When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
This story is from the book of John in the Bible. It uses a common experience here on earth – a marriage feast with wine; as a picture of who God is and how He can transform us.
Good wine takes caring about every fastidious detail of the art of wine-making, from the vineyard to the winery; above all it takes time! It cannot be rushed; yet here the Lord did this in an instant. We all know that our good friend Jeff knew a little bit about wine!
As with many things; food and wine can be abused and misused; but this picture of a marriage feast is mentioned in Revelations when it speaks of “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb”
Breaking bread and sharing a glass can celebrate life in humble or grand ways, build friendships, express love to others or perhaps bring comfort to each other; a shared table can simply bring people together and create lasting memories of life. Jeff and I shared this passion and it was my honor to call him my colleague, my friend, my brother in Christ and to learn much from him.
I believe God brings some people into our lives that are a light and they are a very special gift from the Lord and Jeff is one of those people.
We began working together in 1979 and he had an amazing work ethic and there are many, many things that set him apart. Jeff always set goals for himself and would break down every step necessary to achieve the results he was seeking. His focus to pursue excellence and add to his knowledge in any given area were relentless.
In fact, I have used these stories many times as an example for others to follow.
Jeff began jogging to be fit and stay in shape. Before he was finished; studying nutrition and training, competing in 5K’s, biking and improving his swimming technique, always raising the bar, he accomplished his goal to successfully compete on the Iron Man level in Mohican, Ohio.
He once mentioned, he was not always comfortable at conversing with guests and wanted to improve. He asked to bar-tend; one day per week. He identified an area of desired growth and put himself in a position to be challenged. Standing behind the bar, guests would converse with him, but that was not growing; he would be listening. His goal; to initiate conversation with two guests per night and then increase this number, because whatever Jeff took on – it was ALWAYS about raising the bar to challenge himself to the next level. What would he talk about to initiate conversation? He began reading the newspaper to know about weather, sports and the world. He had a plan! Jeff wrote down the names of the guests; what they liked to talk about and favorite drinks. After 2 months, that night became the busiest night at the bar and of course, Jeff became much more comfortable in socializing with guests!
With 12 bottles in a medal locker; I said to him, this is the beginning of our wine cellar. He looked at me like I was totally out of touch with reality. Our entire list had 40 wines and I was constantly tasting, researching, and buying wine and he was trying to figure out where to put it all. At first, I knew much more about wine and we both dreamed of building this world class wine cellar. Over the next nine years, Jeff totally took over what I had started and took it to the highest level in our industry, when we received the Wine Spectator Grand Award for outstanding restaurant wine cellars in 1991. To put this into perspective, each year, tens of thousands of wine lists are submitted worldwide. There were 91 restaurants total in the entire world that achieved this status in 1991, and we were only one of six new first time Grand Award winners to break into this elite circle. No one in Ohio has ever won this award!
Jeff was much more than accomplishing things on a check list of evolving goals. We often observe something in others that inspires us to achieve greater things and that is a good thing to do; but we often miss the greatest life lesson. We don’t always take the time to better understand or examine who they are. Because it is not what we have achieved that defines us or gives us lasting meaning; it is who we are that gives meaning to what we have achieved.
You will never meet anyone that is more unselfish or has more integrity than Jeff.
Jeff lived to serve others with a tremendous amount of humility.
To his wife and to his children, he attended to every detail of taking care of his family. To our dream of building a great restaurant with a world class wine cellar then finding a great Chef. To igniting a passion in others to pursue excellence. He really cared about making people better and challenging them on some level. Jeff just hated apathy, but would never put anyone down. He never maliciously gossiped about anyone and would simply say that someone was challenging! In all of the 37 years that we worked together, there were times he said things in a strong manner, but he never raised his voice. How many people do you know like that?
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. This was the example of Christ,
It is the heart of the man that defines him. On the Sunday after Mother’s Day when he was first diagnosed, his immediate goal was to be ready to walk his daughter Aubrey down the aisle at her wedding the following Sunday.
In the same week that I shared many prayers and words of encouragement, Jeff also became a man of faith and he shared these words in a letter thanking the Refectory Staff for their monetary gift and is now his thank you to all of you.
And of course, once he learned that we were planning to raise funds to help him and his family through this horrific time, Jeff immediately asked that a portion be established to help others
“To the Refectory Staff,
When I found myself diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer, I began to focus on my relationship with God. I found myself afraid at night sometimes, unsettled with my future, my life, and my family’s welfare. I wanted to pray a prayer that would settle me and bring me a peace. I’ll be honest, I did not have a wealth of experience with prayer, but eventually put together this prayer I would like to share with you.
I have always been blessed with good health and a good life, so I first thanked God for all his blessings in that regard, focusing especially upon my daily experiences that I became more and more thankful for. I have and do feel so blessed and I felt the need to tell God how much I appreciated this.
I next wanted to ask God for strength for my family, because this certainly is/would be an ordeal for them. I asked God to encourage them, give them courage and the fortitude for this situation.
Finally, and this is something Pastor Brent helped me with, I wanted to ask God to heal me. I wasn’t sure here what to do, because I have sinned, broken commandments in my life and feel/felt imperfect. How could I ask God to spend time on me with so much pain and suffering in the world, with so many people more deserving?
Pastor Brent made me understand that through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ, God has taken our sins from us, absolving us of guilt, so we can ask for salvation. I understand that all prayers are not answered, or may be answered in ways we may not understand.
Many times I would fall asleep somewhere during my nightly prayer, drifting away from my ordeal.
My life has taken a strange twist. I want you to know my prayer, so that you may see that I have a contentment with my situation. I am so pleased by the individuals that have reached out to me on so many levels, with so much encouragement and prayer. I appreciate your special gift as I know how hard you work on a daily basis for your wages. I wish I could be there with you again, and understand, I loved my job on so many levels. I wish you good luck in the future, revel in all you contributed to our common goals. We all should understand how blessed we are and I want you to know, how thankful I am to have come to know you all.
God Bless each of you,
Your friend, Jeff”
It took 37 years for Jeff and I to actually say to each other that we loved each other. If there is someone in your life that you need to value and appreciate or forgive, don’t wait until it is too late.
It took this terrible physical affliction for Jeff to open his heart to the Lord and receive His grace, mercy, love, and peace by faith. Who but God, would open a man’s heart once he has been told he has cancer; that God loves him.
What a testament to the power of God to transform a life!
Don’t wait for some catastrophe or think maybe another time.
I see in my mind’s eye, right now, Jeff at this unbelievable feast in heaven with the finest wine that has been saved for last. The Lord can transform each of us from ordinary water into a fine wine.
Jeff set such a magnificent example for us; of a life well lived in his journey to faith and each one of us has been enriched and blessed in some way by the privilege and pleasure of knowing Jeff.
Jeff has been an irreplaceable part of The Refectory for 37 years and his legacy will live on in the lives of the many that he touched.
We are deeply grateful for your kindness and support and really appreciate your continued thoughts, generosity and prayers for his family.
And so finally, I ask that you raise a glass to toast Jeff.
With much gratitude, Kamal