The Legacy Lives On

Remembering A life Well Lived

I love my job as executive director of the Self Knowledge Symposium Foundation. It provides so many opportunities to serve others and to learn from others along the way. Today I am paying tribute to the very special person that was my first ever living example of selflessly serving and loving others.

Sarah Jo Hayes invested her life in children – more specifically, showing them an overflowing joy of Jesus in her heart. I was blessed to watch her nurture generations of young people. Every tiny person, tween, and teenager loved spending time in her presence – food, fun and laughter was all too common as she brought us together to put us to work doing something good for someone else.

We all grew up, and so she had us give back by helping the younger ones and then they grew up. The cycle continued and most of us were eventually blessed with kids of our own, which she also helped to raise! During the course of her entire life, she made a difference and proved the power of one. Sarah Jo Hayes was a light to everyone she met, and I was so very blessed to have her as my mother. She left behind a legacy of love in her family, her church, her community, her work, and my heart!

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." Psalm 116:15

Sarah Jo went to sit at Jesus’ feet back on September 22, 2017 – just 6 days away from her 60th birthday. It felt like a God wink that I had  September 22nd of 2021 booked on my calendar with a two-day retreat for fifty teenage boys at a local Christian camp that Sarah sent me to when I was young!

It’s probably been 30 years ago since I attended Camp Willow Run – and I still remember the drive there and back with my mama and the other youth attending CWR for a week away from home – learning about Jesus while living in boxcars, on a real train, parked by the lake! And here I was, closing in on another anniversary of her death, at the end of a five-month planning process that SKSF Founder, August Turak and SRMH Head Coach, Edwin Campbell gave me full creative control of the retreat program content and design. I couldn’t help but consider that she would be so proud of what our foundation is doing in the community and the kind of things I get to invest my time in while getting paid!

It’s amazing to be a small part of this process and see how God is continuing to show up and change the narrative and direction of what I thought this work would be into something totally different than I first imagined. I followed without questioning even when it meant completely re-designing two out of the three presentations I had originally envisioned. I trusted the process and had faith.

My prayer for the retreat was that those young men attending would see that God was in it and that they would carry that hope of Jesus in their heart when they departed from camp. Then, less than 24 hours before we were scheduled for camp arrival – Covid strikes again! Five of the varsity players have tested positive for Covid and even though the others tested negative and have been vaccinated – they are still under mandatory quarantine.

This news was obviously disappointing, but it didn’t devastate me. Like Sarah Jo, my very next thought was: “What about the food prep that is already underway? We paid for fifty-five people to eat four meals over our two-day retreat… that’s a lot of meals that could help a lot of people in our community.” With that in mind, I left a voicemail with the retreat director and waited to hear back.

This is an example of circumstances out of our control suddenly changing our course – which can become a complete failure or it could become just another opportunity to be a light in someone else’s life through what August Turak calls service and selflessness. The only thing Sarah Jo would like better than me spending September 22nd leading a retreat with fifty teenagers at Christian camp would be for me to orchestrate using those meals from that cancelled Christian camp as a blessing to feed fifty-five people!

Now anyone who ever knew Sarah Jo Hayes can visualize her stacking food trays into teenage arms and sending the ‘troops’ out with instructions of loading them into random vehicles in the church parking lot as she “VOLUN-TOLD” the vehicle owner which route they had and which people they would be delivering meals to on that day. Every tray included a slice of cake and a card of encouragement created and signed by the various youth in the church. Don’t get me wrong, these initiatives took so many good, God fearing, southern hands – Sarah just always had the biggest, most inviting smile. She always rolled up her sleeves to lead by example. She just always overflowed joy, making everyone around her feel a warm sense of unconditional love and grace. Which made it difficult – if not impossible – to ever say ‘no’ to that lady!

In a previous blog I wrote about having perspective in a pandemic and for me that means seeing everything in a completely different way. I gained so much of this perspective from my sweet mother. She wasn’t just an example to everyone of living a good life and selflessly loving others just as they are; she was an even more moving example to everyone around her of facing her own death with a thankful heart – “In every circumstance, give thanks!” Her life was a testimony for the world to see that there is a joy, a peace, and a hope in Christ that passes all understanding.

One of Sarah’s last sermons on Women’s Day at Wise Baptist Church was titled: My Anchor, My Rock, My Story. I reflect with gratitude back to February 2016, as she practiced her sermon on me several times to work through the flow and speed of her speech while making the tiniest edits, as if putting the last bit of icing on a cake before the candles are lit for the big reveal. We were sitting across from each other in the living room of the house I grew up in. I was drinking coffee and completely present in that moment, having already known her dim diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer had been over a year and a half ago, and knowing then that medically speaking we had only about another year and half left to make these memories.

I listened as she spoke of her life from birth, and I recognized her description of my maternal grandparents having my aunts, uncles, and mama at church every time the doors opened as the familiar way in which I recall Sarah Jo being the mother, having my brother and me and every other kid in Wise at church every time those doors opened. Except that in my version, my mama has the key!

My daily prayer is that everyone I meet will see some of Jesus’ light in me – that bright light my round, smiley-faced, red-headed mother reflected to the world. I pray too, that even at the end of my days, like Sarah Jo – I will still be loving and serving others with a thankful heart full of Jesus and overflowing with joy! I pray that all of you would find that same joy in Jesus and let Him be your anchor and your rock so you too can discover the peace that makes us thankful in all circumstances!

August Turak and brother Tom attend an event honoring Sarah Jo Hayes in 2017

4 thoughts on “The legacy lives on”

  1. That is a beautiful picture of your beautiful mother. She touched my life too. Thank you for this wonderful reminder of serving others. I smiled the entire time I read it. You took me back…..

  2. Such a powerful message that is needed during these very challenging times we are facing! Sarah Jo had the most beautiful soul of anyone I’ve known and her legacy lives on though many others, but especially through the work of her daughter.

  3. This is so sweet and touching!! Being one of her “kids” was one of the biggest blessings in my life and i’m so glad I got to have her as my other mother! When I think of Sarah, these two things come to mind- her sweet laugh which immediately used to brighten my day, and her wonderful, amazing cooking! If only I had paid more attention to the cooking lessons she used to give me! I think I was always just a little too excited to eat it lol. Sarah Jo was the most amazing, selfless woman i’ve ever known and if everyone had Sarah as their role model, I think the world would be a much better place! Thank you Sarah for always being the kindest, most welcoming person to those in need. You’ve touched our hearts and minds forever and we thank you and we miss you!

  4. Sarah Jo was basically my second mom even though she was my aunt, and I loved spending time with her!! I was not always happy about being “volun-told” to do different things, but no matter what she always made it fun! Watching her, learning from her, and being a mini shadow of hers was such a blessing to me. Selfishly I wish we all had so much more time with her, but she made the biggest impact on everybody that she met. She loved us all like no other and always treated us as her own. I pray that I can be a God-fearing woman just like her and instill the same values and love for Jesus in my family as well as those around me. I miss her everyday, but am so thankful for all the time and memories I have with her!

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