This will be different. My usual expositions touting humor to smooth the rough places will, of necessity, take a short sabbatical. Yesterday my son’s best friend killed himself.
In 1993 we moved from the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to the suburbs of Atlanta. My rising third grader felt some trepidation, worrying that he would not know anyone. I reassured him that God probably had a really neat friend all picked out, so if we never moved there, he would never meet this unknown little person. He was somewhat intrigued and curious as to how the Lord would come through.
The first day of school a lovely teacher greeted him with a hug and told him to sit in front. The seats were arranged in twos; a desk buddy if you will. Most of the eight and nine year olds stared at this newcomer. His seat pal, however, had a smile that beamed all the way across the room. I breathed a sigh of thanks. This guy was a real cutie, full of personality and confidence. My “baby” visibly relaxed. Maybe third grade wouldn’t be so bad after all.
He and Ryan bonded almost immediately. The new friend’s father was an evangelist. His beautiful mother was a music leader and singer. His little sister was two years younger and another cute little smiley face. I don’t know if all preacher’s kids share that same self assurance naturally developed from being surrounded by an audience from birth, but this one was a healthy and engaging blend of parents who spent their lives ministering in word and song.
They learned to play basketball, mastered the skateboard, swam until they practically grew fins, and took up drums and guitar. They had adventures important to little boys. With Lucy dog’s help, they built a “fort”, and then experimented in the driveway to see if tennis balls would burn. Tons of chocolate chip cookies and cold milk were consumed during endless games of Monopoly. Once, mouth rimmed with crumbs and a white mustache, Ryan said, “You treat me like a king, Mrs. G.”
When sleepovers happened on Saturday nights, both sat in church on Sunday morning between my son’s dad and me. I would jot down questions to ask them later to see if they had been paying attention. It became a game to prove they could draw pictures of planes and rockets and listen to a sermon at the same time. Being in a Christian school and memorizing scripture every Friday didn’t hurt. In fact, once, when Ryan stayed with us while his parents were away, he was accidentally hit in the head with a baseball. For a brief moment he seemed knocked out, then came up off of the ground reciting bible verses! Hallelujah.
Each year they grew taller and more in tune. They even made up what they called their “secret language”. In sixth grade, the math teacher told us he had them separated on either side of the room, but they could still read each other’s minds with a look. When one was up to mischief, the other was not far behind. As the years passed, they made lists of the cutest girls and the coolest cars, each aspiring to become acquainted with those two mysteries as soon as appropriate and legal.
As freshmen, they went to different high schools and began to grow apart. By now Ryan’s dad was a full time Pastor. Little sister had grown into a gorgeous young lady who sang as sweetly as her mother. Her brother played the drums or guitar for praise and worship.
Finally, two and a half years ago, my son and I moved once again. Our situation had suffered a drastic and painful change and it was prudent to be near relatives for his last two years of school. The last night before we rolled out of the peach state, Ryan showed up with a football video game. Armed with snacks and soda, they spent hours playing and reminiscing and eating.
Once in a while on my way to the washer, I would hear a snippet of their young recollections:
“That first day you gave me a pencil then demanded it back.”
“Remember when the skateboard rolled into the storm drain?”
“Your dad could always beat us because he bought Park place.”
So much to talk about, so much to store up as they cautiously felt their way toward manhood, a little reluctant to give up happy childish times, yet eager to forge on.
Sadly, three hundred miles was another lifetime. Last year, Ryan’s family suffered incredible damage from the one who roams the earth seeking whom he may devour. That private situation blindsided this sweet boy who had once reached out to my only child.
Through a mutual friend, I heard that he wasn’t even sure he still wanted to go to Bible College. It did not seem serious from this far away. Of course, I reasoned, maturity and time will help him to stay on track. He is grounded and supported, he’ll be fine. This morning, our lives, and many others, changed forever. Yesterday he hanged himself.
Today I wept and prayed. I loved him too. I called for support from fellow writers who responded so dearly. Then I had to do the hardest thing I have ever done, tell my own heart, my precious son, that his childhood playmate succumbed. He is dazed, numb, and incredulous.
In my humanness, I scream, “ IT IS NOT FAIR!” How did Satan get through a door slightly ajar? (We just expounded on doors last week.) Now I am thinking about LABOR. It occurred to me that we, the church, are not labor intensive enough in these end times.
The number one cause of teenage death is suicide! Think about that. How stunning, how unnecessary, how obscene! Let’s DO something about it.
We labor to HAVE them; how can we labor to KEEP them? I am speaking of we, the corporate body of believers. The “we”to which I belong. It is time to kick it up a notch, in fact a hundred notches.
The evil stench of worldly sewage is ravaging our babies. They are at incredibly high risk to fall prey to Satan’s lies. God help us. God help us all.