In the fall of 2001 (or maybe the spring of 2002, I don’t remember which), I was a college-aged kid doing college-age ministry. As a pastor to my peers, I’m pretty sure everyone was clear that I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I was actually doing. I needed a landing spot — a place where we could hang out and talk about Jesus and be idiots together. I needed some consistency. Some legitimacy.
Good grief, I needed some maturity.
Dave and Mary Smith volunteered their house. We met there every week. Mary with a big smile and some kind of sugary treat, Dave with a firm handshake and a word of encouragement. They were a dynamic duo — offering so much advice and laughter and prayers.
They had a place for us when we were searching for our place in life.
Today, Dave died. An aggressive cancer took his life much more quickly than expected. I haven’t talked to Dave in a few years. When we first moved to Texas, I think I visited him once or twice when we went back. He was always catching up with someone over coffee. He was one of those guys who just loved to listen.
The list of awkward, wayward, or backward 20-something boys he’s counseled over coffee is long.
He was so good to me, these advice and caffeine sessions lasted into my 30s.
Dave was one of those guys, you just felt better after you’d talked to him for a while. “See you soon,” he’d say, and you’d walk away walking a little taller.
Dave was a man’s man. He was in the hardware store business, for crying out loud. He traveled for work. He loved his wife and he raised two daughters. He had a terrific mustache. He played football. He sang baritone. When a video was made at church and someone was needed for the voice of God, Dave’s voice was the first one everyone thought of. The dude was a dude.
If he had the voice of God the Father, he had the heart of God the Son. He was just so stinking Christlike. They say “meek” means strength under control, like a big draft horse being led by a bridle and harness. That was Dave — a big strong stallion of a guy, guided by the Spirit and by the life of Jesus.
I left that college ministry in 2004, but I returned to that church in a youth ministry role in late 2005. About a year later we decided to start a mentoring program for boys with no dad in the picture. I looked for a few guys to take one teenager each and start to meet with them and talk to them and be with them. Dave was first on my list. I’d seen him do it before, I knew he could do it with these guys —
He could give them a place to belong while they searched for their place in the world.
I couldn’t find all the adults I needed, so Dave took multiple guys. He met with them for years. It’s just what he did. He loved people so much.
People loved Dave back.
In the days and weeks that follow, many tales will be told of Dave Smith and all the encouragement, support, and counsel he offered. Many memories will be recounted. He helped set up budgets, he grilled food, he offered gentle correction. He attended weddings. They’ll say these things so often, you’ll think it was scripted.
“I’ve just never met a better guy.”
“He’s literally like the nicest guy ever.”
“He spent so much time with me.”
“He was so patient.”
Many will mourn, but we should not mourn like those who have no hope. The cancer that strangled his body cannot strangle his legacy. In his wake, Dave left the imprint of love, kindness, and generosity on many hearts and lives. And we’ll see him again. We’ll be reunited. He’ll pull up a chair, offer us some coffee, and start asking questions.
I know he shaved it in later years, but I’m tempted to shave everything off my face but a mustache and start passing out knuckle-bruising handshakes to everyone I see.
Better yet, I think I’ll spend a little time with someone who needs a little time spent with them. I think I’ll offer a place for someone who needs a place. I think I’ll live with the integrity that Dave lived.
In doing so, I’ll remember him. I’ll honor him.
I’ll be saying thanks for how he did all those things for me.
See you soon, Dave.