November 29, 2015

It's a Haunted Thanksgiving Holiday

This holiday was incredibly certainly bizarre- perhaps the strangest of the strange Thanksgiving Holidays! 

We were having our traditional Thanksgiving Day meal and activities. The dinner table was set, turkey and fixings soon to be served, but my youngest son Timothy and son-in-law Andy were in the midst of a battle to the finish war playing Risk. (It ended up being a ginger domination.) The smell of turkey was filling the room as the ladies talked, and the little grandchildren were busy watching Frozen for the millionth time. Since it was a cold and snowy day, we were inside for a very long but very nice afternoon.

My phone text tone went off. Seems the wife of a new acquaintance at church had passed away earlier in the day. She'd been battling cancer, and after the latest round of chemotherapy and a brief surgery to attempt the remove a new growth, she'd been given six months to live but made it only three weeks. I hadn't expected that. 

I couldn't shake her passing out of my mind. When it was time to pray before our meal and give thanks to God for his goodness to us in the midst of times easy and difficult, we prayed for the family- and also thanked God that we had all four of our elderly parents still alive. (When your folks are in their mid 70's and early 80s, you take nothing for granted.) I'd be lying if I told you I did not get a bit choked up. Thoughts of their family stuck with me more than just the day itself.

The next day started out pretty normally, but also ended up being one with its own ghosts of sorts.

It had been a coupe of years now that I had thought of an old friend I hadn't seen in a couple of decades. This friend and I met in the most interesting way. I was on my way home from Las Vegas with my sister and then girlfriend. We had taken a road trip to go see the Carpenters at the MGM Grand in 1977. The show was terrific, with Karen and Richard in top form.

Before driving back, we slept in overnight. I was pretty beat after a late show and slept longer than normal, while the two gals went poolside. I awoke and quickly went downstairs. Who I discovered with them would change my life.

There was this seemingly friendly guy at the pool striking up a bit of a conversation with the girls. Turns out, not only did we share the same first name, but he lived only a few miles from me. I was in Huntington Beach, and he was living in Long Beach with some family after just finishing school. His family was from Oregon. He really didn't know too many people, and given that we seemed to get along remarkably well for two strangers, he and I swapped phone numbers and agreed to get together for lunch back home.

As does happen after high school, friends go separate ways and begin their new lives apart. Certainly this was my situation as I was older by a year than most of my friends, so I had been out for a year and already making plans to do something with my life. What that would be I did not know.

Mark and I got together for lunch, and we really hit it off. It was odd to me to make a brand new friend so unexpectedly, but after years of hanging out with the same old people, I found it to be a very fun piece f my new life. Mark had introduced me to a few girls he knew, and we all enjoyed the company, going out very frequently over the next year.

Flash forward a month. My sister and I were driving down Beach Blvd in my little Fiat X-19. A drunk driver crossed over the center divider and his us almost head on but, thankfully, slightly off  on the driver's side. We were shaken and not hurt badly, but my card seen better days and would not survive the transition, leaving me with without wheels.

As I began the car search, Mark would pick me up to go out. We were only about 15 minutes or so apart. This night was more than a bit different, as he wanted to go to a Monday night church service at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Not my cup of tea at all, but I was surprisingly open after the accident. 

The band was good, the people friendly, and a young man by the name of Greg Laurie started sharing about Jesus. I was pretty engaged, as he spoke of this Jesus like he knew him. If I heard correctly, this guy decided to sacrifice his life for the evil doings of everyone else, paying the penalty for my sin so that I could find a way to heaven for eternity, bypassing Hell. In addition to all this, Jesus promised to be the friend who would always be there unlike others who came and went. A God who loved me and was also a personal friend. Unbelievable. 

I was drawn in. The weight of doing things I knew were wrong stuck in my mind, and I knew in God's sight, I deserved death. I also knew I was pretty lonely deep down (new friends aside), so when this Greg guy asked for folks that wanted to know Jesus to come up, I went for it. Walking to the front, some folks talked to me, and I prayed to God, asking him to forgive me and start a new life of following Jesus.

Back to the haunted Thanksgiving.

The next morning was the usual after-the-holiday quiet. I made some coffee and sat down with a bit of leftovers for breakfast. It had been a couple of years since I thought of Mark, but this time, I decided to google him and see what he had been up to all these years.

Up came an obituary from 2014.

I was more than a bit dumbstruck as he was actually a few months younger than me. The photo above captured him looking just as I remembered.

Heading away from Southern California, Mark had a very full life with a wife and several kids. Clearly beloved by many, he had obviously fought a lengthy illness and made the transition we all eventually have to make- one form this world to the next. 

I was haunted by the photo and the realization that another part of my life had gone. This wasn't the first friend to die and nor would it be that last, but there was something about Mark's passing I could not shake off. In fact, it's 2am that I am writing this post, not having been able to quit thinking about him and his impact on my life- even after all this time.

Two deaths, one Thanksgiving. What was God trying to speak to me? I know nothing in our lives go to waste. Time will tell, but for now, I was thankful for that friend of years ago who just so happened to stay at the same motel as me and just so happened to live a few miles away, a friend who just so happened to be available to take me to this new church... and just so happened to be used by God to change my life for now and eternity. Wow. 

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