What Does Jesus Look Like

There was a period of time in my life that was very rough. My wife had been suffering through an eight year battle of cancer and her journey was coming to an end. I was ill-equiped and had to turn to God constantly for help. God showed up and was faithly through a series of visits and encounters that I call, “What Does Jesus Look Like”,. The following are the portraits and stories of those events.

Joan Kelly

It’s true when people say that opposites attract. I’m a dreamer, I live up in the clouds. I’m very messy, and completely unaware of it. My wife Laura was practical, down to earth, very detailed, and organized. Everything has a place and everything in its place. When she died I went to the file she had prepared for me called ‘What to do’. In this file was a Calling tree, Funeral plans, Catering, Human Resource person at work, Social Security, Insurance, everything needed to take care of my family’s life. So I start with the Calling Tree. The first person I called was Joan Kelly. Joan had faithfully been bringing dinners over during Laura’s illness. Every time she did my boys would say under their breath,”Thank God Mrs. Kelly brought over some real food, were dying here”.

So I call Joan with the sad news that Laura had passed on and she pours out love and wants to take something off my plate.  She won’t take no for an answer. Hesitantly, I gave her the catering to do after the memorial service, only with the understanding that I was paying. Joan said, “Cross it off your list consider it done, and forget about it.” After I hung up, I felt a huge burden lifted.

Following the funeral service, there was a room next door where people were invited to stay for lunch. Everything was great. The food was perfect, people hung out, it was well done. Joan and all of Laura’s friends were serving everyone, it was very nice and a great time.

When I got home I was emotionally exhausted. Later, I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door only to see a van pulling away into the night with a hand waving out the window. Taped on the storm door was an envelope; inside a check for over $900. The note which accompanied the check read, “Here’s the money left over from people who wanted to help with the cost of the catering.”

 Jesus comes to us in many forms and faces; this for sure is one of them.

Lucas Krause

A while back I gave my son Lucas permission to slap my wrist with a wet two finger slap if I said a bad word. I also used the same discipline on him. After many dinners with my wrists being red, our relationship in conversation started to change. Lucas began to realize he had the open opportunity to criticize me, but he didn’t need to use the two finger slap. If I was critical of what someone had said to me, he would interrupt and say, “You know dad, I was there, I heard that conversation, and I think you’re misunderstanding what they were saying. Here’s what I heard.”

    These days I give Lucas every opportunity to speak his mind. That way I know were he stands. I find him to be the best company and I especially appreciate when he speaks the truth in love to me, it is very Christ like.

John Weygandt

Working with John at Willow Creek Church was a blessing. Occasionally in life you run into someone who is truly a genius. When John designs something, it is thoroughly thought out. It is functional, it is beautifully designed, it meets the design criteria, and is safe, meaning it is not going to collapse and injure or kill someone. I, on the other hand, have constructed prototypes that John has almost blown over with his breath.

John, on big projects, has been the lead designer. I usually am just the protégé. I would not have had the experience of complete freedom to explore a design direction without John. He always gave me the room to make discoveries that may or may not be used. The important thing is that I was given the opportunity to go down a path and see what could be. John could show me a picture or painting for which we both understood the influence, and from this could direct an entire set. John and I have an affinity for the visual and we both have traveled together into a world of imagination which has ended up in reality on stage. My heart never has pounded harder than when we were on such adventures. We have felt the excitement of being created for a purpose beyond ourselves, for God’s use. God has wired me up to be creative and John understands this about me and has encouraged me to follow those leadings. It’s has been an incredible experience.

Working at Willow is a community event. You can’t help but make friends. When you go through life, plenty of difficult things happen. Many times friends can do nothing to prevent the pain you’re going through. But what helps is someone who is there to ask about and share the burden; pray and be there in the midst of your difficulty. John is my friend just like Christ is. In his encouragement and his concern outside the walls of Willow, I have seen Jesus in him.

Joe Burlini

When you meet Joe, it takes a long while before you find out that he’s a monumental sculptor and artist of all mediums. Although he has done sculpture all around the world, he’s not one to boast. What he does do is open his life like a book. Anything you want to know, he’ll share with you. Lot’s of artists hold their cards close to their chests. Not Joe, he gives of himself, his resources and the knowledge of how to get the projects done. He has had a lifetime of doing art and he’s happy to share anything he knows, and encourage people to try things.

I saw Marg Rehnberg doing an 8’x20’ mural. I asked her, “How did you get that?” She said, “Joe told me to take on any challenge I hear of, so I took this commission having never done one.” Joe’s real lesson, he told me later, is learning from one experience and gaining confidence for the next. Marg will say now, “I know how to do murals.”

I needed help with some bronze pieces for my wife’s head stone monument. Joe told me how to do it and who to call to get it cast. I was clueless; now I have some knowledge. Joe’s passing it on.

Joe has humbled himself and worked on projects on stage at Willow Creek Community Church. He’s very good with his hands and is knowledgeable about many materials. Working with Joe is a constant learning experience.

The other day Joe told me that he had to run to get his head shaved. I said, “What?”

“Yeah my grandson Mathew’s hair is gone from chemo, so I want him to know that I think he’s cool by looking like him”. Joe’s spending his time relieving his daughter and watching his grand daughter and playing with Mathew as much as he can. Mathew was in a tough spot because his immune system was gone, and he needed to be at the hospital daily, so Joe is pouring his life into their family 7 to 8 days at a time.

I believe Joe knows something about Jesus that’s about giving and being a servant to those around him which makes him very Christ like.

Denny Lubecke

One of the wonderful things about working with volunteers is that you have this vast community to draw upon. These people become your close friends. Denny is interesting mix of painter, artist, and inventor. Working in my job, there were many challenges in painting techniques. Denny had the experience of being a fauve painter for over 30 years, which came in handy.

There was never a time that Denny turned me down when I asked him to help me come up with a technique that would be unique to our stage. Often Denny would arrive with a new invention that he’d come up with to make our job easier. Over time there were so many interesting effects he had invented, we had to add a class to the Arts conference to share them all. Many times I have been overwhelmed by the concerns of painting the set. This is when Denny has been a gift with his problem solving abilities.

Denny has encouraged me to try Plein Air painting outdoors. To get me going he built me a cool painters box on a tripod to hold oil paints. We have often gone out on Thursday’s to find things to paint outdoors. It has been my favorite day of the week.

Who Denny is can be summed up in a word: servant. He couldn’t possibly stop creating, inventing, or constructing things to help other people. When I put a wood burning stove in my house I mentioned that 14” wood length is the perfect fit for the little stove. Denny has endlessly brought me 14” piles of wood. I have stacked up enough so that I am without worries of making through next winter.

Can you imagine what it’s like to walk through life with a friend who’s there ready to serve you in any way? The way Jesus did?

George Rose

George is about 90 years old. Cindy is George’s daughter and she loves him very much. With her husband Denny, they have provided George with a town home and help out with things. Cindy makes a list of ”To Do” things for her dad and gives them to Denny. I offered to help with the list.  Denny and I went to George’s town home to do a few odds and ends. We cleaned the gutters, fixed a broken toilet seat,  put a light fixture on a ceiling fan, fix a rattling outdoor faucet and extended a down spout. I was cleaning the gutters while Denny was digging some holes for some hostas in a small back yard area. He discovered an area that gets a lot of sun and decided to offer to plant some tomato plants there. After making the offer, George explained that he doesn’t want the bother. He says, “Let me show you how I get my tomatoes.” George goes to the pantry and pulls out a can of tomatoes. “You see Denny, I get all my antioxidants and pectin right here in this can and I don’t have to do anything. Also, it only costs me 69 cents.” I laughed as I watched Denny’s face turn red as his good intentions were brushed away by George. 

The thing is, none of the small things we did were hard or inconvenient for us to do. Jesus says, “When you do it to the least of these you do it to me.”

Glenn Davis

I have had the great privilege to work with the most unique person. Imagine that anything you design, this guy could build. Anything that was broken, this guy could fix. If it was mechanical, Glenn could figure it out.

A lot of what we do has never been done before. One such case was a set that looked like the inside of a cathedral. I had cut out a large gothic rosette. It was very fragile and in the process of hanging it on stage it broke into many pieces. Glenn said to me, “You must have sin in your life, you need to repent.” This was just a joke but also a friendly reminder of the spiritual realm that we live and work in, of which Glenn is always keenly aware. What we usually do at this point is head to the peanut jar, which is kept in a back room behind stage and is mysteriously filled every day by we don’t know who. (Seriously everyday that’s probably 50-75 lbs. of peanuts over 3-4 years). So when disaster strikes Glenn and I take a break and have mystery peanuts and coffee. This gives us time to pray and listen to God to come up with a solution.

The thing about Glenn that is unusual is his spiritual sensibility, his discernment. He’ll sense something about you and simply ask, “You want to tell me what’s going on?” He’ll just gently keep prodding until you give it up. He knows my struggles, where I need healing, and we have prayed daily. Over the years this has been a good thing as I feel as close to Glenn as a brother. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus does?

Steve Jespersen

I first met Steve as a volunteer working on huge set construction projects. He would organize large teams of construction workers and slap together massive projects over a weekend. I was impressed with his organization skills and camaraderie with the crew. Eventually Steve and I worked in the Scenic set shop at Willow Creek. My experience working with Steve was: you are not just doing your job, you are working with other people and your attitude towards your relationships with these people is important to God. So he would ask me, “How are you feeling about this?” The thing that I didn’t expect when working at Willow in community with other people was that I would be confronted with every area of my life.

One such case was early on when I was asked to build the star for the Christmas production. I was very excited as I began to draft and construct this 8’ tall star. I crafted this thing with all the gusto I had in me. I built it like I was building a sail boat. I put ten 200 watt flood lamps inside this star; it was blinding. I had Ruth Levis help me skin it in stretch polyester, and I thought it was the best thing I had ever made. During rehearsal, however, when the star was to be lowered into this tender performance of an acoustical guitar and the sweet voice of a female performer, it just was too over-powering. They tried to dim it down but it was impossible. I got the call from my supervisor, Dan Larson, while I was out Christmas shopping.  ”Don, we can’t use your star. It’s not working out with the performance. It’s too big and overwhelming.” I was crushed. I thought I was serving God to my full potential with all that he had given me.

The star was a perfect metaphor for my ego. It was big, bright and not appropriate. After Christmas we always do a tear down and Steve was jumping up and down on my star to compact it so it could go into the trash. I jokingly said to him, “Hey be careful with that, it’s my ego you’re stomping on.” He responded, “Yeah, after I get done crushing it do you want to help me bury it in the dumpster?”  That was Steve, with a clever wit and blistering honesty making you truly look at yourself. He was Christ like in helping me face what I needed to work on and I’ll always be grateful to him for that among many other issues that needed work.

Dan Larson

When I was hired by Dan Larson at Willow Creek Church, I came with some baggage.  My wife Laura had been into a four year battle with cancer, but I was optimistic that she would beat this. Laura handled so many things at home: the boys schooling, sports, birthday parties, holidays, vacation planning. I had a lot to learn and needed to step up, which I stunk at. I struggled all the time. Every Thursday we had a production meeting and many times Dan was led to let me share my life, knowing it was going to be tough to hear. Often times I really didn’t want to share. I knew if I told the whole truth, I would be bringing the group down. Dan would say, “Okay Don, just take the lid off and let it all out.” It was a great comfort that even though Dan was my boss, he was my brother in Christ. I knew that in that production meeting, those guys got it. They felt it too. I knew they would pray. As I look back now I wasn’t there 100%. I had to be carried quite often. I was fortunate that Dan and his team covered for me. If I needed time to go to take Laura for chemo or surgery, MRI’s, whatever, it was never an issue. “Do what you need to do,” without question was Dan’s response.

In the last few months of Laura’s life, I needed to set up Hospice at home and leave work. There was Dan, setting up the details getting things approved through HR. Dan always asked, “Is there something we can do?” Laura was a saint. She suffered without complaining and she finally got to be with Jesus. It was bittersweet because the quality of her life was bad and we wanted something better for her but we didn’t want to let her go.

After Laura’s passing, I was still shook up. Dan was easy on me and I appreciated it. He was a great boss: kind, tender hearted and compassionate, as is Jesus. I’m grateful for where I was during the hardest time of my life.

Carmen Labello

When you work in a business like Advertising, Christians stand out. So it was with Carmen. I knew this guy had something different. I was an Art Director and he was a photo retoucher. He was one of the best in the business, however the thing that was different was the love he had for everyone he came in contact with. The receptionist, the secretaries, the mail room man: everyone knew Carmen and loved him. After a while working together, I noticed him on the way out of the office hugging and kissing all the women and shaking hands with everyone. It would take him half an hour to get out the door. After all he was Italian. “Capisce ?” I asked, “Hey are you a Christian?” The answer of course was yes, along with an invitation to come out to Willow Creek to hear Bill Hybels.

The Holy Spirit used Bill’s message to haunt me all week. I used to say to friends,” I usually forget the message by the time I get to the car in the parking lot.” After some convincing, Carmen talked me in to moving out to the Northwest suburbs. I began volunteering with Carmen on sets at Willow Creek, which eventually lead to Willow hiring me as a set designer.

Other than my father, I’ve never really had a friend like Carmen. He is wise in many ways. I went to Carmen often with concerns of all kind. I could always count on Godly advice; about relationships, suppliers, or just how to do something on stage. I can’t put a high enough value on our friendship. He introduced me to Hybels, who has shaped my Christian values, and just his example of a Christian walk has been a reflection of who Christ is.