In Montgomery, AL...we lost a child today. I know his parents...having been Sunday School classmates and fellow church members for many years. We were never close, but we were acquaintances...those people that you know of and smile and speak to...but you don't socialize with or normally travel in the same circles.
A year or so ago, their children began attending the same school that son attends and Jill graduated from in 2008. A small Christian school affiliated with a local Presbyterian church with class sizes ranging from 70-80 students...meaning that approximately 975 students attend there in any given year from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The boy was a football player, and seemed to have everything going for him in this life. At least that's the way that most people viewed it. He had two sisters...one older and one younger. He lived in a nice neighborhood, was taken to church, and had friends. Beyond that...there are few things that I know.
Except that he is no longer with us. He was 13.
Today, youth ministers and counselors spoke to children who were given a lot of support but very little in the way of details. There have been no fewer than three prayer and worship services planned today. Everyone is terrified. This is not supposed to happen. How do you speak to Christian kids at a Christian school about the spiritual ramifications of suicide? (Answer? You don't. You explain that the child has died, but you do not explain how. You leave that to the parents.) How do you explain to children awash in angst, drama, and hormonal surges that life is what it is...a struggle? How to you give hope when you can't provide answers?
Well, on a dark day, you are left with little choice but to shine a light.
Today, I sat down with my 17 year old son. I clearly state that I know what a blessing that is. Today, I am not as concerned with the current state of his room (abysmal), his grades (could be better) or the length of his hair (a little too long for my liking) as I am with the state of his heart...and his mind.
My boy has been through some trials in the past 24 months. On Halloween 2007, he was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. Two hospitalizations, two rounds of steroids, and a ton of daily preventatives later...he has put on 45 pounds of weight and six inches of height. He is still shorter than he wants to be and looks younger than he'd like...but he's making progress.
He has experienced pain, rejection of some friends, and even had a girlfriend during the summer. He has been...a teenaged boy. But it hasn't always been easy. Kids can be cruel. Girls can be unkind. Bodies don't always cooperate. That's life. Sometimes we have to accept that we won't get our way...so we can savor those times when we actually have things roll our way...and then some.
It has always been part of the plan that he would graduate from high school, go to college, get a job, and one day marry. At least that has been part of MY plan for him. I just wanted to make sure that a good future...in whatever form it eventually takes...was part of his plans too.
So, I sat in front of my son today and told him how proud I am of how smart, strong, and awesome he is. I had the chance to hug him and tell him no fewer than a dozen times just how much I love him. He already knew...but I wanted him to hear it again today. As we sat there, he tried to figure out what could possibly have gone so wrong. Why we are without a young man today and why his family is dealing with heart-ripping grief.
Suicide is one of those subjects that we don't like to broach with our children because we don't want to introduce the idea. We like to think that we will read the signs and will surely intervene should we suspect a downward spiral. We cannot wrap our minds around the idea that one of our family members would be in so much pain that it would escape our notice. We pride ourselves on staying involved and knowing what is going on. The truth? None of us are mind-readers, and nobody's logic exactly matches our own. We need to remember that our children are a part of us...but they are not us. They do not have our experiences, capabilities or capacities. That's why they have us...to intervene and to teach.
As I was talking to my son, he told me that perhaps a glimmer of light could be seen through this darkness. He said that perhaps hundreds of families in our town will be having conversations much like the one he and I had today. There may have been many children on the edge whose lives will be saved today because parents spoke the truth in love. He wants to believe that there is something that God will use to give a glimmer of hope. That's how God wired him. And that in turn gives me hope.
If you are young...remember that hearts are tender and not always strong enough to withstand abuse, meanness, or careless words. Some are...but others may take what you say as the complete truth. Remember to speak words of kindness to each other...and about each other. Words are like swords at your age.
If you are a parent...remember to cherish your children and try to remember that being a teenager isn't as easy as we tend to remember it. The stress is tremendous. The competition is fierce. The temptations are beyond comprehension. Breakups that we as adults see as "one of many"...are intense and sometimes charged with other complications that we do not fully understand. Family issues seem to be the end of the world to them...because in their world...if there are issues with their family...it rocks all that they've been taught. They don't think ahead...because they are not yet trained to do so...beyond obtaining a driver's license, graduating, or heading off to college.
Today was a dark day. It was difficult to focus. I was feeling the pain of loss of a child in a family across town. I was living the loss of control that every parent feels when the kids are out of sight. But more than that...I was feeling the loss of innocence of many children today. Children whose parents have to speak words of truth to them in response to this tragedy...or choose to miss a powerful teachable moment.
So, please pray for the family. A part of the body of Christ is in agony tonight. We all feel that pain. But shine the light of truth on this subject with those God has placed in your life. Hug the little souls that are in your care tightly tonight. And pray that if nothing else...my son is right...and by having this subject brought up in conversation...perhaps other tragedies...and the resulting pain...will be avoided.