We had the privilege this past week of welcoming to Magnalia the family of Jabe Isaac Wilhoit. Jabe has been a counselor at Camp Jubilee, the summer camp for people with special needs organized by Mount Jubilee Ministries. That camp is the highlight of the year for our son Edison.
Jabe is known as an exceptional young man. Born as the eldest in a family of five children, he became the type of person who walks into a room and warms it up, caring for the underdog and making sure everyone felt loved and welcomed. He was a great athlete, with All-American good looks: but he pursued “the least, the last and the lost” with intentionality. That’s pretty rare for a 19-year-old guy.
Then Jabe was killed in a car accident.
His beautiful family – his parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and cousins – came to be with us and some fellow MJM volunteers last week to plant a grove of pecan trees in Jabe’s honor. They planted seven trees, which will lead the way to The Jubilee Barn once it’s finished.
Like an Ebenezar Stone, each of those trees is far more than a mere tree. They are living symbols for this family, and for all who will hear the story of Jabe in years to come. As it was said when the Ebenezer stone was put in its place centuries ago (I Samuel 7:12), those trees are a reminder:
“Thus far, the Lord has helped us.”
We intend for those trees and that piece of ground to ever and always be named, JABE’S GROVE.
Naming something, or someone, is always an act of privilege. Indeed, to be asked to name anything is a high honor. A name is deemed to be so much a part of a person that if you act “in someone’s name,” you act with their authority. Adam naming the animals was emblematic of both his dominion and his stewardship responsibilities.
As human beings, we have a deep-seated need to name and be named. Researchers have long acknowledged that there is great power in naming things. We name to identify, recognize, symbolize, describe, simplify, and organize. Perhaps most importantly, we name a person or a thing to signify that he, she or it is part of a family or a community.
A name provides a sense of belonging.
Nicknames go a level deeper: they’re often pregnant with the history of personal stories. Etymology sometimes helps as well: the name Nabal means “fool,” and Nabal was a foolish man.
Pursuing the meaning of names can sometimes surprise us. For example, for years we’ve traveled north of our homestead into Virginia on Highway 29, driving over the River of Dan, past the exit for Dan Daniel Memorial Park, and on up through Danville, Virginia. Vainglory, one might think.
But, in point of fact, the Dan River was named in 1728 by English colonist William Byrd (not a guy named Dan) as he led an expedition to set the boundaries between Virginia and North Carolina. His expedition made camp late that summer just upstream from modern Danville. Byrd, it is written, was so taken with the beauty of that place that he envisioned a future settlement where people would live “with much comfort and gaiety of Heart.” He named the river the “Dan” because he felt he had wandered (given his biblical frame of reference) “from Dan to Beersheba.”
Rachel and I have always marveled at the how each of our children have lived into their names in different ways. We’ve also loved to name trees (our favorite is MacDonald, the biggest in our forest), trails (like Tumnus Trail, which will lead to a lamppost of course), and topography (like Heartbreak Hill, which has tested the fitness of us all over the years!). Three Puff Gulley was named by my older brother and his son, who met me at that little ravine in the forest just in time to help prevent a forest fire from spreading. All this to say, names matter.*
Naming things creates stakeholders, and stakeholders become stewards.
We pray we’ll be good stewards of Jabe’s Grove as we tend those newly planted trees, harvest the pecans in years to come, tell Jabe’s story, and point people to gospel life. As the Lord enables it, we hope to be serving warm pecan pie (using a Wilhoit family recipe of course!) to guests who visit for generations to come!
*And P.S. Any ideas about names for trails, trees, hills and valleys, creeks, big rocks, farmyard animals and the like? We welcome them! Please reply with your suggestions asap, as our Magnalia map-maker is already at work…