I’m not really into reposting my old stuff but my top post of this year and all-time comes from this past June when I told the story of Will Norton whose amazing life was cut short by the Joplin tornado. I’ve been thinking about Will’s family this week and the pain of empty spaces around the holidays.
There’s a singer I like named TobyMac who’s been singing a song for a long time called In The Light. Will’s story changes lives because he lived in the Light. I hope you’ll take a minute to read this story, especially if you’ve never seen it. Then go look at the beautiful monument that the Norton’s had placed last month in tribute to their Willdabeast.
On May 22, a devastating tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. Millions of people now know the story of Will Norton, the 18 year old who could not survive the storm that struck as he drove home from his high school graduation service.
The storm ripped him from his vehicle even as his father in the passenger seat struggled to hold him. A cell phone and graduation cap were the only thing found until Will’s body was discovered a few days later. He was reportedly reciting Scripture in those final moments. But the story goes deeper.
I first heard about Will through Amy, one of my original blogging acquaintances. Her family survived the deadly tornado despite harrowing conditions that she recounted in a powerful way. Her description of the town in the days following the tragedy will shake you.
I learned about the discovery of Will’s body when I came across a link Amy put on Facebook. She only added “What an amazing life. Thinking today about Will’s family and friends.” The search for the high school grad had come to an unhappy end, but Amy linked to a video called “50″ by Will Norton. I got choked up when I watched it, kind of like the way I feel now as I write this.
What an amazing life, passionate and full in such a short time.
Will drew thousands of subscribers to his YouTube channel and also used Twitter. His final tweet from the day he died simply said, “I’m graduating today!”
As the sad irony of that statement sunk in I scanned down the page and was shocked at what I saw. His second to last tweet pierced me as chills cascaded along my back. The message read:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36
I froze. Things like that just don’t happen.
I searched on and found Will’s Tmblr page. A variety of images and words filled the page from months of random postings. He bubbled over with excitement after getting accepted to Chapman University in California for their exclusive film and media arts program.
And then I came to this senior photo taken in late 2010 and posted by Will:
Given the circumstances surrounding his death, I find this picture almost impossible. My heart felt thick in my chest, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this young man.
When a tragedy like the events in Joplin strikes, we burn with questions. Our human understanding will never figure out the answers no matter how much we struggle to understand all those ‘why’ questions.
Think of the work to be done. Joplin faces so much rebuilding. Think of families like Will’s who will never go back to normal again. You can never go back after a disaster like that.
Sometimes the best we can do is try to find some beauty in the storm. The heart and words of Amy who literally lived to tell the story contained beauty. The care of Ellie and her family at The Gig also struck me. They’ve raised money for a great guy named Mark who also lost everything.
And there was a lot of beauty in the life of Will Norton, a guy I can’t wait to meet someday. Less than a month before he died he put this out on Twitter:
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” John 1:4
This world is sometimes filled with darkness as black as the terrible skies over Joplin that day. We’ve got to find the light. Not only did Will discover the light for himself, but even now in death his time here shines for the rest of us to see.
Watch that video Amy passed along about 50 things Will had already done in his life. What a full life he lived in such a short time. Then let your mind work over the thoughts and questions that will inevitably come.
Let’s take on the challenge to live lives that are full and meaningful. We can determine to make an impact on others in the way that Will and the folks of Joplin have shown. Find the light. Be the light.
Visit the Will Norton Page on Facebook to learn more about how you can honor Will, celebrate his life, and contribute to the ongoing rebuilding efforts in Joplin.
If you are struggling with loss or grief or emptiness during this holiday season, know that you are loved and that darkness can’t exist in the presence of light. There are people in this blogging community who care about you and know how to listen.