Tori Young was passionate about the horses she worked with as Stir-It-Up, LVR’s head wrangler. The first day the horses arrived at camp, she took us all to meet them and learn how to interact with them safely. I could tell she knew what she was doing and loved it.
Even before the horses arrived, Stir-It-Up knew her way around camp. She was one of the first staff members I felt comfortable with while I was still taking everything in at the beginning of the summer. She was friendly, frank and down-to-business. Stir had amazing dedication. She was up by 6 am every day to feed the horses before breakfast and spent long days in the stable. No matter what the conditions, she took care of the horses. She didn’t find out until she got to camp that another wrangler wasn’t showing up. Without warning, she had all the responsibility and all the work. She always told herself “suck it up, Sally” and did what had to be done. I hardly ever heard Stir complain. Even when she did, it was complaint mixed with satisfaction for having overcome the obstacles.
Everyone on staff was dedicated, but Stir stuck out to me as especially reliable. We were all willing to get things done, but she seemed to always know exactly what to do and to have it done. She was honest about her feelings when she was beat or frustrated or excited or nervous. I feel like the Stir I knew at camp is exactly the same as she is to everyone who knows her. She’s very real.
Stir-It-Up is both a great storyteller and a great listener. Most people are one or the other or neither. Stir could tell stories about her life with vivid detail and emotion. Then she’d listen to other people talk and she was just as interested in our lives as in her own. Storytellers are easy to get to know and listeners make you feel important. And while Stir seemed to be completely well-behaved and clean-cut, nothing offended her. Perhaps the best way to describe Stir is that she is very relatable. It’s easy to get to know her, easy to understand her.
Even among a group of Christian camp counselors, Stir-It-Up’s faith stuck out to me. Jesus was evident in her servant attitude. The sure hope of salvation was apparent in her constant trust in God’s will and plan. And that faith and trust were tested in the harshest imaginable way.
Stir is a huge family girl, that much was clear. She loved to talk about her parents. Originally from Colorado, they had moved to Virginia but came to visit her at camp. She talked about their visit for weeks in advance. She was so eager, we came to anticipate meeting her parents almost a much as she anticipated seeing them. It was striking how much of Stir-It-Up’s mother is in her. She has her mother’s beautiful thick, dark hair and her mother’s personality. Charlie said that when you were talking to Stir’s mom, you could close your eyes and not know which one of them was speaking. Her father was quieter. But it was evident that both parents were so proud of their daughter and so excited to be a part of the camp. Stir’s brother had worked at LVR before with the nickname Tear-It-Up. In keeping with tradition, her father went by Fix-It-Up and her mother went by Fry-It-Up. They volunteered to help at the camp in the kitchen or anywhere work was needed. Their visit led to the most difficult and painful part of the summer. It changed us all.
While at LVR, Tori’s mom was in a freak horseback riding accident. Her horse started running unexpectedly, and she fell. A flight-for-life helicopter airlifted her to Denver, where she passed away shortly after the accident.
It is impossible to write about this properly. It is impossible to put in perspective what that weekend was like. All I can say is that in a time of intense fear, pain, doubt, anger; faith pulled through.
When we were screaming out to God and at God, Tori showed us how to be still. She experienced tragedy on a whole other level than the rest of us, but she held together. She sent instructions from the hospital on how we should care for the horses while she was gone. She knew it wasn’t their fault. When we asked how she was doing, we were told that she was worried about how we were handling it while running camp. Even then, she cared about other people more than herself. She said she knew it wasn’t forever and that she would be with her mom again in heaven with God.
Tori clung to a faith that is stronger than human reason. She came back to camp with her dad and brother after the funeral to give us ice cream at our staff meeting. She told me that if it had to happen, she was glad it happened in Colorado, where most of her family lives. They laid her in the church where Tori grew up. But it is only the temporary part of life that she left behind.
Someone said it was like Easter. The accident happened on a Friday, the day Christ was crucified. And by Sunday morning, the day of the resurrection, she was in Heaven with him. We cried because she wasn’t with us anymore. We cried because Tori had to go home and pack up her mother’s things, and know that she wouldn’t get phone calls from her anymore. But we didn’t cry hopelessly, because we know that she isn’t really gone. In death, we are reminded to gaze on the face of eternity. It is demanded of us that we decide whether or not we truly believe in the promise of eternal paradise. I believe that mortality exists so that we remember our need for a Savior, so that we feel a craving for immortality and turn back to the God we so easily ignore.
Christ said, “For I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10. Did she have life to the full? Her first day at LVR, she commented on how wonderful it was to be back in the mountains. The air was so clean, and she and her husband woke to hummingbirds outside their window that morning. She was full of joy and energy, surrounded by the family that she loved, serving the God that she loved. Life to the full on earth, yes, and a full life in heaven forever where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4. And until everyone is reunited, God promises to look after everyone she has left behind. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4.
I think God taught us through tragedy. I faced one of the hardest things I have endured without my family and with friends I had only known a couple months. I think of that day every time I hear a helicopter. I was alone on Cedar Mountain when I heard and then saw it come and hoped it wasn’t flight for life. I came down that mountain to a different atmosphere than the one I had left a few hours earlier. The staff had supported each other before, but then we were totally leaning on each other to keep going. I discovered I could put aside my own feelings to try and counsel others. I kept the most earnest prayer vigil of my life, and God answered my request with a “no.” Yet by his grace, I grew in faith rather than losing it in the struggle. So when people ask me how my summer was, I can answer without hesitating that it was wonderfully amazing.
In less than a month, Stir-It-Up and her brother Tear-It-Up are coming to Colorado for the LVR staff reunion. I can’t wait to see her. I’m comforted and encouraged by her faith, by her ability to love God and accept the life laid before her. I wonder if I could do the same. To go back to that place without bitterness or dread. To not run away from the memory. I wonder, am I strong enough to trust God through such a horrible challenge? Then I think of Stir. For her, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). She’s hurting from the loss of her mom, but she is not overcome by it. She is sure of her hope that she’ll be with her mom in again, and she’s certain of the Savior and salvation and eternal life in a Heaven she does not (yet) see. I praise God for the faith that he’s given her and I hope that mine is as strong.