4700 East Beltline NE Grand Rapids, MI 49525 USA
9:00 am LORD'S SUPPER & Prayer ,10:00 am MAIN SERVICE
Message below presented  by Michael Befus Senior Pastor

  Memorial Service,
   Christopher Vandertol

  February 7, 2018 


  Page includes:   1.  Memorial message by Pastor Michael Befus,
                                 2.  Messages from Chris's wife and mother of his children after his death.

  Here we are. What do we say? This isn't where we're supposed to be today...is it?

We're remembering and celebrating the life of Christopher Johan VanderTol-celebrating what a

wonderful friend he was to so many of us, what a gift he was to so many, remembering

his remarkable ability to make even the most absurdly bad joke or pun somehow

hysterically funny, remembering his instinctive draw toward the lonely, the misfit, the

awkward, the distressed.

     And yet the painful reality is that we are memorializing Chris' life far too soon. We're

facing the painful reality that Chris' life was cut far too short. Regardless of what we say,

we all know deep within this is not how life is supposed to go. This isn't right. You're not

supposed to write eulogies for your 41-year-old friends. You're not supposed to bury your

son. You're not supposed to say goodbye to your dad like this.

     So what do we do with that? What do you we do? Do we scream at the sky? Do we try to

shut our heart? Do we offer Hallmark card sentimentalities?

     We need a way through this. A way that leads to life. I want to invite you to what I think is

a better way.

     That way begins with talking honestly. One of the reasons l'm a pastor, one of the

reasons I love this book is that its just more honest than I know how to be most days

about the pain of life. Those that pour their hearts out on these pages were no strangers

to despair and depression.

Psalm 88

But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

LORD, why have you rejected me?

why have you hidden your face from me?

Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death;

I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.

My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,

and darkness is my only companion.

     The word of God is not triumphalist tips on how to win friends and influence people. The

Bible is honest about the pain of life.

So let us be honest...many of you know how Chris died, and its painful. But some of you are wrestling with why this happened...and that can be the greatest pain.

     I had the privilege of sharing the last decade with Chris as his friend: raising kids together,

figuring out life together, taking care of this church together. ln the last few years Iíve

been his pastor. And so we've talked about it all: the joys, the questions, the faith, the

doubts. Chris had a strong faith, a resolute commitment to Jesus, a big heart, a deep love

for his family and his friends, a kindness with everyone.

     Not all of you knew that Chris battled times of crippling anxiety, times of deep anguish,

clouds of dark depression. You might not have known that he been haunted with suicidal

thoughts before, thoughts that he worked hard to master and contain. You might not

have known it because most of the time Chris' heartache presented as a deep

compassion for other people that were hurting. Most of the time Chris' inner suffering

just came through as an outward gift for loving troubled people, a gentleness with

everyone, and a profound ability to create and make art.

     It wasn't because he was hiding anything, its because Chris worked hard. Harder than

most of us have to do bring order out of chaos, to turn sorrow into compassion

You need to know, friends, that Chris' life didn't end because of sadness. lt didn't end

for lack of love and support in his life. lt didn't end because you weren't there for him. ln

his last days, Chris had deep and meaningful conversations with many of his friends and

family members. I've talked to them about the specific conversations.

     But the reality is Chris didn't just die. He didn't just take his life. Chris was taken from

us. He was taken. The honest truth is Chris didn't want this ending, not on most of the

days of his life. On a different day he wouldn't have chosen it.

Friends, we need to talk honestly in a time like this, but in a time like this we also need

to listen carefully. Because when someone takes their own life you shouldn't assume

you understand. Unless you've battled this yourself you really can't understand.

We need to listen carefully to others that have.

     One of the best I know is Kathryn Greene-McCreight: she's a priest, a theologian, a

mother, a wife, and woman who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in seminary.

 After decades of therapy, dozens of medications, long hospitalizations, ECT therapy,

battles with thoughts of ending her life, she says you really don't understand unless you've been there.

She says depression is not sadness. Itís not weak faith. Itís certainly not a moral

failure. She says for her, its like this, "a gnawing, overwhelming sense of grief, with no

identifiable cause. I grieve as though my loved ones were dead. I feel completely

alone and isolated. I feel as if I am walking barefoot on broken glass. The weight of

my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am

depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts. (Darkness


"There is no 'other side," no perspective, no reminding myself that this will pass.
 (Click book title to get help purchasing book)
--> (Darkness 15)

Itís the torment of simple consciousness that leads to suicide. lt is not wanting to

hurt the self. lt is simply wanting not to hurt. (Darkness 15)

I used to think that suicide was the most selfish act imaginable...But I now

understand that the one who takes her own life is in horrifying agony. (Darkness)

     This is hard to hear. Itís hard to slow down and really pay attention. I don't know about

you, but when you see someone you love go through this, your mind is probably filled

with questions of what might have been, if onlys, could have done, should have saids-

thoughts that you could have prevented this.

 I just want you to hear this one time loud and clear from a pastor in a church.

lf you think you could have stopped this, you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

 You have no idea the hellish agony that leads to this.

     And that is horrible, and it hurts, and it shouldn't be this way and its not right, and its not

fair, and its not the way life is supposed to be, and you can't go back and change what's

happened but the fact is youíve got a choice now. You can shut down, wall off your heart,

you can scream at the sky, you can say weird religious stuff, or you can do what Chris

did: you can let sorrow enlarge your heart to love bravely. You can love bravely. You

can let sorrow takes it course and then you can love bravely.

     One of the most confounding parts of this last couple weeks is to discover all the people

whom Chris' love touched. Just 10 days ago, right here, on a Sunday morning, as you

heard earlier Chris was pacing the parking lot.

 He didn't feel much like talking to anyone-AT ALL.

But he saw a teenager in the parking lot, a teenager who had been battling

suicidal thoughts, a teenager who was sure God couldn't be real. And through Chris' own

sorrow, he reached out a hand and prayed for this kid. Like prayed the very best prayer

he could! And he changed somebody's life.

You can keep your sorrow for yourself, or you let sorrow enlarge your heart to love


o To have conversations you need to have.

o To forgive others.

o To reconcile with those you've banished from your life.

o To slow down enough to notice that there are probably others in the room that

need kindness...and you could give it.

ln the coming days the grief will affect us each differently. You might scream at the sky, you

may pound your fists, you may cry your eyes out, you may just shut down for awhile.

Friends, I had to go to all those places just to type this out. So by all means grieve honestly.

But let it move you to love bravely.

Because here's the truth: you are loved fiercely.

Times like this should remind us that no matter how bad it gets, there are people that

love us and would grieve like this if we were gone. There are people that would be

devastated if you were gone. All of you.

You are loved fiercely. And not just by your friends.

Its the transformation in people like Chris, the miraculous ability to love through

unimaginable sorrows that ought to convince us that Chris' faith is real. That Chris' God is

real. That Chris' God is love.

Chris had experienced the love of God in ways that changed him. Because God loves us

with a fierce love. An undying love. A father's love.

The family asked if I would address something that some religious people fear, and that's

that suicide is some sort of unforgivable sin. And friends, I want you to hear loud and

clear there is nothing in this book that would suggest that and everything to suggest the


I have a son, I am a father. And I gotta tell you, there is nothing my son could do that

would cause me to stop loving him. Nothing that would cause me to abandon him. And

especially not if he were suffering so much that it led to this. Nothing could be more


Hereís what the Bible tells us about God. Here's what a man with a very painful life told us

about God as he looked back on it all...the Apostle Paul.

lf God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him

up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will

bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? lt is God who justifies. Who then

is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died did more than that, He who was

raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall

separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or

nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

     No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am

convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor

the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will

be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans


     The funny thing is, even when we're not sure we still believe that, there's something in

each of us that wants to believe that, isn't there? That wants to believe someone loves us

enough to give up everything. That loves us enough to hold our lives through life and

death and beyond. We want to.

      And that desire ought to tell you something. You ought to let your heart tell you what

your mind is too slow to figure out: You are fiercely loved. And you can open yourself to a

greater love than you've ever known just the same way you would with anyone else. By

getting honest enough to ask for it.

Some of you should tell someone you need help today. lf you're having thoughts of

ending your own life, you need to tell someone today. Right here, we'll have counselors

here afterward as others go get refreshments.

Some of you should say right now... God if you're really there, would you show me what

your love feels like. Especially if you were raised with a religion that is less than perfect

love. Right now. Would you just close your eyes a moment and ask him? Let's be silent for

a moment together and just make a prayer to God...wherever you are.




Click to watch the memorial Service Video oideo



Days later Kasey pleads:

 Kasey is thankful for the love many have extended.

"Many of you have poured your care, time and practical resources out to support the people he left behind and I want to sincerely thank you.
        The notes, gift cards, funds to help support the kids, meals and acts of kindness has held us all up while we work through the trauma.
        Grief does strange things to people and as we all, together, move through and bounce around different stages I want to remind you that itís normal. You are not alone in the deep heart ache or confusion that still lingers. The shortest month of the year has certainly proven to be profound and life altering.
         The kids have been adjusting well in school, Simon has started Drivers Training and I am working toward the last half of the paperwork required to close someoneís life. Most days I run through all of the stages of grief and pain. Iím ready for more stable days. The kids have felt safe and have been very open with talking to me about their emotions and we all start back up with therapy now and will be joining a grief support group soon.
          Time just kind of stopped and we were left in a stunned shocked state and couldnít even think of putting things on the calendar before now.
           But this message is to rejoice and thank each one of you for the investments of love youíve extended.
           We needed you, and you stepped up. I could never properly convey the gratitude in my heart.
 Thank you"