A week and three days ago, the day before my 26th birthday, July 15th, the day I returned from San Jose, Ca, from attending Scott and Tamara's wedding, while being driven home from Sea-Tac, I received an odd text message. Odd it was because 1) it was from Andy--which he, in the text message, clarified with "from Radiance"--who was apart of a youth group I was heavily involved with years ago and who I rarely see or speak and 2) Andy told me to call him when I had a chance because there was something important he had to tell me.
While riding in the backseat, I flipped through the possibilities of what he had to tell me. Did he need someone to talk to? Did he have a question about something? Was he alright? What about his family? I didn't know. Flattered or worried, I didn't know what to be.
Radiance was an amazing place, or people, or night. Whatever it was I'll never forget, something words will not be able to capture, something at the intersection of earth and heaven.
It was started at a tiny church in La Verne, Ca, ten minutes away from my college at the time. Sometime around halfway through my freshmen year, before I had planted myself solidly in a local church, I attended a conference on youth ministry and culture. I don't remember much, but what I do remember is having an overwhelming sense, even breaking down and crying once during a service, that I needed to plug myself into a church and youth ministry. My heart was reaching out for it. I couldn't stop it. I asked God to helped me and show me where.
And sure enough, like the cheesy "God-moments" you read about in cheesy books by overly-spiritual authors, before the conference was done and over, God answered my prayer. Reid, a senior at Life Pacific, introduced himself to me, though we had seen each other before at school. I told him my heart quickly, kind of in passing (if I remember right, we were outside Angelus Temple, where the conference was held, waiting to cross the street), and he mentioned that I should join the ministry he and three friends started. It was called Radiance. One of the guys moved back home and they needed some help. Bam!
I threw myself into Radiance. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I didn't care because I was there and was doing to learn, to stumble and fumble my way into ministry and youth and any other opportunity that would crop up along the way.
Radiance absolutely had me. This is where I fell in love with ministry, with being a co-laborer with Christ in the lives of messy high schoolers. These kids didn't hold back. They showed up buzzed and high, and we didn't have any "formal" rules, which, looking back on it, had massive advantages and gnarly disadvantages too. Though back then, I thought it was cool. Not having rules kept the kids there for a little longer, which meant we could love the hell out of them (maybe even literally?) a little longer.
There were many scene kids, with their tight black girl jeans (whether they were girls or boys), metal-heads, who wore black sweatshirts with big band print logos or skater kids and other outcasts. For a lot of them, this was their nook, as safe and loving as we could, by God's grace, make it. I don't know how much I would still want to do ministry with my life if it wasn't for that place, and for the leaders that opened the doors for me to serve there.
Andy was a kid I took interest in soon after we met. He had charisma and zeal, though on the day we talked over the phone, a more serious side and tone from him is what I got.
It was several hours before I was able to call him back, but when I did he answered and we conversed with small-talk for about a minute. He continued to ask me if I had heard anything from Reid or Spangler (leaders from Radiance who, apparently, already found out about that which I was about to hear). I told him no. I hadn't heard anything. I pressed him to tell me.
"Do you remember Jamie, from Radiance?"
"Of course I remember Jamie. What's going on?"
"Jamie passed away last night, dude."
"Ya man, he overdosed."
Sometimes I wish I could teleport. Andy told me he was with the old crew and they had visited Jamie's family earlier that day to pay their respects. Everything inside of me wanted to be there. I was stuck, perfectly paralyzed, like my body had froze. Movement left.
At one time in Jamie's life, from what I remember, he had taken Jesus' call to discipleship serious and wanted follow him. I can't help but wonder what happened. Life is slippery, I know this.
Jamie loved others. I remember his hugs, how he would grasp me, as if it was going to be a good long while before he saw me again, lift me off the ground and let out a deep Jamie groan. A hug that big would be strange done in silence. And his grin. Sweet Lord, he would smile so big I thought, surely, his face must hurt. I wish I remembered more so I could honor him, in this little corner of the internet.
Though I hadn't seen or spoke with him for over a year and I know not the state of his life or soul, my heart goes out to him and his family, friends and all who have been impacted by his life and love and laugh.
A prayer for Jamie and all those he left behind, family, friends and far-off rememberers:
Loving Father and Great Judge of Man, send your Spirit to Jamie's family and friends now that the Spirit may comfort, counsel, and intercede for them since, most likely, prayer, for them, has dried up amidst this tragedy.
Teach us, Lord, how to properly grief this lose. And teach us, also, to remember properly, to remember Jamie and his family in our thoughts and prayers as the days pass, taking us, ever quickly, farther and farther from the day of his passing.
Nothing is too great for you, so I ask that you would, by your love and grace, bring forth life, by the word of your mouth, as you did in Genesis one, out of this death, this void, this chaos. Though tragedy is the material at hand, you are the great potter, so mold and shape this lose into something it could never be on its own: a source of salvation, redemption and recreation.
Have your way. Only and forever in the name of your Son, Amen.