Missed Opportunities

I didn’t miss an opportunity last Thursday night.  Adam Hamilton, one of the most well known United Methodist pastors in the country spoke at our church.  He was promoting his book, Making Sense of the Bible.  I volunteered to drive him to his hotel after his presentation.

I have not traditionally done well when meeting celebrities.  I know.  Adam is a pastor, not a celebrity.  However, he is well known and respected.  When meeting people like this I tend to bumble over my words and say things I shouldn’t say.  For example, twenty years ago I asked Justine Bateman (Mallory on Family Ties) if she was Justine Bates.  She corrected me rather curtly.  “That’s Bateman,” she said.  I have met several professional athletes by uttering incomprehensible syllables.  So, I lack confidence in speaking one-on-one with widely known people.

Adam is from my home town, Kansas City (specifically Johnson County, Kansas).  We went to neighboring high schools.  There are several people I went to school with (high school and college) who presently go to his church.  So, I was prepared with three names in hopes he knew them out of the 20,000 people who attends his church.  I also received an inside tip from his previous youth minister, Jason Gant, a long time friend.  Adam likes Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and unsweetened Iced Tea.  A trip to Walgreens and $3.92 was sure to help break the ice I thought.

Prepared with food, drink, good music from the ’80s and ’90s (we are about the same age), and ample items of small talk mostly centering on people we “might” have in common, I was ready.  Nervous, I got into the car.   Immediately, Adam said, “Tell me what you want to talk about.”  The ice was broken.  We had a great discussion about the Youth Ministry Institute, Church of the Resurrection (his church), St. Paul School of Theology (the seminary who recently relocated to the church campus) and our shared desire to renew the church.

However, somewhere in the middle of the conversation Adam asked me where I went to Junior High.  I went to Hillcrest Junior High, two blocks from my house.  By my ninth grade year, Hillcrest had a deserved reputation as a burnout school.  Kids smoked marijuana before school, across the street or in the woods (really a tree line between fields) next to the school.  This was 1977-1978, the height of the drug culture in America.  It was bad.  Kids even dared to smoke pot on the school campus – in the bathrooms and even in the library book stacks.

Adam also went to Hillcrest that year.  He was in the eighth grade (I contemplated inserting his school picture here – maybe after we are better friends).  He has many similar memories of Hillcrest and the prevalence of drugs on the campus.  We didn’t know each other, even though our yearbook pictures are only three pages apart.  After establishing this connection, his next question sent me back to the winter of 1978.  “Do you remember the kid who died after getting his foot stuck in a grate?”

Yes, I do.  I remember the night vividly.  My friends and I were eating out that night at Pizza Hut.  It was on the other side of “the woods” and the adjacent field from Hillcrest.  There were four of us.  The pizza was good.  We laughed a lot.  After eating, we began our walk home which would take us on 95th Street by the field, the woods, Hillcrest and two blocks of apartments and duplexes to my neighborhood, probably just over a quarter of a mile.

It was cold that night.  The wind was biting.  About 25 yards from the tree line, a car stopped.  The driver was somebody we knew, although I don’t remember now who it was.  She invited to give us a ride home.  We gladly took it.  It was freezing.

In another 25 yards we would have walked near the grate where the boy died that night.  Later reports said he had been out drinking with some friends in the woods (it happened quite a bit).  When the group of friends got too cold they all decided to go home, he by himself.  On his way home he caught his foot in the grate and died of hypothermia (aided by the alcohol in his blood).

I have often wondered and wondered again last Thursday night, what would have happened had we not been offered a ride that night?  Would he have been there at that point in the night?  Could we have saved him?

I’ll never know the answers to those questions.  Circumstances present opportunities.  Some we miss.  Some we don’t.  Some we aren’t even aware they exist.

I want to be open to opportunities – desperately.  I want God to use me in a way I’m not even able to predict.   I can’t control the outcome of every circumstance.  But, I certainly can participate fully – attempting to not miss opportunities as they present themselves to me.

Thanks, Adam, for the reminder.

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