Monday, September 14, 2009

Kimberly Joy

I suppose, like teachers, youth pastors ought not to have favorites. But let's be honest. . .having spent 15 years in youth ministry, spread over three different churches, I can't help but have special memories about those few special kids who endeared themselves in so many ways. Yes, we've loved all 'our kids,' but in the midst of those have been a handful that ended up being more loved than others.

Kimberly Joy is one of those kids.

Kim was in my first youth group, at Foothill Bible Church, in Southern California. But it's not really fair to say Kim was a "part" of that group. . .it was more like Kim and everybody else. Bright, energetic, prone to more than her share of embarrassing moments and awkward conversations, Kim was a friend to any and every person who crossed her path. One of our earliest events with that group was our summer camp trip to Hume Lake. That trip still comes up in conversations; especially memorable is Kim's 10 minutes of terror at the top of the Pamper Poles - a telephone pole you climbed as part of the high ropes course. She couldn't seem to take the last step to reach the top, choosing instead to cry, to panic, to beg and plead to be let off. Of course, this being Kim, she fully enjoyed every second of attention she received up there, as well.

Kim was on our student leadership team, she went on most of our beach trips and snow retreats. She was the recipient of too many practical jokes, but secretly relished the fact that, even in those jokes, she was the center of attention.

I was single at the time, but Kim (along with her sister Erin) took pity on me, regularly inviting me over to their house for spagghetti or pancakes.

Of course, like most high schoolers, Kim had her struggles. I remember one Sunday when Kim and her boyfriend Sean sat in the front row of church, she with blue hair and he with a chunk of steel through his septum. The pastor asked me later "what are we going to do with these kids setting such a bad example in worship?" I could only respond "how about we love them?" Because if Kim was anything, she was loveable. She could be funny, she got frustrated and angry perhaps too quickly, she never met a rule she didn't want to break. . .but she was a fiercely loyal friend, and she cared, deeply and passionately, about the people around her.

One winter we took a weekend trip into Los Angeles to do an urban mission trip. When I first announced it, she, in her usual blunt fashion, blurted out "you expect people to pay money to go serve homeless people?" And yet she went on that trip. And I remember one moment, when a homeless man came to the van and asked for money. . .after sending him away I turned around to discover Kim weeping in the seat behind me, her heart broken at the thought of this man sleeping on the streets. Kim desperately wanted to make people happy, and sometimes she struggled when confronted by the pain and sorrow of others - especially in those moments when there was nothing she could do to ease that pain.

Kim and Sean were the 2nd wedding I performed, on a sunny day on a Southern California beach. Shortly after we moved to Oregon, they came up and spent a week with us, visiting Tillamook and Multnomah Falls and meeting Ed the Grumpy Landlord. And so Kim (and Sean) transitioned, to us, from 'youth group kid" to true friend.

Over the last years, as Karina and I had two daughters and moved a couple times, and as Kim and Sean had a daughter and lived through struggles of their own, we talked less; we moved on with our lives. But we never could forget. Whenever we talk about "the old days," Kim (and Erin, too) somehow ends up central to those conversations. And, with the help of Facebook, we still said "hello" occasionally, keeping attuned to where she was in life, her joys at parenting, her excitement at Erin moving back to town and being able to play Aunt more regularly.

But Kim had long had significant health struggles, as well. . .and a couple nights ago those caught up with her. Kimberly passed away early Sunday morning. I found out by reading Sean's facebook update; for five minutes I stared at the screen, wondering what kind of sick joke he could possibly be playing, not believing that one so full of life, energy, passion, and love could be gone. But of course it wouldn't be a joke; she truly was gone. Yesterday afternoon Sean and I shared a hard, wonderful conversation, in which he gave me the fuller story. Mostly, though, we just shared memories. And there were so many. . .so many.

Kim was many things. She could be a complicated person. Sometimes I think even she was still trying to figure out who she was. But in the midst of it all, Kim was a friend. Kim was a ray of sunshine to every person who had the privilege to meet her. She even pushed me to be a better youth pastor; I'm sure much of who I am today as a minister traces back to those first days of youth ministry, and Kim was a manifestly important part of those days. Yes, she made my life difficult, she TP'd my office and house multiple times, she organized a group of friends to steal my SPAM collection, she always asked the wrong question at the wrong time, she did things her own way regardless of our wishes. . .but she also lived life out in the open, fearless to state her opinion, to challenge any perceived wrong, to try something new. She forced me to realize that ministry wasn't about any skill-set, but in being the human being God created me to be, ever being vulnerable and honest while living along those God has placed in my charge.

When Olivia was born, Kim and Sean gave her a copy of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. Inside she wrote "Always remember that God is like the giving tree. . ." I think, perhaps, this is where Kim most reflected the image of God. Even in her moments of brokenness, even though she has such a propensity to seek the spotlight, she was still one who would give anything and everything to make other people happy. Kim couldn't stand to be in a room where anybody was upset; she had to find a way to cheer them up. It's just who she was.

Including sending cheerful little notes. I found one of those notes in a file last night. Enjoy. . .

May the Lord have mercy on Kim's parents Van and Debbie, on her sister Erin, on Sean and all those who mourn, and, most especially, on her daughter Robyn. And may the Lord finally give Kim the health and peace she so longed for in this world. She will be missed.

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison

1 comment:

randall said...


Peace to her memory. And to those who loved her.

Thanks Dan