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A Tribute to Randy Newman

As I try to wrap my mind around the reality that my beloved mentor Randy recently died, I’ve been reflecting on how much he impacted me. His presence profoundly shaped the last 16 years of my life and it's hard to believe he won't be here for the next 16.

These are some of the lessons he taught me:

It’s okay to cry

In 2008, Greg and I showed up to Randy and Pam’s house for our first Cru staff Bible study and prayer time. We had just moved to a new state to start our new ministry and my emotional stability was shaky at best. When it was my turn to share prayer requests with a group of new co-workers, I burst into tears and all the pent up emotion of the past weeks came out. Randy (and the others) welcomed both my emotion and my tears. Far from being uncomfortable with a crying young woman he barely knew, Randy expressed that tears are a gift from God to help us process what we feel and patiently let me cry it out.

Over the next 16 years I would cry more tears than seems possible in their home as we walked through Greg’s heart transplant, depression, job changes and moves, family crises and eventually Greg’s death and learning to live life without him. Randy not only offered tissues and empathy but he cried with me. He taught me that it’s okay - and even godly- to cry in the midst of loss and pain.

Show up (even when it’s inconvenient)

I’ll admit it- being friends with me and Greg was a hassle. It's hard to stay present long term in someone's life when they face crisis after crisis, but Randy always showed up.

He showed up to the hospital again and again - the only person Greg wanted to visit him aside from family. He showed up to our apartment to keep Greg company when he was recovering from surgery (after surgery) and I needed a break from caregiving. He showed up when Greg was at his lowest point waiting for a heart and anticipating death at 25. And he showed up on the day we called hospice. He spent hours with us on the day we didn’t realize was Greg’s last, giving Greg gospel hope that he desperately needed and helping as Greg’s body stopped functioning and we waited for the hospice nurse to arrive. I can’t even bring myself to write what Randy witnessed that day in our home and I cannot imagine us making it through without his steadying presence.

During all this time, Randy was writing books, speaking around the country, hosting a podcast, writing for important publications, teaching at colleges and seminaries, and caring for his own wife, grown kids and elderly mother. But he never made us feel like a hassle: he just kept showing up.

Live with integrity

We have all watched respected Christian leaders, pastors, and speakers fail. We’ve seen them destroy their ministries, ruin their families, and make the name of Jesus ugly by abusing it for their own gain. In contrast, Randy lived a life of integrity: not of perfection, but of honestly and transparency. He confessed his sin (not to me individually but through humility in his teaching, writing and conversations). He was the same person on stage as he was when we were staying in their home (as anyone knows, long term guests are a real test of character!).

One example keeps coming to mind. Years ago, Greg and I watched the Super Bowl with the Newmans at their house. I will always remember that before we came over, Randy made it clear that he wouldn’t be watching the half time show because it was featuring a female artist known for performing with very little clothing on. He didn't tell us in a condemning way, he just wanted us to know so we could factor that into accepting their invitation. Greg (also a man of integrity) was fine with it, and they chatted together in kitchen while Pam and I watched half time and caught up.

I was so struck and felt so honored as a woman that he made this choice. It was a tiny thing that few people would bat an eye at - watching a famous performer is half the reason many people watch the Super Bowl (myself included!). But Randy only had eyes for his beloved Pam and even when it would be culturally acceptable to watch a performance, he chose purity and integrity instead.

Invest in the next generation

For years and years, Randy and Pam poured into young missionaries serving with Cru. Greg and I benefitted tremendously from this but we were far from the only ones. Despite having a national ministry, he kept in meeting with young leaders, helping them learn to study God’s Word and follow Jesus. He always made himself available to help us craft our talks, answer theological questions, and give us advice on life and ministry. He regularly met with college students who heard him speak and had more questions for him.

Though he rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential seminary professors and pastors around, he kept investing in young people. There is a generation of missionaries and leaders in the workplace who Randy poured into faithfully, because he loved Jesus and helping others love Jesus. Though we were all young enough to be his kids, he always treated us as friends and co-laborers in the gospel.

Stay humble

Even after getting his doctorate, publishing 7 books, becoming a sought-after speaker in the US and abroad, and hosting a podcast, Randy continued to be the same Randy. He dropped off a rake and other tools he thought I might need when getting ready to move, sat in the floor to play Legos with my son, gave me advice on a myriad of things from writing to insurance, and made sillyHappy Birthday videos for my son. There was no sense that he was too important to spend time with my boy or answer yet another text or email from me. He just kept on caring like he always did. He was my biggest cheerleader in the new ministry opportunities God was opening up for me and cheered on my very small accomplishments (no one was more excited when I published my first article) while having huge accomplishments that he never used to make me feel small.

Practice Hospitality

Randy and Pam opened their homes to large groups of staff weekly for years for Bible study, prayer, hangouts and Christmas parties. Greg and I often joked that every member of our families had slept at the Newmans house at some point and it wasn't far from the truth. They opened their guest room to our family when Greg was getting his heart transplant. They let me and our son stay with them for over 2 weeks when Greg was in the hospital in VA and we were living in PA, and they let me, Greg and our boy stay in their home again when ours flooded with sewage and we had to evacuate quickly.

It wasn’t convenient for them to have so many extra people in their homes and not have access to the rooms they normally used, but they never made us feel like we were in the way. It would’ve been easy to tell us no every time or make us feel guilty for asking yet again. Instead they welcomed us, accommodated us, and fed us, over and over again.

When I am tempted to say no to having someone in my home because of the hassle it will create for me, I think of the Newmans and their example of hospitality even when it hurts.

Lament well

I didn't have a category for lament before I met Randy. I thought the more Christian way to handle suffering was to minimize it and hide my pain from others and God. Randy taught me to take my pain to God instead. Through the Psalms and the laments of Job, Randy showed me that God welcomes our pain, questions and tears.

He taught me to not give answers for suffering when we don't have them (check out his chapters on suffering in Questioning Evangelism and Questioning Faith). He taught me that Jesus, who himself wept, is okay with my tears. He gave me and Greg books that helped us lament suffering, abuse, and death.

And he modeled lament. He lamented the pain and suffering in the world. He lamented death and disease. He lamented that all things are not yet as they will one day be.

Think and feel as best as you can about God

One of the first lessons I learned from Randy is that we should think as best we can about God and feel as best we can about God. Greg and I had a lot of head knowledge about God when we met Randy. We both loved to learn theology and had been working on the "thinking well about God” part of the Christian faith. Randy encouraged us in that - and taught us more than I will ever remember - but he also encouraged us to feel well about God.

He was an "integrationist" who believed that our thoughts and emotions mattered deeply. He helped us to incline our hearts toward God, not just our minds. He taught us to lament, praise, question, rejoice, think and feel in our relationships with God. And he modeled for us delighting in the good gifts of God that help our affections be drawn to him - whether it was the delight of nature, good writing, a tasty meal, an intricate musical composition or a stunning piece of art, Randy taught us to enjoy God's good gifts and let that enjoyment help us love Him more.

Trust God's grace to do the work of redemption

Greg often said, "Randy Newman taught me to love grace" and its true. No matter what ugliness we confessed, struggles we had, or suffering we endured, Randy always pointed us back to the love and grace of God. He trusted that grace would do the work of redemption in our lives. He never used condemnation to try to help us (or others grow) but kept pointing us to the "slow work of grace".

On the day Greg died, as Greg began to realize that his life was ending soon, Randy was there, reassuring him of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Until the very end, Randy assured him that: "Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." (Amazing Grace)

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