Remembering Mike

Mike Szczepaniak was a big guy, tall and strong. A football player and a carpenter. A husband and a father. As big and strong as he was physically, his kind and gentle heart was even bigger.

I know that sounds like the worst cliché ever. I don’t care. Every cliché has roots in truth and If ever there was a guy about whom it could be said that his heart was bigger and stronger than his frame, it was Mike.

Mike was my friend. Of course that makes me about as unique as a Starbucks. Mike had lots of friends. I certainly wasn’t his oldest or closest friend. My wife, Joann, has known Mike and his wife Sherri longer than I. So in some ways I feel a little out-of-place writing about him. Others could tell his story better than I. Still, this is what I know:

Mike was my friend.

And one year ago, pancreatic cancer killed my friend.

One year ago, I had the honor and privilege of leading a prayer service at his wake.
Today, I’m playing golf. Today, lots of Mike’s friends are playing golf.

As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, I can’t claim to know exactly what happens after death. But I believe that in Jesus, God shows us that death is not the end. I trust that, however it works, we continue to live in God’s love. So, without diminishing the realities of grief and loss, I try to find hope even in the midst of death. A moment, a glimpse, or even a story. Demonstrations of healing, of giving, of kindness, of joy, of peace, of gentleness, of love…moments of life.

That’s why Joann and I were thrilled when TribLocal recently published an article about our friends Sherri & Mike and about today’s golf event. We’re raising funds for the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, “which helps abused, neglected and underprivileged children.”

Mike was a huge Bears fan. But the connection to the Payton Foundation is even more personal:

While in the hospital, Payton’s daughter, Brittney, came to visit Mike Szczepaniak and gave him a Walter Payton jersey.

“They connected right away,” Sherri Szczepaniak said. “She (Brittney) was very interested in his story. He loved the jersey so much.” []

So of course Joann and I are playing in the event. I expect we will share many laughs (and perhaps a few drinks) with many who loved Mike. It will be a festive occasion, full of life.

But still, I miss my friend.

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