needed you the most. You didn’t try that thing you always wanted to do. Whatever it is for you. I think Roger would say, do it. Do it now. Try it. Forgive them. Take the risk. Make it right with God. We don’t all get second chances like Roger did. . . .
Just a few days ago, on the morning of January 8th, Roger let go of the trapeze, stretched out his arms, and he completely surrendered to his faith that Jesus could catch him. Time stood still and everything slowed as he hung in the air, but even now, I sense the relief and the calm assurance that Roger must have felt as Jesus grabbed his arms and brought him safely over the apron. I can hear the echo of Jesus saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Well done.