Sunday, April 15, 2012

Life is a Vapor: A Tribute to Ray Christenson

The facebook message seemingly came out of nowhere on January 19th of this year.  It was short and to the point.  It simply said:  John, did you live on 4 mile as a kid?  (4 mile is the name of a road by the way.)  I replied in the affirmative, so the next message was even simpler.  It read: Remember me? How could anyone forget Ray Christenson?

Ray lived almost directly across the road from the house I grew up in from the end of my first grade year until the 7th grade. We are exactly the same age. Nobody would argue with me if I said that we were the two most mischievous boys of that age group that resided on 4 mile road.  In fact, people might just say we were the two most mischievous people period that resided on that county road in the Village of Wind Point in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Our facebook messaging continued on through the course of that evening in January. I soon discovered that my childhood friend had something very important in common with me. He too is in ministry!  Who says that God does not have a wonderful sense of humor?  When our teachers at Wind Point Elementary School predicted what kinds of professions their students might undertake, I don’t think ministry was at top of their list for Ray or for me.

He told me about running into a fellow classmate from the Horlick High School class of 1980 during a reunion weekend several years ago. She asked him what he was doing with his life. He told her: I am a pastor.  When she stopped laughing, she finally said: what are you really doing?  He finally convinced her that he was indeed leading a church in his hometown of Racine.  I was quick to point out to him that I had very similar experiences in my second hometown of Lubbock, where I finished junior high and went on to graduate from high school.

And then our messaging took a more serious turn.  I told him that my parents had been deceased for decades. He recalled my mother fixing lunch for us on the days we were busy playing together.   And he told me he lost his mother 5 years ago. His comment in regard to those losses was taken from Scripture: He wrote: Life is a vapor…

 I then shared with him that our classmate and running buddy, Steve Azarian, was dealing with brain cancer.  And that is when Ray told me that he too was battling cancer….He did not want to tell me about it via facebook, so he called me that very night.  We chatted for quite some time. I told him I would be in Racine the last weekend in January on my way to a retreat in the Chicago area.  We made plans to get together.

On a snowy winter day in January I made my way to the church where Ray serves as senior pastor. He had a convicting message that morning. But as I listened, I nearly cried.  I saw both of us as being in the 4th or 5th grade again… After church we made our way to a local restaurant for lunch. A lunch that would last some three hours… We compared professional notes.  We discussed the challenges of ministry in a rapidly changing culture.  Before I departed for my retreat in Chicago we made a vow to each other sitting in my rental car in the snow packed parking lot. We agreed to support each other as men striving to minister to the needs of others.

I had no idea on that snowy day in January that Ray’s cancer would soon return. I just assumed we had years ahead of us to support and encourage each other in our respective ministries.  Yesterday I was told that Ray has been admitted to a Hospice facility.  

 It all just seems very surreal right now. I am just in a daze. But today when I looked back over the thread of messages on facebook from Ray, I saw the phrase he shared with me on January 19thlife is a vapor.  He of course is right. I will never take that passage for granted again.  People are important. Relationships are precious. If we have something to say to a friend or loved one, we need to say right now. We may not have months or years to celebrate the journey together.

As it turns out, I do the have the privilege of supporting and encouraging Ray.  I am getting to fulfill the vow I made to him in the parking lot in January. It is just not in the manner I had planned.  And little does he know…he is doing the same for me too.  I love you Ray. 

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