This past Saturday morning, I woke up to the news that my friend Daniel Jones had died.
I typically sit in bed and check Facebook and email for a little while on a Saturday morning, but when I read my friend Grant’s status, I didn’t know what to do: “Earlier this morning we lost a dear Christian brother and friend. Please be in prayer for the friends and family of Daniel Jones. He was a man of outstanding character with a servant heart of gold. He was and is an example and encouragement to me. What sweet grace it is to know that I will one day join him in praising our Lord forever and ever! Victory in Jesus! Glory to His name!”
I continued to scan and read status after status all speaking of Daniel’s passing. Finally, I mustered up enough strength to get up and check my computer for the news… Baylor student dies near finish line of half-marathon.
Daniel had been running in the Bearathon, an annual fundraising event that is touted as the “Toughest Half-Marathon in Texas.” The news reported that he collapsed near the finish line, and though he was rushed to the hospital, Daniel passed away an hour later.
I went to Daniel’s Facebook, and already it was full of friend after friend after friend after telling stories, sharing compliments, praising Daniel for the man he was. I didn’t know what to say… All I could post was this: “To Daniel’s Family- I am so sorry. I have no other words. Just thank you for sharing Daniel with all of us over these years– I hope you hear of such a blessing he has been to all of us. We celebrate his life, but grieve with you. I am so, so sorry. To Daniel- I love you man…”
I first met Daniel when he moved into our dorm for his freshman (my sophomore) year. His grandfather had the truck filled up with all sorts boxes and bags and I came down to help them move. I was part of a Leadership Program at Baylor University, and Daniel was one of many students who were joining the program that Fall. In fact, though I didn’t know it at that moment, Daniel was to be in my Mentor Group, a group of eight freshman students that I would guide and serve through the year.
So I met Daniel at the truck, and already I was impressed with the dude. Because if you knew Daniel, you knew you often had to look up to him. You looked up to him because of his strong character, but also because he was pretty dang tall as well! Daniel was a hoss.
So as I tried to carry a bag or two, Daniel grabbed his huge TV set and lugged it up to the second floor- like a boss. I met Daniel’s grandfather and he was such a quiet but nice man– I could instantly see how much Daniel respected him. And once I learned Daniel’s name, I was pumped that he would be in my group.
Even better, I got to live next to Daniel and his roommate Peter. Through the year we got to see each other around a lot. Thanks to our open door policy, sometimes we’d come and hang out in the other’s room (or down in Grant and Eric’s awesome room down the hall). And since I could only get wireless internet outside my room, a common sight for Allen Residence Hall Second Floor was a strange bearded fellow sitting on the floor, facing his room, typing a research paper or surfing Facebook. There were many a time that Daniel would just come by and sit down and we’d talk or just hang out.
Early on you could tell how much energy Daniel exerted, thanks to our Fall Retreat. At this Retreat, other Mentor Groups would get together for a day of low ropes activities, “tribal ceremonies” (where we’d chant and cheer and get riled up), and boat races (in boats constructed of duct tape and cardboard and other items we “earned” during the activities.) Our team, Orange Crush, was constantly CRUSHING it– and we ended up winning that day.
One of our activities was a challenge where we had to transport the group from one side to the other with only a certain number of people touching the ground. Fortunately, Daniel and a couple of others were freaking strong and could carry us, and then each other, across in record time. Though it was a little awkward, Daniel carried me across– like a boss. He was always ready to get into the action, ready to serve, ready to give generously.
You see, that year my roommate Marcus and I started a group called “THE KINGDOM” (you can read about it here) and it was one of the best experiences of my life. We’d get people together, play games, and give people royal titles. My memory isn’t great, but I believe this is how Daniel got his title. You see Daniel brought a TV to Baylor, but his roommate also brought one and they decided to use the latter. So they had an extra TV lying around, and one day Peter was in my room and when I mentioned I wish I had a larger TV, he replied, “Oh, hey, there’s an extra TV in our room!” And he walked next door and brought Daniel’s TV over. I thanked him and set it up– and when Daniel came back to his room, he was a little surprised to see his TV gone! But once he heard the story, he was fine with the whole thing! And because he was so kind –and forgiving of his roommate for giving his TV away!– we gave him the title “The Rightful Lord of Magnavox” (the TV’s brand). (And because we were still grateful to Peter and wanted to poke fun at him, he became “The Fraudulent Lord of Magnavox.”)
I just looked at my Facebook, and sure enough Daniel wished me a happy birthday this past September with these words: “Happy birthday from The Lord of Magnavox! Hope your kingdom prospers in the upcoming year!” Our time in the Kingdom had still stuck around years later…
The school year went by and we had more Kingdom events and Christmas parties and a Spring Retreat and Mentor Group meetings and lunches and random hang-out times. And suddenly the year was over.
The following year at Baylor, I stuck around in the Leadership program, moving to the role of PR Director. Daniel moved out of the dorms to live with some friends. We still saw each other around, but definitely not as much. Any time I saw him, though, I was happy to catch up because he could lift your spirit in an instant. And through the years, Daniel has participated in this event called “March Baldness”– where bald individuals would upload a photo of themselves and have people vote for them to be the ultimate champion. Daniel always had a multitude of friends swarm in and vote for him but never won- still, his attitude was just terrific. He shared this with friends just a few days ago after not placing:
“Hey everyone just wanted to express my gratitude for all the support, encouragement and votes y’all have given me over the past few weeks in my March Baldness campaign! I lost yesterday in the Shiny Sixteen but it’s no big deal. I lost my hair and I feel like that turned out pretty well! I am seriously at a loss of words of how truly blessed I am to have each and every one of y’all in my life and I’m glad I’m able to bring a smile to y’all through my baldness!…Thanks so much again and please feel free to rub my head for good luck, be blinded by its glare, laugh at me in all my crazy costumes, be envious of me when you have to shave or swim, ask yourself how ironic it is my cousin and aunt are both certified hair dressers, get a new sense of pride when you see a bald eagle, realize how closely I resemble Rufus (Kim Possible’s naked mole rat), and as y’all gradually lose your hair over your lifetime embrace it and make sure to call me for styling tips!”
Though Daniel was bald due to Alopecia unversalis, he was able to take his situation and find a way to have joy and share that joy with others. He was always proud to post this photo around March Baldness.
Anyway, after that year, like I said, we didn’t see each other around that much. We’d catch up when we could or when I tried to get the Mentor Group together for a mini-reunion. But time went by and people moved on. I found myself in my senior year at Baylor living in a new place, trying to graduate, and struggling with isolation and depression. The Fall of 2010 was one of the hardest times of my life. But I remember one night– which was probably the last time Daniel and I talked. Though I rarely left my apartment for anything other than classes, due to lack of energy and feelings of abandonment, one night I made it over to campus for Christmas on 5th Street, an annual event filled with fun events and celebrations. I made my way over for the Phil Wickham concert, which I enjoyed greatly, though on my own.
Afterwards, before I left, I ambled over to the tent selling Phil’s latest Christmas CD– and who would I see but Daniel?! We had a good brotherly high-five/bear-hug and started to catch up. I shared some of what was going on with me (missing most of the embarrassing areas) and I was happy to hear his stories and how he was doing. At that time I felt real awkward around other people, afraid they’d know I was doing poorly in classes, in my relationships, in my health, afraid they’d find out I was just broken. And while I didn’t go and just blurt out all my thoughts to my good friend Daniel, I will say this– I felt comfortable around him.
I know plenty of people would agree with that statement. Daniel had a way of making you feel important and loved and valued in his presence. I felt true happiness in those few minutes and we enjoyed a couple funny stories and jokes– and before he had to rush off to meet some other friends, we parted with warm words of friendship and hope to catch up again. We’ll have to wait a long time for that, though…
I really have very few “Daniel” stories to share. This is why I should journal, because I’m sure there are more, but I just can’t remember them all! Truth is, with so many people, all the stories of a friend blend into one grand experience of friendship. Daniel was an extraordinary guy. He went through a lot of tough things in life, worked hard in school and business, and still was active in his pursuit of Christ, all the way home.
Just a month ago, Daniel posted this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:
“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
I heard these words years ago, back in junior high. And yet I feel as if I need to be reminded of them every day. And I am grateful to Daniel, because he lived those words out as a testimony to us, day by day.
Just a few days ago, around St. Patrick’s Day, Daniel posted these honest words:
Was absolutely floored when I read this the past year! Entitled “The Breastplate” Written by Patrick of Ireland! Gives so much more meaning to wearing Green!
“Christ shield me today against poison, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that there might come to me an abundance of reward, Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”
This is a prayer that Daniel read, drew inspiration from, posted on Facebook, shared with friends, possibly spoke in prayer (?)– and lived out. And it was a prayer that God blessed, because it has been answered over and over again as we look at story after story posted on his Facebook wall, stories speaking of his joy and love and faithfulness in Christ. But this wasn’t the only St. Patrick prayer Daniel shared. No, on St. Patrick’s day proper, Daniel posted this on his Timeline:
In honor of St. Patricks day and following up my status from yesterday was blown away by Patrick of Ireland’s (St. Patricks) confession!
I, Patrick, a sinner, am the most ignorant and of least account among the faithful, despised by many… It was not grace in me, but God who is victorious in me an resisted them all, so that I came to the Irish people to preach the gospel and to bear insults from unbelievers, to hear the scandal of my travels, and to endure many persecutions even to the extent of prison; so that I might surrender my liberty as a man of free condition for the profit of others, and if I should be found worthy, I am ready to give even my life for his name’s sake unfaltering, gladly and without hesitation; and there (in Ireland) I desire to spend it until I die, if our Lord should grant it to me. I owe it to God’s grace that so many people should through me be born again in God… But I implore those who believe in and fear God, whoever consents to examine or receive this document composed of the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that no one shall ever credit to me even the smallest of things that I achieved or may have told of that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it was a gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.
That last phrase… that last sentence is so powerful now in hindsight, isn’t it?
I wonder if I have the guts to say those eight words, to really believe them.
The other day I saw the movie Olympus Has Fallen with a friend. And it is a violent movie, so be warned. But as I watched certain people stand up and give up their lives, either for selfish gain or for their country or for another person, it made me quake inside– with anger that it has to be this way, that we have to die, that we have to say goodbye to those we love, that some have to go through extreme pain– and with fear, because I didn’t know what I would have done if I was on the brink of death and had to choose between faithful integrity and selfish self-preservation. I’d love to say I’d stand, but I know those sentiments ring more with idealism than truth. I don’t know what I would do.
As many people have already said, though Daniel did not finish the Bearathon, he has finished his race and finished strong. But before I move to that symbolic imagery, I just want to stick on that first part– the Bearathon. Daniel was definitely more athletic than me (in MANY ways), but no matter what your build is or what your experience is, you have to keep up that strength over time. You can’t just build it up and then possess it forever– you have to keep working out, keep exercising, keep running. And Daniel did all that. And I think it says a lot about Daniel, that he and many others got up early on a Saturday morning (while I slept in…) to run 13.1 miles for a fund-raiser — and I bet he did it all with a typical Daniel smile on his face.
Now I’m not going to paint an untrue picture of Daniel. He was human. Sometimes he could miss meetings, and he had a big problem with sleeping in! He didn’t always walk around with a huge smile on his face, and sometimes he could be distracted by his phone during a conversation. But with all that said, Daniel would still choose right when he needed to do so. While I would simply keep sleeping if I slept in, I’d hear a huge buzzing noise, a loud thump, and a rapid shuffling next door as Daniel rushed to get ready and run to class. While Daniel might get distracted and start texting, he would often realize it and put away the phone and focus.
Daniel went through so much pain over the past few years. He endured the death of his mother, his grandmother and his grandfather. He continued in school and, I just found out through reading the news, was looking at doing further study either to serve in ministry or work in an organization.
Daniel chose to run for this fund-raiser because that was the type of guy he was. Daniel chose to enter in the March Baldness every year because he was just a joyful, fun-loving guy. He chose to befriend so many people because he was such a loving guy. He chose to work hard and follow hard after God, because that’s what he believed mattered. And he ran all the way home. He lived his life down here, living fully, full of faith and faithful, and by the grace of God He is now more alive than any one of us. The resurrection life of Jesus Christ that flowed through his veins here on earth is now radiating through him like sunlight through a stained glass window. He is dead, but he is truly alive.
So all I can do is be grateful to Daniel for all he showed me and taught me; speak words of love and comfort to people grieving the loss of such a great guy; and look at my life and wonder, “Am I living such a life? What do I live for? What would I die for? Could I speak the words of St. Patrick and let that be my life’s end? Could you?”
Thank you Father, for sharing your child Daniel with us for such a short time. He shared his life with so many and blessed us all. Thank you that through him we could see Your love, Your joy, Your life. Thank you that You offer it all to us as well. Thank you.
Today and tomorrow you can donate to this fund at WePay.com, a fundraiser to support Daniel’s family and help them with the funeral costs and other details. As of writing, friends and family together have donated $8,260. So amazing…
Here’s a song that has always spoken to me and rose in my soul as I thought about Daniel’s life. His life truly meant so much. Could mine? Could yours?