April 19, 2006. Today, Sgt. Mike Stokely would have been 24 years old. But his life was cut short on August 16, 2005, by an IED. He died in the arms of one of his best friends.
I never knew Mike. But, as you have read in the post immediately preceeding this one, I have spent several days, perhaps even weeks, completely immersed in his life as I've worked on my special scrapbook projects (at the time of this writing, I'm still not done with the other two, dang it). I've seen pictures from every phase of his life - from a premature, newborn baby in the NICU, hooked up to all manner of tubes & wires and such, up to a photograph taken literally days before he was killed. So in a sense, I feel as if I do know him...don't know if that makes any sense or not. But those pictures are almost as familiar to me now as my own family photographs. When my Local Friend was putting together the video collage DVD to go with the scrapbook, after it was done and we watched it together, I was narrating..."He was nine in this picure..That's his dad's law school graduation... this was the last family vacation..."
I had a really hard time trying to figure out which picture to use with this post... went back & forth, back in forth as to what to use. This one was chosen for a couple of reasons. One, because there is a great story behind it (no pun intended - you'll see why). If he looks like he's "up to something" in this picture (taken in Iraq), it's because when this pic was taken, he was "mooning" his buddies! hehehehe! This was such a great picture - it was actually used at his memorial service in Iraq. The other reason I chose this particular picture is because, when I was visiting his grave the other day and met his friend Billy, and they were looking at the scrapbook I'd put together (see post below if you don't know what I'm talking about), it was the one time Billy laughed out loud while we were there, from the memory of it. I remember him saying something along the lines of that being one of the best, most "real" and genuine smiles he'd seen while he was there -- they were just cutting up and really having "FUN" for a moment. So, because it made Billy laugh, I chose this picture.
So, on this day, Mike's 24th birthday, I find myself feeling sad - sad that this beautiful, bright life that I have gotten to "know," that has become an indelible part of me, is no longer on this earth. And yet, at the same time, there is hope: Mike knew the Lord - he is Celebrating in Heaven this year. As Easter reminds us, death is not the end - we will see him one day - whole and happy and smiling that big ole grin - probably up to some sort of mischief, hehehe....
Happy birthday Mike. And thank you. I posted a new video/song on my blog in your honor (the first time I've EVER deviated from my beloved "Letters from Home" song) : "If Heaven," by Andy Griggs.
I see my cake below with candles shining like heaven stars.
I wish that I could ease your pain with the sound of my voice.
Please wipe away your tears for I am not that far away
I'm with Jesus Christ and the angels that is where I'll be today
Don't be sad or worried about how I'm doing at this point in time
Just know that I'm here okay and yes I'm doing fine
I hear the many memories that people hold so dear and close
And even though I'm not there with you I cherish them all the most
I have so many words to tell you of all the joy that your voice brings
For it is beyond description of how I feel to hear you remembering me
I know how much you miss me
I see the pain inside
But I can't even begin to express how much you shouldn't cry
I would tell you of the beauty and peace up here but there are no words to explain
I'll be there with you through thick and thin through sunshine and the rain
I'll ask Him to fill your hearts with happiness as I tell Him of your love
So now pray for one another as you lift your eyes above
You'll see me smiling way up high as you let go of my balloon
And as we watch yours lead the way we will let ours go with you
Please let your hearts be joyful and let your spirits sing
For I am spending my birthday in heaven with the angels and King