Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Day To Stop And Remember

On April 6, 1999 my son and I were driving back from North Greenville College in South Carolina.  He was a senior in high school, and the soccer coach at NGC (now University) invited him to come and visit, with the prospect of a spot on their team.  From the Outer Banks, as I recall, it was about a 9 hour drive.  And in 1999 cell phones were a fairly new thing.  My wife had one in her car, but I did not, and frankly didn't want one.

As we arrived home that night about 11:00 we were met with the most horrific news.  One of the teens in our church, Shana Lawler, and four of her friends (on Spring break) were broadsided by a speeding SUV as it ran a red light.  Three of the friends died on the scene. The fourth was transported to a hospital an hour away with what appeared to be non-life threatening injuries.  He would survive.  Shana survived the crash, but with apparent brain injuries and was flown to our closest trauma center in Norfolk, VA.

I showered, changed, got back into my little red car and drove the 75 or so miles to the hospital where I found her parents in the waiting room.  One sister, a high school senior, was with friends out of town.  She was on her way back.  The other sister, a graduate student at UNC was living in Durham. The next day their dad and I drove to meet her, tell her the news and bring her back to Norfolk.

Within a week Shana died of her injuries.  I was with the family as they sang, prayed and said goodbyes just before she was taken off of life support.  I'm still brought to tears by the memories.  A few days later I would preach her funeral to a packed church auditorium, mostly filled with other high school students, inviting them to put their faith in the Jesus Shana knew as Savior.

Our community was both brought to our knees in pain and at the same time polarized as we sought to both seek justice and mercy.  Those are not easy partners.  Someone erected 4 crosses at the intersection, which stood for many years, memorializing the girls and reminding every driver passing by that alcohol and driving are a dangerous, life-altering mix.

Now, eighteen years have passed.  The four girls would be 35.  Most of the students in their schools today were even born in 1999.  The woman who killed them while driving intoxicated is serving four consecutive terms for second-degree murder.

And many of us have not forgotten.  Certainly the survivors - the parents, siblings, friends and the one young man who lived through it - will never forget.  The impaired driver who is in prison for the rest of her life won't forget, nor will her friends and family.  The first responders (I know some of them) have images indelibly imprinted in their brains.

So, I remember this date with this somber reminder of the brokenness that exists in this world.  And I pray, "Thy Kingdom come".

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Sense of Urgency

Who doesn't love the month of April?  Sunshine...warm sunshine!  The azaleas in my yard are blooming, and will soon be followed by the dogwoods.  And with the Spring and the change in seasons comes the end of the multitudinous viruses and maladies that have been so prevalent this past winter.  It's all good.  Spring is really here!

But for me, the start of April has been a dark one.  I feel like a psalmist needing to cry out to God something like, "Death surrounds me!".  A large part of my role as a public safety chaplain is responding to the worst moments in peoples' lives - when a loved one dies.  For some reason it seems I can only remember one in the first three months of 2017.  For that I am grateful.

Yet, this past weekend, April 1 and 2 found me at two homes, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday, helping wives and children and a mother, through the hardest day of their lives.  And then, Monday morning I received a message that a friend's toddler granddaughter tragically and accidentally lost her life the day before.

Three days.  Three deaths.  (And no, I'm not superstitious about the number three.)  And later this week I've been asked to restore four crosses that memorialize a tragedy that took the life away from four teenagers and the breath away from our community eighteen years ago. 

Death is the inevitable part of life that no one can avoid.  Some get to "put it off" and live long lives.  One of my chaplain calls was to the home of a gentleman 74 years on the earth.  He had been ill for some time and his passing was not a surprise to his family at all. 

Others don't make it to their "threescore and ten".  The second of the three was a 49 year old husband and father.  He didn't even know he was sick until the week before he died, and even then it was totally unexpected.  And of course, the one could have seen that coming.

I was sharing with my men's small group last night these events, asking them to pray for the three families.  And in line with the study we're doing reminded them of the urgency that is part and parcel to sharing the Good News of Christ with others in our realms of influence.  The Gospel is an urgent message to be spoken and lived because it is the only hope beyond the grave.  And no one knows when that day will come for any of us.

Do you live life with that sense of urgency guiding your thoughts, words, actions?