We all process loss and grief in different ways. I usually feel shock and denial at first.
On Friday, August 12, when I received the text about the plane crash in Virigina, I stared at my phone. Pastor Paul had texted me and the others on our church staff that Lisa, Luke, and Emma Borinstein and their foreign exchange student Maren had taken a private plane to go see the oldest Borinstein son Drew graduate from officer training. But the plane crashed near the airport, and everyone on board died. I read the text a few times and thought, “What? What? What?” I didn’t think I was understanding the message correctly. But after the 6th or 7th time I read it, I realized that it must be true.
I shut my eyes. "No!"
The Borinsteins have been apart of my church family for several years. I stared at my phone in disbelief. I’d seen Emma grow up since she was in 3rd grade. Luke was just with us this summer as a counselor at Kids Camp. I had just talked to Lisa 5 days ago.
A plane crash--are you kidding me? Everyone on board has died--how is this happening?!! My mind and my heart didn’t want to believe it. I felt like this was something that only happens in movies. How can it be real for our life? For our church family? For this precious, beautiful family that we love so much?
In that moment, I shut my laptop and the project I was working on. I was sitting in my house alone, and I put my face in my hands. I thought of the younger brother Beau who had stayed behind for his football game. I tried to pray, but mostly I just whispered to God the names of the two surviving family members: “Beau, Drew. Oh, Jesus, be with Beau and Drew right now. Help them, Lord. Help them, help them.”
Like many of you, I couldn’t stop thinking, This is more pain than one family can bear.
Just a year and a half ago, I had sat weeping for the family at their father, John’s funeral. I remembered the kind words that John had spoken to me—how he would often stop me in the church hallway and ask me how I was doing. He was like a wise, caring coach for everyone, and even though I wasn’t that close to him, I felt like he was proud of me. That’s how he made all of us feel.
Once, a few years ago, I stopped at Subway for lunch after church, and I saw the Borinsteins eating at a table there with their 4 kids. I chatted with them for a few minutes, and I remember that John told me they decided to stop for lunch there that day because Lisa works so hard, and he wanted to give her a break from cooking. He patted her back and looked at her with sincere endearment, and she smiled, and I remember smiling too because I could sense the love between them.
At John’s funeral, I listened to Pastor Paul read the letter that Lisa wrote to John after he died. I will always remember her words expressing how much she loved him and had enjoyed being married to him and how she had wished that she could have had the chance to grow old with him. I was sitting next to my mom, and we both cried as we listened to her letter being read aloud.
And over the year that followed, my heart would often ache when I saw the kids walking through the church parking lot together—maybe coming in for basketball open gym or a youth group meeting—and it pained me to think about how difficult it must be for them, how much they must miss their father everyday.
And yet, as we saw the Borinsteins in the year after their father’s death, so many of us were in awe of how they didn’t give up on their joy and on their faith in Christ. They kept coming to church every week, and they kept serving others in many ways.
Two months after their father’s death, Luke, as a high school senior, stood up in church to speak during our annual Youth Sunday in May. I remember watching him speak, with so much poise and sincerity, about pursuing Christ because that’s what matters most in life. I was so proud of him.
A month later, without me even asking him, Luke texted me that he’d like to be a group leader for Vacation Bible School. I thought it was cool that he was being intentional to serve others even in the midst of his grief. Lisa was the same way. That summer she signed up with her kids to go on a mission trip with the church. They weren’t giving up on life; they were using their pain to make the most of their days and to serve others.
But Now This???
But now this? A plane crash that has taken away 3 more members of this wonderful family? Now Beau and Drew have also lost their mom, their brother, and their sister? What—I can’t—I don’t know how to process this??? Even though I knew the news I received was accurate, I was still hoping that someone would text me again and say that there had been some miscommunication.
I thought of how in the years past, Lisa had often been there to help me with the elementary students at church. When Beau and Emma were still in elementary school, she would sub in for a leader anytime I texted her—even if it was a last-minute request. She was laid back and smiley; I can still see her sitting in a circle with a group of girls and listening to them as they talked. She was a good listener.
Once after the lesson was over, she was sitting on the edge of the stage watching her son Beau and the other 4th grade boys toss the football around until the other parents came to pick them up. I sat next to her as she smiled and told me that Beau liked to play and be active so much that he sometimes forgot to eat. She joked, “I wish I could bottle that up and sell it. I’m sure there are other people who wish they could forget to eat.” I laughed and agreed with her.
Even after Beau and Emma moved up to middle school, Lisa would still come sub if I asked her. Emma would often come with her, and they made a great team helping the little kids. And one time as I was preparing for the Harvest party at our church, Lisa volunteered to help. I asked her if she could run the popcorn popper all evening, and she was glad to do it. She even asked if I needed her to pick up anything from the store for the party, and she bought all the popcorn for the evening for us.
My favorite memory of Emma was from when she was probably in 4th grade. She came to Kids Camp every summer, and that day she showed up for camp all ready to go—except that I could see her lip had been badly injured. She and Lisa told me the story of how she had been at a friend’s house (either that morning or the day before) and was bit on the lip by that friend’s dog. Both Lisa and Emma were very chill about it (like “Here’s her cream to put on it at night; she’ll be fine”), so I was trying not to show a big reaction on my face. The wound looked very painful, and I was so impressed that Emma didn’t let that hold her back from coming to camp. Then I remember Emma running around the campground at night with her flashlight, running up to me with her friends, asking me their questions, giggling together, and then running off again to play games outside.
Luke is older than Emma and Beau, so I didn’t really meet him until he was a junior in high school. I started seeing him around church as he led some things for youth group. Then he started helping at VBS, Kids Camp, and even a few times on Sunday mornings. He came as a camp counselor 3 years in a row. Last year at camp, one of the boys in Luke’s group didn’t have his shoes on, and someone opened a big door on his toe, and it ripped his toenail off. Luke picked the crying boy up and carried him to me. The boy’s toe looked awful, but Luke sat next to him for a long time as he and I washed and bandaged the toe. The boy was crying pretty hard, but Luke did a great job of comforting him and helping him get his mind off the pain. Luke stayed with him until his mom came to pick him up.
I loved having Luke come to camp as a counselor because not only was he very fun for the kids, but he also was a VERY responsible young man. This year, I was especially impressed with his leadership skills, and I appreciated the way he came to check with me at camp whenever he wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing for his group of campers. He was intentional in everything he did. On the last day of camp, he came up to me to talk to me about something. I felt compelled to hug him right then and tell him that he was a great leader, and I thanked him for his service to the kids at camp. I’m so thankful now that I had a chance to tell him that.
Luke’s good friends, Matt, Pete, Molly, all had grown up in youth group together and were all counselors at camp this summer. Seeing them together at camp—these 19-year-olds who were such great leaders with big hearts—I thought several times that they really might have the potential to change the world together. And so now as I process Luke being gone, it’s not only painful for our hearts, but it’s like a punch in the gut because I felt like our church and our generation needed his leadership.
On the Sunday before the accident, I saw Lisa at church. I told her how impressed I was with Luke and how great he was with the kids at camp—that she should be so proud of him. She smiled. Then I told her that my foster daughters think he is so hot, and we both laughed. I’m so thankful now that I could have that last conversation with her.
The next morning I took my foster daughter to her soccer game. While I was waiting for the game to start, I scrolled through Facebook on my phone to see what people had posted about the Borinteins and the plane crash. I was overwhelmed when I saw photos of the family and how many people expressed their love for them. Sitting there in the bleachers, I had to control my tears because I didn’t want to make a scene.
Later that day I got an email that our church was going to dedicate our weekend services to pray for the Borinsteins’ family and friends and to help us take our pain to God. Since I would be teaching the children’s classes in the morning, I decided to go to the Saturday evening service. I wanted to be around others who knew and loved the Borinsteins. We gave lots of hugs that evening and the next morning at church. We talked some, but mostly it was just lots and lots of hugs; we needed that from each other.
The following Tuesday was the celebration of life service for the Borinsteins and their foreign exchange student who had been with them on the plane. I walked into the high school gymnasium with my foster daughters G & A for service. My girls had met Luke and Emma over the summer. They had only been to one funeral before, so I tried to explain to them what it would be like—but how do you describe what we’ll do to try to grieve for 4 people plus the others who died in the crash? I later heard that about 3000 people were there in the gym that night.
It only took me about 2 minutes after I sat down before I started crying. I looked at the slideshow of family photos that was playing on the screen—precious pictures of Luke and Emma when they were little…in their house or with their siblings or in sports uniforms. Then my eyes were drawn to people as they walked in to find a seat. These were the teenagers and college students and families who loved the Borinsteins. I saw them hug one another and cry in each other’s arms. I thought of all the times I had seen these young people together with the Borinsteins in the hallways at church, at VBS, at camp, at youth group, etc.
"A" looked at me, saw the tears on my face, and asked, “Why are you crying when the funeral hasn’t even started yet?”
“Because—“ but my throat closed up, and I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know how to describe it to her. But now I know that it was another angle of seeing and feeling the loss. Seeing photos of Lisa and the kids that I had never seen before made me think of new memories, and it made me empathize more with what their relatives might be feeling. Seeing the other people who had come to the funeral made think of how much Lisa, Luke, and Emma impacted their lives.
Deep breath, deep breath. But it was all just TOO SAD.
The service started, and the speakers all did a great job of reminding us of what Lisa, Luke, and Emma stood for. They showed a video clip from 2015 of Luke speaking about following Christ. Then they shared a Bible lesson that Luke had written and emailed to Taylor Lehman just a few days before he died. Hearing Luke’s words made me so thankful that he chose to be obedient and serve Christ at such a young age. I looked around at the thousands of people in the gym—I thought, Look at how many people this family is influencing for Jesus even now!!
The band played a few worship songs. Even though the service was long, I kind of didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t done mourning—of course, we weren’t. Then we sang the song “Ever Be” as the closing song. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like most people joined in on this last song, and it was a powerful moment.
Faithful You have been,
And faithful You will be,
You pledge Yourself to me,
And it’s why I sing
Your praise will ever be on my lips,
Ever be on my lips,
Your praise will ever be on my lips,
Ever be on my lips.
. I believe that whenever we declare that we are still praising God—that He is still good and we trust that He will carry us through this heartache—whenever we declare praise in the most tragic of times, it is powerful. I believe the Spirit of God was there comforting us that night.
As we walked out to my car, my girls said, “I like that song ‘Ever Be.’” I was surprised because they usually don’t like my “Jesus-songs” (as they call my Christian music). They asked me if I had that song on my phone and if we could play it in the car. I had purchased that song awhile ago, so I pulled it up, and we listened to it as we drove home.
Your praise will ever be on my lips,
Ever be on my lips.
We cling to the truth that Lisa, Luke, and Emma are with the Lord now because they trusted in Jesus as their Savior. When I pray for Drew, Beau, and the rest of their extended family, I often turn that song back on, remembering God's comfort, remembering the Borinsteins.
I’m not sure what to say, except that I survived my first summer as a foster/single/working mom. And that feels like some sort of accomplishment. Even though the weeds in my front yard got shamefully out of control, even though I have 2 new scars on my forehead, and even though I have had quite a few arguments with my girls, I still feel like I should celebrate SUMMER 2016.
My goodness—so much happened. And it’s all about how you look at it. It’s all about what I choose to see when I look back over the summer. I could get caught up with thinking about everything that was difficult and all that went wrong…or I can take a few minutes to thank God for what we were able to experience together this summer. I felt a lot of frustration in the past few days, and I feel like God is telling me to stop and celebrate the progress the girls and I are making.
1.At the beginning of June, my foster daughters finally met my sister Shari (who was 8 months pregnant at the time!) and her family when they came to visit. On the night Shari arrived in Indiana, my 3-year-old niece Jozi ran and gave G and A big hugs, even though she had never met them before. My girls fell in love with little Jozi right away.
We had a few cousin sleepovers at my house. One night my 6-year-old nephew Eli slept in my bed with me. But at about 3am, he fell out of bed onto my nightstand and broke my lamp. I woke up to the crash, but just chuckled and lifted him back on my bed since he was still asleep through it all.
2. The next week we planned to go to the lake with my parents and my sister Rachel’s family. My girls wanted to take a friend with them to the lake, but I said no—it was last minute, and I said that maybe we could bring her another time. But wow, did that start an argument with G, and she can give the cold shoulder like a champ…
A few hours later, G’s attitude bounced back to normal, and our time at the lake with family was really fun—although A wanted to sleep all day and play video games all night. I couldn’t get her out of bed to join us on a few things, and it was really discouraging for me. I thought, Oh my goodness, if this is what she’s going to try to do all summer long, I’m going to go crazy.
3. That weekend the girls went with me to my friend Katie’s wedding. As we drove to the wedding, I asked the girls some questions and realized that they had never been to a wedding before. We got there early, signed the guestbook, and looked at the wedding program together. I explained each element of the wedding ceremony to them as we looked around at all the beautiful decorations. My parents arrived, and A said to my mom, “Gee Gee, I want you to sit by me.”
Later, at the reception, G convinced my dad to come to the photo booth and dress up with the props. At first, my dad shook his head, like a photo booth isn’t his thing. But G kept saying, “Come on, Pappy!” So he finally gave in. I was laughing so hard. The reception ended with fireworks as the bride and groom drove away. I felt like it was the perfect first wedding for them to attend.
4. The next week of June was G’s birthday. I knew that G’s birthday was going to fall on Father’s Day, which also happened to be the day before our church’s VBS started. So I planned her party to be held a few days earlier. I borrowed my friend’s van, and we picked up some of her friends to go rolling skating. Because it was her birthday, the DJ brought our group to middle of the rink, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her in front of everybody. Except for A. She walked over to the side because to her, singing in public is just too embarrassing. But G was dancing and smiling during the whole song. I couldn’t stop giggling at how she was soaking up the attention.
We had a handful of girls spend the night for her birthday, and I was happy, but it also irked me at how the girls often treat me when their friends are around. I tell them that it’s like they are 20% more disrespectful when their friends are over. And I hate trying to discipline them in front of their friends—so you know, we’re working through all of that.
5. A few days later, my girls went on a retreat with our church. I was so nervous about it; I was a little shocked that they even ended up going. But the next day, G texted me and asked me what I was doing. Then I asked her how the retreat was going for her, and she texted, “GREAT. I LOVE IT!!” And I started crying. I felt like God was answering my prayers for them to make good friends at my church. And when they got home the next day, we had a good conversation about what they had heard in the lessons. A told me about everything they did and about who said what. I smiled at how A is the queen at verbally processing things and how she gives me a window into her perspective on life.
6. And then later on that same day—G and I were in a 4-wheeler accident and had to go to the ER. If you’ve talked to me much this summer, you know that it was quite a scare. I’ll share the whole story soon, but for now, I’ll say that the accident made me slow down and rest so I could recover. And I really believe it helped G and I to get closer. Two days after our accident, my friend was taking G to her hair appointment (because I just needed to lie down on the couch and ice my face), and before they left, G turned around and said to me, “Bye, Mary. I love you.”
I smiled. “I love you too, honey.” Because in that moment, as we were both bruised and swollen and scratched up, knowing that we’d both have scars from this accident, we weren’t too cool to show affection, and we didn’t want to take each other for granted.
7. Also, the day after our accident, Vacation Bible School started! It’s my job to lead VBS at my church, and this was my 8th time directing VBS. But because of my injuries, I had to stay in my office for most of the program. It was really hard for me to know that I was missing out on something that is so important to me. But G and A helped my friend Karen with a small group of 4th grade girls, and that made my heart so happy. Thanks to so many great leaders, VBS ran smoothly, and 300 children were there to hear about Jesus’ love for them.
8. The next week my girls went with our church youth group on a trip to Cedar Point. This trip was 4 days long, and I admit that I felt like I needed that time to rest. I sat on my couch and read a novel each evening after work. :) :) :) :)
9. As July began, it seemed like the girls wanted to go to a friend’s house or have a friend over EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’m an introvert and a planner, so all of these spontaneous sleepovers were a bit much for me, and I was kind of taken aback by their intense begging about all this. It’s taken me a few weeks to figure out how to work with the girls to plan their time with friends. (And that’s probably a too polite way of describing that. It has pretty much dominated my thought life.)
10. My next responsibility at work was to prepare for Kids Camp. It all came together, praise God, and on July 8, G, my nieces Rylee and Raegan, and my nephew Ruston rode with me to camp. (I knew from the beginning of the summer that I wasn’t going to force A to come to camp with me because she doesn’t like crowds, doesn’t like loud noises, and doesn’t want to be around kids 24/7. Camp isn’t for everybody, and I knew it wouldn’t be her thing. But G—she loves kids, loves people, loves games, and loves to be where the action is. I knew that the water balloons and slip n slide were just calling her name.) I loved having G with me at camp; it was fun to see her step up to help serve pizza, set up the obstacle course, hand out snow cones, etc. Of course, she pushed me into the pool literally right as I was yelling at others to stop pushing kids into the pool. But that is just how she is. Lol
11. The next week A left for Florida with one of her friends. It was exciting because she had never seen the ocean before. Before her trip, we sat on the couch together, and I talked to her about how to budget her money for her meals and how to apply her sunscreen (which she barely needs because she has such a great complexion). We made a quick stop to get her some snacks for the road trip, and then we pulled up to her friend’s house as they were loading up their truck. I told A, “Remember to listen to what her parents say and to be respectful.”
She nodded. “I know, Mary.”
I helped her carry her bags, and then I hugged and kissed her good-bye.
This was going to be the longest I had been apart from her (also the longest she had ever been apart from her sister), and I had mixed feelings about it. But I knew she would have fun and that she would love that Florida beach.
12. While A was in Florida, G and I went to Kansas to visit Shari and her newborn baby girl. We had a great visit. G and I didn’t fight the whole time! G helped my nieces and nephew make about 100 rubber-band bracelets. And she loved holding baby Bailey; I’d always catch her sitting in the recliner enjoying some baby snuggles. One night when we were going to bed, I told her, “You’re going to be a great mom someday.”
After the little kids went to bed, my sister and brother-in-law taught G how to play the board games Ticket to Ride and Settlers. We’d pop popcorn and play the games late into the night, and G loved that.
And then Tuesday came last week, and the girls woke up even before our alarms went off. As we drove into the school parking lot, A took a deep breath and said, “Our first day of high school, Mary.”
And I said, “Ahhh! I meant to take a picture!” I handed G my phone, and they took a selfie together in the car, just seconds before jumping out to get to class.
I kept looking back at that photo for the rest of the day. Beautiful girls.
I’m still over here making plans on how to provide better structure and correction in our home, but I’m also thanking God for what He is doing in our hearts each day.
*Thank you for all your prayers & support! One huge favor: If you read my book, could you please leave a review for it on Amazon? I read an article that said that most people won't buy a book off Amazon unless it has 20 or 30 reviews. Right now I have only 8 reviews, so I’d really love to have about 20 more. Click here to go to Amazon to leave a review. Thank you!!
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.