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The Painter and the Shed- A memory of Jeff Stables

Dirty finger nails… His hair in a thick ponytail falling down his back with little wisps protruding in every which direction… various colors of speckled paint on his skin… a sweet smile that was a bit higher on one side of his face than the other but disarmed you faster than you could expect… a soft voice that welcomed you into the safe haven of peace his thoughtful words naturally created… a tender posture of listening empathetic grace that gave you permission to be real and vulnerable…  eyes on fire.  This is the Jeff Stables I remember best… The man I am going to miss until New Creation unites us…

When I first met him I didn’t know what to think. I had heard through some friends about this crazy Younglife leader on fire for Jesus who was a painter just like me and worked hard at his trade to put himself through college. He was one of those lone ranger painters who never really worked on a team since his free spirit couldn’t be constrained to a time and place, but he needed more work and I needed more painters, especially foreman to lead my new crews I was hiring to keep up with the demand. So I made one of the best business decisions I could have, and hired Jeff to be one of my crew chiefs. I knew he was a good painter, I had seen his work, and he was fast as could be, wielding his paintbrush with skill that “cut that edge” unlike any of my other workers. He was a master painter… I had found my lancelot, and he immediately jumped in with a crew I was leading on a large job on the outskirts of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Our friendship grew immediately as we shared life on those ladders – laughing, telling stories and going deep into discussions of faith and theology. He had a simple yet profound perspective on everything, and we were never bored working together. I saw him humbly lead the other crew members, training them in the skills they needed to get the job done fast and with excellence, and within the week I felt comfortable turning the entire project over to him so I could focus on sales and expansion.

To Jeff, his painting was way more than just work. It was his art, and his avenue into people’s lives. I remember at the end of that first job he came to me with a serious pensive look in his eyes and told me he felt led by the Spirit to fix up and paint the rundown shed next to the house. The family we were painting for was struggling a bit financially and couldn’t afford to repair and paint their shed as well.

“Danny, I can fix that shed, and I feel like me fixing it for free is how they are going to know about the love of Jesus,” I remember him telling me. “God just wants me to do it. I know you need me to lead this crew, so I’ll do this side project at nights after work and on my day off.”

And that is exactly what he did. He blessed that family, bringing his carpenter tools to the site, purchasing the supplies and repairing that Shed faithfully each night after work until it was done. While the other college students on the crew went to parties, and quickly spent their paycheck on themselves, Jeff worked on that shed and used his hard earned money from that week to bless others. It was an act of humble worship to the God he loved…. The God he believed had been willing to freely sacrifice and serve us by putting on skin and coming into this world to make us new and scrape all the old paint of sin off our hearts and cover us with his righteousness… He repaired and painted that shed with joyful excellence, in a way that only Jeff Stables could do, and bought out of his own pocket what he still needed until it was finished.

When he presented it to the family, he shared with them about the love of Jesus that motivated him. He told me they cried. They felt the love of God for them through Jeff. I think all of us who know him did… Not because he was perfect, or always got it right, but because he knew his need for heart renovation himself and leaned into the love and grace of God to make him more into the man he was created to be.

My heart is filled with mournful joy as I write this… I am mourning because my 37 year old friend Jeff left these shadowlands of earth and entered into the presence of Jesus last night. I mourn because I am going to miss seeing him, and talking to him, and his wife and three boys will even miss him more – and it’s going to be hard for them especially, and many others, without Jeff around. I mourn for the countless Younglife kids he led to Jesus over the last 20 something years, whose hearts are breaking right now at his passing…

We all mourn the reality of this fleeting life, decaying and filled with sorrow. Cancer peels the color out of life, and everything looks pretty broken right now through the lens of death, sort of like that shed…

But there is joy… the same fiery joy I’ll never forget blazing in Jeff’s eyes because of the God he believed in… The real Master Painter who skillfully brushed the stars into the sky, and perfectly shaped the mountains, and colored our sunsets with such beauty and majesty… a Master Painter who looked at our broken down peeling shed and said “I can fix that, and I’ll do it for free…”

And he did…

…and he paid for it out of his pocket with no questions asked just to bless us because he loved us.

Not even death itself could stop Him from His redemption project of world renewal.  Jesus Christ the Son of God came into the world as one of us in order to make all things new.  He perfectly lived a life of love that ended with him sacrificing everything for the sake of those he loved, and rose again from the dead to give us hope that even death can be reversed by love…

My friend Jeff knew this, and even through his cancer, pain and struggle he held fast with hope in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the promises God made of new and eternal life that will never spoil, fade or break apart like that shed… or like Jeff’s cancer torn body.

And that is why we can rejoice now, even in the midst of his death… because we have a Master who has dealt with death completely forever, and we have confidence in Him that we who have found rest in His grace will share in His eternal glory with each other.

I don’t know why God chose for Jeff to come home at such a young age… It doesn’t make much sense to me. But Jeff’s life well-lived in joyful dependence and service to Jesus, and his death well-died in resurrection hope, gives me joy and hope this Christmas to live for something greater than myself, or my own temporal short-lived worldly comfort and security. It motivates me to find those broken peeling sheds all around me and say “Jesus’ love can fix that…”


You can read more about Jeff and Becca’s journey on their blog:

Here’s a video of Jeff talking about his cancer after he found out and challenging us to hope in Jesus and share his love with others…

  • Elissa & Jason Drummond on December 10, 2015

    This was amazing to read & so spot on, praise God for Jeff’s faithfulness & the beauty He makes (& Jeff made) out of ashes…God Bless You!

  • Hammond on December 10, 2015

    Really beautifully written Danny. Thank you for sharing about your friendship with Jeff. I am inspired by what you have shared of him and the ways it revals Christ. I am overcome with a sense of God’s great love which it seems Jeff lived with in an awesome way. Praying for his family, you, and all those who are mourning his death and missing him now.