Who was Derek Taatjes? Can words ever capture a life?
- Written by Charity and delivered by Libby VanSolkema at Derek's funeral
Derek was a servant leader. Since having kids, I don't remember the last time I washed a dish, and every morning my sink was empty, the dishwasher full of clean dishes.
He loved me and his children more passionately than anyone I have ever seen. We did life together—parenting, ministry, fun, just everyday life. We 100 percent co-parented. Derek actually stayed home and cared for all three of our children every Monday while I was at work. How many dads could do that with an infant, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old? He was always so hands-on with our kids, playing games, chasing them around with "the claw." Our friends’ kids wanted to come over and play with Mr. Derek. I think he may have changed more diapers than I ever did.
He was my best friend. Before kids, we traveled together, lived life in Chicago, played tennis, worked out together, ate together. (We love food.) We met at Taylor University and got married in 2000. We lived 11 full, fulfilling years together.
The number one word to describe Derek is passionate. He was extremely passionate about the things he loved—from March Madness to his desire for people to grasp the truth of God's Word that we are desperate, broken people in need of a Savior. Derek taught with such urgency that his listeners knew they had a choice to make. His laugh was larger than life. He was so sensitive in a way that most people didn't see. He hated injustice. He loved golf, basketball, tennis, running, movies, and music. Over the years he gave up many of these things because of his priority to be a husband and a dad. Derek was an All-American basketball player at Taylor and All-State in 3 sports in high school. He adored his dad and thought of him as literally the greatest man alive. He desired to be the man of God exemplified by his dad.
He loved chips. I swear Derek ran every day just so he could eat a whole bag of chips at night. For a 6'5” guy, the boy could dance. Everyone loved seeing his big arms and legs going in crazy directions. Even more people loved to see his expansive wing span, once used for dunking basketballs, spread out reaching high as he worshiped our King. If you spent a morning at Crossroads Bible Church, you know what I am talking about.
He loved his friends . . . passionately. He asked the tough questions of them because he cared. Unlike many guys, he loved to talk deep, which I think came from having two sisters. He wanted to really know what was going on with you. He was a gifted communicator, in one-on-ones or to masses.
Derek’s love language was words of affirmation. His mom spoke to him in his native love language better than anyone on this earth. Her verbal encouragement instilled Derek with a confidence that allowed him to stand firm in who he was and what he believed.
He loved to make people laugh and tell stories, sometimes adding what we lovingly referred to as “The Derek Factor”—a little exaggeration, some superlatives, and an occasional dose of fabrication, but always worth a good belly laugh. His smile was contagious. It engulfed his entire face. His heart was only out-sized by his size 15 shoes.
All this makes him sound perfect, and he would be frustrated if anyone ever thought that. We fought, he lacked patience, and he struggled with anger and pride. He described himself as “not a good man, but someone who daily made bad choices, someone who needed the grace of God daily.” He believed strongly that to understand the depth of our humanity, we daily need to be at the feet of Jesus, repenting of our sin and fully embracing the gift of God's forgiveness. He believed that the Bible is the truth and that even in our post-modern culture, the Bible is nearly all black-and-white. He didn't think you needed an advanced degree to understand the Bible—simply a desire and the commitment and faithfulness to be in it. He was a man of prayer and faith.
Derek’s path to ministry was circuitous. He was a business major and was headed down a path of financial success with his sales career, which led him to his dad's commercial real estate business. Derek and I had always volunteered with the youth at our church in Chicago, Harvest Bible Chapel, and at Crossroads we were the volunteer youth pastors. After the birth of our first daughter, Ella, we prayed about transitioning out of youth ministry, but God had a different calling in mind. He led Derek's heart to desire a full-time vocation at Crossroads and to walk away from the American Dream. In Derek fashion, he charged through that door without hesitation.
In his last message at Crossroads, he talked about the question of why bad things happen to good people, and in typical Derek fashion, he said that question was “a joke.” When he said that, I cringed inside, wondering how people were receiving it. He went on to say that question puts the focus on us and our importance rather than the focus upward on Christ. “When you ask the question the first way, you believe in the supremacy of humanity. When you ask the question the proper way, you believe in the supremacy of Christ. Now you can come to the conclusion that I am only at the mercy of God.”