Sitting at New Life Church waiting for the celebration of life to begin, I glanced at the program and saw that his son was giving the opening remarks. Tragically, the father, a dear family friend, had recently passed away from a battle with glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer, at the age of 58.
Surprisingly, however, the first voice we heard was not his son Jordan, but Owen's own voice, talking about things he had learned growing up from his mom and dad...even joking about things like how they taught him to "wipe!" Jordan then appeared and shared that several weeks before, he had managed to record his dad as he asked him questions...almost a survey of his life story. The recording played in sound bytes throughout the service in an uncanny, yet powerful, turn of events. Instead of us simply hearing others give tribute to him, O' (as his family and friends affectionately called him) gave tribute to them as he reminisced...talked about life and faith...honored his beautiful and loving wife, his son, and daughter...his three siblings and his parents...speaking of his job as a civil engineer for Snohomish county...and the many adventures they took as a family. A bit of a thrill seeker, he loved roller-coasters and theme parks...yet also took several trips to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala serving with an organization called Food for the Hungry. He loved to organize camping trips for his large extended family and friends, playing sports with a fun loving, competitive spirit, calling himself "The Dominator!" Though his initial prognosis after his glioblastoma diagnosis was 15 to 18 months, he managed by God's grace to live 33 months...and finish well!
As various family members shared about O's life, what became clear to all was that he lived out his faith with generous and abounding joy. Reading the book, The Wild Goose Chase, by Mark Batterson, years earlier had affected him deeply. The first chapter, Yawning Angels, speaks of believers who arrive "safely" in heaven, having lived "safe" lives, never stepping outside the box...never taking risks...rarely having any adventures. The thought is that their lives are so boring that the "angels yawn". As Batterson said,
"If you would describe your relationship with God as anything less than adventurous, then maybe you think you're following the Spirit but have actually settled for something less - something I call inverted Christianity. Instead of following the Spirit, we invite the Spirit to follow us. Instead of serving God's purposes, we want Him to serve our purposes. And while this may seem like a subtle distinction, it makes an ocean of difference. The result of this inverted relationship with God is not just a self-absorbed spirituality that leave us feeling empty, it's also the difference between spiritual boredom and spiritual adventure."
I can say with absolute certainty that Owen embraced another spiritual adventure when cancer came into his life. His mantra was "Another day, another glorious adventure"....even when the seizures came, the surgeries came, the time of remission came, the radiation and chemotherapy treatments came, the medication regime came, the gradual loss of vision in one eye, the short term memory loss came, the physical tiredness came. Amazingly, he saw his cancer as a gift...given to him as a vehicle to share his faith and bring God glory.
The celebration of his life was one of the most impactful services I have ever attended. I cannot imagine anyone sitting there who did not ask herself or himself :
What am I doing to make my life count?
Am I embracing whatever adventure God has placed in my journey...my story?
Am I living with joy?
Is my life self serving or is it giving glory to God?
Just a few days before he left this earth, O' received the first ever public works award given by Snohomish County for his professional achievements as an engineer. He played a significant role in the response to the Oso landslide and promoting the building of the Centennial Trail, a 29 mile walking/biking trail. Yet, more important than these noteworthy accomplishments, was the life he lived with faith and joy in his Savior. I imagine that he would concur with Erma Bombeck who said,
"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me."
The program for the service quoted one of my favorite verses, "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him." I Cor 2:9. I know that Owen is experiencing the adventure of his life right now...in the place God has prepared for him. No yawning angels in sight! Well done, O!
What about you? Do you believe that God can and will use everything, even the hard things, for good when we say "yes" to Him?
Walking this life of glorious adventure together, Warmly, Gracia