Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Extraordinary Life of an "Ordinary" Man – Tribute to Jim Mills

"Jim’s was not just a human love for kids and everyone else around him.  His was a divine love, a God imparted love, a love that was Beyond Love."

“Well... (a pause too long) it’s over the next little rise and around the bend.” 

I knew he wasn’t telling me the truth, but coming from Jim it was still somehow rejuvenating.  As one of the leaders of a group of teenagers come from the city, we had joined our friend and guide, Jim Mills for one of his favorite adventures – a backpacking trip in the Sierra Mountains.  The backpacks on our citified bodies feeling as though they weighed a ton (at least), ALL any of us wanted to know was, when would today’s leg of the trip be over?

Jim is gone now, taken by cancer only a few short days ago.  I had received a phone call telling me he was dying. I hadn’t spoken with him in over twenty years, but now I was on the phone with him.  As we talked, I thought of those summer trips, my aching back and pleas for relief, and of course his fib of our day's end being so near.  How did he ever keep us going?  But that was only one of his MANY gifts to us.

Jim’s great love was for kids – kids of all ages.  Jim had a way with them.  He would play his guitar, lead in a song, and shine with his love for all that were around.  And once drawn in he would tell them in the simplest way about his love for Jesus and Jesus’ love for them.

I had trouble holding back the tears.  Had it really been twenty years since we last talked?  It had only been lost contact, a sad story far too often heard.  But now I wanted to tell him how much he had meant to me,  just to encourage him.  Yet Jim in his simple way, as had always been the case, ended up being the one giving out the encouragement.

We spoke of Ma Bradley.  Half woman and half man, she roamed the hills of the American Canyon right where we backpacked.  Each year kids new to our trek would sit around the campfire – some with opened mouths of awe, some with faces framed in fear – and marvel as Jim wove, once again, his mythical story and scared the dickens out of them, which they thoroughly loved. Jim assured me Ma would live on through his sons as they picked up his mantle. 

Knowing that Jim’s time was short we spoke of his soon passing.  I sensed an air of excitement as he anticipated his departure and soon presence with our Lord.  I asked if I might share a passage of Scripture with him.  He was eager to hear the words of his God as it related to his dying body, so very much in failure by now.

I read to him from II Corinthians 5:1-9.  Verse 8 leaped out at both of us, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Jim was excitedly anticipating that last little rise in the trail and bend in the path to make it to journey’s end where he would set up an eternal camp in heaven with his Lord and Savior.

There is so much to say about Jim.  His heart for kids has moved him to touch the lives of multitudes of young people.  His home – always open. His material possessions – always dedicated to the ministry of kids.  His time – always theirs for whatever needs they came to share with him.  His dear wife, Anita, and children – standing by his side aiding in loving kids and sharing Christ with them.  Jim is/was the complete man of God.

As Jim spoke to me, my mind wandered for just a moment and I asked, “Jim, do you remember the time I had brought a group of teens to your house? We were staying the night prior to the next morning’s departure for a backpack trip. There was this young man who saw your guitar and asked if he could play it, obviously overly proud of his own skill.  You, of course, said yes.  He did reasonably well, but was obviously showing off.  His need was for a “little” humbling and a “whole lot” of the Lord.  After you pretended not to know the guitar all that well he brazenly asked if you would like him to teach you to play a little.

In your eye I saw that wry look of, this is how I’ll win ya, as the rest of your face said, please do teach me. Now a second guitar appeared in your hands.  He would strum a little and you would quickly pick it up.  He would play a little more in depth and after a try or two you would pick that up as well. It went on like this for a while.  Finally the young man said, “I’ve never seen anyone learn so quickly.

The gotcha, first in your eye, now spread over your whole face, as you began to play a Christian song with no small amount of quality.  The group around us burst into laughter.  The young guitarist became more than just a little embarrassed.  And then I asked myself, how will Jim make the next step?  Had I been that young man I would have escorted my blushing face into the nearest closet and set up camp for the night.

But you had a magic about you, Jim.  I think it must have been the Holy Spirit witnessing with his spirit, not a human love, but the love of God that you felt for that boy.  You set the guitar down and put your arm around his shoulder laughing not at him but with him.  I don’t think he took his eyes off of you the rest of the night.  He certainly was your constant companion the whole backpacking trip.  We enjoyed remembering that night.

Jim’s magic reached out to me over the phone.  He had a love for life and a larger love for Jesus. That love touched all he came into contact with, and it was touching me now as we remembered our times of ministry together.

Jim’s was not just a human love for kids and everyone else around him.  His was a divine love, a God imparted love, a love that was Beyond Love.

Jim, you have crested your last little rise and made it around the last bend in the trail.  You are now, “…home with the Lord.”  God has touched each of us through you, young person and adult alike. 

Thank you for allowing Him to express through you something greater than any human love.  Yours is the love of God that is … Beyond Love.

Jim, born November 2, 1942, passed on December 21, 2010 and now with his Lord awaits the arrival of the multitudes he touched at His ultimate camp site.    

Read other tributes to Jim Mills from the 
Jim Mills: Ordinary man, 'extraordinary ministry:
And it all started with a bus: