Thanksgiving is approaching quickly, and this year it comes with a heaviness for myself and many others. One year ago, our good friend, Justin Woodard, was taken by the Lord early in the morning on Thanksgiving day. I'll never forget the call I got later that morning informing me that there had been a car accident and that he was gone. Gone. As the fact sank in that I would never again see my friend Justin on this side of eternity, my heart hurt greatly... especially for those who were closer to him than I was. Justin and I lived next door to one another on campus, were both on student leadership, and had only had the opportunity to have a couple of intimate conversations, but the impact that he had on my life was great. And so this Thanksgiving, while I'm enjoying some time with family and giving thanks to God for all I've been blessed with, I will also continue to celebrate the life and love of my friend Justin.
After a year of grieving, processing, and beginning to move forward, I thought that it was finally time to share the short speech I gave at one of his memorials last year...
- - - -
Justin Woodard was a man after God’s own heart. His love for the Lord was so evident in the few but very meaningful conversations that I was able to have with him in his short time on earth. I would like to share with you all a few words that come to mind when I think of Justin…
Joyful. Justin was one of the most genuinely joyful people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. He was an always-smiling, life-loving, bear-hugging man, and his joy effervesced from his very presence. It was undeniably contagious. Honestly, how could you not smile when you saw his bright face walking toward you? Especially when he wore those crazy sunglasses! I’ll never forget that August day that he came over to our apartment, Win-Co bags in hand, ready to teach us how to make his favorite dessert: chocolate calzones. He went out and bought all of the ingredients and made us one of, if not the best desserts I have ever had! And all the while he did it with a huge grin on his face, as he told us his testimony.
Generous. Justin was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known, especially with his time. He had this natural ability to make you feel like you were the only one in the room, a quality that most people don’t possess, and he would spend as long as you needed just talking. There’s a quote by Jim Elliot that I have written above my desk that says, “Wherever you are, be all there”. Justin lived out this quote in every way possible.
Compassionate. Justin loved people with everything he had. The love that he had for God overflowed his very being and he continuously poured that love into the lives of other people around him. I remember when he was part of the Cambodia missions team last year, and he shared that his intention in going on that trip was to show the Cambodian girls that a big, white man could love them with a godly love. Justin never ceased to love wholeheartedly.
Authentic. Justin was extremely real. He shared his testimony without hesitation. It was clear that he loved pointing others to his mighty and powerful God who had transformed his life from the inside out. I remember that at last year’s passing of the torch, Justin wept during the bonfire. He rejoiced simply because he was so amazed by the opportunities that God was providing for him despite his brokenness.
Godly. I think that we can all agree that Justin was one of the most godly men around, and he was constantly encouraging others in their pursuit of God. Early last fall, Justin came up to me one day after having read my blog and told me that the more he got to know me, the more he liked me, and that my faith encouraged him in his own relationship with God. What a compliment!
Justin was, above all things, a man of God. I don’t think that anything could deter him from his walk with Christ, and I think that his hope for us would be the same, to let nothing distract us from our pursuit of God. Justin loved the Lord with all of his mind, heart, and soul, truly showing us what it means to be a follower of Christ. What an incredible example we have set before us by Justin Woodard. We miss you brother. Thank you for sharing your life and love with all of us.
- - - -
These words still ring so true. We miss and love you, Justin, but we find all peace and comfort in knowing where you are and Whose arms you are in. Thanksgiving will forever hold a greater meaning in our hearts as we not only give thanks for the things that we have, but also for the fact that we were able to share even just a fraction of life with Justin. May we strive to seek after God's heart like he did, wholeheartedly and without abandon.