And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:28–32
When I was about 14 years old, I met a boy who was three years older than I. He was tall, skinny, had brown hair, and big glasses. His name was Gordon Ooms. Gordon and I hit it off. Not in a romantic way, just the way between some people when age or gender or location doesn’t seem to matter. A true friendship. In all my life, I’ve never met anyone funnier. I’m guessing I never will. He could just look at you, completely straight-faced, and make you burst out laughing.
We were both from Illinois, but we worked at the same summer camp in Michigan each year. We spent our days (in between work of course) goofing off, writing notes during chapel when we were supposed to be listening, sitting on the glider swing and detailing all the food we were going to eat when we got home from camp (the food there was pretty bad), and laughing. Once, he and another boy took me out on the lake in a canoe. All of a sudden, they both jumped overboard, with the paddles, and swam to shore—leaving me sitting there in the canoe.
We each were assigned particular jobs at camp, and one year Gordon was assigned the job of Wrangler. That meant babysitting two decrepit ponies named Pat and Daisy, whom even the glue factory had rejected, and walking little kids around on them. Both Pat and Daisy kind of sagged in the middle, so a kid had to be really short in order to ride them, otherwise their feet dragged on the ground. It was not his favorite job. At the end of the summer, each person was required to write a testimonial of how camp was meaningful to them. Then the best testimonies were printed in the camp paper. Here was Gordon’s, in its entirety: “I like camp. I hate horses.” His didn’t get printed that summer.
After high school, Gordon attended Cedarville College (now Cedarville University) in Ohio. He was a talented artist, a cartoonist—he drew a strip for the Cedarville college paper. His main character was Vance the Viper. I guess he didn’t miss a thing on campus with Vance the Viper. Somewhere I have a number of letters from Gordon (before the days of email—we used to write letters!) with little drawings of Vance and some of his other cartoons. He never used to put his real return address on the letters either; it was always something like: Gordon Ooms, The Marsha J. Nelson School of Posture, Beirut, Lebanon. Not only was he funny and smart, he was kind. He cared about people and what happened to them. He was a dedicated Christian; he wanted to use his talents to serve God. He was the real deal.
On Wednesday, April 30, 1986, a group of Cedarville students were in a car accident. Several of them were seriously injured. Two of them were killed. One of those killed was a young woman named Deb Henry. The other was Gordon Ooms.
At the college memorial service, Dr. Dixon, then president of Cedarville, spoke about Gordon, his life and his sense of humor. Once he did a Vance the Viper strip, gently poking fun of President Dixon’s ubiquitous pocket handkerchiefs. Dr. Dixon enjoyed the strip so much that he put one of his handkerchiefs in an envelope, along with a note, and mailed it to him. Gordon mailed him back the pen and ink original of the strip with a note that said: “Dear President Dixon, thank you for your pocket silk. It really made my day. What do I get if I write a strip about your car?”
Then President Dixon spoke on the text I have printed at the top of this post, Romans 8:28–32. He spoke on the “all things” of life. That good or bad, joyful or sorrowful, God uses all things for His glory. Even the death of a 19-year-old college student, who everyone thought had all his life before him—a glorious talented future.
Before this time, I had wandered away from my faith. I was brought up in a Christian home. But by the time I was a teenager, God, Christianity, and faith—well, those things were boring at best and embarrassing at worst. It was all right for my parents, they were old. What else did they have going on except to talk about the Lord? I was young; there was fun to be had. I lived this way quite nicely for quite awhile. Then Gordon was killed.
It’s almost a cliché that teenagers think they’re immortal, but it’s true. For the first time, I realized death was real. There was more than just me and my selfish concerns in the world. I could spend a lot of time detailing how angry I was at God for allowing someone as good as Gordon to die. I woke up every morning thinking, like a punch in the stomach, “Gordon’s dead.” Dead. I knew God must certainly not care about someone like me if He let someone who really did love Him just die so carelessly like that. I spent months and months in misery, fighting with God and that He could let such a thing happen. Finally, I went to the church I had grown up in, sat down in one of the pews, and prayed, “God, if you actually exist, show me. Because I can’t go on any longer like this.”
About a week later, I was at work. They had just hired a new guy, but I stayed far away from him because I knew him from school. He was notorious. A really bad kid. Coincidentally, this particular day we were assigned to work on the same project. I ignored him, but he started talking to me right away. In fact, he couldn’t stop talking. He was talking about Jesus and how He had changed his life. Then he said, “Hey, I go to this great Bible study; you wanna come with me?” I opened my mouth to say, “NO, thanks” and instead I heard “Sure, when is it?” come out instead.
I guess the rest is history, as they say. That Bible study is where I came back to Christ; where, as an angry, frightened, rebellious teenager, I finally stopped fighting God’s relentless grace and love for me. I found His peace that passes all understanding. God used the death of one His saints, a skinny guy with big glasses and a great sense of humor, just like He used the storm for Jonah, to draw me back to Himself. I came home.
I have friends now who were like me then. Raised in Christian homes, but they have turned away to a different life. Like the prodigal son, like me, they have squandered the inheritance of faith from their parents. Maybe now they’re too prideful to come home. I wonder if, like I did, they think God has forgotten them or doesn’t care if they come back or doesn’t even exist. I can say emphatically, He hasn’t forgotten; He does care; He does exist. And He’s not angry either. He’s waiting and watching down the road, longing for your return. You can run back to Him immediately with your bad self, and He’s got the ring and robe all ready. He wants to throw His arms around you and get the welcome-home party started; just see if He doesn’t! How loving is He?! All things for His glory!
Gordon died 22 years ago today. I have seen and felt many painful, devastating things since that time. And many joyful, happy things too. As a child of God, I have learned that I must claim each of them as part of the “all things” He has planned for my life. Next to Romans 8:28 in my Bible, I have written in simply, “April 30, 1986.” God has taken the sting out of Gordon’s death for me now. Instead I feel so filled with gratitude that for a brief moment in time on this Earth, my path crossed with his; I knew him; I called him my friend.
Today though, and each April 30th, I feel homesick for heaven. I can’t wait to see Gordon again. I can’t wait to hear a voice say, “Heeeyyyy, Alex!” I’ll know for sure it’s him—he’s the only one who ever called me that. I want to tell him thank you. I want to ask him—if to God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day, in heaven how long will one of his jokes be THAT HAS NO PUNCHLINE? I want to celebrate all things. I know as always, we will laugh. And laugh.
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
“His loved ones are very precious to Him, and He does not lightly let them die.” Psalm 116:15
In memory of Gordon Gregory Ooms, 1966–1986