I lost a really good friend on January 1st. His name was Rusty Franklin. Rusty and I met a little over eight years ago at our church. He and I were close like brothers. I loved him greatly.
Rusty and Anne (his wife) would become people we wanted to know better and better, and we began to spend a lot of time with them. Rusty was so doggone engaging with his bright, happy outlook on life (to Rusty, everything was AWESOME!). He also had a wonderful eagerness/bounce in his step. He just approached everything in life with a positive attitude. Rusty loved God and was always interested in learning more about Him.
Rusty was competitive, a real gamer; well, to be honest, he just loved to PLAY. As a matter of fact, one of the things I most loved about Rusty was that over the past year or two, we played Words with Friends on our phones, nearly every morning. Sometime before 7 a.m. each day, my phone would “ding,” and I’d look to see that Rusty had played our game. I still had a game going with him on my phone up until his final day; he made his last play the morning of January 1st. He and Anne were headed to our house (but didn't quite make it).
So, Rusty and I were friends, and very good ones at that. I loved how he always called me “bud.” But, we really weren’t much alike; as a matter of fact, we were very different types of guys. Rusty was a school administrator/coach/teacher. He was very athletic and had actually been a “star player” in several sports (especially baseball). He was an outdoorsman and loved to fish/hunt, not to mention experience wild adventures in nature (he spoke many times of his thrilling escapades in Alaska!). He also loved to tinker with miscellaneous equipment/machines/projects in his yard, do organic gardening, planting all sorts of things in the ground and then delight in watching them grow. He played with and entertained his dogs, Max and Gracie, enjoying their frolicking around and/or snickering about their mischief! Finally, he was a HUGE Texas Longhorns fan, and generally, a pretty happy-go-lucky, laid back sort of guy.
I’m none of those things. But, God in His infinite wisdom brought us together anyway. What we did have in common was two very important loves. These two loves glued our friendship together forever: Texas Rangers baseball (and a general love of sports); and Jesus.
Over the years I’ve learned that you actually become a lot like the people you hang out with. I believe Rusty rubbed off on me because we hung out together a lot. I’m so grateful to be more like him. But, more important than that, Rusty hung out a lot with Jesus – and Jesus rubbed off on him! Here’s evidence of that, and some of the reasons why I loved my friend so much:
1. Rusty was a gentle man. I don’t believe there was an unkind muscle or bone in his body. He went through his wonderful life touching people with his gentleness, rather than knocking them down with brash behavior or rudeness. Somewhere along the way, God gifted him with an incredibly peaceful, gentle spirit.
2. Rusty was loyal and faithful – first to his wife, Anne, then to his job and the students, then to his family members (especially all of his favorite nieces!), and finally to his many, many friends. As a matter of fact, there were times when I was actually pretty annoyed with Rusty because he had so doggone many other demands on his time/life. But, shame on me for being selfish. He gave me plenty of time/attention. The trouble was, I wanted more. Everyone did!
3. Rusty was a servant leader. He was always serving others. He loved Anne more than anything else in the entire world and served her daily. He loved his job and was compelled to give it his best effort every day. He mentioned to several of us that he believed God had him at his job for reasons beyond what they were paying him for. He truly felt that he was called to minister to young people/students (as well as to the other teachers/co-workers) there. He sought out opportunities to serve wherever he was called (and/or wherever there was need). He considered it an absolute privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus as he interacted with others he was called to serve. What a great model to follow!
4. Rusty did things. He and Anne did not wait for other people to make things happen, or just sit around and dream about doing incredible stuff. They actually got out there and made it happen! He told me on more than one occasion that once Anne’s health became a concern (about 10+ years ago), they knew there wasn’t much certainty as to how many days they’d have together. So, they chose to make a commitment to just love life (and each other) to the fullest extent possible, getting out there and enjoying every single day, as though it might be their last. Each minute/hour was absolutely precious to Rusty, and he lived accordingly. He and Anne took a lot of trips together, saw a lot of movies together, experienced fun get-away’ s together (with the school band and/or family members/friends). Sometimes they just took off in one of their cars and went somewhere spontaneously just because it would be fun! And then, when they returned, they loved telling us all about their adventure (with Rusty referring to everything as AWESOME, of course!).
5. Rusty did not live with regret. He just refused to do things that would cause him regret. He didn’t let the expectations or demands of others define his day-to-day existence. I’m guessing that up until his final breath, he probably didn’t have any thoughts of wishing he’d done this or that. Even when he experienced his heart attack and other health setbacks back in March of 2013, he didn’t attract attention to himself or beg for sympathy for his condition. Rather, he got going on his exercises, ate healthier foods, lost a lot of weight, tried to do what the doctors wanted him to, etc. He loved life. And, when life threw him curve balls, he just adapted/adjusted to them (without complaining or regret). When Anne’s health was a concern, his concern was for Anne (not for what he was unable to do because of her limitations). I was frequently astounded by his ability to take the hand he was dealt, and make the best of it, with NO REGRETS.
6. Finally, Rusty loved God and was committed to His Savior, Jesus. I had the privilege of seeing him grow deeper and stronger in his faith “up-close-and-personal” the past few years. He helped me see new insights into God’s Word, showing me evidence of where God was working in the world. Rusty had a simple faith, but he clearly understood the importance of accepting God's free gift of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
After Rusty died, Anne asked me if I thought Rusty knew he was going to die. I told her that I thought he knew it was a possibility, but that he wasn’t afraid of his death. I believe he was caught somewhere between looking forward to seeing heaven and his Savior face-to-face, and not wanting to leave Anne and his family/friends. One thing is for certain, Rusty mentioned several times that he was aware that God spared his life back in March of 2013. He knew that God was giving him the gift of more time on this earth, and that time was very precious to him.
Thanks for living such a wonderful life, my friend. Thank you for your gentleness, your loyalty, your faithfulness, your servant leadership, and your “can-do” spirit that caused you to go out and just do things. Thank you for living a life with no regrets, and for your love of God and His Son, your Savior, Jesus. I’m really going to miss you, bud…