I couldn’t tell you much about the first time I met Zach, except that it was at a Christian retreat. We served together across numerous weekend retreats and other occasions like in 2010, when I coordinated a monthly night of worship for six months and Zach christened the first and closed out the last one.
Zach was a creative.
He was authentic, compassionate, empathic, and attentive to Holy Spirit.
He stood up for what he believed in and fought for what he believed was right.
Zach, only 16 in 2010, led worship with maturity and power.
Whenever he led worship the spiritual atmosphere changed.
A couple years later, I found myself on another one of those Christian retreats, I was standing in the chapel. I was debating whether or not to go up to one of the pastors and talk with them about something. I struggled with what to do. So, I made the decision to put God to the test.
Not the point.
This chapel service/evening lasted about five hours. Throughout the service it wasn’t uncommon for the workers to give one another a hug or have a small sidebar conversation.
I silently prayed, “God, if I’m supposed to go up there, let someone just come up to me and stand beside me not saying anything. Don’t let them say a word, don’t let them touch me. Just have them stand beside me.”
Five or so minutes passed.
I open my eyes and I see Zach walking towards me.
Walking with intention.
Walking with a purpose.
Zach and I didn’t get to interact outside of meals since we had different roles in different locations on the weekend.
I nodded at him and said “Hi.”.
Zach stood beside me.
He didn’t say a word to me.
He didn’t touch me.
He just stood there, for at least one song, maybe two.
I thought to myself, this is odd.
Time to double test this out.
“Ok God. If this is you, let Zach say something to me.”
A few moments later, Zach smiled, looked me, and said, “Hey, so… I felt like God told me to just go over and stand beside you, not to touch you, not to say anything, but just stand beside you until he told me otherwise or you went up there. Now, I feel like he’s telling me to talk to you.”
(When I’ve told the story in the past, I typically for time’s sake, omit the second test)
I went up and spoke to the pastor, but little did I realize that Zach had just changed my life.
We spoke over lunch the next day about what had happened, and he reconfirmed what he felt God was saying, and I wanted to tell him about my tests.
I grew up in a Charismatic house.
Pentecostal extended family.
We love Holy Spirit and his gifts.
The idea of God speaking to someone isn’t unique.
The idea of God giving a word or special knowledge isn’t crazy.
But this was different.
This happened to me,
with immediate response,
just between Zach and myself.
Zach was attentive to Holy Spirit. He was obedient, and he was willing to step out on a limb and do something that didn’t make sense, because that’s what he felt God wanted him to do.
Zach was nine years younger than me. I had been a Christian for longer than he had been alive. But his example is something that has radically changed the way I view and listen for Holy Spirit’s prompting.
And this is where the impression he made on my life has potentially impacted your life.
If I’ve written you a letter, chances are I’ve included something that randomly came into my mind, and I believe could have been Holy Spirit speaking to me. I may have randomly called, messaged, or communicated with you in some way, and it may not have had a purpose or it could have been really random. It’s likely because I’m following Zach’s example and trying to listen to Holy Spirit’s prompts – and I could really be missing them. But I continue to do it. More often then those examples are the times I’m driving, someone/something will pop in my mind and I may just start praying for you and you’ll never know because I won’t tell you. At it’s simple you get a random prayer, at it’s most complex, it’s Holy Spirit telling me to pray for you and I’m listening. These are just a few of many things Zach’s actions inspired me to do.
What’s so special about it is that Zach went to Georgia Tech, he had an engineer’s mind, so it wouldn’t have been hard for him to try and rationalize and reason the promptings away? What if Zach had taken the prompt and not been fully obedient? What if he had stood beside me and spoken to me after a few moments or if he had tried to make the spirit work?
Why am I writing about this? Because earlier this month (August 2023), Zach committed suicide. The world is a harsh place, it’s unrelenting, and there is so much horror to withstand for someone so real and so compassionate. My last meaningful conversation with him was in 2015 (see story below) and the last time I saw him (about five years ago) I misunderstood the context of our chance run in, and I thought I would have more time to catch up – I wish we had.
I’m not going to spend time lamenting past mistakes or dwelling on the circumstances of his departure. I wanted to write this blog to honor the impact Zach made on my life, but also to use his legacy to help those of you who may be struggling, who may be being beat down by the world, or who may be thinking that their lives don’t have an impact on anyone.
I doubt, very seriously, whether or not Zach knew the fullness of the mark he left on the world. I don’t know if he realized how significant of a difference he made in my life by simply standing beside me on a night ten years ago. I don’t know if he understood how that one action set into motion a series of choices and decisions that have an affect on the world that no one will know the full extent of.
We don’t know the impact we’ve had on the lives of others.
In some cases, those others don’t realize the impact you’ve had on them.
I don’t have elegant words to say to close this except to say that the loss of a friend or loved one is always difficult, it’s ok to feel the emotions you are feeling – Jesus wept at the loss of his friend knowing full well he would be eating with him within a few days.
I believe that I will get to see Zach again and most importantly we’ll get to worship God together again, free from pain, free from suffering, at the restoration of all things.
And I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”Revelation 12:3-5a (NLT)
Thanks for reading. May God bless you.
If you’re interested, I have another story about Zach below. It wasn’t really super relevant, but it meant a lot to me.
A few years after he stood beside me in 2015, I was the Director of one of these Christian retreats, and I had a crazy idea, 24/7 worship. Since the inception of the retreat 25 years prior, there had been 24 hour prayer, but never 24 hours of worship – Zach was on board, and perhaps one of the most excited about it.
If you’ve ever been part of Tres Dias or Vida Nueva, Saturday evening is always difficult.
Zach lead the worship during those times and we got to experience significant breakthrough.
I remember him apologizing the next day for something small.
He told me he had been up over 30 hours during the weekend.
Over thirty hours.
He chose to stay up so others could sleep.
After staying up prepping for finals at Georgia Tech earlier in the week.
Due to the nature of my position on the weekend, I wasn’t able to say much more than it was ok, how much I appreciated him, and that he was a crucial part of making the weekend a success and that I would be shouting him and the other chapel chas out at closing. We hugged and made plans to make plans to hang out – we never did. A few years later I saw Zach again, and we briefly caught each other up on our lives, and made plans, again, to make plans to hand out, this time for real.