Below is a speech I recently gave to my class about storytelling, our stories, and how Jesus redeems it all. As the fourth anniversary of the death of Rachel Daggett occurred last Sunday, December 9th, I’m reminded that even in tragedy, Jesus is always working.
I had a previous speech written up on why we should care about the achievement gap. But then I realized that as passionate as I am to helping inner city school children, this will be my last speech in our Comm. 100 and subsequently, this will be my last opportunity to persuade you about anything. Today I want to tell you why telling stories matters, and why being an effective communicator can literally change the course of history. I hope that by the end of my speech, you will realize that we are called to be storytellers, and that our stories matter. I will go over three points: how stories can capture attention, how stories can quickly change directions, and ultimately, how story telling can save lives.
“I once knew a girl with girl with the bluest of eyes, the brightest of smiles, and the emptiest of hearts.” Beginning a story can gain attention like no other. You can instantly gain credibility and the attentive ears of your audience. Geoff Livingstone, author and public speaker known for his book, “Welcome to the Fifth Estate” describes this as the “personification method of story telling.” He says, “Well executed, the person and their audience can share experiences together.” By starting off my story with the overture of love, most of you can instantly relate to a Jr. high or high school love story. Or Taylor Swift songs. By gaining attention for the right reasons, we can use our stories to change the direction of our audience.
“Her name was Rachel. Rachel cursed like a sailor and was thirsty for truth. She had a jolly and obnoxious laugh, and she sat next to me in my 5th period economics class.” Stories, as I just mentioned, have an usual way to change directions very quickly. In the Bible, Joseph and Mary had a pretty typical story. Joseph was to be married to Mary, be a good husband and future dad, work hard and be a good Jew. But the story changes. “The angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child will be born and will be called holy – the Son of God.’” You see, just like Mary and Joseph, stories with unusual plot changes can help us realize that indeed, our personal lives aren’t unusual – and as our lives turn and twist, sometimes tragically, we can relate. As Pastor Tim Chaddick of Reality LA said at a College Conference last January, “We must realize the importance of our identity…and realize that it changed the moment we accepted Jesus into our lives.”Our stories change, and it’s important we recognize change and call it as it is in our storytelling. If we can recognize change, we can realize our storytelling can literally change lives.
“Rachel always had questions about the Bible, even saying, “I don’t know if I believe, but I know the verses you share make me feel better. Make my day seem like it’s worth it.” Indeed, story telling can change lives. You see, Rachel was a classmate of mine. We did indeed sit together in economics. The girl was a hurricane, a culture shock, and the most loveable human being I ever met. But she didn’t know Jesus. And I’m going to tell you now the rest of this story, and why my storytelling mattered and still matters. I went to a public high school with one of the worst drug problems in the state of Oregon. Rachel was a big time drug user crushing up prescription pain pills known as oxycodone and smoking them through tin foil. And every class she asked me, begged me, to send her verses and to take her to church. I could see the pain in her eyes but my own selfish pride and fear were more evident in mine. I knew my story at the time was a joke. I promised Rachel I would take her but my shame wouldn’t let me. The story Rachel needed to hear was that God loved her so much he came and died so she wouldn’t have to. She needed to see that from my life, but the truth is, my life was a wreck. I was choosing a lifestyle with my teammates and friends that didn’t show I loved or followed Jesus. I was living in sin with my girlfriend at the time, being a stupid 18-year-old boy. So instead of sharing my story with Rachel, I took her trust and put it in my back pocket. And subsequently, she became apart of my story. I remember it was November of 2008, and I told my friend Aaron that Rachel would come to our church retreat a few months later, find Jesus, and change our drug culture forever. I’ll never forget that on December 9th, four years ago last Sunday, he called me. And he said three words I’ll never forget: “Matt…….Rachel died.”
Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church recently said, “The genealogy of Jesus includes Bathsheba to show that God can work through our mistakes and our sin.” just like us, Jesus’ story involved a lot of sin-filled people. But he didn’t stop telling his story. I want you guys to know as I close up, that not a day goes by where I don’t somehow think about Rachel. That I wish I had known these facts about story telling. Because instead of being apart of my story, Jesus could have used mine in hers. That my sin hindered and perhaps ultimately deterred her from knowing Him. I want to encourage you guys and let you know that no matter where you are coming from: sexual sin, sexual addictions, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, abusive parents, sexual abuse, anger, pride, anything and everything. That Jesus died for you, so you don’t have to. There is no shame in the Gospel. So don’t live in fear, but live in outspoken humility because your story matters. Thank you.
It’s been three years since my life and faith took a radical change. I’ve taken the last two years to write about the specific, personal events in my life leading up to the death of a classmate that would forever affect my views on life, death, and Jesus Christ.
I won’t take time to succumb to elicit details in this blog, because I don’t ever want her death to become something that is sanctioned off as a launching point for my life and forget the real story altogether.
The story that unfolded on December 9, 2008 is about a girl with the brightest of smiles and the heartiest of laughs. It’s a story about a soul that was searching, and never got a fair chance at life from those who had it around her. This story is about Rachel Anne Daggett.
It’s taken three years, and I know Decembers will never be the same for me. Rachel’s life – and subsequent death – will always affect me. People tell me to grieve, that it’s okay to reconcile and move on, to heal, to let it go. I can never fully let go of it. It will be on my heart and chest forever. I’ll never let her story die away into the dusty attics of my mind, for fear that I will lose another chance at saving a girl like Rachel Daggett.
In all reality, I have come to admit that the grave reality of this story is that I will never see Rachel again – and that kills me. I can bury it in the back of my mind and heart, and try to live my life as if it didn’t happen, but I have taken the stance and assumption that my mistakes mitigated a chance for eternal hope for both of us – for her that she would spend her eternity with Christ, and for me, the hope that I will be reunited with all of those that I love for eternity, as we celebrate and praise God, His Son Jesus Christ, and worship together in the light of the Holy Spirit.
This is a letter inspired by a book I’m currently reading, Death by Love by Mark Driscoll, lead vision pastor of Mars Hill Church. My hope is that this letter reflects the harsh truth and offensiveness of the Gospel. It’s time for me to do this, in hopes that it can save someone or at least soften the walls of someone who doesn’t believe – someone, who like Rachel, is searching for something to fill the empty voids in their life.
This is a letter to Rachel.
It isn’t easy to start this, and it certainly won’t be easy to hold no bars or shields as I try to reflect the truth and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My utter desire will be to sugar coat this, to soften my stance, because Western Culture and Western Christianity doesn’t like the Truth – the Truth that sadly, you came to know after your life here on earth.
I want you to know that I loved you, and that I will always love the girl I knew as Rachel Daggett. You inspire me daily, as I wake in the morning, as I attend Bible college – a place you would have liked and a place you would have had a ball poking fun at.
I also want you to know, that I spent the days and weeks following your death in despair. I had never felt heartbreak like that – heartbreak that was justified over the loss of a soul I feel responsible for holding in my hands. As I write this to you now, tears still sting my face. I still can’t go back to our old school Rachel – I tell people it’s because I don’t want to relive the glorious and malicious years of high school, but a bigger reason is that I can’t walk by the 400 Hall anymore, and I can’t walk by the classroom where your empty desk still shakes me to my soul.
Rachel, this letter is going to be about Jesus. Because everything in this life is all about Him, and I wish I had understood those implications when I sat next to you every Gold Day for Economics. This letter is going to be about the things you now know, that I wish you had known before you overdosed on oxycodone.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now, I want to write to you about the glory of God, for I believe it is impossible to understand the weight of sin without first recognizing the holiness of the only true God.
God is the creator of the universe on which we often gaze at in amazement. After he created every star and planet and star that scientists are still working on discovering, He put His interests in creating humans that reflect His nature and beauty.
In the garden, your father Adam and your mother Eve made a terrible mistake exchanging the perfect union with their Father with the lies of a serpent. When they realized their nakedness, they hid from God (Gen. 3:10). I think this at it’s core shows the greatness of God, that when stripped of everything we can put on the exterior, our very physical and metaphysical DNA requires us to feel as if we should hide from Him.
The glory of God is His radiance based on His attributes. God is holy, just, full of grace and mercy, loving, kindness, and a lot of other adjectives. In the end, He is the ultimate and only definition of good. As Psalm 19:1-4 proclaims, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands; day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.”
To sum it up, God’s glory is stretched out to every expansive corner of our earth and every universe that He has created.
God’s glory therefore, is manifested through His relational creatures – humans. As Isaiah 43:7 says, God created us for His glory. Before the fall, mankind was without blemish Rachel. We had no need for anything, we had no awareness for any voids in our soul because, when in perfect unison with our Creator God, we have no need for anything. But your father Adam and your mother Eve fell for the trap of sin, took a bite of the forbidden fruit, and now we, generations later, suffer the consequences and bear them together. This is called inherited sin.
What is sin? Sin in it’s simplest definition, is a separation from God and His glory. It is the only guaranteed thing to come with our birth into this world. It allows physical and exterior problems including disease, sickness, and blemishes on our faces. But it runs deeper as well.
Sin is also the root of why we have cravings to do drugs, smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, have sex before we are joined together with another person in what should be holy matrimony, and all together leads us to a life of trying different sinful things to try and fill the sinful void in our lives. Without Jesus, the void of sin that stains and deteriorates our soul will never go away. It’s like trying to plug a hole in a pitcher with more water – it’s only going to leak more.
As I mentioned before, we are all sinners. Other verses solidify this. Isaiah 64:6 says that “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” Nothing we do is ever righteous when it is accomplished away from Jesus.
However, there is more to sin then the decrepit state it leaves us in. There is a way for us to rid our sins from our souls, and be moved towards perfection and unison in Christ. You had probably often seen signs at sporting games or the bottom of Forever 21 bags that say, “John 3:16” – but never knew the truth behind that powerful reference.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” (ESV)
God loves you Rachel. He loved you while you struggled with drugs and substance abuse. He wanted to so desperately be united with you, He gave Jesus, His Son, as a gift of grace to come and be the propitiation (atonement) for your sins and mine, that if we choose to believe, we would be rescued from the perils of our sins and guaranteed an eternal living with Him in Heaven.
This is just the short version and glimpse of the Gospel I so badly wish I would have shared with you. You now have been in the mighty presence of God, at His throne at the time of your judgment. Because you did not choose Christ, God, being a just God, could not make an exception to you and had to sentence you to an eternal life away from Him in hell.
I always hear people joke about hell – from TV shows like Family Guy to the locker room back at Barlow High School. Perhaps you too joked that hell would not have been such a bad place – before I knew Jesus, I know I made that mistake. But now you know the realities of hell in a more powerful way than anyone on earth can know.
Rachel, I’m sorry. I wish I had told you. Sins are not to be split apart and judged on different levels, but my worst sin has been an act of omission. I had a duty to share with you the greatest saving grace and power you could have ever encountered, and instead, as I have admitted before, I was weak and did nothing for you.
I hope that those who still live on this earth, who abused substances with you, who still abuse substances, and who are still searching for anything to fill the void in their life will come to know Jesus. My prayer is that there are less failures and selfish individuals like myself who are willing to reach out strongly to people who are like you.
You will never be forgotten Rachel. That much is sure.
My prayer is that you will always be remembered…and that when you are remembered, it will be a chance for the truth of the Gospel to be revealed. It’s what I know you desire for those who haven’t met Jesus yet.
So after I get home, when I’m far away from my school, when I’m off contract (which I’m obligated to say here), I will have a toast for you. I will sit by myself at the corner of a bar, and I will weep, and I will not care who looks at me or who thinks twice about it.
I will not forget you Rachel. I will make sure your story is heard loud and clear, offensively and full of blunt truth – the way you would have stood up for the truth of Jesus Christ if you had known before that fateful day.