For those of you who didn’t have a pleasure of knowing him the way my family did, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my dad.
Duane Jones was born on August 12th, 1954. If you knew him as a child, you may have pitied him. He had a rough childhood, enduring abuse and neglect. He even lived in a tent on the beach for a while. As a teenager, you may have known him as a druggie, a thief and a street racer. His car was equipped with a police scanner, which would be useful to “exit stage right” if he heard the police were waiting for him down the street. He spoke of having a switch that would cut off the brake lights so the cops wouldn’t notice him slamming on the brakes – a telltale sign that he was speeding.
Late in his teen years, he met a very special young lady, my mom. Mom came to know the Lord at 18 or 19 and told dad that they couldn’t be together unless he had a relationship with Jesus as well. Begrudgingly, dad went to church with her, and to his surprise, his life was changed forever. God replaced his afflicted, rebellious heart with a warm, gentle one. The people closest to him scarred him in those critical early years of his life, but dad was able to forgive them because he fully grasped the reality that God loved him so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins. He followed the Bible that said those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life.
Dad loved food. Boy, did he love food. Sometimes, he would stop by for dinner at my grandparent’s house, even when mom wasn’t there. I can imagine it takes a very special person to come over for dinner at their future in-law’s house, or at least a very hungry one. Dad was both.
Mom recalls one time when dad came over to my grandparent’s house for dinner. As they were passing the salad around the table, dad thought the entire salad for the family was for him alone, so he took the bowl and started chowing down. This act was so funny to grandma and grandpa, that they had to excuse themselves from the table to the back room so they could get all of their laughter out and spare their daughter’s boyfriend the embarrassment. Truth be told, he likely would have been oblivious to their laughs and would have just asked them to pass the dressing.
At buffets, he would tell me of the ways he would get as much as he could. To start off with the salad, he would describe in detail how he would line his container with carrots standing up side by side so he would have a deeper bowl to fit more salad in. Food was an art to him, and all you can eat buffets were like the super bowl. Speaking of which, he loved the super bowl – that is, the food that came along with it.
Dad wasn’t much into physical fitness, but he did run. Actually, I can only recall one time he told me he ran, and that was on the day of graduation. I don’t know if it was his graduation or another graduating class, but whatever it was, he decided to give the entire school and audience a show by streaking across the stage, wearing nothing but a paper bag over his head. Dad recalled how the authorities were chasing him, so he ran as quickly as he could into the locker room and closed himself in a locker for a few hours, escaping any form of punishment.
Shortly after all of this craziness, dad asked mom to marry him. Several times. And several times, she said no. Finally, dad asked her one more time, in a demanding tone and she knocked him off his feet by saying yes! Her answer was probably a huge shock to both of them. Over the years, I’ve heard them both speak fondly of living in the simpler times of the 70’s in California, starting off by living in the garage of a friend’s house, and loving it.
After about five years of marriage, mom and dad became parents. If you were to have asked either of them about if they were ready or not, they would probably tell you they were ill-equipped. In spite of whatever either of them may say or think, they were the best parents I could ever have asked for. Mom was (and still is) the hardest worker I know, while dad was a dreamer. They were opposites in many ways. If you gave $100 to each one of them, mom would use it to pay the bills while dad would probably find a special on 100 burritos for $100.
In the 1980’s, he started a successful janitorial business. Thanks to his entrepreneurial spirit and sales skills, he was able to land many accounts. Thanks to mom’s work ethic, they were able to keep the accounts for as long as they did. While they were opposites, they complemented each other in ways like this. It takes a dreamer to start something like this, and a doer to keep it going. While he did successfully start a business, it didn’t last long due to many reasons, the main thing being kidney failure. This marked the beginning of a life filled with pain, sickness and surgeries.
Shortly after the business sold, we moved to Kansas where we lived with my grandparents and ultimately ended up in Texas. Dealing with kidney failure again, dad found himself with even more pain and sickness. Mom and dad made the decision to move back to California after I got out of high school. It was during this time that I got married to Holly and we had Atticus. We were sad that Atticus would never really know his grandparents on a personal level, but that all changed when they decided to move back to Texas.
Because of their decision to move back, not only was I able to know my parents on a personal level as an adult, but Holly saw dad as a father figure and Atticus had a very close and special bond with him as well. We were fortunate to be able to see them on a weekly basis for years. In spite of all his suffering, dad’s kind heart and sweet disposition was such a blessing to see in action as an adult. He was such a good role model for us all, in spite of his motto to “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.
In all the time that I have known dad, I don’t recall much of a time of him being healthy. His adult life was marred by extreme and constant sickness. His was the kind of life that would make you question God as to why He would ever let anyone go through such hell on earth.
On October 8th, mom called me on the phone saying a nurse called her asking if it was okay to resuscitate dad if things went bad in his final hospital stint. This was a horrifying shock of a question to hear, because as far as we knew, he was getting better. Mom and I made the trip to the hospital, only to see him laying on his back, looking up at the ceiling, with an oxygen mask on. Each exhale was accompanied with a moan of pain. It looked like each breath was potentially his last. I had never seen him in such pain before. Amidst fighting back tears, mom and I held fast to the doctor’s nonchalant assurance that he should be fine, in spite of what we were seeing in front of our very eyes.
With the doctor’s words echoing in our minds, we said good bye, or rather, see you later, not knowing it was going to be the last time we saw him alive on earth.
Hours later, I woke up from a call from mom at 1:45 AM, who was crying saying they were trying to revive dad and we needed to go to the hospital right away. We rushed there and found his room. Dad laid there, but fully covered by a sheet. Puzzled for a moment, the reality hit us shortly thereafter that he had already passed. We collapsed sobbing, and mom said she wanted to see him. As she pulled the sheet from off of his face, it was apparent right away that while his body was there, he was not. His eyes were open, but there was nothing behind his gaze.
This was no doubt, the most extreme emotional pain either one of us had felt, and we will likely never forget that traumatizing picture in our heads. For the first time in over 64 years, this world was without Duane Jones in it, and I wanted the world to stop spinning. I wanted heaven and earth to acknowledge the extreme sorrow we felt over the loss of a truly great man, because this world was truly much better with him in it.
On the outside, it looked like satan had won. From childhood all the way until he left for heaven, he loved that dad was in constant agony and loved that people were questioning God because of all this. It looked like pain and suffering had cornered the market in my dad’s life, from start to finish.
But this is where our story takes a turn, and dramatically so.
With as weak as dad’s body was, his faith was stronger than anyone I have ever known. For decades, dad held fast to his faith in God and that he would gladly accept whatever the Lord had for him and whatever He allowed to happen to him. Inside of dad’s weak body that was covered in bandages, wounds and scars, was an unblemished, pure light that shined for all to see. With every affliction that satan threw at him, dad’s faith grew stronger and his light shined brighter. What satan tried to snuff out, God used for His glory. Countless bystanders in dad’s life watched his words and actions, wondering how it was that dad was so cheerful in the Lord in all situations. Armed with a perspective that no man would dare wish on another, he was able to say the Lord was his strength and his comfort.
Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Dad lived this out. He took his unquenchable pain and used it as a beacon of hope to show everyone he knew that regardless of your circumstance, all you need is Jesus.
If I had to assign a Bible passage that was most fitting for dad’s life, I would go to 2 Corinthians 12:
“a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I don’t know if I could describe my dad any better than this. His life mission was to lift Jesus up, so all would know Him. It was because of his weakness that he was all the more effective. I’m proud of my dad and how he lived his life of faith. His legacy on earth will continue to be known for generations to come, and his example will be used to point others to Christ. I love him and miss him, but he is not lost. I know exactly where he is. He is at home in heaven, and is finally pain free.