This is Jay.
Two Fridays ago Jay was working on the roof of a warehouse at his dad’s peanut factory. He fell through a skylight and suffered irreversible brain trauma. He died the next day.
But that’s really not what I want to remember about Jay.
Here is what I want to remember.
Sophomore year in college. I was hanging out at the BSU as usual when Jay, who I knew but not really, gave an open invitation to anyone who was interested. “Hey, I’m running tonight. Anyone want to go with me?” In an atypical move that belied my constant fear of failure at trying ANYTHING new, I said, “I’ll go!” Jay looked like he didn’t really believe me. “Really??” “Well, I’ll go two miles with you. You can finish after that.”
And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
What I don’t want to forget about Jay is how we ran five miles together than night and it felt like only two. Or how he convinced me with his typical “Jay-logic” that since I ran five miles, I could definitely run 26. I don’t want to forget those days and nights of marathon training, and how we always got Sonic milkshakes after our long weekend runs. I especially don’t want to forget the time I had to pee during a long run so we stopped at a stranger’s house between Americus and Plains and asked if I could use the restroom. I want to remember how Jay made me laugh constantly and simultaneously made me think about deep issues. How he stuck with me for the whole 26 miles that January even though I knew he could have finished that marathon in half the time. How neither of us could move after we ran but he had to drive the entire way back from Disney World in sheer exhaustion because I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. You know, he straight up gave me that very same car less than 2 years later when he found out I was moving to New Orleans by myself in the old Eagle Summit with the duct-taped windows. And he took his life in his hands when he taught me to work a manual transmission. That’s what I don’t want to forget about Jay.
I don’t want to forget how he introduced me to baby back ribs, to the music of Sean McConnell and the game of spades, to tree-riding and camping with friends, to Elf and “Lime and the Coconut.” How he took me to see “Lord of the Dance” just because he knew it would make me smile. How he taught me to take life a little slower and enjoy the company. How he taught me to give joyfully and generously with no regrets.
And in the midst of grief over losing him way too soon, there is something else I don’t want to forget, something I don’t want his sweet girlfriend and precious family and friends to forget: hope.
Hope makes a difference. It makes a difference in life and in death. Hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation of good, rooted and grounded in the unfailing promises of God.
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13
Our grief is different because of hope. Oh, we grieve. We grieve hard. How could we not? But here is the picture that the Lord has been painting in my mind over these last weeks.
Imagine this: Two ships are out on the sea when a sudden storm blows in. The wind and the waves quickly become furious and the two ships are rocked and thrown and blown about. One ship has an anchor that had already been let down; one does not. On board, the emotions are the same – fear of the wind and waves, a feeling of being out of control, even panic. But the difference is, the people on the anchored ship are not really in danger of being thrown too far off course, and if they can remember the truth that they have that anchor, then they will realize that they need not give in to despair. This will not change the effects of the storm around them, and many of their emotions will be the same as the ship that is truly out of control. But if they can just close their eyes and call to mind the truth, they will have hope.
Hebrews 6:19 describes hope as an anchor for our soul. Storms are an inevitability of living in a fallen world. Sometimes they roll in slowly, sometimes they pop up out of nowhere. Sometimes a sweet friend loses his life just shy of his 32nd birthday. But in times like these, we have an anchor for our soul, and that is what makes our grief different. We still have the same emotions in common with all of humanity. We grieve with sadness, with questions, with shock, with anger even. We wonder how we will ever go on now that our lives have been altered so dramatically. But in the midst of everything, if we can just call to mind the hope that we have been given through Jesus Christ…
The hope that Jesus has conquered the grave for those of us who trust in Him…
The hope that the glories of heaven cannot even be compared to what we have experienced here on earth…
The hope that God is sovereign and good and wise…
The hope that He will work all things together for our good…
The hope that this life is not all that there is...
Then our grief will be different. We will not be floating aimlessly on the vast sea, tossed about by the waves and winds and driven far off course. We have an anchor. We have hope. We have Jesus.
That’s what I don’t want to forget.