Meet Josh. A graduate of Springtown High School Class of 2010 – my first class of 8th graders when I came to Springtown. Isn’t he adorable? He was in band and known for being a compassionate, unique individual with a lot of love. Josh was not one of my students when he was in 8th grade. In fact, I didn’t even really know Josh until he friended me on Facebook around the same time half of the SHS students did a few years ago. Aside from an occasional status “like” and maybe two comment exchanges between Josh and me – one about how he wished he had me for a teacher and another asking about my books – Josh and I were mere Facebook acquaintances who occasionally found something in common through Facebook statuses.
Until almost exactly one year ago… one year before Josh’s life would end way too abruptly.
On April 4, 2011, I got a Facebook inbox message from Josh. My husband, Sam, is a youth pastor and a Christian apologist – meaning he has studied and researched how to answer the “difficult” questions about God’s existence, the truth of Christianity, etc. He was going to be preaching a life-changing sermon to our teens at Club Fusion on April 6 about “Why Should I Believe in God, Jesus, & the Bible?” I posted a status about the upcoming sermon and then this inbox message came from out of the blue…
Hey, Krissi, I was wondering where Club Fusion is; the place your husband is speaking at this Wednesday. I live in Springtown and have not heard of it before. I read about it in your post. Sounds interesting so I thought I would check it out. 🙂 Thanks.
My response was, “I’d love it if you came! We’re out in Burleson, though, so it’s about an hour drive. 🙂 *insert details here* Bring friends! I will say this – it’s a very powerful message with some strong evidence for the existence of God so if you’ve ever had those kinds of questions, you’d probably get a lot out of it. Free pizza at 6, worship and message at 7, over by 8:30 with hang out time till around 9.”
His response mentioned two friends he invited with him and said that he was definitely going to come. His last comment was, “I’ve never been to anything like that, and I’m not exactly a church person, but if there is evidence then I would love to hear what he has to say.”
Well, I was totally excited and immediately started praying that nothing would get in the way of him coming that night. Even at the last minute when his two friends ended up bailing on him (I was just sure he’d bail too when they didn’t come), Josh still drove by himself over an hour that Wednesday night to our church out in the middle of nowhere to hear what Sam had to say. Some of our Club Fusion kids might remember him that night – especially the girls. Josh was a cutie and drew some attention… until I had to break it to the girls that Josh was gay.
Oh, did I mention that part? Yes, at this point, Josh was openly gay and I knew that from Facebook posts. I also knew that something was drawing Josh into a search for truth about his life and about his purpose. I didn’t quite understand his sense of urgency in figuring this stuff out, but I didn’t question it either.
So Josh and I had pizza together that night, then he sat with some of our teens while I helped lead worship onstage. (“Girl, you’ve got a pair of vocal cords on you! WOW!” was his response when I took my seat next to him for the sermon. Ha.) He sat through one of Sam’s longest sermons, flipping through the pages of the booklet, listening intently to the evidence (particularly the cosmological arguments for intelligent design) and then finally it was over. Well, the sermon part was over. Not Josh’s questions. It was like this whole other world of possibilities had just opened up for Josh.
For TWO HOURS (until 10:30pm), Sam and I sat in that youth room (mostly ignoring everyone else) and tried to answer Josh’s questions to the best of our ability – DIFFICULT questions! Questions about the existence of God, about the Bible and its historical accuracy, questions about Jesus and his existence, his resurrection, the eyewitnesses to these events… Answering questions like these is my husband’s area of expertise and I learned so much by watching Sam patiently and logically explain things to Josh. I’m still not sure which of the three of us grew the most that night. Ha. What I do know is that Josh took home a Bible and the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek (which hit on EVERY question Josh had), and our phone numbers to contact us with questions. I went home a little mentally exhausted, but with a thankful heart to have met someone like Josh who was so open-minded and seeking.
I think the first text messages from Josh started coming in the very next day. He was reading his Bible – the gospel of Luke at that point, I believe. He wanted to know more about the writers of the gospels and he wanted eyewitness accounts of Jesus. So we pointed him to Matthew and John. Sometimes his text messages were just voicing his thoughts about what he was reading, sometimes they were direct questions. Unfortunately, when my phone was stolen last summer, I lost a whole year’s worth of text messages – which included those early texts with Josh where I saw the most spiritual growth in him. One conversation that rings very clearly with me was over the Moral Argument. Josh was trying to say that he did “good things” for other people because he just knew that was the right thing to do – not because some God told him to do it. He gave an example of how he helped and took care of elderly people because they needed the help… that we all should look out for the needs of others. (Oh my gosh, Josh SO got it… he knew he had a love for others and a drive to do the right thing, but he had never stopped to question WHERE that intrinsic moral compass came from!) My response included things like, “How do you KNOW that’s what you’re supposed to do? And how can you say that we should help others if there isn’t an absolute moral standard out there? And if there is an absolute moral standard out there, then where did it come from? From a perfect God. That’s why we don’t have to be “Christians” or even believe in God to KNOW that what Hitler did was WRONG. We know that people have inherent value given to them by Something greater than us and that’s why we value life and help others. Romans 2 even says that God’s law is written on our hearts so that even when we’re doing the right thing without understanding WHY we’re doing the right thing, we’re still pointing to inherent qualities that God gave us to know His law.” That loving, serving heart that wanted to do the right thing – the heart that I was seeing in Josh – came from a loving God!! I wish I could remember exactly how that whole part of our conversation went down because I do believe it was the point where Josh started accepting a belief in the one, true Creator God. I do remember clearly the final text from that conversation when Josh said, “Yeah, this actually makes sense, haha.”
From that point forward, Josh and I would talk sporadically by text or Facebook message whenever something in his mind came up. Most of it started centering around homosexuality and Christianity. He would send me new stories where there had been reconciliation between Christians and the homosexual community or articles about Christian responses to homosexuality. Some of it was theologically incorrect, but some of it had some real truth to it. Overall, I could tell that Josh was trying to figure out how and if Jesus could be a real part of his life.
In December, Josh’s seizures started coming more rapidly. I never saw him complain about it on Facebook – he was such a trooper. But he mentioned at one point on FB that he just had a 4th seizure in a month’s time and how he needed to start writing down his life in a “notebook.” I sent him a private message… “Hey… 4 seizures? What’s going on? I’m very worried about you.” Seizures had become a sensitive subject in our family after watching my brother endure them – so I could understand on one level how hard it must have become for Josh to “reboot” after so many. Josh told me that the doctors weren’t sure what was going on, that they had upped his medication. He shared with me how difficult it was to work and take care of his family when he was “pretty much in a coma for two weeks.” We talked back and forth a few more times and then I finally said, “I’m so sorry…I will be praying for protection over you!! *insert more encouraging words here* Let me be a ‘mom’ for a second and encourage you to get plenty of rest, eat well, and keep your stress low. 🙂 (Easy to say, I know. Ha.) Hang in there! We don’t want anything to happen to you!”
Josh’s response was so precious…
LOL, yes ma’am. ^_^ I do my best at staying healthy…I try to keep the seizures away any way I can so that I’m not a danger to other people as well… Thanks for the support. I’m sure everything will work itself out. Who knows, maybe I’ll be the test dummy for the cure for epilepsy… LOL, IDK. But I always like to look forward to tomorrow, rather than drag along the sorrows of today. I’ve got to keep my spirit up. Especially for my family, they’re always real worried about me.
That was the kind of heart Josh had – always positive, always worried for others, always trying to bring something beautiful into a dark world. Right before I was supposed to attend YAK Fest in January, I posted a status about how I would be wearing skinny jeans for the first time to the event. Josh tried to stop me. (And when your gay male friend warns you about something fashion-related, you tend to want to listen.) This very quickly showed up in my FB inbox from Josh:
Although butt covering is a plus, say no to CRACK, children! If you insist on wearing something good for circulation, I will gladly bring you a pair of compression socks from the office! GLADLY! Emphasis on the GLAD. 🙂 I do not condone this behavior, young lady. You leave me no choice… Sam, ground her!!
Hahahaha… This still makes me laugh. (I did wear the skinny jeans, and though I never received Josh’s approval on it, he didn’t complain about my pictures in them!)
Shortly after that, Josh wanted my thoughts on yet another link that addressed issues of how Christians act out their faith, and how Christianity was all about JESUS. In part of my response, I said…
I wish people focused more on a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ and not “acts” of seemingly shallow good deeds. It’s ALL about Christ and what he did! That’s why I don’t put my focus on “religion” or people because none of us do it perfectly. I put my focus on Christ – and trying to be like HIM. That makes it easier to extend grace to others – because I’m forgiven! Thanks for sending! I’m glad you still seem to be on a journey for discovering truth about God and who Jesus is and can be in your life, Josh. 🙂
And then life got busy. I was the last one to text Josh. And it said:
By the way, I keep meaning to come on your Facebook and ask, but never remember when I’m on there… how are your seizures? Did they finally stop happening so frequently? That had me worried…
Never got a response there.
But Josh was the last to message me on Facebook after that.
Hey… how have you been?
And he never got a response from me. But I think it’s obvious that we both knew how much the other cared. For that I am grateful.
Last Sunday night (April 15, 2012), I had just uploaded my latest blog and was gearing up for the Watercrossing release party the next day. I checked my Facebook news feed one last time before I was going to get in bed. And I started seeing “RIP Josh” statuses.
I freaked out. No, that couldn’t be MY Josh they were talking about. Sure, they said he had died of a seizure and yes, Josh Walker was the only Josh I knew who had seizures… but NO. I was supposed to have more time with Josh. We were still working through things on a spiritual level. I wasn’t ready to lose him… NO NO NO.
On April 10, 2012, Josh had a seizure in the shower, fell and hit his head, and suffered brain trauma. After five days in the hospital, he never came out of it.
Sam and I got on Josh’s Facebook page to see where I had missed posts about him being in the hospital. But I wasn’t FB friends with many of Josh’s friends or family so I hadn’t known. In fact, I know a lot of people were confused by my heartbroken reaction to Josh’s death. Nobody in Springtown really knew about our relationship. After scrolling past the already growing messages of mourning from friends, I finally got to Josh’s last status he had posted.
April 2, 2012 – Headed back to Texas, couldn’t have had a better “vacation.” Met, and fell in love with so many people and places! Home is where the heart is, and im leaving a piece behind with my second family here.
And below it said, “You and 5 others liked this.”
I remembered seeing that status in my News Feed a couple weeks before and clicking “like,” thinking that kid was always so thankful for what he had and for the people in his life. Seriously. He just had such a sweetness about him. Sam said, “Look, Krissi, you ‘liked’ his very last status. He knew that you thought about him and cared.” That was when I completely lost it.
If you follow my life at all, you know that I came home from Oklahoma last weekend after recording the audiobooks for my 3rd book. Then we hosted the big Pre-Release launch party in Springtown for my 3rd book, I taught for three days this week, and then traveled to Houston alone for author appearances at the TLA Conference before traveling back last night. I hate to say it, but I haven’t even been all that excited about my books or all these cool opportunities that have come my way. I mean, seriously, buy my books or don’t. Love them or hate them. Talk about them or ignore them, I just don’t care right now. For me, the books have always been just another avenue to reach people. To show them love. To reveal truth through fictional stories. But they are not the heart and soul of my existence. I’m sure I’ll blog later about the Watercrossing release and TLA Conference and all the cool stuff that has happened there… but this is what has been in my heart all week. I have hardly slept – mostly due to lack of time – but when I go to sleep I’m talking to God about Josh and when I wake up, he’s the first thing on my mind. I need to share this.
You see, I’ve lived my life without regrets. My students have heard it a million times – I want to live my life so that anything bad that happens to me is just a result of living in a fallen world, not a result of something stupid that I did, that I can never take back. And up to this point, I was regret free. Until now.
I don’t know where Josh ended up in his search for truth. I feel like I SHOULD know. If there was one person who should’ve MADE SURE of where Josh was on these topics, it was me. I know I did a lot of things right when it came to my relationship with Josh. I have no doubt that he knew I loved him – and that nothing, not his shortcomings, not his weak moments, not his homosexuality or his previous unbelief in God, was an obstacle to how much I loved him. (And if that shocks you, then you need to re-evaluate what being a Christian is REALLY about.) I also have no doubt that he knew GOD loved him and that he had come to believe in His existence. I’m thankful I am married to a man who patiently worked through these difficult questions with Josh AND with me. So many times I went to Sam when it came to things I didn’t understand as well. Josh and I were on this journey together in so many ways. I know that before Josh died, he had the TRUTH about Jesus. I know that he was prayed for, that he was thought of, and that we were there many times for his questions.
But I also know of the countless other times that the Holy Spirit put Josh on my heart… I need to text Josh. I need to call Josh. Oh, Krissi – don’t forget to respond to that message. Krissi, have you checked in on Josh? And I was too freaking busy. There are a million and one things I have to do in my daily life and a million and one people who I feel like I need to respond to or check in on… and the one kid in my life whose time on this earth was in major countdown mode sometimes got ignored in the middle of my busy, ridiculously unimportant daily life. I regret that. I regret that I didn’t have the same urgency to work through these issues that Josh had in asking me about them. I thought we had more time.
I wish I could go back in time to one year ago and tell myself, “Hey, this kid who’s texting you all these questions? You think this is really all for your own growth and for you to work out how to answer these questions about your faith, but really… this is for him. He’s only in your life for one year. That’s it. So speak boldly. Don’t waste time. Because time is the one thing running out.”
I wonder what I would have said and done differently if I had known…? The crazy thing is… I think Josh knew. No, I’m not saying Josh knew he was going to die on April 15, 2012. But I do think Josh had become aware of his own mortality. When you live with seizures and the understanding that any moment could be your last, suddenly the world takes a different shape. And you ask the hard questions that the rest of us tend to ignore. I look back and I see God’s fingerprints all over Josh! If there wasn’t a still small voice calling out to Josh, calling him into a relationship with Jesus, then what would be Josh’s reason for driving all the way to a church he doesn’t know to hear people he doesn’t know explain some deep questions about life and existence? Why would he continue to ask those questions diligently for an entire year afterwards? What would be prompting him to read his Bible or start seeking articles about scripture that related directly to his own struggles? It wasn’t like I was a part of Josh’s everyday life. Outside of Facebook, I don’t even know much else about what Josh did or who he hung out with or what made him laugh or cry or get angry…
And yet, for some reason, God allowed me to help Josh with these issues only in the last year of his life. That knowledge both completely sucks and completely humbles me. What a blessing I’ve had this last year – and didn’t even realize it.
I don’t know who I’m supposed to be writing this blog for – honestly, I want to crawl into my bed and not think through these things. But in my heart, I know I’m supposed to share the spiritual side of Josh’s life journey. I don’t know who is reading this and maybe thinking they can relate… Maybe YOU are the person who keeps feeling this urge in your heart to understand why you were created and why you are on this earth. Maybe there’s a desperate urgency in your mind to know more, to fall in love with the God of the universe. If you think this is all for nothing, you’re MISSING IT. We live on a privileged planet that is so finely tuned to sustain life that it is ridiculous to believe it happened without a Creator and that our lives, as beautifully complex as they are, are not for some greater purpose.
When was the last time you drew a picture with clouds and a big sunshine… and paused to think about WHO paints the sky every night with the colors of sunset? Or WHO wakes us up each morning with brilliant light and the hope of a new day? Have you ever doodled hearts on your paper and really wondered WHO your heart beats for and WHY? If you were walking through the woods and found a beautiful, gold wrist watch on the ground, you wouldn’t pick it up, note all its intricate design, hear the steady ticking of its inner workings, see the intentional layout of such a design… and then walk away thinking, “Wow. Look what a cool accident this is! Nature somehow formed a watch out of nothing.”
What the WHAT?! You would look at it and know that SOMEONE put careful thought and design and intelligence into making that watch! It is NOT an accident of nature. When is the last time you stepped outside your house, breathed in deeply and considered the fact that we have the EXACT amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide we need in the air so that we can BREATHE? Or squinted up at the sun and realized we are the EXACT distance we need to be from that huge ball of fire so that we neither cook to death nor freeze to death? The trees that so many of us fight to save were created by a meaningful and creative GOD. The babies that we so easily abort in the womb were intricately designed with love and care by a GOD who knew that child long before we ever did! YOU, my friends, are not an accident of nature. You are here for a REASON.
And that same GOD who breathed life into us wants an intimate relationship with us. Unfortunately when sin entered the world through US, we became separated from our Creator… cursed by our own pride. But that didn’t stop GOD. He had a plan for redemption and we follow His promise of that redemption through the pages of the Old Testament writers who documented the nation of Israel – always following the “seed” – the line of the one who would come to redeem us. And then Jesus (the SEED) is born as a baby, fully God and fully man. He would teach us, love us, explain the Father to us, and then we would kill him IN THE MOST BRUTAL EXECUTION POSSIBLE. But through his death and the most amazing, unrepeatable resurrection miracle of all history, we would be able to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, our sin paid for, and would get to spend eternity with our God.
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – Jesus (John 14:6)
It’s the most simple and the most complicated thing I’ve ever known to be true. And I do know it to be true. The reality is that we are all going to die. We don’t know when that will be or how it will happen. One moment you’re here and the next you’re not. Josh was aware of this and he was SEEKING the truth. Maybe he didn’t know why he was so compelled to find out more about God and Jesus, but I’m starting to see that my God was drawing Josh to Himself. God loved him and wanted to spend eternity with his beautifully-made, perfectly-designed, and delicately-crafted son, Josh. God wants the same for YOU. What would it take for you to just listen?
I wish I KNEW where Josh stood with God before April 10. It is my biggest regret that I didn’t take the time to find out before he was gone. But I also don’t know what happened in the quiet moments of Josh’s soul when he was alone with God. I don’t know all the things whispered between the two of them. Or how God lovingly held and cradled Josh through those final days in the hospital. But I do know what the Bible says about those like Josh who are seeking…
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will SEEK me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:11-13
I love those who love me, and those who SEEK me find me. – Proverbs 8:17
Ask and it will be given to you; SEEK and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who SEEKS finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Matthew 7:7-8
I can’t get Josh back. But I can make sure that you know his story. Because his story is all of our stories – we all search for meaning and truth in the midst of a dark world. And if you haven’t come to the point where you’ve thought about it, then maybe you should start SEEKING. And if it surprises you that God was seeking out the heart of a homosexual atheist, then it shouldn’t. Get over your politics and start looking at the REAL picture. We only get one life and I’m not wasting my time any more watering down the truth.
This will probably offend some people. I wish I could say I cared, but to be honest, I’m really tired of caring about offending others with my faith. I am DAILY offended by what other people say about my God and my Jesus – about the One who saved me from destruction. Nobody seems to worry about how I feel when they spout ridiculous accusations about Christians – when they know me and they know I don’t treat people like that. The same way people react when you talk about their mommas in a denigrating way is a similar way I feel when you talk about God like that. He’s my DAD. My SAVIOR. My LIFE.
And really… I’d rather offend you because I love you and care about your heart than have to stand before my Heavenly Father someday and tell Him, “Welllll… I didn’t talk about You because I didn’t want to offend people.” SERIOUSLY? Once somebody is dead, it no longer matters if you offended them with the truth or not. It matters if they knew the truth.
I have spent a lot time alone with God this week, reflecting, praying, healing. And this is something He and I are dealing with together. I just know I’m supposed to let you in on this journey. It’s your choice how you respond to it. After careful consideration, I really believe Josh would want me to tell you these things in his absence. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) I found this quote from Josh’s Facebook status on December 23, 2011. I’m not remaining silent, Josh. I will tell your story.
I keep seeing the last message in my Facebook inbox from Josh – the one I never responded to…
Hey… how have you been?
How have I been? I don’t know, Josh. I miss you. I’ve been shaken this week. I’ve thought about you and prayed for you so much over the last year that something definitely feels like it’s missing now. And I know I will think of you for the rest of my life. You’ve changed me, Josh. Thank you for challenging my faith. Thank you for asking me hard questions, for forcing me out of my comfort zone, for showing me YOUR love. I saw God’s work in every aspect of you. And He used you in MY life in more ways than you’ll ever know.
I hope I see you again someday. And I promise I won’t wear skinny jeans to Heaven.
|Josh Walker – May18, 1992–April 15, 2012|