Most of us are born with amazing opportunities before us. Our creator, or if you prefer, our DNA, made us in complex and diverse ways. Who we become is in part based on how we were created, but in large part, and arguably the most influential determinant, the type of person we become is a direct correlation to the choices we make.
Yesterday I attended the celebration of life for Jerilee Nyman. I first met Jerilee in 2015 when my wife, Judi, and I moved back to Hamilton. We became part of the home church she and her husband, Mark, gracefully hosted in their home. Mark was also the home church leader. For those who are not familiar with Christianese, home church is a regular weekly small group who get together every week to discover more about what it means to follow and know Jesus.
After moving and inspirational tributes to Jerilee from one of their good friends, her parents, and Mark’s parents, Mark mentioned how his grandfather once said at times the person who is spoken about at a funeral with high praise doesn’t seem to resemble the person everyone knew. Mark rightly pointed out that in Jerilee’s case, this wasn’t true. She was every bit the amazing person they had all described.
I can attest to Mark’s assertion. She was indeed the beautiful woman everyone shared about.
From the first time we met Jerilee we were moved by her kindness and compassion towards others. Just after we met Jerilee, Judi’s estranged brother passed away. Judi was upset she was not given the opportunity to reconcile with her brother, despite her many attempts. In the midst of Judi’s grief, Jerilee made a meal and brought it to our home. We had known Jerilee only a few months. Judi had shared about her grief in a small breakout group with Jerilee and a few others at home church. Jerilee’s love filled dinner told us a lot about who she was.
I don’t doubt that even if Jerilee had not known Jesus she likely would still have been a compassionate person, and she likely would still be a person who brought a meal to someone in need. She was an authentic caring soul.
I’m a big believer that everything is spiritual, even for those who choose not to acknowledge it, or our tendencies towards light or darkness. We make spiritual choices every day. We choose good or bad. We choose to move towards light or not. Jerilee made choices throughout her life to be a person of light. To her that light was best represented by the person of Jesus. She spoke, and others did in the tributes to her life, that in the midst of this horrible cancer tragedy her faith in Jesus deepened. We all saw it. It was real.
She was determined to fight to the very end. I won’t pretend to understand everything she went through, or what her family experienced during this journey, but I can say I saw a person who was willing to be vulnerable for the sake of others. She shared some of her deepest struggles with us so that her journey might make a difference. Her “Let’s Bust A Move” team raised $115,000 in the two years she valiantly led numerous fundraising efforts, including two Bright Runs for breast cancer research.
She was an amazing woman. She made hard choices. She chose to live her life to the fullest in the midst of tragedy. She loved her two girls, Mark, her family, her friends, her church, and Jesus. She genuinely loved everyone she could.
Her and Mark’s dear friend and pastor, Matt Collins, did a great job in his closing words at her celebration of life. I can’t do justice to the way he weaved so many inspiring elements of her life into this story, but please allow me to paraphrase it.
He told a story from the Moneyball movie with Brad Pit and Jonah Hill where Hill tells the story of the homerun hit by Jeremy Brown. You can see the 2-minute movie clip here. The two-hundred-and-forty pound slow running Brown’s greatest fear was tripping over first base if he tried running to second base on a hit. One day he hits a homerun ball over the centerfield fence. He rounds first base and trips. His worst nightmare. As he crawls back to tag first base so he won’t be thrown out the crowd erupts in laughter. He was so overwhelmed with fear and the unknown that he didn’t realize he hit a homerun.
Matt Collins compares this story to Jerilee’s amazing journey. We can get caught up in the why did Jerilee have to die mystery. We can lose ourselves in the injustice of it all. Or we can do what she did. We can embrace the light. We can see the amazing in the midst of horror.
Collins pointed out that if we get caught up in the why we’ll miss the amazing homerun that was Jerilee’s life.