The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him! (Proverbs 20:7 ESV)
The following is a journal entry I made the day after celebrating a good friend of mine’s 60th surprise birthday party.
For nearly a year a group of sisters has been plotting a surprise party for their father. The girls are spread throughout the globe. One is married and doing missionary work in Thailand. Another is married and has four children while being missionaries in Uganda. A third is married and lives in England while the fourth is married with four children living here in Little Rock. The fact that you can coordinate a large gathering across four continents for more than a year and pull it off is an amazing feat itself. And, that you’d get four daughters who love their father that much to make that kind of effort and put forth that kind of time and energy to make this happen for him is another rarity. However, what really made this evening special was the number of people who showed up on a Saturday night to spend a couple of hours honoring a man that has left a mark of significance in their lives. If I told you his name (Gary Blunier) most of you wouldn’t know him from the next door neighbor you’ve never met. But, if you do know him, you are immediately brought to a place of gratitude for having crossed paths with him. My journal entry isn’t meant to be so much about all of his amazing accomplishments and sacrificial acts of kindness (mainly because if I just listed the ones I know about or the ones that were shared on Saturday night I’d miss getting to my daily tasks). Rather, I wanted to try and capture what was going through my mind (and likely the mind of just about everyone there) during and after the evening ended.
The surprise party was for Gary’s 60th birthday…in MARCH. Of course, that’s one of the reasons it would have been a complete surprise. The event was large enough that it had to be held in a place that could accommodate 100+ people. There was snack food, a huge birthday cake, tables decked out with ribbon and a quiz to challenge our knowledge of the life os the night’s guest. There was also a photo area where we could have our pictures taken donning silly accoutrements to make the photo more memorable. It was a festive evening. Many in attendance were people who have worked with Gary over the years at FamilyLife, also the location of the soiree. Many were not fellow colleagues but showed their affection for this man by driving hours just to participate. Some family came down from Illinois. A couple who was turned down for joining FamilyLife staff thought enough of their work with Gary during their journey to make a 9 hour drive from Alabama. A family that had been impacted by Gary and Cindy’s welcoming of them into their home for a few month stay drove down from a small town in Arkansas to simply share their thoughts and love for Gary and Cindy. This couple lost a child soon after being born and the Bluniers have been a source of encouragement and love to this family.
We wondered how he would be “surprised” by coming to FamilyLife’s offices on a Saturday evening. A blindfold was the answer. As Gary came in with some of his family from an innocent evening at Chick-fil-A he was led through a pair of double doors into an event room filled with an excited but quiet throng of personal fans. He didn’t know any of it was coming. His wife made him get down on his knees so that one of his grandkids could untie his blindfold. As she untied the blindfold, his jaw dropped to the floor while tears streamed from his eyes as we all shouted “Happy Birthday” while throwing a stray balloon we had each gathered into the air. Then, he turned to a group of 5 women (one of them was a young woman that the Bluniers had welcomed into their home for a few years in high school) and realized that one of them was his oldest daughter who had just flown in from Uganda earlier that day. They hadn’t seen each other in some time. It was really fun watching this reunion happen in front of us. With a slide show playing old photographs of Gary at various stages of his life in the background, one of his son-in-laws emceed the evening. After letting Gary catch his breath and pick up his jaw from the floor while wiping away tears of joy, we participated in seeing how we did on the quiz about Gary’s life. It was fun. Then, the powerful segment of the evening developed. It was open mic time. Typically, I’m not a huge fan of open mics. Either it feels so awkward until that first person musters up the courage to say something or it feels intimidating as you try to come up with something you could say that wouldn’t simply sound like a repeat of what others have said. If you think you have something to say you then have to generate the courage to walk forward or raise your hand early enough so you get to be the unique story teller or don’t want to feel like your simply extending an event that should have ended about 15 minutes ago. But, enough of my open-mic opinions. This one was worth it’s weight in 2014 petroleum. It was priceless and left a significant mark on my heart and a conviction of my soul.
This man has stood the test of life—will you be considered successful when your days are done? He was able to experience something that most of us will only get to wonder about—did we make a contribution that mattered to anyone. Most of these tributes are shared at funerals or life-celebrations of the death of a loved one. Gary is far from dead. He was alive in many ways on Saturday night. And, as one of the open-mic contributors shared, we were doing for him what we should all be doing to those in our life who have made a difference—TELL THEM while they are still alive. That’s what this time was all about. Many, including myself, stood up to share a brief story of impact that Gary has made on them or someone close to them. For many years, Gary has used his master mechanic skills to voluntarily repair cars. He did it mostly for those fellow missionary staff at FamilyLife for the cost of parts. Early on at the party, Steve (the Emcee) asked for a show of hands by everyone who had been a recipient of Gary’s car mechanic repair generosity. Way more than half of the people there vigorously shot their hands in the air as they ran a total of the thousands of dollars he’s saved them over the years. That has been a staple of Gary’s sacrificial giving over the years.
But it didn’t stop there. He and his wife have housed many people for various stints and reasons. He built a garage for his car maintenance efforts and attached a small house to it so that others would have a place to stay. His daughter and son-in-law have been there but I’m sure it will be well used by many others when they move on. That’s the kind of family the Blunier’s are. They give without question or pretense. They are the models of what followers of Christ should be. The live out the life they profess in word and deed. They are prime examples of what it means to “give of oneself sacrificially”. And, Gary is the spearhead of that family. Story after story was shared throughout the night and it never got tiring. I watched Gary periodically and could tell that he was almost uncomfortable hearing these accolades and honorable words spoken of about him and his wife. Yet, I also sensed that God allowed him to be just comfortable enough to hear them in the spirit which they were given. Just as he was always more comfortable giving than receiving, those who were there to honor him needed these moments to give back a little of what they had received from the heart of this man. It was a powerful display and the story of a life well lived playing out live in front of us all. It was such an honoring night. The night concluded when each of his daughters gave him a short tribute (or small roast by one of them ;). There were tears flowing all over the large room. Finally, Cindy shared this statement, “I just want you to know that he (Gary) is the man you think he is”. Gary has lived (and continues to live) a life of integrity, sacrifice and love of others unlike anyone I know. And he’s done it all never expecting anything in return because he truly understands that his treasure is above so he takes seriously God’s word when it tells us to lay our treasure there and not chase after the things that are on this earth. After a celebratory “Happy Birthday” song and small piece of a large 60th birthday cake and a quick hug from the guest of honor we departed.
As we drove home both Sue and I marveled at the event we just attended. We shared similar thoughts and convictions. Here are just a few of things I took away from this memorable event:
1) Investing in people always gives you a positive return of your investment.
2) Never tire of loving others
3) Time spent on people matters to them and those watching.
4) If you seek fame, your reward is limited to the fame you reach. If you seek signficance by investing in others, your reward is limitless and spreads throughout the world one person at a time.
5) What you do for others in this lifetime matters.
6) The legacy you leave will not be rated by the amount of dollars you leave behind but by the stories in peoples lives you’ve helped weave.
7) Tell someone who’s made a difference in your life that they have–while they are alive. It will not only profoundly impact their life but also those near them.
8) Your kids are watching. Live a life of generosity because it’s the right thing to do in front of your children and they will likely follow in your generous ways.
9) Make every moment count, every smile seen, every kind word spoken and lend a hand to someone who needs it when you are in a place to do so. The blessing of giving far outweighs the cost.
10) The memories you leave with others will determine your legacy.
11) Let Gary do the work on your car because he knows what he’s doing and even if you try to help, he’s going to do it anyway.
Saving one story for the end–Janelle, his daughter shared that Gary’s dream was to give the family hog-farming business (what Gary did prior to joining the staff of FamilyLife) to his children. However, God had different plans. Gary had four daughters and no sons. Certainly he could have held on to see if one of the future son-in-laws might want to take on the legacy of the farm and pass it down. But it still wouldn’t be in the Blunier name. Janelle so powerfully and memorably pointed out that what Gary had wanted had actually taken place. Gary has certainly passed on the family business to his children. The business of loving others and sharing the love of Christ with them and to them. He’s got a cascade full of children and grandchildren who’ve been impacted by that love and now they are spreading out around the globe doing the same thing. Yes, he has indeed passed on the family business and that legacy will outlive him to future generations. Unlike the fictitious but lasting story of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life who got a chance to see that his life actually had made a difference, we got a better gift. We received the chance to share to a real live George Bailey how his life has impacted us personally and gratefully. Thank you, Gary.
Gary…thank you for leaving your life behind for others to catch. I’m blessed to be one of the thousands of people who call you friend. Thank you for making a mark on my life and the life of my family and thank you for turning 60 in March so we could surprise you in January and so that we could all be impacted by the reminder through story of a life well lived!