Chad Miller and his brother Chris were kayaking last week on a swollen Brandywine Creek in PA when they went over a 4-ft dam and drowned. They found Chris’ body the same day, and found Chad’s body a few days later. It is a great loss. Chad was a dear friend from my teenage years. We were in the same youth group at Oakland Church of the Nazarene in Cedar Rapids, IA. I haven’t talked to him face-to-face in over 15 years and still the loss is great. It is also a milestone of sorts. Besides my grandparents and my dad, Chad is the closest loss that I have yet to experience. It is a milestone I wish I would have never reached.
There are quite a few links to news stories about the accident and links to memorials, but here is a short list:
Oakland Church had a huge youth group. Karen Phillips was the youth pastor. Her dad, Gene Phillips, was the Sr. Pastor. Tom Darland was my Sunday School teacher and is the current youth pastor. We must have had 75-125 kids go through the youth group during my jr. high and sr. high years. At any one time the group was about 30-40 teens. We were a very close-knit family of friends. We took the church and youth group extremely serious. We met Sunday mornings, evenings and Wednesday nights-basically whenever the church doors were open. There were about a half dozen high schools in the area that had kids that met in our youth group. The youth group was everything to me. I had a few close friends at school, but for the most part I was a nobody, a social outcast, a bit of a religious geek. And I didn’t care much about the social scene there. But at youth group, well that was different! I had friends, many, many friends. I was popular. I was a leader. I made life-long friends. We went on youth and mission trips, choir tours and service projects. Youth group was my life. Life was good. And Chad was a big part of that.
I first became friends with Chad very shortly after he joined the youth group. We found out that we shared a love for Bill Cosby’s old stand up records! We recited entire sketches together, laughing our butts off! That was the beginning our our friendship.
Everyone in the youth group loved Chad. He was smart, funny and crazy! Even though Chad was a year behind me, we all looked up to him and wanted to be just like Chad. He skateboarded, we skateboarded. He did crazy things with his hair, we did crazy things to our hair! He rebelled, we rebelled! Chad had blue hair for a bit, and I think Kool-aid red too! As in he used kool-aid! I remember one mission trip to a native-American Indian reservation near Wounded Knee. We were really roughing it, no air-conditioned houses, no running water except for a hose, no hot water. We stayed in a couple of shacks and tents. Chad’s sister, Amy, braided Chad’s long hair. They were long thick braids. One less thing for Chad to worry about. On this trip we were able to get away to a community pool to cool off and to clean off. So we’re standing there, Chad with his crazy hair, and we’re talking and there’s these little kids gathering around Chad and just staring at Chad’s hair. It was like the world stopped and they were completely enamored with Chad’s head! So Chad carried on the conversation trying to ignore the kids. But they just stood there. So finally Chad changed his attention to the kids-he looked at them, acknowledging them all around. But they just stood there. Finally Chad is making eye contact, staring back, but the kids aren’t looking at his eyes, it is that crazy hair! Finally Chad had to say something to break their gaze and they finally scampered away! FUNNY, FUNNY STUFF! We laughed and laughed and laughed.
There was a graveside service and a memorial service yesterday. I was fortunate to be able to travel up to Iowa and attend. There were so many people there. Mostly family-Chad came from a HUGE family. But there were so many friends there too. And I got to spend time with a few of them swapping stories and remembering the good ol’ days of youth. Many laughs and many tears.
The last time I saw Chad face-to-face he seemed like he was still finding himself, still figuring out God and the church and his life. He didn’t seem to be that close to God at the time. I can’t tell you how thrilled and blessed I was a few years ago when I first discovered that Chad was a minister!
I miss Chad’s blue hair! I miss his huge smile! I miss his laugh. Many old friends are mourning this great loss. All the stories I read, all the articles, comments and memories, first it’s interesting because they are either from Chad’s point of view or Chris’. Chris was just the younger brother to me, but I do remember that Chad loved Chris very much. There are many from Chad’s church that offered very kind words and fond memories.
There is a Facebook page that is dedicated to the memory of Chris and Chad. It has been up for about a week now. There are over 190 embers. Most of the members have funny names with funny symbols. Chris was a teacher at English First International teaching English and International Affairs. All of these foreign students offering their condolences and memories. Chris was exciting and fun. He tried to teach them baseball! He introduced them to marshmallows. So there is a pic of him with a marshmallow, he looks like he is in a classroom with his students. The marshmallow is on fire! I don’t know if there was a Sterno there or what. Roasting marshmallows in class with his students. That is a love for your job right there! I also read that he made a mean “better than sex Chocolate cake”. One of the stories that a student tells is of one of the last classes that Chris taught, he was making a case about true love, he was explaining that he had found it. Chris leaves a wife behind, Nicole. Nicole and Chris made a 6-week journey down the Mississippi in a home-made boat that he and his dad, Paul, made! That is a lust for life!
These stories are amazing and they focus on Chad or Chris. All of the kind words, all of the remembered stories, all of the impacted lives! Chad and Chris made a real impact on their world. A positive impact. An impact for the kingdom of God. They touched lives and were loved by many. Know this: They were blessed. They blessed others. God used Chad & Chris. They lived life. With a purpose! And many, many people miss them both very much. And we are thinking and praying for all of the family.
It is faith that keeps me from falling into depression or dwelling on the sadness of the loss. I know that one day I will see Chad again. We’ll catch up. We’ll recite Bill Cosby! We’ll ponder theology.
Dear Heavenly Father, please accept Chris and Chad with open arms. Please keep them until we arrive. Be with Amy and her family, Paul and Ellie, Nicole, extended family, close friends, students and parishioners and all who were touched by Chad and Chris’ life. Let them know that you love them. Give them your peace and your comfort that only you can give those that mourn and weep. Amen.
I am a better person for knowing Chad and the Miller Family.
Two side notes. One regarding communication. I was told about the tragedy from my good buddy David who pastors in Iowa-he too grew up in the youth group with Chad. He had tried to call me but I was unavailable. He finally broke the news to me through Facebook’s IM (instant message). I informed our old youth pastor through Facebook email. There is an “In loving memory…” page for Chad and Chris on Facebook. I was able to chat with friends and let them know about the tragedy and also let them know how much I appreciated them-all through Facebook. Also regarding the Internet I was able to track and read most of the articles from a Google search on “Chad Miller” and focusing on the Google search news tab. There were many, many articles. I was also able to directly email one of the reporters and share my thoughts and memories of Chad-and he even published a few thoughts. Instant communication is amazing. The funeral home posted a video and had a place to offer condolences.
Second is a lesson learned. Tell your friends you love and appreciate them. Thanks Dyanna for pointing this out and then practicing it. Life is too short. Don’t wait or take your friends for granted. Yeah, it is a little sappy, but where would we be without our friends? I’m gonna do this. I am doing this. I have looked up a few more friends (mostly by using Facebook-I may be a little addicted) and told them how much I love them and appreciate them and miss them and will always fondly remember the wonderful times I have had with them.
I love you guys and gals!