My Eulogy for Connor

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Connor went through confirmation this year.  This is him answering professing his faith as he joined the church on Easter.  

This week has been the hardest of my 16 years of ministry.  After officiating a beautiful and fun wedding of one parishioner, my wife and I traveled the hour and a half trip back home.  About 30 minutes in I received a phone call.  We received the news Connor, a twelve-year-old youth of my church, died because of suicide.

We drove straight to their house and joined in the shock, sorrow, grief, and unbelief of what was happening.  I didn’t have words and still don’t.  The next morning, Sunday, I stood in front of our congregation and broke the news and their hearts.  We sang hymns and read scripture and just grieved.

As I prepared to lead Connor’s funeral I requested prayer and insights from every minister I knew.  I deeply appreciate the support I personally received and I know the prayers lifted up on behalf of the family were felt too.  People shared eulogies they did for families who lost children and ones they did for those who lost their lives to suicide.

I felt I would share what I said at Connor’s funeral.  Below is my meditation.  It is the longest and hardest one I have ever preached but one that was well received.  I said a lot but I felt a lot was needed and must be said.  I have permission to share this from the family and permission to use Connor’s name.

If this helps one person prepare to lead a similar funeral, then it is worth it.  If it helps one person realize what youth go through and how suicide is not the answer, then it is worth it.

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Meditation for Connor Francisco

From the moment we are born we are all heading in one direction. We are mortal creatures who have a finite time here on earth. We all will reach the same destination at some point. My grandfather had battled Alzheimer’s for many years and when he passed away it felt like death was a merciful healer. It is the same way when someone passes away with a chronic disease or has suffered for a long time with pain. For others, like my grandmother, she lived well into her 90s and her body simply gave out. Death, although still sad, seemed natural and that the timing was right. When death comes in these situations we are sad and we mourn but it makes sense.

When tragic events happen like a car accident or some sort natural disaster, we still have an event to blame. Death may come as a “thief in the night” but we still know whom to blame. There is still a bad guy. If we had to choose, which we never want too, these are the types of deaths we would prefer.

We gather here today to surround the Francisco’s with our love and our presence for none of these reasons. We arrive here today to cry out to God today because this is not how it is supposed to be. We should not have to bury a 12-year-old boy who was full of life. This is not how Connor’s story was supposed to end.

He is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with stage 4 hepatoblastoma (hep-a-toe-blastoma), a rare type of liver cancer. He survived surgeries. He survived chemo treatments that were designed to bring his 2-year-old body to the brink of death to fight and kill his cancer. It did damage to his body, his brain, and set him back. He lost the ability to talk, to walk, and to think and had to relearn how to do all of that. However, he survived it all.

He learned to walk again and walked so heavy on his flat feet you could always know where he was. He learned to talk and, when he trusted you, he would love to talk your ear off about whatever was on his mind. He learned to think again and when faced with a riddle or problem in youth group, he would usually be the one who would help solve it. He survived and thrived through all of this. This is not supposed to be the end of his miracle story.

This is not the way it is supposed to be. This is not…this is not…this is not part of some major plan of God. This was not God’s plan at all. I do not want to worship a God who thinks this is some sort of way to bring people to Christ, to take a child so young. This is not a time to say God needed another angel because humans and angels are two different things in the Bible and I do not want to worship a God who pulls children away in their prime to be by his side for some demented reason. This is not the time, for any of us talking to this family to start any phrase with “at least.” If you find yourself talking to this family and you start the sentence with “at least”. Stop. Swallow your words and don’t utter another because there is nothing that follows those two words that will provide them with any comfort or peace. This is not the time for stupid platitudes and phrases that truly make us feel better but only do more damage to those who mourn. This is not the time to say things like “everything happens for a reason.” Those are truly half-truths that have nothing to do with the God who is present here in this place today.

This is not the time for me to stand here behind the pulpit and think I have any type of answer to why this happened. I truly wish I could shake the Bible and out would pop some sugarcoated pill I could give you all to swallow and make it all better. I wish there was some sort of theology I could condense into a tweet or t-shirt that would make all our pain, sorrow and grieve go away. But I can’t, because the truth is something like that doesn’t exist.

What I do know is today is a day to cry. Today is a day to let the tears flow and let the sadness sink in…because today…today…sucks. It sucks because this is not the way it is supposed to be. Today we are to mourn that Connor isn’t with us anymore. We won’t be able to see that infectious smile that would bust through those doors right there. I won’t be able to feel that smack on my back that takes my breath away. I know it came from a place of love and admiration but also it came from a happy kid who didn’t know his own strength. Today we mourn because we don’t have around us anymore a hard-working kid who thought the harder the task the more fun. We don’t have this kid who loved Camp Care and all the kids that looked and went through the things he went through. We don’t have this kid who was so proud he was taller than his mom and catching up with his dad. We don’t have a kid to play each Sunday at the nursery door and make the little kids laugh as he playfully scared them. This day…today…sucks.

This is the day when we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is the day when we learn we will have to simply be okay with uncertainty and never knowing the answers to the burning questions we have. We will never…never know why. We will never truly understand and somehow we will have to go on with our lives never knowing. That is the reality of today.

Today is also a day when we need to be thankful for how Connor affected and touched our lives. Connor loved to help people. He would serve meals, drinks, and desserts at fundraiser dinners for hours. He was one of the few youths I know who wasn’t afraid of hard manual labor and he almost relished in it. He knew he was strong and so he happily would agree to carry anything and everything, even if you were fine carrying it yourself. We need to be thankful that this wonderful kid who would greet everyone in this church on a Sunday. If he were actually the greeter, he wouldn’t wait until you came inside…no. He was outside on the front steps dragging you into the church with a hug and his huge smile.

Connor had a great eye for construction. Whether it was cultivated from Bob the Builder or simply because he loved working with his hands, he had a gift. The chicken coop he built is beautiful and so are the other wood projects he worked on with Sam, like the rifle he made Matthew for Christmas.

Connor loved the groups he was apart of. He would tell me all about Camp Care and camping trips he went on with boy scouts. I was looking forward to asking him how his hike went last weekend and how he outlasted older Scouts of his troop with a 40lb pack on his back the whole time. He loved this youth group and although he was the only boy most nights, he still knew he was accepted and loved. Just because the games we played were against girls, it didn’t stop his level of competition. Oh, and when he laughed…that belly laugh was infectious and could be heard for miles around. We witnessed that laugh a month ago at our last Youth Sunday. He won the Family Feud for the neighbor’s team and when he did; he raised his hands in triumph as the congregation all clapped and cheered. He was the king of marshmallow towers, pumpkin baseball, and waterslide kickball.

However, you know Connor, you could see a boy who simply wanted to be loved and truly was by so many people. The amount of love that has been poured out on the Francisco’s this week is simply a small testimony to the love we all have for Connor and all of them. The love we have for Connor is wonderful but it is nothing compared to the love his family has for him and the love God has for him. When I see Diane, David, and Matthew, I see people who were willing to sacrifice everything for him. You all have been the example of what unconditional love looks like. You all gave so much to Connor and he gave so much back to you as well.

Hold on to those memories, those moments, and the time love was shared because that is how Connor will continue to live on and affect so many more people in this world. I know you all are proud of him and the journey he has taken. Two years ago, when the youth did a youth Sunday focused on Disney movies, Diane left the church in tears. This was the first time Connor spoke in front of people. He did an amazing job. Her tears were tears of joy and pride in her son because of how far he came from a five-year-old who couldn’t say a word. Hold on to these memories and tell his miracle story.

Connor was one of my three confirmands this year. Confirmation in the United Methodist Church is when youth take their faith seriously for themselves. They profess their faith in God in front of the church and then welcomed as full members of our congregation. Connor attended every night and worked hard with his mentor, Andy, to discover God’s love for him and the grace God offers through his Son Jesus Christ. This past Easter Connor stood up here, about where he is now, and professed his faith in Christ. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, he loved God and understood God loved him. I know that God surrounded Connor his entire life and loved him.

But here is another hard part…the other hard question I know many are asking…where was God on Saturday? I firmly believe God was right there with Connor and God’s heart was the first to break when Connor died. I also know, without a doubt, that God has made sure Saturday is not the end of Connor’s story. Connor’s story continues and it doesn’t end in darkness and in grief. Jesus says in Matthew 19:14, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” The Romans text says, “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” It is because of death and resurrection of God’s Son that Connor’s story continues in the light and in the grace of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As I talked with the family this week there was something that truly stuck with me. As Connor would help Diane or David with things around the house when he was done getting something from the top shelf or moving something heavy he would look at them and say, “Aren’t you glad you got me.” “Aren’t you glad I’m here.” Although this is not the way his life was supposed to end, I’m glad, I’m sure you all are glad, Connor was here for the almost 13 years. I’m glad he was here and I got to know him because I am different because of Connor. This was a very safe place for Connor and as we witnessed that change in him, going from a wallflower to the life of the party, we all understood what the church is truly supposed to be. As Elizabeth, one of our wise youth, said this week, “Connor felt this was more than a church because we became his church family.” We are better because of Connor. He has taught us so much in the short time he was here and I’m glad I got him for as long as I did, I’m glad he was here. And I know all of you would agree with that.

There is one more piece of scripture I want to read today. It comes out of the Gospel of John and it is a selection of verses in the 14th chapter. Hear now the word of God…

[John 14:1-4, 18-19, 25-27]

In this scripture Jesus is telling his disciples and us, he never leaves us alone. God doesn’t leave anyone behind.

Connor always wanted to help. When Madison was cold he took off his jacket and gave it to her. When someone needed a refill on their drink, he would pop up and get it for them. Connor had a servant’s heart and was always willing to help. This is what Jesus was able to do for Connor. Connor had to be in some dark place, a place he didn’t know how to get himself out of. But after he slipped from this world to the next Connor wasn’t in darkness anymore; instead, he was surrounded by light. This light doesn’t leave him alone, it doesn’t abandon him or leave him behind. It keeps coming because that is what Jesus does. Jesus keeps seeking us, surrounding us and never leaving our side. Connor now is at rest. He is made whole. He doesn’t have to fear cancer returning. His fears and anxieties are now gone because he is basking in the presence of God and is surrounded by the light of Jesus Christ.

Please know that no matter how dark your world is or gets in the future. Know you are always surrounded by the light and grace of God. God is right there with you in your mourning. God is right there in the darkness offering an inextinguishable light. There is nothing you can do to separate yourself from God’s love and God is always with you…always.

Today we mourn. Today we cry. Today we remember. This is not the way it was supposed to end. As God cried because Connor’s life was cut short, God still welcomed him in with loving arms. I can picture Connor looking up into the eyes of Jesus and asking, “what can I do to help?” Then, after a full day of working in God’s glorious kingdom, asking Christ, “Aren’t you glad I’m here? Aren’t you glad you got me.” And Jesus, looking into Connor’s eyes and his big smile, replying, “Well done good and faithful servant, the kingdom of heaven belongs to children like you. Yes, I’m glad you are here. Yes, I’m glad I got you. I have always had you and I always will.”

May the peace and love of our God, the creator, the redeemer and the sustainer be felt in your heart today and always.

Amen.

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I NEED YOUR INPUT – IDK ’14

How do you talk to students about God calling them into ministry?  That is a question I have been plagued with for the last year or so.  After hearing about what Church of the Resurrection does in their MAC Track Program (MAC = Ministry as a Career) I was wondering how I could help inspire, cultivate, and encourage the students in my church, district and conference to follow God’s calling in their lives.
I was introduced to the idea of being called into ministry by my associate pastor when I was 16 years old.  I had asked him, “How much does a Youth Pastor make?” which he followed up with, “Let’s get together and talk.”  He shared with me his calling story and expressed the idea that I may be called into the ministry as well.  He saw some things in me that I didn’t even know about yet.  He pushed me to explore the ministry and I did in college.  Finally through some hands on experience working as an intern in the Western North Carolina Conference Center I learned I was called into ordained ministry and I started the candidacy process.
But what I soon realized is that there is not much out there to help Middle and High School students explore the idea of being called.  If it wasn’t for my associate pastor I would have never known because it wasn’t something ingrained in the conversation at youth group or at church in general.  After hearing about the MAC Track I contacted the head minister of that program at COR to see what they do and how that might translate into something for my area. 
My brain swirled with ideas but I never knew how to get it off the ground.  Then I visited the conference center and went to say hello to a friend of mine.  We were ordained together and I knew she had a new position in the Conference Office.  I learned she was now the Associate Director of Ministerial Services.  What that translated to was she was in charge of people who were exploring their calling, were starting the candidacy process and through ordination.  I told her we needed to talk. 
During our conversations we found out that we, as a conference, have a huge gap in our system when it comes to Middle and High School students.  We have nothing on District or Conference levels to encourage and cultivate a sense of calling in their lives.  We explored different options of what it may look like to do something on a conference or district level in this area.  Finally we decided that the district level is where we should start and we should start with one event.  We formed a planning team of young clergy and the Metro District IDK ’14 was born.
IDK, for those who don’t know (get it J), is texting short hand for “I Don’t Know”.  IDK ’14: Turing Don’t into Do, is our attempt to help cultivate, encourage and start a conversation with students in our district who may feel called into some sort of ministry.  It could missions, local church, chaplaincy, working with homeless, WHATEVER.  We aren’t recruiting Elders or Deacons, we are simply starting the conversation and leading them to the path to start this calling journey.
I am truly excited about this event and thrilled it is coming into fruition.  Our hope is that after this test run is over we can learn what worked and what didn’t.  Then we can duplicate this in other districts around our conference.  We hope that after these events, possible small groups can start where people are sitting down with students to continue to check in with them and see how their journey is going.  We are also asking that every church that sends a student or students to this event also sends at least one sponsor.  This sponsor will learn how to encourage this student in the process and ways the local church can help guide and cultivate this calling in their student’s life.
If all goes well, over the next three years we could see a culture of call emerge within the Metro District and possibly the Western North Carolina Conference.  At least that is the dream, and the way I think God is directing us.
So here is where I need your help.  All who read this, both lay and clergy alike, I need some advice.  During our day long IDK ’14 event, I will have an hour and a half to teach and share my calling story.  What do you think would be essential to tell them?  We want this event to be upbeat and positive.  This is not the time to start to discuss the long ordination process and all the issues involved with that.  Nor do we want to turn this into a gripe session about the way ministry can be a drag sometimes on families and lead to an early death (depending on which study you read). 
I would like my teaching time to be focused on how God moves in people to express God’s love to the world.  I want to share how exciting ministry is and how wonderful it is to be used by God to make a difference in this world.  What I need help with is some other ideas.  What would you share and what would you think is most important for someone who is just starting this journey to know. 
Please leave a comment or you can email me at revjimparsons at g mail dot com. 

Thank you for reading and please keep this event in your prayers.

Technology and Ministry

Over at YSMARKO, the place where I saw the (now pulled) video posted below, there is some very interesting conversations happening, here. The comments have been blowing up about the video and the guy who created it, Pastor Luke. After watching the video and posting it myself, I emailed Luke and asked for him to remove the video with a link to the post. He thanked me for the link and told me that he commented on the subject at YSMARKO. After all this Marko has pulled the video because Luke was so hurt by it (and I understand, and that is why I too have pulled the video).

As I have read the comments and thought more about the conversation I started to think about whether this technology is helping or hurting ministry? Now there are a couple levels to this thinking. First, it is a helping. Any medium we can use to proclaim the love of Christ to anyone should be used. I think, from my short exploration into Luke’s ministry via the web, that he is good at the medium he is using and probably reaching many young people. Second, it is hurting. When done wrong (which in my opinion is what Luke did on this topic) it can sting for years to come. (the video was produced 3 years ago). It could still hurt any youth looking up cutting on GodTube hoping to find God’s answers to their situation. It is also hurting Luke because his mistake is now out there for everyone to see and some of the comments have hurt him personally (you can tell with his comment).

There are services I have been a part of that I wished were video taped and placed on the web for the world to see in order for more people to be touched by the Holy Spirit that was moving during it. Yet there are other situations in my ministry that I thank God everyday have not been recorded. It would be hard to have to face a mistake, years later because someone found it on the Internet and posted it to their blog.

What do you think? Do the pros outweigh the cons with this type of technology? I have seen some heated debates on other blogs in the Methoblogoshpere before, for those involved did it taint your ministry or strengthened it? Thoughts to ponder!

Really no clue!!

I’m sorry…sorry for my language but WTH! He really doesn’t understand what he is talking about. I am deeply sad for anyone who watches this and acutally is dealing with cutting. And to think he is the pastor of this youth group.

IF YOU ARE DEALING WITH CUTTING HEAR ME NOW…HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT AND HAS NO CLUE WHAT YOU ARE REALLY GOING THROUGH!!! CHRIST OFFERS MORE COMPASSION AND MORE UNDERSTANDING THAN THIS. YOU ARE NOT WORTHLESS AND THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DO UNDERSTAND.

*video pulled, see post above*

Question – Dealing with Adultery

I am sure many of you out there have dealt with this before and I have a feeling I will come across this in my ministry. In order to work through it before it happens I would love some help thinking this out.

Here is the proposed situation and please tell me how you would handle it. You have a youth worker who you find out, through 2nd or 3rd person and which is not public what so ever, had an affair with another youth worker two to three years ago. One of the youth workers have moved churches and the other is still working with the youth. You don’t know if their relationship is still going or not. The YW who stayed also holds other positions of leadership in the church, such as committee chairs. What do you as the pastor do?

Do you keep that person in the leadership and influential roles that person has? Should that person be leading youth, or other committees? Where does repentance, forgiveness, and love for the youth worker come in to your relationship with that person? How do you, as the pastor handle the situation?

Just thought I would toss that one out there to get your minds away from General Conference.

Youth Preachers

The four seniors of my youth group will be preaching this week during Youth Sunday. As I have been reading what they will be saying I have been inspired. They have done a wonderful job crafting a message that will inspire and give God credit. Too often I have seen youth preach about themselves and focus on them instead of God. But these four have done a good job not falling into that trap. Please be praying for these youth as the week progresses and they profess the word of God to the congregation this Sunday.

Youth Trip Nightmare

I read this article on the UMC website and it sent chills down my spine. Not only would it be tragic to find one of my youth dead on a trip but then to have the conflict of suicide vs wrongful death is even worth.

I have no connection to this at all except I am in youth ministry. I could not imagine going through something like this at my church. To loss a youth would be hard enough but then a scandalous fallout would be even worse. I as a youth worker would hate to know that something like this happened under my watch, to youth that I knew, loved and ministered to.

My prayers go out to the Church of the Messiah and to the family of James McCoy. May they know the peace and the love of Christ.