Helplessness. Pure and utter helplessness.
That’s how Lori Massengill described her reaction to the moment she watched her friend slip off the landing at the top of a 200-foot waterfall and tumble to her death.
Lori remembers the first moment she met Faith Helbig in January of 2013. Hallmates at Liberty University, the girls became fast friends and quickly bonded over their “mutual sassy personalities and love for all things fabulous,” according to Lori.
“Literally, within two days, we became inseparable,” Lori said. “We went tanning, shopping, riding and to our favorite Taco Bell. We had a conversation about two weeks before she passed away about how we both felt like God put us in each other’s lives for a reason.”
Faith had aspirations of becoming a social worker. Her selfless attitude and love for listening to and helping others in need created an environment of comfort and openness for her friends. Which is why Lori popped into Faith’s room April 8, 2013, and asked her to go hiking. It would help Lori get her mind off of the boyfriend who had recently broken up with her, she told Faith.
The Moment It All Changed
With four friends in tow, the group headed to Crabtree Falls. They had hopes of climbing some of the tallest sets of waterfalls in the United States east of the Mississippi. Singing, laughing and dancing the whole way, the six college students arrived and began the trek up one of the trails.
They made multiple stops along the way to take pictures. At their last stop, the group decided to hop over the railing in order to get a picture together closer to the falls, which meant they had to stand in the water at the edge of the drop.
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“I made Faith get into the waterfall,” Lori said. “She didn’t want to get in, but I insisted. My roommates and I were taking a roommate picture in the waterfall. One of my roommate’s friends who came along was taking the picture, and Faith was beside him, closest to the drop. The water was steady but not running fast or violent at all.”
As Lori’s roommates transitioned off of the rock and Faith headed toward Lori to take a picture with her, Faith’s foot slipped on the slimy algae hidden beneath the water.
“It was in slow motion,” Lori described. “I still see it so clearly. There was a stick in front of her that I just knew she would grab and be fine. She grabbed the stick, but the stick broke. She looked up at me and made eye contact, then proceeded to turn around and go down the waterfall on her back like a waterslide. I looked away. My roommate started to scream and couldn’t move. I picked (my roommate) up and got her out of the waterfall onto land. From that moment, my whole life changed.”
Praying For a Miracle
Once slow motion turned back into reality, they had two missions: Find Faith and get help. The five friends sprinted down the mountain. While the others continued to run until their phones had service, Lori said she remembers stopping by a large rock on the trail and kneeling beside it. She asked God to save Faith. To perform a miracle and save her friend.
“I was sitting off by myself crying and praying,” Lori described. “That is all I remember. I still had hope that a miracle would happen. One of the hikers who stopped to help was a nurse. I was like, ‘This is lining up perfectly to where Faith will live.’ I just knew that somehow she would just have to be okay.”
But that wasn’t what God had planned. As Lori made her way to where Faith had fallen, she knew God’s answer to her prayer was no.
“She was lying like a sleeping baby,” Lori said. “One of my roommate’s friends was down there with her. She screamed at me, not letting me come down there, too. She knew that if I did, I would have gotten in the water and potentially hurt myself as well. At that point, I knew she was gone. All I could do was cry and pray for a miracle.
A Word With Two Meanings
The rest of the day was a blur. Once the ambulance arrived, and the EMTs pronounced Faith dead on arrival, the students headed to spend the night in a hotel.
“Us girls slept in the same bed, and we couldn’t move nor talk,” Lori said. “It was like a bad dream.”
The days that followed brought the viewing, funeral and multiple memorial services. Lori said she had a strange peace during those days — a gift from God before the months of grieving would begin. But she can see now how God was with them the day of the accident.
“Looking back on the entire day, how (God) had His hand in it is mystifying,” Lori said. “The ride to the waterfall is my favorite memory of all time. Somehow, even though I was broken-hearted (from my breakup), Faith and I dancing and singing and laughing the entire ride made me the happiest girl in the world. I remember having cramps from laughing and dancing so hard. I have no doubt God allowed us to have all of these precious moments for me to hold onto during times of sadness.”
Lori even takes the way she remembers Faith lying on the rock at the bottom of the waterfall as a gift from God.
“When she landed after falling, the fact that she looked so peaceful and curled up gave me the peace of mind that she was literally sleeping in Jesus’ hands now, and that she wouldn’t come back even if she could,” Lori said.
But despite God’s presence and even the powerful message of salvation given by Faith’s brother at her funeral and memorial services, Lori says she still asks God why.
“Every time I (ask), I get the same answer,” Lori said. “And it is simply that … it was never meant for me to know. That is where faith comes in. That is where choosing to follow the Lord comes in. That is where I am reminded that we live in a fallen world full of terrible, awful events, and that this life was never promised to be perfect. But, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we will one day see our saved loved ones and be reunited in a place that is perfect. And that is the only answer I need.”
Without hesitation, Lori gives credit to Jesus as the way she coped and still processes that sunny day in April. And she gives credit to faith, which is a word that has two meanings for her now.
“The first one is faith in our Lord and Savior, who without (Him), life would be meaningless,” Lori described. “The second is Faith, my friend. Her name represents hope and life. Her life represents beauty and joy. It comforts me in knowing that I worship a God who allowed me to know such a beautiful person. Who still impacts me every day. I will always miss her. I will always think of her. No matter how many more hard times I have or how many breakdowns I go through, I will always be comforted in knowing I knew her and worship a good God.”