Norfolk, Va. - “I’ve been meditating on heaven a lot lately, and I must say, it wells my eyes with tears of joy.”
17-year-old Mark Rodriguez wrote those words about heaven just weeks before his death.
“I don’t believe that Mark’s life was cut short," says the teen's mother.
Mark’s life ended last May. He was driving home from his high school’s graduation ceremony when James Brown, who was driving behind Mark, shot twice, killing him instantly.
Mark’s van was stopped by a tree in the median of Chesapeake Boulevard in Norfolk.
It was a senseless murder, but to Mark’s parents Leigh Ellen and Carlos Rodriguez, it was anything but random. To them, it was simply his time to go.
“I feel like his purpose on earth was fulfilled. Would I want him here? Absolutely, for me. I would. But I feel like he had a mission that God gave him, and that it was fulfilled and done and God said come home,” Leigh says
“You just feel like your whole world is crashing, you know just complete destruction,” Leigh Ellen says.
But with their pain came a sense of peace.
“You know, the story was not over the night he died,” Carlos says.
Mark`s story lived on through his words. He left behind years of journal entries.
“We really just rushed into his room and started tearing it apart, pulling out every journal we could find and feeling like I think we`re hoarding memories of him, just wanting to have him,” Leigh Ellen says.
In his journals, Mark wrote a lot about heaven but also shared his conversations with God.
“You know, when all is dark and you don`t have hope and you don`t have answers, and then I would read Mark`s journal and it would be a window into beauty and life and hope and it was like Mark was encouraging me,” Carlos says.
And they soon realized, Mark`s wise words would encourage others, too.
They posted his entries online on a blog.
“It just grew, grew and grew,” Leigh Ellen says. “And the stories started coming back, 'Please don`t stop putting this on the blog. Please don`t stop giving his writings. We need to hear more.'”
So Leigh Ellen and Carlos did more.
“We just decided we`ll go for it,” she says. “We`re just going to get it all typed in and take it to a publisher.”
His book, “The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of Mark Rodriguez” is now on Amazon. It`s sold more than 2,000 copies.
“It was like Mark`s life was the tip of the iceberg and the journals were the iceberg,” Carlos says.
“I feel like his purpose on Earth was fulfilled,” Leigh Ellen says.
A year later at the spot where Mark died, a memorial still stands.
And again, Mark`s parents have turned their loss into something beautiful.
“This was the tree stump that was at the accident site where Mark`s car hit the tree,” Leigh Ellen says as she shows the stump, dug up and now surrounded by a garden in their backyard.
“The beauty of Mark and that not even death can stop that,” she says. “That his words are still living on and encouraging people.”