For the last few years on a sunny May or June weekend, our family would join with hundreds of other people in our city for Serve Weekend. Over 30 local churches host projects to improve and better the city. There are free oil changes for single moms, collection sites to gather items for the homeless, painting crews sent to beautify homes of invalids, and many more activities. Our church would host a family friendly clean up at a nearby city park. Parents, children, and friends swept, raked, pruned, and picked up trash all morning and then enjoyed a picnic lunch together. Simon and I would take our older kids and loved that they could see how beneficial serving, especially as a team, could be. An added bonus was that the city mayor attended our church and would share interesting stories and lessons with the children throughout the morning.
Last year, we all worked particularly hard together. Reduced city budgets meant plenty of clean up was needed in every inch of that park. The weather was heating up and we were hustling to finish each of our sections so we could take a much needed lunch break in the shade before Noon. The cold drinks, crisp watermelon, and barbecued hamburgers were teasing our senses. Right before that break, the leader of our project said they had just met a family one block away who needed our help. An older couple had recently lost their adult son to a heart attack and their lawn had become overgrown to the point that the city was going to issue a fine until it was corrected. Our leader, who was just as exhausted as the rest of us, asked for six men to head over with him. It would be another hour of work. Simon didn’t hesitate to volunteer. He started walking toward the home immediately. Through dripping sweat, he hustled over with five other men to clean up the yard of these now weeping yet grateful grieving parents.
I remember thinking Simon acted a bit sluggish that day. He said he was tired and felt a little “off”. He didn’t complain, just mentioned casually that he wasn’t feeling very well. But I also remember thinking, he must not feel that bad. Who would want to work for hours in the hot sun if they did not feel well? Simon would. He didn’t flinch when asked to work even harder and longer. He just did it. Serving was in his blood. Helping others and denying self was just what he did. He had no idea that just three weeks later he would be told he was dying of stage four cancer.
Serve weekend would conclude with a celebration at the central park in our city. Hundreds of familiar faces from the community gathered in the cool evening for an interfaith program to hear how the projects went, to reflect, to worship, and to fellowship. I remember every detail so clearly. Simon sat on a folding chairs with our youngest daughter, snacked on a picnic dinner, and chatted with old friends, periodically checking on our older kids while they ran around in the playground area. I stood and swayed with one of our friend’s infants while singing my heart out during the worship time. Simon and I would steal glances during those few hours. We felt fulfilled. Happy. Peaceful. We had our community, our church family, our children, and each other. It truly was the calm before the storm. Thank you Jesus for those moments. (If you look closely in the picture above, you can see see the back of Simon toward the right on a white chair with our daughter. I’m standing on the far right.)
I hope our son and daughters remember what a hard worker their father was. As their memories of him fade, I hope they can hold on to those glimpses of Simon’s servant heart and passion for Jesus. They have the privilege of knowing their dad persevered against pain and discomfort to help others until his body gave out on him.