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.
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.