|Posted on February 9, 2015 at 10:25 PM||comments (1)|
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.
|Posted on February 9, 2015 at 10:20 PM||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted on January 17, 2014 at 11:45 PM||comments (0)|
Last night when I wrote my note I tried several times to post this song and I couldn't get it to paste. I believe it was because this status James posted July 14, 2010 was the connecting thread:
"Guys, God's love is incomparable to any happiness you'll ever find! Don't lost sight of that. Accept the gift of grace and freedom. Live the life! JESUS IS THE LIFE! I LOVE YOU GUYS! Don't let the mud pies of the world distract you from the steak dinner God has to offer!"
I still struggle with feeling James is missing something when in fact, because of his faith in Jesus, the only thing he is missing is this broken, difficult, unfair world! The real struggle is moving forward day by day without his physical presence here with us! James knew that nothing compared to the love God had for him! I pray you know that same love because God has that for you and for me! When we take hold of that we are able to say, 'You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus!'
|Posted on January 17, 2014 at 11:20 PM||comments (0)|
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!
|Posted on January 17, 2014 at 11:20 PM||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted on January 17, 2014 at 11:15 PM||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted on January 17, 2014 at 11:15 PM||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted on January 26, 2012 at 12:10 AM||comments (1)|
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.
|Posted on January 26, 2012 at 12:10 AM||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted on January 26, 2012 at 12:05 AM||comments (0)|
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.