I'm glad to say Don Cornelius was my friend. He blessed me with his kindness, wisdom, grace, generosity and strength more times than I can count. For the last six years, every single time - EVERY SINGLE TIME - I saw Don, he would hug me and tell me "I love you preacher!" He meant it with every fibert of his being! It wasn't just words for Don. It was a way of life. Even with all of that, however, I'll never get over what happened in the 10 months between August 2010 and June 2011. Let me tell you a story only Julie, Don, Carolyn and I know. . . . .
It was a Sunday morning. Early. Deacons meeting day. We had been at Central right at a year, all the while seeking to sell our home in Frankston. It wasn't that far back and forth, but we knew we were leaving a lot on the table by staying there and working in Jacksonville. Thus, we made a decision that we would seek temporary housing while we tried to sell. Seeking help in that department, I asked the deacons to prayerfully consider where we might find such (the market for housing in Jacksonville isn't as strong as some other markets). Immediately after the meeting, Don was waiting for me. "Preacher, I've got an extra lake house we're trying to sell. We'd be delighted for you to live there." It was a home that had belonged to family member who had passed away. We agreed on a nominal sum - far below what it should've been, but it was all I could convince him to take. Thus, a few weeks later, we moved into the lake house. Don was as attentive as any landlord I've ever had. If something was wrong, he did ALL he could to make it right. He mowed the yard and kept the landscaping up. He wasn't a nuisance, but he was always close at hand in a gentle and kind way. I'm not sure who knew how little Don was allowing us to pay to live in that great house, but we did and were grateful in ways I simply can't measure. That was great - but it only set the table for what was to come.
March 2011. Our lives had just been completely inverted. A call came from a lawyer's office about a baby needing a home. A short time later, Julie and I learned we would be parents! As I thought about it, however, we really needed to talk with our landlord. He had signed on for two adults and a dog. How about a baby? I thought I knew, but . . . so I went to see Don and tell him our situation. I really can't remember now - 5 years later - I was so concerned. When I told Don what was happening, tears well in his eyes and he hugged with a hug only one father can give another. More than a yes, Don was at least as excited (maybe even more so!) than we about Joshua's birth. When we got home with Joshua, Don and Carolyn were some of his first visitors (I think they were the very first, but I can't remember for sure).
It wasn't long until we sold our Frankston home and bought our place on Augusta in Jacksonville. When we did, we left Don's lake house, but definitely not the same way we found it. We left so much richer and fuller as a family - not monetarily but definitely spiritually and emotionally. And Don was a big part of why.
And now, Don has gone home. Far too soon for my tastes. I don't know why the Lord took him home so soon and there's a hole in my heart that his absence leaves. I'm grateful, however, for the goodness the Lord showed me a my family by loaning us Don, even if only for a short while. I'll miss his laugh, his passionate work-ethic, his good sense of humor, his generous nature, his compassion and his constant reassurance of his love for me a my family. God speed, my friend - I'll see you later - and we love you too.