On a cold wintry day in November 1993, my daughter and I experienced one of the saddest days of our life together, a day that will be etched in our minds forever.
Just walking into the funeral home and seeing so many teenagers sent a chill through our bodies that matched the cold outside. There must have been at least 200 or more teens in the room. Usually when you see a large gathering of teens it would be for a pep rally or party, but not today. They were here to say their final goodbye to their special friend, Kevin. (Names have been changed for the sake of privacy.)
As my daughter Michelle and I got closer, I noticed Kevin's brother (who survived the accident) and two sisters to the right of his coffin. One had only to look at their faces to see the horror and shock of disbelief that this event was really happening—that their brother Kevin was dead and lying in a coffin.
As I looked over to the left, I saw his parents sitting on the front row and reached out to hug them. I was at a loss for words. What could I say that would take their pain away? There were no words to reach for, no magic expression to make everything seem okay. How do you bury your 17-year-old son? How do you let go and say goodbye to your precious child?
It was clear to me as I looked around the room of people sobbing, young and old, the question going through their minds. It was the same question going through mine. Why? Why did this happen to Kevin? He was only 17. He had his whole life ahead of him. Why? Not long afterward I was to ask myself the same question once again. The answer in both cases provides a powerful lesson for us all.
Another night, another story
Some months later the question of why surfaced again at the graduation ceremony of my son David. Something happened that brought the whole audience to their feet with resounding applause.
The applause was for one of the seniors, Brady, who had been in a serious accident a year earlier that left him unable to walk. Brady was determined to walk again, and he struggled the whole year for this special night. When Brady's name was announced to receive his diploma, he slowly got up and struggled a few minutes to get his balance on his crutches.
There was dead silence in the audience as he took his first step forward. We were all afraid that if we made one sound he would come crashing to the floor. All were drawn in as we watched Brady move slowly forward, the entire audience seeming to silently cheer, "Come on, you can do it!"
As he made it to the front of the room, Brady reached out and took his diploma. The silence was broken as the audience jumped to its feet with resounding applause. The applause went on for a few minutes as we all shared in the victory of a young man who had gone through so much the year before. For Brady to be able to get up and walk on this occasion of receiving his diploma seemed to be a miracle.
Reality hits home
As the applause faded and I sat back down, my thoughts went back to Kevin whose funeral we had attended only a few months earlier. Kevin would never realize that dream of graduating. This was also to be the year that he would have received his diploma. Yet he wouldn't experience that pleasure.
The question came to mind once again: Why? Why did tragedy strike twice? Why did this have to happen to two young men who had their whole lifetime ahead of them?
The answer is simple and sobering: Laws were broken that changed their lives and the lives of their families forever.
We all tend to think that we are indestructible—that bad things will never happen to us. We especially think this way when we are young, but as we get older experience tells us differently. The longer we live, the more funerals we attend. The reality that we are made of dust and will return to dust becomes very clear.
Young people love to take chances and believe they can't get hurt. You've no doubt heard things like "It couldn't happen to me" or "I won't get caught." And maybe things like "So what's the big deal with traffic laws? Everybody breaks them" or "What's the big deal with trespassing? I'm not hurting anyone, am I?" No big deal—or is it?
So what happened to Kevin and Brady?
Recklessness on the road
Kevin grew up with my daughter Michelle. They played together, started their school years together and were best friends. As a teenager, Kevin had a lot of friends. He had a job and a great relationship with his family. His hobby was rebuilding cars with his dad.
But one fateful night took that all away.
Our family moved away when Kevin was 10, so we lost touch with him and his family until that night when terrible circumstances brought us together. One evening while I was watching the late news, the announcer said that there'd been a serious accident and that emergency workers were searching for a teenager who'd been thrown from the car.
One boy made it out okay, and they were looking for his brother. At first, it was thought that the young man got out as well and was perhaps stumbling around in the woods in a daze. When they announced his name, I was in shock. The next day all hopes of his being found alive were dashed when they discovered his body in the river tangled up in some weeds, dead.
Kevin had just finished rebuilding a car with his dad and decided to try it out with his brother. Rounding the curve at 90 miles an hour in a 25-miles-per hour zone, Kevin lost control of the car, which then went over an embankment. The impact from the accident threw Kevin into the river, where he soon drowned. His brother managed to crawl out and survived. But Kevin's life was gone—his dreams dashed due to a few moments of bad judgment.
Ignoring warning signs
Brady's story was different but with tragic results as well. He attended a different school, where he was very popular, had many friends and was highly involved in sports. Brady loved basketball and played on the school team. His dream was to become a basketball star. Another one of his loves was skiing, and he belonged to a ski club.
One day, instead of going to basketball practice he decided to go with some friends to a nearby ski slope. While skiing, they came to a slope where a sign warned against skiing there. Instead of heeding the danger, they decided to ski there anyway. They pulled the sign up, and Brady was the first to go down. He struck a tree and was severely injured.
Brady broke his neck, and the doctors first thought he would never walk again. Brady struggled with painful therapy for a whole year—not to ski or play basketball but just to take that walk down the aisle to receive his diploma. The decision Brady made on his ski trip changed his life forever.
Laws for our good
Broken laws, broken dreams. Laws are there to protect us from such tragedies as befell Kevin and Brady. So what's the big deal? Ask Brady what the big deal is. Ask Kevin's parents what the big deal is, since they will never see him fulfill his dreams. Kevin's family is left behind to pick up the pieces.
Kevin will never be able to experience the joys that we all take for granted. Brady will live with the effects of his spur-of-the-moment decision for the rest of his life. Brady and Kevin are only two examples of the many people who are suffering as a result of broken laws.
While the world's governments often overregulate, many human laws and warnings have nevertheless been put into place to protect us and others from harm, such as speed limits, not drinking while driving, wearing seat belts and more. And there are even greater laws that are commanded by our Creator for our good. You can read some of them in Exodus 20. They're known as the Ten Commandments.
If obeyed, they will give us much happiness and peace of mind. God, our loving Father, states in Deuteronomy 5:29, "Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!"
Notice again what it says —"that it might be well with them and their children . . ." If we could only realize how frail we are, and see that many of man's laws and all of God's laws are there to protect us and others—not make life hard for us.
Proverbs 3:1-2 says, "My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you." God tells us that we will have length of days and years with abundant life if we will keep His laws! Brady and Kevin chose to ignore a law. It's too late for them, but not too late for you.
Strive to take to heart the importance of keeping God's Ten Commandments and showing respect for man's laws. Understand that they are there to benefit you and others. "What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
Why keep God's laws? For your own good.
Let us all learn from the tragedies of Kevin and Brady—from the effects that come from broken laws—so our dreams will not be broken! Keep God's laws for your good!