So the day after I had the amazing privilege of meeting Sean and his family I attended the funeral of another young man. This young man's name was Jonathan. We all called him JP. JP was 25 years old and had graduated from Powell the same year as my daughter. He was also on our football team for all four of his high school years, so I knew him pretty well. JP was bright, fun-loving, outgoing, and had a warm and infectious smile. He was really fun to be around, on top of being a pretty good football player. But apparently, since his days at Powell, things had not gone quite so well for JP, especially over the past few months. Through the years I would see him from time to time around the Powell community, or when he came back to one of our PHS football games, and from all appearances he was doing fine. But inside it was a much different story...he was really struggling. So much so that on Monday, November 10, JP decided to take his own life. Shock, sadness, and sorrow filled my heart as I heard the horrific news. "Not JP. Really?!? Are you sure?"
Well, on Thursday night, November 13, I joined family and friends at JP's memorial service. "What do you say?" I thought to myself, as the pastor began the service. And what I heard over the course of the next hour was so honest and so real, so sad and yet so beautiful. The pastor who led the service had known JP, and his family, from the day he was born. And it showed. I've been to five or six different funerals that came about as a result of suicide during my years of life and ministry, most of which refused to face the tough questions that were firmly lodged in the hearts and souls of everyone in the room. But not this one. It was truly incredible. Having had 25 years of relationship with JP the pastor began the service head on, by acknowledging that in the last few minutes (if not years) of his life JP had made some devastating decisions, but those terrible choices were not "who he was." He encouraged all of us to remember JP for "who he was," rather than for "what he had done" just a few days earlier. He then spent the next few minutes recalling who he knew JP to be; which was then followed by his father, his mother, his sister, and then his brother, all of whom spoke, remembering who JP was to them. The image of a grieving father talking about the life and death of his dearly loved son will be something I will remember for a long time.
After a time of remembering who JP was, the pastor asked the question: "So what happened?" He then went on to describe some of the darker days and disappointments in JP's life that had left him in a pretty dark place. He talked about the hope of Christ in the midst of darkness and spoke a bit about JP's journey of faith, the time he had trusted Jesus with his life as a younger boy, and how he had recently started coming back to church again. But by far the most impactful moment in the service is when he turned to JP's parents, his dear friends, and began telling them that God knows exactly what they are going through. So much so that he is wonderfully able to meet them in the deepest places of their pain. He told a story about how he had been in Israel last summer with some folks from the church, touring all of the places of Jesus' life and death. He said one day while they were in Jerusalem touring the places related to the death and crucifixion of Christ, their guide, who was a Jewish Christian, turned to them and asked them if they knew why the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom as Christ died on the cross. After hearing the correct theological answer the guide informed them that, in his culture, when someone was overcome by grief or pain, the proper expression of that was to tear their robes. He then introduced them to the idea that maybe God the father was so filled with grief and sadness at the loss of his son that He tore his robes from top to bottom, in the rending of the temple veil. It was an incredibly beautiful and profound image to offer these grieving parents, and one that I will remember for years to come.
Please pray for the Price family in the days ahead as they continue to grieve the tragic loss of their dearly loved son.