Loretta Salchert is the executive director of Ribbon of Hope, a cancer support ministry that serves Elkhart County and the surrounding area. You can read more of her work in her community blog, Ribbons of Hope.
Sometimes I find myself running from God.
That may sound odd, but it's true.
Those are the moments when I need Him most. When the emotional pain or disappointment is more than I can bear, and I am trying to be strong in my own strength. Those moments when I don't want to be honest with the One who knows me best; the One who already knows my every thought, both selfish and honorable; the One who knows the desires of my heart because He created me to know his peace and experience JOY and contentment that only comes from walking with Him.
This week I saw the passing of a very dear man, and I am saddened by his death. This man lived his life in a way that will leave an indelible impression on my community and on my life. He loved his family, he loved his community and he loved his God.
My first introduction to Craig Fulmer came about seven years ago at one of Ribbon of Hope's fundraising events. This informal meeting is etched in my mind because of a conversation that occurred between Craig and our comedian during the comedian's monologue. John, our entertainer, prompted the audience to participate, and Craig graciously stepped in and played along. As the two conversed in front of the crowd, Craig shared a story about his daughter's encounter with a creature who had unexpectedly invaded their home years earlier. I can't remember the details, though I seem to recall there was an intimidating bat, an instrument for inflicting great harm to the bat and a lot of screaming. There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd. Craig was a great storyteller!
My personal introduction to Craig came when we were seated next to each other at a community function about a year later. Knowing Craig only by his professional reputation, I felt a little intimidated by his presence. His warm smile, gentle laugh and kind voice quickly put me at ease. Over the next hour, we talked about our families, our community and about my work at Ribbon of Hope. He appeared genuinely interested in our discussion, despite the many interruptions by people who popped over to greet him. He asked questions of me and allowed me the opportunity to share stories. As we neared the end of our conversation, he told me that he was a cancer survivor and appreciated our mission to provide encouragement for people suffering from the disease.
I’ve had several other encounters with Craig through the years. At one point, I needed advice on a budgeting issue for our organization – advice that was probably sheer common sense to him – and he graciously provided assistance in a manner that made me feel like I could tackle the world.
Some months later, I wanted to thank Craig and his wife for the kindness shown to me and to our organization. As I talked with Connie on the phone to set the appointment, she asked if we could spend our time together over lunch. I was humbled by her invitation. The day arrived and we met at a little restaurant in downtown Elkhart. Craig was proud of what had been accomplished in the downtown restoration process – so much so that he frequented some of the businesses. It was evident that he spent a lot of time downtown, because while we were together that day Craig stopped to have a personal conversation with the shop owner as we placed our order. Craig had a gift for lifting others up and making them feel as if they were the most important person on the face of the earth.
Craig recognized the emotional strain that my job put on me from time to time and was quick to encourage me in his own professional, gentle way. He understood my heart for cancer patients because he knew how blessed he was to be loved by an incredible wife, surrounded by a strong family, supported by faithful friends and linked to a wonderful church body throughout his cancer journey.
This is the Craig that I knew. Just a few meetings and just a few stories. I am certain there are many more stories that will be told of his life and legacy. I am sure there are many who feel a greater sense of loss than I at his passing.
Today, my heart hurts, and I want to make sense of it all. I understand that this life is temporary and we will all die at some point. Why does God allow us to lose someone so kind; someone who has made such an impact on our community; someone who has invested so much in others; someone who loves his family so much? It's just not fair.
So, as I attempt to run from God in my grief, writing is my opportunity to pour out my heart to Him. And God meets me here without judgment as I ramble on through the many key strokes.
If knowing Craig left an imprint on my life, how then do I take what I learned and pay it forward?
First, I will love my family with a greater intensity and not take one minute for granted! I will treasure those unexpected "bat" experiences because that very situation may prove to be the comic relief needed to lighten someone else's day at a later time.
I will invest in my community by getting involved in things that make it a better place. Give time to those who need to be encouraged. Offer assistance when professional insight is needed. Participate with service organizations who seek to bring awareness to the needs of those who are not able to speak for themselves.
I will have a greater appreciation for my church home, where I learn how to love God more. A church where I can work alongside others who are willing to serve "the least of these" that society may overlook. A church where I can be challenged to make amends when necessary and learn to extend grace more often. A church where I can learn to be a better person not only because it honors God, but because it leaves my community a better place.
That's what I can do to honor my friend's memory.
Besides, who am I to think that I can outrun the comfort and peace that only God can give? And, why would I try? Silly, silly girl!
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