I’ve been trying to write this for days, but there really aren’t words to convey what my friend Albin has meant to me. This won’t do him justice.
I had the joy of playing with Albin in our church orchestra for almost thirty years. (That’s a long time to serve alongside someone no matter what, but especially so since I’m “only” 42 years old.)
I wouldn’t call us close, but for thirty years, Albin has been constant. He was my brother in Christ, joined through our adoption as sons by our Heavenly Father (Ephesians 1:5). It makes me smile to remember how I would occasionally call “Showoff!” back to the trumpet section when he was warming up with an especially challenging piece. He would smile with twinkling eyes as he kept right on playing.
More than just my brother, he was my encourager. I’ve been blessed with several faithful encouragers in my life, but none so long-lasting as him, other than my parents. No other has spurred me on to love and good works in such a tangible and deliberate way over the course of thirty years.
Have you ever felt out of your league? I’m all too familiar with that feeling. As I look back over the course of my life, I think I’ve felt that way more often than not.
There was that one time when I was in eighth grade and our minister of music finally (finally!) allowed me to join the church orchestra. The music was hard and I wasn’t a very good flutist. Even though I was eager and determined, I was still afraid–out of my league. It was then that God gave me Albin, a proficient trumpeter a couple of rows back who started giving me then what he continued giving me for decades, fitly spoken words of affirmation. Apples of gold in settings of silver. “You’re doing a great job up there!” he would tell me. “Sounds great!” “Keep it up!”
Then there was that time about 15 years later, when I was a young woman who was tasked with directing the choir and orchestra for rehearsals and then for presentations of our church’s Passion Play. This was an enormous privilege, one that remains a highlight of my life. Again, I was eager and determined, but again, I knew I was out of my league. Our music pastor invited me to fill his very big shoes, and I knew the task was beyond me. Again, Albin was my encourager. “I’ll play under your direction any time,” he said with a smile. With a mature and highly skilled musician like Albin accepting my halting leadership, I was able to hope that others would, too.
There was also that time several years ago when I started teaching the 3rd-6th grade kids’ choir at church. My college education meant I was qualified for the position, but I’m not a good singer and I fall short of being the kind of natural nurturer many young kids enjoy. Out of my league. By now it probably won’t surprise you that Albin affirmed and heartened me in this calling. “You sure do a great job with those kids,” he would tell me time after time when our choir sang in church.
Perhaps this next bit is the most poignant. Because there was that time seven years ago when I started a Christian blog (a blog of all things!). Hardly anyone from my “real life” knew about my blog, much less read it, and I didn’t really expect them to. (In fact, I kind of preferred it that way.) At the same time, I knew I was out of my league in writing about spiritual things, and I was concerned about the lack of accountability. What if I wrote something that was wrong? What if I led people astray somehow without meaning to? I don’t remember the details, but I do remember Albin hearing a conversation I was having with someone about my writing. He expressed interest, and before I knew it, “I really enjoy your blog” crossed his lips in passing one day at church. He would repeat variations of this phrase countless times over the years. It never stopped catching me off guard, but it also never ever stopped meaning the world to me.
I was reading a biography of Paul on the day of Albin’s passing. “Some people have the gift of enabling others to flourish,” N.T. Wright writes. “Barnabas was one of those.” Albin was one of those, too. I honestly don’t know where my ministry life would be without him. Confidence is no small gift, and it’s one that changes everything. It’s largely because of Albin that I first believed and have clung all these years to the truth that I can (really and truly) do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
Even when I’m out of my league.
COVID precautions dictated that our orchestra pit at church be emptied several months ago. I wish I had known that the last time I played with Albin would be the last time. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have believed it had you told me. Though 83 years old, he was strong and healthy until mere weeks ago when he himself was struck with the dreaded virus.
I’ve wept many tears since his decline and his passing. Death is unwelcome. It’s an intruder. An enemy, in fact (1 Corinthians 15:26), and I refuse to call it anything else.
At the same time, I can rejoice that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). And I can take comfort in the assurance that Albin is with the Savior he committed his life to knowing, loving, worshiping, and proclaiming.
(I’m not sure, but I just bet he’s playing a trumpet.)
May I be faithful to follow in his footsteps until we can play together again.