Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On the passing of an old friend....

Yesterday I found out that an old friend had passed on to Glory. While his passing on has been something that's been expected for 14 years, it still took the wind out of me when I first heard. Tuesday afternoon and evening (and on into Wednesday morning) I've been reflecting on the brief period of my life when I counted myself as a friend of Jeremy. It's brought a lot of smiles as well as tears to my face. Most of my readers here never knew Jeremy although some of you know his brother (or at least know who his brother is). I wish that everybody had had the opportunity to meet was something you never forgot! What follows are some of my memories of Jeremy Janz, as well as my recollection of the night of his accident 14 years ago last month.

I met Jeremy for the first time my very first night on the campus of Northland Baptist Bible College. His younger brother (Jason) is the same age as I am and we had met during our Senior year of High School. Jason was one of the first people I ran into when I got to Northland and I was thrilled to find a familiar face. Jay quickly introduced me to a number of people including his brother. Pretty soon I found myself in Jeremy's dorm room talking to him like I'd known him forever. As I've read tributes to Jeremy in various places on the internet this evening, I've come to discover that my experience wasn't unique....this was just the way Jer was!

Before our conversation was over that first night, Jeremy invited me to spend Friday night at a cabin down by one of the lakes at Northland with him and about a dozen other guys. I agreed and he helped me get the pass to go. As we were headed down there - on foot, in January, in Northern Wisconsin - Jeremy hung back and talked to me rather than all these other guys who were friends of his. He got my entire life story from me during that 15 minute walk! That night we all stood on the middle of a frozen lake and sang gospel songs, we roasted marshmallows in the fire place, and we had a testimony / prayer meeting that Jeremy lead. I began to realize that God had made sure that I fell in with the "good crowd" at school!

Fast forward 30 months. I was spending my 2nd summer on staff at the WILDS of the Rockies Christian camp in Kremling, Colorado. The previous summer we saw Jeremy quite a bit. He would come up every now and again to see us (his brother was also working at TWR) and we would go down to Denver and stay at the Janz' home on some weekends. Jeremy would keep us busy with things like water basketball and bungee jumping! However, during our 2nd summer at the WILDS, Jeremy was doing a pastoral internship at a small church in Hebron (I think), Utah. One Sunday night in July one of the full-time staffers from camp came into Jason's cabin and woke Jay and I up. Campers were already gone and I was staying the night at Jay's place that evening. The man who woke us up said, "Jason, you need to call home. Your brother's been in an accident. It's bad."

Jay and I hurriedly got dressed without speaking. We began to walk towards the lodge quickly, the only words that had passed between us was Jay saying, "Oh, Murph". Pretty soon we were on a dead sprint for the lodge. You see, Jason and Jeremy were not just brothers....they were closer to one another than any best friends that I've ever seen.

When we got to the lodge, the eldest of the three Janz daughters was already in there (she was working with us that summer as well). Jay went around to the phone and called home while Jocelyn and I stood there waiting. I heard Jason say, "Dad?". Pretty soon all I heard was crying and Jocelyn began to wail. We hugged as we waited for Jason to get off the phone and tell us the news. Jeremy had been riding his bicycle into town and had been struck by a pickup truck going 50 mph or so. He had been taken to a hospital in Salt Lake City, but he wasn't expected to make it through the night.

Well, he made through that night and 14 more years of nights after that, although he never regained consciousness. He has spent the last 14 years in a vegetative state almost identical to that of Terry Schiavo (if you remember all the controversy that stirred several years ago concerning her).

I struggled for a long time with the whole thing, to tell you the truth. At the end of the summer of '94 Jeremy's parents had him moved to Denver where he was put into a nursing home of sorts. I moved to Denver that fall and I went to visit Jeremy nearly every day just trying to understand. This guy was so full of life - more so than just about anybody I'd met before or since. He lived to serve others and to bring honor to the name of Christ. He could preach, teach, sing, and he studied the Word faithfully. He was so driven to serve the Lord , yet mere weeks before his wedding and the beginning of his first full-time ministry as a youth pastor in his home church in Denver, he was cut down. It didn't make any sense to me then.....and I guess it doesn't make logical sense to me even now. However, in a strange way God has used Jeremy in a tremendous way during the last 14 years. Maybe even more so than He did during those first 22 years!

I realize that this post is somewhat rambling and that all the thoughts aren't connected very well, but I'm sorting through a lot of memories and, at 2am, I may not be doing a great job of turning those memories into congruous thoughts!

I'll always remember Jeremy and I'll continue to miss him. When I've thought of him over the years, the pictures that came to mind were rarely the broken, scrawny, out-of control shell that lay helpless in the hospital bed, but rather the loud, happy, smiling, Zubu pant wearing, white high-top and pink suit coat sporting friend of everybody! I remember the guy who always had a great story to tell, and who was always ready to talk about the goodness of God. I only knew him for two-an-a-half years before the accident, but you didn't need to know Jeremy for more than a few minutes before you could call him "friend"!

I look forward to seeing him again someday. He's in a body that works again and he's in the presence of the God Whom he so loved and lived for!


Shannon (Adams) Callahan said...

Okay, I'll need the kleenex now. Good post, Ellis.

Christian said...

Thank you, Ellis.

Jeremy was a friend, co-labourer, and spiritual brother. I remember what I believe to be Jeremy's last night at Northland before graduation -- we sang a song over and over again that I do not remember ever hearing before or ever hearing again. "Its almost over . . we are going home." It is a song about anticipation of heaven (that night it was anticipation of graduation). Jeremy is now home and it is still "almost over" for each one of us. May we live life in the memory of our friend with a passion for his God and people that would exalt the cross and our Savior until it is finally over for us and we are "home" too.
C. Markle

Ellis Murphree said...

"It's Almost Over" was a song I learned my first weekend at Northland while we were standing on the lake at midnight singing!

Jim Peet said...

Thanks for posting your remembrance of Jeremy!