(Originally Posted on October 17, 2010)
Sometimes a split second makes all the difference.
Sunday October 10th around 9 p.m. was the time of one such split second. Jake Henry, 21, and his girlfriend of 8+ years Stephanie Conn, 22, were driving back to the University of Kansas after a day visiting their families. But they never made it to Lawrence. Instead, they were in a head-on collision with a vehicle attempting to pass from the other direction on the undivided, two-lane highway. And in a split second, three precious lives disappeared from this earth forever.
On Friday morning, I attended Jake and Stephanie’s funeral. Mrs. Henry, Jake’s mother, was my sisters’ and my high school Latin teacher, and as such is very dear to our family. Although I had never met Jake, Mrs. Henry had entertained us with enough stories about him that I knew all about him. But when we entered the church for the funeral, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew beyond all shadow of doubt that I would cry, but I didn’t realize that my life would be so impacted. Forever.
You see, Stephanie and Jake may have seemed like typical college seniors. But they were so much more than that. As middle- and high-school sweethearts, they planned to marry shortly after graduation and enjoy happily-ever-after together. They loved and honored each other, putting the other before themselves. Frugal, they were good stewards of the money they worked so hard to earn. They cared greatly for their families, putting them before everything else. Firm believers in the value of doing the right thing, they lived morally and set an example for those around them. Funny, compassionate, joyful, and kind, Stephanie and Jake were the sort of people you would want for your best friend, knowing you could always, always count on them.
But most of all, what made Jake and Stephanie so special—what made them stand out from the rest—was simple: their faith in Jesus as their Savior. And their desire to live every day for Him.
God called these two stellar young people home. Too soon, it would seem, especially to their families who are still reeling from the loss. Even in the epicenter of sorrow, their Heavenly Father has a purpose, and His timing is perfect. And He catches every tear that falls for Jake and Stephanie, and holds their families’ breaking hearts.
I’m sorry to be so serious. It’s hard to be upbeat when thinking about this subject. But even in the midst of this darkness, God leaves a lesson, and with it a bright ray of hope.
Stephanie and Jake have passed on to heaven, but their legacy remains. Together, they touched countless people, many of whom came to their joint visitation and funeral. They lived well, laughed often, loved much—and most importantly, pointed others to their Savior. God used their lives to make the world a better place, and His plan continues even with their deaths. Though it’s impossible to understand such a tragedy, though we can’t grasp why God would call them home so soon, He remains faithful, and He will fulfill His purpose. Because God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.
All that being said, I did a great deal of thinking this weekend. And my mind kept returning to the same question: What kind of legacy am I leaving?
You see, this life doesn’t last forever, as last Sunday’s accident clearly demonstrates. When we are no longer here, people will remember us for what we did, both good and bad. Our life is made up of myriad different legacies; we leave an impact wherever we are: at school, in our living situation, with our friends, with random strangers who cross our paths—in everything. Each experience is an opportunity to leave a footprint, a mark on this world. We shouldn’t just worry about a legacy when thinking about our eulogy one day; rather, we should strive every day to make a difference in the world and lives around us.
Nicole Nordeman, a Christian artist, expresses this notion well, in her song titled “Legacy”:
“I want to leave a legacy. How will they remember me? Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering. Child of mercy and grace who blessed Your name unapologetically—to leave that kind of legacy.”
So that’s my challenge and prayer for you—and for me—today. Decide what sort of legacy you want to leave, and then start living like it. Now. Because you never know what the next split second might bring.
God bless. And please keep the Conn and Henry families in your prayers.