Day of Lightning

Today is a day of remembrance for my family, and friends in our little mountain community. The following post is something I wrote three years ago -- one week after an amazing boy was killed.  My son and a handful of others were playing a pick-up soccer game when lightning struck the field, sent everyone to the ground, and took his friend's life.  It was a pivotal day.  A life-changing day.

Three years ago, the Yarger family stood before a very large audience and said goodbye to their brother and son with grace, honesty, and hope. Today, they will play their annual memorial soccer game on the 'lightning field' in healing celebration. This is a respectful nod to them.  This is my small and inadequate way to honor a bold life that impacted so many.  Today, we remember the boy who was struck down, but not destroyed.

Andrew Yarger


FYI -- A Note to Readers:   

Locate the kleenex. 

This is an emotional post.  

Don't read this if you're on your way out the door to make a big speech, or interview for a job. 

Also, this post is written very specifically from a Jesus Follower/ Christian faith perspective. I want to  acknowledge that issues of God, faith, and after-life are important -- and deeply personal.  

And we don't all  agree.  But I am always willing to enter a faith discussion. 

So, if this prompts  a response in you, go for it.  

I welcome any responses, objections, or questions. Really.  Feel free.  

You can email me if you don't want to post a public comment.  

And as always, thanks for reading.  




7 Days of Eternity

July 2006

One week ago today, my 10 year old son was talking about the apocalypse.  A sudden downpour, and frantic swiping of the windshield wipers, made it difficult to hear him.  Eyes locked on the rainy blur of a car in front of me, I gripped the steering wheel, and raised my voice to ask, “What?”  

He repeated, “I think the Antichrist is going to have a sick beauty to him. Satan can mimic beauty but he can’t really create it.  At the end of the world…’" A series of spine tingling cracks of thunder interrupted him and I winced at the lightening.  He stopped to stare at me. 

“What’s the matter with you, Mom?”  

Silence.  “I don’t know.  This lightening is just awfully close.  It’s like I can feel it.”   

But, we hadn’ t even begun to feel the true impact of that lightening strike.

The kitchen phone rang as our family unloaded soggy grocery bags from the car.  My husband Steve hung up and spoke quietly, “We have to go to the police station.”  

Time stretches in moments of waiting.  The drive should have been quick, but the car seemed to crawl.  I wanted information.  “What did he say? How did he sound?” Steve was calm and quiet.  “He only said, ‘Dad this is Andrew.  I’m ok.  You need to come pick me up at the police station.’ ”

My mind raced forward and backward.  It strained forward to see why this group of soccer playing friends would be with the police.   Then it  involuntarily rewound to view my mental archive of my oldest son.  Sixteen years of snapshots and feelings randomly flashed on my brain’s screen; the shape of his round infant smiley face, the weight of carrying him on my right hip, his short 8 year old arms reaching around an overly large guitar, his diligence building snowforts with his 3 smaller brothers.  Reflection snappped back to the present.

We looked through the door’s small window into a conference room.  His friends were hunched over the long table writing, pacing, shaking in shock, or simply staring though red teary eyes.  Andrew was standing, wearing odd un- matched police clothes.  He had completed his official witness statement and was given a bag full of the wet clothes he had been wearing, before everything changed.  He leaned down to hug me, and my sobs made him cry.

At 5:30 pm, as Isaac and I were talking apocalypse, the group of 2 adults, and 5 teens decided to gather soccer balls and leave the field where they had been playing a pick-up game.  An odd pop snapped between Andrew’s shoe and the soccer ball.  A lightening bolt simultaneously hit with force enough to send all of the players to the ground.  When they all got to their feet,  the only sound was one girl’s scream. One by one they began to run toward Andrew Yarger, laying face up, on the field.  CPR was administered by Bryan, a former EMT, until the ambulance arrived.  The teens gathered around the trauma, and prayed, then watched as Andrew Yarger was taken away on a stretcher.

Just a few days earlier that same 17 year old boy had been jumping on our trampoline with Andrew, Evan, Christian, and Michael;  Grown boy-men friends, flipping full frontal and backward acrobatics;  Funny, strong, and indomitable.  They had all just been together with a youth team to Brazil two weeks earlier.   Video of that trip contained more of those flips, work with children at an orphanage, and Andrew Y. on the verge of swallowing a live gecko. They were all bold, and springing full of life.

But, on the field, that same bunch of bodies shared a different reality.  After praying around the conference table, parents, police and kids all left the Police Station and got the official word outside the Emergency Room.  The lightening had entered his shoulder and exited his leg into the ground where they had all fallen.   Andrew Yarger’s body was dead. He was eternally gone … in an instant. They had witnessed Andrew’s last living moment.

It was a jarring violation.  We couldn’t begin to understand the grief of the Yarger family as they came out of the hospital and filed into their large white van.  But Sibbi, Andrew’s Mom, was doused in something exceedingly spiritual;  God’s peace, grace, and a numbing shock.  She had just traumatically lost her son. He was sixth, and middle, of her eleven children.  But, her first question to those in the crowd gathered outside the ER doors, was about the boys that were on the field.  She was genuinely concerned for them.  I was genuinely awed by her.

Later that night, on the way home from the hospital, Steve and I were stunned and quiet; Exhausted from crying.   Andrew had a swollen bleeding hand, from an angry punch he gave to a  ‘No Parking’ sign in hospital parking lot.  The same cd that we had listened to on the way down to the hospital was repeating for a 2nd time. Creed lyrics were quietly flooding the car, subliminally asking us the same question they’d asked earlier, except they had gained prophetic weight:


Can you take me Higher?

 To a place where blind men see.

 Can you take me Higher?

 To a place with golden streets…

Lets go there, lets go there, 

Come on, lets go there, 

Lets ask, “Can we stay?” 

( Lyrics by Creed, All Rights Reserved.)

Somehow while that song beckoned for heaven, a peaceful work of God’s Spirit was happening in  my son. My Andrew started looking past the disturbing last glimpse of his friends’ dead body.  He started speaking remarkably calm truths about Andrew Yarger’s committed life, and new Life in eternity with Jesus.  Steve refilled the car with gas, as Andrew decided that it was the best way for his friend to go -- quick, and playing soccer.

He wanted to go back to the field.  

9:30 pm, and the dark sky was still echoing with quiet booms and distant flashes of lightening.  We arrived at the parking lot, and Bryan – the one who had tried to resuscitate Andrew --  was already there, sitting in his car with his wife.  No words were spoken.  As if planned, they both walked together, up on to the field.

We couldn’t hear what they were saying, or recalling, but they looked like two tall soldiers sharing a heavy & intimate war loss.  Floodlights shining across the field, from the shopping center behind them, backlit their sacred stage and cast them into shadow against the flashing sky.   We watched their dark forms stand together, then kneel by the depression in the grass where Andrew had been lying.  They prayed as the final lightening of the day … disappeared.

There is some sort of phenomenon that happens in days of shock and loss.  Time slows.  Events expand.  Art gains intensity.  God’s Word soothes. Music speaks. Touch causes tears. Waves of grief unpredictably blow through it all like weather.  And there is a constant ebbing flow from physical loss, to spiritual hope, and back again.  

Two days later, many teens gathered on the field to worship, and mourn; to celebrate their Christ -following friend’s place in eternity, and to cry over his departure.  My youngest son, Lucas, 8, didn’t want to get very close to actual death site.  He stood on the perimeter of the field with me and wept for the friend that had been playing ‘Dread Pirates’ with him the week before on our living room floor.  Then, he was lifted and held as he wept, by my oldest son. And then, he was picked up by Andrew Yarger’s older brother, Peter; in grief and comfort. Lucas’ legs dangled off the ground as he was embraced by the larger arms of family, brothers, and sons.  Later, he was freed enough to play around in the green grass by the site. Lucas' experience demonstrated a perfect paradox of realities -- life and death, seen and unseen, loss and hope,  all in one location.

The next day, the Yargers generously allowed our family to privately visit Andrew's body, at the funeral home.  It was the day before the large public Memorial Service of 700 people, plus news media.   In that place, we quietly felt the full weight of the departing.  A floodgate of sadness unleashed among all four brothers.  And, Isaac noticed something the rest of us missed.

Andrew’s Mom, Sibbi, had been holding a white handkerchief with small colorful flowers embroidered on its edges.  In an unceremonious moment, she leaned over the casket and quietly tucked her drying tears into Andrew’s front jean pocket.  She stuffed the handkerchief in, matter-of-factly, as though she were simply sending off a small runny- nosed child on his way outside to play.  It looked like she was sending him off.  But she knew, he had already left. 

The precision of the lightening bolt caused many to wonder if Andrew was picked off the field that day, for a purpose. But, who can reconcile the loss of a son too young to die? Where is hope or purpose found in physical life ended too soon?  

If our only answers are physical, there is no hope to be found in tragedy.  We simply live and die. End of story.  But over and over again, in large and small evidences this past week, we have been reminded otherwise. There is more to our bodies than flesh.  There is more purpose for our lives than death. Our answers to faith and hope lay in another dimension -- outside time and matter— in the 21 grams that all bodies apparently lose when they die; when a soul’s weight departs.  

Our faith finds hope in a loving God who longs to draw the life of his dying creation into a restored eternal dimension.  Because, as one teacher has said, “As Christians we are not citizens of this world trying to make our way to heaven.  We are citizens of heaven, making our way through this world.”

Seven days after the lightning’s deadly hit, I stood alone in the field, now beneath a clear blue sky.  Flowers are woven into a chain link fence in the shape “Andrew Y.”  I leaned against a square wooden picket fence, newly erected around the space where the bold-spirited, kind-hearted, muscular boy was struck down;  A small mound of flowers in his body’s place.

I looked up and squinted at the sun as it shone brightly, down from the center of our solar system, onto the tiny place of former storm. Since Andrew Yarger’s soul left this dimension that stormy day, this dying Earth has made seven daily rotations on its trip around the Sun.  I have watched with a Mother’s eye as my sons grieved.  And freshly felt with a Mother’s heart, the reality that for any one of the 4 men God has lent me to raise, any of these days on this ride around the sun may be the last.  Any day this week may contain one of their last 24 hours on the planet; a life’s apocalypse.  Any day.

That fateful day was one lightning bolt and 40 feet from being my own Andrew’s last. The exercise of that reality, and grief, has made these last seven days feel eternally long and the precious moments of life extremely short. But, the small mound of flowers were a reminder of my faith, and hope of salvation. Andrew Y. is the only one in this circumstance who has truly lived seven days -- of eternity -- with no gravity, or weather, or lightning.  He is the only one truly living right now.

It’s impossible to know by blind faith what our sight can not see.  Only God’s Word and Spirit give me true glimpses.  But I find delight in Isaac’s imaginings.  The day after Andrew’s memorial, he asked, “Wouldn’t it be great to be in heaven when Sibbi got there?  I mean, think about it.  Then we could watch Andrew reach into his pocket, take out her handkerchief, and give it back… and she wouldn’t need it.”

Andrew Yarger believed in Jesus as God’s gracious Way to draw him into eternity.  He had committed his life to that belief. 

And so he lives,

where acrobatics are extreme,

and handkerchiefs aren’t needed,

and blind men see, 

on golden streets,

with the Son. 


Anonymous said...

Kelly.... I had not read that yet.


That was so beautiful... Yes, I'm crying... but it's a good thing. Thank you for writing that so beautifully.

I can only say that I wanted to die when i found out, and I can testify that God alone, working through my precious remaining family and such wonderful friends like yourself, and of course His own, Father's Heart, saved my life and saved my hope... Even saved my desire to ever hope for anything again.

That day shut down my heart all but physically. I'm not sure that I would have lived without God and such amazing people around me. Praise God, He held me when I pushed Him away and yelled at Him... Praise God, He showed me flowers everyday that seemed to sing to my heart words of eternity and beauty that began the healing process... Praise God, He kept me in His arms when words counted for less than nothing, which is probably why He didn't say anything. I would probably just turn on Him.

Praise God, He started healing me in ways that I never noticed in time to reject. Praise God, He holds my life in His hands, and He wanted me to keep living. Praise God, He somehow gave me back the desire to live. Not just the desire to live; the desire to want anything ever again. The desire to live everyday and connect with people again.

Praise God, He loved me when I was most angry, most confused. Praise God, He is still healing me. Praise God for the ability to cry. That ability, I have learned, can be exhausted. I have had times when there were no tears left to cry... for a time. But fresh ones are called up at the strangest times...

And called up again at the very best, most natural times.

Like now, after reading your amazing post here. Ah, how I miss my brother. He was every bit as amazing as all that, and more so, because he was flawed like everyone else... But with those flaws, he still shone so brightly in all our lives.

Questions still hover, doubt still visits, and God still reigns and sings over me. I love Him so much, and I miss him so much...

Thanks, Kelly. This is precious, and so are you.


Laura said...

powerful words about a powerful life experience . . . and a powerful life hope. thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

It's been three years since it happened... fading a little from my mind... [which i never thought would happen because it was once so vivid] but this brought it all back.. In a good way. It reminded me WHY it made such a huge impact on my life..

Amazingly written Kelly.


ranchmom4 said...

Kelly... tears and a hurting heart. Thank you for your words. I have not ever read this and it just brought back so many memories that are so vivid for me about Andrew and those first days after the lightening.

I remember standing in a hair salon across the street from the field. I was at the door watching the rain and then the lightening came straight up and down, blinking the lights where I was standing. A little while later I saw an ambulance go by, never imagining what was to come. Back at home, the phone rang and our daughter, Chelsea answered. We could tell something was wrong and she got off the phone, burst into tears and said, "It's Andrew." My first instinct was to just jump in the car and start driving to Glenwood Springs where our daughter, Amanda, was attending a soccer camp. Knowing the texts and cell phone calls would reach her before I could. Knowing her heart was about to be shattered. Tears pouring down my face as I drove and thought of her, thought of Andrew, thought of his family and all of his friends.

The days that followed are vivid and were filled with prayers. Prayers for him to come back to life, for a miracle to happen, for God's arms to be firmly cradling all who were hurting so much, heart-wrenching prayers. The Yargers, gracious and praising the Lord in the midst of their pain were inspirational, while I knew I would never fathom the depth of their despair.

Andrew was an amazing boy. With a confidence that came from the Lord, he turned to Him for guidance. He skied with my dad, spent time with my mom at soccer games and would look us in the eye and talk for a while when we saw him. He pretended to click our son off and on with the car key clicker. We heard stories of the stunts they would do at youth group, of the adventures they would have around Woodland, we could see the impact he had on those around him. We see the impact he has had on Amanda....

The hundreds that gathered at the funeral experienced his family, praising the Lord in song with your family beside them. It was moving, touching...a celebration of the hope we have in the Lord in the midst of pain I could not imagine. The loss of a child is one I cannot fathom. The constant aching of a heart that has lost someone so precious... but we won't forget Andrew. Our prayers are often with the Yargers, his friends on the field.... we know that he is with Jesus. We know that we will see him again. What a great kid.

We will be thinking of your family today and the others that will gather to remember Andrew. Thanks again for this post. We hope you are all doing well.

Love- Holly

Anonymous said...

Kelley- Thanks so much for writing that..
Its so easy to forget things that happened even just three years ago, and Andrew's death, and life, is something that had way too much impact on my life and my friends and youth group to ever be forgotten.

That was beautifully written, and definitely very moving. Thanks for the perspective and love.


KELLY said...

Wow, God reminds me through your beautiful writing, the interwoven perfection, the ongoing - often - devastating pain, and the love that abounds . . . HE IS WITH US. As ultimately sorrowful as I am in the loss of Andrew Y., I rejoice in where he resides and the message he gave with his life! Praying for his family and families involved.

Kleigh said...

Beautiful comments, all. Thanks for participating in remembering, together -- Sibbi, Esther, Megan, Lindy, Kelly, and Laura.

Holly, thank you for taking the time to write your vantage-point on the day. You had a significant piece of that experience which none of us did.

Sibbi and Esther, we are blessed by your responses.