Mourning is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling for me. I have known of people who passed away every few years or so around me. Most were distant acquaintances, some relatives. I never know quite what to say or feel, so I tend to be quiet which seems entirely acceptable to those around me. I can honestly say, though I have known of death, my life has never been devastated by death, and for this I am grateful. I have seen what tragedy and death has done to those I care about and it’s a grueling awful thing.
My father, Michael Elbert McKenzie, was born on May 25, 1943 and lived 66 years until June 18, 2009. He lived his remaining years in Las Vegas, Nevada near my two oldest sisters, Laura & Celina, and their families. I received the news on Friday, June 19th, that he laid down to take a nap and simply did not wake up. It was surreal to hear the words and difficult to understand their finality.
As his 3rd daughter of four, I was not close to my dad. Circumstances being what they were, we spent about 17 years without so much as a letter exchanged. We reconnected when I was 22, but by then, having a father-daughter relationship seemed a bit unnatural probably for both of us. Yet, he had lived an incredible life and had years of stories to tell. So, I found myself in our interactions simply available to listen to him. His stories were always interesting even if they may have been a skewed historical perspective. It was what he had to give and I didn’t always know how to receive his offerings.
The news of his death hit me rather hard. I’m still in my first trimester expecting our first child. My husband had yet to meet his father-in-law, and I hadn’t considered that our time was limited. I knew I needed desperately to attend his funeral, but we were in no way financially prepared for that kind of last minute trip. And then something seemed to happen around us. As we reached out here and there, we found family and community around us who were eager to sacrifice so that we could attend. We received airline miles donated from a couple of different sources which took care of our plane tickets, our bosses generously gave us the time we needed off, friends gathered around us to pick up the slack of our responsibilities while we were gone, and we even had rides to and from the airport. We received notes of sympathy and priceless prayers. We were overwhelmed.
In the midst of the funeral and all the arrangements, it has been this generosity of community that has kept my attention. I am reminded of all the ways the Bible says we are better together, and worse off alone.
This is what the Bible says about the early church: All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47
King Solomon must have had experiences both in being alone and in having true friendships. He says: Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Ecclesiastes 4:9-11
And, in the book of Hebrews we are encouraged: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another… Hebrews 10:23-25
Of friends, the book of Proverbs tells us: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
I am certain, without family and community, Tony and I would not have been able to attend my father’s funeral and spend that valuable time with family. Without the community in my father’s life, there wouldn’t have been anyone with anything to say at his funeral. Instead, there were countless friends and witnesses, each with their own stories of how my father and his stories blessed their lives. Without the family and community in Las Vegas, my sisters would have spent the rest of that afternoon alone, rather than surrounded with love and good food.
I think there is a prevailing myth that it is possible to seek after and truly follow God without taking part in a community of other believers. “My faith is private,” I’ve heard people say. Or, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Well, my friend, you may be technically correct, and getting connected with other people certainly involves risk, but there are countless benefits and blessings to taking that risk and surrounding yourself with the very people God calls your family. Tony reminded me this week as we talked together about this very thing that it’s like saying to God, “Yeah, I like you just fine, it’s your wife I can’t stand!” The church is called the “Bride of Christ” and the Bible says He laid down his own life for her. We give up a great deal that is available to us in community when we decide to isolate ourselves and go it alone. Not only so, but we offend the heart of God and the very relationships he may have intended to bless us with.
Tony and I are fortunate to have been built up and sent by an incredible community in Washington to help build and cultivate a community here in Wisconsin, people who will sharpen and encourage us as we attempt to invest, sharpen, and encourage them. We do this in the name of Jesus Christ, trusting that he has given each person and each relationship to us as a gift, that we may grow in love and character to be more and more like Him.
Michael Elbert McKenzie, 66, of Las Vegas, passed away June 18, 2009. He was born May 25, 1943, in Augusta, Ga. Michael served in the U.S. Air Force, as an air traffic controller, during the Vietnam War. He then worked in radio, as a TV news reporter, a Christian youth pastor, and, in 2000, retired from truck driving, settling in Las Vegas. He was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame for 50 years of broadcasting, and was a member of American Legion Post 76, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Michael is survived by his sisters, Shirley Vickery and Martha Martin; daughters, Laura McKenzie, Celina Sorensen, Michelle Peterson and Kathleen McKenzie; and grandchildren, Titus, Aubrey and Grace Sorensen, Kaylan Brown and Corrigan McKenzie, and baby Peterson on the way. Michael was a true treasure and we will miss him greatly. He was laid to rest at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Donations may be made in his honor to the family.