June 2004

Our lives are filled with “firsts.” First tooth. First steps. First date. First car.

But recently I experienced a first of a different stripe—I helped to bury a friend, one of my comrades on the team of speakers for FamilyLife conferences: J.T. Walker. After an 18-month battle with leukemia, J.T. passed away on June 10, 2004. He left a wife, Enid, and five children (three daughters and two sons) ages 5 to 20.

J.T. was passionate about his Savior, his family, and his church. (He was pastor of community outreach at Immanuel Baptist Church in Springfield, Va.) He also was fervent in his desire to reach others with the message of the gospel and of God’s blueprints for building a family. He served on our speaker team for nine years and spoke at more than 50 Weekend to Remember™ marriage conferences to more than 25,000 people.

Just six weeks before his death he spoke at a conference in Boston. One man who attended, a pastor who had been married 23 years, said that his marriage was “hanging by a shadow of a thread…” and that God had used J.T. to breathe fresh hope into a dead marriage. That day, a marriage, a family, and a ministry had been rescued. That was a mark of the man’s life.

Like most of our speakers, J.T. had some signature illustrations. One was the story of his father, who built cabinets and tables. His dad would complete a table and then stain it before applying the varnish. As a young lad, J.T. played under one of those tables and noticed that his father’s handprint was stained into the wood where he had held that table as he stained the top. J.T. put his hand on that handprint but never could quite fill up the imprint. His dad’s life was like that—challenging him to become the man God had made him to be. As a man, husband, and father, J.T. Walker ultimately filled the handprint of his father… and more.

At a memorial service attended by more than 1,100 people, I shared a conversation that I had with J.T. shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. I can still recall where I was standing on that cold December day as I spoke with him on a cell phone. J.T. was about to celebrate Christmas alone, going through the rigors of chemotherapy. I finally prayed with him, but not before he began to weep and express to me what a privilege it was for him to speak at our conferences. He then gave me a charge to be a steward of what he said was the “most important ministry and message of our day to the family.” Through tears, he exhorted me to be faithful. And I had called to pray with him.

What a man.

What a husband.

What a father.

What a life.

What a legacy.

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