God is working through you
These words came from my longtime friend, India Jernigan, as she spoke at the funeral of her grandson, Matthew Jernigan, this past Saturday. It was an amazing service honoring the life of an amazing young man.
Most in Southwest Georgia have heard of the tragedy of the three friends duck hunting on Lake Seminole on the coldest day in years. After their boat sank, two of the teenagers were able to survive by swimming to an island. Matthew wasn’t able to make it.
I have never seen such an outpouring of support in my life. Not just in the search and rescue operation on a brutally cold day, but in the aftermath of an event that shocked the entire community. This collective holding of the family close is what Matthew’s grandmother was referring to in her remarks.
Yet, somehow in the midst of something no parent or grandparent should ever have to endure, the family continued to comfort others, especially the young people in Matthew’s class and on his baseball team.
Matthew was a young man with an amazing smile. He was an athlete and baseball was his first love. He dreamed of playing for his beloved Georgia Bulldogs someday. He was buried in a Georgia baseball uniform wearing his #14.
His funeral was fittingly held on the baseball field at his high school, Southwest Georgia Academy. After a day of hard driving rains, the weather lifted 15 minutes before the service was to begin. During the service, the sun burst through as bright as Matthew’s smile and the skies turned brilliantly blue.
The stands were full and the crowd was lined five deep along the fences to the corners where the signs marked the distance as 330 feet. Fittingly, Matthew rested on the pitcher’s mound as his favorite music played over the speakers.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame was sung by hundreds and hundreds of friends and family as the service ended. The funeral procession back to Donalsonville stretched as far as the eye could see. It was like something out of the movie Field of Dreams.
On such a sad day, somehow the crowd was lifted up. They were lifted up by the life of a young man who touched many in his 17 years. They were lifted up by incredible grace shown by Matthew’s family. They were lifted up by the thought that Matthew’s mother, Lori, who died in an automobile accident five years ago, was waiting in heaven for him.
I believe, as India said, that God works through people surrounding those who have suffered a terrible loss. Matthew’s family will continue to need that support in the weeks and months ahead. Payson Trawick and Thomas Vines, Matthew’s friends, need that support as well.
In the meantime, I believe that Matthew has indeed reached his Field of Dreams. He made the team that counts the most.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com