There will be a candlelight service in memory of Kori Newland. It is our hope that this service will bring much needed attention to the bullying and suicide epidemic. We will gather Friday, December 29 at 6 pm at Doornbos Park with balloons, glow sticks and letters to Kori.
She was as skinny as a rail. But that’s not the first thing you noticed about her. She had big beautiful blue eyes. Like mine, her hair was neither curly or straight but it had volume enough as if to say “Hello World”, there’s a girl somewhere here underneath what you see.
For several years I helped out in the ESL department at Helena Park Elementary where she attended. She wasn’t in my class. Instead she was in a Reading group in the room another teacher and I shared. I remember being instantly drawn to her. I'm certain I wasn't the only one.
I would say "hey" each day that she came in for reading group. If I spotted her in the hall I remember being happy to have the opportunity to tell her that she looked pretty that day. Our familiarity grew bit by bit. I hoped that our smiles and waves and small talk would be an encouragement, but one thing I knew for sure. Seeing that smile that rivaled the size of her hair and those pretty eyes made my day brighter.
My fondest memory of her came at the end of her last year in elementary at the annual talent show. She showed up at school donning a dress fit for prom and Sunday shoes that added height to her already tall stature. She looked beautiful and I tell you she sang Amazing Grace like an angel.
I've seen mamas cry tears at the sight of their babies performing. But there were a whole host of misty-eyed mamas and teachers by the time she sang her last note in the cafeteria that day. Though it was never discussed with others who were also clearly fans, I'm certain she represented an unassuming underdog with powerful potential. It was our delight to cheer her on.
Then she moved on to middle school. I intended keep up with her, but lost track.
Evidently in the past year or two she moved several hundred miles away. I clicked on Facebook this morning to see a picture of her sweet face on a post from a friend. This was the first time I saw that bright smile that I didn't give one in return.
Devastating words sat right above her picture. A quick read told me that she's gone. Not to Blooming Grove where she moved. It seems she decided life was unbearable as she ended it on Saturday after being bullied for some time.
After crushing news last week I heard a piece of advice I often hear during dark times.
Everything happens for a reason.
I'm still looking for this in scripture. I'm not so sure that everything happens for a reason. I only know that God can bring about good things in the midst of dark, soul-crushing occurrences. He brings about purpose.
When I ask myself if there is anything more I could have done in this instance, I can't say. I truly loved a little girl I barely knew. And as best as I knew how, I tried to make sure she knew just how special she was. Maybe the question is What can I do now?
My great grandmother made the best hot rolls but I wasn't allowed to say that I loved them. She told us You don't love things ... you love people.
My great grandmother knew we could all be guilty of loving things. We love our comfort zone. We love acceptance. We love advancement. We love to be right. We love relationships that bring us benefit. Our children naturally love these things too. The loss of this beautiful life reminds me of the need to be more intentional in loving people.
We need to model love for our children...To talk about about loving people with our children. Sometimes we need to be willing to move from our table to one where somebody sits alone. I've heard it said, If it doesn't serve you or make you happy it's not a relationship worth having. That doesn't sound like Jesus. Love isn't self seeking. Love is kind. Regardless.
We need to pray asking for the wisdom we (and our children) need to recognize and approach those in need of a little more love and affirmation. We need as much wisdom in identifying and confronting unkindness. God help us.
As far as my friend goes, long gone is the opportunity to cheer her on with a smile in the hallway or a vigorous wave calling out, You matter.
We've still plenty of opportunity to cheer and guide those who are following after us. Love people, let's tell them.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds... Hebrews 10:24
In memory of Kori Newland, our little friend with the big voice. Her grandmother has given me permission to share these beautiful pictures.