Tagged: death

When I Knew Skip Wells

Photo by Beverly & Pack via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6qcu3N)

Photo by Beverly & Pack via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6qcu3N)

When I best knew Skip, who is also recognized as USMC Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, he was not yet a man. He was a boy. My fifth-grade crush, actually. Two days before I got the news that he had been killed in a shooting in Chattanooga, I was telling my fiancé about Skip and that one time I had peach juices running down my face as I ate a peach in front of him in fifth grade at Bells Ferry Elementary. To this day, I still consider that as one of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood. Skip was also the one who made me blush on my first day of sixth grade when I came back to school from Summer break and had “filled out” and somehow grown a foot taller. I remember him being one of the first people I saw in the halls of J.J. Daniell Middle School and being absolutely delighted that he noticed me. “What happened to you?” he asked with surprise and a smile. Flirting or not, I was pleased.

The funny thing is that I have hardly any memories of Skip and I after that day. We went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school, yet my memories are confined to such a short period of time because I know that we fell into different crowds and didn’t care to remain friends. All I remember of him from high school was that he dated the same girl for years on end and I kept thinking to myself every time I saw them holding hands in the halls that I don’t know anyone else my age who is as faithful in a relationship as him.

One of the things I did know about him regardless of whether or not we lost touch was that he loved God very well. I also remember that he loved this country and the idea of fighting for it, and after we graduated in the same class from Sprayberry High School in 2012, I wasn’t surprised to find out that he wanted to be a Marine.

Fast forward a few years and I’m sitting alone in my house with tears streaming down my face and wondering why Skip had to die. And as I’m wondering this, I’m also fervently praying for his mother and family because I couldn’t bear the thought of what it must be like for them to hear the news that their Skip is gone. How do you get through the loss of your son? I remember thinking to myself. No mother should have to outlive her child, I also said with anger to God.

But I wasn’t angry at God that day. I was angry at the world. I was angry at the shooter. I was angry at terrorism. And also scared. Because I could no longer deny that evil isn’t lurking around the corner. Skip knew that more than I did. And knowing such evil and doing whatever possible to stop it from harming others is an act of heroic bravery. Unlike me, Skip had that heroic bravery about him.

Like me, most people these days like to pretend that such evil things don’t exist or aren’t happening all around them.

On the day Skip died, he wasn’t given the option of pretending. Skip was a brave and honorable man. He was one of the rare few in this world willing to lay down his life.

I wasn’t planning on going to his funeral today. Even though I was there when the coffin containing Skip’s body arrived at the funeral home last Thursday afternoon and I was also there when that same coffin was leaving the funeral home to be transported to the actual funeral this morning, I didn’t want to go to the funeral. The very scared part of me just wanted to be a witness, a bystander. I didn’t want to be a part of the mourning because then that would require doing something as terrifying as going to a funeral, which I had never done and never wanted to do.

But as I watched the hearse drive by me, I realized that I was already wearing an all-black dress. I had already completely filled my gas tank. I had already bought food to tide me over for a few hours. I was already unscheduled to do anything this afternoon. And lo and behold, I had just enough time to make it to the funeral. So I went. Alone. Unexpectedly. Slightly frightened of what I’d find.

Do you want to know what I found? That I was mourning. I was mourning for Skip, but also for his mother and also for myself. I can’t possibly compare my life to Skip’s life, let alone any experience of mine to Skip’s death. There’s no justice in that. But when I say that I was mourning for myself, I am indicating that something was lost in my life this past week: innocence. I not only became acquainted with the reality of evil more than ever before, but I also became more angry at evil more than ever before. I couldn’t claim naiveness anymore. And I HATED that man for what he had done to a godly man like Skip.

This past semester, I took a class on terrorism and I sat through the whole semester in that class without batting an eye. I even described the terrorists I was learning about as “interesting” and “intriguing.” I contemplated their motives, somehow had natural empathy for them, and would come home to Grant and talk about how fascinating the whole subject was.

But there was not a single fascinating thing about what transpired in Chattanooga less than two weeks ago. Not a single thing. What transpired in Chattanooga was sickening. Disgusting. Horrifying. And heartbreaking.

And I hated that man. Which, if you know me, you would say is absolutely out of my character. Jessie loves everybody!

Except it’s not out of my character. Hate is not out of any of our characters.

You know what’s out of our characters? To love despite complete loss and heartache. To keep going despite losing all that is most precious to you on this earth. To allow yourself to be put in harm’s way and even killed for the sake of so many Americans who forsake both patriotism and respect for servicemen.

That kind of behavior, that kind of love and strength, is not of this world. It is of God.

Skip had that kind of love and strength in him. It WAS of his character — because his character was molded and transformed through his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’m sure Skip hated evil. We can all hate evil (if we choose to finally see it). But you know what else Skip did that I think is pretty uncommon? He loved what is good.

Many of us are in the in-between. We are indifferent to both extremes. We are touched momentarily by a sweet, selfless act and temporarily in shock from a terrorist attack, but we carry on with our ordinary, everyday lives. Skip wasn’t willing to carry on with his ordinary, everyday life. That’s why he joined the Marines. And I know Skip’s mother won’t carry on with her ordinary, everyday life. She will be forever changed by what happened to her son.

We aren’t designed to experience joy and pain only to carry on with our ordinary, everyday lives. That’s the pattern so many of us choose, but it’s not the calling God has for our lives. He wants us to be impacted and touched. Furious for the sake of justice. Jealous for righteousness. And as brokenhearted as he is for the hurting and lost in this world.

We all need wake-up calls. We are all on our way to the grave. Although eternal life will be waiting for many of us on the other side, we still have a life left to live here on this earth. And some of us, like Skip, will be leaving this earth way too soon.

What I loved about Skip’s funeral was that it wasn’t just a celebration of Skip’s life, but it was also a celebration of God’s gift of eternal life. We know that Skip is in the presence of God in Heaven, able to freely rejoice and escape the numbness that this world has to offer us at the cost of our innocence.

I love that at the end of the funeral, the pastor got up on stage and was able to give an invitation to all of those attending. It was an invitation to that same eternal life Skip now calls his home. And I pray that people decided to begin a relationship with God and accept the offer of eternal life in God’s Kingdom as a result of mourning with Skip’s family and friends today. Even the people who were mostly there to get good videos and pictures on their iPhones, the people who disrespectfully made Skip’s funeral look like a spectacle. If they saw the love and life of God through the lens of their camera, then I suppose it would all be worth it.

I guess I’m sharing all of this because I’m mourning in my own way, along with many others. I’m wrestling with how much hate versus love is in my heart as a result of such tragedy and evil happening around me. I’m praying for Skip’s family while also secretly and desperately pleading with God to never let me experience the loss of a child. I’m striving to let myself be changed by this instead of snap back to the naive, ignorant life I often choose to live. And I’m wondering how God is getting the glory through Skip’s life and death (although I have no doubt that he is).

My last thoughts on Skip Wells for today are that I knew him as a boy, when we were young and innocent and mostly unafraid. Now Skip is gone and so is that innocent, courageous youth we both once knew.

He became a man without me noticing and he was going to go off and do great things probably without me noticing, too. But now nothing about Skip can go unnoticed. And I’m left with the choice of whether I’m going to keep noticing — not just Skip, but all other important, even senseless things happening around me, both good and evil — or if I’m going to shut my eyes and choose ignorance.

You have that same choice to make. If you knew Skip, then you also have now known death. And evil. And pain. And loss. You might not feel it all right now, but you can’t say you don’t know that it’s there. So what are you going to do with it?

Are you going to let the evil and pain drive you into the arms of God and purposeful living, as it did for Skip? Or are you going to let it create a wall of bitterness, indifference, or apathy in your heart?

Skip doesn’t have to make that choice any longer. He is with his Creator in a place more beautiful and perfect than we could ever imagine. But you and I are still here. We do have that choice to make. And if we choose right, we may get to scratch the surface of that beauty and perfection, at least enough to get us through each heartbreaking day and tragic night until we get to be face-to-face with our great God, too. And if we choose wrong, we’ll only miss out. We might spare ourselves from some pain right now, but not in the long run.

Skip might have been afraid of death, but he was still willing to risk his life. What are you and I afraid of? And looking at Skip’s bravery and faithfulness, how can we maybe borrow some of that bravery and faithfulness to make sure we also live a life and die a death that is as far from wasted and purposeless as the east is from the west? I’ll give you a hint: even good and honorable Skip knew he needed a Savior. What makes any of us think we don’t desperately need one, too?

Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, we will miss you and we honor you. Thank you for being an example to others around you. I will see you in Heaven someday so please save a perfect peach for me.

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The Dead Man’s Mother

Photo by ozgurcakir via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6nWHbx)

Photo by ozgurcakir via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6nWHbx)

Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out — the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

. . . . . .

I have been this dead man’s mother.

I have carried broken, dead dreams. I have cried alongside coffins containing my hopes and wishes and prayers. Sometimes my heart.

And Jesus has met me on my way to bury these things. He has stopped the funeral procession in progress. Moved with compassion, he has stepped out of the crowd, lifted my chin, and whispered words of relief.

Sometimes when he does this, I look first into his eyes and then back at the coffin and say, “but they’re still dead.” What I have been carrying with me is still unmoving, void of life. I continue on with the funeral procession, desperate to bury these things in the ground and bury myself in sorrow.

But he replies, “You don’t have to bury this at all.” And with one swift motion, he approaches the dead and reverses the damage. He breathes life into what I never thought I’d see breathing again.

And I am reunited with my beloved.

I am rejoiced, overcome with gratitude and awe.

. . . . . .

This is a beautiful story of a mother whose hope was revived as Jesus interrupted a funeral procession and brought her dead son back to life.

And this, too, is my story as Jesus revives my hope and brings my dead things back to life time and time again.

I have been this dead man’s mother, yet I have also often forgotten it.

I have witnessed Jesus interrupt my funeral processions and breathe life back into my hopes and dreams, and then I have thrown accusations at him. Why didn’t you come sooner?

I have seen him change my life. I was even once that dead man. Jesus saved me as crying, praying mothers walked alongside my coffin. And yet I live as though I’m still dead, unable to move or see a future ahead.

I have been given by God what no other could give: revived hopes and dreams, a healing heart that once felt irreparably broken. And then I have felt the call of death come again, rendering me forgetful of His healing hand.

I find myself crying out as if nothing has ever happened. As if I have never seen dead things rise. As if I never was this dead man and never was this dead man’s mother.

. . . . . .

The Spirit inside of me contains the power to move mountains, yet I have been staring at mountains without making a move.

I forget the power that raised this mother’s dead son lives in me. I forget the work that has been done and the promises that have been given.

Most of all, I forget that God is good.

I question his desire to move my mountains because I’ve been staring at nothing but these mountains all my life.

Of course they’re going to seem insurmountable when all I do is gape at their largeness and question God in His faithfulness.

How is He ever going to prove His faithfulness in my life if I’m so quick to forget my once-dead son?

In Scripture, we read of stories where God came to His children’s rescue and they then built an altar to declare and remember what God had done. So where are my altars? Why am I brushing past healing, victories, and resurrections in my life? No wonder I can’t remember. No wonder I’m quick to doubt and fear.

Where is my good Father? I’ve been demanding.

Where is He not? is the better question.

. . . . . .

My declaration over today: I once was dead and now I am alive. My broken heart is being tenderly mended. My hopes and dreams have been renewed.

What has taken place is worthy of remembrance.

So today, God, I remember you.

Weeping at Jesus’ Feet

Last week, I witnessed death for the first time. And it was just so devastating yet eye-opening all at once.

It all started when my friend Lacey and I found a beautiful place to have our quiet time with the Lord. We stumbled across this closed-off patio shaded by trees with such inviting tables and chairs. Joyfully, we entered into this piece of heaven and sat down to spend some time individually in the Word and prayer.

I began to read in the book of John about Lazarus, the man who died and was risen to life by Jesus. My heart began to feel heavy as I felt some of the emotion contained within this passage. Jesus is summoned to go see his dear friend Lazarus, who is very ill, and instead of going to see him right away, he waits. This is the man who heals the blind and lame. This is the man who speaks of love and God’s goodness. And yet when he finally makes it to where Lazarus and his sisters are staying, he finds that Lazarus has already died.

The most difficult part of this story for me to read and understand is when it says that Mary, Lazarus’ sister, falls down at Jesus’ feet and says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32). As she weeps on the ground, Jesus begins to weep as well.

The story does end with Lazarus being raised back to life, but I was stuck on that one part, that one image of Mary being raw and completely filled with sorrow before Jesus, the man who she thought was going to heal her brother and save her from this pain.

I sat in that beautiful, lonely patio and prayed. I confessed to God that I didn’t understand Him. I knew that Jesus was glorified through Lazarus’ death, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Mary’s suffering. It’s a similar suffering to the one I see all around me. People die every second of every day. People mourn from loss all around me. And Jesus does not heal everyone. Why, God, why?

I didn’t understand then and I still don’t fully understand now. But what happened next was something I needed to see. God found a way to calm my soul.

I looked across the table and saw that Lacey was watching the birds playing in the trees above us. She seemed so captivated by them, and I glanced at her Bible to see what she had been reading. It was a passage from Luke 12, but I couldn’t make out what exactly it was. I later discovered it was this passage about sparrows.

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7)

As I began observing the birds myself, I was reminded of a different passage about birds (which I also later discovered was in Luke 12).

Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? (Luke 12:24-25)

So here Lacey and I were, both thinking about birds. I didn’t know what she was reading, and she didn’t know what I had been thinking and had just spoken to God. It was at this very moment that we were unknowingly having our hearts prepared for what was to come.

The same birds that were innocently frolicking through the trees suddenly flew into a window above our heads and dropped to the ground next to us. There were three of them, and they laid motionless while we were rendered speechless.

Lacey jumped up to examine the birds and confirmed that at least one was dead. Tears flowed from my eyes. What does this mean, God? 

The two other birds were unmoving but breathing. It seemed as though they were paralyzed and hopeless. But Lacey did what I didn’t have the courage to do. She picked up the birds and stroked them. She prayed over them. And all I could think to do was pray, too.

God, in your Word it says that if you care for the birds, then you must care for us, right? But if you DON’T care for these birds, then what does that say about your love for us? 

It was in that moment God reminded me that He didn’t have to prove anything to me. Whether or not the birds continued to suffer and slowly die, His love for me and for His children would remain true. It always has been true and always will be.

But still I hoped that these birds would live. I begged God to heal.

The truth is that I knew in my head that God’s love was real, but in my heart there was doubt because so much in this world screamed otherwise.

How could I trust unwaveringly in God’s love and goodness when people are dying from gunshots, cancer, and starvation? How could I believe that God would take care of me when innocent people have been victims of suffering since the beginning of time?

These questions have haunted me because there isn’t one perfect answer. All that I have been told is to just believe.

And here was a moment where I had to believe more than ever. I was staring at death. True, they were birds, but they were living creatures I thought God cared about nonetheless. If they all died, then I would be faced with the choice to either continue believing God’s Word to be true or let that moment change my mind about His love.

He said that we are more valuable than birds. He said that we are worth more. He said that just as he cares for them, he cares for us.

So if they all died before my eyes, what would that say?

Even though I heard the voice of God telling me so surely that He loves His children, I wanted proof.

Understand this: God didn’t HAVE to heal those birds. They all stupidly crashed into a window and there seemed no divine reason for them to be rescued and raised back to life.

But I think that because He knew I was struggling and questioning, because He knew I was like Mary who found herself begging at Jesus’ feet, He chose to heal them as a testimony of His love.

It was a small and simple testimony, but one I needed and cherished nonetheless.

Just as quickly as they had come crashing down, the two unmoving birds responded to Lacey’s tender touch and flew back up into the trees to continue their lives.

They were well again. They were alive and healed.

And a part of my heart was healed, as well.

I still can’t fully fathom His love or completely understand why the world is the way it is, but I do know this: God is good. Even if he hadn’t healed those birds for me, He would still be good. That’s a hard concept to grasp. I think that humans are very limited in their understanding of life and pain and death. I know I find myself confused and baffled by such things all the time.

But I’m learning, slowly but surely.

God knows my weaknesses and my doubts, and He doesn’t condemn me for them. Instead, He invites me to believe in Him. And when I’m struggling to believe, He gives me bits and pieces of evidence and wonderment. Like He did with those birds on that day. It was a truly beautiful thing.

God is in the business of producing beautiful things– both around His children and in His children. That’s something I’m believing in more and more each day. That’s something we’re all beckoned to believe in. I think now is the time to pray for our eyes to be opened more than ever to the divine power and beauty around us. There is love and life to be found.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.