Tuesday, December 31, 2013


December thirty first.  A time of putting one year behind us and starting a new year ahead of us.

I was watching a documentary last night on a young man who was about to face his judgement from a gurney in Huntsville, Texas by means of lethal injection.  It was a film about the pros and cons of capital punishment, but that isn't what this entry is about.  Today is not a day to talk politics or even care what is going on in the world.  Today is a day to remember and a day to look forward.  That is what these entry is about more or less.  It is based on less than five minutes of that film.

Toward the end of the film, the filmmaker interviewed a former prison employee who was in charge of executions for the State of Texas.  Texas is by far the leader of executions in the United States and this man said that at one time they were executing two to three inmates a week.  He personally had carried out over 120 executions.  He did his job in a precise manner that became rote to him.  He said he got to the point where no emotions were involved, it was just his job until one day his mind broke and he suffered a breakdown.  It was two days after his last execution when he started having visions of those he had helped put to death.  His whole body began to shake and he decided he could not do his job any more.  He quit his job at Huntsville, sacrificing his pension and went into the private sector.  When he was asked what he had learned from the experience he said "Someone told me what I learned.  They said the big lesson was to "Live you dash"."  He went on to explain what that phrase meant.  He said that on a burial marker, a headstone if you will, there is the date that indicates when you came to be on this earth and a date on which your time on this earth came to an end.  In between those two dates is a dash.  That dash represents your life.  It represents the time time you spent on this earth.  Every day, every hour, every second of your time spent here is represented in that dash.  Included in that dash are all of the things you did, all the things you wish you hadn't done and unfulfilled wishes of things you feel you should have done.  That dash is your life.  Live your dash means to live your life to it's fullest, no matter how long or short it may be.  Live your dash in a manner that would glorify God and mankind.  Live it good, or as good as you can.  No one is perfect and we all have things in our lives that we regret doing or not doing.  Live your dash.  Live it as best as you can possibly can.  That is what this man who's job it was to carry out the laws of Texas learned and he now tries as hard as he can to live his dash in that manner.

I stopped this morning to look at my own dash.  As far as I know, my dash is still being drawn.  I have time to continue to live my dash.  The majority of us do have that time to continue to live our dash.  Others have finished their time on this earth and their dashes are kept in the minds of those who knew and loved them.  I can look at people I knew and loved who have finished their time here.  I look to my great grandmother, my grandfather, both of my grandmothers and Uncles Melvin, Duane, Buster, and Dan.  All of them lived their dashes.  Their dashes do not look the same, but each one of those dashes set an example for me as I live my own dash.  Friends I have know over the years have also left this earth leaving their own dashes to look at and to ponder over.

As I thought about living your dash and those I mentioned above I can honestly and sincerely say that I believe that everyone of them did their absolute best to achieve that goal.  Their lives are examples that I constantly look to as a point of reference as I live my dash.  There are however, two people who I did not know especially well but well enough to call them friends.

One of these people was Alesia Dawn.  I wrote an entry on Alesia Dawn a while back and I would urge you to read it so that you can get to know Alesia Dawn and her family.  Alesia Dawn lived her entire dash in fourteen short years.  Alesia was born with a major heart defect.  We never were sure how long Alesia had on this earth but as she grew older, her odds of living a normal life increased until one day her doctor told her father that Alesia was all right.  There was no reason to expect anything but a normal life for Alesia from now on.  All of us who knew Alesia welcomed the news with joy.  Two weeks later, while reading a book in her bed, Alesia's heart stopped and she quietly left this world.  She had lived her dash.  During her short life, even though she was restricted on what she could do because of her heart, she lived her life to it's fullest.  She enjoyed and embraced life.  Alesia Dawn was an example for everyone.

The second person was Rachel.  Like I had with Alesia, I kind of watched Rachel grow up.  When she was but a toddler, they discovered a tumor in her brain.  She had surgery and rehab and all of the things that come along with having cancer.  The tumor and surgery left her somewhat compromised but not that you would notice.  She never let anything stand in her way of doing the things she wanted to do.  Her parent's played a big role in that part of Rachel's personality by never discouraging her from trying to accomplish what she set out to do.  As she grew older she became more adept at figuring out how to do things.  She went to college after graduating high school and did her very best while she was there, which I must say wasn't too bad at all.  I began to really get to know Rachel at church after my wife's physical problems began to catch up with her.  Barb began to have trouble going up and down stairs and not long after that Rachel took it upon herself to see that when Miss Barbara was at church she would have Rachel not far behind to protect her from falling or any other difficulties that Barb may run into.  Rachel became Barb's "right hand man" in children's choir and help Barb keep the kids in order, helped her clean up after choir and generally made Barb's attempt at fulfilling her calling much easier.

At the Christmas service in 2012, Barb and Rachel's choir was going to sing in front of the church.  One of Barb's gifts is the ability to do sign language pretty fluently and every year at least once she would teach the kids to sign a song.  In 2012 Rachel decided she wanted to sign a song and Barb and her decided that Rachel would sign Silent Night while the kids sang it.  As was Rachel's way, she was determined to learn how to sign the song and do it in front of the whole church.  The Wednesday before the Sunday of Christmas, we had the final practice before the performance.  After the kids left, I asked Rachel if she wanted to go over the signing some extra.  She shyly said "If you don't mind" and so we did.  We went through the song four times, five times, it doesn't really matter.  We went through it until Rachel felt comfortable with herself and the signing.  The next Sunday Rachel stood up with the kids who were in the choir that she used to be in years earlier and signed Silent Night as the kids sang it.  She did a great job.  After the service I hunted her down and pointed at her and said, "YOU ... you were great up there."  I saw that Rachel smile that we have all come to know and love and recognize as a sincere smile, not just a smile for the sake of a smile but a REAL smile.

Shortly after that, Rachel, her parents, her siblings and all of us learned that the tumor had returned to her brain.  The doctors did not give much hope for Rachel.  This time the tumor would be here to stay.  Rachel and her parents decided to get as much living in as the could in the time that Rachel had left and they did a wonderful job.  I watched as pictures of the summer long adventure of Rachel came in over social media.  Rachel took advantage of every second that was given her.  She consoled her parents and friends as time continued to tick away.  Rachel completed living her dash early this morning after over twenty two years of doing her best to do it right.

Alesia and Rachel were not given as much time to live their dash as most of us are given.  What we learn from these two young ladies is that we never know when we will finish living our dash.  It could be in the next hour, the next week, or the upcoming year.  We all probably feel like we have many more years to live our dash.  The truth is, we just don't know how long we have.  Rachel and Alesia learned early in their lives that by the mercy of God they were given time to live and to set an example that we all can look up to as we live our lives.  I can look to God and thank him for letting Alesia and Rachel be a small part of my life.

There is not a doubt in my mind that when Rachel at last found herself in His presence that she heard Him say "Well done my good and faithful servant." just as Alesia had heard years ago.

As we head into this new year of 2014, my hope is that I will be able to look at how they lived their own dash and learn from them as I try to live my own.

Alesia with her older sister Kristie

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