The year: 2007
Karen & I are about to step into a new life and we are totally oblivious to it. The plane taxi’s to a stop at Livingstone International Airport in Zambia, Africa carrying about 50 people including our team of 19 from Myrtle Beach, SC. We are here to experience a mission trip for the first time in most of our lives. For some, it is a dream come true…for me, it is one of a flurry of activities I find myself experiencing as this new life with Karen begins…along with a new era for me;
As we wait to get off the plane, I am not thinking about the last 7 years leading up to this point…the loss of a spouse…the depression and desperation that followed…then the amazing grace of God to restore a soul mate to my life………….
but if I were……....................................................
drift back to a crisp fall day in1998
As Susie and I drive to Knoxville this morning to drop in for a “routine” follow-up from her recent minor surgery, my mind is filled with plans and ideas for the upcoming new year. The event schedule for 1999 runs through my mind as new ideas continuously pop up. Photoline is scheduled to cover 24 events this year and we are anticipating a great year. I ponder this and that - anxious for one of these ideas to rise to the surface as something splendid and life changing. I am anxious to get to the next event - I really love this business and the progress it has shown. Many other thoughts remain in the background – thoughts that are always there…but, never seem to go away…thoughts of our life together - and how satisfied we were.
We have been married now for over 23 years. We met in High School. Susie was my “coming out”…The day we met, my life changed. I think I became a man that day…at least, I demonstrated to myself that I was not the “wimp” I always thought myself to be…I suddenly had courage. The guidance counselor introduced her to our math class as a new student and asked where she could sit. I suddenly grabbed a chair and slapped the bottom with my hand and said... “bring her right here and sit her next to me”. That 13 year old - shy, (‘I could never…ever…speak to a girl’) skinny kid…who had no confidence in life…BOLDLY pulled her to my side that day….and she never left.
We finished high school together and then quickly married during my freshman year in college…we just could not stand to be away from each other another minute. In no hurry to have children, we started our peaceful life together and we thoroughly enjoyed an uneventful period of small successes and growth. After 5 years, we decided to have children. By the time my dad died 13 years later, we were living the “Ward & June Cleaver” life of a good job with 2 great kids, a nice house with 2 cars in the garage and a secure future in our hip pocket.
Thus far, my life had been void of ANY calamity. Everyone I knew had something in their closet that they were either ashamed of or regretful for. A drug problem, jail time, tragic pains of death or accidents or sicknesses, marital problems, children problems, family problems, etc., etc., etc., etc.,….I had none of these. My life had always been “straight down the middle” – so much so, that at times I even purposefully put myself in harms way…just to see if something “would” happen. But God always protected me. He had given me so much…and allowed me so little harm to have to deal with – so much so, that at times I felt a bit guilty…
Was the “other shoe ever going to drop?”
By the time I was in my late forties, it seemed I was destined to continue this life of uneventful calm…and I was at much peace with that.
Arriving at the hospital, I had no idea just how hard that shoe would…and probably already had…dropped! CANCER!…and not only that, but a very rare and probably unbeatable CANCER …. but not for us…Nothing had ever attacked us before that God had not taken care of in short order. In fact, not much had ever happened to us at all. What ever was going on here would be a distraction – at best. Once this is behind us, things will get back to normal.
We walked back to the car with a rash of new thoughts – all of which centered around “how this would impact our schedule”. This interruption in life would have to be accounted for and we wondered just how long it would really be until we could resume our “normal life”. My mind - still thinking of the upcoming event schedule for 1999 – now had another subject to compete with an already full slate of topics. But, this was nothing new – there was always so much to ponder as we got closer and closer to our ultimate goal – our 50th wedding anniversary.
BACK TO PRESENT - The year: 2007
If I had taken the time to think back over the past few years…..as we impatiently waited for the passengers in front of us to make their way off the plane so we could follow [we were so anxious to see, feel and hear AFRICA]…..I would have to run over in my mind the amazing series of events that had transpired over the past 7 years:
Susie arrived in Heaven on August 5, 2000 – leaving me with three precious words as she took her last breath - words that I had always probably taken for granted, but three words that will remain with me forever. As she drifted away, she whispered, “I love you!”
Lonliness, Lonliness, Lonliness!
Attempts at re-establishing relationships
More relationship blunders…
More bad choices...
Neglect of my 2 children who did not deserve neglect – but loved me through it anyway.
7 dark painful years of, heartache, disobedience, depression, loneliness misery and dread.
The other shoe that had never seemed to be as risk…had dropped on me like the “proverbial ton of bricks”.
I could no longer say that my life was a constant picture of uneventful peace.
Then, in 2007, after doing an absolutely horrible job of handling the life-tests that God had just put me through….God decided to provide me with an unexpected gift…a present with a tag that read: To: Ken… From: God!
I opened that present and found a beautiful, sweet angel named Karen - reaching her arms out to me. She grabbed me and held on tight and promised never to let go. I made the same promise and thanked God for - once again - a second chance… Somehow, I felt that there was a reason for Him to bring Karen into my life like He did…
and I was not going to “blow it” this time!
We were married in 2007. While on our first mission trip to Zambia, we celebrated anniversary #1.
I thank God for this gift – a constant reminder that “God’s grace IS sufficient” – a gift that humbles me every time I think of her. After the mess I had made of things, HE was still willing to pick me up…to use me. HE still had plans for me…plans to use me in spite of me…and not only that… but plans to use Karen as well. He has plans for both of us…plans to use us in a way we both never dreamed could happen. As God continues to show his mighty hand in our lives every day, He was about to show His hand more powerful than I had ever witnessed before in my life.
I came to Zambia, on this mission trip for one reason – and one reason only - to accompany my new bride on her quest to pursue a life long dream – to work, witness and minister in the country of Africa. She had been here last summer and amazingly had a second opportunity to come again this year…but, this time with a new last name. The ONLY reason I was here was to support her - so I thought…. I really had other things to be doing – I had a business to run and this was the prime season of my business. But, I was not about to let her come by herself, so I tagged along.
But, I had a business to run! Since before I could remember, I was driven to create. Throughout my life as a student, then a professional, I was drawn to build … to “do my own thing” … to “be my own boss”. The decision to leave my engineering career in 1992 to run my own business was a life-changing decision…and I never regretted it. I was doing just what I had wanted and I was loving every minute of it. It was the glue that held me together during the dark years following Susie’s death. It was where I found peace and contentment. It was my life and I was proud of it and I continuously sought ways to improve it. By 2007, it was like a well oiled machine – running smoothly on all 8 cylinders. My business had matured and I was at peace with what God had allowed me to enjoy for almost 20 years.
However, in spite of the success of what I had created, things were not going the way they should. My business was like a high performance race car running on a bad set of tires. Something was amiss, but is was not the fault of the business. It was something else. What in the world was going on?
I’l tell you what was going on! God was preparing to make another change. It was time for chapter 3. Chapter 3 had been nagging at me for a while, but, I kept trying to squelch any thoughts of “ministry” . As I continued to force my business to succeed, God began to put more and greater roadblocks in my way. In spite of the success of the business, very expensive problems began to occur in multiples. I would take a one step forward and fall two steps back. I could not understand why this was happening - but I was about to learn…I was about to learn why God had been so persistent in getting my attention…why He was so intent on stopping me from continuing to pursue my dream …and forcing me to focus on His.
As I exited the plane onto the stairway leading to the tarmac, something very strange began to happen. As I breathed in the air and looked around at the surroundings, I was suddenly overcome with a most unusual feeling – a feeling like I was at HOME?!?!?!?!? What was this? Here I am 9000 miles form home in a foreign country. [And, it was not all that beautiful - In fact, it smelled pretty bad]. It was colorless as it was the winter season and most of the foliage was brown along with the color of the earth. But I felt an overwhelming sense of HOME.
Throughout the next several days, I continued to have this feeling. And, it got worse! The more we worked with the team and lived the mission experience, the more I wanted to be a part of it. God was calling me to this work and, more specifically, to this place. And, much to OUR surprise, he was calling Karen too.
As we returned to the US, we traveled knowing something great was about to happen in our new lives. We inquired about working in Zambia at the orphanage we had visited and received an invitation to “try it out”. We did - and found that this is exactly what we have been called to do. The drive and determination I had with my previous photography business was still present within me…but it was now focused in a new direction. As doors began to close along the event photography path, new doors began to open revealing a new path in ministry. ”Wow! Did God really do that???” “Yes, He did!” Now, all I can think of day-and-night, 24/7 is the work of this ministry. 5 years ago, the idea of me doing ministry work in a foreign country was about as plausible as me becoming President of the United States….“So, look-out Barrack!”
The year: 2010
We are now in our second summer of full time ministry as missionaries in Zambia. Following the sale of my photography business and everything else we owned, we have made the commitment to live as God directs – as missionaries. Our lives are joined together in unison with the call God has placed on our lives. What follows…is now to be discovered. It is amazing to realize that my life now contains a 3rd chapter - I never thought there would be more than 1.
We live our lives as we think we should. Sometimes God shows us we are traveling down the wrong path. Sometimes we acknowledge the nudge God gives us and we make the necessary adjustments………sometimes we don’t. If we do, He blesses us…if we don’t…well…sometimes things can get pretty “dang” ugly!!! For me, I have seen both sides of that story. And… the amazing thing is - that as ugly as it can get, He still loves us and is willing to bless us...and to wait on us... As bazaar as this sounds…looking back (with what I know today)…I would not change a thing. My life with Susie was amazing. And she is now in a place that I could never have provided for her. I so am thankful for that. I am also thankful for the beautiful gifts that she and I were allowed to share together - our 2 children. But, through the grief that followed… and through the absolute disastrous way that I chose to react to my losses, God has decided, once again, (for reasons none of us will ever hope to understand)…to forgive me….and now, to bless me…by His grace…with my new love…the better half of Ken & Karen Buckner.
and…that makes me one happy camper!
We have the option to serve a most wonderful and generous God - and we have the opportunity to live a full and profitable life doing the things He has chosen for us to do…if only we will yield to his leadership. His incredible GRACE will probably never be fully understood or appreciated…and we will never deserve his blessings …..but sometimes, in spite of our repulsive behavior…through His forgiveness…He gives them to us anyway!
God gives. God takes away. And sometimes, He gives again - in spite of us!
I woke up one day and discovered God wanted me to quit what I was doing for me...and start doing something for Him.