Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A Sad Sad Week

Orange tiger lilies, queen Anne’s lace, and yellow black-eyed Susans line our country roads now. Gerald is eating onions from his garden, and some neighbors already have tomatoes for their table.  Our former baby rabbits are big enough that we see them often.  Everything is beautiful. Summer is here, and the corn is tall thanks to the frequent rains.

Unfortunately, tears  have also been  frequent in our community and in near-by communities this past week.  Hearts have been broken, parents terrified, and lives changed forever.  In small communities, there is such an entanglement of ties between people that a tragic accident can impact almost everyone, and that has happened to us.  

A group of families here started a new congregation a few years ago.  They named themselves Living Stone Church and eventually were able to buy a small church building in the tiny village of New Dennison, where an older congregation had lost almost all its members to death and people moving away. I was thrilled that the new congregation bought this nearby building in our farm neighborhood by giving a generous amount to the Baptist Children’s Home in Carmi.  I felt that was such a fine memorial to the ones who had built and belonged to the congregation that died.   Their building would not only continue to used for worship and education, but the children at the Carmi home would benefit.

Continuing their interest in children, Living Stone congregation recently called  Christopher Shane Williams to be a youth pastor, and evidently he had already succeeded in creating influential friendships with these kids just as he had when he worked with youth at Marion Third and wherever he went.  Living Stone Church planned a mission trip for the kids to work all day at a homeless shelter in nearby Evansville, IN.  Then they would stay overnight and be treated to fun at Holiday World before coming back home.  They stopped to have a final supper together before the group started back to Illinois, and Chris gave a devotional.

Shortly after that, the unthinkable happened when one van blew a tire and somehow  was hit by a semi truck going in the same direction.  Chris, 28, was killed leaving behind his beloved Aimee, their 13-month old daughter Abbi, and a baby expected in November.  The semi driver and five others were hurt.  Literally hundreds and hundreds have been praying for these injured as well as for the Williams family.  One by one, the hurt were treated and released from the hospital except two recent eighth grade graduates, who were the most seriously injured. I did not know the girls personally but knew their families.  These two girls were close friends with our next door neighbor, who also just finished eighth grade.

One of the girls has been in critical condition in a medically induced coma fighting for her life.   The other in serious condition has had surgery and will be in a wheelchair and having physical therapy for a long time to come, but today she was allowed to go home from the Evansville hospital. Her photo on Facebook on the site dedicated to the two girls has a photo of her absolutely beaming and telling us she went in to her friend’s room  and waved goodbye.  Both girls have a long way to go, but their parents on the Facebook site are reporting all the answered prayers, and the community is rejoicing. Orange ribbons (Crab Orchard school color) dot the highway fence at New Dennison left behind from a prayer rally a day or so after the accident at Living Stone Church.

On their eighth wedding anniversary a short time ago, Chris’s wife Aimee wrote a beautiful tribute on Facebook to Chris and cited all he had done for her.  Aimee’s family are all writers and they express themselves well through the written word. Aimee was able to assure us since the accident that despite her enormous grief and the impossibility of understanding why this accident happened, she has faith in the love and purpose of God just as Chris did.  Aimee has just been through watching Sam White, her father. fight leukemia and then endured his death, which happened on Valentine’s Day.   Her father had been pastor for nine years in our village church in Crab Orchard,  and Aimee and Chris met and were married there. We had watched Pam and her three adult  children, while holding down challenging careers, struggle to help Sam in the Saint Louis hospital for most of  his almost year of illness. We were all so hopeful when Sam’s brother Cecil came from California and gave what was first thought was a successful stem cell implant. But sadly our hope was denied that Sam would be well again and able to use his education and experience and prepared syllabi to enhance the education of the students  at Morthland College.

Thus, we grieved for Pam becoming such a young widow and the three young adult siblings losing their father and Chris losing his father-in-law. Then when Aimee, after only eight year of marriage, had to write, “I am a widow,” her mother’s widowhood did not seem so young.  Before all this, we had earlier watched with approval as their family demonstrated faith and creativity in coping with their grief over Sam, and they continued to serve others.  The day of the wreck was also Sam’s birthday, and the siblings spent the day at the Saint Louis zoo in memory of their father who loved the zoo. No one could imagine that day would end with yet another death. We can only be grateful that pregnant Aimee and baby Abbi were not in that wrecked vehicle. 

Although I had heard great things about Chris, and I’d enjoyed his beaming smile on every photograph posted on Facebook often with baby Abbi smiling too, a smile that  reminded me of Sam’s and made me happy just by seeing it, I had not realized until the tributes poured in just how many lives Chris and Aimee have impacted.  Chris was one of those amazing energetic people who loved to have fun and work hard and who also loved everyone to a degree that they felt his love.

 Our family was impacted not only by our grief for Aimee and her family, but also with our grief for Chris’s only sister—Katie Barger—who had married Jared Barger on May 17—and who was a loving care giver to our daughter Katherine. Katie was so close to her big brother that this loss is enormous for her.  I am grateful that she has such good memories of Chris and Aimee at her wedding.

Because I did not know Chris that well, I had never realized how broad and how full Chris’s life was for such a young man until peoples’ stories poured in for his loved ones telling them what Chris meant to them.  His last Facebook entry was prophetic when he quoted Job 42:17: And so he died, old and full of years.  Chris then commented, Thus it must be possible to die old and not full of years. What things can we cut out of our lives to ensure our lives are full and not just long? What good is a long life if it not also full?”

Those who grieve Chris are immensely comforted that Chris’s years were very full and very worthwhile.

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