Be Sure to Hug a Loved One This Holiday Season (A Tribute to Caleb Monticello)

By Michael Brown Published on December 24, 2018

He was only 23 years old when he was taken from us, so gifted and with such a heart to serve. Who saw this coming?

He had been working on our ministry team since 2017 and was one of those tech geniuses who could figure out anything. He and I were just finishing a project where we had spent hours together, as he recorded and edited my reading for an audio book.

He always gave 110 percent, often to his own detriment, putting the needs of others first. But he realized that God had given him a unique gift, and he wanted it to count for ministry. In a short period of time, he made an incredible, lasting contribution to our work.

On Wednesday, December 12, after we finished doing a radio broadcast together, he wanted to spend some time with me. He opened up his heart and told me how important it was for him to honor the Lord in every area of life.

He also told me he looked to me as an important role model in his life, something I had not fully realized. (He was always super respectful – calling me “Dude” was just part of his vocabulary – but I had no idea of the degree that he looked up to me. It’s a reminder for all of us. People are watching us more than we know.)

We prayed together that night and our spiritual bond was strengthened. It was the most important talk we ever had, far and away the most heart to heart.

The Horrible Call

Early Friday morning, December 21, I woke up briefly and saw a text message from one of his friends who did freelance work for us in the past. It had been sent in the middle of the night, but I had not seen it until morning. It was a message to call immediately. Something urgent about Caleb.

And then the shocking news. He had made last-minute arrangements with some family and friends and was driving from North Carolina to New Jersey late Thursday night.

He never made it there, losing his life in a terrible car accident in the rain. Just 23, and gone from this world forever. Caleb!

After shedding tears and talking with the Lord, I began to inform my family and our ministry team. (Although, by God’s grace, we are very busy and productive as a ministry, our staff is small — just about 10 people — so a loss like this is felt acutely.)

Immediately, I wanted to post a tribute to him on social media. But was it premature? Had everyone been properly informed?

His friend texted me again, telling me that not all the family knew that Caleb was gone, asking me not to saying anything publicly until he gave the word.

A few hours later, there were hugs and sadness at our offices before my daily, live show, but still, not all the family had gotten word. That meant no announcement yet to the general public.

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But how can you just get on the air as if nothing had changed? As if a precious young man had not been taken home, suddenly and unexpectedly? As if you must perform as usual?

So, in the opening minutes at the top and bottom of the hour, I reminded listeners and viewers that this is a busy time of the year, encouraging them to drive very carefully, especially when traveling over the Christmas holidays.

I also urged them not to take their family and friends for granted. Give them a hug. An extra hug. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them how special they are.

And ask yourself if they really know how much you love them and care about them. If they don’t, be sure they do.

Later in the night, once all the family members had been contacted, I posted his tribute picture all over social media, with another burst of tears. Caleb!

Thankful, I’d Been Able to Express My Love

But thankfully, just 9 days earlier, we had had our important talk. I was able to express my love for him and my commitment to him. And he was able to share more of his heart and life with me. For that I’m grateful.

Still, recognizing afresh how fleeting life can be, I’m more determined than ever to live today in such a way that there will be no regrets tomorrow. No pangs of “if only!” No agonizing thoughts of, “I wish … .” May I encourage you to do the same?

Sometimes Caleb would work out with me, and despite me being 40 years his senior, I’d be able to push him to his limit — and beyond. And beyond his limit he would go, sometimes collapsing on the floor in a heap at the end. But he didn’t know the meaning of limitation. He only knew full throttle. That is how he lived.

At my home, I have a Bowflex adjustable dumbbell set, where you can add or remove plates from the same set rather than having numerous different dumbbells. But they sometimes get stuck.

This happened one day when we were working out, and Caleb sprang into action. He immediately analyzed the situation, figured out the mechanics, went through a process that was inexplicable to me, then, seconds later, handed me the totally fixed dumbbell.

It was then I realized how unusual his gift was (not just with computers and audio and video, but with mechanics as well). It was then I more fully understood what he had told my colleague, our producer, Matt, who had hired him in the first place: He knew the Lord had gifted him, and he wanted to use his gift for Him, for ministry, for God’s people.

He was not in this for the money (in reality, his work for us was at a bargain rate). He was here to serve.

From this week on, everything we do in our studio to reach the world will be built on what Caleb already contributed. And he will share in the reward.

Right now, though, he is enjoying the wonders of God’s presence. There’s no troubleshooting in heaven!

But here, on earth, he is sorely missed by his family and friends. Please do pray for them.

And please. Hug a loved one extra tight today. During this holiday season, make things right with friends and family that are estranged. And make sure they all know how much you love and care for them. The life we live together in this world is precious beyond words.

Caleb, we’ll all see you again before long!

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  • This is so heartbreaking and at the same time wonderful. Not sure if my tears are for the sadness of what you and Caleb’s family have lost or for the joy of what Caleb has obtained.

  • Joanne Tatum

    Such a loss for us still on Earth. God be with you all and the family! May He give comfort and peace.

  • Lisa Evanoff

    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. Your words express just how much you will miss him. Thankfully you will meet again… Forever.

  • James_E

    So sorry for the great loss of a ministry partner and friend. Sounds like he was a remarkable young man.

  • timeout31

    I am so sorry to hear about Caleb’s passing into eternity. May the love of God strengthen your heart during this season of mourn. The Lord knows the long game and understands our loss, but Caleb’s short life has left our worldly life a finer place. Thank you for sharing your love and tears for this young man. In peace forever.

  • Royce E. Van Blaricome

    Thank you, Dr. Brown, for this beautiful story. It brings MUCH joy to my heart to know that there are 23yo folks out there making a difference for the Lord by devoting their lives to Him in His service at such a young age. It pains me to think of the wasted days & years I spent as a young man seeking to fulfill the lusts of the Flesh. But the pain is assuaged by the joy of knowing there are men out there like Caleb and the Grace that God has given me by saving me and allowing me a few years to serve Him while I’m still here.

    That said, I must take this opportunity to speak on one of my greatest pet peeves. it irks me to no end, especially during this time of year, when I see family & friends gathered together, Christians mingled with Unbelievers, and inevitably the “I love you” is said. There’s Bob drunk as usual and it’s only early afternoon. There’s Sally dropping F-bombs sounding like a drunken sailor. There’s Jack & Jill who’ve been living together outside of Marriage for the past 6mos. There’s Steve the local drug dealer. And there’s Cousin Suzy with her lesbian live-in “partner” Jane.

    Then there’s Uncle Frank who’s an elder in the church and Mom, Aunt Janet, Grandma Betty, Cousin Judy, and a dozen others who all profess to be Christians. Hugs and kisses and well wishes with LOTS of “I love you’s” thrown around.

    While NOT ONE word is said about Jesus or anything like “Have you thought any at all about Eternity? Ya know, none of know when we’ll take our last breath and Eternity IS a VERY long time.”

    If that is you stop saying “I love you.” Instead say something like, “I have warm fuzzy feelings toward you when I happen to think of you.”

    It’s NOT Love.

  • Rose

    Thank you Dr. Brown for a beautiful tribute, very touching. I have posted the link on my FB page hoping others will read it. God bless…Caleb’s struggles are over, he is rejoicing now. Its those of us left behind that hurt and have to learn to live without the persons we love. We know we will see them again, but the pain of learning to live with a void is hard. I definitely will pray for his family.

  • So sorry for your loss, Dr. Brown. May God strengthen you, his family and all who are present at the funeral on Sunday. May He both comfort those who mourn, encourage in His unfailing promises, and draw unsaved to repentance and faith in Christ.

  • mbabbitt

    My heartfelt condolences, Dr. Brown, and to your family and coworkers. Unexpected departures like this are just so hard to go through. May God bless you all as you grieve.

  • FromWhereIAm

    Yes, a beautiful, deeply-felt tribute to an obviously remarkable man! How wonderful that he gave his life to the service of the Lord! I can’t imagine the incredible sadness his parents/family must be feeling at this time; I pray that God will comfort them (and I know He will). Caleb is certainly safe in the arms of Our Lord, and will spend Eternity with Him.

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