One thing my Dad told me a month after Jordan died was to stop counting the months. I’m not really sure how to take that. Apparently its not good for me, but I couldn’t ignore it three days ago. I got a text from Melissa, and like always, she encouraged me, even in the midst of her grief.
I spent the day with one of my youth, Tim, at Gardner-Webb. I visited several friends and toured the new student center, which was insanely nice. This year is definitely going to be different. Through all the good times that were had that day, despite my Dad’s warning, I couldn’t get my mind off of that day two months earlier. I remember sitting in my basement, surrounded by the people God called me to minister to this summer. We were watching a movie and my associate pastor, John told me to come upstairs. Then the bomb dropped.
Your friend is dead.
Your brother in Christ, one whom you have shared so much of your life with, one who probably knew the most about you and whose life has thoroughly impacted yours more than most people you’ve ever met, is gone.
Of course, he’s not really gone. Not for good. You will see him again. But the guy you called 30 minutes ago, whose voicemail promptly answered you, didn’t have the life in his veins to pick up the phone. Didn’t have the breath in his lungs to stifle a “hello.”
If i’d only known. If I would’ve gone, like we had planned. If I didn’t have this youth event going on…if if if if. What could you have done, Stephen? Really? You think you would’ve changed his mind about running off. You never good, nobody ever could.
But here we are. Sitting in your living room, the place where you shared so many memories, so many jokes. So many things that can never be recreated. But in all honesty, recreating them would only come across as empty imitation. No, you will cherish those memories forever. And even in the sadness, even in the misery that is sure to follow in the months to come, you will hold on to the good times. You will hold on to the fellowship of two people who loved God and wanted their whole lives to be about the pursuit of Him. That’s a bond that goes deep.
I still remember that day, going to the park, to Paul’s house, just sitting in sadness and feeling this terrible hole in my chest, a pain that I couldn’t see the end of. Sometimes I still feel that tug in the corners of my eyes. Some days are worse than others, and joy has not left me, because joy real, unlike happiness. Happiness is fleeting, true joy is not. True joy comes from God, and is unshakeable because HE is unshakeable.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
So. Back to the two month mark. I had just dropped Tim off at home and was driving back to my house when I the thought that I should go to the park hit me. So I go. I thought about calling Scott or Katelyn to see if either wanted to go, but it was 10 o clock and pouring rain, so I decided to go at it alone. I trudged across the soggy ground and walked to the swings, not caring about how wet I was getting. I sat down and started swinging. My mind went back, of course, to the last time the guys went to the park.
I began crying, and my tears mixed with the rain so either would be indiscernible, if not for the difference between their temperature. I remembered my friend and thought of him, as I have often. I thought about our last substantial words to each other a day earlier, how we shared our I love you’s and he thanked me for being there for him, and I said the same to him. I had no idea of the finality of those words. I said them out of love for him, but not expecting them to be our last this side of heaven. I thought about the time we drove around together after church and we shared our secrets, talked about our weaknesses, wondered where God was in all of the mess that was our lives and resolutely decided together that God is faithful, no matter what.
After swinging in the rain, swimming in memory after memory after memory, I walked, soaking wet, over to the gazebo. This was the hardest part for me, as the last time we went to the gazebo was to break the news to a friend and the memory of that place is just pretty unbearable for me. But I went. I walked around, crying and praying. I prayed for God to bring peace to Melissa and Randall and Ashley. And for him to help all of us cope, help the sadness be a little more bearable. Help the memories provoke smiles and not pain. I prayed for myself, that I would be able to break free of the temptation to stay sad, which lead me into a lot of other traps. You’ll do a lot of dumb things when you’re depressed. I prayed for peace. And then I asked God for a sign. I asked him to show me that things would be okay.
And as if He just flipped a switch from Heaven, hearing my plea, I saw a big blue glow and heard an electric zap come from behind Sammy’s, and the lights in Belmont, all of them, just went down. With everything off like that, I was encased in the dark, which was a little unsettling. Silence, except for the beating of rain on the roof of the gazebo, greeted me and I heaved a sigh and began walking back to my car in the dark. As I approached the street over to the parking lot, everything came back on with a zap similar to the one that accompanied its turning off. I got in my car and smiled. God had shown me that things would be okay.
Call it wishful thinking.
Call it making a sign out of a coincidence.
But it was too perfect.
It was God who heard my cries and showed me that the darkness may come without warning. It may hit and leave you totally hopeless, but it won’t be long before the lights come back on. The rain still beat down against my windows. The storm still raged. But the lights were on. That was a clear sign for me that all the hopelessness I had experienced was not in vain. The pain was not devoid of promise. That really, the sorrow lasts for the night and the night may be long. It may feel like you’re never gonna get to the end, but the joy of the Lord, which is our strength, the joy that pierces the dark and explodes in glorious extravagance, it comes in the morning. And the morning is coming.
Though all of the pain, the weakness, the addiction, we have a hope in Christ. And nothing can break that. Not death, not pain, not sin, nothing.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.