When I moved to Houston in late 2007, it wasn’t long before I began meeting the Woelfel kids. They were everywhere. Turns out, there were 14 of them! I would see them at church, helping take care of my boss’s kids, working in our office… it seemed like everywhere I turned, there was a Woelfel… serving, loving, giving. Then I met 20 year-old Bob.
I could quickly tell that while Bob was cut from a the same general cloth as his 13 siblings, he also seemed to be marching to the beat of his own drum, learning to embrace how he was different and looking for his place in the world. After spending some time with him and having a few great heart and life discussions, I realized I wanted to find ways to intentionally invest into Bob’s life. At that time I lived in a very nice, practically brand-new 4-bedroom house with just one roommate, so I invited Bob to move into the house, offering him space to not only experience life in a different context than what he was accustomed to, but also to just broaden his horizons on what was possible for him to accomplish and what might be next for him.
Bob wrote and he was very creative. He wanted to do work creating films and he loved spending time working his way through my large and growing DVD collection, digesting and commenting on elements of the story and visuals that I had overlooked. He saw things differently. Bob’s passion for life was contagious and his 20 year-old takes on life and faith would often challenge me, frequently reminding me to stay young and keep my heart open to something I might be missing. I remember sharing my various life experiences and lessons with him on several occasions and how he would respond, appreciative and always extracting something that he could both relate to and that would challenge and stretch him. Bob was curious and passionate and was not afraid to ask questions.
In August 2008, when I was navigating a particularly challenging time involving resigning from my job and figuring out what would be next for me, Bob came home one day excited that he had an opportunity to go to college. He would have to leave quickly and needed to raise a certain amount of money for admissions and to get him started. I couldn’t write him a check fast enough. I guess I saw part of myself in Bob, full of passion and possibility, trying to figure out where he fit. I was proud to be able to sow into what God was doing in his heart and life. Days later, Bob had what he needed and he left for college, driving overnight from Houston to Lee University in Cleveland, TN. Bob was uncertain where it would land him, but he was confident and not intimidated by the journey.
Though we kept in touch and talked on the phone every so often, that night was the last time I saw Bob. I remember talking to him on the phone in early 2009, after I had moved back to Nashville, and he was in Hawaii! After spending some time at Lee, he wanted another adventure so he up and went to Hawaii for school. Bob was courageous and not afraid of taking a risk.
Always one to challenge himself to go farther, on August 2nd, 2010, Bob was trying to break his personal record for holding his breath underwater, but he passed out underwater and actually drowned. After 55 minutes of CPR, the paramedics were able to get his heart beating again. The 4 months that followed were filled with many testimonies of faith, highs and lows and the doctors did all they knew to do while his many family and friends prayed and stood in faith for his full recovery.
On Sunday, December 5, 2010, at 1:59am, Robert Woelfel did indeed fully recover as he went to sleep here, slipped through the curtain of time and woke up in Heaven, more alive than he has ever been. I don’t have a lot of theology to offer on the afterlife and I don’t know what kind of party the angels threw when he got there, but I do know that Bob trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior, and that he is with Him now.
I am sad and miss my friend, but I really have no regrets. If anything, my resolve is strengthened… a resolve to continue to do what I love to do, invest in the lives of those around me. I’d like to believe that the small investment I was able to make into Bob’s life produced a return in ways I will never know and places I will never go.
I am honored to have had the opportunity to invest in Bob’s life and I am blessed he was my friend.
See you soon, buddy.