I remember the summer that I went away to summer project in college. I spent three months with a bunch of students I had just meant. As I left to go to Wildwood, New Jersey, a friend told me to make sure that it hurt to say good-bye come late July. Because then I would know that I had truly invested myself in others. That I had been impacted. And that my time had mattered. Come July I cried for days. My new found soul mates and I laughed and remembered and we wept at the thought that we'd have to leave each other.
I believe life should be lived in such a way that when your time comes it should hurt. Life is about relationships and when we come to the end of our lives I believe that the measure of our life can be measured by how much we loved and poured into others. Did we obey Christ's command to love God and to love others? If we did, then it will be hard to say good-bye. The hope is that we are leaving to go to spend eternity with the One that loves us beyond what we can comprehend. We are leaving for a better place- and there is incredible hope in that.
On Friday, June 11th, a 15 year old boy died. Fifteen years old. Let that sink in. He stood at a bus stop on the West side of Buffalo around 1pm. And he was gunned down by another boy on a bike. His name is Jawaan Daniels. I didn't know him. In fact, I've never actually seen him. But I can tell you this, his death has left a sting in my heart. Despite the fact that this murder happened in broad daylight, on a sunny afternoon, kiddie corner across from the place I work, I didn't see anything. I heard two boys yelling. I heard gunfire (that sadly, this suburban girl thought at first was fireworks) and the next thing I knew my board chair, who happened to be in town for a meeting, opened the door and told me to lock down the shop.
We locked the door and waited. And the 6-8 minutes it took the police to come seemed like an hour. Grant street was buzzing. People crawled out of the wood work to see what was happening. My director came in the building, after running over to the boy and praying over him until the police came, and let us know he had passed away.
People can and will speculate. Drugs. Gang related. Thug. I don't know. And what keeps running through my mind is, he was just 15. 15 years old. If this was in the suburbs, you'd hear people saying, "He had his whole life ahead of him." You don't hear that much in the city. People assume that he must have already been caught up in some pretty heavy stuff to be dead at the age of 15. And maybe that is true. But the truth is, it doesn't matter.
I can speak from experience. I grew up with a drug-addicted mother that was constantly high or leaving me. She was verbally unkind many, many times in my ten years of life. She hurt the people that loved her most- her parents, her sister, and me. She robbed from them. She robbed from me. Favorite stuffed panda bear- sold to the consignment shop for drug money. College fund started by my grandparents- emptied for drug money. But the truth is this, when she was robbed and then murdered by three teenage boys it didn't make it hurt less because she was not a saint. Death still stung. And it isn't the right of any person to decide who should live or who should die. That decision belongs to the Lord. But we humans have a funny way of taking what isn't ours and deciding the value on a life.
So, I wept for Jawaan because he was created in God's image. And he barely had a chance at life, let alone a second chance. God is a god of second chances and it hurts my heart that this boy may not have known that. He may not have known that while we were still sinners Christ died for us and that in God is hope, redemption, love, peace, joy, refuge and abundant life. His cup never got a chance to overflow. And whether he was a thug or an altar boy it shouldn't have been up to someone else to take his life away.
I am grateful that in those last moments of Jawaan's life there was a godly presence praying over him. I am grateful that, even though I don't know him, his death left a sting. My heart has not been hardened by great loss throughout my life. And the sting in my heart reminds me that it matters what we're trying to do on the West side of Buffalo. Christ didn't come for the healthy. It's the sick that need a doctor. And it's the drug infused, gang banging, prostitute walking, theft minded, gun buying, murder ridden streets of Buffalo that need to hear and experience the love and the hope of Jesus Christ. It's the same people killing and being killed that need to hear that life is found in Jesus. Abundant, overflowing, sweet, life. And in the midst of tragedy, sorrow and death's sting is a light and a freedom that comes only from laying down your rights and your lusts and your greed and admitting that you need a savior.
So, I will build relationships with the young people that step into my life through On the Job Ministries. And when my time comes, or theirs, whichever one comes first, I pray that it will be hard to say good-bye. And I will have laid it all down for the Lord. And I pray, that through God's great mercy, through Jawaan's death would come a work of the Lord and all the glory to Him. He is good. even when death leaves a sting.