Usually daily life implies the mundane, typical or usual…nothing to write home about, as we used to say back in the day (and if you are 30 and younger–please stop saying back in the day), when letter writing, rather than twitter, facebook, email, and texting was invented. But some days start out that way, and then end up being life changing. So it was on September 20, 2005 when our beloved friend, Steve Floyd left this world for a better one.
We were living in China at that time, and while routinely checking our email, we saw one from Joe’s sister Marianne with the opening line showing: You must be so devastated about Steve Floyd. She had assumed we knew, but no one had gotten word to us yet. I recall shaking as I asked myself, dare I open that email? Maybe Steve was hurt, or sued, or kidnapped. I did not let myself think that he had died. That was unthinkable in the most literal sense of the word. I recall saying the words, Please God, please let Steve be OK, as I clicked on the note to open it.
I called Joe in to our room and shut the door and told him first; he was as stunned as I was. Natalie was home, and so we brought her in and told her. This was so hard to do as she adored Uncle Steve. Then as if on cue, all three of us screamed No!!!! And fell on the bed, sobbing and sobbing. I will never forget that morning in China. Outside, our Chinese neighbors were riding their bikes to work, or walking with their little dogs, and carrying their days’ vegetables in those flimsy, red plastic bags. (Some foreigners were probably drinking their diet cokes.) In our little Chinese apartment, we were utterly and completely shattered.
Our boys were off on a school trip, out in the countryside of China. They were due to come home that evening, and their favorite dinner had been planned. We called their teachers to tell them what had happened, not really sure why. I guess our thinking was, if by chance they did get into some trouble with the powers that be–that they would go easy on them. By the time they arrived home, Joe, Nat, and I composed ourselves and had the table set and dinner ready. We greeted them with hugs and kisses, helped them with their dirty gear, and waited for them to get cleaned up. They were full of stories from the week-long trip, and we three tried our best to listen with some measure of interest, but I guess our performance would not rate an Academy Award nomination, as they later told me. There is no manual to explain how to break devastating news, and we felt so stiff and awkward as the three of us play-acted for a few hours. We ate dinner, and waited a few moments, and then told them that we had some news to tell them about Uncle Steve. God help us. They held their breath, and Joe told them that Steve had been hit by a car, while out jogging. Like us, they were dumbstruck, and ran to their rooms to be alone, and to cry without us seeing. And then we all cried together later that night. I wrote to Joanne that the world just became a lot lonelier place that day.
It was decided that the three of us would fly back for the funeral, and that the twins would stay home in China. We could not afford five airfares, and coincidentally, the boys were scheduled to take their fitness test for their admission to the academies that week. I wonder if ever two more heartsick boys had to take that difficult test. At least one of them did not get high enough scores on one exercise, and had to re-test. They told me that they were just so sad, that they could hardly go to school, let alone take a physical fitness test.
When Joe, Nat and I flew home, it was a long and quiet trip, the most somber one we had taken in our lives. I recall driving to Steve and Joanne’s home in the darkness after we landed. I could not bear to go in to the house, so I just went to the fence where the horses were, and leaned over it, and cried till I could not cry anymore that dark, starry night. I am sure I asked God why?! more than once. And if Steve did see me, I am sure he would say, Liz, it’s ok–I am fine, and you will be too. Don’t make such a fuss over me…and remember, God is good. That is how Steve rolled.
Looking Back Fondly
Today on the 6th anniversary of his death, I cannot help remembering all the wonderful things about him, and why we all loved him so much. This post is a tribute to Steve, but one that is of course not comprehensive (unlike Steve’s high school) by any means. It is perhaps a weak one, but Steve would know it is written from the heart, and would probably tell me “Liz, don’t make it too sappy!” Ok Steve, I will do my best.
Our family first met Steve when we all attended Perimeter Church in Atlanta. One of my first memories of him was as a nursery worker. Steve was a doctor who always acted like a regular guy. He had no pretense, or puffy air about him, in fact unassuming would be the best way I could describe his initial presence. He was brilliant, wise, a gifted physician, and a spiritual leader in our church in Athens years later. However Steve preferred for people to discover these things about him, rather than let them know up front. It was one of his most endearing qualities.
I went to pick up my daughter Natalie, who was only three at the time, and Steve handed her to me and said “You might be proud to know that Natalie was the only little one in here who went to wash her hands after using the bathroom, without us telling her to.” I smiled. Way to go Nat! He was not yet our kids’ physician, as we were going to Dr. Denmark at the time, but rather a church acquaintance. In fact I am not even sure if I knew who he was at that moment. Later, when we all attended church in Athens, Ga. we would become much better friends and I came to see that Steve was as funny as he was humble.
One That Note
One year our families vacationed together at Carrabelle, at our family’s place on the Gulf of Mexico. Ok, I need to take a short break here to define place. If you are picturing a modern condo in a tony beach resort, think again. Carrabelle is our family’s beach…shack…meaning one step above a tent. It is over a hundred years old, and while it does have indoor plumbing and a few wall unit air conditioners, you can see the earth below through the floor boards. Think of the old TV show Green Acres, and the broken down shack that Oliver and Lisa called home in an attempt to scale down, and you got it just about right. Joe’s family tells the story of a high school girl who burst into tears upon arriving at Carrabelle, and quickly purchased a bus ticket back to Athens to get the heck outta there! When we take friends to Carrabelle, if, upon entering the house, they say this is not that bad, we feel we have done a good job of preparing them for their stay. The fact that Steve would go with us to Carrabelle is a testament to his down-home style; if he could swim and fish by day, and enjoy some oysters, a cold beer, and some good laughs with friends at night, he was a happy camper (and I mean this literally in reference to Carrabelle).
Back to the humility theme–my sister Emily and her husband Rodney were also with us at Carrabelle, and about two days into the vacation, Rod asked me, so what does Steve do? Rod, who is a very astute observer of human behavior, (and a great guy in his own right), was probably thinking I would say accounting, or sales, or engineering. I still remember his reaction when I told him Steve was a pediatrician. He stopped in his tracks, (unusual as Rod does not shock easily), and took my arm and said:
No way! You are joking!
No, Rod, Steve really is a doctor. Why does that surprise you?
Well, he is such a nice guy. He doesn’t seem like a doctor. I have never met a doc like that.
I know. He’s a peach!
During that vacation Steve taught our boys how to fish, to their delight, and Joe taught us all how to line dance. These two men were quite different in some ways (dancing and fishing being an obvious difference), but alike in their service to others, love of their families, spirit of fun, and the wearing of what I used to call their Plaid Dad outfits (khakis with short sleeve plaid shirts). Though Steve said he was not much of a dancer, he was a good sport, and jumped in with gusto. So much gusto that Joanne and I could not stop laughing as Steve and Joe exaggerated their moves just to ham it up. I still laugh till my ribs hurt when I watch that video.
Steve did other funny things too. My kids told me about how Uncle Steve taught them to eat dog food. Smile. I never knew about this till years later. Steve, who could play a joke without giving it away, was talking to five-year old Jack and Pres about how dog food is good for you. They were a bit incredulous till they saw Uncle Steve pop a piece of nice dry dog food in his mouth and eat it, expressing how yummy it was. So of course they had to try it too. He must have had a hard time not laughing at the two of them as they tried to get the dog food down. Steve!!! You crack me up.
One evening when the four of use were sitting around talking, Steve impressed us with some big vocabulary word, (he usually kept those words to himself for our sake), and we noted that he had gotten himself a pretty darn good education at Cedartown High School. Steve quickly corrected me, and said Cedartown COMPREHENSIVE High School, to which Joe, without skipping a beat added, where they teach readin’ AND writin’, and the four of us howled with laughter. Maybe you had to be there, but this is what I miss-the hanging out and talking, sharing our lives, and laughing a lot. This is what Steve always brought to the table, along with his wonderful wife, Joanne: wisdom with humor and grace. How we loved him, and how we miss him!
Joanne Honors Steve & Teaches Me About Faith
There is a last bit that I wanted to share that speaks so much of the kind of people that Steve and Joanne are. They had taken a trip to Ireland, and Steve had bought his bride a beautiful ring that she cherished. Just a few days after the accident, Joanne contacted the person who was driving the car that hit Steve. Now this is very important to note: the driver was not charged, and the accident was not the driver’s fault. In fact, with Steve jogging in dark clothing in the wee hours before sun up, no one could have seen him on that road. It was God’s mercy that one of his kids, or friends, or neighbors did not hit him, as we might have.
Joanne knew that her own suffering was probably close to that of the person whose car had hit Steve, and felt moved to pay them a visit. She wanted them to know that she did not blame them, that it was not their fault, and that Steve was the kind of person who did not hold grudges, blame people, or live in bitterness. Joanne made sure to communicate that she was not forgiving them, because they had not done anything wrong, but more that she was letting them know that she did not blame them, that God did not blame them, and that they should let themselves off the hook. She further explained that she and Steve had always lived their lives believing in the goodness and sovereignty of God, and that He takes each of His children home in His time. They believed in this verse from Psalm 139:
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
And then Joanne did something extraordinary; she removed that precious ring, and gave it to that sad person. And she told them that each time they are tempted to rake themselves over the coals for that sad event, to look at that ring, and touch it, and know that Joanne loves them, God loves them, and Steve would say the same thing if he were here. And we all know he would, bless him.
Where does such extraordinary love come from? How does one let go of anger, bitterness, and pain, and choose instead to see God’s sovereignty even in a such a devastating loss? I was again dumbfounded when Joanne shared this story with me. I wanted to know how she did it. I don’t know if I could do what she did, but I loved her all the more for teaching me how to let the faith we say we have become real.
Joanne gave me a very simple answer. God…and Steve.