Rachel Dotzler – Junior High Pastor, Mesa campus Almost a year ago I was at home going through my Facebook feed pretending to be interested in the posts that were scrolling by. Depending on the posts I saw, I yawned, I laughed, I said “aww”, and some posts that didn’t deserve a reaction at all. However, there are some things we see on Facebook that make our hearts drop, bleed, or hurt and you can never be prepared for those moments. They are those Facebook posts that make you open your web browser to search for more details, or send urgent messages asking that it’s not true or what happened, Facebook posts that drive you to tears because you’re trying to think of the last memory you shared with that person who is now no longer alive to share memories with.
If there is one thing you never want to experience as a youth pastor, it’s experiencing the death of one of your students.
The summer before this horrific event that I am referring to, I received a text from a student of mine, (I was just a leader within Central Student Ministries, not the youth pastor yet) “Hey Rachel! I want to come to church tonight!” I was a giddy little girl when I saw these words from Davonna. She had been in and out of my life ever since she was in my junior high group about 5 years ago. I have walked a long journey with her as she struggles to fight through this bizarre and crazy life that teenagers have to face these days. I heard from her when she was down, when she had questions regarding God, when she needed a ride, or sometimes some money, but I didn’t mind, I am just glad she reached out. I always enjoyed the words we shared no matter what it was about. Occasionally, she texted me saying she wanted to come to Crash, our high school program. My heart always leapt for joy.
I squeezed her when I saw her that night, not thinking it would be the very last time I would get to squeeze her in this lifetime. During programming that night, she got up during the message and walked outside to sit on the stairs. I of course followed her out to sit with her and see what was going on. She had a lot going on, but I always loved to listen. Sometimes that’s all teenagers need, someone that will listen and not respond. I listened until I heard the words,
“I have done too many messed up things in my life for God to love or even care about me.”
“Davonna,” I said, “There is nothing you can do in this lifetime that will make God love you any less. It is never too late to find freedom in Christ and I hope you know how much He loves you. I’ve done some pretty screwed up things too, but God’s love for us never changes.” She looked at me at this point and shared a small smile. I then asked her “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Her answer was hard for me to process and still makes my heart hurt when I remember what she said. “Probably dead.” I tried to fight back my tears at this point. And we began a beautiful discussion about her incredible Savior, Jesus.
Davonna thought that was the only way her life was headed. She thought it was too late to turn it around. She thought it was too late to earn God’s love! Guess what?! God’s love doesn’t need to be earned and it cannot be earned! He loves us anyway and he offers the gift of grace and mercy. I treasure these moments with Davonna as I reflect on our last memory together. I believe it was indeed a beautiful opportunity that God set up so Davonna could be reminded that its not too late, reminded that God loves her, and reminded that He is with her every step of the way. She told me that was the first night she had felt happy in a very long time, God’s incredible love did that.
Approaching the one-year anniversary of Davonna’s death has made me reflect on why I do what I do. Davonna made such an impact on my life and continues to still do that. For me, teenagers are my world. God has put a desire in my heart to walk alongside them. Too many teens and people in general don’t know how big God’s love is for them. Central, don’t miss these divine appointments, these opportunities that come your way to share who God is! There is no time to waste; we only have a few short years on this earth so make them count and let the people around you know how much you love them, and most importantly how much God loves them…no matter what.
Davonna, thank you for setting this fire in my heart and thank you for giving me the opportunity to walk alongside you these past few years. Little did you know that at your funeral so many of your friends got to hear the news of Jesus and how much He loves them and for that, I thank you. You have been a joy in my life and will continue to be. You are missed and you are loved. Love, Rachel