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.