I just love that song. I came across that song last year as our family was planning a trip to the Bahamas. I burned multiple CDs to listen on the long drive to Florida. That song was on one of the CDs. As most of you know Bob and I have two teen age kids. Teenagers have their own distinct taste in music, and our kids are no different, but we all seem to be able to agree on country music, so we heard that song many, many times up and down Interstate 95. As you may recall, Judy Maxfield sang that song so beautifully for us last month and I asked her if she would grace us with her voice and that song once again today. As I listened to Judy's version of the song I immediately knew what I wanted to talk to you about today.
I want to tell you a story about that song, and about that trip to the Bahamas. When we started the trip, Bob and I and our two kids piled into Bob's Jeep, filled with summer attire, and high hopes for a memorable family vacation. We planned on driving down and staying overnight with Bob's uncle and aunt who live in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Katie didn't have her driver's license yet, but Justin did. We allowed him to drive part of that trip, but for the most part Bob and I drove the bulk of the trip. We were nearing Uncle Dick's and Aunt Kathy's home, actually almost there, maybe 5 or 6 miles away. I was driving at this point, while everyone else was resting. The song Three Wooden Crosses came on, and I was softly singing along with the radio. An eighteen wheeler came cruising up behind me. I was in the right lane. The driver careened his truck right up behind me, filling my rear view mirror, he quickly veered left into the passing lane and then swerved back into my lane. Up on the right shoulder was another truck that was parked, awaiting assistance. The speeding truck lost control and clipped the left rear axle of the disabled truck parked in the shoulder. The driver then jerked his truck back into traffic clipping a little red car in its wake. His cab spun and swerved, landing upside down and catching fire. I was the only one awake when this chain of events occurred but I cannot completely recall what happened, it happened in a blink of an eye, and I can tell you, as the song says, eighteen wheelers can't stop on a dime!
I slammed my brakes as hard as I could, pressing my brake pedal all the way to the floorboard, the car coming to a complete stop mere feet from the wreckage. Bob, Justin and Katie were immediately awakened by the jarring of the car and screeching of the brakes, as we all lurched forward. By the time I had brought the jeep to a complete stop Bob was out of the car running, with Justin fast on his heels. I started screaming, like only a mother would do. I wanted my husband and son as far from that burning wreckage as humanly possible, but they simply couldn't or wouldn't listen to me. They heard the cry of the driver of the truck that had seemingly caused the accident, but they were unable to reach him as the cab of the truck was now also ablaze. Somehow, the driver was able to crawl through the open back window of his cab. He stumbled out, dazed, while Bob and Justin carried him, each with their arm around this man's shoulders, dragging him to what appeared to be a safe distance from the flames.
There was no thought in their actions. It was pure instinct. There was no time for discussion relative to what was the right thing to do... they reacted completely, and solely based on their instinct. My instinct was to keep my family safe, while theirs was to help those who clearly could not help themselves.
It's not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it's what you leave behind you when you go... The Savannah News came and interviewed Justin and dubbed him as a small town hero. He was 18 years old, and had already established himself as a hero! It was harrowing and scary.... but what a way to start a family vacation! What a feeling knowing that because of his actions, a life had been spared! We all felt the impact of what had happened.
Now this story is one of extreme heroism, and thankfully, not one that happens to many of us. But we are all afforded the opportunity to be someone's hero every single day of our lives. Sometimes it's easy to overlook these opportunities.... helping our child with homework; working towards a common goal at work, doing a random act of kindness, expressing sincere gratitude where due... every week we come to church and we listen to the Word, and we try to apply the teachings of the Gospel into our every day life.
But doesn't it feel amazing when you know that you have helped someone? When you know that you have made a profound difference in someone's life. It feels wonderful when we know our services are valued.
Now imagine those who receive more than just help with homework, or praise and gratitude... imagine those whose lives are saved because of our actions. That man that Bob and Justin pulled from the wreckage of burning metal? He never even had the opportunity to acknowledge Bob and Justin's actions, but that of course, wasn't the reason for their actions anyway. They sprang into action based on what was right, what they both believed needed to be done, they didn't have an opportunity to stop and consider the danger they were placing themselves in. They did what they did simply BECAUSE IT WAS RIGHT THING TO DO.
We are completing an UNBELIEVABLE year of mission. Through the Califon United Methodist Church we raised OVER $15,000 for the Michael Hafke Foundation. That is truly an unbelievable amount of money! Last summer, when Mike was first diagnosed with Stage 3 Multiple Myeloma, we took a special collection for his family, and I had the honor of humbly giving him and his family a card with about 150 dollars in cash in it, explaining that although we are just a small church, we wanted to do whatever we could to help him and his family in this time of crisis. Our gift felt meager, but our hearts were big and our desire to help was boundless.... Now, not even a year later that special collection is a mere 1 percent of what we were able to collectively raise through the efforts of our church, and the surrounding communities. We have became, like Justin, small town heroes. We had a walk-a-thon last fall, we hosted a dinner at Finnagels Restaurant, the Califon First Aid Squad had a blood drive in Mike's name, our church sent a mailing to the Califon/Tewkesbury area soliciting donations, and my children placed collection cans all throughout Califon, High Bridge, and Clinton, ultimately raising over $15,000 to help Mike Hafke and his family with medical bills. That is a lot of money, but more-so, our church became heroes to a family in need, a family facing a horrible crisis. We reacted on instinct, much like Bob and Justin did when faced with that accident. I cannot begin to explain how proud I am to be the Mission Chair for this church; for this group of heroes; this group of people who care not only for our church, not just for the building, but for each other, but also for the surrounding community as well.
Today, we celebrate with hearts of hope not only the success of our year of mission, but so much more importantly the health of Mike Hafke. Mike and his family have been through an ordeal that is unfathomable. The test of strength, the test of faith has been unimaginable. They say God never gives us anything we cannot handle, and I am here to attest that when faced with unspeakable adversity Mike, Irene and their children all rose to the occasion with such stoic grace. If you'll bear with me I want to share Mike's words of gratitude:
Dated: February 5, 2007
Dear members of the Califon UMC:
I know this is L-O-N-G overdue but I wanted to say a word of thanks for all the love, kindness and generosity the the Califon UMC has shown to my family and me.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer last August, I was shocked since I've always been in such good physical condition. I knew that only by having a strong faith in God would I get through this difficult time. Thankfully, my family, friends, co-workers and church came through and showed me so much love and support that I never even had the opportunity to feel depressed about my medical condition. But even more importantly, it was the strangers and people I didn't expect that showed me their love and kindness that made my dark days seem so positive.
The members of the Califon United Methodist Church, have done so much for me that I don't even know how to show my appreciation besides saying "THANK YOU!". Even after having the privilege to attend your church, the love and presence of Jesus was evident by the warm reception I was given by your congregation. I'm so thankful for the life God has given me and for meeting other Christians as I have at your church.
Again, thank you all for showing my family and I so much love and kindness.
The theologian Emil Brunner once said: "As a fire exists by burning, so the Church exists by mission; if there is no burning there is no fire; if there is no mission there is no Church." So the very existence of the Church depends upon its mission, according to Brunner. If we don't have a clear vision of what it is we are primarily about we are like a lost child wandering, trying to find his mother among the aisles in a supermarket. The Church is like a disorientated person when it is without clear vision of its mission.
What then is our mission? Firstly to proclaim that Jesus is Alive! He is alive through our actions and through our love for one another. He is alive as we continue to live by his Word. And Secondly, in light of the Resurrection, our mission is to continue Jesus' work of liberation and salvation. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).
Our mission, the Califon United Methodist Church's mission states: "Our Christian endeavor is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through love, service, and ministry."
Our love is how we treat one another. Are we a welcoming people? Do we nurture and care for one another? For the community we live in? For the society at large?
Our ministry is how we worship, and how we live. Do we practice as we preach? Are we kind to others? Do we live by the Golden Rule?
Our service... to me that is the true 'action' within the mission statement. Our service, to each other, to our church, to the members, both individually and collectively within Califon, within the county, within the state, within the country, within the world.
How do we serve? And whom do we serve?
"The purpose of life is to increase the warm heart. Think of other people. Serve other people... sincerely.
No cheating." — So says the Dalai Lama
And my favorite by Kurt Vonegut: "We're all here to help each other through this thing — whatever it is"
I'm here to ask the question that J.G. Morrison asked as he pleaded with the Nazarenes, to support their missionaries, during the 1930's Great Depression: "Can't you do just a little bit more?"
We are all truly blessed in abundance, and to whom much is given, much is expected. We, who live in Califon and its surrounding towns, are abundantly blessed. We know the beauty of country living. We have a river to listen to, shaded parks to enjoy; back yards to explore. We slumber in our warm beds, in our cozy rooms, in our impeccably decorated homes, listening to the night critters serenade us, and we awaken to the melodies of songbirds. We work hard each day to ensure our children and grandchildren have a safe setting that they can call home. But many others work just hard, and many are not nearly as blessed as we are. To whom much is given, much is expected. I believe we met that expectation this year.... but can't we do just a little bit more?
Today we will be enjoying the spring, the warmth of the sun, and the love of one another, as we each stroll down Main Street. There will be face painting, a petting zoo, a car wash, refreshments, vendors selling their wares, music, dancing, and a Silent Auction. We are combining our mission with that of the town, and we are working together towards a common goal, to support Mike, Irene and their family. A little bit more, as you pass by and see the Mike Hafke collection cans, consider tossing in some change, as you buy one of the church T-shirts, or church note cards, or Belgium waffles, consider tossing your change into the can. I think we can do just a little bit more... how 'bout it?
Today will end our year of mission, but we will continue to serve our community, and the next logical question will be whom shall we serve next? This year we set our annual mission to aid the Michael Hafke Foundation. Last year we worked with numerous other churches within the county along with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a family in need. Whom shall we serve next? This is the question I leave you with today.... and please consider it thoughtfully and prayerfully. Talk to each other about it. There are so many deserving organizations, so many deserving individuals. Think about the question: "whom shall we serve?" If you have some thoughts to share, please speak to a member of the church council as we plan for next year's mission. And if you would like to join the Mission Team, consider that as well. We would love to have you on board! Look back at what we did this year..... it's pretty amazing.... but just imagine what we can do next year....
In the meantime, today, enjoy the beauty of spring.... walk the streets of Califon as the merchants and people of Califon turn OUR mission into the town's mission. Support the artists and dancers, and singers and donate your time and your money to what we all know is a deserving cause, as we celebrate with the town of Califon a successful year of awareness and fundraising, and the growth and health of Officer Michael Hafke, while you consider whom we can serve next year.
Remember, It's not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it's what you leave behind you when you go....