"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in Heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in Heaven."--Matthew 10:32-33
Christian music artist Michael W. Smith wrote a song in memory of Cassie Bernall. The story behind "This is your Time" can be found by clicking this link.
BY ANDREA VINLEY
Honestly, I want to live completely for God. It's hard and scary, but totally worth it.
--Cassie Bernall, April 19, 1999
(From a note written by Cassie and handed to
her friend Amanda the next morning at school)
When the killer put his gun to the head of Cassie Bernall, he asked her if she believed in God. Her one-word response instantly catapulted her both into the Lord's presence and the consciousness of an entire nation.
It's been one year since Brad and Misty Bernall, along with 14 other families, had their world shaken by America's most horrific act of violence: the shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
In the midst of the chaos, however, inspiration emerged from a story about Cassie, Brad and Misty's 17-year-old daughter. Cassie was in the library with several students when two students turned it into a shooting gallery on April 20. One of them approached a praying Cassie, asking her if she believed in God. He shot her when she answered yes. She died instantly.
The irony is that Cassie herself had walked a path similar to that of her killers. Nor would she have been at Columbine if her parents hadn't tried to rescue her from that path by pulling her out of another high school just two and a half years earlier.
Dwelling in darkness
When Cassie hit ninth grade, her parents noticed her slipping away. Her grades were falling; she was skipping school and hanging out with students who did the same. Brad said her personality changed; she wasn't the gregarious, outgoing young lady they had known.
When asked if everything was all right, the answer was fine. "I kept thinking maybe this is just some normal teenage rebellion, yet something kept nagging at me," Misty said.
Misty was right. One day in December 1996, after quitting her full-time job to spend more time with Cassie and their son, Chris, Misty went into Cassie's room to look for a teen Bible. Instead she came across some letters written between Cassie and her best friend. They were full of sex talk, gory drawings, satanic spells, suicide and murder. Though they were just letters, Misty and Brad took them seriously. So did the sheriff when he read the girls' plans to kill their parents.
That's when the Bernalls decided to enroll Cassie in a private Christian school. But it was a long haul to bring Cassie out of the darkness she was dwelling in. "On top of this, we began regular searches of her room and backpack, monitored her use of the phone and forbade her to leave the house without our permission," Misty said. They also allowed her no contact with her old friends. The only thing Cassie was permitted to participate in was youth group at West Bowles Community Church, which her parents hoped would remove the temptation to maintain her destructive lifestyle.
As time went on, the Bernalls realized Cassie's descent into darkness had gone beyond notes between friends. She was filled with hate and anger toward God and her parents, which was expressed with her smoking pot, drinking, mutilating herself with metal objects and listening to music with dark, evil messages.
Three months after Cassie changed schools, she asked permission to attend a youth retreat with a new friend. "Cassie seemed to be making some progress, yet we were still cautious and protective," Misty said. "The idea of letting her go off for a whole weekend on her own seemed like an enormous risk at the time."
But that weekend things changed. God captured Cassie's heart. When the Bernalls picked her up, she hugged her mom and said, "Mom, I've changed. I know you are not going to believe it, but I'll prove it to you." Her parents kept their guard up, but it was true. Cassie had found new life in Christ.
Later that year, at Cassie's request, the Bernalls let her enroll in Columbine High School in the fall of 1997. Cassie thought the Christian school was stuffy, but also told her mom, "I can't witness to the kids at Christian school."
"We knew Cassie had a story before April," Brad said. "Misty had hoped that when Cassie was older the two of them could speak with parents and teenagers and share her story.
"Once Columbine happened, we felt the only way we can tell this story now is through a book."
So Misty wrote. Friends of Cassie's and her youth leader contributed, and now the journey from darkness to brilliance is recorded inShe Said Yes.
"We realized that Cassie's life had come full circle," Misty said. "We thought that was important to share, especially with parents. No matter how troubled your teenager is or how bad things are, there's always hope for change."
A portion of the proceeds from the book's sales go to the Cassie Bernall Foundation. The West Bowles youth group is the primary benefactor, but as the foundation grows, the Bernalls would like the finances to be able to help other youth-related ministries and provide scholarships.
For now the story is a ministry on its own. The responses have been overwhelming. "Misty and I have gotten letters from hundreds of kids who have turned their lives either back to the Lord or to the Lord for the first time," Brad said.
The Sunday night before Cassie's funeral, Christian musiciansSteven Curtis Chapman and The Kry performed at West Bowles. Afterward three girls approached Misty. "They said, 'we're some of Cassie's old friends.'" Misty said. "One of them had turned her life to Christ. It was amazing to talk with these girls because I thought they hated us for what we did [pulling Cassie away from them]."
As the word of Cassie's declaration of faith has spread, people have come to God through that as well. "Right after the funeral a man came up to me, tears streaming down his face," Brad said. "He just wanted to let me know that he had been asleep in his faith for 25 years; this awakened him and he would never fall asleep in his faith again."
"But in the entire scope of things," Misty said, "what was said in the library doesn't make a difference to us. It's just something that God has used out of the tragedy."
Unfortunately, it is still a tragedy in the Bernall home. Chris, 16, is being home-schooled this year because it was too hard to go back And there are still a lot of tears. "We still suffer loss every single day," Brad said. "We're still left with great, haunting questions."
But there is hope-- from the impact on others' lives to the way the entire community, both Christians and nonChristians, have taken care of them by feeding them, praying with them, doing housework and taking care of funeral arrangements.
"I was drying my hair one morning and I heard God telling me that he had been grooming Cassie all along for this, and it had to be big," Misty said. "If it wasn't big, then no one would listen.
"It has been difficult to stand on that at times, but when I start getting really upset, I remember what Cassie said when we were discussing how awesome heaven would be: 'Wouldn't you be happy for me? You'd know I was in a better place.'" o
To request a copy of She Said Yes or the Dare to Dig Deeper series,visit the Focus on the Family website.
This article was written by Andrea Vinley for The April 2000 version of Focus on the Family magazine.
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