There was a time when I was fully convinced God did not care at all how much pain I was in. Five years ago I lost my baby sister to heroin. The grief I experienced after that was so intense and debilitating that I had absolutely no idea how to face & feel that pain. So I did anything I possibly could to avoid, numb & run from it; getting high, drinking, and a revolving door of men in & out of my life. At my core I was desperate to stop feeling the loss of companionship that my sister’s absence had left.
She was my best friend, my ride or die. She was the person I called when things were awesome and when things were horrible. She was the person that I shared my deepest, darkest secrets with, and she had a very special piece of my heart. Lexis was the life of the party; when she entered the room, all eyes were on her. She was beautiful, inside and out, and she was also crumbling inside, fighting an addiction that eventually took her life. The pain from that loss lingered in me for so long that the only conclusion I could make was that God obviously must not have cared enough to relieve me of it.
My mom had been attending church for years and was rather persistent in inviting me to come with her. She was desperately trying to show me there was another way to live. She was terrified that if I continued down the path I was on, she would lose another daughter. I began to passively accompany her to services and over time (and with a lot of prayer), I started to feel more and more open to learning about Jesus and the life people claimed he could give me. Needless to say, the more I started to follow what I learned of this man, my life slowly began to drastically change over time.
4.5 years after Lexis passed and three years after I started my journey with Jesus I was invited to lead a group at a student ministry camp for high schoolers. I was SO excited at the opportunity to reconnect with some of the high school girls I previously led. When the day came to sign up, I prayed, and I felt like God was saying “No.” I was so frustrated. I remember thinking, “Well, why not? I want to go!”
A friend encouraged me to spend some more time in prayer. He asked if I would consider going to the middle school camp. I quickly said there wasn’t a chance I would do that. But when I prayed, I felt God tell me to go. I don’t mean an audible voice. But one of the ways God talks to me is through weirdly unexpected thoughts that I know didn’t come from me.
I was less than excited. Middle schoolers are awkward, and they smell. (Sorry if you’re a middle schooler reading this.) It made no sense to me. I had already developed relationships with many of the high schoolers. But I felt like I needed to be obedient to what I sensed God was calling me to do. So, I signed up and began to ask what He wanted for me.
The morning of camp, we arrived at the crack of dawn to meet with our campers. Then we loaded onto the buses for the hour ride to camp. I could sense the nerves all over the place — eager, anxious, skeptical, and oh-so-excited! Have you ever been in a room with 150 middle schoolers? Well, I have, and I can tell you it’s a ball of emotions and a plethora of odors as well — and this was before any physical activity.
We got to camp and settled into our cabins. My co-lead and I had the most amazing group of campers: six delightful 6th graders with the best manners and personal hygiene. (Thank you, Jesus—and way to go, parents!) On our way to the pavilion, we were thinking of a team name. We saw a beautiful butterfly and decided to call ourselves the Blue Butterflies. Blue because we were assigned to Team Blue, and Butterflies because we’re all growing into the women God created us to be, going through a period of metamorphosis to come out beautiful on the other side. (Cue all of the tears.) We also choose three words to describe ourselves: brave, bold, and beautiful.
Our team name and descriptive words held a dual meaning for me. Butterflies remind me of my baby sister Lexis; they were our thing. Not only did this symbolism have a special place in my heart during the week, but I felt like I was being reminded of her everywhere I looked. I noticed butterflies throughout camp, found myself belly laughing (with a snort or two in there), and caught myself singing and dancing without a care in the world with my girls, just like she used to do.
As we were going through the line at lunch, I was stopped by a woman serving food. She asked if I had a sister. I was quick to respond, “Yes, Logan.” My sister, Logan, used to volunteer a lot around the church, so I was used to people asking me about her.
The woman responded, “No, Lexis.”
I froze in place, and everything around me stopped. I had never had someone from church ask me about Lexis. Slowly things began to move around me, and we agreed to connect later. As I walked back to the table, I felt confused. My campers asked me what had happened and if I was OK. I shook it off, but I was wondering how this woman knew my sister. What did she want to say to me?
The day went by, and our paths didn’t cross. Part of me wondered if I had dreamed it. Day 2 of the camp was filled with activity after activity and tons of excitement. The campers were having some really deep conversations about God. I was amazed by their wisdom and willingness to share with one another. We prayed that God would continue to show more of himself to us and thanked him for bringing us together at camp.
At the end of the day, there was a basketball tournament. As I was walking around the outskirts of the court, I bumped into the same woman from earlier. I was comforted knowing I hadn’t made the encounter up. She looked at me and asked if it was a good time to talk. I looked around to check on my girls and saw they were all partnered up and busy. I said yes.
She looked me straight in the eyes and told me that she was my sister’s probation officer the year before she died.
I began to sob.
The woman asked how my family was doing; she asked about my nephews by name and told me she had never stopped thinking about us. She told me how special my sister was. And then she told me the things my sister had shared with her about me.
The probation officer told me that my sister loved me so very much and was proud of me. She told me that when Lexis spoke about me, she beamed. She looked up to me and wished she could be more like me. This woman told me all the things that my sister never got the chance to say to me.
I felt like while this woman was saying this to me, it was also what God was saying to me. I was wrecked in the best way possible. Lexis and I never got the chance to tell each other the things that I wish we could have. For years I have wondered if she knew that I loved her. I wondered if she knew that I was proud of her.
Through this chance encounter with a complete stranger, I knew that I never needed to doubt that. Lexis knew. At that moment, God extended so much healing to me that I didn’t even realize I needed. I began to understand why He wanted me to go to middle school camp on that specific week. It was to meet this woman.
After the basketball tournament, I went back to the cabin for our small group time. I led our girls through some prompts, asking them to share what they had been hearing, thinking, and feeling. Then they asked me, “Well, what about you? Where have you seen God so far?”
I told them what happened to me earlier in the evening. One by one, these sixth graders began to cry and hold hands with one another. They were in awe of how God will pluck you and put you where He wants you to be so that you can experience what He has for you. They were able to see in a real way just how intimately God knows each of us.
In the days leading up to camp, I had sensed that God was up to something big, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I realized that through my obedience, He was giving me an opportunity that I would’ve never experienced if I hadn’t listened.
I now call that probation officer a friend. And I’m still in awe of how God works. I went to middle school camp to serve our students. I went to give. Instead, I received an amazingly beautiful gift that I never imagined. I received healing that I didn’t deserve or earn, but God so freely gave to me because He actually loves me and cares about my pain. None of this would have happened if I wasn’t obedient to what I believed He was asking me to do. Had I gone to high school camp, I would’ve missed the opportunity to meet a woman that had a message for me.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8
It’s so easy to feel like God has forgotten us. We have hurts that we carry with us that make us feel broken and unloved. But He knows you, he loves you, and he is for you. It’s been my experience that He has good things he’s intentionally guiding us toward. The signs to get us there often look like nudges in a direction we wouldn’t usually have interest or leaps of faith toward something new and uncomfortable. He doesn’t forget about your grief. His guidance along my path has been proof of that.