“Love never fails…. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:8,12-13 NIV
No doubt, 2015 will go down in the records as a very turbulent and traumatic year for my family and friends…
On Saturday evening, February 21, 2015, Molly Griffin and her friend Emily Krieghoff were struck by another car as they were turning on to Friant Road off Copper Avenue. The car that struck them was driven by a person under the influence of alcohol. Molly was killed instantly and Emily was critically injured. There was a passenger in the other car who was also killed in the accident. Prior to this tragic accident, Molly had just graduated from the Nursing Program at Fresno State and had earned a full time job as an OR Nurse at Madera Community Hospital. She had a very exciting career caring for others yet ahead of her.
Molly’s dad, Doug Griffin, plays a key role in our church, Clovis Hills Community Church. Doug has been a longtime lead teacher in our children’s ministry. Doug’s wife, Doris, is also a long time member and volunteer in our church. Doug has helped disciple many children over the last two decades most recently through a program called Disciples Next Academy (DNA) that Doug felt called to start. Many generations of kids can recount that their start in their walk with Jesus began under the care of ‘Teacher Doug’. This includes my own two children, Elowyn and Gigi. It is no surprise that Molly also chose to serve in children’s ministry. Doug and Doris are blessed with a son, Joe, who is pursuing a successful US Navy career and another daughter, Paige, a young beautiful pre-teen the Griffin family adopted from China at the age of two. The Griffins are quite loved by our church family. Doug and Doris have been part of different family groups committed to the Lord over the years they’ve been at the church. Doug and I have known each other and served together over the last 10+ years volunteering in various family and children’s ministry roles. Over the past several years, Doug has joined and remained part of a growth group that we both meet in every Monday night.
On Friday evening, July 17, Jason Newsome passed away at the age of 41 after an 18 month battle with Pancreatic Cancer. Through the prayers of many and his own strong and committed faith, Jason outlived this very aggressive form of cancer by nearly three times the average patient with this same cancer. Prior to his diagnosis, Jason had made many changes in his life. In 2011, his son, Markus, a young teenager convinced him and his wife, Stacy, that he wanted them to try out this new church he had visited, called Clovis Hills.
They began attending, along with Markus and their younger son, Zach. A few months later, Jason recommitted his life to Christ, and later got baptized with both Stacy and Markus. Zach was also baptized shortly thereafter. They began to participate in other church sponsored events and met others who like them were trying to raise their families to be followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jason and Stacy joined a growth group in early 2012 that meets every Monday night, the same one that Doug was a part of. Leah and I have also been part of this same Growth Group for several years.
About a year after joining the group, the Newsomes became the leaders eventually hosting the group each week in their home. Sensing the needed to take better care of his health, Jason stopped smoking and started jogging. Before his diagnosis, he was running half-marathons. Over the past four years, Jason and Stacy have served in various volunteer roles in the church. Stacy worked alongside Doug in children’s ministry with other kids Zach’s age, while Jason focused on those Markus’ age in youth ministry. They both have volunteered often in various leadership roles to help those in need in our community with events such as Morning with the Homeless at the Fresno Rescue Mission, Faithful Feet at El Encino Church in SE Fresno, and World Changers each summer, and other similar mission events. Their son, Markus, just recently returned from a youth mission trip to Swaziland, Africa. Because of their love for others, the Monday Night Growth Group that meets in their home has grown to nine couples and over 15 children who regularly get together to serve in all the events that Jason and Stacy would volunteer for.
I can’t explain all the reasons God permits a life like Molly’s or Jason’s to end so prematurely. Having been a direct witness to their families lives all these years in this growth group, I can say with conviction and certainty that God has a MUCH greater plan than I can ever put to words here (see Romans 8:28). I’ve learned to say about both of these tragic losses, that God is doing a miracle that is still unfolding in the lives of all that Molly and Jason touched. This past weekend, Pastor Shawn recounted the story found in Mark 2:1-12 where friends of a paralyzed man dropped him through the roof of a house where Jesus was so that he might heal him. The man was healed, and told to get up, and pick up his mat. The lesson Jesus taught was that if he can help a paralyzed man to walk upon a simple command, how much more than can our Father forgive us our past sins. By learning to “pick up our own mat”, we demonstrate to other who are ‘paralyzed by their own by sin’, what God can do even in our greatest weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). That we have close friends who treat us like family in our growth groups gives us all much hope that we too will be lowered into the hands of Jesus gently ourselves whenever we need it.
Shawn’s message on Sunday included sharing how the Griffin and Newsome Families demonstrated this model of overcoming their past. Shawn also shared about an unnamed third family who have been through a similar crisis as the Griffins and Newsomes. The difference is this family was not connected with anyone else in the church and so they left feeling neglected in the church’s response to the crisis. It would seem for this third family, they had not (as yet) found ‘friends’ who would be willing to ‘drop them’ into the presence of Jesus Christ. My prayers go out to the third family as I could not have imagined what it must be like to have gone through what we’ve been through if our Monday Night Growth Group had we not had been there for one another.
… And there, in that lesson, lies the miracle that God has shared to be discovered in the loss of Molly and Jason. While we all clearly wish with they were still with us, we see their lives and their spirits still very MUCH alive in our hearts and that their families give us hope that we too can overcome any crisis through our Lord who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13)
Having witnessed the outpouring of love that has been received in reaction to Molly’s passing, I am humbled by just how much Doug and Doris have been able to handle the loss of their daughter. First and foremost they have forgiven the man responsible for her death. Such an act is in keeping with their strong Christian faith that teaches us all to forgive those who wrong us just as God through Christ, forgives us. Doug’s initial public interview with the press after the accident as well as his follow up interviews demonstrating his family’s forgiveness has really changed the focus of this tragedy from the accident to the vibrancy of Molly’s life. In fact, the way the Griffins have handled this tragedy, has amplified the light of Molly’s life such that as she is now known by many people who only came to know of her after the accident. In particular, Doug and Doris have chosen to continue to celebrate Molly’s life by declaring her birthday, August 26 as Molly Day! We were all asked by the Griffin family to participate in “random acts of kindness” that day to help us remember who she was to others. My wife, Stacy and I decided to pass out donuts to those in the ICU Waiting Room in the hospital I work at. Doug tagged along as well. Here’s some pictures showing how we all celebrated Molly Day! What a marvelous way to help ensure Molly’s light continues to shine in this world.
Stacy has been touched and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love over the last several weeks from when Jason declined and eventually succumbed to cancer and left us to be with our Lord on July 17th, 2015. The following week Jason’s employer Fresno State flew the American Flag at half mast. An honor guard attended Jason’s funeral to honor a man who had served to the country during his time in the US Navy. During the holidays, Jason had served alongside the same group that this honor guard came from at the Wreaths across America event honoring all those who served our country. That event was hosted in the same cemetery Jason would eventually be interned in. This coming holiday we will honor Jason at the same event. It was particularly comforting to see how many of Jason’s shipmates from the USS Curtis Wilbur reached out to Jason and Stacy during his final days. In memory of Jason, the Clovis Hills Military Ministry will host a Veterans Day float featuring the Curtis Wilbur The love for one who served others is evident in those who memorialize us once we are gone. This is very obviously the case over the several decades that Jason lived.
Overarching all of this has been the love that I’ve witnessed Jason and Stacy’s families and our growth group have shared for Jason, Stacy and their two sons. Honestly, it would have been hard for an outsider to distinguish who was actually related to Jason or Stacy the last week Jason was with us. I’m so proud to be part of a group of men and women who love Jesus and know that love so well that they demonstrate it in a sacrificial love for the leader who has faithfully cared for them over these past two years. It was our privilege to be invited by Stacy to help ‘lower him into the arms of Jesus’ in his last moments. On August 14, we celebrated what would have been Jason’s 42nd birthday by posting our favorite memory of him on his FB site.
Speaking to my own personal relationship with both families, I know God has connected the Dickersons to the Griffins and Newsomes in amazing ways. I can now say these separate stories have become our combined story of finding hope and redemption in our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I mentioned earlier, Doug has led both our kids through the prayer asking Jesus into their lives setting them on a course that brings them to this day as committed believers in our Lord and Savior. In my “My First Story” I shared here in this blog a couple years ago, I told how Leah became a new believer in Jesus and I recommitted my life to Jesus. This happened upon both of us hearing a very moving testimony of a women who lost her baby due to miscarriage… I shared this during one of the growth group meetings and Doug made the connection that we were talking about Audrey Reischauer. Doug had been very close friends with the Reischauers even after they moved to the mid-west, and had been for some time wanting for us to meet them because of the connection that their lives had made with another pivotal relationship Doug had with us. When Molly’s memorial service was planned, the opportunity came to connect the two families which Doug arranged. Below is a picture of these two families with Doug connecting how one family’s loss brings life to another often unbeknownst to the first family’s awareness.
Molly will always be remembered similarly by us all as a model of what we would want our daughters to become and will live long as the hope and light of peace and love available to us all through our Lord Jesus Christ
The Newsome and Dickerson Families were connected before we ever met through the Navy, which both Jason and I served in. When we first met together in our growth group at our house where we hosted it at the time, Jason noticed a picture on my bookshelf of a man in uniform getting married. I was one of the groomsmen in the picture. It turned out that the person in the picture ,one of my best friends from the Navy, Al Perpuse, was also one of Jason’s department heads on the USS Curtiss Wilbur. Because of the common bond we had as Navy veterans, I found it easy to want to be around Jason these past four years. We hung out for Army-Navy games, watched war movies together, and attended various events to honor our military that our church’s Military Ministry hosted. I witnessed Jason being mentored by Phil Dodd, the same man who came alongside me as I shared with you in my story, “On a Journey“. I then witnessed Jason become a mentor himself for another Navy veteran, Brian Winter, the son of Holly Cline, one of our Monday Night Growth group members. More recently, I have watched how Jason and Stacy have come warmly alongside our latest growth group leaders, Dustin and Kat Seabolt. It is amazing how God took a commitment to serve our nation and inspired Jason to serve others he loved through his church in the name of his Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Watching Jason serve others in this way even knowing that the cancer in his body was increasingly limiting him physically has strengthened my own faith in Jesus. I’m a better man because of Jason Newsome’s life and the courage and deep conviction he demonstrated even up to his death.
Jason will be remembered similarly by us all as a model of what a father, husband, son and shipmate should be to their family and friends. His memory and influence continues to live on in each of us who know and loved and were loved by Jason.
In this story, you see that God chose to love us unconditionally… and understanding that love was sacrificial, we choose others over ourselves in the name of the same love…
I praise God for giving us Jason and Molly’s lives are a testimony to this love.