It was early spring, 1974. Two brothers presided over the memorial service of a beloved pet turtle owned by a four year old boy who was very sad to see him go. As they laid the matchbox coffin in the earth next to the telephone pole strategically away from the ant hill, James Earl said some words, Chris patted the little boy on the back, and they all went inside for some consolation milk and cookies. Though we did not know it, that was practice for a heart-shattering event that rocked many in St. Tamminy Parish, and changed the life of that little boy forever. It was his voice, with that deep, soothing quality that invited peace to the passing of my little friend, and a few months later, my Dad.
"Sixty-five love affair, we wasn't gettin' no where. But we didn't care..." the radio played as we rolled away from the skating rink in his smokin' convertible Ford Mustang, headed for his new girlfriend, Karen Sue's house. Dressed to the "T's", smellin' like English Leather, White Rain, and Nu-car, and rollin in that smooth ride with the tiger tail hanging from the trunk, James Earl was the standard bearer of Coolness to this skinny, kinky-headed, hyper thirteen year old kid. We had a lot of talks about some pretty real stuff in that car, and his gentleness, patience, and just all-around like-ability he always seemed to have in spades he would wholly attribute to the love of Jesus. Amazing, how words and attitude can influence and steer a young man's thoughts-and in the right direction, when a godly man takes time with him. Amazing, that as young as he was at that time, James knew it and gave that to his brothers, sister, and his family. I always envied Jonathan for having James as a brother. And as the years passed and that warm, smooth voice deepened, so did his peaceful spirit and his effectual trust in God.
It seems most of the time I spent with my cousin was due to someone passing on. And looking back, I can see that God knew what he was doing. The heaviest issues I've ever grappled with, James was there to helped me over some pretty tall bumps in the road-usually with another ride and chat in the Mustang! The limited time I was afforded to spend with him, and the small part of him I got to know has had the most substantial affect in my living, my direction, my faith. I think most people who knew him could say the same.
I know he was no angel. But that's just another awesome thing about him, to me. He never tried to hide it when he messed up, or act like he was better, being such a spiritual man. He openly used those instances as examples of how God continues to love and correct His own. I can think of no conversation we shared in which James did not remind me of our spiritual heritage, especially in these past few years living with all the physical hardship he endured. Never a harsh word did I recieve from a person I would have humbly received harsh words from in times I deserved it. His last words to me on the phone this past summer were, "I want you to never forget who you are... a man of God."
I know his suffering is over, and I rejoice in that, even though it feels so awfully early in human standards. The older I get, the more real heaven feels. In my heart, I know its real. But to think that James is relating his life experiences with my dear departed family members, including my Dad, widens the longing in my heart for that glorious day. When I heard of his passing, the first and lasting thought I pondered is, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." James Earle Lavigne will always remain so vividly precious to me.