I was expecting the phone call that I received at around 10 PM on June 12, 2002. Earlier that day, I had made plans to go to Starbucks with an 18-year-old who had been a significant part of my student ministry and, more recently, one of the more catalytic members of our young church plant. What I was not expecting was his father’s voice at the other end of the line. “Greg, this is Ray. I have some bad news. Earlier tonight, Graham was in a car accident with several other teenagers. He and one other person were killed.” Just five hours earlier, in the driveway of his parent’s house, we had made plans to get together later. “I’m a little short of money right now,” Graham had said. “Starbucks isn’t that expensive,” I replied. “I’ll buy.” I always enjoyed hanging out with Graham. My wife and I loved him like a little brother. He lived three houses down from us at the end of our street, and our house was always open to him. Once, he showed up at our front door in the rain with one of our church’s “commitment cards” in-hand. He handed it to me proudly. Nothing was written on it but his name. “I don’t know what else you need me to fill out,” he said. “Whatever it takes, I’m in.” It was his way of giving the Lord a blank check. Unconditional surrender. One Sunday morning, an ice storm forced us to cancel church. Graham walked down the street and knocked on our door. He was concerned that we might cancel youth group that night too, and wanted to help me think through our options over some hot chocolate. I told the mourners at his memorial service that Graham lived his life with a rare urgency for someone his age. He packed more of life into his short 18 years than many I’ve known who lived 4 times as long.
I learned about the brevity of life at an early age. As a child, I was very close to my dad, who suffered from heart disease from the time I was four years old. When I was six, dad had one of the first heart bypass operations ever performed. The surgery bought him six more years of life. But in 1975, when I was 12, after suffering from numerous heart attacks, he died. I didn’t have any idea at that time of my life that dad’s days were numbered. But my dad knew that the odds were stacked against him living to see me graduate from high school. We didn’t have a lot of money, but dad gave me the invaluable gift of his time. We went to some baseball games, took walks, went fishing, and talked about important things. Most importantly, of course, dad talked to me about his deep faith in the Father. I gave my life to Christ in my parents’ bedroom when I was 8.
My dad knew his days were numbered. Graham, like most of us, had no idea. The Scriptures remind us that life is short.
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4)
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Even our next breath is a gracious gift from the Lord.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)