I met Joel Cornett on (*gasp surprise*) twitter. Joel is part of the leadership team at Gap Community Church and has a deep passion for faith. While I tiptoed away from many religious connections after Kevin’s death, when I began following Joel on twitter I sensed not only his passion but his sincerity and belief that God is above all. Joel shared with everyone his account of his church youth group’s experience with the death of a friend on twitter one day, and I immediately wanted to hear more about how teens were facing death. Did it make them question their faith too? Did they really embrace it or try to cover it up? Joel took the time to interview the group and here is their story:
I understand that everyone deals with loss in different ways, so the way I handle it and the things I find comforting may be very different than you (for example, I’ve been told that I tend to be almost sickeningly optimistic about things…) So this is just how I deal with loss, and, how those I have personally talked to, deal with loss.
Just a short time ago, a young girl in the local school here passed away. She was diagnosed with cancer about 11 months ago, and lost her battle at the end of March. Some of the youth here in our youth group were very close to her. I remember when I first found out that she had taken a turn for the worse about a week before, it rocked some of the youth to their very core. That night when we first found out, about 5 of us went down to the youth building and prayed for her, for all of her friends, and her family. Prayed that God would give them, and her, strength to endure whatever came next. We prayed for comfort. We prayed for healing. But above all, we prayed that God would do what was best, and that HE would be the focus of it all.
Then, just a few days after we spent a few hours praying, she passed away. One of the youth told me the story of her first hearing about the young girl’s death:
“My mom told me while I was at work. I had just come back from lunch and I was packing pretzels, and she kept on asking me if I wanted to go out to lunch, or go somewhere. I told her I had already eaten, and she still kept on insisting. So I asked what was up. I asked her if it was about Danielle. Yes. I asked her if it was bad news. Yes. Then I started to panic. I asked, “is it dead, bad?” she nodded and started crying.
I was in shock. At first I kept on packing because we were short on work that day and I didn’t want to disappoint my boss and fellow workers. Then, I started absorbing it, slowly. I started crying, but still packing. I started crying harder. Once I start crying, I could control myself. I decided that I should leave because no one wants to see a pretzel tour with a crying girl in the background. I went home. I cried, I prayed, I looked through all of our conversations since she was diagnosed, and I wrote down my thoughts. Here is the first thing I wrote, normally I have to think things through before I write, but I feel like God wrote this through me:
One goes down and the day goes on.
A piece is missing but the rest remains.
A body is empty, lost of life,
But the soul, the spirit, the person,
Which we all loved, is in the perfect place.
Earth is forgotten,
Up in heaven the pure spirit is housed.
Not defined by previous actions,
Not defined by previous thoughts,
But defined by heart, love, and faith.”
I don’t believe that God makes everything happen, or even that everything happens for a reason. Some things just happen. But I do believe that in all things, there can be something good to come of it.
But what about death? What good comes of death? Sure, I can see it, but what about all those around me? Do they see it? How can you tell them “There is something good that will come out of this” when they’ve just lost one of their best friends? You say “God will find a way to make this good” and they ask you “How?” and you don’t know how to answer. “I don’t know.” “Then how do you know that something good will come of it?” “I just do.” Yeah. Real strong case there… But I guess that’s why they call it faith.
And then we offer this almost meaningless comfort/encouragement to “stay strong”… What the crap? Someone they loved just died, why do they have to stay strong? Brooke (one of the youth who was very close to the young girl) told me “To me it sounds like they want you to build up walls, be emotionless, hold in the tears, act like nothing is wrong, and carry on normal life. Why would you want someone to do that? Getting through troubles is a learning experience, and a great time for growth… maybe it is just me, but when I hear stay strong, it seems like you are putting a band aid on a wound before cleaning it out. You are just storing all the bad stuff, and eventually it will need to come out or things will become infected.”
I only met the young girl once at one of our youth kids’ birthday parties. As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t remember her until I saw a picture of her on Facebook. But her story made my heart break. No parent should ever have to bury their child.
I asked a few of the youth to tell me about her death. Questions they struggled with, how they handled it, etc.
Then after the funeral, we were sitting with some of the student leaders before youth group, as well as some of her other close friends, letting them process and unravel their feelings over the whole situation. And I got to hear how this girl, whom I never really met, had impacted so many lives. “She was funny.” “She was never awkward.” “She loved life.” “She looked to God throughout this whole thing, and stayed positive, and tried to do whatever she could to help anyone.” “She cared more about others and their situation than her own.” One of the students went on to tell a story about how a group of people were praying for this girl and, in the middle of their prayer, this young girl interrupted and began to pray for the group. She cared more about them and what they were going through, and what they would end up going through, than she did about her own situation. “Her influence on other people inspired me to influence people.” They loved the life she lived, and her death inspired them to live like she did. THAT is the good that God will bring from this death.
One of the youth I talked to put it this way: “Everyone is going to die; God has perfect timing. If someone truly knew Danielle, they would know she was extremely faithful, and she made the most out of life. Our time here on Earth is so minuscule compared to the eternal life in heaven. I feel like Danielle was able to reach more people from dying how she did, than she could have accomplished without it. I am not saying I am happy she had cancer, but what was intended for bad, Danielle used for good”
And to hear what they, some of her closest friends, had to say, it makes you think. What’s the impact you are leaving behind? If you died tonight, what would people say about you? Would your life inspire others to live a better life?
You can read more about Joel Cornett at his blog.