As promised I am writing to let you all in on the very special day I had with Joshua’s friend, Robert, whom we decided to honor this year with our “Love in Action” initiative which we began on the first anniversary of Joshua’s passing. “Love in Action” so fits what Joshua was all about in his desire to make his faith real by living it out in very relevant ways. And it is that same desire which we hope always defines the Joshua Casteel Foundation. So this year we decided to attempt to make life a little easier and a bit more fun for this friend who Joshua knew in high school and who faced some very real challenges in life.
I picked Robert up on a sunny afternoon at the assisted living residence he calls home. I was somewhat prepared for a change in his appearance as I hadn’t seen him for several years. I remembered that he was taller than Joshua, but when I saw him walk into the room where I stood I was more than shocked. It seemed as if he had grown another 5 inches. I told him so and he replied, “I don’t know, maybe I did”, and then smiled as he gave me a hug like I haven’t had in a long time. It felt very good.
I also met the man who supervises the men who live in the home and I cleared with him as I had Robert’s mom that this would be a safe and allowable mode of transportation for him. He thought it would be fine IF we could find a bike big enough for Robert. I replied that I was sure there must be a bike out there for Robert and together we’d find it.
As we drove away from his home we had not been in the car but a few minutes when Robert said, “I really miss Josh”. He says this every time we talk, oftentimes several times within one conversation. This time in response, however, I asked him what he missed most. He responded, “Everything, but mostly because we talked a lot.” The feeling in his words made the hole left in his life feel almost tangible.
Strangely enough there is something almost comforting in his admission of the loss he feels each time we talk because I know how genuine his words are and I feel comforted knowing that I’m in the presence of someone who (unfortunately) shares the same deep grief because of his absence. Such a strange paradox in life. We talked a bit more about his life now and some of the struggles he faces on a day to day basis until we reached the store. As I began preparation to exit the car I could tell he wasn’t ready to stop our conversation, so we sat out in the parking lot and talked for awhile longer. I know he also understands loneliness and I tried to lesson his just a little.
We then went into the store and looked at all the bikes and sure enough they had two 29″ bikes for him to choose from. I asked him which one he wanted and he said, “I want you to choose”. This repeated itself with everything we bought including a bike helmet, lights, a padded seat cover, and a lock . I gave my opinion, but followed it up with, “Is this the one you like the best?” I so wanted him to pick out exactly what he wanted, but I realized that might not be something he was capable of doing in this situation. We checked out and wheeled the bike out to the car, and miraculously it fit into my car, something I had failed to think about until my drive to his house to pick him up, a little too late to change plans! A week earlier I would not have been able to physically pick up the bike with Robert’s help or maneuver it into the car, because of neck pain. God’s provision and timing were perfect.
I dropped Robert off and we unloaded the bike, showing his supervisor all that we had gotten. Robert was smiling with that shy smile of his while expressing his thanks to me over and over. He walked over to me to hug me and say good bye. The hug was very very long. He pulled away, thanked me yet once more, and hugged me long again. And then the same, two more times. I must have heard twenty “thank you’s” before we said our very last goodbyes.
I drove away with tears in my eyes, feeling a little closer to Joshua in the moment, and thanked God that He had brought Robert into our lives.
When I got home I heard my cell phone beep. It was a text from Robert. “Thank you for the bike.”