The Finer Things

“The finer things keep shining through.” These are lyrics from the song, “The Finer Things” by Steve Winwood. I heard the song tonight as I was driving home. The finer things. Tammy Allbritton Eunice and I were blessed to attend the wedding of one of James David Eunice’s very best friends two weeks ago in Bishopville, SC. Tregea Schaare was one of James’ very first friends in Sumter, SC. It was the type of friendship that they could tell each other anything, and, I think, provide mutual support to each other. They remained close friends even after we moved from Sumter to Valdosta, and Tregea has remained a constant in our lives since we lost James. She is definitely one of the finer things in our life.

Tammy and I drove up on the Friday night before the wedding, and spent the day in and around Sumter, and, of course, having lunch at Baker’s Sweets, Tammy’s favorite bakery ever. The finer things. We started driving to the wedding around 3:30 for the 4:30 event. At some point on the way, we switched from listening to the radio to music from my IPhone. I have over 300 songs loaded, and had placed them on shuffle so the songs played randomly. As we approached Bishopville, the song “Remember Me” by Mark Schultz began to play. We listened to the words,

Remember Me

When the color of the sunset fills the sky

Remember Me

When you pray and tears of joy fall from your eyes.

We felt those tears as the song changed and Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” started to play. Again, we listened to the words,

And now, I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance; I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance.

We’ve listened to this song often, and always think of James. But this day, the song was even more relevant because of a story. Tammy home schooled James when we lived in Sumter, and they were part of a wonderful home school group. James met Tregea through that group, and they became fast friends. Each year, the high school age students had their own prom, and grades nine through 12 participated. Shortly before we arrived in James’ eighth grade year, Tregea had lost her father. As you can imagine, it was a devastating loss. I like to think that James helped her through that time. I know he did his freshman year when he attended the prom. This prom included ninth and tenth graders as I mentioned, but it also included parents. One of the special moments of the prom included a Father-Daughter dance. When they announced the dance that night, Tregea began to walk off the floor in tears. James caught her before she left though, and told her they were going to dance. As they danced, numerous parents tried to get them off the floor, James politely told them he would explain after the dance. As the music ended, James walked Tregea out of the room. He came back in and walked over to the adults and told them the story. The finer things keep shining through.

As this song ended, Toby Keith’s “Crying for Me” began to play. We heard the refrain,

I'm gonna miss that smile I'm gonna miss you my friend Even though it hurts the way it ended up I'd do it all again So play it sweet in heaven 'Cause That's right where you want to be I'm not cryin' cause I feel so sorry for you I'm cryin' for me

Three consecutive songs, all tied to James, as we approached the wedding for one of his very best friends. As we pulled up to a parking spot on Main Street, a car pulled up beside us to prepare to parallel park. I stepped out of the car to walk around to Tammy’s side of the car, and noticed the driver of the car who had parallel parked behind us. It was Victoria Anne Sullivan, another of James’ very best friends from Sumter. We visited with Tori later, as the dancing started, and she shared the conversation she and James had many years ago. She and James had said they would both be at Tregea’s wedding, and would be dancing together. We visited a while longer, said our goodbyes to many of James’ friends and their parents, congratulated Tregea, and walked to the staircase to leave. As we did so, a young man walked in front of us, stuck out his hand to introduce himself, and said, “Hi. My name is James.” A perfect ending to a beautiful evening. As I’ve said before, I don’t pretend to know how God works, but I stand amazed at how he orchestrates events. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen." The finer things keep shining through. Indeed.

Chasing James

I’m fond of saying, “You never stop being a parent.” This week personifies that statement. Wednesday was Lindsey’s birthday. Friday is James’ birthday. Sunday is Father’s Day. You never forget that moment or the feeling of pride with the birth of each child. John Eunice was our first. My namesake. The first grandchild. An amazing moment. Lindsey Quinn was our second. The daughter Tammy Allbritton Eunice always wanted. I’ll never forget the look on Tammy’s face when I told her, “It’s a girl.” James David Eunice was our third. Our surprise child. We delayed leaving Athens to move to Boston to wait for him to be born. That’s the only time we ever waited on him. We chased him from that point forward.

James never slowed down. He escaped one Saturday when we lived in Boston. He was two. Tammy went for a walk with a friend that morning. James was still in a baby bed. I heard the door close a little while later. I got up a few minutes later, checked on James, and couldn’t find him anywhere. He had wandered out the front door and found a cat to play with. Two young men on their way to play golf saw him sitting on the sidewalk with the cat, and took him to the nearest house, one block over from ours. It was a frantic 30 minute search before I found him at the house, still playing with the cat. I coached John in baseball when we lived in Boston, and Tammy watched James. She chased him up and down the fenceline, and would usually come home dirtier than any of the players. We moved to Ohio, and Lindsey would chase him up and down the backyard. He ran in the house, and lost a tooth early because of it. It would be four years until his permanent tooth came in. James sat behind the backstop at John’s baseball games and would yell to his brother, “Give him the heater!”. I chased him at these ballgames. But I let him wander off to a playground at one of Lindsey’s games to play with a friend. He decided he didn’t want to play on the teeter-totter and jumped off and stood up. I heard the yell, and saw the blood. Thank God for friends who watched Lindsey while we rushed James to the emergency room. The little scar under his eye was our reminder of that one.

We moved to Guam. Everybody knew James. He was the one wearing a swimsuit with cowboy boots. We moved to Georgia from there. James’ second grade teacher wanted to put James on Ritalin. Tammy picked up the prescription. I flushed it down the toilet that night. It works and is needed for some, but we knew it was not for us. I would chase him, not medicate him. He played football, basketball, baseball, climbed trees and fished. And occasionally slept. He broke his collarbone. Our friends at Northside Baptist remember James as the one in shorts and cowboy boots running on the pews after the service. Tammy swore she would never homeschool him, because he never slowed down. That changed in fourth grade. James rode his bike all over the neighborhood. There was a hill that ran into our neighbors’, Ronnie and Gracie Wisenbaker, yard. He would come screaming down the hill through the stop sign without looking either way. Ronnie stopped him from doing that. A few years later, Gracie saw another young man doing the same thing. She asked Ronnie, “Does that remind you of James?” Ronnie said, “No. He’s going too slow.” We chased James.

After sixth grade, we moved to St. Louis and then to Sumter, South Carolina. He played basketball, baseball, soccer, and floor hockey. Tammy shuttled him to City Museum and I took him to Cardinals’ game and went to watch the Blues play hockey. He and I went to the gym together in Sumter. Tammy would drop us off, and we would plan to run back. I stayed with him for the first quarter mile or so, and he’d leave me in the dust. I chased James.

Back to Valdosta, and we chased James. To school, to church, to football, to baseball. He hunted, he fished. We tried to keep up with him. Tammy called herself a helicopter parent. We attended honors night James’ junior year because he told us at the last minute he was receiving an award. He showed up in his baseball uniform. We drove to Atlanta twice to watch him play football. We chased James. And then January 15th, 2011. Clint Eastwood produced the movie, Trouble with the Curve. This was our curve. Out of nowhere. I always had trouble in high school trying to hit a curve ball. I remember the one hit I had off a curve my senior year. It took all I had not to bail out of the box. Life is a lot like that now. Some days it takes all I have not to bail out of the box. But then there are days like today when I hear the song “Legacy,” and realize I’m still chasing James. Still chasing the example he set. James would be 24 today. We draw encouragement from how he lived, from stories shared, from old friends and new, from God who never leaves our side. We remember James’ favorite verse, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And so we continue on this journey, on this walk, still chasing James. Happy Birthday. I love you.

Love Has Come

Love Has Come

Mark Schultz

VERSE 1:

I know this life is filled with sorrow

And there are days when the pain just lasts and lasts But I know there will come a day When our tears are washed away With a break in the clouds His glory coming down And in that moment

 

CHORUS:

Every knee shall bow

Every tongue confess

That God is love

And love has come for us all

Every heart set free

Every one will see

That God is love

And love has come for us all

 

VERSE 2:

For anybody who has ever lost a loved one And you feel like you had to let go too soon I know it hurts to say goodbye But don't you know it's just a matter of time 'Til the tears are gonna end You'll see them once again And in that moment

Chorus

Every knee shall bow

Every tongue confess

That God is love

And love has come for us all

Every heart set free

Every one will see

That God is love

And love has come for us all

 

BRIDGE 1:

Oh, and on that day

We will stand amazed

At our Savior, God and King

Just to see the face

Of amazing grace

As our hearts rise upand sing

 

BRIDGE 2:

Glory, glory, hallelujah

Thank You for the cross

Singing glory, glory, hallelujah

Christ has paid the cost

Chorus

very knee shall bow

Every tongue confess

That God is love

And love has come for us all

Every heart set free

Every one will see

That God is love

And love has come for us all

When we lived in Watkinsville, GA we attended a wonderful church, Briarwood Bapt. Both Johnny and Lindsey made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ during our years there and were baptized. We loved our church. James was born in Athens at St. Mary's hospital in June of 1993 and they delayed baby dedication so we could be a part before we moved to Yankee country....John took me kicking and screaming! I was so torn up about leaving such a beautiful congregation of people who had taken such good care of us for 3 1/2 years. I remember walking in that last Sunday with James and John to the second verse of "Because He Lives," which says:

How Sweet To Hold A Newborn Baby,

And Feel The Pride And Joy He Gives;

But Greater Still The Calm Assurance:

This Child Can Face Uncertain Day Because He Lives.

My heart was so heavy and I was so sad about leaving that I really only heard the first 2 lines of that verse which said, "How sweet to hold a newborn baby and feel the pride and joy he gives" but the last 2 lines are what mean so much now: "But greater still, the calm assurance: This child can face uncertain days because He lives." Because of what Jesus did at the cross, I have assurance of where James is because his faith was rooted in Jesus!

On Febuary 4, 2011 Pastor Dan sent us a letter to express his sadness in the loss of James. That is what I'll write about tonight:

"Dear John, Tammy, Johnny, n Lindsey,

We have had you on our minds and in our prayers for weeks and since we could not be with you today and tomorrow I decided to write you this note for both of us.

One of the pastor's great joys is the surprise of new friends bounding and bonding into your life. Such was the case of the Eunices in ours at Briarwood. Just appearing one Sunday and choosing us during John's assignment at UGA. It became so much more meaningful when James made his appearance during your stay here-a lifetime experience in so short a time span. During the past couple of decades, we only had occasional news of your whereabout an activities until facebook and then we had almost daily news. What a thrill until that Saturday when Eddy Thaxton let us know of the tragedy. The world stood still. The unbelievable gradually became reality.

Folk, there is no way we can say we know how you fell. We have never been there and to say we know how you feel would be the heights of foolishness. But you know, it really isn't James' death because we aire all terminal- It is the inverting of life's order. Children are supposed to bury parents not parents children. And when that order is inverted, it just isn't right in our minds and we have a hard time accepting death that way.

Speaking of death, I've heard and said so many times that it was the will of the Lord. I don't believe that anymore. God never meant for man to die. He planted a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden and did not forbid Adam and Eve to eat of it. Death in the New Testament is spoken of as the enemy of God-in fact, the last enemy Jesus destoryed by his own resurrection. Isn't that just like our God. He uses the hardest thing for us in this life, the separation that death brings as the avenue for His ultimate will for us: '...that where I am there you may be also...'. We haven't lost James. We know where he is. And we are going there.

My favorite verse to use at a funeral is Genesis 25:8. It is written about Abraham: 'He (Abraham), gave up the ghost... and was gathered to his people.' I don't know the Eunice genealogy but James is with all who have gone before him to heaven. That is why the Psalmist could say 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints' (116:15); Paul could write 'For me to live is Christ and to die is gain' (Phil 1:21). When you look at death from that side rather than this side, death is not an end but a beginning' not a separation but a reunion; not a loss but a gain.

Even knowing that doesn't make the separation any easier. The only thing I can think of that could hurt more than the separation from one we love would be if it didn't hurt. I've had a few fuerals when it seems as if it didn't matter. That was awful. Tears are just interest on a life well lived and loved. And so lived James and so loved all of you. So it will not be easy but also it will not be permanent-just a little longer here. Feel our prayers for you during this time. Most of all sense His 'Lo, I am with you always.'

Praying God's best upon you and yours always, thanking God for our short time together, and hoping to see you soon, we are yours because of Him. Pastor Dan and Mama Fay."

I have taken my time reading letters and cards and this is why....If I rushed through I would miss treasures like this! Pastor Dan preached a sermon in a letter to us! One of the many things that stuck out to me was this nugget of wisdom: "Tears are just interest on a life well lived and loved. And so lived James and so loved all of you."

Pastor Dan and Mama Fay, this letter means the world to our family and y'all mean the world to us! Thank you for your love and comfort....

Let Them Be Little

I can remember when you fit in the palm of my hand

Felt so good in it, no bigger than a minute

How it amazes me, you're changing with every blink

Faster than a flower blooms they grow up all too soon

 

So let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while

Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day

Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle

Oh just let them be little

 

I've never felt so much in one little tender touch

I live for those kisses, prayers and your wishes

Now that you're teaching me things only a child can see

Every night while we're on our knees all I ask is please

 

Let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while

Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day

Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle

Oh just let them be little

 

So innocent, a precious soul, you turn around

It's time to let them go

 

So let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while

Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day

Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle

Oh just let them be little

 

Got a note from a dear friend of ours from our assignment in Boston, MA. She and I were a little out of our

element because we were both from the South. We had an instant connection and became fast friends. She had two boys, Nick and Zach who played with Johnny and Lindsey all the time.

Jan and I didn't spend alot of time together but we did do some fun little get-aways for the day. She would come pick me up and we would run up the road and shop while the kids were in school. I treasured my time with Jan. She and I shared alot of really great times. She sent me a letter back in Febuary and I ran across it again today. It brought back so many precious memories of James as a baby and toddler. We were able to connect a few times over the last few years and picked up right where we left off. (It's amazing how you can do that with your true friends!) She was able to see James as a 13 year old and when we made the trip to Highlands, she and Gus made James feel so special. I wanted to share part of the note Jan sent to me because her memories date back to James from about 3 months to almost 3 years old. Her recall of events warmed my heart.

Jan writes:

"Dear John and Tammy,

I have searched the stores for the perfect card to send to you. I give up. There is absolutely no way Hallmark, or anybody else for that matter, can design a card that conveys the love I feel for your family and lets you know that each day you are all part of my thoughts and prayers.

Our Christian faith tells us to rejoice that James is home with our Lord in heaven. In spite of the fact that I know James is with God, I am still terribly saddened by his death. I share your grief and want you to know that whle y'all "birthed him" I considered him family. What a fine young man he was in his life here on earth and I was blessed to have had the opportunity to watch him grow up.

I smile to think of James as a grinning little blonde-headed fireball jumping on the couch in your house at Hanscom AFB. Tammy, I can hear your frustrated, "James David, I'm goona tear you outta the frame if you don't get down from there right this minute." Then there is that voice from our yard in Highlands, "Mr Gus? Mr Gus?" His energy was such a force that I find myself wondering how many of heaven's Angels he wears out by the end of each day.

I am sure that for all the young people who have approached you and told you stories about how James touched their lives, there are many more whose name you will never know. Those lost kids watched James, filed away in their memories his goodness and his ability to reach out to those in need. They will remember him, remember how he lived his life and some of them might just turn their lives around in the years to come."

This was a treasured letter as all of the letters and cards have been to us. The thing that makes this letter special is that Jan knew James as a baby and toddler. She and Gus saw him a few times after we moved but her memories of James were of a toddler who rarely slowed down. This letter allowed me to go back and remember the days of leaving a ballgame that Johnny or Lindsey played in and being dirtier than they were because of chasing James from one end to the other. It's funny when you are in the midst of those days, you think it will never end but trust me, it comes way too soon. So like the writers of the song, my words to the exhaused moms and dads out there are:

 

Let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while

Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day

Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle

Oh just let them be little.

Thanks Jan for the reminder of just how precious our babies are to us!

Paying it Forward - Sep 18, 2011

We received a phone call this morning before church. When I picked up the phone, Sheriff Chris Prine was on the other end. Normally those kind of calls are never good, but Sheriff Prine was just checking on us as he was driving to Sunday School. Sheriff Prine is one of our favorite people. This goes back to January 15th when he walked up to us that first evening and told us, "we're not leaving until we find James." He passed along to us that the dive team had used the dry suits and equipment for the first time in a recovery effort in Tifton last Sunday. They spent all of last Sunday searching for, and eventually finding, a person that had gone missing in a body of water near Tifton. After they recovered the person, the Tift County sheriff came up to him and asked him to let him know what they needed to do to pay for the assistance from Lowndes County. Sheriff Prine replied, "You don't owe anything. James Eunice, number 23, paid it all." It was a bittersweet comment to hear, but, at the same time, made us proud for James' name to be associated with the effort.

Many of us have heard the term "paying it forward." A friend of ours runs one of the MacAdoos' drive-thru restaurants here in town, and he tells the story of one of his daily customers who will always pay for the person behind him, as well as his own meal. He's paying it forward. I have a good friend who's a senior executive in the Department of Defense. She tells me she takes the time to mentor others to repay the people who assisted her in getting to her position. She says she's paying it forward. James did that as well. Tammy relayed the story that Coach Gillespie told her, that anytime one of James' teammates needed help with a class, James was always one of the first to volunteer to help whoever it might be. He was paying it forward because others had helped him along with his studies. But I think if James had heard this comment, he would have referred all of us to the story of the one who paid it forward for all of us. James would be quick to say, "Let me tell you what Jesus has done in my life. He's the one who really paid it all." He would refer people to Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Others have used the term unashamed when it came to describing how James lived his life. He was unashamed in how he lived, and in what he believed. James loved God and he loved people. James would be proud that his legacy is still being associated with that, and that his life still has an active purpose. We can pay it forward in many ways, but the bottom line is we all hope to leave this world a little better than we found it by the life we live. James tried to live his life to honor Christ, because he knew Christ paid it all for him . It's something we should all remember.

Remembering James - Feb 2, 2011

Kaeleigh Farrish wrote the following note on the second of February, three days before James' service.  She and her family are very dear friends of ours.  Kaeleigh is the daughter of Dan and Pam Farrish.  Dan is one of my very best friends, and they watched James grow through the years whenever we were fortunate enough to get together.  Thanks for sharing this Kaeleigh.

Remembering James: "Take time to love someone"

by Kaeleigh Farrish on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 3:01am

On January 15, 2011 James David Eunice, a kind, intelligent, compassionate 17-year-old boy who meant a great deal to my family, spent a familiar Saturday afternoon duck hunting with a friend on Ocean Pond in Georgia. Suddenly, Drew saw James’ boat traveling in circles--without James in it. After an agonizing 16-day, 24-hour-a-day search, James was finally found and brought home early Monday morning. We are blessed for the closure his body provides, but unspeakably heartbroken that it comes back without him smiling from inside it.

 When he was very little James would call my dad, “Mr. Sir” because he couldn’t always remember his name--he only knew that Mr. Sir was his dad’s best friend from the Air Force and when they got together they would laugh for hours. James would stand near Mr. Eunice to listen to their phone conversations and note the way Daddy made him laugh. As he grew up, James and Daddy shared a very special bond as the lively, happy and joyful people they are.

 In school, and in life, James was known as the kid who would look out for the students others might forget—he would seek out and speak with those who had no one to talk to:

 “Making my life seem like it has actual meaning," said Michael, who thanks James for leading him to God. "That I have a reason to be here. Without James, without CrossPointe, I wouldn't know where I'd be right now."

 Heike was touched by James' support Friday (the day before his death), "He grabbed my shoulder and said 'You're not leaving school, you're not giving up anything. You're staying right here. Even if I have to help you myself with your classwork for hours a day. I will do it.'"

 He was a young man with strong Christian convictions and lived them. When the student manager on his baseball team was killed in a car accident last spring, it really bothered James that he did not know much about Joseph and didn’t make the time to interact enough with him before his tragic death.

 He wrote this on his Facebook after feeling that loss:

 “Take time to love someone. Today, tomorrow, for the rest of your life. Because when that unexpected day comes that they pass on, you'll be left wondering what you could've done better. How you could have made them feel more welcome, and show that you do care for them. Don't wait until it's too late like I did.

 Show the love that Jesus has for you to everyone you see. Let your heart break for what breaks His. Christ is enough. Let Him show you life. You never know who He may touch through you. It is so sad that it takes a tragedy like this to comprehend how our days are numbered. Only He knows. Keep your faith in Him. He will bless you beyond belief. Our job is right now. This very second. So often, God gives me a little nudge towards someone... and I put it off until the next day... and then the next and then the next. Stop stalling. God put us on this earth for HIS glory. Not ours... and so many times, the things I do always point back to me and my stupid self righteousness. So do something with me. Everyone. If this just touches one person, I will have done my job. Don't stall. Judgment is a heart beat away.”

 James was living those words in the months before he died. His family was in awe of all the people coming to them with stories of James’ kindness--but they should not have been surprised. Mr. Eunice and Ms. Tammy raised their children with such wholesome, honest love and support any child would be lucky to feel even in passing. Johnny and Lindsey can attest to that, and have shown inspiring strength when faced with the loss of their baby brother.

 Those of us fortunate enough to know and love the Eunice family can share a mere 5 minutes with them and leave feeling positive, uplifted and loved. Without exception. The family emanates love and compassion, and James was certainly no exception. The time we all shared together never failed to fill our hearts with warmth, laughter and peace.

 James‘ legacy will live on. And if even a few people stop and simply do what he asked--“take time to love someone today”--then we all partake in honoring the life of this remarkable young man. Don’t stall, don’t wait until it’s too late. Love today.

 You all have touched my life and I am thankful for you. I love you.

 And James, you have touched my life and I am thankful for you too. I'm sorry I didn't get to tell you more when you were around. I don't understand why this happened, and I don't think I ever will. I miss you. I love you. Goodbye.

 P.S. Whenever I order sliders now I'll think of you. 

Feb 1st

Sitting at the computer tonight across the hall from James' room. Sure is quiet with no guitar or Ipod music I don't understand. We miss James, but we know how he lived, and how he loved God, loved life, and loved others. To quote Ernest Hemingway, "Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another."

Based on the lives he touched, I'd have to say that James distinguished himself in a very positive way. I will try to be more like him.

Feb 15th

James went missing one month ago today. I miss him so much, and think about him all of the time. Tonight was a celebration though. We attended the Wildcat Football Banquet along with his teammates, other parents, coaches and boosters. It was a great event, and I know James would have loved it. James won the Howard Bridges Scholastic Award for the highest GPA on the team. He had a 3.95 GPA. It was so good to see so many of his good friends, including Jay, Yontell, and Zach, win awards as well. James loved being a Wildcat and loved his teammates.

 

When James was thinking about playing football and baseball, I would tell him that you learn so much from sports, because it's so much like life. You win, you lose, you learn to work with others, you suffer together, you celebrate together, and you accomplish things as a team you never thought possible. A big part of learning those life lessons is having the right men, the right coaches, to help you along that path. James was blessed to have good men, good coaches, to help him along that path. David Pipken mentioned tonight that God puts good people in our lives to help us along the way. James was blessed to have outstanding coaches, and men who made a difference in his life through sports. Coaches Rance Gillespie, Ashley Henderson, Alan Rodemaker, Taz Dixon and others all impacted James this year through football. Bart Shuman, Mark Kirksey, Adam Haire and others impacted James through baseball. James also thought a great deal of Coach Rick Tomberlin. I’ve preached all of my adult life that sports help develop character and prepare young men for life. These coaches helped do that, and helped mold James into the young man he was. They encouraged him. Much like Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."

Good coaches set an example and mold young men to become leaders and contributors to their community.

I had coaches that I still look back on as mentors, men that I respected, and that I would ask for advice now. I could actually approach them for help, and ask questions without fear of reprisal or being made fun of. James was blessed to have the same type of men as coaches. Men who inspired him to be better. I have a friend who coaches a group of fifth graders in Cincinnati. These are youngsters who were cut by their school teams, definitely a group of Bad News Bears. My friend took them and worked with them, and has coached them to the final four of the district tournament. He didn’t do this by beating them down, but by coaching them to be better, by encouraging them. That’s not to say athletes don’t get yelled at. They do, and coaches need to know that fine line. James' coaches knew that line, and balanced criticism with instruction and encouragement. During my freshman year at the Air Force Academy, we were required to learn quotations by famous military leaders. One that was hammered home was part of General John M. Schofield’s graduation address at West Point in 1879. He said, “The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than make an army. It is possible to impart instructions and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”

I thank God that James was blessed to have men impact his life through the sports he so dearly loved. They inspired him to do his very best. James is now part of the greatest team of all, and being instructed by the greatest coach of all.

Dec 23

Joy is a popular word this time of year. It's defined as a state of happiness. It also happens to be the name of one of James' favorite teachers, and I know James was always a source of joy for her. The word joy has always meant a great deal in our household with all three children through the years, especially during the Christmas season as we pause to reflect on the many blessings in our life. This year is quite different. A big reason for our joy is missing this year, and we've been through some really dark and challenging days. But yesterday was a day of great joy. The Red Cross held the James Eunice Legacy Blood Drive, and it was a great event. James gave blood for the first time last year. Our church held a blood drive on December 23rd, and we went as a family to donate. He was excited afterwards, and told Sara Wilder the next day about it and said, "someone is going to get some awesome blood." The Red Cross asked CrossPointe to sponsor another drive this year on the 22nd, and asked us if they could use James' name with the drive. We were honored, and said absolutely. Will Fricks from Red Cross did an amazing job getting everything organized, and arranged support teams from Valdosta, Albany, Savannah and Atlanta to assist with the donations. The church did a great job supporting the drive. Many of the local radio stations allowed us to promote the drive, both school systems promoted it, the Valdosta Daily Times wrote an article about it, WALB and WCTV covered it, and many local businesses helped to promote it. One of the great sources of joy yesterday was watchig so many of James' friends get involved. Many donated blood for the first time, others volunteered with signing in donors, and some just stopped by to say hello and encourage others. Many others within the community stepped up to volunteer and donate. I met a lady who had lost a son years ago in a car accident. She found out about it by reading the article in the newspaper. She said when she read it, she had to come donate. Many donated for the first time because of James. Many regular donors scheduled their giving to coincide with this drive. Many others tried to donate but couldn't. Lindsey flew in from DC to surprise Tammy, which helped make the day even better. All told 277 signed up to donate, and 236 pints of blood were collected. We were thrilled.

As I was stopped at the traffic light two blocks from the church on my way to the drive that morning, I looked at the back of the car in front of me. They had a sticker that read, "Just one drop." I thought how ironic. That's what we were trying to do all day, collect that drop of life giving blood. It's a season of miracles, and the blood collected will be miraculous for many lives over the next several weeks. We were honored to be a part of this effort, and, once again, overwhelmed at the support from this community.

As we wrapped up the blood drive, we headed home for an open house for many of James' friends. It was a wonderful evening, and joyful perfectly describes it. Over 50 of his friends stopped in to visit and say hello. The last ones left about 2:30 this morning. It was great. James has wonderful friends, and we feel so fortunate they continue to visit. It was definitely a day of joy, and we were so blessed by everyone involved. One of our very dear friends, Stephen See, and his wife Ashley and son Ethan stopped by the church yesterday and visited with us for several hours. They were in town from Tucson for the day and spent it with us. As they were leaving, I told Stephen that I was sorry we weren't able to spend more time with them, and he said, "it was a great day. We were able to see everybody today, and being here for the blood drive gave us a sense of James being here, too." That was a good way to describe the whole day. A day of joy, with feelings of James all around.

Move by Mercy Me

My tribute to James David Eunice on Christmas Eve! As difficult as this year has been I know because of Jesus Christ I have hope and confidence for eternity. I love the dancing and spunk of this video! It's probably the song James is singing right now around the Throne of God! But if I'm going to be honest, he does a much better job with the dance moves than the guys in the video! Can't wait to see my boy again!

Video is posted on the video page of the website.

Jan 21

We've been blessed that Sam's Club has allowed us to have a fundraiser at their store each weekend this month. As people approach us, we ask for their support, tell them what the funds will go to, and, if we're fortunate, share some of James' story. We've had the opportunity to share James' story on several different occasions over these weekends, but yesterday I had the most interesting encounter I've had when sharing James' story. An older gentleman came out, and said, "tell me about this scholarship." I explained a little about James, the fact we had given six scholarships last year, and hoped to do at least that many this year. He asked if they were tied to a specific school, and I let him know each applicant had to be accepted to a college in order to compete for the scholarship but it was not tied to a specific school. I let him know we looked at grades, financial need, and character, and that character was probably the most important of those three. So he asked, "so you don't really look at financial need?" I said that was a big factor, but character counted most because of James' character. He then asked, "do you look at religous affiliation, because this appears to be church related?" That one took me back a minute because nobody had ever asked that question before. I'm sure he was referring to the cross and 23. I told him there was no religous affiliation required for the scholarship, but we couldn't share James' story without talking about his faith because that was so much of who he was. I went on to say the scholarship was open to anybody because James loved everybody. He had friends with many different beliefs, and some who were non-believers, but he made no distinction, he simply loved them all. James proclaimed no particular religion, but rather he professed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That's how he tried to live daily, and show his friends and anyone he came into contact with what Jesus had done in his life, and try to lead them to that same relationship.

My conversation lasted 10 minutes or so, and the man I was speaking with said, "ok, you've convinced me to buy a hamburger." I hope that a few other things I said landed, and caused him to think beyond the hamburger. It was a very nice conversation, but unlike any one I've had before. I thought about some similarities later. James' circle of friends was open, this scholarship is open, and God's kingdom is open. Like the scholarship, you have to ask, but the beautiful thing about God's application process is you don't get turned away. We will be limited as to how many awards we can present for scholarships, but God has no limits on the number of people who can be saved. That's what James tried to pass along. God loves all, and welcomes all. James tried to live that way daily. We all should.

15 Jan

George Strait sings "Today My World Slipped Away." In it, he sings "I went down to the church and told God how much it hurt." January 15, 2011, a big part of my world slipped away, I've told God how much it hurts many times. I began to recount some of the specific incidents of that day over the last few weeks. We told James we'd see him at lunch as he was getting money for shotgun shells and leaving that morning. Everyone knows the rest of the story, as we began a 17 day search for James. So many things stand out from those days. Lt Stryde Jones from Lowndes County was assigned as the lead detective for the case, and he screened calls that came in beginning that first day. Early that eveing, CNN called. Someone had called and told them James was missing. A representative from the Nancy Grace Show called. They wanted to do a piece on James as part of their 50 missing people in 50 days. I thanked them for their call and interest but replied, "we'd be happy to share the story, but I don't think this is the kind of story you're looking for. We're pretty sure we know where James is."

Looking back on that statement a year later, we knew that wherever he was God had him. When they found him on the 31st, we were certain we knew where he was, and that God indeed had him.

We were blessed to be able to gather with friends today and remember James. As we gathered and people shared, it was evident we all knew where James was, safe at home with God, and forever in our hearts and minds.

Jan 14, 2012

I told Tammy today that today was the last time I would use the phrase "I wish it was this time last year" for a long time. We had a family dinner with James last January 14th. God closed out any opportunity of doing anything with friends that night. Everyone had something else to do, so he was stuck here at home with us. He was planning to go to Drew's later and spend the night, but we convinced him to stay the night here. We grilled steaks, and had a great visit over dinner. We watched a show on the Military Channel that covered the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, and it listed many of the locations in the 'Stans I had the occasion to visit during my time spent over there, and we talked about these. Then James convinced us to watch Anchorman with him. He listed it as his favorite movie on his Facebook profile. It was just plain silly in spots, and didn't make a lot of sense, much like a 17 year old at times. It was a great night. We called it a night after the movie, but, from the look of James' facebook page, he stayed up a good bit later, and made plans for the following evening.

How things have changed since that night. There's an obvious void in our family's lives and the lives of James' friends. There's a hurt that I'm not sure will ever go away. Saying that, there's also a feeling of James' presence in so many things. James invested in others, and that investment continues to grow. Sam's Club has been gracious enough to allow us to sell hamburgers and hot dogs through the month of January to raise money for scholarships. They were a big part of last year's Diving for James fundraising effort, and many have returned this year to help us with this. Tammy and I have been blessed these past two weeks to have countless people come up and tell us how James impacted their lives and we've had the opportunity to share James' story with many who haven't heard it. We shared with a couple from Canada. We spoke with a young man who shared with us that he was an air traffic controller during the search, and they kept a 10 mile radius closed to all but search efforts. I had the occasion to bump into three pararescue jumpers or PJs from Moody this week and thank them for their help. I spoke with their commander, and he said that of all of the rescue efforts they've been involved in, none has been as personal as the search for James. The father of one of the state patrol divers from Ashburn stopped by today and he wanted to thank the community for all they did to support his son. He said his son couldn't get over how the community responded. Maybe the most touching story this weekend came from the mother of one of James' friends. She said they prepared shoeboxes as part of the shoebox ministry started by Franklin Graham. She said her daughter wanted to wrap some of the shoeboxes in honor of James because of the impact he had, so they wrapped several of the boxes in black and gold paper, and put the number 23 in the corner of the box.

James left a void, but his legacy is inspiring others to fill it, to share their faith, to be bold like James. I haven't watched Anchorman since that night a year ago, but it was odd as I flipped back through some Facebook posts tonight that someone said they were watching A Walk to Remember. That's kind of what I've been doing this past year. James' walk was one to remember, and I'm reminded daily how I need to work to walk like James did to have the faith he did. I do wish it was this time last year. I love you and miss you James.

Details Matter

Details matter. As we approach three years this Wednesday, God continues to remind us he's in control of this journey. One of James David Eunice's favorite places was Camp Tygart. He attended Chrysalis as part of the Walk to Emmaus community, and that weekend helped reinforce and strengthen his relationship with Christ. He worked the event the next year and was scheduled to work it again a couple of weekends after he went missing. He loved being there, and I think it's because it's one of the places he felt closest to God.

Chrysalis for girls is this weekend and we went out there tonight. On the way out there, a friend sent Tammy a screen shot of the final score of the Seattle-New Orleans football game. It was 23-15. James' football number was 23 and his baseball number was 15. Earlier today I wrote a note with the title Soundtrack of Life. I mentioned several songs during the note, but near the end, i mentioned the final three. I wrote, "Maybe I’ll include some of these songs on there, but I lean more these days to “How Great Thou Art” and “It is Well with My Soul,” and may be more inclined to include those. I’m certain though that I would include the song “Oceans” by Hillsong United." The final three songs we sang at the Chrysalis event tonight were, "It is Well with My Soul," "How Great Thou Art," and "Oceans." All Tammy Allbritton Eunice and I could do was cry as everyone sang "Oceans."

Many might say this is just coincidence, but I contend God is in the details. Someone found the following quote scribbled on a cellar wall during the Holocaust, "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining, I believe in love even when I cannot feel it, I believe in God even when He is silent." I do, too, but I'm so thankful when He is not.

Tapestry

Tapestry. Tammy talks about the tapestry of life as we share James' story. I travelled frequently to the Middle East in my last military assignment, and brougt home a few Persian Rugs. These weren't machine made. They were woven by hand. The top side of the rug had a design, but underneath you could see the thousands of threads that came together to produce the design, the tapestry. In our case, the design is James' story, and the threads are the numerous people who have come together with us on this journey to shape and share this story. I was reminded of this last night when Tammy and I tuned in to watch Ax Men on The History Channel. Dave KraKen Stone is our neighbor and one of the stars of the show. But more important to us is how we came to know Dave. We met Dave a few days into the search for James. Barbara Grondahl ensured we met each of the dive teams that participated in the search so we could thank them for their efforts. While we were walking around thanking the dive teams early in the search, we walked by Dave's table. He looked up at us and said, "Hey neighbor." We had never met Dave before, but he had moved in two doors down from us two weeks before James went missing. Dave spent 60 hours in the water searching for James. Since that time, he and his family have been very special to us and assisted us in so many ways. He has shown up when we cooked out, promoted our events as a guest DJ on 92.9, brought dive equipment to James Eunice Day, signed autographs at the most recent James Eunice Legacy Blood Drive, and taught Tammy how to swim with fins. This came home to me last night while we watched Ax Men, as Dave and Clint both searched for logs in Long Pond, where we hold the TCT7 Swim. The residents of Long Pond came into our lives through a chance meeting with Mark Tatch while cooking hamburgers at Sam's Club, where Amy and her team had become part of our story. Amy provided us the opportunity to sell hamburgers and hot dogs to raise funds as part of the Diving for James campaign and have been faithful and supportive with so many things since. One of those events led to our meeting Mark and sharing James' story with him. He called a few weeks later, and mentioned his idea for the swim at Long Pond to honor James. That encounter led to so many others coming into our lives as part of this story, including the Van Allsdalls, Rosenbaums, Bill and Laura Minchew, and Fran Wilbers just to mention a few. Long Pond is part of that design that is this journey God has placed us on, and God has brought these wonderful people, and so many others, into our lives as he continues to weave this tapestry. We continue to be blessed by so many who have become such a meaningful part of this path we walk.

From Drew Jubera

Three years ago this week, James Eunice drowned while duck hunting at Ocean Pond, a 525-acre former sink hole a dozen miles south of Valdosta. Like seemingly thousands and thousands of others, I loved James. A senior, he played sporadically the year I spent down there, but nobody loved being a Valdosta Wildcat more. One of his last Facebook posts, the day after New Year’s: “Miss Bazemore-Hyder’s lights.”

James appears in “Must Win” about as sporadically as he played, yet always just as memorably. I’ve often told his remarkable parents, Tammy Allbritton Eunice and John L. Eunice, whom I revere and idolize (and love), that my favorite passage in the entire book is a throwaway scene, near the end of the season before a meaningless practice, as James walked from the locker room to the field with teammate Dashay March. I re-read that passage several times a week, and smile to myself every time. I know he would’ve gotten the biggest bang out of it. To you, James:

James Eunice, an air force baby home-schooled until ninth grade and owner of the team’s highest GPA, walked out with Dashay, whose own grades were slipping and already threatening his graduation. This deep into the season, even conversations between polar opposites like these – blond God-squad yell leader and tatted street-cool icon – were loose and easy and anything-goes.

“I had a dream about you the other night,” Eunice told Dashay as their cleats click-clacked down the sidewalk.

Dashay shot him a crooked look.

“I had a big bag of weed on me and I was scared to death,” Eunice went on in his endearingly earnest way. “So I called you. And I sold it to you… That’s all I remember.”

Dashay didn’t say a word. Just lowered his head and let out a deep, booming belly laugh.

“Honest!” Eunice insisted as Dashay jogged off ahead.

Tammy's conversation with Jenny Kelly

My friend and pal from along time ago, 1994, sent me a package today with some treasures. Very timely because she is my only friend from Australia! . Her name is Jenny Kelly. I called to thank her and we got caught up on many things. She told me that she had a quote she wanted to share with that was written by Jim Elliot, a man martyred for the cause of Christ. She said she thought of James when she read it. It's tough to read but as you marinate on it for a while you see it is what God calls to do.

Jim Elliot, who died as a martyr on the beaches of Ecuador (58 years ago today), to his parents when he told them he was going:

“I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America. This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when He told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And he never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves which we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause. Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as an heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly–all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.

‘Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious, Give of they wealth to speed them on their way, Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious, And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.’”

He also wrote a quote that I use often, "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Praise God for friends!

To Infinity And Beyond

Tammy and I have learned so many things on this journey these now almost six years. One of the first concerned use of the word memorial. We decided we didn’t like it. It is a wonderful word and denotes a feeling of respect and honor, but we did not think it fit with James’ story. We felt memorial dealt with finality, an ending. We wanted to focus on James’ life and how he lived, and thought legacy was a much better fit. Early in the search for James, somebody put up a Facebook page, Come Home Safe James Eunice. One of the first items posted was a quote from the character Odysseus in the movie Troy, “Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves, will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we’re gone and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?” It’s a quote that speaks of legacy, and how we hope to be remembered. What difference did we make in the lives of others and continue to have on others? James lived life out loud and invested in others, regardless of who they were or where they came from. He once wrote, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another John 13:34. That is my resolution. So, I don’t care who you are or where you come from. I love you :).”

We know of the legacies of our founding fathers and famous people through the years, but we hear, too, of the continuing legacy of ordinary men and women who make a difference by who they are and how they live. When we share James’ story, we often close with the words, “leave a legacy worth remembering.”

I just finished reading Rick Atkinson’s “The Day of Battle,” which chronicled the battle for Italy in World War II. During the battle for San Pietro, he wrote about a young man from Texas, Captain Henry Waskow. He had grown up poor, but worked hard. He graduated from high school with the second highest GPA in 20 years. He attended Trinity College, where he joined the Texas Guard, and rose through the ranks to Captain. One of his friends said about him, “he was never young.” He wrote a “just in case” letter to his family as he shipped overseas, “If I seemed strange at times it was because I had weighty responsibilities that preyed on my mind and wouldn’t let me slack up to be human like I so wanted to be.”

Captain Waskow was killed in the battle for San Pietro as he led his men up Hill 730. He was 25. Ernie Pyle, one of the most famous World War II journalists, was embedded with allied forces when Waskow was killed, and was there when they brought Waskow’s body back down the hill by mule. Pyle shared “In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But I have never crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Captain Henry C. Waskow, of Belton, Tex.” One of Waskow’s soldiers shared, “After my own father, he comes next.”

Waskow left a letter for his family. In it he wrote, “If you get to read this, I will have died in defense of my country and all that it stands for—the most honorable and distinguished death a man can die. It was not because I was willing to die for my country, however—I wanted to live for it—just as any other person wants to do. It is foolish and foolhardy to want to die for one’s country, but to live for it is something else.

To live for one’s country is, to my mind, to live a life of service; to—in a small way—help a fellow man occasionally along the way, and generally to be useful and to serve. It also means to me to rise up in all our wrath and with overwhelming power to crush any oppressor of human rights. . . .

Try to live a life of service—to help someone where you are or whatever you may be—take it from me; you can get happiness out of that, more than anything in life.”

He wrote to his family, “I would have liked to have lived. But since God has willed otherwise, do not grieve too much, dear ones, for life in the other world must be beautiful, and I have lived a life with that in mind all along. I was not afraid to die, you can be assured of that.”

He continued, “I will have done my share to make this world a better place in which to live. Maybe when the lights go on again all over the world, free people can be happy and gay again….If I failed as a leader, and I pray God I didn’t, it was not because I did not try.”

  1. His letter speaks of the type of person Capt. Waskow was, and helps you to understand why his soldiers felt about him like they did. The Library of America website featured Captain Waskow’s story recently. In it, they mention that the legacy of Capt. Waskow continues to endure, even seven decades after his death. Lieutenant Bill Walker, the fictional hero played by Robert Mitchum in the 1945 movie The Story of G. I. Joe, was based in part on Waskow (and the death scene in the movie is notably faithful to Pyle’s dispatch). The high school at which Waskow was student council president bears his name. That’s a legacy worth remembering. One of the first movies James David eunice ever saw was Toy Story. Most people are familiar with the character Buzz Lightyear. His signature statement was, “To infinity and beyond.” Maybe that should be our goal, to build a legacy that will last to “infinity and beyond.” Captain Waskow’s legacy has lasted these seventy plus years because of how he lived, and I know it will last for years to come. Build a legacy worth remembering. You’ll make the world a better place.

Keep The Good Ones

We lived in Dayton, Ohio, when James was four years old. We drove to Valdosta for Christmas, and were preparing to leave Valdosta and drive back to Dayton. Now we always had grand plans of getting up and leaving early, but they never fully worked out. As I was packing the van that morning, I found that James had folded one of the seats over and fastened the seatbelt and I couldn’t get the seatbelt to unlock to fix the seat. James had received a talking Mr. Potato Head for Christmas that year, and Mr. Potato Head was on the seat. To get Mr. Potato Head to talk, you would press his hat, and he would say one of his lines from the movie, “Toy Story.” I was frustrated after several minutes of not being able to fix the seat, and was losing my patience and was aggravated at James. I snapped at James and said, “Move Potato Head.” James picked his toy up and when he did, he touched the hat and Mr. Potato Head said, “That’s Mr. Potato Head to you.” What could I say? Obviously, that broke the tension of the morning, and I was able to fix the seat and finish loading the car.

One of our family’s favorite tv shows is “Everybody Loves Raymond.” When Tammy, James and I moved to Sumter, SC, in 2006, we did not have cable for a couple of weeks, so we bought a couple of seasons of the show and watching Raymond was our nightly entertainment. Oneof our favorite episodes was the wedding of Raymond’s brother, Robert. If you know anything about the show, you know there was drama and laughter leading up to the ceremony, during the ceremony and at the reception. The wedding was on the verge of being a disaster when it came time for Raymond to give the best man’s speech. Nobody expected him to say anything to salvage the situation, but as he spoke, he turned the tone for the evening. As he began, he stated that he really wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but then he said, “material presents itself.” He said some things you make better by editing, but you remember the good stuff. Remember what you want to remember. You don’t save all of the pictures, just the good ones. Keep the good ones.

Keep the good ones. Solid advice for anyone. Life is not always easy, but it’s filled with memories. Keep the good ones. I go back to the old hymn, “Precious Memories.” Alan Jackson’s version of this wonderful song ended with the chorus,

Precious memories how they linger,

How they ever flood my soul.

In the stillness, of the midnight.

Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Precious memories fill my soul.

As Thursday approaches, memories come flooding back to that fateful day, and we will remember them. We will feel that forever hole in our heart. But we won’t stay there. We can’t. God continues to use this story, continues to use James’ legacy for His glory. We will visit. We will cry. We will continue to move forward and share a story of hope. But we will look back, too, and remember the good ones.

The Longest Day

It’s that time of year where everybody talks about the longest day of the year. June 21st is the first day of summer. Some refer to it as the Summer Solstice. Regardless what you call it, most people know it as the longest day of the year. I guess I would have to take exception with that. For me, it’s June 16th, James’ birthday. It’s not just the day itself. It’s the days leading up to it. The reality hitting again of another birthday without James. Sometimes it’s a double hit like last year, when his birthday falls on Father’s Day. The words from the chorus to Mercy Me’s “Homesick” run through my mind, “I close my eyes and I see your face, If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place. Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow. I’ve never been more homesick than now.”

When we share James’ story, we speak of the tragedy of his loss, but we follow that up by saying the bigger tragedy, the bigger loss, would have been to have never had him and to miss the purpose. But it still hurts every day, and today and the days leading up to it just emphasize the hurt even more. We read the words of Isaiah 55: 8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We think on the words of Jeremiah 29: 11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We had plans for James. James had plans. He was excited about going to The University of Georgia. He wrote in his application essay, “I am so excited about the opportunity to spread my wings and leave home to experience a different aspect of life. I have been blessed to travel to various parts of the world during my father’s military career, and I believe that experience will serve me well as I move on to this next phase of my life. I realize there is more in life to experience and I look forward to this next step.” God had other plans.

We spoke at House of Joy yesterday on Surrendering to God’s Will, and, in truth, that’s how we move forward on this longest of days, and every day. James modeled surrender for us. I found a quote from John Newton when preparing my notes. He wrote, “God’s people have no assurances that the dark experiences of life will be held at bay, much less that God will provide some sort of running commentary on the meaning of each day’s allotment of confusion, boredom, pain, or achievement. It is no great matter where we are, provided we see that the Lord has placed us there, and that He is with us.” As I shared yesterday, those closing words are key to surrender. Understanding that He is with us, and will sustain us regardless of the trial if we fully surrender. Chip Ingram wrote, “God always has and always will look for men and women who say to Him, ‘I trust you so much, I’m all in. I want your way not mine. I am willing to live by faith!’” James did that, and taught us so much about faith. We won’t always understand what we’re going through, or why we’re having to go through it, but we can trust that God will bring us through it by faith and surrender to His will. We have to understand there will be days and moments of pure joy, and days of loss and sadness, days that we encounter that Broken Hallelujah. The Afters sing the words to that song, and encourage us with the lyrics,

“I can barely stand right now.

Everything is crashing down,

And I wonder where You are.

I try to find the words to pray.

I don’t always know what to say,

But You’re the one that can hear my heart.

Even though I don’t know what your plan is,

I know You’re making beauty from these ashes.

I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain.

On my knees, I call Your name.

Here’s my broken hallelujah.

With nothing left to hold onto,

I raise these empty hands to You.

Here’s my broken hallelujah.”

Happy birthday James. I love you and I miss you today and every day. God, I know you will never leave me nor forsake me, so though it hurts deeply, I offer you this broken hallelujah on this longest of days and thank you for James.