This past weekend, we were saddened by the loss of two great friends….
And I hate both of those words.
This past weekend, we were at our State Photography convention and got the shock of our short lives with the call that two close friends, Mick and Julie, had lost their lives in an accident. Actually, great friends doesn’t seem to do justice to our relationship. They were life mentors, spiritual leaders, encouragers, and partners in ministry.
So, in the only way we know how, with images and words, we’d like to take this space… this blog that Mick frequented so often… to celebrate two of the most amazing people to ever grace this planet.
I’ve tried 100 times to put into words the way I feel. The pain is like waves on the shore… pounding for a moment, then easing up, then pounding again. It creeps up unexpectedly like a breeze, then disappears as quickly as it came. Then I stop and remember that I’m not the only one hurting around here. There are four dear children who’s grief will continue far longer than mine… in far more corners of their hearts than mine. There is Kalona Mennonite Church where Mick was co-pastor, youth pastor, Sunday School teacher and more. There is the school where his children attend, and where he and Julie were very involved. There are the countless people touched by their lives in one way or another.
I moved to Iowa in March 2001, married Jodi in June, and in September we started going to KMC. We officially met Mick and Julie a few weeks later and began ministry together in a way that was over both of our heads. He was so good at keeping me grounded… checking my motives… checking my role, my marriage, and my faith. Over the past 10 years, we praised together, failed together, trusted together, and prayed a lot. He was one of the few people in my life who wasn’t afraid to call me out when I was out of line, and I will forever hear his voice saying “are you spiritually in the right place to make that decision?” We learned valuable wisdom and insight from him and Julie in many areas of life, and to this day there are little things that we do that were because of something he said.
When it came to my role as worship leader, he was my biggest fan, but it had little to do with the music. He was always encouraging and supportive, even when I’m sure I pushed his buttons/limits with my youthful ambition. I’ll also never forget the way he went to battle for me when I was pursuing a vocational position in the church. He fought tooth and nail and was just as disappointed as I was when it didn’t work out… although he would keep telling me that God was up to something. And, when things got rough or I wasn’t sure which way was up or down, he would throw these three words at me that drove me crazy every time… “Hang in there.” Well, buddy, I’m taking those words to heart now.
Almost a year ago, Jodi and I made the difficult decision to attend a different church. I knew it hurt Mick and Julie to see us leave, but they were genuinely happy for what God was going to do in us. I can still see his face, eyes red with tears, as he came up on stage and gave me a hug that last morning I led worship at KMC, as we realized that our ten years of ministry together were coming to an end. There were no words, just a hug as we both knew what the other was thinking. But, there was no way we could have seen how final that would be less than a year later. But that’s not entirely true. The truth is, I’m still in ministry with Mick… I will always be. Because his ministry was and is the Gospel and that will never come to an end… there will never be a “last time”.
I know our life is different because of Mick and Julie. I know we are better people because of their godly example. I know that their children carry the same spirit, the same faith that they did, and that there is hope in all the grief. If anyone ever was an example of what a true Christian is, it would be Mick and Julie.
Please pray for their children. They have shown incredible resilience, and have faith equal to that of their parents. It’s insane. They are going around looking for people to comfort. It’s a tremendous testimony of God’s peace and grace in their lives.
Mick and Julie… you leave holes all over this community, but you also leave a legacy of faithfulness and obedience to the calling of Christ on your lives. We’re all better for having known you.
To their children… our hearts ache for you, and we stand with you in your loss. We continually lift you up in prayer, and believe with you in the hope of what is unseen. Your mom and dad would be so proud of you guys, and how you’re handling everything. Your faith puts us all to shame. Keep looking to Jesus for your strength and know that He’ll never run out of grace for you. We love you guys!
You see, folks, it’s not the awards we win that matter. It’s not the stupid little games we play in politics, and pretending to be religious that matter. What matters is relationships. What matters is if you were suddenly removed from this world, what would be the impact? Would anyone miss you? Jodi posted on her Facebook wall yesterday “Selfish people are rarely missed” and it’s true. When is the last time you looked at your close friends and told them you appreciate their friendship? When did you hug them and say “thanks for being my friend?” We take so much for granted in this world, and friendships often get it the worst.
I was scheduled to have breakfast with Mick on Friday. We couldn’t find a suitable time to meet, so we postponed until today. Well, the next day he was gone. Would I love to have that moment back? Absolutely. But for reasons I don’t know, God didn’t allow us to meet that morning and maybe that gave Mick a couple extra hours with his family.
And lastly… I know not everyone is on the same page with Jodi and I when it comes to religion (that is believing Jesus Christ is who he said he was), but that is the ultimate relationship that needs to be fostered every day. Tomorrow it could be us that disappear from the planet. Maybe this is my last post. Who knows. But the goal is to be as ready to go as Mick and Julie were. They had peace with everyone around them. There were no enemies. There isn’t a person in our community that didn’t like them. But they were more than just “good people”…. they were alive! Inside and out.
Will I leave that kind of impact? Will you?
Keep these dear children in your prayers that God would protect their hearts and minds over the coming days and months and years as they adjust and attempt to move forward.