Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One Opportunity

…For what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)

In relation to eternity, the lifetime we spend on this earth is like a vapor that appears and then is instantly gone. We need to make the best of the opportunity we have here on earth, whether it’s 19 years or 99 years.  

I first met Ken during a workday for our church. We were roofing a house the church had just purchased next to the University of Santa Clara. Ken and his friend Tim had just moved to California after finishing a two year Electronics Trade College in Arizona. Somehow they heard about our church, joined us that day, worked hard and instantly became one with our young, primarily ex-hippy congregation.  

Ken had an infectious smile, was always seeing the best in people and knew how to listen with sincere interest. Being from West Texas he had an distinct Texas draw that went right along with his laid back personality. It was hard not to like Ken.  

Most of us were around 19 or 20 and without college educations while Ken was 22 and had finished a two year college. That made him one of the older, more educated guys in our troop. Ken was also a real servant with a clear pastoral calling. It wasn't long before he was invited onto the leadership team of our church.  

After about a year Ken traveled back to Arizona to retrieve something very special he left there, his future wife Debbie. Debbie had beautiful long blonde hair and a smile that matched Ken’s. She loved sports and had been a gymnast in college until she injured her knee and was forced to retire from competition. She also deeply loved God and was a perfect match for Ken.  

Within a couple of years Ken was asked to become the assistant pastor of our church. At that time my wife and I were serving as Elders in the church (by now we were about 22). The four of us quickly became friends and over the next couple of years we were best friends. Soon after we had our first child, Ken and Debbie did too. Ours was a girl, theirs a boy.  

As I said, Ken was hard not to like. Much different than myself. I would give people a hard time without cause simply because I was insecure and self-centered. I remember getting angry with Ken for calling me 'Bubba'. I hated it and I let him know it. He gently explained that in Texas 'Bubba' is a form of endearment but I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Even so, he always smiled and was understanding with my childish behavior.  

One Christmas Ken and Debbie decided to spend the holidays with her parents in Arizona. They called us and asked if we would water their plants and take care of their Canary (which sang more than I could stand). 

We met with them and Priscilla went through the house with Debbie to learn about all the plants while I visited outside with Ken just before they left on their trip. I can’t remember what the argument was about, but I remember that I was angry with Ken and made it known in no uncertain terms.  

The next evening we had a Christmas musical production at our church. As I walked in I could tell something was wrong. Our pastor had a lost look on his face and nothing was being done or said. Then he slowly walked to the microphone and broke the news, “There’s been a terrible car accident. Our brother Ken and his son are now with Jesus and Debbie is in critical condition.” I immediately collapsed to the floor in shock and grief. I’m not sure how long I was on the floor and I don’t remember much else at the church after that.  

The next day my wife and I left for Bakersfield to be with Debbie while she lay in a hospital bed. We spent the next few days with her until she also slipped away to be with the Lord having never regained consciousness.  

For months I was in deep, deep pain. Not only had I lost my best friend, my last words with him were angry, unkind and self-serving. I remember one day lying on my living floor crying with remorse about my actions and the loose of my dear friend. Then I began to picture Ken in heaven. If there is any truth I knew about Ken it was his immense love and forgiving heart. I suddenly realized, no matter what I had done, Ken would forgive me and still love me. I then pictured Ken in heaven, I asked his forgiveness and I pictured him forgiving me. From that moment on, my heart began to slowly heal.

That situation taught me two extremely powerful life lessons. First, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life is extremely fragile. It could be gone in an instant whether we are spiritual or not. We have no idea how long we have on this earth so we need to make the most of the short time we are given. I am determined to use the opportunity I have in this life to reach as many people as possible with God’s amazing love and grace.

Second, I need to be as kind and loving to every people as I possibly can at all times. There is no guarantee I will have a second chance to make things right later. Therefore, it's vital to maintain right relationships.

I must confess, as the years have gone by, I haven't been as diligent about those commitments as I could have been but as I write this story, recalling the details for the first time in more than 30 years, I am deeply moved again to make the best out of the ONE opportunity I have been given in this life.

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