I know I promised the third installment of “God is Great” this week, but occasionally something comes up that bulldozes my careful structure. In this case, it was the death of a man I did not know well. But for not knowing him well, he made a disproportionately large impact on my life.
When I walked by his casket, and saw his family sitting in a row, I was reminded of my own family at my mom’s funeral. She died at 52; Allen would have been 52 this month. Allen and his wife Brenda had three sons and two daughters. Their oldest two sons had special needs and required much care. Allen was general manager at one of northern Indiana’s large RV company for many years and also worked as a salesman at a metal shop. He also liked to farm and fish. I honestly don’t know that I ever exchanged more than a handful of words with him.
So How Did He Impact My Life?
Our bishop Lyle delivered the sermon at Allen’s funeral, and he pointed out that Allen was not a flashy man. He didn’t yell at people or carry a chip of superiority on his shoulder. As far as I know, he wasn’t full of charisma or eloquent words.
Lyle mentioned that he heard positive stories of Allen in the workplace. He wasn’t specific, but anyone who knows the culture of northern Indiana RV factories can fill in the gaps of the stress and difficulty that he might have encountered. He also said that people reported hearing Allen quote Scripture at work.
We weren’t given a chance to share memories about Allen, and it’s probably a good thing because it might have taken all day. I thought maybe I was the only one who had been inspired by this man. But no. My brief memories of him were merely symbolic of the impact he left on the lives of everyone.
But I would have had my memory ready, and there’s no question in my mind that I would have gotten up in front of the hundreds of people to share it.
Words that Hit the Mark
I don’t remember what year it was. It was probably over a decade ago, back when I went to church with Allen and Brenda before moving to Elkhart. I don’t recall Allen sharing many testimonies in church. I knew they struggled with knowing how to best care for their sons with special needs.
But one Sunday, Allen shared some thoughts that I have never forgotten, and that might rank in the top ten most impactful pieces of advice I have ever heard. Except that I don’t think Allen was sharing advice or trying to sway anyone. I think he was just telling a story about his walk with the Lord. I will recall it the best I know how.
He recalled a time that he and his family had experienced something hurtful in the church community and had debated walking away. Instead, they had made the decision to walk through the difficult time. By the time of his testimony, God had brought them through to a place of peace and they were so grateful they hadn’t decided to run.
Falling on the ears of someone like myself who hates conflict, this shot landed deep. So deep, in fact, that over a decade later, I continue to think of it when things get rough. It’s not that there isn’t a right time to leave a community. But I have a feeling the modern Christian world (or at least this modern Christian) needs more stories like Allen’s.
Perhaps the way to impact people’s lives is not to make that your goal
Why did Allen’s simple story impact my life? I wonder now if it had something to do with his character. He hadn’t prepared a speech to sway people. He wasn’t looking for votes. I don’t even think he was trying to prove he was right. He was just telling what God had done for them. So when he said these words, there was nothing obstructing my view of God’s work in his life. I’m not suggesting he was perfect, since none of us are. But rather, there did not seem to be any rampant thorns in his life choking out the movement of God’s Spirit. Somehow, I sensed that without knowing him well.
I think Allen made it his goal to build the kingdom of God, and by doing so, he spoke words of life to people as far out on the periphery as myself.
I give all my sympathy to Brenda and her family. I would say I’m proud to have known Allen. But I think he would prefer if I said that I’m grateful God used him to speak to me.