“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” I Thessalonians 4:13
(Originally posted in 2009)
Today marks the anniversary of the loss of my friend, Kirk Eckelberry. Anyone who knew him is well aware of the lives he touched as a Christian husband, local attorney, soccer coach at Shiloh, or just as a friend or neighbor. Kirk and I hadn’t seen each other much since we were kids, but in 1999 we had reconnected and loved blazing around on our big Kawasaki Ninjas and camping out at the races. Sadly, I only had the one summer with my friend.
I’ve always skilfully put up walls in my heart regarding loss, especially in this situation. It wasn’t the first time; my friend Norm Kukert died on his motorcycle right in front of me; my friend Brad Doll died on his motorcycle right before I arrived on the scene (I still have my collectible Scott Russell t-shirt with the tear from lifting Brad’s bike into the truck). One race weekend, when I had a really bad feeling about things and packed up my gear without ever getting on the track and headed home, one of our racers was killed in a high speed turn two accident. A young motorcycle racer tells himself things like “It’ll never happen to me.” For many reasons, which I still don’t understand, Kirk’s death really pierced my heart.
I found out about his crash while getting my scripts ready for the ten o’clock news at KFYR-TV one night. I was stunned…that’s not the way to find out your friend has been killed. We were looking forward to going racing together the next spring and had experienced a really fun summer of riding. Also, I wasn’t a Christian at that time and was really fond of having a friend who was saved. I could see the peace and joy he had, and it was starting to sink in exactly why and how he could have those things. And suddenly he was gone.
Many of us, including Kirk’s brother and myself, rode in a group of motorcycles at Kirk’s funeral. I’m sure he would have enjoyed that. I have no doubt that he’s in unspeakable joy up in heaven with his savior; the sadness I’ve felt has always been for those of us who miss him, most of all his family. That kind of pain and sorrow is the thing that I’ve shut out, bottled up, whatever sort of cliche’ you want to apply. This time around, however, despite my best efforts to skirt around the anniversary of the day, I was able to come away with a sense of joy and love I never expected.
Kirk’s family poured a lot of time and effort into me when I was a kid. When they had youth group events at their house or church, I was always welcome. It seemed as though I could smell pizza at the Eckelberry home from my house several blocks away! Many times i would come over and not even hang out much with the Eckelberry boys, but talk with Ma about my need to be “born again” or my need for a savior. Those things didn’t sink in at the time, but they laid the groundwork for me to realize the truth down the road.
It was actually Jesus himself who said that we need to be “born again” in John 3:7 (“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”). Here I thought the term was just clever branding on the part of some Christian movement. Nope…the entire reason I’d been going to church all my life, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one who said it. That’s pretty high authority…after all, if we don’t believe in what Jesus himself said, why go to church in the first place?
The constant witness and the visible joy of my friends spoke to my heart, and there was a point down the road where I accepted Jesus as my savior, I became “born again”, I got “saved”…whatever term you wish to ascribe to it. I am now a Christian in every sense of the word. I wish I could have told Kirk in person, but I know that some day in heaven I’ll get the opportunity to do just that.
The reason I can now write this with such joy and with an unburdened heart is that I was able to find and call Kirk’s mom, “Mrs. Eckelberry” to me, and finally tell her how I miss Kirk. More importantly, I was able to thank her for caring enough for me to spend the time witnessing to me, inviting me in for pizza or to church, and always making me feel welcome. I was able to tell her that her kindness and the influence of her son Kirk were the pivotal influence in my life, that now I’m a Christian husband and daddy. That kid who had no regard for his eternal destination or relationship with the God that created him is a Christian man, active in a great church and trying to serve God every day. That’s fruit to their account, and the blessings they gave me were hopefully returned by letting her know what a wonderful difference she made in the salvation of that boy.
Sure, it’s still painful to miss Kirk and all the fun we had planned. I especially think of his wife and two little kids, especially when I go out riding these days. Rather than focusing on the loss of my friend, however, I can now think of the joy that his brief re-entry into my life has brought. Someday in heaven we’ll all share in unspeakable joy, and the pain of this life will be a distant memory.
I was listening to a sermon by Charles Stanley the other day, talking about the legacy we’ll leave behind. My salvation is part of the legacy of Kirk and his family. I’m not alone; there were many people who got up at Kirk’s funeral to describe their memories of him. One in particular that stood up was a woman who only met him once. She was in a very bad place, financially and otherwise, but Kirk helped her. He did so in a kind and loving way, and his influence on her was great enough that she came to stand in front of all those people and relate her experience with Kirk Eckelberry. Many people remember Kirk like that.
From now on I’m going to remember the joy of being friends with Kirk and his family, to be grateful for my soul’s salvation through their investment in me, and the knowledge that someday I’ll see him again in the presence of our Lord.