Sunday, August 13, 2017

beyond this land of parting...

This life is hard.  Plain and simple fact; difficult and confusing circumstances.

Losing someone in this life is never an easy thing to experience.  But when the circumstances are grim and the life still had so much more to live...that is simply heartbreaking.

Anyone who has known me for longer than about 2.5 minutes knows that I have a strong love for teenagers.  I'm the weird one who seriously loves the snark and the sass, the crazy range of emotions, the strong desire for independence forged with the strong desire to be taken care of; the awkwardness, the silliness, the whole shebang.  I love them.  

I always thought I would like the younger kids the most--both of my sisters are exceptional with young kids, and I always just figured I followed suit (nope...I would take 20 teenagers over 5 five year olds any day of the week).  But when I student taught, they assigned me to 8th grade (much to my uncertainty)...and I loved it!  I taught 8th grade for three years and loved {almost} every minute of it.  I went back the next two years and taught remediation at the high school for 9th and 10th grade, and I loved it.  But the work that has stirred my passion the most has been my role as "youth minister" to our teens for the past 8-9 years.

I counted last night, and I think we've had around 25 kids in our youth group during those years.  And still to this day and for every day after, they will be my kids.  We go through so much together--we've walked through celebrations and losses; laughed together more than I can measure, and cried together any time we've needed; we've prayed and learned and grown immensely; we've become family.  

And this week that family suffered a huge hit.  

Our sweet and precious JJ was lost this week.  And it has been so, so hard.

JJ was always one of our quieter kids who took a little while to open up.  But once he got comfortable, he fit right in with our crazy, quirky bunch and we welcomed him with open arms.  One of my favorite memories to share with him was our communion during Encounter, a practice of eucharisteo, gratefulness.  As we broke bread together, we went around the circle speaking aloud what we were grateful for in that moment.  And JJ's response about burst my heart open...he was grateful for our group, for a place he fit in and felt loved...  That dear ones is the meat of what the church is and my biggest hope for all of our kids who come our way.  

I also got to stand beside his mama as we watched the beautiful transformation of his baptism.  I got to hear the stories about his friends and provide encouragement about his struggles on rides home.  I got to see this once shy boy bloom into the star of the camp skit, jumping around singing "JJ's a cow! JJ's a cow!" (an inside joke that will always stay close to my heart and make me smile).  I got to laugh until I cried as I watched/made the teens play beanboozled--JJ ate every single one like a champ! (and then blew nasty skunk breath in my face and ran away giggling, haha).  I got to see him grow up into an incredibly handsome young man with such a tender spirit and kind heart.

About two years ago, his family began to attend church somewhere else, so we didn't get to see each other as often as we had before.  But just last month as I was visiting our group at Camp Red Oak Springs, I glanced around and a familiar face caught my eye.  My JJ was there and I was SO excited to get to see him and hug his neck!  He was so happy and talked to me about school and his plans to come back to Encounter next summer.  He laughed when his friend asked if I was his mom (I used to be confused for a teenager...somehow very quickly, now I'm confused as the mom of a teenager!  Gracious).  We hugged and promised to keep in touch.

And this week, he's gone.

This world and this life are so very broken.  We see evidence of that every single day in a myriad of ways.  Some pain is visible and public and seen; and some pain are kept in the deepest parts of people's souls.  You absolutely never know the weight every person you meet is carrying.  And sadly, so many people carry their burdens alone.

In the middle of the heartbreak though, I am able to find the tiniest bit of hope...a feeling of trust.  Because in the middle of this heartbreak and brokenness and suffering, my Jesus holds true.  And in the midst of all of the brokenness, he is making all things new.  All of creation is being redeemed.  Restored to the glorious perfection of its Creator's intent.  And when that work is completed, the heartbreak will be no more.  The pain will be gone.  The brokenness will be mended.  And all will be made new.

So while this week has been terrible and I have cried multiple times, often without warning...  While all I want to do is hold to my kids and never let go (my own kids and my youth group kids)...  While my spirit wants to be afraid...  I will still cling to hope.

Because our hope doesn't end with death.  Jesus walked out of that tomb and he brought with him freedom, hope, grace, and life.  He left death behind--the fear of it, the sting of it, the finality of it.  And that is such a beautiful truth to dwell on, especially in times like these.

JJ, you will always hold a dear and special place in my heart and in my memories.  I am beyond grateful for the time we were able to share, and I hope with all of my heart that you saw Jesus during your times with us.  I will always have so many questions and so many what ifs and so many wishes...but I will also have the solid belief that we will reunite again in a renewed creation.  I look forward to that day.  You are so, so loved and incredibly missed.

love, angie

"Beyond this land of parting, losing, and leaving...
Far beyond the losses, darkening this...
And far beyond the taking and the bereaving...
Lies a summer land of bliss..."

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