Voices: Viewing the gift of life through Kyle Lake’s lens

Eleven years after his accidental death, former Texas pastor Kyle Lake still inspires friends and former parishioners. (Photo courtesy of the Kyle Lake Foundation. Illustration created by the Baptist Standard)

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On Oct. 30, 2005, Kyle Lake walked into the waters of baptism as a pastor, writer, husband, father, brother, son, friend and wholly unique child of God. He walked out onto the Eternal Shore, leaving those of us who knew him with anguish, grief, laughter, anger and tears, with stories to tell and hopeful expectation for the day we will meet again—although not always occurring in that order.

The conduit for his early departure was a malfunctioning water heater, an incidental reach for a microphone and the laws of electricity written deep within the created order. What was most elemental, though, is that it occurred in the very waters that represent what actually happened to him in those moments—transformation from death to life.

About this time every year, we who loved him take to our blogs and to social media, call each other over the phone, or send texts and emails, to remember Kyle and to mark another trip around the sun without him. We tell stories about his life, how he pointed us to God.

A trail of crumbs …

It’s a trail of crumbs we are leaving, perhaps, designed to remind us where we are in relation to our own walking into the waters and onto the shore of God’s perfect presence. And every year, the story changes just a little. It’s not just that we have romanticized his life, which we certainly have. But we have been transformed, first by our years with him, and now by those without him, which allows us to see his life—and death—from different angles.

He would hate all this; most saints aren’t too keen on receiving the attention. But that’s OK. We would forgive him for not understanding; he never knew what it was like to lose someone like him.

And we would tell him this: We don’t worship you, but we rarely felt more alive, before or since, and in tune with the One we do worship when we were with you, and when you were teaching us to laugh and to give and to pray. So we will keep telling your stories, and re-membering you to each other.

Late or early

It’s difficult to tell whether it is late or early.

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Over two thousand years have passed since Jesus promised to return and to make things right, to restore creation and bring peace and justice. But since Earth is somewhere roughly between 6,000 and 4 billion years old, that’s not really all that long. Long enough, though, for people of God to come into our world to change it, to leave a little of the Holy behind for us to pick up the pieces and point us northward. Kyle left a lot of those little pieces for us to observe and analyze—few as moving, though, as the final sermon he put down on paper.

The text was the famous, and infamously misunderstood, Jeremiah 29:11. Set in the context of exile, of pain and displacement, God’s plans for God’s people included “plans for hope and a future,” but zoom out from the refrigerator and bumper sticker verse 11 to the entire chapter, and God’s plan also included staying put when we would rather move on, planting gardens when we would rather escape to more fertile land.

What Kyle’s life looked like …

The sermon ended with a description of what that might look like, indeed, with what Kyle’s life did look like:

And here I think God is saying to each of us: “Abandon your plans of escape. And be where you are. Plant gardens and live and live well.” I don’t know what your planting gardens may look like but let me end there by trying to provide a glimpse into what that may be like: 

Live. And Live Well.

BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now.

On a crystal clear, breezy 70-degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun.

If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE.

Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time.

If you bike, pedal HARD… and if you crash, then crash well.

Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed.

If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all … because soon he’ll be wiping his own.

If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And Grieve well.

At the table with friends and family, LAUGH. If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste every ounce of Life. Because it is most definitely a gift.

It most definitely is.

Craig Nash is a child hunger outreach specialist and the No Kid Hungry regional coordinator for the Texas Hunger Initiative, based in Baylor University’s Diana Garland School of Social Work.

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