"You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." James 4:14
Many people know these words by heart. How many times have I said them? You don't know what tomorrow will bring. But today was proof that yesterday, I didn't really believe them.
I went to bed dog tired after a late Sunday night meeting. August at Redeeming Cross is Evangelize August, a treasured month in which we concentrate evangelism efforts. I knew I would wake up and post a nice #EvangelizeAugust to my Facebook page and hit the study in preparation for a great week.
Instead, I was greeted with a strange notification on my phone. My sleepy eyes struggled to read it but certain words stuck out immediately: "grief...Jamison...Kathryne...Ezra...Violet...Calvin...all killed...car accident". These were the names of our friends and they weren't supposed to appear in the same sentence with those other terrible words.
We were supposed to see them in a few short weeks and send them off to the adventures God had been preparing them for. They had just worshipped with us two weeks ago. Angel and I and the kids had just seen them on Wednesday, standing on the Engels' porch and waiving as we drove off.
My wife was great friends with Kathryne. They had been part of a women's small group at our church. The preachers' wives they were called. They had walked with each other through early marriage into motherhood. The bearing of precious little ones was their passion and joy. The news was unbearable to her.
Before we left them on Wednesday I asked little Ezra what they were going to do in Japan. "Tell people about Jesus," he said. "Do you fly on airplanes?" was his follow-up question. "Yes," I said. "Then maybe you can you fly us to Japan!" He thought I was a pilot. I told him I very much wished that I could.
Our little girl was friends with Ezra. It was my hope that Ezra's life on the mission field would inspire her to live her life so that people who never heard about Jesus would come to know him. Jamison and I frequently talked about this. But it would appear that Ezra's lesson to my little Aleah was much more fundamental: trust in Jesus and die well.
Why did God take them? For take them he did. Because they had finished their course. My Facebook feed is evidence of the number of lives they touched, but the sharp pain in our hearts is the best proof of all that their lives were not in vain. They were ready. They were happily surrendered to whatever adventure God would send their way. My friend Jamison was my senior in grace and he makes me want to be a better man.
As horrible thoughts of violent death gripped me this morning the only thing I could think of was the train wreck in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, a book which I know Jamison held near to his heart. The Narnians were taken off to their beloved country by what they thought was strong magic, but the reality was more severe and much more wonderful:
"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are–as you used to call it in the Shadowlands–dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
The sudden passing of the Pals family seems more of a translation than a death. Looking at a few pictures we took of them last week, the words burning in my bones were inescapable: "They walked with God, and they were not, for God took them." God wanted them, and he took them for himself.