Last year, I attended the memorial service of Gene Jackson today. He was 84. Gene was the father of my friends Allyn and Bethany Jackson.
I had never met Gene and wanted to go to support my friends. Bethany and Allyn had spoken of Gene’s faith in the Lord, his servant’s heart, and his warm character.
How Great Thou Art.
One Day He is Coming.
When we all get to heaven.
Just steps in front of Allyn was a little memorial table that the family had set up. The table had a large framed photo of Gene, a baseball cap, a hat, an Oregon State University runner, a Peace plant, and a small red wooden car.
Pastor Matt led the memorial service. He offered favorite scripture verses that Gene liked. Job 19 and I Corinthians 11:1.
And Lamentations 3:22-23
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
The pastor also noted that the hymns being sung and played during the memorial service were picked out by Gene in advance of his passing.
I’ve done the same, picked out the songs I want at my memorial service.
The pastor continued his talk, mentioning the headstone of a deceased person’s grave. He reflected on how you have the deceased person’s name on the top of the headstone, and under their name you find their date of birth, and on the bottom of the headstone, you find the day that the person died.
The words, the sentence, the quote, that comes between the dashes, that summarizes a person. The epitaph.
The epitaph on your tombstone that summarizes who you are in a breath. A thought. A moment.
What filled in between the dashes of Gene’s life? The stories, the memories that stand out about what was truly important to him?
So many noted the word “Servant” to describe Gene’s life.
Gene was born in 1930, the oldest of five children. Gene and his wife later had five kids themselves, and my friend Allyn was the oldest of those five kids. Several of Gene’s kids got up to speak during the service.
When Allyn got up to share, he reflected on the character of his father. And, a little memory got to him. That small red wooden car up front on that memorial table.
“He helped me build it when I was a kid,” said Allyn, choking up.
Gene was an engineer by day and also worked the evening shift at Fred Meyer Home Improvement Center for 35 years to help make ends meet. He and his wife Carolyn sought to raise their children in the ways of the Lord, and it was evident at the memorial service by the words and stories people shared that he did this.
One man remembered Gene as his Sunday School teacher, and he also recalled seeing Gene working at Fred Meyer when he’d shop there.
“Why do we remember certain stories about certain people?”
He added, “If I could think of one word to describe Gene, it would be ‘faithful.’”
Pastor Matt shared a memory of when Gene contacted him about being a leader on a youth group missions trip to Mexico that he was overseeing. Gene was over 70 years old at the time.
Pastor Matt was initially unsure how the 70-year-old would fare on this trip, but it turned out the seven-decades old grandfather was one of the hardest workers on the trip.
Another person noted how Gene helped struggling students through the Start Making a Reader Today program. His kids also talked about how he would help his kids, even when they were grown, when they got into car troubles. Gene’s servant heart was part of what filled in between the dashes of his life.
Gene’s family also spoke of how he took each of his grandkids to Disneyland when they turned 10 years of age. It was a tradition. He loved Disneyland. There was some chuckling when one of his five kids said, “But he didn’t take his kids to Disneyland when they were 10, just his grandkids.”
His granddaughter Kimberly got up and shared about her years with her grandfather. I met her after the service and encouraged her to write down the stories of her granddad.
The message of Granpa & Dad Gene’s life seemed to be simple: “I’m just following Jesus. would you follow Him too?”
What would fill in the dashes of my own life?
It’s a good question for all of us to ponder and one I have thought about a lot since the Accident.
How are we filling in the dashes of our lives?
What is important to us, what do we value, what and whom do we love? Do we love God? How do we show that love for Him? Do we love people and how do they know it? Do we love our family? Are we present for our family, our friends, our neighbors, our community, our world. Do we love those less fortunate, do we give, do we forgive? Do we read God’s word, do we pray, do we choose Life, do we choose compassion? Are we just following Jesus and wanting others to follow Him too? . . . I wonder. . . How would we fill in the dashes of our lives?