rebelling against low expectations

Have You Met Clayton McDonald?


Have you ever met Clayton McDonald? If you had, you’d remember him. His personality and life mission are hard to forget. Have you ever met him? Probably not in person. You see, Clayton went to be with Jesus almost exactly four years ago. But don’t worry! You’re in luck, because Clayton McDonald will continue to change the world as long as his life and message are remembered.

This post is about remembering the teenager who knew when he was going to die.

UPDATE: Clayton’s friends and family have produced a new video about Clayton’s life and death, entitled, The Rest of Clayton’s Story. It is well worth your time.


Clayton Stanton McDonald went home to be with the Lord March 16, 2009 at 8:33 am just 40 days shy of his 19th birthday. He impacted more people in his short time on earth than many do in 75 or more years. He loved people and spent his days investing in people’s lives, always thinking of others before himself. Everyone who came in contact with him always considered him a close friend even if they only knew him for a brief period.

Clayton was diagnosed with leukemia at 7 and under went 2.5 years of chemotherapy, had two plus years of good health and then relapsed in 2003 and underwent a bone marrow transplant. He again experienced a 2+ year period of health and fell out of remission September 2006 and then underwent a second bone marrow transplant in January 2007, and was able to enjoy his senior year in high school with his classmates, even participation on the diving team and qualifying for the CIF championships.

After a productive summer working with junior high youth ministry at Atascadero Bible Church and participation in a mission trip to Costa Rica, he began to feel anemic. A trip to Stanford in October 2008 indicated that the leukemia had returned for a fourth time. At this point it was clear that a cure was not possible. Clayton chose to forgo treatment and live out his final days without chemotherapy. He then took the opportunity to tell his story to all who would listen, speaking at Atascadero Bible Church, Cornerstone Church of Simi Valley and multiple schools and youth groups throughout the county.

Finally on Wednesday March 11, 2009 he spoke to over 900 of his peers at Cal Poly. Clayton is survived by his mom and dad Wendy and Stan McDonald and his brother and sister Zack and Samantha, his grandparents and two great grandmothers and extended family.

Depending on how well you want to know Clayton, we’ve included several additional videos. The first is a montage of Clayton’s life that played at his memorial service. This is a great way to get to know Clayton’s crazy, fun-loving personality. We believe seeing this side of Clayton is important for those wrestling to receive his urgent message about not wasting your life.

You see, being serious about God and making your life count doesn’t mean being anxious and sad all the time. Clayton lived his life to the fullest, not holding anything back, having a blast while making people smile, laugh, and think about eternity. He was able to enjoy life while recognizing that this life isn’t all there is. That kind of balance is something we should all pray for and strive after.

This next video is a talk Clayton gave at his church, Atascadero Bible Church, after learning a couple weeks prior that leukemia had returned for the fourth and final time. It’s about 30 minutes long, but has been viewed over 25,000 times. This was our first introduction to Clayton several years ago.

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably know Clayton McDonald a lot better than you did when you started. If so, that’s wonderful. That is the purpose of this post. If Clayton’s life has impacted you, share his story with others. You are welcome to share this post or simply use any of the videos or information here on your own website. Clayton’s story belongs to God and our generation needs to hear it.

Questions for Discussion:

Whether you watched all the videos, or just browsed the post — join the discussion by answering one or more of the questions below:

  • Had you ever met Clayton before? If so, how did it impact you then?
  • Clayton was terrified, not of cancer or of death, but of how our generation is distracted by this world. Do you agree with his assessment of young people today?
  • If you, like Clayton, knew you didn’t have much longer on this earth — how would that change how you live? What would you do differently? What message would you have for the people you care about?
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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Alex and Brett, Thank you for the post. I pray that God will continue to use my son to further his kingdom. Romans 12:1-2.

    • Dear Mr. McDonald, we’re honored that you commented. We hoped that friends and family would see this post and be encouraged to know that God is still using Clayton to reach thousands of young people around the world. May God richly bless you!

    • Hey Uncle Stan, Alex, and Brett, I still pray to be half the man my cousin was someday and I hope that his message can not only impact the world directly through his recorded words but can inspire those of us in Christ to live as if God were calling us home. Because, while we may not have a timeline like Clayton, we are all being called home someday. It’s sobering but encouraging – since we serve the same God that Clayton did. I can’t wait to see him again someday.

    • Mr. McDonald, you have no idea what your son’s story is doing in my life. There are no words to describe the kind of faith he had. He is one of my heros. With your permission I would like to give a speech about him. I want others to hear his story, because sometimes we lose perspective on life. Thank you for raising such an amazing man.

    • Mr. McDonald i never knew your son but i feel like i know him because of this website. he is such a great encouraging he changed my life and gave what i needed to revive my faith in Christ. My prayer is that your sons story would help bring my brother back to Christ. I believe Clayton’s story through God has the power to do that. May God Bless You! May Hope Never Leave Your Hearts!! To God Be The Glory!!!!

  • If anyone reading this hasn’t watched Clayton’s Story and the other videos from his life, you need to. Clayton was one of the first people I saw who radically modeled the “Do Hard Things” lifestyle. I heard his story a few weeks before his death, and afterwards watched all three of the videos linked above. Hearing and watching his genuine faith, I only wish I had the chance to know him personally. He profoundly impacted how I view everyday life in light of eternity.

    I believe this generation is distracted by noise and routine, hoping to find a mostly comfortable and predictable life within our own experiences. We think about eternity so little that we live like earth will go on forever. As Switchfoot says in “Gone,” “Just try and prove me wrong, and pretend like you’re immortal.”

    I’ve often wondered what I would do if I were in Clayton’s shoes. I think most of my fear would be dwarfed by eternity, and I would do many things I’m only hesitant to do now. I would be more okay with doing “big” things and not worrying about pride because pride can’t exist when you know you’re temporally near to the throne of God. My message would be like Peter in 2 Peter 1 – to remind people of what God has done for them and urge them to not stop pursuing Him.

    Thanks for sharing this post, guys. I appreciate it!


    • No…seriously, if you have not watched those videos, you REALLY NEED TO. Those 45 minutes will not be wasted.

      Guys, if you want to change, but you just don’t seem to have the courage, you are probably right. Ask God for courage, because He is the only one courage comes from. Ok, but I’m scared. Courage is not the absence of fear. Guys, I did not expect to right this comment, so apparently God really wants me to right this. When God gives you courage, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how scared you are or anything else. God matters. This life is about God and we need to use it for Him and Him alone. With God all things are possible. God has given me courage to do things I never thought I could do. If you are not living for God, I ask you, what is you goal in life? What is the point of living? even if you die a hundred years from now, what was the point. Only God gives meaning and purpose, and only God is praiseworthy. Yes anyone can do hard things, but only if it done for God will it make any lasting difference. Maybe I’m a little off, but this I do know: If life is not lived for God, it is a wasted life.

  • Wow! That is so powerful! Oh that all of us teenagers would view the importance of eternity and not wasting our life like he did! And as he said actually live changed lives and not just say we need to!

  • “Everyone who came in contact with him always considered him a close friend even if they only knew him for a brief period.”

    WOW. Perfectly describes a guy a met last summer at Lake Ann Camp (Jake Walton for those of you who may know him). Passion for God makes a huge difference on how much you impact someone else. I want to live like Jake and Clayton!

  • This was amazing; it really encouraged me to pursue God, and to live life now because we really do have everything we need in Christ Jesus, and he has broken every boundary stopping us from living full and joyful lives. It was just what I needed to hear, and a big reminder to love others like crazy, dream and live big, laugh lots, and make God our first priority and and passion.

    Thank you for sharing the story of this amazing young man.

  • Clayton captured my heart in so many ways. I had the privilege of being Clayton’s 6th grade Sunday School teacher. It was also the year my husband was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.Clayton kept up faithful prayers for my husband and family every Sunday in class. He is a blessing that has a permanent place in my heart and memories. Always.Thank you for sharing Clayton’s story and what a blessing he was to all of us.

  • Alex and Brett, imagine our surprise when this surfaced…Thank You! Thank you for your love for the Lord and the boldness you possess in wanting to further His Kingdom.

      • A young friend of ours subscribes to your blog…when it came across his desk yesterday he couldn’t wait to share it with us.

  • What an encouragement! Clayton is truly an inspiration and encouragement~ he is an example of someone living each day for the Kingdom of Christ!
    Thank you for sharing his story!

  • Clayton and his story was a catalyst in my life, first hearing about him and meeting him when I was 18 and he was about 15 or so–and I don’t think he ever knew the impact he had on me (though Stan and Wendy sure do!). My faith would have been a lukewarm one if it wasn’t for Clayton’s example and the hope he inspired at our church. I’m guilty of the distractions he talks about, but I keep his obituary stuck to my bookshelf to keep reminding me every day what life is truly about. Alex and Brett, I’m really glad you found this material. We’ve sent the videos to our missionaries in Czech Republic to be translated and presented through the youth culture there, and we hope his story keeps spreading around the world. Thank you for helping with that goal! I was thrilled when you blogged this! Keep up the amazing work you’re doing to mobilize our youth to faithfulness and love-in-action.

  • Wow……just wow. Clayton’s story has been an incredible blessing to me. I often am distracted by little every day things that are petty and wasteful…….like we all have done at one point or another. What Clayton says about not wasting time is something I think we all need to hear. I couldn’t help but thank God for the blessings he has given me and the 20 years I’ve had on this earth with very little trouble. I have nothing to complain about but everything to be grateful for! Clayton has put something in my heart that I dare not forget…….a reminder of the gift of life and just how powerful it can be.
    I do agree with what he says about young people in our culture today. And I believe if I received news like Clayton did my life would change drastically. I am a believer but I have really failed badly in terms of living out my faith…….I honestly don’t know where I would begin though in terms of sharing with those I care about but I would do my best to show them nothing but Christ…….that is all I would ever want them to see,I would share how He has affected my life and shown me how to truly live for Him.

  • this is so amazing. I knew someone like him, he passed away just over a year ago from a fatal allergic reaction at almost 18, thankfully he was saved. this was an amazing post guys, thanks. it brought tears to my eyes. I wish I’d have known him.

  • Wow. This post is amazing. This story is amazing. Clayton’s amazing. I pray that I will love others with as much passion as him. I pray that I would live life with as much joy as him. I pray that I would resemble jesus as much as him. Don’t waste your life.

  • Hey. Just want to let you know that we watched a video with Clayton in it today. I was set on finding more videos.Thank you so much for these videos. Just wanted to let you know he touched our youth group . He seemed like an amazing person! And its amazing that he is still touching peoples lives! And thank you to his Parens for raising such an amazing God loving young man.

    • Thanks for commenting, Bethany. We’re so glad people are still watching these videos and being inspired by Clayton’s life. It is one of the most popular posts on our website.

  • hey, I just wanted to let you know that in my youth group we watchedd a video on youtube that had Clayton in it. It was amazing. He impacted our youth group very much. It is amazing to see how much God can use on person, for the greatest things. When I saw the video on wenesday, I was set on finding more, when I came across these two. Thank you so much for posting these and thank you so much Stan and Wendy for raising such a God loving yound man. Just wanted to let you know that even after a long time he is still touching people. I’m glad I got to know Clyaton. thank you!

  • This is very, very inspiring, but I ask, “Does God inflict suffering and death on believers or does He just allow it to happen… like in Job?”

    Do I believe God used Clayton’s cancer for good?


    Do I believe God caused him to have cancer?
    I am on the fence on this, but leaning toward a no.
    Biblical(in context) opinions on this, anyone?

    • Josiah, my personal belief is that God does not cause cancer, but it is at times a human condition that can come based on our original sin and can definitely be worsened through emotional distress, lack of financial resources/access to healthcare, or denial on our own part via satan’s influence. We do many damaging things to our bodies, polluting the environment, the food we eat, etc… I do agree with you that God used Clayton and his condition for good to reach out and share the Gospel… Clayton understood this and did not squander it… such faith… it is overwhelming when I let the full realization of his faith wash over me… truly amazing grace.

  • I used to go to the same youth group in junior high as Clayton McDonald. I was acquainted with him and he was always a nice guy, always had a big group of people around him, and definitely seemed like the leader of his group of friends.

    I will say that I am not a Christian, but Clayton’s life and how he chose to handle his situation was inspirational. And I believe he was right about our generation and the distractions with material goods and superficial metrics – and this was before social media and smartphones exponentially increased this phenomenon. As a guy who cared a lot, it must have hurt him to see so many people who would presumably live 4x his lifespan spending their time as if it were infinite.

    Clayton’s name popped into my head today, seemingly out of nowhere, and I searched his name on Google to see what I could find. I think today I needed to hear his story again and hear him speak in order to help me with my own struggles in life. As I stated earlier, I am not a Christian nor will I ever likely be one, but I feel Clayton was a great representation of the positive values in Christianity, and I will be going through my old King James Bible again out of respect for him.

  • It has been more than 3 years since I heard about this story. I was still a student back then and I was heavily impressed by God that this life would only find meaning in His purpose and missiin. Right now as a graduate(last June 24, 2017), I want to share this to people in my small group where I lead.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →