Heavy hearts. Three weeks ago Sunday our community lost a friend, Steven James Martin. I always knew him as "Steve," and he was a fixture in the life of our Jesus-family that meets at the Cooper's house. He was murdered in Mentone CA on July 25th, 2021.
Ross and Sandy Cooper knew Steve for quite a bit longer than I, and with their permission, I wanted to share the eulogy Ross gave for Steve at a memorial service in their backyard this last weekend.
We are here to remember & celebrate the life of Steven James Martin August 27, 1964—July 25, 2021
Steve was born August 27, 1964 to 19-year-old Dorothy Tustison of Louisiana, who was married to 21-year-old Donald Martin. They lived in North Hollywood where Steve’s father sold typewriters for a living. Steve was born at 1:31 in the afternoon in a hospital in Glendale, CA. Steve was 56 years old when he died. He lived 20,787 days on earth. He never married and had no children. We are not aware of any living blood relatives. Steve talked about the “good old days” when he grew up in Redlands. He talked about doing construction, maintenance, and landscaping jobs. He’d tell you that he lost most of them because of drinking too much. Alcohol was his drug of choice and he had a hard time stopping before he became intoxicated. We knew Steve for about 10 years. In fact, Sandy first met him when he was laying on the grass at Ford Park, reading a book. Sandy asked him if the recyclable cans near him were his and he graciously said, “No, you can have them.” We noticed Steve was more sober recently than 10 years ago, but he still struggled with sobriety right up to his last day. Steve knew Jesus as his Savior and was very connected to God’s community at Rocky Point Church in Mentone. Steve had a bedroll and sleeping bag and slept at Rocky Point Church. He helped brew the coffee at 5am and met with Pastor George and a group of men every morning to start the day with prayer and Bible study. He attended Sunday services there and would usually get a ride here after the service. Rocky Point Church is holding a memorial service for Steve at noon on Saturday, August 28, and we are all invited to remember Steve there and to stay for lunch afterwards. They are serving Taco’s as that was one of Steve’s favorite meals. Steve loved to go up to Forest Falls in the local mountains to volunteer at a Christian camp. If Steve had a paid job on Monday he’d go there, but often he didn’t, and he would come work for free with us. He was a hard worker. He liked splitting firewood, feeding branches into the chipper-shredder, shoveling dirt, debris or snow, weed whacking and other “manly types of work.” He called painting “women’s work” and didn’t like that assignment too much. Steve loved the times we went to work there and stay overnight. He had a favorite bedroom, with its own bathroom, in the Collins house were we stayed several times. He called the Collins house a “Mansion” and took pictures of it to show Pastor George where he got to stay. Steve was in charge of getting the fires started in the huge fireplace in the living room and in the fire pit outside. Steve loved meat and potatoes. He volunteered to cook the bacon and eggs at breakfast. He loved doing crossword puzzles and reading science fiction. Steve was as blind as a bat without his glasses. When he lost them he would often try to earn money so he could buy a replacement pair of glasses. Three weeks ago, on Sunday, July 25, Steve spent the morning at Rocky Point Church and the afternoon with us. He was sober, happy, relaxed, and rested on the sofa in the living room while waiting for his turn to shower. Around 4pm, after Steve had cleaned up, Brett drove him to Mentone and dropped him off at the McDonalds. Shortly after 6pm Steve was stabbed near the Mentone Post Office by a man he had had problems with in the past. Steve was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center where he died. Homicide investigators arrested the man who stabbed Steve. The coroner will tell you that Steve died at 7:06pm, but that’s not really true. Only Steve’s body stopped living. Steve’s life on earth is over, his body is here, but he is not. So, where is Steve? In John 11 verse 25 Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” Three chapters later Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. So, if you want to see Steve again, you will need to go to heaven where he and Jesus are with God the Father. There are only 2 ways to get there: either live a perfect, sinless life…. or trust that Jesus lived it for you like Steve did. Steve didn’t live a sinless perfect life, but he trusted that Jesus lived it for him. If you knew Steve like I did you know that God gave a lot of mercy and grace to Steve, but don’t worry, God still has enough mercy and grace for all of us! Steve would want you to accept salvation today if you haven’t yet. Simply pray with me, “Jesus, I believe you are God’s Son, that You died for me, please forgive me of my sin and help me to become the person you created me to be. Thank you Jesus, amen.” And then, when this memorial service is over, talk to me or Sandy or Raymond or someone who knows Jesus about what you just prayed. Thank God for His grace and mercy. Thank God that He paid the price for you and me and Steve! Each of us can look forward to eternity, to life after death! 1 Thessalonians 4.13-14 says, “And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus. We would like to spend some time remembering how Steve has made an impact on our lives."
I had the opportunity to share some memories of Steve: him playing football with my kids up in the mountains, being together on day-trips, and having hard conversations about life and God's will for us. I'll never forget a day a couple of months ago when I was really feeling down. I wear my emotions out in the open (if you didn't already know that!). Steve picked up on that right away and offered to just hang out and talk. "I don't have any money to buy you a coffee, but listening is free!" It was a moment of really genuine concern in the middle of some tough days. I miss Steve.
As Ross shared, Steve wasn't perfect but even on the bad days with him I experienced him as having an earnest desire to know God's will for his life. Like all of us, it was often a struggle for him to put that into practice.
We had a beautiful time of sharing stories about Steve, the good and the bad. Some folks had known him for 20+ years. What I so appreciated about our time of sharing was that people told the honest truth. No one sugar-coated anything for the sake of formalities, and yet it was also a time for laughter, tears, hope, grace, and especially forgiveness. In other words, our love for and loss of Steve could be expressed truthfully, even as it leaves a void.
As Simone Weil writes,
"To love truth means to endure the void and, as a result, to accept death. Truth is on the side of death."
Please be praying for our community as we wrestle through forgiving Steve's murderer, as well as coming to a great understanding of God's forgiveness that he offers us.