The people you see in the photo above are some of the greatest people I have ever had the opportunity to know in my life. They are, along with many others who weren’t able to be here for this picture, the incredible people Missy and I had the privilege to youth pastor for nearly 5 years. In 2003, we moved from St. Louis to Prescott, AZ to walk into what would be one of the greatest chapters of ministry I could ever hope to experience.
In 2007, we left with tears in our hearts…literally, as we began a journey under the direction of God that would eventually lead us to pastoring a church ourselves one day. And today, we have that great church…a church we couldn’t more blessed to pastor.
But in those Arizona years – my life changed…by the lives you see in that picture above and these below:
Anyways, there are ton of other pics, literally thousands…no joking of pictures of moments that really defined the experience we had in Arizona with these students. It was so surreal and incredible to experience the ‘reunion’ as seen in the very first pic on this blog. I’ll never forget that ‘REUNION’ night that took place just last Saturday night, it was truly a blessing.
But, I wish it happened for a completely different reason.
You see, just over a week ago, one of those students passed away. Her name was Leah.
Leah, battled cancer for years after being diagnosed during her senior year of high school in 2004. That diagnosis completely transformed our entire church, particularly our youth group.
She battled that cancer for 4 years after finally experiencing what literally everyone around her would call a true miracle after experiencing healing from cancer in 2008. I’ll never forget how her struggle shaped and transformed my wife as Missy literally prayed for hours and hours and hours on end to see Leah healed along with her family and the community of faith that was around her. She has been cancer free ever since. She, along with her husband Pat and son Asher have been some of our very best friends, even with the long distance between us being on the other side of the nation – we have always remained very close.
We even vacationed together…
We literally found ourselves just plain happy to be around them. We couldn’t ask for better friends, they were always a great support to us and we were honored to return the favor to them…we loved them dearly.
When we received the news that Leah passed away from a rare Auto Immune Disease, our hearts sank, our spirits were indescribably heavy, and tears flowed down our faces as we made plans to head back out to Arizona to hopefully be of some comfort to her family.
In fact, I am typing this blog after having returned home from Arizona a little over a day ago.
I am still weeping, I am still shocked, I am still confused as to why this happened to such an incredible woman, to such a great family. I mean, this family is truly LOVED. I watched over 500 people attend the memorial services for this precious girl whose life changed so many lives. She was a true world changer. I can say that, because she changed my world.
I don’t have the answers as to why this happened. I don’t know if I ever will.
I found myself over this past weekend looking for those answers…and nearly every time I do, I come up with nothing, except more heartache and pain. Except…
One thing I did learn over the course of this past weekend, is that the relationships we have in our lives, need to be treasured…treasured with all of our hearts. Because, we really do not possess the knowledge of when those relationships may one day…end.
Now, don’t get wrong, I have Philippians 3:14 in my sights for myself as I am EXTREMELY CERTAIN Leah had for her life:
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
I know Leah is experiencing the reward of her run…experiencing the embrace of her Savior…experiencing true eternal life…experiencing what we all one day hope to experience…heaven. And that is the place where our relationship with Leah will one day continue…I cannot wait for that day.
But, until heaven, I learned this weekend, or perhaps re-learned…to make my life on this earth…count. Count, by being a strength to someone around my life, being a true friend to others, being a light in someone’s life who may be experiencing dark times, being a source of joy to someone who is experiencing sadness…being an opportunity for someone to experience life…at…its…fullest. And not allowing ANYTHING to stand in the way of the relationships God has placed around my life.
Because that’s who and what Leah was to me. Leah was that to everyone she knew. I literally want to be a ‘LEAH’ to the world around me.
You know, ministry is a machine that is built on relationships. And relationships are what the church should be all about. I have the opportunity to pastor a great church, and as a pastor, I have the responsibility to ensure that my church is focused in the right direction.
This past weekend…refocused me…it showed me the priority relationships should have in all of our lives and the strength we need to use to keep them healthy and close…my church will be blessed because of this past weekend – simply because of Leah.
This doesn’t at all take away the pain in my heart, but one thing it does do, is help with the healing.
Thank you to that incredible youth group in Arizona for being one of the greatest times of my life. It was an honor reconnecting with you…and remembering one of our own. And I know it was a blessing to Pat and Asher as they mourn her loss. May we continue to be that him in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead as well.
Lastly…Thank you Leah, for what your life stood for…for what it continues to stand for…as we take a very powerful legacy that you placed in all of us…for us…to live out…in our lives.