As we were landing in Austin on Tuesday, I took my phone off of airplane mode, and a voicemail and 3 texts popped in. The voicemail was my clue something was up. No one that knows me leaves me a voicemail, and this was from one of the Oneicity team. Something indeed was up.
The voicemail and texts all said about the same thing. “Steve McRee died in the early hours of this morning.”
My heart sank.
And then I smiled. I actually remember shaking my head and smiling. To understand the smile you need some backstory.
Steve McRee was the CEO of one of our long-time clients. He was a friend, as well as a client.
Through the years, he and I had strategized together, dreamed together, disagreed a little, lingered over great food, shared our personal struggles and laughed. And cried.
We had grown to know each other well. He was one of a handful of CEOs that had asked for coaching from me. We dove deep. We both learned a lot. Steve was a man of deep faith in God. He had a real relationship with Jesus.
The season of CEO coaching passed. Our work relationship changed some because he had what he’d needed from me. The ministry needed Oneicity’s services that were more of our team and less of me.
We were still good friends, but I was in his life less.
And then just over 3 years ago, he had a tragic and I have to say “stupid” fall in his home. I say “stupid” because it seemed like a simple fall shouldn’t have been any big deal. But it was life-changing.
After the fall, he was wheelchair bound.
In a heartbeat, he went from vibrant, healthy and capable; to needing help feeding himself. And having to have people assist with the personal parts of life you and I take for granted. And of course, a wheelchair.
Hoots and I prayed intensely for his healing. Steve was a man of extraordinary faith. He was convinced that God would heal him soon. But time passed. Months passed. Years passed. There seemed to be marginal improvements. Really from my perspective, not improvements unless you were really looking for any glimmer of hope, any sign of change. Then, I guess there was improvement. But he was still in that chair.
I prayed for him.
And I prayed for his heart.
And I prayed for his wife who bore such a burden from the accident.
And I prayed for the ministry he led. It’s not easy to lead from a wheelchair with serious physical limitations.
When we talked business there was usually a moment where we talked of the personal. At times he was down. I have to say he was not 1% as down as I know I would have been in his place. At other times I was amazed at his faith and peace. And his confidence that Jesus would get him out of the wheelchair.
Last Friday I was on a conference call with Brian, one of our team, and Steve McRee. Steve was planning a fundraising strategy that I didn’t think was the right direction to go. I had already tried to talk him out of it and had lost that battle. Steve was unmovable. Friday’s call was to be sure I understood all the drivers behind his decision and to be sure we were supporting him in the right ways.
After the business was concluded, and I was having to bounce off the call, he and I shared a moment. He wanted to know about Hoots and my life. How were the kids? How were we doing personally? He was like that.
When I turned the conversation around to him, he was still sure that Jesus was going to get him out of the chair. Candidly, I didn’t believe it anymore. Please understand, I wanted to, but it had been more than three years, and he was still in that chair. My faith just wasn’t that strong.
I heard later from Brian that as Friday’s conversation continued without me, Steve had been confident and specific that it would be soon when he’d be out of the chair.
And that’s why I smiled through tears sitting there in that Alaska Airlines seat reading the news on my phone about my friend Steve.
It occurred to me that he’d been right.
Jesus had gotten him out of that chair. That’s why I smiled.
It is the week of Easter. The Easter story is my friend Steve’s story.
You know the story. Jesus comes and walks among his people. There’s hope in the middle of struggle, sorrow and pain. “God is with us.” There’s nothing but good stuff ahead. He heals. He teaches. He redeems.
Yet, no one realizes what’s coming. There is real trouble ahead.
He’s arrested and tried in a kangaroo court by the religious leaders. (Funny how they couldn’t spot God standing there).
And Jesus is crucified. The people who followed Him, both up close and from afar, were shattered and confused by his death.
This was not how things were supposed to go.
“Good” Friday begins a very long, dark weekend for those who had faith in Jesus. What had happened?
Yet early on that Sunday morning, that very first Easter, the tomb was empty. Word spread that he wasn’t dead any more. And He was appearing to disciples. It was true. He had risen.
Hopelessness turned into hope.
Despair turned into joy.
Doubt turned into certainty.
Because of Easter, I’m certain that Jesus smiled on my friend Steve as he drew his last breath. I’m certain that Steve smiled as he finally left that damn chair and this world behind and took his Savior’s hand.
And I’m certain, I’ll get to laugh and walk with my friend Steve again, as they say, on the other side.
The Easter call-and-response goes this way:
“He is risen.”
“He is risen indeed.”
(photo credit: zeevveez)