Two days ago, my bladder awakened me at 3:50 am. Stumbling into the darkened bathroom, I did my duty and returned to bed, encouraged that I still had a few hours to sleep.
As I dozed off, suddenly a large BOOM thundered through the neighborhood, rattling the windows, and causing me to bolt up wide awake.
What in the world was that? I’d never heard such a thunderous noise in the nearly thirty years we’d lived on Arlington Place. Must have been a sonic boom made by an airplane overhead.
Still befuddled, I dozed back to sleep.
A few hours later I found out. My friend and personal banker, Maria McDonald and her husband Bill, were found dead in a home that had been obliterated by a horrific blast just a mile away from us.
Today I write in memory of Maria.
There are many bad things taking place in the world that modern communications remind us of daily. People are being slaughtered and are fleeing the Middle East by the hundreds of thousands. We are in the midst of a hard-fought and ever-changing election campaign that will determine the next president of the United States.
But when you lose a friend, the world stands still. You think about life, death, and the reality of eternity. Suddenly human love and affection takes center stage over all the international headlines.
Losing Maria has done that for me.
Here’s what happened.
Bill and Maria McDonald (70 and 65 respectively) lived a mile from our home (as the crow flies) in Port Orchard, Washington–a small town of about 13,000 people located in the center of Puget Sound. In a community of this size, you know many people–even though 60,000 folks are scattered among the trees and the metropolis of Seattle is just across the water.
Two days ago Bill and Marie’s triple-wide mobile home, situated on two and a half areas behind Mullenix Elementary School, simply exploded–leaving most of the debris, according to a first responder, “no bigger than match sticks.” (At this point, the source of the explosion is unknown.)
Though there is heavily forested land between our home and theirs, we felt the blast hit our house causing the windows to shake. Shirley’s parents, who live seven miles away, heard the sonic boom and got out of bed to see what was happening. People in Renton, Washington–forty miles away across the water–heard the explosion.
Now we know why.
The McDonalds’ two and a half acres look like a war zone. Neighbors’ windows were shattered and pictures fell off walls. At the elementary school, 1000 feet through the dense trees, windows were broken by the impact. Recovery crews are finding bits of the house and even family pictures up in trees and on power lines a quarter mile away.
The home is gone–as if destroyed by a tornado.
The blast was so unusual that it made the national news and certainly dominated the local coverage. If you’d like to see an early report on what happened, you can watch it here on the local KOMO News broadcast.
I heard about who had died when I visited my mom that afternoon. She’d gone to the bank earlier that day where Maria worked. It was closed but cameramen were present. They broke the news that Maria and her husband had been killed in the vicious blast.
My mother was one of the first to be interviewed on camera about the death of Maria.
I met Maria McDonald decades ago ago when she started working for Kitsap Bank. This well-known local institution has been our family bank since 1950 when my young doctor father walked through the front door and shook hands–the only terms necessary for getting a loan in those days–with bank president Frank Langer.
Ever since, Kitsap Bank (with numerous locations around west Puget Sound) served as the Boehme family bank.
Maria, from a Guamanian background, started working at Kitsap Bank twenty-two years ago. She was a gentle, kind soul, who was known for her business acumen, sense of humor, service at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church, and her great cooking. She had recently helped organize a Lenten soup supper at the church.
Husband Bill was also active at St. Gabes, an Air Force veteran from the Viet Nam War, worked with the Knights of Columbus and owned a satellite communications consulting firm.
Bill and Maria have five children and twelve grandchildren.
At a memorial mass held yesterday, both were fondly remembered for their faith and love.
Jarrod Roth said for many:
“There’s something about them that sets them apart from many others in a special way. It’s the way they connected with people. In a loving way, in a self-less way, uplifting way, it was a very humble way of living their lives. In a way it made them larger than life…They’ve touched all of us. They’re gone but not forgotten.”
I never met Bill, but certainly agree about Maria.
As our personal banker, Maria managed all of our YWAM and personal accounts. I always enjoyed coming into the Kitsap branch near our home and seeing Maria perched on her chair in the right corner of the building. Her smile always invited me to come over to work out some kind of problem.
One of those problems drew us close five years ago.
I was traveling and speaking in Puerto Rico in 2011 when Shirley called to tell me that our home had been robbed. It took place in broad daylight and involved some “professionals.” During the only hour of the day when no one was at home, the thieves entered our house and quickly searched through every room on two floors–probably in less that ten minutes.
Our compound of buildings also houses two Youth With A Mission offices.
The police later told us that they were looking for three things: 1) Money (including checkbooks), 2) Jewelry (to pawn), and 3) Fire arms (for you know what).
In ten minutes of ransacking, they took four check books in desk drawers and Shirley’s engagement ring. She felt extremely violated when she came home later that day and found numerous drawers open and her jewelry box plundered.
She urgently called me to ask what to do.
I told her to call Maria and put a stop on everything. When I came home, it took weeks to undue the damage that ultimately cost us $1000 in bad checks. The engagement ring never turned up though I looked through every pawn shop in the area. The thieves were eventually caught and went to jail.
We did learn from the police department how to hide and scatter valuables in your home. If, there’s a next time, the robbers will waste their time.
But back to Maria, our personal banker.
She was the one who lovingly walked us through that ordeal. She not only did the work of cancelling old and creating new accounts, but she also shared her heart and soul with us.
She too had been robbed. So had her daughter. Almost like a grief counselor, she walked us through the process of dealing with our loss with her strong faith, caring personality, and warm smile and comfort.
Every person should have a personal banker like Maria.
That’s why when I heard she’d been killed in the explosion, I nearly cried as if she was a member of the family. In small communities, some friendships are like that. You might not know people socially or intimately, but the friendship is deep and meaningful.
Friendship, on all levels, is a gift from God (Proverbs 17:17).
I learned after the blast that Maria was just two months from retiring from the bank. She and her husband looked forward and planned to travel and enjoy their large family.
All that vanished in an instant.
There are some important lessons here.
First, you can work all your life to attain a goal or an imagined future, and that plan can change in a heart-beat. Thus the importance of placing your life in God’s hands, seizing every day for what it is, and knowing that eternal life for the redeemed is your ultimate destination (Psalm 90:12).
Secondly, life really boils down to two things. Be a good steward of the things God has given you (Titus 1:7-9). You will not have them forever, but God wants us to use them for His glory for our brief time on earth. Even more importantly, serve the people around you (1 Corinthians 9:19). They are your greatest treasure and possess infinite value.
Stewardship and serving are twin pillars of a wise life.
And finally, make sure to befriend and share Jesus with those with whom you have daily contact (2 Timothy 4:2). They include the clerk in the store, your lawyer, your CPA, the neighbors on your block, and your friends at church and at play.
Talk about God’s kingdom. Point them to Jesus. Love and encourage them.
I write these words to remind myself to press on.
In memory of Maria.