A man named Jon Stoffel will be buried today.
I never met Jon, but I think we would have hit it off, big time. “When I pass away,” reads a line from his diary, printed now in his obit, “I want to be remembered as a funny, joyful person who is always a friend and who loves God.”
I’ve told my girls time and time again that if someone doesn’t say, “That was just about the funniest guy I’ve ever known” at my funeral one day, I’m coming back to haunt them.
On the other hand, they’ll get extra points if they manage to say that and cry at the same time. They cringe, I laugh, and the publishing of my obit gets closer by the minute.
But the world will remember Jon for something far more important than a sense of humor.
Jon, his wife Erin, and their three children were enjoying a Sunday evening at their favorite park 10 days ago. Menasha, Wisconsin has turned an old train trestle into a great walking bridge, and the Stoffels loved to walk it.
On that particular afternoon, more than 100 people were enjoying the beautiful weather and the walk along the bridge.
No one knew that a week earlier, a young woman had broken off her engagement with a young man. No one knew that he’d been dealing with anger all week. No one knew that red flags about his mental state of mind had already been raised by those who knew him best.
And no one knew that he would ride a bike to the park, walk out to the mid-point of the 1,600-foot-long trestle and start shooting.
It was insane, and people scattered in every direction.
He fired every bullet he had, saving only the last one for himself.
Jon Stoffel, the funny, 33-year-old dad who wanted his children to love God as much as he did, was in the line of fire. He took three bullets and died before emergency personnel could get there. His 11-year-old daughter, who had already been on a mission trip and was already using her artistic skills to promote efforts to help others, also died on the bridge. A 31-year-old man died there, too.
The shooter knew no one on the bridge.
Erin Stoffel rushed her two youngest children off the bridge. They all reached safety by the time the shooting ended.
Erin had three bullets in her own body. But the two youngest ones were safe.
It was touch and go for a while, but Erin gradually got better and should be able to attend the funeral for her husband and daughter.
In the earliest days, Erin had a breathing tube in her throat and could not speak. So she asked for a dry erase board.
Julia Stoffel tells the rest of the story via the local newspaper, the Post-Crescent.
“I was actually with Erin last night and … on the dry erase board she wrote out ‘Last words’ and then she wrote out ‘Jon said, “Forgive the shooter,” ’” Julia said.
“The family has a lot of faith in the Lord and we’re just leaning on that,” she said. “We know that Jon and Olivia are with the Lord. We are holding strong to the Bible first.”
And I’ll hold on to the incredible image of a man so committed to following Jesus that he would even insist on forgiving the man who stole his life, and the life of his daughter. Jesus commanded his followers to forgive their enemies. I struggle with that command, and I’ll bet you do, too.
But you know what? Compared to Jon Stoffel, I’ve never even known an enemy. And yet his last words to his wife were of forgiveness … for an enemy.
So maybe I’ll change my funeral-service planning. I still want someone to mention my incredible sense of humor … but I pray to God that people will know that I love God enough to forgive as I’ve been forgiven, to love as I’ve been loved, and to give grace as I’ve been given grace.
Even from such an enemy.