It’s funny how someone’s dying can bring such rekindling; how our memory of them can initiate and ignite fires you forgot were once lit—are even capable of being lit. A sweet heaviness that clings to the moments and releases nostalgia and passion for things of the past.
With Ben Caldwell though, his whole life did that: he lit fires wherever he went, powered by Holy Spirit gasoline, God the Father steady thick wood, and Jesus Christ forgiveness-filled oxygen.
I remember when I met Ben on the streets of downtown Holland. He and Kelsie had just returned from a season with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) and they were VERY ready to light fires. Jeff had known them before they left and, as we walked away, I remember Jeff saying what a difference he saw in them. We didn’t know then that the two of them, albeit for a short time, would with such passion guide the next year or two of our young adult lives. Together we did fun and crazy things and together we met on Tuesday nights, fueled by SO MUCH Misty Edwards and a passion for evangelism. I was so outside my comfort zone—not outgoing enough and not passionate enough—but sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing, I guess. I remember sharing in my ministry minor capstone class, surrounded by young men and women with a calling and an intellectual pursuit of God, probably in not the most grace-filled way, that maybe we had it wrong and Ben had it right: following God was more about passion and the extravagant “doing” than the head-led pursuit and straight-laced Sunday mornings. I see now the value of both…but thanks to Ben, among others, for inviting me to diverse ways.
Now Ben wasn’t JUST about Jesus, although that relationship guided him strongly. He was also a mean and entertaining sand volleyball player (and sometimes I’d get to play with him), a fairly hilarious youth leader, and somewhat absent-minded dweller (like that one time he forgot we were holding hands while praying and he had some adjustments to make…). And these are just a couple observations from a short, short season of my life and Ben’s where our paths not only crossed but blazed ahead together.
When I think of that season, if I choose one word to describe what changed down in my soul, it’s this: grace. I encountered a whole new understanding of faith, of relationship, of ministry. Before Chimamanda Adichie’s sharing became a TedTalk Select, I was learning that the limitations of letting a single story define a person hinders not just that person’s place in your heart but your heart in and of itself. I once had to seriously apologize to Ben (not an uncommon theme of that season, and honestly, I can’t recall for what); I remember sitting across the table from him outside Jimmy Johns and he just poured forgiveness over me like he had an unending ocean of grace inside his soul. He probably did. And I sunk deep.
And so, I’m unendingly grateful for Ben, the whole Caldwell family, the entire Without Walls community (and Philip Yancey), for inviting me in to a different way of community and expectation and spirituality. For encouraging me into something wider. Last week we said our earthen goodbye to Ben, nearly three years since the last time I told him hello, but I greet daily the opportunity to remember his legacy of passion and grace, of setting fires for God, and forging a story of continued forgiveness.
::: Benjamin David Caldwell passed away on September 20, 2017, just barely a month after his 28th birthday. If for you, as it once was for me, the reality of heroin and meth addiction exists only in news stories and movie plots, educate and introduce yourself. Ben spent the last season of his life fighting for and sharing hope for people lost in a painful world of darkness. If people you know struggle with substance abuse or addiction, don’t let that single story deprive you of knowing the many facets of their being. Be FOR the families of people hurting and fighting for truth and care to help set their loved one free. And if addiction is a part of your story, seek help and real community. For more info on addiction recovery and to join in the continued work close to Ben’s heart, visit http://www.teenchallengeusa.com :::