On the day before he died, Randy Parker watched a video of a popular sermon by Bishop T.D. Jakes called “Nothing Just Happens.’’
Randy’s pastor, John Wood, had made reference to it two days earlier during the Sunday service at Christ Chapel in Macon.
Randy, a 20-year veteran of the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department, sat down that Tuesday night and hung his heart on every word.
“Everything in your life has been carefully orchestrated by a God who is the conductor over the affairs and the events in your life,’’ Jakes said from the pulpit.
He read scripture from the Old Testament in second chapter of the book of Ruth. He asked his congregation to repeat the three words “nothing just happens.’’ He asked them to repeat those three words again and again.
Randy Parker repeated them, too. That night, he recited them to his sons, Andrew and Chandler. He said them to his wife, Sandie, as he kissed her good night.
He texted them to friends and posted them on Facebook. The next day, he sent messages to his mother and other members of his family, telling them to remember “nothing just happens” and that he loved them. He shared it with his buddies at the fire station.
He wasn’t preaching. No one knew it would be a spiritual understanding in the final hours of his life and become a lasting legacy.
“It wasn’t unusual for Randy to tell other about sermons to watch or give little phrases to encourage others,’’ Sandie said. “But we never knew how much those words would mean.’’
On Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, Randy was killed and five other firefighters injured after a floor collapsed in a house fire on Fairview Drive in south Macon. He was 46 years old. The two-year anniversary of the tragedy is in three weeks.
He is one of only 11 Macon-Bibb firefighters to die in the line of duty in the history of the department. He was honored with a fallen hero’s funeral at the Macon City Auditorium.
Randy’s youngest son, Chandler, is now a fifth-grade student at Heritage, one of the largest elementary schools in Macon, with an enrollment of about 750 students.
Over the past two years his widow has reached out to offer those words of encouragement — nothing just happens — to the principals, teachers and families at Heritage. It began with an emotional letter, thanking them for their love and support.
“Chandler and I say ‘nothing just happens’ to each other all the time,’’ she said. “For the children, it has been a way to help them understand both big and little things happen for a reason. It has been a rough couple of years at Heritage. But people have bonded together and adopted the fact that nothing just happens.’’
Ten months after Parker’s death, Laura Campbell, a fifth-grade teacher at Heritage, lost her 18-year-old daughter in a car accident. This past April, Zhia Franklin, a second-grade student at Heritage, was killed when her family’s SUV flipped on a highway in south Georgia. Her mother and younger brother also died in the accident.
Principal Jennifer Askew and her staff adopted “Nothing Just Happens” as its motto for the 2016-17 school year. There are T-shirts and signs all over the school. You’re likely to hear the phrase repeated in the hallways and classrooms every day.
Sarah Chancellor, the school’s media specialist, is mobilizing the theme on several levels. “Nothing Just Happens” can carry different a meaning and motivation, depending on how it is said and interpreted.
With respect to people of different faiths, Sarah said there is certainly the spiritual aspect — that God is in control.
“On the other side of it, we are trying to emphasize to the students that they must work hard and go after their opportunities,’’ she said. “When our children are trying to reach their Accelerated Reading goals, it doesn’t just happen. They have to read books. They have to prepare.’’
Sarah recently initiated an ambitious project prior to the Georgia Milestones testing in March. She will unveil it during a school pep rally before the testing begins.
Sarah is reaching out to celebrities and other influential people who can deliver a short video messages to the students. She has already recruited former Georgia football head coach Vince Dooley and state legislators Bubber Epps and Robert Dickey.
She welcomes any suggestions at 478-319-4966 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org She said the submitted videos can be short and simple, but they will provide a powerful reminder.
“I would love to have people from all over encouraging our kids to do their best,’’ she said. “It would only take a few seconds, but it would mean the world to them. They can just say, ‘Hey, Heritage Eagles, I’m so and so … and encourage them to come to school and do well. Nothing just happens.’’
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.