The Reverend Jaime G. Olson, Associate
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Altoona, Pennsylvania 16601
Saturday, February 22, 2003
A seven-year history is all I can attest to knowing Brian. It was my first year at seminary and being assigned to First Lutheran Church. Coming to First also meant being assigned a confirmation class to teach each Sunday morning. It would be wonderful if I could stand here today and say that it was with enthusiasm that we began our first year together. However, when you factor in a group of young people where they, their bodies, and their intellect are trying to fit into the greater schema of things, is mixed with a rookie, well, you can figure out who it was that did the teaching.
It was our first class that I saw for the first time a bushy red-haired pre-teen, a young man at an awkward age in an awkward place, fulfilling the obligations of a father and mother whose baptismal promises ensure a new generation of responsible members of an Altoona Lutheran Church. Needless to say, God's grace was abundant as hours of tedium passed and the chance for a relationship began to unfold. As a pastor want-to-be, what I learned most about confirmation class is that while they are important, church history, biblical studies, and Luther's small catechism really has very little to do with what youth really want to experience at church. Acceptance, love, and the assurance that God does really exist and that God does really care about them, becomes the foundation for anytime youth gather under the umbrella called the church.
Together, we made it! Brian was confirmed, I was ordained, and through time, a quiet bond was felt by two people brought together by God's Spirit of placement. As time passed, the dreadful announcement was made that this young red-haired now teen was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and treatment would begin. Mom and dad vigilant in their search for answers and a brother beyond his years on many levels stood firm in their care of Brian. Family and friends, 'Briansroom', 'Relay for Life' activities, prayers and more prayers were a way for all of us to be proactive--to be involved on Brian's journey.
Joseph and the Dreamcoat was Brian's choice for the local 'Relay for Life' event, and I was so pleased in the midst of treatments that Brian along with many of you were able to walk the survivor's lap. The brilliance of the coat was a reflection of the joy that we felt on that day.
After many hours of treatments and painful intrusions into the body of the teen with the red hair now lost, we gathered here to offer thanks to God for the announcement of remission and a night of worship and praise, food, fellowship and games. Brian's thank you was sincere for all that was done in his name, but I knew also that a room set up for fun was foremost on Brian's mind as he edged closer and closer to the door.
We do not understand why his remission was short-lived, why our prayers were not answered the way we wanted. Once again, the announcement was made and the man with the red hair was experiencing much pain and his battle though vigilant was losing to this dread disease. If all the prayers, love, care and concern that were offered in Brian's name could have healed him, we would have succeeded, but that was not the case.
Being with Brian in his final days meant watching the pain that weighed heavy on everyone around him. Offering communion to Brian and his family at this time assured a rookie pastor that Brian had now resolved with God his relationship and even though he wanted to continue to fight, he was prepared to be with God in a new way.
Yes, Brian wanted to live! Yes, Brian wanted to fight to the end, and that is what he did.
I will never forget Brian with the red hair, and I look forward to the day that we meet again in God's glory where all pain and sorrow will be no more--a place with a brass ensemble flanked on one side with the man with the red hair--Brian!