Five Dollars and a Plane Crash

Things don’t always turn out the way we plan. That is one truth I’ve come to know in life. We can do our best to look into the future and make plans for it, or even have hopes for what it may or may not be, but life will take us to the unexpected.

In many ways my life has been like a blue tree; a tree that has the potential to grow blue fruit, from disappointments, failures and the unexpected. But a lot of times, my blue tree has grown red apples. The fruit of my disappointment has ended up actually being something good, I’d actually want to eat.

I learned of disappointment early. When I was a kid my sisters and I decided we wanted to host a sort of Bible club for our neighborhood. Get this visual in your head: three girls 11, 8 and 7 years old holding a Bible club. Connie was 11, she was in charge of the stories and lessons, Christy who was 8 took on the recreation and I, at 7, was in charge of crafts. Now you should understand that this is something we chose to do with our time. I still wonder what we were thinking, but I bet my parents got a kick out of it.

Anyway, Connie had chosen a college student from the Bible college across the street to be the person for whom we’d take an offering. His name was Mike, and I’m pretty certain Connie chose him because he had blonde hair, was tall and he paid attention to her. He was going on a summer long mission trip somewhere in Africa, I think Liberia, (again, I was 7) and was needing to raise funds for his trip.  Connie made the decision and we drew a goal thermometer with the goal of raising five dollars. Each day we’d take an offering and we’d fill in the white space of the thermometer with red marker, indicating how close we’d come to reaching our goal. By the end of the week we did it! We raised the money and we wrote a card, Connie wrote a letter and we mailed it all the way to Africa.

Later that summer we were visiting my grandma in western Nebraska when my dad got a call. There had been an accident with a student from the college where he was teacher. A small plane was flying with four young men who were serving on a short term mission trip and the plane had crashed. One of the four young men was Mike.

We had raised money so he could tell people about Jesus and serve in a community that needed not only his words of hope, but his actions of service. And in the middle of his giving, he lost his own life. It was a lot to take in as a 7 year old.

We extended our trip and my parents drove us to his memorial service.  I remember being sad. I remember watching my older sister be very sad. I remember wondering about death and life and Jesus. I remember people saying things like, “Mike is in a better place now,” things that were to bring comfort to those left behind. I remember meeting his mom, she bent down to talk to me and she hugged me. I remember feeling sad for her. I remember looking at his picture and knowing he was gone. I remember the room where the service was held and feeling like it needed more light. I don’t remember if I cried or how deeply I felt. But the events of that summer turned out much differently than I’d planned or imagined.

Looking back, I realize I learned so much through that experience that has been a part of shaping me. My blue tree, really has grown red apples..

My red apples:

1. I learned that when you are dedicated to someone you give up your own time schedule and comfort to be there.

2. I learned that when someone sacrifices their time for causes beyond themselves, for Jesus, that their life however short was not in vain.

3. I learned that raising $5 makes a difference, and that giving financially connects you to things in deeply intimate ways.

4. I learned that you never let go of people you love, they share in your story even 28 years later.

5. I learned relationships are important and the stories we share in as we walk with one another, really do make an eternal difference.

6. I learned that investing in people younger than you pays off no matter how long you were able to invest in them. Mike in many ways mentored my sisters and I. He invested time and interest in us and paid attention to us, even though we were just awkward squirrely little girls. His investment lasts through today in each of us.

Am I right? Do disappointments teach us and help mold us for the good?

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