Beauty out of tragedy. GoranHorvat@Pixabay
The three of them rode their bikes from Glendora to my house in Azusa. It was a haul, about four miles, and way before wearing helmets was a thing. I was thirteen and there were three cute fourteen-year-old boys standing at my screen door.
This was every insecure teenage-girl’s dream.
Now, all I remember about that moment was one of them saying, “Hey! We’ve got a new pastor at the church who’s leading youth group. You oughta come.”
Did I need any more coaxing? Why would I? Van, John, and Clint were the evangelists. I was the happy acolyte ready to join up with Glendora Methodist Youth Fellowship. I mark that moment as the start of my spiritual journey.
Youth group was a lot of fun. Our new pastor was great. He challenged us to develop our faith by (gasp) reading our Bible daily. I couldn’t get enough. I loved our MYF group.
A year later – 50 years ago today – it was just Clint at the door. John and Van, he told me, had been killed in a tragic (aren’t they all?) car accident in Mexico.
Life became “before” and “after” the accident.
My parents weren't involved in church so my dad dropped me off at Glendora UMC the Sunday after John and Van’s death. All I remember about that service was me sobbing alone in a pew. In a time when adults had no first name, Mrs. Miller came over to me and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. Even now, fifty years later, the tears still come.
The double funeral was a blur.
Life after for the families of John and Van went in two directions: one left the church, crushed and the other stayed, crushed. Most of us – the youth – dug deeper into our faith, clinging to anything that might help us make meaning of such loss. I don’t recall any talk about grief counseling, though in hindsight, we all needed it. But boy, did I love Jesus at that point and I clung to my youth group in a way I can’t describe.
Years later, Van’s mom – the one who stayed at the church – was wondering aloud if Van had made it to heaven. I hated that question. I hated it for a variety of reasons but most profoundly because Van, John and Clint were the reasons that I became a person of life-long faith. How might my life have been different had they not stopped by fifty-plus years ago with that simple invitation to join them on a youthful journey of faith?
Those fifty years seem to have flown by. I still know that it was not our loving God’s intention that the accident happened. But somehow and in some way, something good came out of it.
Everyone’s life makes a difference.
Your life makes a difference.
You make a difference; even if you don’t know it or may never know it.
God has a purpose for each of us – no matter how much time we may have here on this earth.
Rest in sweet peace, John and Van. Thank you for showing me the way.