“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38
Recently our Sunday School class studied the book of Romans. As we read this verse in class, I was transported back to the first time I really listened to what it was saying. Probably not the first time I’d read the verse or even heard it taught, but the first time it meant something significant to me personally. It was in 2005 when I heard my 17 y/o daughter speaking from the pulpit. She had been invited to give the Youth sermon in church that day and stood in front of our United Methodist congregation, a few hundred in the audience, with confidence and ease.
If you’ve read Kim’s blog, you already know she has a way with words, both written and spoken. After sharing the text with my friends, it has been requested several times, usually as a “I know someone who’s had a tragedy in their family; can I share Kim’s sermon with them?” type of exchange. Because of this, I still have it saved in a folder in my email, ready to forward on as needed.
And so in honor of Catie’s July 7th birthday, here once again is Kim’s sermon and some pictures to remind us that faith and love prevail.
Sermon- Youth Sunday
Good Morning. My name is Kim Lewis, and I am a member of Warwick Memorial’s incredible youth group. I am
only 17, but I have been lucky enough to speak to you, the congregation, this morning about something
incredibly real in my life. God gave me an unexpected story of love and understanding in a terrible and tragic situation. This is that story.
The summer of 2004, I traveled with my swim team to a beautiful location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to train and compete in an international meet. What an opportunity. It was truly paradise. The first few days of the trip were spent preparing for the meet mentally and physically. And did I ever prepare. I was ready.
A few days into the trip, I received a frantic message from my parents, who were also away on vacation that week. In fact, we were all gone: me, my little sisters Jenny and Anna, and my parents. All but one. The lost sheep so to speak. That person was Catie, Caitlyn Elizabeth Lewis, my older sister. Catie and I did not attend the same school, we did not hang out with the same people, we did not see eye to eye. When we became teenagers, we were practically strangers living under one roof. Catie struggled, always. For as long as I can remember, I was helpless, because her struggles were deeper than anything anyone could fix. And that’s who the message was about. Catie had committed suicide that night. An overdose, a cry for help, the end of the line.
I remember every moment of that week and the following days. How I prayed all night for a miracle when she was in the hospital. The way I chose not to fly home early from my trip. That’s right, I waited in Florida. I competed. I swam, but the water felt different. It cooled the pain for a second, but the pain was even sharper as soon as I climbed out and
faced reality. I remember how I was scared, confused, disoriented. And all my fears were validated, everything people hope never happens to them, was happening. To me. And I can still feel it.
***** Hold up Beach Ball *****
This is a beach ball. Seemingly a summer toy. Well, imagine trying to submerge this beach ball underwater.
It would take force, concentration. Sure, it can be done. But with even the slightest distraction, the ball will fly up and smack you in the face. Or worse, smack someone else in the face.
My sister’s death is my beach ball. I try to keep it submerged, but occasionally it flies up and everyone sees. “Oh, so she was keeping a secret down there.” Well, everyone has a beach ball, not just me.
As Christians, we oftentimes have many beach balls. We try to hold under so many different things, for
whatever reason. Maybe it’s just too hard to look at. Maybe we don’t want to admit it’s there. Maybe we
don’t want the rest of the church to know about it. So we paste on smiles. We come to church and we smile, a lot, and we use words like, “awesome.” “Everything is awesome.” “God’s doing truly awesome things in my life right now.” “My family? Oh, they’re awesome as well.”
Perhaps all our positive talk is simply a cover for all the things we’re hiding under the surface. Our beach balls, so to speak.
God hasn’t always sent me fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. Sometimes God is hard, and usually God is hardest when
life is hardest. So what does this mean about God’s love, and what does it mean to me? Who can I go to?
I have found the answer is simple. Almost too simple. When God hands me a challenge, I go to God. Jesus knew
suffering. Isaiah 53 describes Messiah as being, “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows acquainted with bitterest grief.”
Jesus had grief like me. Deep, cutting grief. The kind I felt when they closed Catie’s casket for the last time. The kind of pain I feel when I read my sister’s name inscribed on that stone, forever a reminder of just who she was: part of me.
And I am no longer afraid of that grief. I try not to push it under, because I have discovered an extremely important fact as a Christian with a beach ball. The further under I push it, the more painful it is when it pops back up. And, when I’m concentrating on suppressing grief that is perfectly natural in the first place, I am unable to concentrate on God.
But the beach ball always seems to come back, a human imperfection of course. My beach ball emerged again this past summer, as I was invited to attend the same swim meet as the previous summer, in the same beautiful location in Florida. One year had passed. My sister would have been twenty years old. As I boarded the plane just 4 months ago, I could barely face what I knew was coming: my beach ball was about to spring up like it never had before.
In Florida, I literally retraced my steps from the previous year. My heart flew. I relived every emotion that I spent so long trying to forget. As I entered the pool area with one more year under my belt, the sky opened up and it began to rain. But it was still sunny. One little rain cloud, floating right above the pool area. I looked up at the sun and wondered how
that shower was for anyone else on the face of the planet. The rain washed away everything I was covering up, and I simply sat down and cried.
And I still cry. It’s still hard. As humans, we may think that we have gotten rid of our beach ball. But almost subconsciously, we pick it up, put some tape on it, and blow it up again. I have come to expect the pain, almost embrace it. I’ll read the verse from Romans again because I just believe it so powerfully conveys God’s love in times like these:
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the
love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I love this verse, because it speaks to adversity. It recognizes the highs and the lows, while reminding us God’s love is continually overflowing, no matter what. I struggle, and I truly believe we all struggle with something. I hope that we, as Christians, can begin to embrace and appreciate struggle. If we can do that, we are deflating whatever is holding us back from God.
******* DEFLATE (pop?) BEACH BALL ******
I have come to appreciate so many things and people from Catie’s death. To all the people that were there
at the very beginning, those tragic first few days, thank you. To all the people I met along the way, counselors and leaders, thank you. To my friends, who make me appreciate every gift so much more, thank you. And most importantly, Thank you to my family, because you have always been there, and you will always be there.
My prayer is that my story will inspire each of you to take God’s promise of love and deflate your beach
ball. Offer it to God in joy and in sorrow. He’s always ready and waiting.