It’s been a long time since I wrote to you, or about you. Recently I’m finding that I’m treading into new areas of grief, as well as revisiting well walked areas of grief. But I’m not sure it can be as distinctive as that. Because lately life seems to be a like an old map over a new land. A combination of the new and the old, the familiar and the foreign. Like I’m navigating new foreign lands by grasping hold of familiar old knowledge.
I’m in a foreign emotional land releasing parts of my identity to God, channelled through revelations long ago discovered. I’m in a foreign spiritual land discovering who God is, reaching out to truths long ago exposed. And I’m in a foreign physical land, where I’ve been for 3 years, but still relearning how to live life.
And well, there is you.
And where do I put you?
You overflow into so many of my lands Mike, and suitcases for that matter. How do I possibly begin to help someone outside of my heart to fully understand the depth of this? You are one whole of my identity as my brother; like the waters of the earth which are completely connected. One third of my identity as a sibling; the way the stars, dust and dark matter complement each other to create the galaxy. One fifth on my identity as part of the “Knight Family Clan”; the way the world knows of the “Big Five” Animals.
I’m not suggesting any, “we are one with the world” type of thing by saying these things. I’m simply trying to navigate foreign lands, with old knowledge, to illustrate a reality I face in my heart. Once upon a time something that was once “complete”, is now incomplete because the rivers topped running, the stars died, and the Big Five became, “Just Four”.
At so many land marks and sign posts I think about you Mike. When I see other people with their brothers. When I see pictures of you. When I think of something I want to tell you. Sadness is one dimension of grief, but being sad is an incomplete picture of grief. For example, I love talking about you. I would talk about you all the time if I could. The retelling of such precious memories warms my soul and draws me as close to you as possible. In those moments, it’s the underlying reality of separation that makes grief bittersweet… and BEAUTIFUL.
Mike, people here often say I am the glue that drives and hold our community together. It’s something that is incredibly honouring to be told. But Mike, I want to give you credit for that. Because any truth in these statements comes down to you. In your death, you taught me life is fragile; to seize the moments; to make the memories; to live freely and intentionally because we only get one shot. You always said you wanted to lead worship and you did. You, lead me into a different life style. God used your death to change the course of my life. How wonderfully redemptive and tragically broken.
I wish someone told me Mike, that in time the life alternating revelations God gave me through your death would lose its power as I allowed other things to take priority again. Busyness, compartmentalising, superficiality, worrying about what others think, allowing things to rent space in my mind. Your death was so precious, and for a while there I felt the freest I have ever felt.
If I could do it again, I would hold onto to those revelations harder. It’s not about staying in sorrow, it’s about ensuring the life death brings isn’t wasted. The very concept of death bringing life is one of grief’s truest and most beautiful conflicts. Embracing the fullness of life and death; walking fearlessly in the memories, lessons, regrets, revelations; and recycling everything you carry to give purpose to the present day.
Being in South Africa is hard Mike. I’m away from mum, dad and Laura and I’m not around for so many things that are passing by in their lives. I only get one family; and I don’t want to get to the end of their life or mine to find I regret not doing life with them when I had the chance. I struggle with the thought of living anywhere but England. Not because I love England, but because my family are there. I don’t want the separation from them Mikey. It’s already my story with you.
I left home to go to university when you were 15 years old, and I missed out on the three most important years of your life. I missed your 18th which was your last birthday. We missed our last Christmas. I missed your whole adventure of going to the ship for six months. I missed out connecting with you when we were at the age where we could relate to one another. I missed out on every imaginable, boring, special part to your last three years. And then, you were gone. I wasn’t even home for that. I wasn’t home when you left.
The thing of not being home is hard Mike. So flippen hard. Any thoughts I have about not being there for you, I try to use to wisely influence present day decisions; like about community, intentionality, living with open hands, and vulnerability. But when it’s thoughts about not being there for mum, dad and Laura… it breaks me a little sometimes. Every day I’m stepping forward; every day I’m choosing to follow God; every day I’m believing that being in the centre of His will is greater than being home… But that daily decision to step, chose and believe so often feels like I’m dragging an elephant over a mountain size step.
Mike, I honestly don’t know what the future holds, or what it looks like; especially when it comes to family. I have a lot of questions, some fear, and some pain. But at least with pain I can use it to physically push me forward. The fear thing though, it competes exhaustingly with having an open heart.
I’ve been given so much freedom, and an unimaginably honouring privilege, to do vulnerability so openly. However, I often wonder if the people around me have any idea the price said vulnerability came at, or still comes at. The price of choosing to reach down into the depths of the stinging pits and to recycle your very being, in hope that from your vulnerability is birthed hope, freedom and life for someone else. That’s the most intense type of bittersweet.
Death still amazes me. It’s power to shift the entire landscape of one’s life. The way they think. The way they operate. Their decisions. Their behaviour. Their words. Life becomes so unimaginably intentional. Whilst I sometimes feel the shudder of the earth under my feet, whilst I sometimes see the walls of water racing towards me, whilst I don’t always know how to read old maps, and whilst I don’t always know how to draw new maps… I wouldn’t trade these valleys and mountains to not be in a foreign land.
That all being said, I miss you Mike. I really wish we could just chat and I wish you could see me. Not that I want you to sacrifice the fullness of what you have in Heaven; but just so that I knew there was still a connection between us. Because no matter what people say, and people try to say kind words, the reality is death separates. Jesus redeemed the eternal consequence of death, but until He comes again, death still momentarily exists. And in its existence, separates. No matter how short the time is until we’re reunited, the separation is still awful. I wonder if that’s why Jesus cried when Lazarus died, because he knew the reality and power of death on Earth.
Anyways Mikey, I’m going to stop for now. I could write and write and write to you. There’s so much I long to share with you. I love you. And I can’t wait to see you again.
Nearly two weeks ago I went out for dinner with my friends & as we sat around the table I couldn’t help, yet again, thinking how blessed I am to have this amazing community. Unfortunately the moment was slammed with another thought, “The last time I had an amazing community of friends my brother died. Why do I have this community? Who is going to die this time?”
Lately I’ve been very aware of fear in my life. It’s like my heart is conflicted in a beautiful tension of feeling paralysed & breaking down walls or lies. Let me give you two battle grounds where this is going on.
Firstly, I love my community of friends here; so much so that I made a decision to be very intentional about not letting anything happen to it. For example, our group has guys in it. The fastest & surest way of division happening is to like someone & they don’t like you back.
So I purposely set out to make sure no guys could pick up a signal of interest from me & misinterpret it. In fact I was so set on doing this that it was a surprise to me last Sunday when one guy said to me, “But I thought you didn’t want to be in a relationship. You keep saying you don’t want anything to compromise this community & family.”
I realised then that I can think I’m communicating clearly but what I’m communicating may not be what people hear. I do want to be in a relationship, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid of loss, of rejection, & I’m afraid of losing my best friend (at least you should be BFFs if you’re dating them?! Haha).
After Mike, after my last relationship, after saying goodbye to the UK… I’m not closed to relationships at all, but my heart is fragile to loss & change. This community is my family, I’m scared that too will go away. Yet, if a guy does come along in my life, I do want to be brave enough to jump in.
The second battle ground is this. One of the coolest things about this group of friends is they give me so much permission to be myself… I know what I’m about to say is going to sound like a complete contradiction but bear with me… however, the deeper into community I get, the more this seems to be challenged.
I’m still figuring out who I am. Especially post Mike. A lot changed once he died. Especially the way I see the world, people & life. Certain things became more meaningful & I became a lot more intentional. I like deep conversations, I like encouraging people to be greater versions of who they already are, I like asking people how they are really doing… But in order to do that I first must be vulnerable. Even if my vulnerability is simply asking the question. No matter how great or small the vulnerability, it’s direct contrast is rejection.
The constant threat of rejection is exhausting but lately the consequences of vulnerability seems more intense. Like recently things have happened, or comments have been made to me that were not supposed to be negative but Satan has used it to cut deep into my heart. The thoughts going around in my head subsequently are:
“You drain people Akila”, “People want to laugh & deep stuff doesn’t refresh them”, “Akila people can only handle you in small doses”, “Akila people push you away because you are too intense”, “Akila you are too emotional”, “Akila you think you are trying to treat people the way you want to be treated but really you are just broken.”
I don’t want to be any of those things that are in my head. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I didn’t ask for Mike to die. I didn’t ask for me to change. I don’t want to drain people. I don’t want people to only be able to cope with me in small doses. My heart feel so raw, shaken & vulnerable thinking this could be.
Tonight, before church, I was trying to put on mascara without crying it off & I was talking to God about all this. I said to God, “I want to me just me. I want to be real & intentional. I want the deep conversations. I want to genuinely know how someone is doing. I really love & care for people. Even if people can only cope with me in small doses, I don’t want to change because this stuff matters to me, this is how I show people they matter to me.”
As I’m trying to figure all this out with Jesus a thought came to me, “Akila they’re not running from you, they’re running from vulnerability.”
Later after church I shared my fears with my life group leader & she gave a really beautiful illustration of a needle with thread. The needle point of vulnerability is so sharp that it can be painful for me & for others, but the thread that the needle brings is community.
Community is so much bigger than just a group of people hanging out. If God is the heart then community is what He uses to pump life into our souls. Life that fills our being with purpose. Life that He uses to demonstrate His love, His freedom, His truth. Community is life. Messy, beautiful, adventurous, living life. But it’s His life, & He gives it to us. He calls us to be our Brother’s Keepers.
This fear malarkey is hard core to address, but once upon a time when I was 14 years old God told me, “Akila I made you for people.” I want to be faithful to that calling. It’s my heart, it’s how I’m wired. What an incredible joy it is to be called my Brother’s Keeper. I’m not confused about this, but the fears bury this so that everything dumped on top causes confusion & disunity.
I don’t have a conclusion to this blog post as this is still a journey. But I do know that I don’t want these fears to kill me. I don’t want to change the root of who I am. I do want to grow. I do want to walk in freedom rather than fear. & whilst I’m trying to move away from acceptance in other people’s eyes, I really do hope I can be a good friend to people.
The long-awaited writing about September the 8th and “Mysterious?” is finally here!
For those of you just tuning in, my family and I decided to put on an event called “Mysterious?” The event actually kicked off in the days leading up to Saturday the 8th of September. But like all events, true planning started 3 years earlier soon after my brother’s death on August 1st 2009.
You see, Mike wanted to go to college and learn how to play a guitar with the intention of leading worship in Christian churches; but he didn’t make it. About 5 weeks before he was supposed to join Nexus College, and almost a year after he started working in McDonald’s to fund his course… he died in his sleep. He was 18 and a half years old… the coroner couldn’t find a single factor that could explain cause of death. Not even sudden adult death syndrome.
Pretty much straight away my family, myself, my friends, his friends, our friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, school peers, church members… everyone in my life faced two key questions: “What happened?” and “Why?” Two years later we decided to put on a show that explored the mysteries of life. We as a family wanted to share our story, how we got through this massive life changing event… We wanted to encourage people to not be afraid of life, in all it’s forms, and to not be afraid of asking big questions. We wanted to inspire and challenge people’s attitudes to life. To find depth and meaning in amongst the superficial. We wanted to bring peace and hope… It’s ok to not have the answers. We wanted to explore the ancient question of why bad things happen to good people.
Whilst the vision had been simmering for almost 2 years by this point, practical planning started around February time this year (2012). Mum decided to check out our local entertainment centre with a simple prayer in mind “God, make this really clear to us whether we should pursue this.” And He did. We hired the venue and started developing a network around us before we even had a name for the event. People thought we were mad! Aren’t you supposed to have a programme together before you start hiring venues and issuing tickets? Truth be told… we only sat down to put together a programme 5 days before the event. That wasn’t for bad programme development… our network was in fact made up internationally of people from and living in several different countries. We only had the opportunity to sit down in person when they got here to do their part for the event!
God grew our dream into His dream and before we knew it our simple one night event turned into a week-long thing. We had hundreds of volunteers supporting us in making “Mysterious?” happen. The main churches in my city also came together to support us with this the event. We travelled to churches and camps to promote Mysterious… Maybe I should stop here and actual say our programme became three strands. Firstly we had “Mysterious?” the event. Secondly we had “One Wish.” We wanted to go into the city during the day before Mysterious and talk to the people we met on the streets. We wanted to encourage them and bring them joy, hope and peace. We refused to bible bash or stand on the street corners yelling how much we’re all gonna burn in hell. Instead, we had one simple question for them: “If you had one wish for God to give to you… What would it be?” What this meant was we LISTENED to them. We wanted to know THEIR story. We wanted to show them they are SIGNIFICANT. After they shared we simply offered to pray for them. Finally, the third strand was “One Wish: Skate Boarding” whereby we bought in two professional skate boarders to hang out with the youth on the Thursday, Friday and during the day on the Saturday.
What we didn’t foresee happening was the amount of publicity our event got!
Every time we want to the venue to discuss something with the managers, or to check how many tickets we sold… massive posters of naked women would greet us at the doors. The posters were advertising a very famous show called “Calender Girls“. Who were we to complete with them? Believe me, I seriously felt like I was Elijah waiting on God to rain down fire from heaven. Our main speaker for Mysterious was Stephen Baldwin. A famous Hollywood actor. Mum and dad met Stephen 6 years earlier and he gave them a signed dvd for Mike. On it he wrote “God Bless Mike“. One question my parents put to Stephen at Mysterious was “You wrote God Bless Mike; but Mike died. Explain that Stephen.” As soon as our small city heard a Hollywood actor was coming to town that was that! We were in the paper or on the night-time news every day for a week leading up to Saturday 8th!
Saturday 1st: Laura, my 18-year-old sister came home from a 3 week conference in Europe.
Sunday 2nd: Laura had unpacked, washed everything, repacked, went to church to say farewell, had a small party and left us again for a planned trip to South Africa. Dan and Suzie, international illusionists and our event MC’s arrived from America.
Monday 3rd: Mum, dad, Suzie, Dan and I sat down to plan the programme. We went for a walk to cool our brains down, visited the venue, met some youth, built relationships with the youth, Dan did illusions for them, we had the chance to test “One Wish”… We had amazing responses for them. Monday night we had a meeting with over 100 volunteers to brief them on the week’s activities. Much of that time was connecting individuals with “team leaders” for various activities. We were greatly encouraged to see some much passion from everyone.
Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th: I have to admit… I don’t remember these days so much but we did have a band practice. Wes, one our pro skaters had a nightmare of a time getting out of Egypt where he was based. Wednesday we received news that he was on the flight to us! 5 days later than he was meant to be but nonetheless with us!
Thursday 6th: This was day 1 of great craziness… Wes arrived in the morning, Stephen arrived around lunch time. I had breakfast with Miles and then picked up Grandma from the train station in the afternoon. After dropping her off home I went straight down to the skate park and hung out with the youth for 2 hours. Wes and Jud Heald were there and Stephen arrived soon after. The news came down to film us and many kids/teenagers came along to skate. Even I did some skating! 😛 Dan, Suzie, mum and I left the park to check up on the drama we had for Mysterious. The girls had done a great job putting it together!
Dad and Stephen Baldwin didn’t come with us because Stephen needed to go to the hospital for a xray of his foot. The day before he ran over it on his motorbike. At first we were like “Great, we don’t have time to run around at the hospital.” But God proved yet again he makes ALL things work for the good. As it turns out, Stephen going to the hospital was some of the best publicity we could have gotten! His picture with the nurse was in the news the next day. When he and dad got home we all sat around the kitchen table, held hands, and Grandma prayed for us all. As soon as she finished I piped up and said, “Grandma that was a beautiful prayer but all I could keep thinking was ‘OMG I’M HOLDING STEPHEN BALDWIN’S HAND!!!” Stephen thought that was funny 😛
Friday 7th: Day 2 of craziness. I was already operating on little sleep… Friday I woke at 7am, showered and was out the door for 8am to pick up Stephen. When mum and I got to his accommodation we hung out with him whilst he ate and then we took him to the hairdresser. I was his unofficial gofer all day 😛 I loved it haha 😛 We then had a meeting with the main event participants back at the house to get everyone on the same page for the show and after we went to Mike’s old high school. During the lunch break we hung out with several hundred teenagers doing magic, signing our autographs and promoting the event. Wes also did some skating.
I thought it was hilarious doing all these autographs! I had to think of mine on the spot and I’m sure I changed it about 4 times haha. The whole thing was so surreal. My photo was on the Mysterious leaflets and many of the young people were like “OMG YOU’RE IN THIS EVENT! I WANT YOUR AUTOGRAPH!” Hahahahah, who knew Akila would get to do that. Will have to tell Mike about that when I get to Heaven 😀
The afternoon was spent driving around locating my missing purse, picking up the bestie from the train station (Leah), and spending time at the skate park for the second day. After a large group of us went for an Indian. Everywhere we went Stephen’s presence caused a stir. Leah and I spent a little bit of time reminiscing that evening.
She was with me for Mike’s funeral. The night before his funeral we spent the night at a classy local bar with some friends and family; the next morning she curled my hair and listened to my speech. I had no idea what I wanted to share at Mike’s funeral and only “threw it together” at 7am the morning of the funeral. I got up early, sat in the conservatory as the sun came up and shared my heart to my laptop. As it so happens, the night before and the morning of Mysterious wasn’t too disimilar.
Saturday 8th: I woke up about 7am and was ready again for 8am. A family friend came to pick me up in his work van. The a close friend of my sister and his brother had made a tree for the stage. It was so beautiful…I was so proud of them. They had made it out of wood, paper, card, paint and fairy lights. I took it down to the venue and spent the entire morning at the venue helping to set up for the show. I almost cried my eyes out when I saw the stage… It was barely complete but already I could see the picture it was forming and the hard work that was being put into it. I thought I was going to be so stressed out but actually… I don’t think I’ve ever been so calm whilst preparing for an event before. Many others were very stressed and at one point a guy friend and I pretended to hide for a little while. Our stragegy was to sit on the couch in the eating area backstage and “look busy“. It sort of worked.
Leah came down around the same time the Cottinghams arrived and we all walked over to the youth zone where the third day of skate boarding was happening. While people were setting up the venue for the show, other had gotten up early to set up the youth zone. A group came up from Manchester to lay wood down to protect the flooring at the youth zone, build ramps and give out 60 boards and bikes for the youth. Leah and I didn’t stay too long… we left soon after I epically fell off the skate board 😛 She and I went back to the show venue where WriteWay, the rap group from London, had arrived and were rehearsing.
Around 4.30pm I went back stage and started getting ready. Mum and I had our own dressing room! I felt like a total celeb! Mum by this point had an emotional break down and hid crying in the changing room. I left her to it. Everyone was going through their own way of dealing with such an intense event. At one point I found mum, the Hendricks and Win Maiden all crying together… It’s going to sound wrong to say, but it genuinely was so funny to see them all! I teased them gently about it… The show must go on! Amongst our many awesome volunteers, one lady agreed to share her talents as a make up artist for Stephen. Dinner for the volunteers was served around 5.30pm and at 6pm we all met together to run through the programme one last time.
People started arriving….
We had 1000 tickets to sell in total… and in the last 24 hours we sold over 700 tickets. We actually sold out and started using additional seating to sell more tickets! There was a funny moment where I was backstage and was going through to the main seating area. I flung open the side curtain and saw many seats now filled! I’d been so used to seeing empty seats all day that I had a mini heart attack and thought “Oh.No.” Hahaha, a bit like a rollercoaster that you now can’t off hhaha.
The show started with a bang, an interactive illusionist trick that involved the crowd. Mum and dad introduced the event, CWB played Swtichfoot, I shared my story, my sister put together a video of her story… CWB played “This is your life” after Laura’s video and we had put together a string set to accompany the band. It was so powerful to have a rock song played alongside violins and cellos. Wes shared his story, the girls preformed the drama… The intermission came and went so quickly. Part two saw mum and dad share a bit more; Stephen spoke and had the attention of the audience from the moment he walked on stage; WriteWay preformed the closing act…
I was so afraid of the level of “Christianity” throughout the event. I just wanted people to be encouraged and challenged. I should have known better than to be afraid… Literally every single person who came to Mysterious left with something special to them. For weeks after we heard stories from all over the place of people who’s lives had changed for the better. I was so humbled and so grateful. Out of the whole event, it was when the band was playing “This is your Life” that I remember most distinctively. Somewhere in the centre of the crowd I sat in my seat with a tear that was making its way down my right cheek, and I was thinking to myself, “This is it. This is really happening.”
For months we’d planned. For months we had dreamed. I wanted to honor Mike in what we were doing just as much as I wanted to honor God. This show was different for me than any other shows I’d seen. I knew the stories behind each detail. I knew who generously paid for this, and I knew how hard someone worked at that… I knew the trials we faced at every single step. I walked first handedly through the many arguments mum and I got into about Mysterious… God took all of those things and turned it into something beautiful. Something life changing. Something that will always stick with me… I wish you were there at Mysterious to have seen it for yourself.
After the show people got the chance to buy cds and t-shirts from WriteWay, get photos with Stephen, or just mingle. Dan C was the “bodyguard” for Stephen that night… It’s pretty surreal, never once did I ever think that I’d be saying to Dan C, “Hey, can you body-guard for Stephen?” I think the best bit was when Dan C realised he would be driving Stephen back to mine in what he described as “a naff car” 😛 There was a miniature after party at mine… Dan C, Tim Christian, Leah and I sat on the couch in my living room and barely moved. I had some really special times with Leah throughout the day then later as we sat talking to Stephen. I miss that girl. I wished those days she was here wasn’t so crazy.
I finally got to bed around 3.30am…
So that’s basically the gist of Mysterious. And believe me when I say I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the stories that have resulted from those days. The finale song that night was called “New Song“. And there’s a line in it that says,
“We’re gonna scream til the walls come down, Singing a new song, Singing a new song.”
For now, that’s what I want to leave with you.
Thank you to God, Mike, my family and for everyone who made this happen. I’m truly blessed!