Jessie James Chaney

7.23.02 ~ 1.6.18

Isaiah 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the  prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. {emphasis mine}

These are the verses I intended to read at Jessie James’ funeral when I spoke on behalf of our family. When Amber, Jessie’s paternal aunt, and I were asked to speak, we were both willing. In spite of trepidation, we planned to walk together to stand in front of what we knew would be a great crowd of people largely consisting of youth.

Jessie James Chaney, my great-nephew, left this world on Saturday, January 6 around 1:00 am when the car, in which he was driving four of his friends, struck a tree. All four friends sustained injuries and were hospitalized. Yesterday, the last of the four was discharged.

Last week held days of some of the deepest grief I have ever known. Yet, as it unfolded, the Words of Isaiah 61:1-3 resounded. A melody unlike I had ever heard began to play. Each time great emotion threatened to overtake, the Symphony of Christ would begin, ushering in sweet peace. And so, by Tuesday night when asked to speak at Jessie’s funeral, the only answer was, ‘yes,’ for both Amber and me. Reluctance for standing in front of a large crowd would have to be overcome. I love to talk, to share words. And talking about Jessie James is easy. The testimonies continuing to pour in about his life confirm anything that Amber and I could say about Jessie. I am his Nanny. ‘Am’ in the present tense, because he still ‘is’; he’s just in another place. Still, I recalled the time I taught at the ladies’ Bible study group. Less than twenty women, whom I’d come to know fairly well, sat attentively, eyes on me.  These were the women I’d sat with week after week, sharing, studying, talking together. I recall wondering that night, WHY? are they all staring at me?! So, as you can imagine, I’m not so great with “having the floor” in front of a crowd.

As quickly as my thoughts streamed in last Tuesday night, provision presented itself. I was taken back to two years ago—the funeral of Jessie James’ grandfather, Jimmy. Jessie, then 13, wanted to share a poem at the service. Amber stood next to him, prepared to rush in and help should Jessie become anxious or overcome with emotion. It’s a beautiful image that my mom and I have talked about frequently over the past years. The Words of Philippians 4:13 written just recently by Jessie on his family’s dry erase board flashed in my mind. “We can go together,” I texted Amber.

Such divine providence is seen in that service two years ago. Jessie and I had sat talking in the lounge of the funeral home. He talked about his Paw Paw Jimmy and I asked him about the words he wanted to share in the testimonials for the book I was writing on my father, Jessie’s Poppy.

Most of what Jessie said didn’t surprise me. But his fashion advice?! It is both remarkable and hysterical that a young teen boy would follow the fashion of his nearly 80-year-old great-grandfather. As I reflected on Jessie’s words, I thought about how his character, looks, and personality reflected so many in our families. But I wonder if he knew that he, too, had the same ability he saw in his Poppy to brighten the countenance of those graced with his presence. Jessie was no stranger to struggle. Yet he always wore that infectious, unforgettable smile. If he only knew that it was his fashion trademark.

I didn’t see Jessie this past Christmas. That makes my heart ache. I’d sent with his sister, Lauren, a signed copy of my book, Lines in the Sand, part of his heritage and legacy. I wanted him to know that his life held purpose. And it did. If we know nothing from this season of loss, we know that Jessie’s life has impacted untold numbers and continues to reveal great purpose.

This past Saturday, January 13, when I stood next to Amber in front of such a beautiful crowd of witnesses to Jessie’s life, I was overcome with emotion. My carefully typed notes blurred back at me, reading glasses abandoned to my purse. Refusing to wonder why the crowd stared, I pressed on, voice shaky. What I had hoped to portray was the beautiful covering of Isaiah 61. Hindsight reveals I should’ve had Amber read those verses. Hindsight is painfully beautiful. Yet, the power of the Word is infinitely more beautiful.

I have learned in this season that this life holds no depth of anguish that His love, His peace, His grace, won’t rush in, overwhelm, and swallow up. For every wave of grief, there’s been a greater wave of Glory.

Last week we saw the love of Christ unfold like a beautiful tapestry. Each person extending love and prayers, time and money, compassion and energy, form a collage of love much like the collages displayed at Jessie’s service. Each person served as a reminder of the unfailing, unrelenting, all-consuming love of God. On behalf of the Chaney and Robinson families—thank you!

More than anything I could say, my hope then at Jessie’s service, my hope now, is that Jessie’s life will point to Christ. Each of us must decide what we will see in the midst of tragedy. In the midst of this tragedy, what will you see?

***photo image magnified

***photo credit Terri McAllister Robinson

A beautiful image is seen at the site of Jessie’s wreck where the car struck the tree. As if carved meticulously by the Master Designer, is the face of the One who hung on a tree 2,000 years ago—The Divine Exchange. The One who wears the Victor’s Crown; who brings beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, garments of praise for heaviness. And He’s appointed us to do the same.

What do you see?

Go rest high upon that Mountain, Jessie James. Dance with Jesus.