The following article was originally published in December 2014 at Self Talk the Gospel.
The last several years my family has faced the most beautiful and painful season of our lives. My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May of 2014. The news came like a sucker-punch to the gut, but it was no surprise to God. In the weeks that followed, we experienced God’s presence and provision in the most profound way and I began to understand how critical community is to our lives.
Ericlee invested in what I lovingly call “community life insurance.” He was passionate about investing in people and reaching out to others in need. When we were first married, he was a high school teacher and coach, and I joined him in that mission. He modeled for me what it means to pour your life into others.
Week after week, day after day, he took time to share his passion for God and life with his students and athletes. He listened to students’ problems on the bus, encouraged them on the basketball court, challenged them to work hard in the classroom and cheered them on, whether they were losing or winning a race. We invited those young people into our home for home-cooked dinners and pool parties. Sometimes we were family to them when they struggled to connect with their own families.
My husband was also the kind of guy who befriended strangers. In the grocery store or airport or post office, he loved to read name tags and greet people by name as if they were old friends. In our fast-paced culture buzzing with ATMs, smart phones and high-speed Internet, he would catch people off guard. He would ask them about their day and expect to engage in conversation. He invested the time and often amazing connections resulted.
He also had a passion for reaching out to invisibles. I remember one Saturday he insisted we take a trip downtown with our kids to hand out our surplus of winter clothes to some of the homeless who lived in tents. Admittedly, I was nervous in my heart about taking my young girls into that unknown environment. My husband boldly led us into the streets and offered people a hearty handshake and a sweatshirt. I witnessed how he looked people in the eyes and gifted them with a sense of dignity. I saw the same kind of investment as we traveled countless times to the country of Haiti and he spent time listening to the stories and dreams of people there. He had a heart for community development – not merely giving handouts, but empowering people as leaders and image bearers of God.
Following Ericlee’s cancer diagnosis, I began to understand this investment in community was something God intended to use to show me His daily presence. He already had an amazing provision marked just for us that would come through our community.
After all, God’s heart beats for community. He Himself embodies community. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three in one – our model of community working seamlessly. He has designed us to live in relationship, to work out our insecurities and use our gifts in the context of community. We are to bear each other’s burdens as it says in Galatians and lighten each other’s load (Galatians 6:2). We can try to live alone – islands struggling on our own – or we can choose to risk and invest in others.
That summer as I watched my husband’s athletic body deteriorate before my eyes, I cried out to God. I stood at the kitchen sink every morning and wept. As his primary caregiver, I slept maybe two hours at a time for weeks and spent the rest of the time serving him juices and encouraging him through the debilitating pain. I was physically and emotionally bankrupt myself but God showed up at just the right times through our community.
One of my amazing friends became our “help administrator,” putting together a Facebook group for the purpose of helping our family. She organized people to provide meals, clean dishes, wash our clothes, deliver groceries and taxi my kids to school and activities. Friends from around the globe sent gifts cards and money for our medical expenses. Our mailbox and inboxes overflowed with messages of encouragement and stories of how my husband had influenced lives. Former students, athletes and friends flocked to our home to pray, sing and read to my husband. In all of this, I was lifted, energized, comforted when I needed it most. I knew I was not alone on the journey.
My husband finished his glorious race on earth on September 9, 2014. Immediately following his funeral, my daughters and I began to reap the unexpected benefits of his investment in community life insurance today. I recognized it when I randomly chose an eye doctor from an insurance list and it turned out to be the father of one of my husband’s former students. That generous eye doctor covered my contact lenses for the year.
I recognized it when a woman and her family stopped me in the grocery store and insisted on paying for my groceries. She was a former colleague and longed to help my family.
I recognized it when our UPS gal delivered a package one day and couldn’t stop talking about how she knew my husband from the gym, and how inspired she was by his influence.
I recognized it when I paid his final medical bills – thousands upon thousands of dollars that were raised by friends, churches, strangers, and others in our community who had been touched by Ericlee’s life and our story. Our insurance did not cover my husband’s “pre-existing condition” but our community did.
As I continue to bear witness to Ericlee’s incredible investment in people even today, I can’t help but challenge you (and myself) with these questions: Who are you investing in today? Who is your community? How can you embody God’s presence by reaching out to someone in their place of need?
On the morning before my husband graduated to heaven, I was able to tell him with confidence that the girls and I would be OK. I looked into his hazel eyes and told him God would care for us through our community, and I meant it. You see, I had already experienced the Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” He made His presence known to me in a very tangible way through the people in our community. This is an investment with amazing long-term returns.
(This video was shared at Ericlee’s memorial service. Can’t see the video? Check it out here)
Featured photo by Kimon Maritz from Unsplash.