Jacob Armstrong

The first time I met Daniel he was lying in my hammock, in my backyard, with my beagle snoozing on his chest. I didn’t want to interrupt their special moment, but I did want to meet the trespasser. Daniel explained that he had been sneaking into my backyard from time to time to play with Simon the Beagle. He didn’t mean any harm.

devozine Hammock Rest TS 92476872Daniel was thirteen. I told him he was welcome to visit Simon any time he liked. He took me up on the offer. From then on, whenever I was in the yard, so was Daniel. If I went for a walk with my wife, Daniel joined us. A picnic lunch in the backyard included a plate for Daniel.

I learned that school wasn’t great for Daniel and that his life was lonely. But I didn’t have all the time in the world for him. I often asked him to head home when I had to study for my seminary classes. At times, he felt like an interruption and sometimes even a nuisance. Yet I grew to love Daniel, and I think he loved me.

One afternoon, while I was working on a Bible study that I led for college students, Daniel asked what I was doing. I told him about Jesus—the first time I talked about Jesus with someone who had never heard of him. Daniel asked good questions. As we talked about Jesus, I sensed in Daniel a growing peace.

Not long afterward, late on a Saturday night, I answered a knock at my front door. There stood Daniel, wrapped in a big winter coat; his eyes said something was wrong. I invited him in, but he never left his place on the welcome mat outside my door. We talked, we prayed, and I sent him home.

Some time during the night, Daniel took his life.

devozine Beagle2 TSP 144473133When I received the news, I felt as if my life were ending too. Waves of guilt, fear, and shock covered me. For some time, I had thought that God would use me for great things. In that moment, I felt that God’s dreams for me had ended. How could I have missed the signs? What if I had not been so tired? What if I had asked more questions? What if I had walked him home? The questions suffocated my mind and heart. I didn’t sleep that night, and I drove like a zombie to my morning classes.

The darkness hovered for weeks. Weeks turned into months before I felt a little hope. I talked with others about my regret and sadness. I talked to God a lot but heard little in return. Then one afternoon, as I sat quietly to rest and to grieve, I heard God speak to my heart: “I still love you. I still want to use you.”

I’m not sure that I believed what I heard, but I clung to those words of hope.



One year to the day after Daniel’s death, I stayed up all night for a different reason. I was awaiting my daughter’s birth. After a long night awake, I held little Mary in my arms.

The name Mary in Hebrew means “bitter.” But after Mary, the mother of Jesus, encountered God and God’s promise, she said, “From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48b, NRSV). God had the power to change the meaning of Mary’s name, just as God had the power to change my heart.

My daughter, born on the anniversary of his death, did not replace my young friend Daniel. I still miss him. I still grieve. Mary’s birth was, however, a reminder that after my long nights of grief, God continues to speak to me: “I still love you.”

Jacob Armstrong is pastor of Providence UMC in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, where he echoes God’s words of love to others.

—from devozine (November/December 2012). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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