Forty thousand people surrounded me in the Georgia Dome. Hillsong United was jamming on stage, and lasers danced across the crowd. Up until an hour prior, I was expecting this night to be the highlight of my weekend at the Passion 2012 conference. Somehow, regardless of everything that had happened, it still was.
I had decided to attend Passion 2012 with a group of other students from my church. I arrived eager to learn more about Jesus and to grow in my faith. I had no idea that I would gain a deep understanding of a truth that had been preached to me my whole life: In all things, be joyful.
Before the concert, my friends and I had gotten together with our small group made up of high school seniors from around the United States. Walking into that prayer time, I received a text message from my youth pastor, Doug Rumbold.
“Hi Hope. How is your grandpa doing?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You should call your mom.”
By then, my stomach had completely flipped inside of me. My grandpa, or Grampy as I called him, had struggled with heart problems for years: whatever happened couldn’t be good. My only hope was that it was something minor. It was usually minor. Minor heart attack, bad case of pneumonia, Grampy would spend a few days in the hospital and come back home.
I frantically called my parents – no answer.
Grammy – no answer.
Aunt Gini – no answer.
I continued down my family contact list – no answer.
Finally, my mom called back. She and my dad were on their way to the hospital. They would call me as soon as they knew more. But at that moment, they were in the dark as much as I was.
Later, my grandma would tell me that she had sugar-coated it for all of us. Grampy had been unresponsive since she found him after work.
So I went to the concert. No sense in worrying by myself in the hotel room. My friend Taylor and I found seats up in the nose bleed section, we had been separated from our group, and I spent my time in desperate prayer that Grampy would be okay. I checked my phone every minute to make sure I didn’t miss a call from my mom. Eventually, my phone rang.
“Hope, are you with someone?”
It was my mom.
“Yes, I’m with Taylor. I had to walk out of the concert because it’s loud, but he’s in there,” I replied.
“You might want to get him.”
“No, I’m fine. What happened?”
“I am so sorry sweetie. Grampy didn’t make it. We think he had a heart attack.”
A flash flood started pouring out of my eyes. It was a horribly ugly cry. I’ve never been a graceful crier.
A conference volunteer came up and asked if I needed help. I quickly said I was fine and darted to hide myself in the crowd. The last thing I wanted was someone to tell me that it was going to be okay.
I had no words to express my emotions: I couldn’t even tell Taylor that my grandpa had passed away. I cried into Taylor’s chest for what felt like eternity. I lost all sense of time and place, crying so heavily I wasn’t even aware that the concert had ended until Taylor prompted me to leave.
My mind was focused on everything that I had lost.
Grampy was only 65 years old when he passed away, and until I was 11, he was the most important man in my life. He was my primary father figure, biggest fan and the man I thought would walk me down the aisle. He was goofy, embarrassing, a little out there and always my biggest fan.
It never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t be around to see me get married, let alone to graduate.
The morning of the day Grampy passed away, Passion began the same way as usual. Chris Tomlin got on stage to lead worship and introduced us all to a new song called “Lay Me Down.” I immediately jotted down the lyrics in my journal, “It will be my joy to say ‘It’s Your will, Your way, always.’” I was struck by the idea of being joyful and submitting to God’s will at all times.
As the day progressed, different sessions continued to focus on joy, and I wrote that “joy comes from Jesus; happiness comes from happenings.” Later that night, all of these thoughts were put to the test.
Grampy’s death was totally unexpected. And by the grace of God, I can say that his was one of the most joyful experiences of my life.
There I was, 11 hours from home, trying to deal with the fact that my grandpa had just passed away. But I wasn’t alone. God was there too, showering me with love, peace and joy, reminding me that I needed to be joyful in His will. Always.
As a kid, I grew up singing a song with the words “rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice (clap, clap).” In high school I read John Piper’s book “The Dangerous Duty of Delight,” which talks about God’s commandment to be joyful. When I was at Passion, in the most desperate situation I had ever been faced with, the songs from my childhood, lessons from adolescence and phrases from that morning rushed into my mind. They wrapped me up in a blanket of peace and allowed me to experience the truest and freest feeling of joy that I have ever experienced.
Christians talk about their “God moments” all of the time – the times when you can really see the Holy Spirit working in your life. That night, I had mine.
After the concert, I was talking with my pastor, Dave Wolfe, who was chaperoning the conference. He told me that when he received the text from someone at church that my grandpa had died, he began praying for me. He said that Hillsong was singing their song “With Everything.” The lyrics state, “Let hope rise and darkness tremble…With everything, we will shout for your praise.”
With everything. With every trial, with every victory, we can go to the Lord, shouting for His praise, abounding in joy.