Is it just me or are there times when you’re about to begin a new chapter in your life and you think it’s a cut and dried kind of change but somewhere in the back of your head you know there’s a much bigger lesson coming with a message attached that you better be paying attention to?
When we were asked to return to this tiny spot of the world late last summer by the owner of Bernie and Sharon’s Riverfront RV Park, a spark of intuitive “knowing” shot through me that we were meant to return to this little-known Montana community.
I felt Bernie had a bigger “plan” for us.
Indeed he did my friends, indeed he did.
When we left last year Bernie was ill. He knew it. We knew it. He hated doctors and despised hospitals even more.
In April of this year he was diagnosed with advanced inoperable esophageal cancer and Wednesday, July 1st he was laid to rest.
Now, unfortunately there is no abridged version of Bernie’s personality. He lived his entire life in the area he was born in but his reach went well beyond the boundaries of his birthplace.
His mind never stopped wrapping itself around new ideas, including becoming a pastor and building his own chapel on the RV Park he and his wife Sharon built from a rundown trailer park over 20 years ago. When Bernie purchased the trailer park he and Sharon weren’t married but she was a resident of the park, along with her 5 children. Bernie hired her to do the mowing since she needed the cash and he needed the help. Their joke was … Bernie bought the park and Sharon was part of the deal. Yep, that’s the humor you couldn’t help but love!
If you mention Bernie’s name to anyone in a 20 mile radius, they know who you’re talking about and have a story to tell. How he takes people in who others shun, gives them a helping hand, perhaps a job so they can earn some cash and then sends them on their way in the hope that they have learned a lesson and will begin creating a better life.
His nondenominational church has become a hub for community events that range from Sunday services, weddings and funerals to fire department fundraisers.
He was stubborn, opinionated and an ultra hyper workaholic.
One of the volunteers told us about a day when life was giving Bernie fits and profanity was rolling off his tongue like marbles from a jar. The volunteer had to remind him he was a pastor and an example for others. Bernie shook his head and the “out loud” profanity ended but I’m sure it still flowed through his mind like Niagara Falls.
He was human in a million delightful (and sometimes not delightful) ways.
He loved to travel. A converted bus sits in the yard that was his family’s RV.
He loved to build stuff. He built a solar car that looked like the Delorean in Back to the Future complete with flux capacitor, or so he claimed.
He loved to ride his motorcycles and scooters.
And most of all he loved people and his Faith.
His tiny chapel and attached kitchen/multi-purpose room holds about 120 souls. We were told as many as 1000 may attend his “homecoming celebration” as he wanted his funeral called. We knew some would not attend because it’s known the chapel is small and guesstimated between 200 -300 and that was pretty much spot on.
Dave organized volunteers into a parking crew so RVers and service attendees wouldn’t be fighting for parking and road space. It all went like clockwork. Bernie would have been impressed.
The service was attended by pastors, of all faiths, from the surrounding community churches, a priest and nun were spotted, many Amish and Mennonites joined the service also.
A long-time friend Tom Osmond, older brother of the Donnie & Marie duo was also there. Tom is one of the 2 older Osmond brothers who were born deaf. Dave & I got to know Tom last summer when we were here and even though he wasn’t part of the “Osmond’s” singing group he’s an entertainer with a capital E!! A video I watched this morning showed him signing a song being sung at Bernie’s service. Tommy stayed overnight and stopped over to visit Dave and I before he left and told us Bernie was transitioning into a Morman in heaven. I’m sure Tom and Bernie had many conversations about that theory and when they meet in the great Hereafter the conversation will continue!
Bernie’s farewell was an unending showcase of people he had touched and an outstanding lesson in the art of loving despite race (by the way the Pastor replacing Bernie in his chapel is an African American), financial position, faith or past mistakes…oh yeah, Bernie also ministered to the prisoners in the State Prison outside Deer Lodge which is about 10 miles from the RV Park.
So, what lessons has Bernie taught me?
We bicker and shove our personal agendas around like monkeys on a leash trying to fit everyone into the mold we’re most comfortable with, when in fact variety is the spice of life and the ingredient that makes life sweet.
Good is good and evil is evil, don’t get them confused. Gather the good regardless of what is seen on the outside. Battle the evil with a vengeance! Sometimes that will require silence and sometimes it will require speaking or acting out loud ALOT. If a bit of profanity is thrown in, so be it!
Good and evil are not attached to a specific color, religion, social status or belief and you have to practice, practice, practice to sort out one from the other, and even then you’ll be fooled more times than you’ll want to admit.
Listen to your gut.
If you see a need and you’re able, step up and fill the need. If you’re not able, step aside so someone else can step up.
Bernie lived as he pleased and he died as he pleased.
Give yourself permission to do the same and the rest will just happen.
That’s what’s called faith.
And the lessons continue……..