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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Further Up and Further In

“They say Aslan is on the move – perhaps has already landed.” – C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Today’s second-most widely read article in the Seattle Times online newspaper reports the response of two families in the greater-Seattle area who were affected by a tragic fatal car crash last Saturday.

Gavin Coffee, father of four-and-a-half (his wife is pregnant with their fifth) was killed instantly when an unsecured shelving unit fell out of a pickup truck driven by 21-year-old Brian Campbell, who was taking it to the dump. Coffee swerved to avoid the shelves, resulting in the domino-effect car crash that took his life.

At the moment the accident occurred, Coffee was talking on his cell phone to his pastor and good friend, Jon Aydelott. Despite the severity of the crash, the phone connection wasn’t broken and Jon remained on the line listening to the voices of witnesses and, later, troopers, who were on the scene.

Based on what he heard, Aydelott realized things looked serious. So he broke the connection and called Coffee’s wife, Heidi, to alert her. They attempted to get more definitive information by calling both the police and local hospitals, but because the accident was still so recent, no one had a record of it.

So, together, Aydelott and Heidi drove to the crash scene, where both recognized Coffee’s vehicle. They were told by troopers that Coffee was dead.

A tragic story, yes. A freakish accident, yes. This story personal to Bruce and me because we know both the Coffee family and Jon Aydelott.

I doubt the Coffees would even remember us. Bruce and I met Gavin and Heidi through mutual friends when we were newly married. We often ran into each other at barbeques and birthday parties. Gavin was one of those guys with twinkling eyes (even as a newlywed, I had a disconcerting crush on him), an infectious, wicked sense of humor, but a deep passion for life, God and his family.

Back then, we all attended church at Calvary Fellowship in Seattle. At the time, Jon Aydelott, who is now the pastor of City Calvary Church in Seattle where the Coffees currently attend, was one of the assistant pastors. When Calvary Fellowship had to relocate to a different facility a decade or so back, several of the assistant pastors took the opportunity to branch off and start their own churches, which eventually spread across the greater-Seattle area. Calvary Fellowship bought a building in Mountlake Terrace, several miles north of the city. Jon Aydelott kept his new church, City Calvary, in a new location in Seattle. Gavin Coffee stayed with Aydelott, and served as a youth pastor at the new church.

In a strange twist that reeks of some deeper mystery, Brian Campbell, the young man who was driving the pickup with the unsecured load, currently attends Calvary Fellowship, where both Aydelott and Coffee used to attend. Campbell aspires to be a youth pastor, just as Coffee was.

This unusual coincidence is part of what has made headlines in Seattle.

Though we haven’t seen the Coffees in probably ten years, Gavin’s death has hit both Bruce and I hard. Such an untimely, needless loss, of someone whose life situation is so similar to ours, hits hard. It is brutal reminder that any of us can die at any time doing the most ordinary things.

Driving home from work last night, with this loss still fresh in my mind, I noticed a van with ladders strapped to the top driving directly in front of me. I slowed way down, for fear one of the ladders might come flying off and into my windshield.

I don’t pretend to understand the theology of incidents like this. These kinds of things happen all the time, and never get any easier to understand. Last night I prayed that, though I might never be witness to it, God would bring good from the situation; that the devastation would be interspersed with hope.

Also noted in the Seattle Times article is the beautiful, gracious gesture of Heidi Coffee extending an invitation to Campbell to attend Gavin’s memorial service this Saturday.

Says Heidi: "Gavin had this great saying, 'Holding a grudge is like taking poison and waiting for someone to die.'” She does not blame Campbell for the accident, and neither does she want him to continue to blame himself.

From what I can tell, God is already doing something. If the popularity of today’s article is any indication, the opportunity to demonstrate forgiveness and acceptance in our strife-torn world does not go unnoticed.

I don’t lull myself into thinking that there won’t be a terribly difficult road to healing for both the surviving Coffees and the Campbell family. Genuine healing requires facing and walking through deep hurts and wounds. It takes a great deal of time and energy. And those hurts and wounds don’t ever totally disappear.

But, I believe death is not the end, as does Heidi Coffee and Brian Campbell, and there is great hope in that.

If corpses can't be raised, then Christ wasn't, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren't raised, then all you're doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It's even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they're already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries. 1 Corinthians 15:16-20 (The Message)


At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somehow I KNEW you knew the Coffees. Just a gut feeling. I also have the feeling I've run into them somewhere, sometime. Both those things have been running through my head all day (as I read the paper this morning).

"Further up and further in" is the phrase that keeps me sane sometimes.


At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your sharing. I am one of the many blessed by Gavin.


At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gavin's memorial site: www.GavinCoffee.com

At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We know the Coffees and go to City Calvary. It is amazing to see God's love flowing through everyone in the church toward the Coffees and one another. Strange as it may seem, yes, I do see God being glorified in this.


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