Please note, this post is long. I am well aware of that fact. I did not want to take anything out though, and brevity is never necessarily a strong point of mine. I am posting it for my husband who says I never write something unless it pertains to the kids. I am posting it because I read David Platt’s Radical last year. I am posting it because I want to remember it. I am posting it because you need to read it, so please hang with me and read it, in its entirety.
I would not call him someone that I liked, at the time. He was just someone who was smarter than me.
I have never been one to like math, and in fact, I can still recall the queasy feeling in my stomach from when I was in 3rd grade, sitting at the kitchen table with my math brilliant brother, attempting to answer correctly to the multiplication table flash cards. So, when Geometry hit my Junior year in high school, I already felt at a loss. I positioned myself next to one of my best friends, and I was ready to learn. Turns out, my social nature got the best of me and I was moved a few seats away from the BFF to the quietest boy in the class. In fact, he might have been one of the quietest boys in the school. My inner social butterfly was squashed.
Turns out, the move was not so bad after all, for the quietest boy was also the smartest. He was actually a whole year younger than me but was already in the course. Perhaps my luck was not so bad after all!
Soon, I found myself getting help from that quiet boy named Sheldon. He really did not have much to say beyond the assigned problems. I never cheated off him but I sure did tap his brain when trying to master my own angles. Never complaining, Sheldon always helped, and for that I was grateful. Often you would find our desks pushed together during work time, but when the bell rang for lunch, I jetted out with my friends to eat and chat. I had no idea where Sheldon ate his lunch.
One day, my friend and I decided to throw a party. It was going to be a blast, and we were going to invite all of our friends. Rugby, piñatas, Hawaiian shirts, and anything else wild and silly were the platform. Ever so creatively, we titled it our “Piñata Party.” While handing out our handmade invites, I felt a twinge of guilt in my gut when I looked towards Sheldon. I had not really planned to invite him. It was not like he was going to say much anyway. Realizing how snobbish it seemed to pass him over, I extended the small piece of paper to him and smiled. Immediately he said he wanted to come. “Great!” I replied, not completely sure if I meant it or not. Turns out, the boy a whole year younger could not drive and would need a ride. I reluctantly agreed to pick him up.
A day of goofiness seemed like about all he needed to open up and begin to talk and enjoy the company of others. Somewhere in the midst of that day, I began to believe that I actually did like his company and it would not be so bad if the quiet, smart, younger boy actually hung out with my crew more. He seemed to get along with everyone well enough.
Piñata Party turned into an invite into our lunch crew. Lunch crew turned into tennis playing buddy. Tennis playing buddy turned into extra person to join in on capture the flag. And, if he was going to be at all those things, it just made sense to start inviting him to all the activities at my church and the churches of my friends.
All the while, the Lord had started to open my eyes to Sheldon, and I realized how this boy was in need of a relationship with the Lord. God was not someone or something that he ever really considered, so the idea of “needing” this “Savior” was foreign. Suddenly, I was the smart one tutoring the one that needed to learn.
As it turns out, Sheldon was still too young to drive, so any event that he attended was courtesy of me and my powder blue 1981 Honda. A commute just so happened to yield a contained audience member. This is when our deep conversations about the Bible and Jesus would begin, and while we traveled, I would ask questions of him and he of me. I would take him home after a church service and we would discuss what occurred or what we studied that night the whole way.
A gift of a Bible and more activities later, Sheldon was softening. He knew there was more to this life, and he wanted it. I had been praying for basically an entire year when, the summer before I began my Senior year, Sheldon accepted Christ. That very summer his parents also gave him a truck for his birthday. The new wheels meant more freedom to join in on all sorts of other events to help grow his faith. It was humbling to know my tutor turned tutored was now in the body of Christ and that I was able to play a major role in the conversion.
My entire Senior year Sheldon was a friend. We ate lunch together often and people that were acquaintances to him before had become his true friends. He also began to make friends with people in his own class, which was great, for my friends and I were set to graduate soon, and I did not want him back to square one, quiet and friendless, whenever we moved on to college. He even began to share his excitement for his new life in Christ with his parents, who were not very open to hearing. They adored me, and they were grateful to know their son had begun to blossom and gain friends, but they were not real thrilled with the idea of a God playing a role in it all.
Sheldon often drove around 30 minutes one-way to get to church 2 days a week. He would frequently make an extra trip out on Mondays for prayer group when he was not working at the grocery store. You could see him growing spiritually.
As the close of the year came, I was thrilled to be preparing to embark on an overseas mission trip. I was literally going to the other side of the world, without anyone I knew, and I was going to serve and disciple for an entire month. It was a grand adventure, to say the least. I knew God had good things in store for me while there. This meant that my normal summer break good-byes were intensified due to the fact I would not be coming back to high school the next year, and for the majority of the summer before beginning college, I would be unreachable to all my friends. I would call my mom perhaps once a week but forget speaking with anyone else. To top it off, I did not even have an e-mail address with which to communicate.
Fast forward through a life-changing month away. At 17, I had signed up to be a short-term missionary for the summer, and it was all I had prayed for in the previous months. When back on US soil and after hugging my mom, I began to tell her all about my adventure, filling her in on all the highlights, letting her know how mighty of a God we serve.
When I look back on that time of emotional spillage, I can see that something was off. I was a bit oblivious to it at the time, but when I pause and reflect, her emotions were just not right.
Mom let me talk, and then she let me talk some more. We stopped at an exit not too far from the airport to get or do something, which I cannot recall now. I remember being in her car and having her look at me with a face of pity. It confused me because pity should not have been an emotion on her radar after having me back next to her after a month and especially not after all the things I had been relaying to her from my trip. The face of pity turned into an odd sadness. As she sat behind the steering wheel and I in the passenger seat, our eyes locked and I knew something was officially wrong, big time.
The words “Summer…..Sheldon is dead” came out of her mouth. I immediately grabbed her hand, turned my head away from her towards the window and let out a blend of a shriek and a gasp. Momentarily, the world stopped. Everything turned blurry from the tears in my eyes and my heart sank into a deep pit. From the rooftop to the ditch in a flash, I was emotionally crushed.
The word “How?!” was all I could muster. My mom then reached into her purse and began to pull out a small notepad that had the name of a local funeral home on it. As she opened it, the details of his accidental death were given. While mowing his yard for his parents one hot day in the summer, Sheldon ran over an extension cord that had been out in the grass. Turning off the mower and reaching underneath to remove the surprise cord, Sheldon received an intense electrical shock from the exposed wires touching the metal blades. It was enough to kill him. His parents found him dead in the grass when they came home from work.
It all occurred while I was on the other side of the world. Mom had already attended the funeral service by the last time I talked with her on the phone. She had decided it was best not to tell me while away, for there was nothing I could do. There was not a way to get home in enough time. It was futile. Instead, she just kept it quiet and decided to tell me in person.
After some tears, mom handed me the obituary paper and the funeral pamphlet. He looked so nice in his ROTC uniform. While I gazed at his image, she read to me from the small notebook she had taken out earlier. In it she had written detailed notes that covered all aspects of his service.
She told me how his parents had asked the pastor at our church to speak at the funeral, as well as how they had specifically mentioned to him not to do any sermon. They just wanted him to say a few words and end it. Knowing Sheldon was a believer, the pastor knew he would have wanted that information relayed, despite his parents not being in the faith. In fact, Sheldon would have wanted the words of Christ shared even more so in their presence, so that is what the pastor did. Mom had written down every song that was played, every scripture that was read, and I think even every flower that was present. She wanted me to be able to know all the details, even if in abstenstua.
A few days later, I went to Sheldon’s parents’ house to pay my respects and mourn with them for a while. They were glad to see me. Sheldon’s mom had set aside a few items that she knew he would want me to have. Although reluctantly, I took from her hands a tennis racquet. She told me that he only played because I had introduced him to the sport. I tried to refuse it; she insisted. So, I left Sheldon’s old home that day with the racquet given to me by his parents, as a reminder to me of their only child– their only child who was now gone.
I still have the racquet, along with the service reminders and memories. I still fully believe that Sheldon is heaven waiting for another tennis match one day when I get there. I still pray that his parents have found a faith in God to help them and heal them. I still remind myself of how a happenstance Geometrical encounter for me turned out to be a life-altering encounter for Sheldon. I still remind myself of how a happenstance Geometrical encounter turned out to be a life-altering encounter for me.
(Left is a prom photo of Sheldon, which he gifted to me in 2000, as I prepared to graduate. The second image is what he wrote on the back of his photo.)