2007. When I grew up, I wanted to be a teacher. Or a nurse. Or maybe play in the WNBA, standing 5′ 5″ and dunking (let a girl dream). I wanted to get married, have 2.5 kids, be a good person and live a good life. I even went to church on Sundays…sometimes.
And then this kid came along. The new kid at school who had cancer. He fit right in. I’m pretty sure everyone in our school could say, “Yeah, Eli is one of my good friends.” That’s just who he was. He walked into a room, and it lit up. That smile and laugh could cheer anyone up.
In September, we celebrated his 15th birthday with a party bus to the mini-golf course. Could you imagine celebrating your birthday, knowing it will be your last? I can’t. This boy knew how to live.
October 6-7, 2007. We all remember this epic weekend. I was representing the sophomore class on homecoming court. But I had no one to escort me. I asked Eli if he could do the honors of escorting me during the half time ceremony at the football game. He was a little late, had to stop and get a blood transfusion at the hospital really quick. But was waiting for me on the sidelines in a wheel chair and an ice pack on his head because he was running a 106 fever. I took my heals off, handed them to my mom, and pushed Eli through the pathway in the middle of the football field created by the band. We were patiently and excitedly waiting for my name to be called when I had an idea.
“Eli. Idea. You stand up and walk with me. You and your fever up for that?”
“Let’s do it.”
And the announcer says, “Representing your sophomore class of 2010, Ashley Look. Escorted by mom, Wendy Thompson, and Lake Fenton’s very own, Eli Florence!”
He stood to his feet. And so did every single person who attended the small town homecoming football game. The crowd went wild! I look over to Eli, and I see the most genuine smile on his face.
And that’s not even the best part.
The senior boys decided to give Eli the honors of being Homecoming King. “And your 2007 homecoming king goes to Eli Florence!”
“What? But I’m not a senior?”
True. But Eli, you’re a hero to this community. We love you. And you deserve the crown.
And then there was the dance Saturday night. That’s right folks, the homecoming king was my date to the dance. We were chauffeured in a brand new 2008 orange Mustang. Before we could party all night, we had to stop at the hospital to get a blood transfusion. The nurses kept peeking in our room to see us laying in the bed in our formals while Eli got blood pumped into him. We lasted at the dance as long as we could, and then headed home and played Wii all night.
7 days later. I’m at a friends house studying for a biology test. I got a phone call, “Get here as fast as you can. It’s time.”
I walk into the house and begin washing my hands. “That’s not necessary,” they said, “get in here.”
I sit next to the bed made in the middle of the living room. I hold his hand, give him a kiss, tell him how much I love him. I watch my best friend take his last breaths as the cancer takes over and shuts down his body. What an indescribable feeling. You know it’s coming, but there’s no way to prepare for it. So you pretend like it’s not coming. And you still cling to hope. Because in this broken and nasty world, he was my only hope and comfort.
October 14, 2007. A life ended. But a new one began.
From this moment on, my life would never be the same. Not in some cliche way. The person I trusted with my life, the boy who showed me hope and love, is gone. I was wrecked. It was as if someone took my life, shook it up like a Polaroid picture, stomped on it, ran over it with a garbage truck, and handed it back to me. I barely recognized it. I had no idea what to do. It was impossible to fix by myself.
October 14, 2007, my search for hope and love and acceptance had started all over again. For the next few years I figure out how to maneuver through this life without my best friend by my side. I try to follow Christ without the boy who introduced me to him.
The past 7 years have been crazy. I’ve hated and been hated. I’ve loved and been loved. Tears of joy and tears of heartbreak have streamed down my face. I’ve made mistakes that seem unforgivable. I’ve tried to take control. I’ve learned to let go of control. I’ve tried to hide from God. I’ve earnestly sought out God. I’ve been in some ugly storms, but have seen some epic sunrises. I know what it means to be loved and adored by a Father who has chosen me. I know true love.
Today, my dreams of being in the WNBA are gone. I have bigger dreams, a higher calling. Now, all I want is to know Jesus more. I place my will at the altar daily, and choose to do His. I live in Costa Rica and tell kids about this man named Jesus that gave me a new life. Seven years ago I thought my world was done for. I thought my life was over. But a new life was just beginning.
I know for some of Eli’s friends, what happened seven years ago made you turn away from God. But I’m telling you, turn back around. God may have taken a good one from us. But it wasn’t too soon. His timing is perfect. You are missing out on so much life. Quit being bitter and angry at the God Eli lived for.
I will always miss my best friend, and that doesn’t seem to get any easier. But knowing what he stood for has brought me so much joy. Living it out and experiencing it for myself is epic. Adventurous. Hard. Life changing.
Eli is hanging out with Jesus. No, I don’t have him as a guardian angel watching over me. Instead, I have a savior who is alive. And a Holy Spirit that fills me. And a Father who chose me. And I can’t wait to spend eternity worshipping a God who loves me unconditionally, with my best friend, in a cancer-free body.
Today I celebrate an anniversary of life. One that was so short, but so well lived. And one that started new 7 years ago today.
“I will lead the blind along an unfamiliar way; I will guide them down paths they have never traveled. I will turn the darkness in front of them into light, and level out the rough ground. This is what I will do for them. I will not abandon them.” Isaiah 42:16
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24