by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
No one is immune from the tragedies of life.
This year, our community mourned the death of two high school students and came together in support for two more that were in critical condition after a severe traffic accident while on their way to a Young Life meeting. These four girls were well known, much loved and touched many lives. My family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I used to coach one of the girls who died.
As I spent time at the school talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together. It is in moments like these where we learn the most valuable life lessons and are reminded of the importance of community. Not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens.
Along with the idea of community, I am reminded of the importance of being intentional with loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much they are loved; to live each moment with appreciation for the time that we have with our family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know with our words and actions, how much they mean to us.
Through this tragedy I am also reminded of how important it is to live with purpose. Watching the students flow into the room set aside for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear stories of how their lives have been enriched in knowing the girls who had died. These remarkable young ladies were taken from us too early, but they are remembered through those impacted with their kind words and their positive actions.
From the love and support displayed by the faculty, students and the surrounding schools and communities, I saw God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY tends to knock us off our feet, but the WHO enables us to stand back up. Though our understanding may be shaken, our faith in Jesus Christ will not be destroyed. His loving arms embrace us and bring comfort and hope in our times of pain and sorrow.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Looking for Light in the Darkness
In the weeks following the accident, many questions arose as the community tried to make sense of, and find purpose in, their pain and sorrow. In fact, life-tragedies often cause us to feel the impossibility of walking through the brokenness of a situation while overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair.
When I was in college my soccer coach took our team into a cold, wet cave. We had an easy time navigating it until Coach told us to turn off our flashlights and find our way out. What had seemed easy before, became difficult as we repeatedly hit our heads on the cave walls while desperately seeking the exit. Finally, our coach told one of us to turn on a flashlight. The darkness vanished instantly. While the light did not show us the exit, it did reveal the direction in which to go as we made our way slowly forward towards the brightness of sunshine just outside the cave.
To those facing tragedy, the challenge is in trying to find our way out of the dark cave of loss. There is a light that can guide us through the darkness of confusion and pain. The girls who died both knew the Source of this light, for each had given her life to Jesus Christ. Because they looked to Him, their lives continue to shine brightly as a reminder of the ONE that we all can look to: the One who can heal our broken hearts and strengthen our weary souls.
This same Jesus is ready to give light for us all. He hears our cries. He is ready to embrace us in His loving arms and help us move forward through brokenness and pain. While this process may never be fully completed in this life, we have the sure hope that He will one day guide us to that exit to be fully embraced by the true Source of light that awaits us at the end. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know the certainty of a future where He will wipe away all tears; where there will be no more death, sorrow or pain (Revelation 21:4).
Until that day, may the legacy of these girls continue on in how we choose to live. Like them, may we embrace the light that Jesus gives so we, too, may be a light for others.
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12).
No matter where you are in your life, remember: The WHY may knock you to the ground, but the WHO is always there to help you stand back up. God has throughout the past, and will continue to, prove faithful as He turns tragedy into triumph.
Words from the girls’ parents:
We have received permission from the parents of the girls involved in this tragic accident to share the following:
from Lexi’s dad at her funeral:
“We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support in our community and even distant communities have offered much encouragement, support and prayers.
“I’ve had time to reflect on what has happened and like everyone else, I asked WHY? It does not seem fair that my baby girl can be here one minute and then taken from us the next. WHY?
“Lexi loved her family, friends, teammates, teachers and neighbors. Lexi spoke to you because she genuinely wanted to share this love with you. Remember the pain you feel now and realize this happened for a reason. God wants us to display the best version of ourselves to one another. Please Wear Your Love on Your Sleeve. Lexi wants us to.”
from Danielle’s Cross Country coach Barry McLaughlin:
“Danielle had an unbridled enthusiasm and love for life and for the Lord which was evident to everyone on the team. She was a spark who ignited a desire for those around her to serve Christ and a spark on the cross country team that encouraged others to give their very best. We all still feel the hurt and loss.”
from Leah’s best friend Kylie:
“Leah is a light who shines with a love for God. She loves telling people about Jesus and showing them His love through her actions. Leah is a great friend with a great passion for God and a smile that is contagious to everyone who is near.”
from Leah’s mother from hospital:
When asked in a text from Bill Rudge, “Are you willing to face this tragedy for God to be glorified?” Betsy texted right back, “Yes we are.”
from Emily’s mom from hospital:
“It’s truly the power of prayer. It’s been extremely difficult, but the good Lord is getting us through. You know I really questioned my faith when this all happened. I don’t anymore. If our story can change just one person then I’ve done my job. I told Emily she is going to do something so good and I can’t wait to see what it is. What God has in store for her… I don’t know when but I hope I’m around to see it.”