This week we have lost several famous and talented individuals. I remember watching Johnny Carson growing up, and the camaraderie between him and Ed McMahon seemed so genuine. I don’t think I ever saw Ed without a smile on his face. And Farrah Fawcett—she was the epitome of a sex symbol when I was young. Who didn’t want to be one of Charlie’s Angels? And how many girls started curling their hair to try for that feathered “Farrah” look? She was beautiful and gracious. Then there’s Michael Jackson. He was such a larger-than-life entertainer that it’s kind of hard to believe he was actually real, let alone that he’s now gone. I was fortunate to grow up during Michael’s glory days, before the scandals and the strange behavior. I remember watching the videos for “Beat It” and “Thriller” on “Friday Night Videos,” which was the only place we could see a music video. (Yes, there was a time when we neither had MTV nor YouTube!) The moonwalk? Yes, I too tried to perfect it in my bedroom with the door shut. He was a pioneer and despite his antics later in his life, music today would not be the same without his influence.
But even though the deaths of these three famous individuals were shocking, especially in the same week, my mind keeps focusing on another individual whose life was taken this week. He wasn’t as famous as the others, but he was a legend in his own right. And more importantly, he was an example of how we should all live our lives.
Coach Ed Thomas spent over three decades teaching social studies and coaching football in a small town about two hours north of where I live. I have an aunt and uncle who also live in the same town. His life was tragically cut short this week when a 24-year-old former student and player walked in to the weight room and shot him in front of dozens of current high school students. My heart aches for Coach Thomas’s family, the students who witnessed the horrific murder, and the entire community of Aplington/Parkersburg, who has to rebuild—again.
The first time was after the tornadoes that tore the town apart in 2008. Several people were killed, and many, many more were injured and lost their homes, their businesses, their churches, their school . . . And doesn’t it seem ironic that the person who stood up and took charge as the leader in putting the pieces back together in the buildings—and in the residents’ hearts—was Ed Thomas.
But maybe it’s not ironic at all. This morning I read one of the daily devotionals I subscribe to. The scripture it highlights immediately brought Coach Thomas to mind.
“And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” Isaiah 45:3 (NLT)
Ed Thomas was able to find treasures hidden in the darkness after his town was destroyed by a natural disaster. He was then able to share those treasures with others, reminding them of what’s really important, and how it’s not possessions that are important, but people.
And now in his death, people are again finding treasures hidden in the darkness. Time and time again, his amazing coaching achievements are mentioned, but almost too quickly, as if the reporters and people who knew him want to hurry up and get to the really good part.
And then the treasures are revealed: He was generous. He was caring. He not only groomed four NFL players, but he groomed hundreds of boys to become men—good men. He wore his Christian faith on his sleeve, humbly yet unapologetically. He was a best friend, a devoted father, a loving grandfather, a purposeful mentor.
Hidden in the darkness of murder and evil are treasures that will live in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to know Ed Thomas, and those of us who didn’t know him but wish we would have. Those treasures will be his legacy. The number of lives he touched and the true impact he made may never be known on this side of Heaven, but God knows. He knew all along. And I imagine He is sitting next to Ed Thomas right now, revealing to him his life’s purpose, God’s plan that he dutifully fulfilled. He’s showing Coach Thomas what has been and what will be—how his legacy will change people’s lives in ways he never could imagine.
And God looks Ed Thomas full in the face, lightly touching his cheeks. “Well done, my son. Well done.”
Watch this tribute to Coach Thomas as aired on ESPN:
Read this beautiful post I stumbled upon from Getting Down with Jesus. She said it so much better than I could.
Please pray for Ed Thomas’s family and friends, as well as for the family of Mark Becker, who shot Thomas.
**Photo of team from The New York Times
**Photo of memorial from The Des Moines Register