It started out as a typical Saturday. Trish and I had errands to run, and so did our two older children, Katie and Lowell. After lunch, Lowell dropped Katie off at the hairdressers and drove to several stores to buy supplies for a special dinner he was planning to cook for the family that night.
A few hours later, we got a call from Katie. She was done with her hair appointment and wanted a ride home. Lowell hadn't showed up to get her and wasn't answering his phone. We didn't think a lot about it, just picked her up and went home.
As the afternoon went by, we began to wonder what was going on with Lowell. Then the phone rang, and we figured it was him. But it was the call you never want to receive. "Mr. Vawser? Your son has been in a serious auto accident. You need to come to the hospital right away."
As we drove to the hospital, I called my pastors and asked for prayer. When we got there, Patricia and I were called into a side room, where we were informed our son had not survived the accident. Devastation! We were taken to a room to identify the body, then Patricia went back to the waiting room to tell the girls while I made organ donor arrangements. I heard their screams and wails through several closed doors.
When I got back out to the waiting room, our pastors and some other church friends were already there, offering what help they could. They suggested we go to the church for a while. We numbly agreed. At the church, more than a hundred people were waiting for us. I remember being gratified by their love and support, but I have no idea what anyone said or did that evening. My only son had died, and I was crushed!
The whole next week was a blur. We made funeral arrangements and dealt with the influx of family and friends. My co-workers pulled together video clips of Lowell and we sifted through hundreds of photos. We scheduled the visitation at our church starting at 5 pm. That night, thousands of people showed up. We stood and spoke with a nonstop line of people for six hours straight. Only God's grace gave me the strength to get through.
The next day, May 8, dawned bright and sunny. My house was filled with dozens of family members helping us get ready for the afternoon memorial service. Around noon, the sky got dark and the wind came up. 120-mile an hour winds blasted through the region, toppling trees, destroying power lines and damaging hundreds of homes. It was an amazing storm, really once in a lifetime. (I remember saying, "Lowell, we'd have remembered this day without this.") Somehow we made it to the church and went on with the service by candlelight. And we laid our son to rest.
Lowell was an unusual young man. He had quirks and failings (who doesn't?), but he was a delight.
Riding horsies with his sister Katie
Birthday cakes with his sister Melody
He knew who he was at a very young age, and pursued his destiny with vigor. At age 4 he made a genuine commitment to Jesus Christ as his Lord.
At age 7 he told me he wanted to be a missionary, and started going on No Greater Love mission trips with me. (More about NGL here.) Lowell and I went on multiple trips to the Kentucky Derby, Indy 500, New Orleans Mardi Gras, and several others. With the help of NGL brothers, he learned to share his faith and developed godly character.
Passing tracts across the street from Churchill Downs
Lowell's favorite gate - the Kentucky Derby infield, where all the rowdies were
Carrying the cross at the Indianapolis 500
He spent his 14th birthday in Central America, sharing the love of Christ with poverty-stricken children. He was the featured speaker at his high school baccalaureate service. After his graduation, he went to Suriname, South America for a while to work as a missionary. His time there helped him realize he needed further training and preparation to be ready for full time overseas mission work.
In Honduras at age 14
Typical Lowell - showing love to kids in Honduras
Back in the USA, he ended up working a while in Kansas City and attending the International House of Prayer. While there, he worked with the Hispanic and Korean communities - he loved unusual food and learning about other cultures.
His next stop was the southeast Missouri bootheel, where he worked at a Christian radio station, sharing the gospel using contemporary music and daily on-air Bible teaching. After a couple of years of that, he found out about a missionary college in Minnesota and moved home to work and save money for the necessary tuition. Lowell worked at a couple of different factory jobs over the next year or two. He was within a few months of saving enough money to go on to school when the accident happened.
Philmont High Adventure backpacking with the Boy Scouts
I don't really understand why Lowell was taken from us so soon, just a few weeks shy of his 25th birthday. I miss him every day. But I take great comfort in knowing that Lowell didn't waste his time here on earth. He loved people, and affected hundreds of lives through his actions and uncompromising witness for Jesus Christ. One of the last things he said to me was, "Dad, I'm a missionary every day." And he demonstrated that commitment by the love he showed to his family, friends and factory co-workers. He didn't just talk - he lived what he said he believed.
Our last Mardi Gras together
And my greatest comfort comes from the knowledge that this life isn't all there is. A genuine relationship with Jesus Christ not only gives us joy, purpose and a life worth living here on earth.
Knowing Him also brings the promise of eternal life in heaven. I'm certain Lowell is celebrating with the angels right now, and I expect to join him in the not so distant future. (What's a few decades compared to eternity?) Knowing that this life isn't all there is gives me peace and comfort - it's what the Bible calls the blessed hope of the saints. (see Colossians 1:27)
I can't say I'm happy about losing my son. Can't even say I understand it. But I am at peace.
This is just a temporary separation. And Lowell didn't waste his life - he used his time to help people and to make the world a better place.
None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. I pray we all learn to make the most of each day, using the time we are given to help change this world.
"Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."