It’s what I call our relationship with Sam. I will never forget meeting him on a youth retreat his Sophomore year of high school. He actually came with a different church youth group but ended up in my small group. I am not one for stealing kids from other youth groups, but technically he didn’t have a church youth group home so I didn’t feel that bad. I liked him. He was just a pretty cool kid and he got along with all my other misfit teenage boys.
He just fit.
He joined Impact, our youth group, where he used his gift of music and led worship. Right away he joined our small group that met during the week, so we became real close to Sam, seeing him twice a week.
But everything changed the day he called. There were things we just had no idea he was carrying. His call changed everything. Sam’s family and our family would journey to some very dark and heavy places behind closed doors over the next few years. And Sam went from being a kid in youth group we enjoyed, to family.
My office and my couch became a refuge for him. My son became his hero. Without using words, Jayden would change his life. Jesus used my son’s presence in Sam’s life to save it. And let’s be clear, it was Jesus that did the saving.
Sam is such a brave, talented, wise young man. He is already influencing his campus at Purdue with the love of Christ. He is making his journey back to an authentic, thriving, beautiful communion with his Savior, and I am so thankful Jayden played a part in his story.
We asked him weeks ago, before we really knew Jayden was going to pass, if he would share at his funeral and he agreed. Thank you, Sam, for not only sharing your words so powerfully, but for the honor it has been to be a part of your journey. Dual blessing for sure.
Here are his brave words from that day:
I first met Jayden and the Boyce family at Impact, Immanuel Church’s youth group, at the beginning of high school. Jesus brought the Boyce family into my life at a critical time, where for the first time, I was able to talk about the pain and hurts of my own story. The Boyces courageously, selflessly, and lovingly walked through some of the darkest, most painful days of my journey right alongside of me.
For a while, Jayden didn’t quite make sense to me. How could someone physically broken, given such a seemingly unfair hand in life, be so joyful, loving, and peaceful? I was bitter, sad, and angry with the hand I had been dealt and the pain I had endured. In Jayden’s journey, he, if anyone, had the right to be sad, angry, or selfish. But instead, the opposite was true. As his story unfolded, he seemed to become even more overflowing with the gentle love and peace of Jesus.
Throughout my time with Jayden, the reality of the brokenness of this world, and the immense suffering in it, was always there. But even more overwhelmingly present than that was this insurmountable peace, love, and joy that Jayden radiated through his smile and laughs. I’d look at him and think, “Here is a little boy who has every reason in the world to be resentful because of the brokenness God has allowed in his life, yet I’ve never felt closer to Jesus than when I am sitting next to him.” His story didn’t have a day without pain or brokenness, and did he respond?
He responded with a gentle, loving, peaceful smile that transcended all fears, hurts, and resentments, filling me with the love and peace of Jesus.
I spent many nights on the Boyce’s couch, wrestling and lamenting with the pains and hurts of my story, selfishly yelling out “Why me, God?” “Why this story? Why this pain, God?!” And in these times, Jut and Stef would get in my face and look me right in the eyes and say, “It’s not about you, Sam, it’s about Jesus.” And then Jayden’s giggles and laughs would echo from the playroom. “It’s not about your hurts, Sam. It’s not about our pain, or Jayden’s, or Brooklyn’s hurts. It’s about Jesus.”
Now, if this little boy, crippled by his own broken body, can be filled with the love and joy of Jesus amidst his suffering, then what on earth am I doing sitting on the Boyce’s couch feeling sorry for myself, asking “Why me, God?”
And it was there, with Jayden and the Boyces where I began to understand that our stories are so much bigger than ourselves and it isn’t our job to ask “Why, God?” That is something I am still learning today, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t think is possible if I didn’t have the privilege watch the Boyces get up every morning and faithfully live that out in everything they do.
The more time I spent with Jayden, the more the broken parts of his story seemed to fade, and this unexplainable hope and triumph took over. How amazing. A seemingly broken, sad story of impending death, turned on its head, from death to victory. From the brokenness of a little boy to a warrior of Jesus, radically changing the lives of everyone around him. How breathtakingly amazing is that? To see a story that the devil intended for evil through a terminal illness of a child, be magnificently transformed into a life-changing, Jesus-proclaiming story of love, resilience, unimaginable hurt and faith, reaching thousands of lives, including mine.
The most impactful memory of Jayden and what really made me realize Jesus’s power in Jayden was the first time I ever shared my story. I was sitting on the Boyce’s couch, trembling and beaten down from the brokenness of my story when Jayden, who at that time was dribbling a basketball, came and sat down next to me and looked me in the eyes. In that moment, all fear, hurt, guilt, and sadness was replaced with the peace, gentleness, and love of my Heavenly Father that radiated out of Jayden like the brightest lighthouse in the darkest and scariest of storms. Here was this little boy, physically broken and degrading every day, being Jesus’s powerful, life changing ambassador, encouraging a life full of brokenness and hurts, turning it upside down, and filling it with grace and love unmatched by anything I had ever felt before.
When Justin and Stefanie asked me to speak, I was overwhelmed with the task of speaking to one of the many stories that Jayden has impacted forever. I consider it a divine intervention of Jesus that Jayden and the Boyces were put in my life because of their magnificent walk with Jesus, on display for all so see and be blessed by.
Jayden’s life and legacy teaches me to long for heaven, reminding me of how faint and worthless the glories of this world are. The people Jayden loved made Him smile. Not stuff. Not shallow admiration. Not money, but people. How quickly the things of this world fade when you enter in the presence of someone so close to God’s very heart.
So thank you, Jayden, for loving me unconditionally. Thank you for showing me, time and time again, what it looks like to suffer faithfully, gracefully, and selflessly. Thank you for teaching me to own my story, because I know you didn’t choose your story, but Jesus did, and you didn’t spend your time here bitter and selfish, but instead chose to love on broken people like me, changing the course of my life forever. You have set the bar high for living a faithful, selfless life, committed to loving people, despite the brokenness you experienced. Thank you for setting the example, for running your race with endurance and grace. I love you so much and look forward to the day when we stand shoulder to shoulder with our Heavenly Father.