A Year Ago Today05.03.10

Today is beautiful, bright, and sunny- everything radiates life and energy, except inside my heart I quietly place a bouquet of garden flowers on Karen’s grave.

One beautiful early summer day in 1981,  I drove the familiar stretch of road between Seattle and Vancouver, Washington. The full range of nature’s palette reminded me of the glory of the Creator in the wildflower, the meadows, and rivers of the southwest corner of the state. Abruptly, instead of the majestic splendor of a nearly perfectly cylindrical snow capped Mt. St. Helens, on that day there stood only a low brown and grey triangular chunk of its base, occasionally wafting smoke from its gaping wound.  All was not right with this world, and things along Interstate 5 between the Cowlitz and the Kalama river basins would never be the same.

A sudden phone call at two in the morning in early May 2009 had the same kind of impact, only far more personally painful than losing a chunk of scenery. Karen Pegors, my husband’s sister, had been struck and instantly killed by a drunk driver. Karen and husband Doug, an accident investigator with the Federal Aviation Administration, were on their way to an evening worship service at their church. No one else was seriously injured. For Doug, their three children, and all those who knew and loved Karen, nothing would ever be the same.

Although I first met Karen about twenty-five years ago, our times together have been constrained by the calls we have followed: mine to seminary and then on to Japan to live for Christ here with Tim; hers to serve Christ with Doug, and faithfully train her children to fear and serve the Lord in an increasingly secular U.S. society. Fall of 1985, on the long car ride with Tim from North Park to Indianapolis to meet Karen and Doug for the first time, I eagerly listened to Johnson family lore with all the intensity of the newly fallen in love. Would this family become mine? What clues could I glean about their quirks, traits, habits or ways of thinking? I was eager to meet Karen, this older sister who Tim had nothing but respect and admiration for. Little brothers are not always so affirming- Karen must be very special. Tales of  commuting to boarding school in Tokyo, jumping off crowded trains and passing suitcases through the windows, tales of musical talent, outstanding academic excellence, and the hidden losses and boons of growing up in a missionary family tantalized my mind.

What would she be like? It seems we both had graduate degrees in linguistics, loved to read, travel, and make new friends. Yet on the other hand, she had chosen to stay at home, and pour her talents into her family by being a wife and mother, making her house a home of hospitality for many, including recent immigrants, international students, and relatives. Instead of pursuing a job outside the home when her children were young, she homeschooled her children for several years, and invested herself generously in the life of her church and Bible Study Fellowship.  That model of marriage and ministry looked too traditional for me at twenty-four, and it was not one I was eager to embrace.

Karen and Doug hosted the Johnson clan that Thanksgiving of 1985 with the unassuming and yet thoughtful manner which was their hallmark over the years. Guests were invited to come and rest, to be at ease, to share the simple goodness of life lived in the faithful providence of God. Coming from a much more volatile family system, at first the lack of argument, sarcasm, and tension felt odd, but over the years I came to trust and appreciate the graciousness which let the guest set the tone of conversation, and where words were never used as a weapon or a means of gaining power against the other.

From that first meeting, I was struck by Karen’s goodness, the integrity of a life with nothing to hide, nothing to hold back from God, nothing to “prove” to others. Her life was truly lived with Jesus and others at the center, not self. Over the years, she sent out our newsletter, helped us with stateside paperwork, and did airport runs at odd hours. She let us crash at her house, leave the dirty dishes, and borrow the car. She also let us get to know her kids. She sent each of her daughters to stay and help us for a few weeks, once when I was pregnant with two toddlers with Tim gone on itineration, and once when our four kids were aged two through nine, and life was equally chaotic.  Last summer on the occasion of her son’s graduation from high school, Karen, Doug and Evan came to spend a precious two weeks with us. As we chatted over the daily tasks of keeping our families fed, clothed, and organized, I felt choked up over what a precious friend she was. For all the times I had said something edgy, controversial, or just a bit thoughtless and rude, she had never reacted in anger, irritation, or spite. She had never withdrawn, and never shut the door on meaningful conversation. She often surprised me with her book suggestions which showed a depth of thought on issues I prided myself on knowing about. She was always quick to offer a place to stay, a listening ear, a gentle word of hope, and a warm come-as-you-are welcome.

She was a quiet model of loving and serving those around her instead of merely pursuing what made her feel good under the guise of serving God. Karen’s example of thoughtful, behind the scenes service though loaded with up-front talent and competence was part of the scenery of my life. As I look back, I see that her steady silhouette in the distance helped me get my bearings at a turning point in my life, at a time when God was calling me to embrace my role as a wife and mother in ways I never had before. At the time, the fork in the road hadn’t seemed all that momentous, but from the vantage point of a few twists and dark valleys later, it was a choice that has made all the difference. Thank you, Karen.

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under Uncategorized.

One Response to “A Year Ago Today”

  1. Thank you, Andrea — this is BEAUTIFUL. We are so aware of the date. Did you see Doug’s picture of the grave marker?


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    Posted by Arleen Johnson on 12/13/09 May 4th, 2010 at 4:53 PMReply

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