Wednesday, December 30, 2009

David Gentiles Day

Today I’m gathering with family and friends to honor the life of a great man, David Anthony Gentiles. David is one of my dearest friends for the last 16 years. He had a freak accident 2 weeks ago and died on December 18. David turned 58 years old just after Thanksgiving. He has three amazing daughters: Ariele, Hannah and Calla.

David is one of the most beloved and adored people I’ve ever known. He served in churches for over 30 years; primarily as a youth minister. Literally, hundreds of men and women from his youth groups would say that David changed their life. As one who volunteered in youth ministries since I was in college, I learned the most about ministry from David. His approach ministry was simple: build relationships and love kids. Nothing else was important. Anyone who knew him or worked with him, saw this in action. It wasn’t just a philosophy, it was the way he lived his life.

We shared many similar paths: a Southern Baptist upbringing. We often joked about some of those memories: Bible drills, GA programs and Vacation Bible School rituals. We both have been through divorce. He and I talked regularly when he became a single dad raising 3 young girls. He was worried and scared. He also turned out to be one of the greatest parents I’ve known. (I put him on my speed dial when TJ came to live with us. I called him A LOT!!) David took me to dinner and a movie the day my divorce was final. (that movie later proved to be a long-standing joke for us. I'll share that story another day.) When I started dating again, he was the person I called to share how a date went. He supported stories of "this guy was a total bore" or share in my excitement if things went well. And for a while, I was invited to share in the Saturday morning ritual of pancakes with him and his daughters. I even took a road trip with them once. Big fun. He helped me change the oil in my car (ok, he actually did the work but I was there). David and I shared many retreats, discipleship weekends, VBS and youth camps; amazing memories and funny stories. Telling stories of the legendary Country Camp may never quite be the same. We also knew what it was like to work for the church. It was during college that David began his work in the church, as did I. Although, David went on to devote his education and career to youth ministry. It’s only been in recent years that both he and I found an authentic beauty in a church that I think we both knew could exist, but never realized was actually possible.

David baptized me. Married me. Sat in a hospital waiting room for me -twice. Watched football games in my home. He was the emergency contact I list right after my husband. We both cheered for the Baylor Bears, even when we knew they wouldn’t win.

Two of my favorite characteristics of David, and the legacies I will remember the most…One is David’s deep, deep compassion for others. Especially for the outsiders, or the poor and mistreated. He modeled this for me and slowly, over the years, my fears or lack of comfort with those who are different than me is fading. I think perhaps his most striking attribute is his ability- his gift- to make everyone feel like they were special to him; that their relationship with David was unique. There is no doubt that each person who comes to his service today, or posts a note on Facebook, or looks through old photographs feels this way. That gift reflects paying attention, being present, really listening…part of everyday, just living life David Gentiles.

The memorial is being held at a baseball field. David was an avid baseball fan; it’s so perfect. I’ll be wearing my Baylor University baseball cap. Afterwards, an open house is being held at our church to visit with friends and pay homage to all things David, “The David Gentiles Experience.” His daughters have promised the most “badass-est” memorial ever. It is well on track for this goal. I was there for awhile yesterday helping his daughters and other dear friends prepare this space. It’s beautiful, and yet the cloud of surrealism slowly began to lift as I was there. I’m beginning to feel the heaviness of the sadness in my heart. I said good-bye to David at his bedside, but I know from experience that saying good-bye is really a process and it’s going to take awhile. I spoke to him or saw him several times a week; sometimes daily. He is the person I called or texted when a Baylor sport did something miraculous. He is one of the first people I called when I needed to talk. He was my partner in ministry: helping to plan, create, or brainstorm. He sat with me every Sunday morning in youth Bible Study. Yes, this is going to take awhile.

I know today will be a wonderful day of celebrating an amazing life and legacy. My sadness will take a back seat today as I hear stories, share my own memories, eat his favorite foods, hear his favorite music (from his massive LP collection!) and hug friends I haven’t seen in years.

This is going to be a good day, my friend. It’s all for you. Thank you for you love and amazing friendship. You always have a cherished place in my heart.

(for another wonderful tribute to David, read Eileen Flynn’s story in the Austin American Statesman. )