by David Sisler

You look in your child's room and you find letters which leave you speechless. You see your child dabbling in drugs and alcohol and witchcraft. You see your child enthralled with the idea of suicide. What do you do?

You look into your child's room and see a computer with internet footprints to incredibly violent sites. You hear that your child is threatening neighbors and classmates. You see your young person plunging deeper and deeper into hate-mongering and the worship of Adolf Hitler. What do you do?

You read an old instruction book on child-raising, one written a long time before modern wisdom said discipline will hinder a child's development, and you wonder if its advice is trustworthy. It says, "Train up (a command to narrow; to initiate or discipline) a child (from the age of infancy to adolescence) in the way (a road well-trodden; a course of life or mode of action; manner; habit; course of moral character) he should go (not ‘the way he wants to go') and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).

Misty and Brad Bernall saw things in the life of their daughter Cassie that disturbed them. They understood that a thirteen year old is still a child and not entitled to one hundred percent privacy, that a person of that age needs discipline and guidance, and that it was their obligation as her parents to provide that discipline and guidance. To that end, they knew her friends, and they checked on the kinds of things Cassie kept in her room.

They found hidden letters, read them, and were disturbed by what they read. Misty and Brad decided that their daughter was more important than a teenager's notions of privacy and betrayal, and drew the line. They searched her room regularly. They searched her book bag. They cut off all contacts with friends they believed were bad influences on Cassie.

"A youngster's heart is filled with rebellion, but punishment will drive it out of him" (Proverbs 22:15).

Said Brad, "It's the hardest thing a parent will ever do, to put your foot down and say, ‘It stops right here.'" But Bernalls put a unified parental foot down, and the things in Cassie's life that were damaging and dangerous stopped. Cassie's parents said a loud and loving, "No."

Seconds before she died, Cassie Bernall said a loud and loving, "Yes."

Cassie's "Yes" came in response to the question, "Do you believe in God?" posed by one of the two deranged classmates who shot her to death at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Kevin Koeniger, one of Cassie's friends said Cassie hesitated a long second before she answered. It was not a hesitation of doubt, but a hesitation of affirmation. She knew, Kevin said, if she answered "Yes" she would die.

Dave McPherson, youth minister at West Bowles Community Church, told The Denver Post he well remembers meeting with the sullen youth who spoke in monosyllables. "There's no hope for that girl," he admitted thinking afterward. "Not our kind of hope." When he preached her funeral McPherson said, "Jesus fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. Cassie fed the world with one word, ‘Yes.'"

In between "no hope" and "eternal hope" something powerful happened. Cassie's parents determined that they were not going to lose their daughter to the dark forces that were clawing for their child's life. One weekend, they permitted Cassie to go on a church youth retreat.

Her father said, "When she left, she was this gloomy, head down, say nothing youth. When she came back, her eyes were open and bright and she was bouncy and just excited about what had happened to her and was just so excited to tell us. It was like she was in a dark room, and somebody turned the light on, and she saw the beauty that was surrounding her."

Her mother said, "She looked at me in the eye and she said, ‘Mom, I've changed. I've totally changed. I know you're not going to believe it, but I'll prove it to you.'"

When Brad and Misty Bernall forced themselves into the middle of Cassie's life, what they really did was give Cassie a chance to get to know Jesus. By refusing to give in to their dark, sullen child, they became evangelists and gave her a chance to find Jesus.

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).

Not long ago, Misty said she and Cassie talked about death.

"I don't know how we got on the topic, but Cassie said to me, ‘Mom, it would be OK if I died.' She said, ‘I'd be in a better place, and you know where I'd be.'"

What a better place Littleton, Colorado would be today if the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold had taken a bold interest in their sons and wrestled against the forces of darkness that consumed them!

"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him" (Proverbs 13:24).


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 5/8/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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