Where life gets real, there is always hope

We lost a young man in our church last Tuesday afternoon. He died as the result of a tragic accident. Suddenly. On the day he graduated from 8th grade. He was a good kid but not perfect – an adventurous boy, a reliable friend, a brother you could count on, a loving son. He regularly humbled his father at 1 on 1 basketball and whispered “I love you” in his mother’s ear. So said the preacher who solemnly remembered him to a packed sanctuary yesterday.

Bennett Rill was 14 years old.

He had just been confirmed in the church. That means that he had completed a 4 month study program, been mentored by an adult in our church and been interviewed by one of our pastors about his readiness to answer the question, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

He answered yes. That ‘yes’ didn’t prevent the accident which ended his life. That’s a tough one. Lots of questions hover – the why’s, the what if’s, the where were you’s. I suspended those questions as I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the story of Bennett. The kid who lived life all out. The kid who wasn’t afraid to love and to say so. The kid who competed for the complete joy it gave him, not to impress but to give his best when his best was needed.

Real DealThey called him the “real deal.” That is, not just the kid who says the right words but the one who does the right thing. That lives his life and his faith just the same. The one you have no doubt about – he’s telling the truth. You can see it. Not just in church. Not just in school. Not just at home. But on the field of play. And for a 14 year old boy, that’s where life gets real.

A cousin (and pastor) said of him, “He was stoked for joy.” I love that. Stoked. Prepared. Ready to go. Looking for the action. His coach said, “Bennett was ready in season and out. There was no off season.” He was ready. We weren’t ready for this.

Still, as Christians we are meant to be ready. Ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. And so I sit with this tragedy and the reading that comes close to hand. Madeleine L’Engle has written,

“mediate is part of the word immediate, the place of now, where past and future come together.”

The Great Mediator reaches back into our now. Back from the future that he has already defined but where He has promised not to intervene and, I expect through great tears, He sews and mends and heals. Time and space are not linear to Him. They don’t happen in our order. This is what makes the impossible, possible. In that mediate space, chronos (our time) and Kairos (God’s time) converge.

I conclude this because I have seen it before. Some years ago when my brother died suddenly and without warning I asked in my grief, “Where were you, Lord? If you had been there my brother wouldn’t have died.” And He showed me my journal of a few days before where I had written those very words from John 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I had concluded that we were foolish to suppose He wasn’t there for Martha or for us. Three days before I knew I would need these words, God had provided them.

But now Bennett…and I walk into my neighborhood Starbucks, searching for words to share with this family. Suddenly, coincidentally, God-incidentally, I see three young men standing near a beautiful arrangement of pink flowers. “They are for our friends, the Rills,” they tell me.

I ask about their friend Bennett and they tell me the story of the roof and the friend who fell and the voltage. “We were with him,” they say. “See, look at the marks on my hands.” Sure enough, there are burn marks across the fingers of one of the boys. The Truth is standing before me.

But they echo in my mind in a different voice. They are the words Jesus spoke to his doubting disciple Thomas.

“Put your finger here; see my hands… Stop doubting and believe.” ~ John 20:27

And there Hope was, standing before me, in a rising 9th grader, speaking words thousands of years old that he may never have heard or read.

Even in tragic death there is hope. The decision is less to cling to life than to cling to the Lord of life, who has conquered death and written a much greater story. CS Lewis writes it so beautifully at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia:

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

What a glorious image. May it settle upon this family and this community and lead us forward.

About wlebolt

Life comes at you fast. I like to catch it and toss it back. Or toss it up to see where it lands. I do my best thinking when I'm moving. And my best writing when I am tapping my foot to a beat no one else hears. Kinesthetic to the core.

Posted on June 25, 2013, in In Action, Life, Sermon Response and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Kathryn Litten

    Beautifully imaged, Wendy. The burn marks are there for all of us to “see.”

  2. Beautifully thought out and written. I was just reading this: “Fear God, dear child–respect your leaders; don’t be defiant or mutinous. Without warning your life can turn upside-down, and who knows how or when it might happen?” (Prov. 24:21-22 MSG)

    It seemed that he showed everyone how to do it right. Beautiful testimony.


    Words that speak to me as I sit by a bed here in the ICU. I cry, “Where are you Lord?” And I am reminded that He is in the wind, in the sea, in the stars, and in this room. (The irony of God being in the wind is not lost on me as I watch him struggle to breathe.) We are never alone, never without the Presence. It is what we choose to do with that Presence that enables the exercising of our Christian faith.

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