By CCM employee, Sam Leiro
On April 2nd, 2013 I got a call from my mother. She was crying. “Justin was killed last night,” she told me, sobbing.
Justin had been my best friend since I was in the fifth grade. He was there when I stopped going to church, never turned his back on me when I got bad on drugs, and he was there when, by God's grace, I found my way back to the faith. He was the first friend that I ever told “I love you.” He truly was my brother.
In January of 2013, I went to His Mansion, a Christian recovery community in New Hampshire to develop a stronger foundation for my recovery from addiction. Just before I left, Justin wrote me a letter. In it he wrote, “I know you are going to do great things in your life and I am excited to be a part of it. Stay strong in the Lord and keep searching for Him in everything you do,” having no idea the significance those words would have in just a few short months.
After a few weeks at His Mansion, I started reading a book about the sovereignty of God, and I fell in love. It amazed me that God is ALWAYS good, even in our suffering. God became a lot bigger to me as I learned more about Him, and I was comforted by His sovereign grace. I am eternally grateful for coming to this understanding at such a key time, when I would really need to know that God was in control.
The evening of April 1st, I called Justin. He and his friend, Garrett, were fishing behind his house. We talked about a few things that were causing me stress, and he was there for me as always. He wouldn’t always tell me what I wanted to hear, but instead, what I needed to hear. That was the last time I ever told him, "I love you."
Later that night, he and Garrett went fishing on Eau Gallie causeway. At 11:42 p.m., Justin, Garrett, and another man were struck by an SUV whose driver was distracted by his phone. Justin was knocked over the wall and into the river. He and Garrett were both killed.
As I went to pack my bags to fly from New Hampshire to Florida for the memorial service, I felt myself drawn to my knees. I couldn’t even put together a thought or a sentence. I was numb.
All that I had begun to learn about God rushed through my mind and I realized that yes, He was even in control over this. God loves me, and yet somehow willed for my best friend to lose his life at the age of twenty-four. “What... God… Why…?” I asked, not demanding, but desperately desiring to know what God intended by this.
By His grace He revealed something to me. God uses pain and suffering to bless His people. It was by His Son’s blood on the cross that we have peace with God (Col 1:19-20). In that moment, He gave me the faith to see that the big picture, from eternity’s perspective (Isa 55:8-11), was more beautiful than I could ever imagine (1 Cor. 2:9), and infinitely more than I deserved. I realized that the big picture was not only beautiful, but perfect. I have since come to know that the big picture is perfect because from heaven’s perspective, every single event in all of history happens for the glory of God (Rom 11:36, Rev 4:11) and for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28-30). He was going to use this to draw me closer to Him and to make me depend on Him in ways that I never would have if I hadn’t experienced such loss (Rom 5:3-5).
It hit me like a ton of bricks. “This God must have my life. It’s His,” I thought. “Jesus really is LORD.” I didn’t have a choice in the matter. God wanted to save me, adopt me as His own, and make me look more like His Son, Jesus Christ, and He was going to (Psalm 135:6). God works things out in a way so that He can bless me even in tragedy and suffering (2 Cor 4:8-10). He was going to sanctify me through this loss. All I could do was worship through the tears, and worship I did. I praised God with every name I could think of, and strung together all the Psalms I could remember, singing praises to my Abba, Adonai, Sovereign Lord.
I miss Justin dearly. I don’t have a best friend like Justin anymore, but I don’t need another Justin. Most people go through life without even having one.
I have made it through the past two years only by depending on Christ every day (Gal 2:20). He keeps me dependent on Him, but I’m okay with that. I am stronger in my weak dependence on a Mighty God than I ever was when I was the lord of my own life (2 Cor 12:9-10).
Today, I am a completely different person. I have had the opportunity to share my story with thousands of people and encourage them in their own loss. My relationship with Christ is stronger than it ever could have been before. I can truly say now, that God is good in all things, even this. My best friend’s tragic death is the best thing that ever happened to me.
Sam is a Member Development Specialist at Christian Care Ministry. He is a student enrolled in LAMP Theological Seminary and a pastoral intern at Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Palm Bay, FL. He leads a small group bible study once a week and co-facilitates a young adults bible study at his church, and is also actively involved in prison ministry. He enjoys going to concerts, recreational shooting, and studying theology. He hopes to one day be a pastor of a local congregation.