The 365 Commitment

The Life of Jonathan David Graves

Jonathan, or Jon was born on September 25th, 1990 to Benjamin (Ben) and Gizelle Graves in Southern California. They lived in the Woodland Hills area but would eventually move to Santa Monica, California. Ben, who had two children from a previous marriage, was a father again and I remember meeting Ben for the first time in the early 90s. As the young 3 year old Jonathan was bouncing around, he was holding his newborn baby girl Mckenzi and he had the look of a proud but frazzled new parent. We were on the front lawn of Roberta Graves’ home in Fontana, California, his grandmother. You see, I was recently graduated from high school, and having recently returned from an extended volunteer missionary service was now doing my best to finish college. I was dating Ben’s niece, who had prior to the birth of Mckenzi been the baby girl in the family. Ben and I were joking around about this fact, of how the birth of his daughter might help me out by taking the scrutiny off the fact that I was swooping in and trying to steal everyone’s favorite little girl. Meanwhile, Jonathan was running around playing and was all smiles. I remember the moment vividly, you see I was madly in love with his niece and she was just walking out of the house and down the small steps to the front walkway. Something about the moment struck me and I knew that this would be the mother of my children and that one day soon I would be doing the same thing Ben was doing. Balancing a new born on my shoulder with one hand and telling my rambunctious little toddler to settle down.

I have a unique perspective on this little toddler, Jonathan. I did not spend a great deal of time with him, but I did get to see him and talk to him over the course of his lifetime. I would see him at least once or twice a year, and consequently I would have these little snapshots in time. As I grew up, got married, bought houses, worked and started having children of my own, I got to see Jonathan grow from childhood to adolescence and then into a man. As I say this progression, I can tell you with certainty that each of us retain many attributes. Some of these are very much our own, these make us unique. However, several of them we inherit from our parents. Through genetic coding, or environmental nurture we take on these characteristics. Some of us will get the best or the worse of our parents as a gift to help us or to hinder us in life. It seemed that even as a youngster, Jonathan inherited the best of the attributes from both of his parents. Ben Graves was a good looking man, tall and charismatic. He had a regal presence about him that commanded respect. Most importantly he had a big wonderful smile and always had a certain sparkle in his eyes. He had this way about him, that when you were talking to him, he made you feel like the most important thing in the world at that moment. He seemed to be present and in the moment when speaking with others and as a consequence he was well loved by those who knew him. Gizelle Graves always struck me as the nicest, sweetest person in the world. She is a non assuming person, never a burden on anyone, and has a kindness and humility about her that just makes you feel at ease. I do not recall a moment when Gizelle has asked someone for anything, she always seems to put the needs of others above herself. Jonathan inherited these attributes from his parents, and so he had this blend of a caring, kind, humble good looking young man with a sparkle in his eyes and a thriving love for conversation.

As Jonathan matured, I found more and more opportunities to engage him in conversation. I remember in my 30s, when he visited our house one day we were engaged in a conversation and I was talking through some of the work challenges that I was facing with him. Some of the struggles as a Professor at a small college. I realized with a bit of a jolt, that I was asking for, and receiving advice from a teenager who was twenty years younger than me. I am probably not the only one that has had that experience with Jonathan. He just had this way about him, where you felt you could share what you were worried about without concern of reprisal or judgement. I have talked to many people about Jonathan, and they all say essentially the same thing. You could have conversations with him on just about anything. He was always a listening ear, and would provide great feedback and insight even on topics way beyond his years.

Of the many roles that Jonathan had in life, perhaps his greatest role was that of brother. He had two older siblings from his father’s previous marriage and he also had his younger sister and brother, Mckenzi and Julian. I think they would all agree that the title of Brother does not quite say it all. In addition to brother, he was also a counselor, teacher, tutor, adviser and mentor. His gentle demeanor, sense of humour and capability of introspection would draw people into conversation. I believe Jonathan was a natural em-path and when you left a conversation with him, you would leave just feeling better then you did before. However, it was more than conversation. He also was a person of action. If he saw something that someone needed help with, he would help. As simple as doing the dishes, or carrying something heavy, Jonathan expressed his kindness in more than just words. One moment that I remember really strikes me. It was 2010, and we just had our baby daughter Belle. The Graves family came to visit and while I was talking with Ben and Gizelle was being entertained by my two older kids, Lori was trying to calm Belle down. It was getting late, and Lori was exhausted. She had been struggling with Belle all day and just needed to sit down and relax for awhile. I was not paying attention, like a good husband should do, but I remember Jonathan to take over for Lori. He came over to her extended his hands and took our daughter and held her in his hands. He moved her carefully to his shoulder and gently bounced her up and down as he walked up and down the hallway. Belle soon calmed down and he carefully sat on a leather chair that we had bought and there Belle fell asleep and Jonathan just sat there holding her and saying calming words. Lori was relieved of duty, and I was just astonished. How does a 20 year old know the right thing to do like that? How does a 20 year old have the capacity for love, and kindness demonstrated in such a simple act?

Of course, having younger siblings helped but it was more than just that. He was just unique in ways that are hard to get your mind around. I will go back to when he was a young boy in his preteen years. His parents signed him up for a community program at the Vintage park in Santa Monica. This was a program designed to provide a wide variety of experiences for young people. One of the programs, was a mixed martial arts course taught by Robert and Cheri Temple. The program they ran was called PAL (Police Activities League) and they would teach karate, boxing and other martial arts to young people in the community. On this particular day, they still remember the young boy sitting in the very front row with an eager expectant look on his face. He was trying very carefully to do everything right, and he was so attentive that Robert remembered him very specifically. Years later, when Jonathan was reaching adulthood, he reached out to the Temples. They remembered him instantly and before too long, Jonathan became like a son to them. Robert liked to refer to him as his spiritual son. John started studying with Master Temple and before long he was assisting him and his wife in teaching courses. Jonathan would become their most valued volunteer in the program, always helpful, always giving.

Robert remembers one particular instance where he had a surgery which would require him to be out for awhile. Jonathan took over his class of young people while he was out. When Robert returned, he remembers the day. The kids were in love with Jonathan, when they were saying goodbye for the day they surrounded him cheering. Robert was astonished, Jonathan had successfully won the hearts of his entire class, and they had improved and even excelled in the program. The form of teaching by the Temples, was more then just self defense and hitting and breaking things, it was also a Christian ministry. This must have appealed to Jonathan, because he volunteered countless hours by helping with private instruction, being an assistant, teaching, running events, going on field trips and helping out with the PAL program. Jonathan would eventually move on to getting his black belt in the art form, and was so disciplined and enthusiastic in his approach that the Temples would use Jonathan in a series of video instruction that they produced.

Jonathan become a constant presence at the gym and at various events. The Temple’s remember Jonathan bringing his brother and sister to the gym. They remembered how he loved them, and would carefully make sure they were good with what was happening. Carefully teaching and guiding them through the same process that he want through. People in the Temple’s school also noticed Jonathan and many grew to love him as well. Robert remembers one of the instructors at he school. He was older than Jonathan and was struggling with some concepts of faith and understanding the Word of God. In a world where demonstrating your strength and not showing weakness, this older man was willing to confide in Jonathan and ask for his advice on faith. This man felt safe and comfortable with Jon and he trusted him to be his guide as he explored his own faith and testimony. That experience, in Robert Temple’s mind, sums up who Jonathan was.

Eventually, Jon found his calling. He met a pastor of a new ministry in the area, Pastor Bill Thomas. He had formed a new ministry, called RePurpose and the focus was on reaching out to those in the community that are less fortunate, homeless, destitute, or otherwise struggling. The calling was to reach out to those that struggle, who need to be fed, clothed, healed and otherwise cared for. Pastor Bill met Jonathan at a Church that Ben Graves attended called Vintage Faith in Culver City. Jonathan expressed an interest in becoming a licensed pastor and with that started working with Pastor Bill in his ministry. Jonathan helped him start a new Church in Hyde Park. This was an outdoor ministry and was intended to bring the ministry straight to the people. Through this ministry, Jon learned to serve people well. He made burritos on Saturday mornings, pancakes on Sunday mornings and delivered socks during the week. They served many homeless, but also seniors who did not have enough to cover their weekly expenses and small families living out of vehicles or temporary residences.

The tragic and sudden death of Jonathan has bothered me this week, and I have been wondering why such a great soul’s life would be cut short. I read through some scriptural references and came across this thought. Jesus pushed his followers to love God and their fellow man with all their heart, mind, and soul. He taught that by losing yourself in the service of others you would find yourself. I have come to the conclusion that this young man gave all there was to give. He literally gave his whole soul to the service of others and the love of God.  He simply had nothing left to give.

My teenage daughter, Jolie, was chatting with Jonathan online a few months ago. She asked him what his favorite poem was. He indicated that the poem by Corrie Ten Bloom, a dutch clock maker who helped smuggle Jews out of Nazi controlled areas during the War, was his favorite. It seems that this poem almost speaks from the dust, and echoes of Jonathan and his life:

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

Guy Reams

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3 years ago

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing…❤️

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