The band spent this past week in Cedar Rapids recording drum and bass tracks for our new full- length record Ancient Gates at our family’s studio. We spent the last two years planning for this inaugural trip; so many hours of designing, drafting and researching went into building the studio space, and we were finally putting it to use for the first time. As sounds began to be made in that space on songs that we have been crafting for the past year, we were in awe and overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement for what is to come. But at the same time...
As we were driving to the studio, I heard report of a massive mudslide that demolished and buried the village of Oso in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It was the largest mudslide in Washington state history, taking out a whole square mile of terrain, neighborhoods, and a major highway as the entire side of a mountain gave way with tsunami force. Though we live in the Midwest, western Washington is our home (our parents pastor an amazing church right on the coast). Oso is just north of my home, and it is where our family went to fish and camp. We drive I-530 (now obliterated by the mudslide) when we want to ‘go somewhere beautiful’.
As we drove in anticipation towards our new studio in Iowa, I looked at photos of the devastation and called my Mom to check in. With concern in her voice, she told me that our family friends, the Millers, did not show up for church that morning. Larry and Sandy Miller always sat in the row behind us at church. They ran the marriage ministry and led the men’s discipleship program. They were involved in everything—always serving, always present. Many years ago they had a dream of building a home that could be used as a retreat for couples they mentored in the marriage ministry. So they bought a stunning piece of property right on the Stillaguamish River and began the long, arduous work of constructing the home. My parents took motorcycle trips to the property on their days off to see the progress. The Millers spent almost every weekend working on the home, and they were only a few short weeks away from moving in.
Friends unmistakably placed Larry and Sandy at the home on the Saturday morning when the mudslide hit. Geologists say that from the time the land gave way, it took only 4 seconds for it to hit the Millers’ dream home, demolish it like it was put into a blender and spit back out, then cover it in upwards of 15 feet of mud. Only 4 seconds. My heart sunk as I heard the news and imagined the scene.
As my parents mourn the loss and also try to lead a large congregation through the tragedy, my Dad reminded me of his ministry creed: Preparing People for Christ’s Coming (PPFCC). At the core of his ministry, he wants people to be ready at every turn to meet the Lord. A few years back, he launched a church-wide campaign called ‘Are You Ready?’ They made pins to wear to begin conversations with people about their spiritual readiness. The Millers were the biggest cheerleaders for the campaign. In fact, Larry wore one of the pins everywhere he went. Even several years after the campaign was launched, he still wore a pin every Sunday on the lapel of his suit coat. He was ready, and he wanted others to be as well.
We arrived in Iowa and immersed ourselves in 16+ hour workdays. And though the project was coming together beautifully, I found myself on the brink of tears everyday, sitting in my little corner of the studio control room, trying to unpack why the tragedy was hitting me so hard. The Millers will be greatly missed by my family and the NCC community, and the photos of the devastation are enough to tear your heart apart. But there was something deeper in me that was stirred. I looked around this beautiful studio, and I thought about the years it took to dream up and build that space. So much of my heart was attached to that work. It was so much like the Millers and their dream home. And then I realized—it only took 4 seconds for nature to wipe out the many years of plans, dreams, work... and ultimately their very lives. It is really easy to obsess about building little kingdoms. We plan, invest, insure, and grow our little kingdoms so that some day we can retire, put our feet up and disappear in them. But when our focus is fixed on earthly things, our souls and the kingdom of God quietly suffer. ‘For what does a man have if he gets all the world and loses his own soul?’( Matt. 16:26). We cannot take any of our stuff with us, and one day we will be judged only for what is unseen—our own heart condition and our soul work. So shouldn’t we be investing way more in those things? The things that we will take with us. Because in 4 seconds all of our earthly things could be taken away. And in the same 4 seconds we could be swooped up to Jesus’ side.
Yes, the Millers had big plans and God-sized dreams. But their perspective was never fixed on the stuff; they always held it with loose hands. Their biggest concern was to ready their own hearts and prepare the kingdom. And that’s the kind of life I want to live. Always aware of the 4 seconds, but never fearful of them. A good steward with a loose grip. We celebrate the Millers’ lives and thank them for the reminder of the brevity of life and our need for a ‘readiness to meet Jesus at any and every turn’ (O. Chambers)