From a human perspective, I’ve had the worst week of my life – as have my family members and other close friends. Yet, despite the deep pain and sorrow we have experienced, the Kingdom of God has had what the youth in my life would call an “epic” week.
These two contrasting realities are the result of the heart-wrenching drowning death of a 19-year-old man and what God did with that seemingly horrible event.
On the afternoon of May 5, 2012, my wife, younger daughter and I, along with five good friends, embarked on an easy one-hour hike to a spot on the Rogue River in southern Oregon called Rainie Falls. It was a picture-perfect spring day for a trek down the mighty Rogue.
Upon reaching the falls, which this time of year is more of a giant riffle in the river, we sat on some large boulders near the edge to enjoy the power of 5,700-cubic-feet-per-second of rushing water.
My friend Joshua Eddy, a vibrant, passionate, live-each-day-for-Christ kind of young man, asked another in our party if he could borrow her camera. Josh was a gifted photographer who hadn’t brought his camera that day for fear of damaging it.
“Don’t worry; I’ll take good care of it,” I heard Josh tell the camera’s owner.
Borrowed camera in hand, Josh began to strike whatever poses were needed on those rocks to get some breathtaking photos of this natural wonder.
A couple with a dog soon appeared nearby. The woman, a middle-age Hispanic tourist, suddenly screamed out. Josh was gone. He fell into waist-deep water initially, holding the camera aloft to protect it, but then slipped and was pulled under the raging cauldron of the falls.
Panic. Desperation. Pleading prayer.
I shouted Josh’s name into the whirling white water, knowing he couldn’t hear me. After several seconds, the Hispanic woman’s male companion shouted as he pointed downstream. Josh’s head appeared, eyes closed, as he floated quickly downstream. Then he was gone again.
Two young men from our party sped downstream on the trail-less bank hoping to help Josh if he were to re-emerge. The rest of us followed, with one woman hiking back to the cars and then driving several minutes before cell service could enable a 9-1-1 call.
Despite our searching, and subsequent searches by county search and rescue and private planes, no trace of Josh has been found. A young man with so much life and potential who had impacted so many people was gone – and yet, he was about to impact many, many more.
The next day Josh’s mom and dad, homeschooling parents of nine, created a Facebook page on which to post memories of their son.
Between the Facebook page and Josh’s blog, “The Bright and Hopeful Unknown,” thousands of people across the nation have heard of this extraordinary teenager and his passion for Jesus Christ.
His April 6 blog post, providentially titled “To Die Well,” was referenced and read by innumerably more people than if God had not claimed Josh that beautiful afternoon.
Joshua Eddy was not perfect. He had an impetuousness that irked me on more than one occasion. Yet his sold-out commitment to his Savior that simply jumps off the pages of his writings has challenged and blessed countless people – both Christians and unbelievers – since his death.
My older daughter is engaged to Josh’s older brother. In a recent journal entry, she explains what a sovereign God was doing by promoting Josh a few days ago. It was written from God’s perspective, as if speaking before May 5, yet with the recognition that the Lord is outside of time:
“I have planned exactly where and at what time he will come home. Joshua has tied up all of his loose ends. He has surrendered his life to me, and even his death to me, to use as I will. I have a special plan for him. I have picked a wonderful spring day in Grants Pass, Ore.: May 5, 2012. He will be with some of his best friends, hiking to a beautiful falls. I will deck out the forest that day with my glory, and the water with a brilliance that will not cease to fascinate him. I have given him the gift of photography, and he will want to take a picture. … He will get himself up on a mossy rock, to get the perfect shot. And while he is capturing beauty, he will slip and be swept away.
“I will call him – ‘Josh! Josh, it’s time to come home.’ He’ll pray fervently to me to save him. He will be hoping that none of his friends jumped in after him. He will fight hard to free himself of the water’s grasp, but it is not my will that he succeed. He will think of his family, his parents, his best friends. Then he will think of me. Josh, I am going to bring you home. He will come peacefully, not quarreling. He will commit to me his spirit, and then the angels will carry him to be with me. It is for God to number a man’s days, and Joshua knows that. He has run his race well. He has endured to the end. He is my child, and it is time for him to come home.”
Josh did die well – and he encourages us to live well, to live a life of self-sacrifice, in his recent blog post, just 29 days before his death:
“What would you consider the greatest thing you could die for? You faith? Your wife and kids? If you say that you’re willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for your Savior – your life – are you not willing to give up anything less important? Your thoughts, your dreams, your anxiety? Your time?
“If you say that you’re willing to surrender your life for your family’s sake, are you not willing to surrender your pride, your rights and your comfort for their benefit also?
“You show me a man who can lay down his pride for his faith and family, and I’ll show you a man who will not hesitate to lay down his life, also.”
If every 19-year-old American man had that perspective and foundation, what a different nation this would be. Thankfully, through Josh’s death, he is challenging countless others to live for Christ, to live for others, to live well.
We miss you, Josh … but we’ll see you later.