John Stump came in to our lives as a near homeless 17 year old, who needed a family and some stability in his life. My sister and her husband, who was John's cousin, took him in and he became part of our family. He lived one street over from us and John became close to my kids. I had the opportunity on several occasions to witness to John and we had many conversations about forgiveness and moving on with life. He had been let down by a mother who was more interested in her boyfriends than her own children, and a dad who was more interested in drugs than his own children. John moved in with his aunt as soon as he graduated but we saw him occasionally and still considered him family. I remember the day I heard the words come out of John's mouth, "I have testicular cancer". I cried all day, I couldn't believe that a boy who had been let down by so many people, was now going to be fighting for his life. Over the next 2 years we watched as he had many ups and downs, then he left us. At the funeral my brother in law took me aside and said that John told him that it was because of our family that he had come to know the Lord. He had prayed with a pastor before he died and gave his heart to Jesus.
In contrast to these lives cut so tragically short, I recently said my final goodbyes to my precious grandfather. He lived a very long and full life and set a wonderful example of faith and dedication for his family to follow. As I took this picture this evening, my mind raced back to a dark stormy evening when I was 15 years old. I was spending the night with my grandparents and I had been upset and crying most of the evening because a boy had broken my heart. I remember my grandfather sitting with me at the kitchen table and asking me if I was ok. Then he began to cry also and he said "Pam, my family means everything to me, I hate to see you so upset". My Papaw was one of the most tenderhearted men I have ever known.
The old saying is that our lives should not be measured by the date of our birth and death, but by the dash in between. The dash in between Jeremy Fischer, Joyce Saylor and John Stump's birth and death is certainly not as long as that of Roscoe Burns, but the things that happened during their lives are no more or less important because of the length of their days. I realize with the loss of so many family members in the last 12 years, I could become obsessed with death. I like to believe that rather than being obsessed with death, I have used these things to try to become obsessed with life, instead. None of us knows the number of days we will have until it is our time to leave this earth. The dash on our headstone should be filled with love and laughter, family and friends. It should be filled with helping others, leading people to Christ, cherishing the simple things that God has given us to enjoy. It should be filled with all of the things that make us happy. I like to believe that in enduring so many deaths, I have come to cherish the simple and beautiful things in life. Bees buzzing in the flower bed, the sun streaming through the front window every morning, the sound of the piano being played in my house, lightening bugs, and puppies with their butts stuck up the air as they dig under the shed. Old black and white pictures of relatives, the joy of watching a child open a birthday gift, the smell of a fragrant candle burning in the house or a freshly brewed pot of coffee. These are just some of the things that make my day a little happier. I want to be so obsessed with life that I never fail to stop and admire the handiwork of God as I see a beautiful sunset. The vivid colors of fall, the new life of spring; all of these things are much sweeter when you realize that they are part of the dash in between.