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“Willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8

I grew up with his older brother. We would invite each other to the other’s house in order to stay up all night playing video games. Sound like a waste of time? To us it was the essence of fun!

When I was younger, my friend had two older siblings, a brother and a sister. Everyone thought that this was how the Shank family would always be. Then, a surprise came!

When I was about 9 and David was around 7, his mom and dad shared with us some exciting, yet unexpected news. Deb (which Mrs. Shank always wanted us to call her) was going to have another baby!

I remember the shock, and yet the anticipation of this new sibling that my friends were going to have. I can still remember seeing John, David’s dad, in the old Ingles across from Westside High School shortly after he was born with a picture of him. Aside from my sister Anne Marie’s birth, he was one of the few babies I can remember being born in the young child stage of my life.

Joseph was our little guinea pig. How he survived Jonathan, Mary Beth, and David (not to mention all of us who were their friends) as a baby and then a toddler is just short of miraculous! David, Anne Marie and I used to run around Oakwood while Mom and Deb were in “pre-planning” week for school and teach him to say all kinds of crazy things.

He was always the little brother. Poor guy got picked on! David and I would let him play with us sometimes in our video game binges. He must have grown to love connecting with David that way. The last time I was with him, he, David and I spent the day hanging out and playing David’s Wii (yes, that was only 14 months ago).

Joseph’s graduation (image courtesy of David’s facebook page)

The years between those early days and the last time I saw him flew by. In between are memories of more video games when I was in high school, then coming back to see him mature as a teen when Candy and I were youth sponsors. He seemed to have doubled in maturity when he came back from his time with Mary Beth in China. And the pictures I’ve seen of his last few years, after Candy and I had moved away from Anderson, show a young man who was growing to be a man. As my life continued to progress, I had less time than others had with him. From what I hear, he had grown into a man who loved his God and enthusiastically loved people.

I share this story because Joseph is one of the few, if not the only person I know this close to me whom I can recall his birth and, with tears I say, his death. On October 20, 2010, as an 18-year-old in great health, he was running around the Westside High School track in Anderson, just across from the old Ingles, and “ran into the arms of God.”

Joseph’s “promotion” to heaven has made heaven sweeter and more real. To be honest, it’s hard to imagine an elderly person running down the streets of gold. I know they, just like young people who have gone on, have new, perfect bodies. But, for some reason, since we remember them as they leave this earth, in physical frailty, we can’t see as well how real it is for them to be in heaven.

But Joseph was full of life. He was not slowing down. He was youthful. And to think of him in heaven is to think of him in a real place that is full of life and youthful vigor.

Also, this story has made heaven more real because he and his family are so dear to my family and me. And now, with Gran there in heaven with him, I can imagine how sweet their reunion was a few weeks ago.

His short life has made me consider how short my life is. My treasure should be in heaven. This life is the short story. Heaven is the epic.

May I live as if heaven were just a step away.

God, thank you for using Joseph in my life. Thank you for the opportunity to have known him. Thank you for his dear family, and continue to give them comfort as the pain has not gotten any easier. May these words in some way encourage them, and may his life challenge us all to live for Christ and lay up treasure in heaven. Amen.

How did Joseph’s life impact you? What memories do you have of Joseph? Click here to comment.