Wednesday, May 18, 2016

the gorilla suit...

I hate death.

Less than 2 months after Marc's father passed away, death showed up again last week.  This time, it suddenly and unexpectedly took the life of one our precious RUF students, Jonathan.

 Jonathan was a larger-than-life character in our group.  No one lived more fully and more passionately than him.

The 10:30pm phone call with the news of his death hit us hard.  Surely it wasn't true.  Marc and I held each other sobbing on the couch.  It was Mother's Day, of all days.  He couldn't be gone.

Marc quickly threw himself in the car and drove to campus to meet our other students who were with Jonathan when he died.  They had spent the day hiking together in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.  They had no idea they would be driving back to campus that night with one less passenger in their car.

It is tragic.  It is devastating.  It is difficult to face death, especially when it takes such a young, vibrant life full of potential.  I have to trust that God knows what He is doing even when I don't know what He's thinking.

No one in our group knew Jonathan had cerebral palsy or had a recent history with seizures.  No one in our group knew just how much determination Jonathan had to overcome so many obstacles.   He was truly an inspirational kid.  A joy and delight to know. 

Last May at RUF Summer Conference, Jonathan cracked everyone up when he came out onto a beach filled with 600+ college students wearing a full gorilla costume.   We had no idea where this idea came from, but people couldn't help but snap pictures of this life-size gorilla frolicking on the beach! 

It was a moment our group would never forget. 

At some point after Summer Conference, Jonathan decided he wanted Marc to buy the gorilla costume from him.  Over the course of the year, Jonathan's price kept dropping, and he promised Marc the suit was "one size fits all!"  

Marc never bought the gorilla suit.  But he wished he had.

There is nothing easy about burying your friend in the ground.  Our students are hurting.  His family is hurting.  In 15 years of campus ministry, we've never had a student die.  We weren't prepared, we didn't know what ministry looked like in this type of situation.  Here's what it ended up looking like...

...Alot of crying and alot of hugs.  Crying with students.  Crying with parents who have just lost their son.  Crying alone.  Crying to God.  Crying here and there and everywhere.  

...Asking for help and accepting help when it was offered to us.   We realized pretty quickly it was impossible for normal life to continue, and thankfully that's where others jumped in to help out.

...Opening up our home to anyone who wanted to come, including Jonathan's family.  We ate food that was graciously provided by our church and we sat with one another.  And cried some more.

...Helping his parents pack up his belongings.  And... (cue the tears), they wanted Marc to have the gorilla suit.

After the graveside service, we gave this compilation of memories and pictures of Jonathan from our RUF group to Jonathan's mother and father.

So this week, we're at Summer Conference again.  It was difficult to arrive here with such fresh memories of Jonathan in this place just last year.  

It seemed only fitting that we bring out the gorilla suit in his honor.
 We laughed.  We cried.  

But the gorilla was back on this beach today.

Perhaps it'll be a new Summer Conference tradition...
We know with certainty that Jonathan is with Jesus, and that one day his body will be physically resurrected again.  But for now, we feel death's sting.  

We loved Jonathan.

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