I don’t know if I will ever forget hearing Beth and Darrell share Rachel’s testimony. I was in 8th grade at a private Christian school and our school was invited to a special chapel service at another local Christian school. Most of us didn’t even know what it was about until we got there. At this point, it would have been almost 6 years after the tragedy of Columbine, but most of us remembered that day even if we were just kids. I’d heard stories about a few of the victims dying after they were asked if they believed in God, but I had a hard time telling them apart from each other. But after hearing Beth and Darrell, Rachel’s story will forever stick out in my mind. We all left that service so moved and challenged by what we heard. Rachel was beautiful young woman with a beautiful heart devoted to living for Christ. The more I learn of her story, the more I am inspired to live my life fully for Him. I believe everyone else that reads this book will be inspired to do the same. ~ Bethel
April 20, 1999 was one the defining tragic moments of my generation. On that day, two teen boys entered their school in Littleton, CO with weapons, including guns and bombs. When most of their bombs didn’t go off, they resorted to shooting their fellow students, especially those of a minority or those that profess to be Christians. In the end, 12 students and one teachers died before the shooters took their own lives. Some of the students were reportedly asked if they believed in God, and those that answered ‘yes’ were shot. But one victim’s response stood out above the rest. Rachel Joy Scott, after having been shot three times, was picked up by the hair and asked “Do you still believe in God?” She answered, “You know I do.” Her shooter than told her, “Then go be with him.” Her answer has left her a powerful legacy that has endured for years after her death, but also continued to unfold for years after she passed away.
In the book Rachel’s Tears, Rachel Scott’s parents Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott share more than just the story of her death, but share about how she inspired and cared for others while she was still alive. They take turns sharing stories of the ups and downs of Rachel’s life, including the struggles their family faced when they divorced, the experiences surrounding the shooting, and many of the good things that have come from the experience of losing their daughter. You also hear stories that others told about her, including part of a chapter written by her youth pastor Lori Johnson. You also get to see some of her writings and drawings from her private journals. The result is that you are given a picture of young woman who truly hungered for a deeper relationship with the Lord, who wanted to live out her faith, and wasn’t afraid to live out her faith, even when it eventually cost Rachel her life. Through this book, you come to understand that enduring this tragedy was not easy, for Rachel’s brother Craig was also at the school and continues to heal from everything he witnessed that day. But you also come to realize that Rachel’s death was not in vain, that God has made something beautiful out of the ashes of grief and tragedy. God made something beautiful out of Rachel’s Tears. This book is powerful and moving, and one that I highly recommend. Get your copy today!
September 20, 1997 was a sad day. I had only recently turned 7 years old, but I remember well when my mom told what happened the night before: Christian artist Rich Mullins had died in a bad car accident. My mom was especially sad by this news, partially because she was pregnant with my little sister at the time, but also because my mom had followed Rich through most of his career. She actually got to see Rich perform in the living room of one of her church's elders while he was still a student at Cincinnati Bible College (pretty cool, right?). She was only in high school at the time, but she still lights up when she talks about it. It made be sad to find out he had died, because of how much I loved his songs, even at a young age (mostly Awesome God and Sometimes by Step). Although I was a little young to understand all that happened, I sensed that the world had lost a wonderful man.
I don’t think I could have possibly realized how amazing he was until I really got to know the heart behind his music. Fast forwarding to 2006, I was in a Christian school choir as we were deciding what to do for our spring program. Our director decided that we would do a Rich Mullins tribute, and we would write skits that complimented the themes of his songs. We liked the idea, because most of us remembered his music from our childhood, but I don’t think I could have imagined the impact learning his music would have on my life. Aside from all the fun we had making 80’s get-ups and doing our performance barefoot, we learned so much more than we could have imagined.
I had almost forgotten about the love I had for Rich’s music until about the time I had heard about the movie Ragamuffin two years ago. I became so excited to see the portrayal of his life that I went back to his music and fell in love with it all over again. My favorite CD to play in my car right now is Songs, and it has been that way for over a year. There is so much depth and wisdom in his lyrics that stands out above all the rest, even almost 18 years after his death. In honor of his legacy, I want to share some of the life lessons I have learned from his music.
Loving Our Lord and Savior should be #1
When the skies were starless in the void of the night (Our God is an awesome God)
He spoke into the darkness and created the light (Our God is an awesome God)
The judgement and wrath He poured out on Sodom; the mercy and grace He gave us at the cross
I hope that we have not too quickly forgotten that our God is an awesome God
Unfortunately, I think that too many of us have forgotten how amazing our God truly is. Many people forgot that this verse is even part of the song Awesome God. It reminds us that not only is God amazing because of His power, but He is also awesome because of his mercy and grace as demonstrated through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He has the authority and power to judge us and condemn us, like He did in the days of Noah or what He did at Sodom and Gomorrah. But He chose to give us grace through His Son, giving us the ability to receive His salvation. If we take the time to think about how powerful that is, that is when we are compelled to declare that our God is awesome.
Rich talked about what he believed to be the most theologically profound statement: Jesus loves me. If we truly believe that Jesus died for us on the cross, then we really should be assured beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus does love us. You don’t die for something or someone you hate. If you know God is awesome and that Jesus died for you, then living your life in light of this truth should be your first priority in life. You should be able to live your life in the assurance that He will always there for you. These are truths declared in many of his songs, like My One Thing and If I Stand. It really challenged me to think about these things from this perspective. I imagine you can see why.
Jesus is the Answer
When we did the program for my high school choir, I had one of the solos on the song My Deliverer. This is a special song from Rich’s last project, The Jesus Record. About 9 days before he died, he recorded the songs for this project on a cassette tape in an abandon church. These are the only recordings that exist of Rich performing these songs. After he passed away, his Ragamuffin Band (with the help of a few other artists) recorded his album. Rich never had the chance to see the impact this song or any of the other songs on The Jesus Record had. After having to perform this song, I believe this song to be one of his finest. This is his original demo for the song.
It’s a reminder that a deliverer was what the world wanted from the beginning, and that Jesus is that Deliverer. This world sometimes seems like it’s falling apart at the seams, but it is important to us to remember that Jesus has already delivered us and will continue to be there for us because He conquered death to deliver us. A similar hope is reflected in one of my other favorite songs of his, While The Nations Rage.
Where are the nails that pierced his hands?
Well, the nails have turned to rust, but behold the man
He is risen, and He reigns
In the hearts of the children rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood
Well the thorns have turned to dust, but no so the love
It is given, no, it remains
In the hearts of the children who will love while the nations rage
Even when it seems like nothing is right in the world, we can find our solace and hope in the love demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus. He can hold on to this hope while the world wages war all around us. When we don’t know how to carry on or we don’t have the answers, we do know that we have a deliverer that gives us hope while the nations rage. What a powerful truth.
There’s A Cost To Genuinely Follow Jesus
One of his best quote was: “Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won't also cost you yours.”
Rich was one to remind Christians constantly that Christianity is not about being comfortable. Being a real disciple of Jesus is a serious challenge and not for the apathetic. We are not just to hear the word; we are supposed to do the word. Rich reminded people of this in both serious and humorous ways. One of my favorites was his song Screen Door.
My school choir performed this song as well, although we tapped the rhythm on our legs (more like the studio recording) rather than using the cups. Not only does this song illustrate his creative genius, but it also makes a valuable point. An inactive or passive faith isn’t just a bad idea; it’s pointless and stupid. There is no reason to have a screen door on a submarine. We need to have an active faith and to do what the word tells us to do when we recognize its instructions.
This is often easier said than done. Rich pointed out that our closeness to God is determined by our obedience to Him, not our feelings. But obedience isn’t usually easy and is often sacrificial. Three of Rich’s song come to mind: Alrightokuhhuhamen, Hold Me Jesus, and Sometimes By Step. All these songs have great messages. Alright illustrates that it is always better to do what God asks and just be willing to say yes than to fight him. Hold Me Jesus says a line that has proven to be true at many times in my life: “Surrender don’t come naturally to me.” A little later, the songs says “Your grace rings out so deep, it makes my resistance seem so thin.”
Of all the songs Rich wrote, Sometimes by Step is probably my favorite, mostly because I have carried its message with me the longest. The chorus was written by his friend “Beaker” and is still commonly sung as a worship chorus of its own. I loved that chorus when I was a girl. But the verses Rich wrote are just as powerful. My favorite is the second verse.
Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land, and I am that no less than he
And on this road to righteousness, sometimes when life can seem so steep
I may falter in my steps, but never beyond Your reach
This verse compliments the chorus Beaker wrote perfectly.
Oh God, you are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek you in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
Step by step you’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days
This song is such a powerful declaration of what we should do with our daily Christian walk. The verse reminds us that others have struggled on this path before us and that we will also struggle, but never fall out of His reach. So beautiful. I hope and pray that I never forget it.
A Legacy of Joy
Rich said that he hoped to leave behind a legacy of joy, and I believe that he did. There was darkness in his past and sin that he struggled with throughout his life, but Rich found joy in the hope in his salvation that he wanted to share with everyone. He was totally in love with his Savior and he couldn't wait to meet Jesus. Many of his songs spoke of his longing for heaven, and Rich often struggled with “fitting in” within the context of Christian community. He knew better than most people I know that this world was not his home. I am glad to know that Rich no longer has that struggle and that he is now in the presence of his Savior. One of the only reasons it makes me sad that he is no longer with us is because I wish I could have met him! It’s amazing to see the impact his life and music left, and that it continues to speak to us today. I hope that by sharing about what I learned from Rich’s testimony, you will be encouraged to learn more about this incredible man, listen to his music, and learn how to pursue the love of Christ every day, step by step.
[If you are interested in reading my review of the movie about Rich Mullins, Ragamuffin, click here]
February 6, 2013
This day is one that is etched deep into my memory. At first, it seemed like a normal day. I was in one of my last semesters at Ozark Christian College. Some of our classes that day had been replaced by some missions lectures for our International Focus Week, but other than that, it was same as most others Wednesdays I had in school. I went to church that evening to help with my brother-in-law’s youth group, as I normally did on Wednesdays.
After youth group and a grocery trip to Wal-mart, I went back to campus. When I got back, I walked into my dorm lobby, and I sensed something was wrong. There was a group of girls with sad looks on their faces, but I didn't know why. I went up to my floor, and saw another group of girls with sad looks, and even tears, on their faces. I knew something was very wrong, but I wanted to take care of my frozen groceries before I investigated. As I was doing this, someone knocked on my door. It was my next door neighbor and another friend.
“Bethel, did you hear what happened?”
“No. I didn't have a chance to ask yet. What happened?”
“Brandon Stuckey was killed in a car accident.”
I gasped. They also told me a group was going to pray in the lobby in a few minutes and invited me to join. I thanked them for telling me, and then proceeded to finished with my groceries. As soon as I was done, I remember leaning on the back of my desk chair as the reality of what I had just been told to me was hitting me like a ton of bricks. I couldn't believe that my friend Brandon was gone.
Because of this moment and others to follow, that was one of the most unforgettable and tragic days of my college career, and my young adult life. Brandon’s death shocked and devastated the whole OCC family, but for those of us who were close to him, the grief we felt that night was unimaginable. I never would have imagined that the friend that sat next to me in class one day would be gone the next. However, some of the memories of that time, as painful as they were, were also some of the most precious memories I have from my entire college experience. On the second anniversary of the day Brandon went home to be with the Lord, I am compelled to share the lessons that I learned through losing a friend.
1) Believe in the Hope of Heaven
I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have faced Brandon's death without the hope of heaven in my heart. It simply would have hurt too much. Especially when someone young dies, it’s harder to accept their absence if you think that this life is all that there is. So many try to blame God when this kind of tragedy happens to us, either getting mad because He didn’t stop it, or claiming that the tragedy is evidence that He doesn’t exist. Neither one helps the healing process at all.
What happened to Brandon was tragic. There was no way around this fact. He was only 22 years old. He had so many God-given dreams that were never fulfilled in this life. I know he wanted to get married and raise a family. I know he wanted to preach the gospel to those than needed to hear it. He even had plans to spend the summer of 2013 in Mongolia. But there is so much more to this tragedy than the fact that he is no longer with us or all the things that Brandon never had the chance to do.
My greatest comfort in process of grieving is knowing that Brandon is no longer burdened by the troubles of this life. He is now whole and complete in the presence of the Savior that died to redeem him. This redemption, the heart of the gospel, was something that Brandon spent the short years of his life declaring. Among all the hopes he had in this life, I know that he, like all of us who have our hope in Christ, longed for the day when we will see our Savior face-to-face, and now he has. It makes me happy for him, and in fact makes me long for the hope of heaven even more. The redemption and the wholeness he now has in the presence of our Savior is something that I did my best to remember, even in the midst of grief. When I attended Brandon’s funeral, I wore a black dress, but I also wore red shoes and a red headband, as a reminder of the blood that had redeemed my friend.
2) Cherish Community
Surrounding yourself with community is crucial during times of extreme grief. It’s not just a good idea; it is essential to the grieving process. These type of situations are part of God’s design for community. Mourning with those who mourn is one of many elements listed in Romans 12 as part of our love for each other being sincere or genuine (Rom 12:15b). We are called to do more than comfort each other if one of us is hurting: we are called to cry with them and share the burden of their grief. I never understood this better than I did in the days following Brandon’s death, because of the way this was demonstrated toward me. I will never forget:
- How many of us gathered outside of Brandon’s dorm that night while we prayed, sang songs about hope and heaven, and comforted each other in our tears.
- How one of my RA’s (resident assistants) stayed by my side for hours that night. Don't know what I would have done without Marley that night.
- How multiple friends on my dorm floor offered to let me stay with them that night because of my roommate’s absence. I declined, but I was touched to know so many of my friends cared.
- How both of my RA’s sandwich-hugged me at 2:30 in the morning when I was so overwhelmed by grief and confusion, I began to bawl. I pretty much collapsed into Dani's arms and Marley held me from the other side while I cried for another 10 minutes or so. I don't think I will ever forget that bittersweet memory.
- How many people offered to let me sit with them in the class the next day where I used to sit next to Brandon. I declined because I wanted to sit where Brandon invited me to sit, but I was grateful to know they were all mindful of how hard that day would be for me.
- How two girls I’d never met (at separate times) saw me crying in the bathroom during all campus devotions the next night, and each one stopped everything to see if I was OK and prayed with me
- How many hugs I got during that time, especially the night he died and at his funeral. Some were from people I was not close to, but knew I need them
- How many people asked me if I was OK during that time, even people I didn't know
I had never before experienced community in such a powerful way. Our campus as whole remained close throughout the rest of that semester in a way I had not seen before or since, because of the tragedy we endured together. As one of the RA’s from Brandon’s dorm posted that night on Facebook:
I so strongly agree. It was even further defined when, about a year later, I discovered that another Bible college had heard about what happened to Brandon (the brother of Brandon's roommate attended Johnson University). Many of their students were grieving for us and with us. That's amazing.
3) Out of the Ashes, Beauty Will Rise
In the initial moments of grief, it is not easy to see God’s plan, or what the future will hold beyond those moments. But one of the sources of comfort I found during this time was Steven Curtis Chapman’s album Beauty Will Rise. This is the album he wrote about the tragedy of losing his daughter. There are so many wonderful songs that helped me through this time, but two parts of the title song stand out to me:
Out of these ashes, beauty will rise
We will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of darkness, new light will shine
For we know the joy that’s coming in the morning
It will take our breath away to see the beauty that He’s made out of ashes
These thoughts gave me a sense of hope in this situation that I had never expected. I began to realize that God can take all of our pain, our sufferings, and even our sin, and make it into a beautiful mosaic for His glory. And when we finally get to see this masterpiece for ourselves, it will take our breath away by its beauty and its creativity. No matter how difficult it is to go through at the moment, God will use it and not let it be in vain. It is all part of God’s plan to reconcile our broken world. Now that’s powerful.
God did bring beauty out of the grief of losing Brandon. The fact that I am writing about this now proves this to be true. Those of us that knew him looked at Brandon’s short life and were able to see a good man with a heart for the gospel and a heart for people, and we were inspired to be the same. We learned the power of Christian community in the days surrounding his death. We learned to be vulnerable with each other. We learned to grieve with hope.
Gone but Not Forgotten
Although I wasn’t “super close” to Brandon, I was close enough that his death did make an impact on my life. I am forever grateful that God brought Brandon into my life, because I learned so much more from him than I could have ever imagined. This was reflected in the last conversation we had, the day before he died.
We were in class together, the class where we sat next to each other. Before class started, we were talking about life, some of our ministry and mission aspirations, and eventually the conversation landed on relationships. I found myself telling him that I had not been in a relationship before. Just as our professor was starting class, he leaned towards me and whispered:
“Don’t worry. You’ll find someone someday.”
I cherish these words for two reasons. It’s not because this is a guarantee that I will find a husband or a promise of a fairy tale ending. It’s because, first of all, his last words to me were so uplifting and hopeful. And second, because it reminds me that God has a greater purpose for my life that I have for myself, and if I have my assurance in that purpose, I don’t have to worry. Brandon had assurance in the Lord's plan for his life, and because of that, I know he is now in the presence of His Savior. I hope that if Brandon’s prediction is true, then I will marry a man that has his assurance in God’s plan too, just like Brandon.
Brandon is still missed by those of us who called him our friend, but his memory and his legacy live on. Thanks to Brandon, I now know what it means to grieve with hope. I hope this post will help others learn how to do the same.