Two weeks ago, Mariah Zellman, a member of our Youth to Jesus community here in L’viv, was walking to work, hit by a car, and killed. In just two days she was buried and a day after that we got a phone call informing us of the news. As it is with all lives that are taken early, it was hard to know what to feel: shock, anger, frustration, numbness. Mariah was a complicated young lady. She had a beautiful smile and a gentle spirit. Mariah also was always ready to lend a helping hand. She volunteered at our summer camps; she was on the set up team at church. But Mariah also suffered from mental illness. And through her illness she challenged our faith community tremendously. And by the grace of God, our community responded and loved her completely. Honestly, the way our community formed around her is a memory that makes Shannon and I proud. In memory of Mariah, for those that knew her and for those who did not, I thought it would be good to share a story I told at the small memorial service we held at her graveside last week as a testimony to God’s work in her life:
The first time I met Mariah was this summer. She just kind of showed up at our Upwards basketball camp. I didn’t know how she found out about the camp (later we learned she had been involved at the student center a few years ago). I didn’t know how she had gotten so interested in helping all of the sudden, but there she was, ready to go. I teamed her up with a member from the Sugarland UMC mission team, and set her off with a watchful eye. The first few days she did fine, a little unsure at times, probably because she didn’t know anything about basketball, but her willing heart came through in her effort. It wasn’t long though before things started appearing that I felt were strange. She was off by herself, even infrequently talking to herself on the side of the court while everyone else was fully engaged. People started asking me about her. It was very evident all was not well. I talked to her. I kept her close, not exactly sure what to do in her quickly deteriorating state. At one point during the camp, I was interacting with those who were doing a craft as an alternate for basketball: homemade greeting cards. Mariah was there with us. Mariah made a card, it was a flower caged by strips of paper. It was painful for me to look at. And as she was making it she kept handing it to me and asking “David, is it okay? Is this okay David?” I knew what she was asking me, butI didn’t know what to say. When we finished that day and Mariah left this card on the table, I don’t know why, but I kept it and prayed that this would one day be a testimony to God’s healing work in Mariah’s life.
Time passed, the team left, Mariah refused to go home and some of us spent nights and days with her at the student center. We finally convinced her she needed help and that we needed to get her to the hospital. We took her, we prayed with her, we told her that we loved her, and handed her over to the hospital to begin intensive treatment. Upheld by the prayers of many, little by little Mariah began to heal. I remember that visiting her became less and less strange, our conversations more and more normal; Mariah’s beautiful sense of humor even came out a little. On those warm August days, Shannon and I even came to enjoy sitting on the park bench with Mariah at the hospital. After a month, Mariah was released and was quickly back out on her own. To everyone’s surprise, in only a couple a weeks Mariah was employed at a local library and even contributing in small ways at church. It was about that same time that I had passed out a questioner for those attending our church service. Mariah was happy to be a part of this, and actually the very first one to turn in the questionnaire. I remember that when she handed it to me, she was strangely proud. With a big smile on her face she said “David, here is my questionnaire”. I didn’t know all that Mariah was going to tell me through the questionnaire until I opened it at home later that evening. There before me were sketches: a whole garden of beautiful free flowers.
To God be the Glory for ever and ever. Rest in peace Mariah.