February 1, 2012

What will you leave behind? The story of the most inspiring memorial service I’ve ever witnessed. 

The inspiring life of a young man named Jay Ingram.

From time to time, I have to talk about something here that doesn’t have anything to do with food. And I think that’s the true meaning of Southern Food and Fun.

All of my life, the most important conversations have usually taken place right around the kitchen table, because that’s really the heart of the household. It’s where learning, growing, crying, laughing, and loving each other as a family takes place.

So today, please pull up a chair and join me at the table as we talk about something important.

The inspiring life of a young man named Jay Ingram.

A young man from our church passed away last week and his funeral was yesterday. I didn’t know Jay Ingram, beyond a quick hello at church or a wave in the parking lot. He was struck by a car while running and died from his injuries last Friday. He was 32 years old. Jay was a father of two young children and husband to his beloved wife of 10 years, Corinne. He was a son, a brother, a cousin, a new uncle, and a friend. And he was Coach Jay.

Jay was a physical education teacher at a local charter elementary school, and a youth soccer coach, both positions which he had held for about 10 years. In the span of the life of a coach or teacher who retires after having taught for 30 or 40 years, ten years isn’t a lot of time to influence many people. And yet, yesterday, I witnessed something unlike anything I have ever experienced…evidence of the staggering impact one short life can have.

The inspiring life of a young man named Jay Ingram.

The physical set up of our church, Living Hope Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, is that we have approximately 20 acres of land in the heart of Cobb County. A medium-sized church building with an attached Open Arms Child Development Center occupies the space.

Our building can probably hold about 400 people within the sanctuary and another large room that we use for overflow. Four hundred people sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

But it wouldn’t be enough…

There’s a lot of open land outside the building, part of which is utilized as youth soccer and lacrosse fields. Since Jay was a soccer coach, this became the natural place to hold a celebration of his life and to say a fitting goodbye.

A company connected with his family donated a stage and set out 1,000 chairs.

One thousand chairs? That sounds like a lot.

But it wasn’t enough…

No one counted the people standing deep in rows behind the 1,000 chairs, but estimates put the crowd at anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000.

The green chairs are extra ones that the church put out after the first 1,000 were filled. Those 1,000 are in front of the standing people. You can’t see the people who are sitting.

The parking lot was filled with cars, the other side of the soccer fields was covered in cars, and every available side street and neighborhood street near our church was filled with cars.

Some people walked almost a mile to attend Jay’s funeral.

And the Chick-fil-A cow was there. Who gets the Chick-fil-A cow at their funeral?

The inspiring life of a young man named Jay Ingram.

The school where Jay taught was closed for the day so that students and faculty could attend. An entire school, closed for an entire day, to honor its coach. Wow.

What sort of man inspires nearly 2,000 people to stand outside on a January afternoon, to walk a mile just to get there

Much has been written about this young man, so I’m not going to repeat what’s already been said, and I don’t feel like I could anyway since I didn’t really know him. You can read more about the service and see photos and a video on Kennesaw Patch. And please read about Jay and the man he was here: Jay and here Party with Coach.

As Jay’s friend and former youth group leader Mark Paul put it:
he was “a hero,” someone who lived life “like his soul was burning on a special kind of fuel.”

Kennesaw PATCH

The song in the video on Kennesaw Patch was sung by a young woman, Jay’s cousin I believe, and the lyrics are part of what really stood out to me on this sad yet awe-inspiring occasion:

I want to say I lived each day, until I die

And know that I meant something in somebody’s life

The hearts I have touched will be the proof that I leave

That I made a difference and this world will see

I was here

I lived, I loved

I was here

I did, I’ve done, everything that I wanted

And it was more than I thought it would be

I just want them to know

That I gave my all, did my best

Brought someone to happiness

Left this world a little better just because

I was here

The song was recorded by Beyoncé and written by Diane Warren. A few critics offered negative reviews because Beyoncé recorded a song about leaving a legacy when she wasn’t even 30 years old yet. But legacies don’t come only from old people.

Jay Ingram was only 32. He certainly hadn’t done everything that he wanted but the hearts that he touched are indeed proof that he left this world a better place. And he left tangible parts of himself as well.

Jay’s lungs were donated to a 27-year-old, a kidney and liver to a patient with liver failure, a kidney and pancreas to a patient with diabetes/kidney failure, and his heart went to a 50-year-old man.

The transplant team told the family that it was the most perfect heart they had ever seen.

One of the speakers at the service quoted the Bible verse, “…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Almost every morning, Jay posted something from his daily devotional on his Facebook page, wanting to share the inspiration he had received with others.

Part of his legacy was that he gave his all, and did his best with spunk and craziness, with funny hair, with pranks and fun, and with a great big smile every single day. He shared the light of God just by being himself because it’s part of who he was.

We believe he even shared his smile over the people he loved yesterday. Take a look at this photo. It was taken when the balloons were in the air, by Corinne’s aunt, who sent it to Corinne while the aunt was in the car on the way back to New York. What do you see behind the balloons?

You are not here merely to prepare to make a living.
You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement.
You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.


Jay figured out a long time ago that his mission, his purpose here on earth was to impact young people’s lives and that’s exactly what he did.

We all have a purpose—some bigger than others. Not everyone is meant to be a Red Cross volunteer, or a celebrity, or a teacher, or the president, or a fireman, or a soldier or Mother Teresa. But some people are meant for those things. Some people are meant to raise a family and be an awesome grandmother or a nursing home aide.

A purpose is not necessarily a job, but sometimes it is. Those are the really lucky people because they get to live out their life’s purpose and get paid for it. But many people will go their entire lives without ever figuring out what their purpose is.

Do you know what your life’s purpose is? Are you living it?

What will you leave behind?

The hearts you have touched will be the proof that you leave…

That you made a difference and this world will see…

You were here.

You lived, you loved.

You gave your all, did your best,

Brought someone to happiness…

Left this world a little better just because

You were here.

Thank you, Jay Ingram, for making a difference. For laughing, loving, and inspiring hundreds of us to live better and do better because of you. For bringing happiness and leaving this world a little better.

“But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Your legacy continues.

The inspiring life of a young man named Jay Ingram.
Lucy standing behind a counter with a cheese board and glass of wine.

About the author

Hi, I’m Lucy! I’m a home cook, writer, food and wine fanatic, and recipe developer. I’ve created and tested hundreds of recipes so that I can bring you the best tried and true favorites.

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