One of the joys of life is the many friends that God introduces to us along the journey of life. But with the joy also comes the sorrow. Life ebbs and flows with both life and death. Since last Fall, I know of at least four young leaders who are now resting in the promises of the resurrection. These four young leaders were taken from us way too soon and it is so difficult to comprehend. My heart is breaking and I once again feel like I am walking through the darkness of Lent.
Yesterday I learned of the death of another youth ministry colleague/friend who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Rachel was on vacation with her family when she suffered a pulmonary embolism. I met Rachel through the youth ministry world. In fact, in January, while at the ELCA Extravaganza, Rachel stopped me while we were both descending a set of stairs. She introduced herself and shared how she thought we should be friends since we have a lot of the same friends in common. I shared how much I missed my Fargo-Moorhead friends and asked her to watch over them for me. She smiled with that beautiful smile of hers and promised that she would do just that.
Rachel was a radiant light who exuded God’s love and joy in the world. She gathered with the youth from her church and 31000 of our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ at the youth gathering last week in Houston. In that stadium, we all created a wave of hope. Today I find the image of the lights lighting up that stadium coming to mind as I remember Rachel as she rests in the promises of the resurrection.
With Rachel’s death, grief once again sets in. “Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hallow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” (Jamie Anderson)
And with love that has no place to go, I am thankful for a community that is standing in that same place with me and all those who know and love Rachel. Another youth ministry friend (Tom Schwolert) captured this well when he wrote, “This hurts deeply because we all know her even if we’ve never met her. We know her passion for sharing the love of Jesus with young people. May we be grateful for every life Rachel touched and that she is in the loving arms of Jesus.” Together, as a body of Christ, we are all linked as beautiful beloved children of God.
Rachel now rests in the promises of the resurrection along with Maggie, Justin, and Ben. These faithful servants know that for them and all of us Jesus truly changes everything. Yet it is hard to trust in these promises when we are having to say good bye to our friends too early in life. It is a part of life that I would much rather not have to experience. But the reality is that grief comes because we loved these friends and family members. This love is grounded in God’s love for the world, but it is also a love that God calls us to share with one another.
And in the midst of my grief, I find myself clinging to the book of Romans. “If we live, we live to the Lord. If we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lords.” Or in the words of Clarence W. Hall, “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.”
For Rachel, Ben, Maggie, and Justin, life; eternal life found in Christ, not death has the final word! Thanks be to God!
Linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra linkup, Mary and Tell His Story, Holley and Coffee for your Heart, and Kristin and Porch Stories.